"What grounds have you, or those whom you represent, for saying that?" he demanded.
"None that I can divulge," Norgate replied. "Yet they form the motive of the offer which I am about to make to you. I am instructed to say that the sum of a million pounds will be paid into your funds on certain guarantees to be given by you. It is my business here to place these guarantees before you and to report as to your attitude concerning them."
"One million pounds!" Mr. Bullen murmured, breathlessly.
"There are the conditions," Norgate reminded him.
"In the first place," Norgate continued, "the subscribers to this fund, which is by no means exhausted by the sum I mention, demand that you accept no compromise, that at all costs you insist upon the whole bill, and that if it is attempted at the last moment to deprive the Irish people by trickery of the full extent of their liberty, you do not hesitate to encourage your Nationalist party to fight for their freedom."
Mr. Bullen's lips were a little parted, but his face was immovable.
"In the event of your doing so," Norgate continued, "more money, and arms themselves if you require them, will be available, but the motto of those who have the cause of Ireland entirely at heart is, 'No compromise!' They recognise the fact that you are in a difficult position. They fear that you have allowed yourself to be influenced, to be weakened by pressure so easily brought upon you from high quarters."
"I understand," Mr. Bullen remarked. "Go on."
"There is a further condition," Norgate proceeded, "though that is less important. The position in Europe at the present moment seems to indicate a lasting peace, yet if anything should happen that that peace should be broken, you are asked to pledge your word that none of your Nationalist volunteers should take up arms on behalf of England until that bill has become law and is in operation. Further, if that unlikely event, a war, should take place, that you have the courage to keep your men solid and armed, and that if the Ulster volunteers, unlike your men, decide to fight for England, as they very well might do, that you then proceed to take by force what it is not the intention of England to grant you by any other means."
Mr. Bullen leaned back in his chair. He picked up a penholder and played with it for several moments.
"Young man," he asked at last, "who is Mr. X——?"
"That, in the present stage of our negotiations," Norgate answered coolly, "I am not permitted to tell you."
"May I guess as to his nationality?" Mr. Bullen enquired.
"I cannot prevent your doing that."
"The speculation is an interesting one," Mr. Bullen went on, still fingering the penholder. "Is Mr. X—— a German?"
Norgate was silent.
"I cannot answer questions," he said, "until you have expressed your views."
"You can have them, then," Mr. Bullen declared.
"You can go back to Mr. X—— and tell him this. Ireland needs help sorely to-day from all her sons, whether at home or in foreign countries. More than anything she needs money. The million pounds of which you speak would be a splendid contribution to what I may term our war chest. But as to my views, here they are. It is my intention, and the intention of my Party, to fight to the last gasp for the literal carrying out of the bill which is to grant us our liberty. We will not have it whittled away or weakened one iota. Our lives, and the lives of greater men, have been spent to win this measure, and now we stand at the gates of success. We should be traitors if we consented to part with a single one of the benefits it brings us. Therefore, you can tell Mr. X—— that should this Government attempt any such trickery as he not unreasonably suspects, then his conditions will be met. My men shall fight, and their cause will be just."
"So far," Norgate admitted, "this is very satisfactory."
"To pass on," Mr. Bullen continued, "let me at once confess that I find something sinister, Mr. Norgate, in this mysterious visit of yours, in the hidden identity of Mr. X——. I suspect some underlying motive which prompts the offering of this million pounds. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that I can see beneath it all the hand of a foreign enemy of England."
"Supposing you were right, Mr. Bullen," Norgate said, "what is England but a foreign enemy of Ireland?"
A light flashed for a moment in Mr. Bullen's eyes. His lip curled inwards.
"Young man," he demanded, "are you an Englishman?"
"I am," Norgate admitted.
"You speak poorly, then. To proceed to the matter in point, my word is pledged to fight. I will plunge the country I love into civil war to gain her rights, as greater patriots than I have done before. But the thing which I will not do is to be made the cat's-paw, or to suffer Ireland to be made the cat's-paw, of Germany. If war should come before the settlement of my business, this is the position I should take. I would cross to Dublin, and I would tell every Nationalist Volunteer to shoulder his rifle and to fight for the British Empire, and I would go on to Belfast—I, David Bullen—to Belfast, where I think that I am the most hated man alive, and I would stand side by side with the leader of those men of Ulster, and I would beg them to fight side by side with my Nationalists. And when the war was over, if my rights were not granted, if Ireland were not set free, then I would bid my men take breathing time and use all their skill, all the experience they had gained, and turn and fight for their own freedom against the men with whom they had struggled in the same ranks. Is that million pounds to be mine, Mr. Norgate?"
Norgate shook his head.
"Nor any part of it, sir," he answered.
"I presume," Mr. Bullen remarked, as he rose, "that I shall never have the pleasure of meeting Mr. X——?"
"I most sincerely hope," Norgate declared fervently, "that you never will. Good-day, Mr. Bullen!"
He held out his hand. Mr. Bullen hesitated.
"Sir," he said, "I am glad to shake hands with an Irishman. I am willing to shake hands with an honest Englishman. Just where you come in, I don't know, so good evening. You will find my secretary outside. He will show you how to get away."
For a moment Norgate faltered. A hot rejoinder trembled upon his lips. Then he remembered himself and turned on his heel. It was his first lesson in discipline. He left the room without protest.
Mr. Hebblethwaite turned into Pall Mall, his hands behind his back, his expression a little less indicative of bland good humour than usual. He had forgotten to light his customary cigarette after the exigencies of a Cabinet Council. He had even forgotten to linger for a few minutes upon the doorstep in case any photographer should be hanging around to take a snapshot of a famous visitor leaving an historic scene, and quite unconsciously he ignored the salutation of several friends. It was only by the merest chance that he happened to glance up at the corner of the street and recognised Norgate across the way. He paused at once and beckoned to him.
"Well, young fellow," he exclaimed, as they shook hands, "how's the German spy business going?"
"Pretty well, thanks," Norgate answered coolly. "I am in it twice over now. I'm marrying an Austrian lady shortly, very high up indeed in the Diplomatic Secret Service of her country. Between us you may take it that we could read, if we chose, the secrets of the Cabinet Council from which you have just come."
"Any fresh warnings, eh?"
Norgate turned and walked by his friend's side.
"It is no use warning you," he declared. "You've a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. Your complacency is bomb-proof. You won't believe anything until it's too late."
"Confoundedly disagreeable companion you make, Norgate," the Cabinet Minister remarked irritably. "You know quite as well as I do that the German scare is all bunkum, and you only hammer it in either to amuse yourself or because you are of a sensational turn of mind. All the same—"
"All the same, what?" Norgate interrupted.
Hebblethwaite took his young friend's arm and led him into his club.
"We will take an aperitif in the smoking-room," he said. "After that I will look in my book and see where I am lunching. It is perhaps not the wisest thing for a Cabinet Minister to talk in the street. Since the Suffragette scares, I have quite an eye for a detective, and there has been a fellow within a few yards of your elbow ever since you spoke to me."
"That's all right," Norgate reassured him. "Let's see, it's Tuesday, isn't it? I call him Boko. He never leaves me. My week-end shadowers are a trifle less assiduous, but Boko is suspicious. He has deucedly long ears, too."
"What the devil are you talking about?" Hebblethwaite demanded, as they sat down.
"The fact of it is," Norgate explained, "they don't altogether trust me in my new profession. They give me some important jobs to look after, but they watch me night and day. What they'd do if I turned 'em up, I can't imagine. By-the-by, if you do hear of my being found mysteriously shot or poisoned or something of that sort, don't you take on any theory as to suicide. It will be murder, right enough. However," he added, raising his glass to his lips and nodding, "they haven't found me out yet."
"I hear," Hebblethwaite muttered, "that the bookstalls are loaded with this sort of rubbish. You do it very well, though."
"Oh! I am the real thing all right," Norgate declared. "By-the-by, what's the matter with you?"
"Nothing," Hebblethwaite replied. "When you come to think of it, sitting here and feeling the reviving influence of this remarkably well-concocted beverage, I can confidently answer 'Nothing.' And yet, a few minutes ago, I must admit that I was conscious of a sensation of gloom. You know, Norgate, you're not the only idiot in the world who goes about seeing shadows. For the first time in my life I begin to wonder whether we haven't got a couple of them among us. Of course, I don't take any notice of Spencer Wyatt. It's his job. He plays the part of popular hero—National Anthem, God Save the Empire, and all that sort of thing. He must keep in with his admirals and the people, so of course he's always barking for ships. But White, now. I have always looked upon White as being absolutely the most level-headed, sensible, and peace-adoring Minister this country ever had."
"What's wrong with him?" Norgate asked.
"I cannot," Hebblethwaite regretted, "talk confidentially to a German spy."
"Getting cautious as the years roll on, aren't you?" Norgate sighed. "I hoped I was going to get something interesting out of you to cable to Berlin."
"You try cabling to Berlin, young fellow," Hebblethwaite replied grimly, "and I'll have you up at Bow Street pretty soon! There's no doubt about it, though, old White has got the shivers for some reason or other. To any sane person things were never calmer and more peaceful than at the present moment, and White isn't a believer in the German peril, either. He is half inclined to agree with old Busby. He got us out of that Balkan trouble in great style, and all I can say is that if any nation in Europe wanted war then, she could have had it for the asking."
"Well, exactly what is the matter with White at the present moment?" Norgate demanded.
"Got the shakes," Hebblethwaite confided. "Of course, we don't employ well-born young Germans who are undergoing a period of rustication, as English spies, but we do get to know a bit what goes on there, and the reports that are coming in are just a little curious. Rolling stock is being called into the termini of all the railways. Staff officers in mufti have been round all the frontiers. There's an enormous amount of drilling going on, and the ordnance factories are working at full pressure, day and night."
"The manoeuvres are due very soon," Norgate reminded his friend.
"So I told White," Hebblethwaite continued, "but manoeuvres, as he remarked, don't lead to quite so much feverish activity as there is about Germany just now. Personally, I haven't a single second's anxiety. I only regret the effect that this sort of feeling has upon the others. Thank heavens we are a Government of sane, peace-believing people!"
"A Government of fat-headed asses who go about with your ears stuffed full of wool," Norgate declared, with a sudden bitterness. "What you've been telling me is the truth. Germany's getting ready for war, and you'll have it in the neck pretty soon."
Hebblethwaite set down his empty glass. He had recovered his composure.
"Well, I am glad I met you, any way, young fellow," he remarked. "You're always such an optimist. You cheer one up. Sorry I can't ask you to lunch," he went on, consulting his book, "but I find I am motoring down for a round of golf this afternoon."
"Yes, you would play golf!" Norgate grunted, as they strolled towards the door. "You're the modern Nero, playing golf while the earthquake yawns under London."
"Play you some day, if you like," Hebblethwaite suggested, as he called for a taxi. "They took my handicap down two last week at Walton Heath—not before it was time, either. By-the-by, when can I meet the young lady? My people may be out of town next week, but I'll give you both a lunch or a dinner, if you'll say the word. Thursday night, eh?"
"At present," Norgate replied, "the Baroness is in Italy, arranging for the mobilisation of the Italian armies, but if she's back for Thursday, we shall be delighted. She'll be quite interested to meet you. A keen, bright, alert politician of your type will simply fascinate her."
"We'll make it Thursday night, then, at the Carlton," Hebblethwaite called out from his taxi. "Take care of Boko. So long!"
At the top of St. James's Street, Norgate received the bow of a very elegantly-dressed young woman who was accompanied by a well-known soldier. A few steps further on he came face to face with Selingman.
"A small city, London," the latter declared. "I am on my way to the Berkeley to lunch. Will you come with me? I am alone to-day, and I hate to eat alone. Miss Morgen has deserted me shamefully."
"I met her a moment or two ago," Norgate remarked. "She was with Colonel Bowden."
Selingman nodded. "Rosa has been taking a great interest in flying lately. Colonel Bowden is head of the Flying Section. Well, well, one must expect to be deserted sometimes, we older men."
"Especially in so great a cause," Norgate observed drily.
Selingman smiled enigmatically.
"And you, my young friend," he enquired, "what have you been doing this morning?"
"I have just left Hebblethwaite," Norgate answered.
"There was a Cabinet Council this morning, wasn't there?"
"An unimportant one, I should imagine. Hebblethwaite seemed thoroughly satisfied with himself and with life generally. He has gone down to Walton Heath to play golf."
Selingman led the way into the restaurant.
"Very good exercise for an English Cabinet Minister," he remarked, "capital for the muscles!"
"I had no objection," Norgate remarked, a few hours later, "to lunching with you at the Berkeley—very good lunch it was, too—but to dine with you in Soho certainly seems to require some explanation. Why do we do it? Is it my punishment for a day's inactivity, because if so, I beg to protest. I did my best with Hebblethwaite this morning, and it was only because there was nothing for him to tell me that I heard nothing."
Selingman spread himself out at the little table and talked in voluble German to the portly head-waiter in greasy clothes. Then he turned to his guest.
"My young friend," he enjoined, "you should cultivate a spirit of optimism. I grant you that the place is small and close, that the odour of other people's dinners is repellent, that this cloth, perhaps, is not so clean as it once was, or the linen so fine as we are accustomed to. But what would you have? All sides of life come into the great scheme. It is here that we shall meet a person whom I need to meet, a person whom I do not choose to have visit me at my home, whom I do not choose to be seen with in any public place of great repute."
"I should say we were safe here from knocking against any of our friends!" Norgate observed. "Anyhow, the beer's all right."
They were served with light-coloured beer in tall, chased tumblers. Selingman eyed his with approval.
"A nation," he declared, "which brews beer like this, deserves well of the world. You did wisely, Norgate, to become ever so slightly associated with us. Now examine carefully these hors d'oeuvres. I have talked with Karl, the head-waiter. Instead of eighteen pence, we shall pay three shillings each for our dinner. The whole resources of the establishment are at our disposal. Fresh tins of delicatessen, you perceive. Do not be afraid that you will go-away hungry."
"I am more afraid," Norgate grumbled, "that I shall go away sick. However!"
"You may be interested to hear," announced Selingman, glancing up, "that our visit is not in vain. You perceive the two men entering? The nearest one is a Bulgarian. He is a creature of mine. The other is brought here by him to meet us. It is good."
The newcomers made their way along the room. One, the Bulgarian, was short and dark. He wore a well-brushed blue serge suit with a red tie, and a small bowler hat. He was smoking a long, brown cigarette and he carried a bundle of newspapers. Behind him came a youth with a pale, sensitive face and dark eyes, ill-dressed, with the grip of poverty upon him, from his patched shoes to his frayed collar and well-worn cap. Nevertheless, he carried himself as though indifferent to these things. His companion stopped short as he neared the table at which the two men were sitting, and took off his hat, greeting Selingman with respect.
"My friend Stralhaus!" Selingman exclaimed. "It goes well, I trust? You are a stranger. Let me introduce to you my secretary, Mr. Francis Norgate."
Stralhaus bowed and turned to his young companion.
"This," he said, "is the young man with whom you desired to speak. We will sit down if we may. Sigismund, this is the great Herr Selingman, philanthropist and millionaire, with his secretary, Mr. Norgate. We take dinner with him to-night."
The youth shook hands without enthusiasm. His manner towards Selingman was cold. At Norgate he glanced once or twice with something approaching curiosity. Stralhaus proceeded to make conversation.
"Our young friend," he explained, addressing Norgate, "is an exile in London. He belongs to an unfortunate country. He is a native of Bosnia."
The boy's lip curled.
"It is possible," he remarked, "that Mr. Norgate has never even heard of my country. He is very little likely to know its history."
"On the contrary," Norgate replied, "I know it very well. You have had the misfortune, during the last few years, to come under Austrian rule."
"Since you put it like that," the boy declared, "we are friends. I am one of those who cry out to Heaven in horror at the injustice which has been done. We love liberty, we Bosnians. We love our own people and our own institutions, and we hate Austria. May you never know, sir, what it is to be ruled by an alien race!"
"You have at least the sympathy of many nations who are powerless to interfere," Selingman said quietly. "I read your pamphlet, Mr. Henriote, with very great interest. Before we leave to-night, I shall make a proposal to you."
The boy seemed puzzled for a moment, but Stralhaus intervened with some commonplace remark.
"After dinner," he suggested, "we will talk."
Certainly during the progress of the meal Henriote said little. He ate, although obviously half famished, with restraint, but although Norgate did his best to engage him in conversation, he seemed taciturn, almost sullen. Towards the end of dinner, when every one was smoking and coffee had been served, Selingman glanced at his watch.
"Now," he said, "I will tell you, my young Bosnian patriot, why I sent for you. Would you like to go back to your country, in the first place?"
"It is impossible!" Henriote declared bitterly, "I am exile. I am forbidden to return under pain of death."
Selingman opened his pocket-book, and, searching among his papers, produced a thin blue one which he opened and passed across the table.
"Read that," he ordered shortly.
The young man obeyed. A sudden exclamation broke from his lips. A pink flush, which neither the wine nor the food had produced, burned in his cheeks. He sat hunched up, leaning forward, his eyes devouring the paper. When he had finished, he still gripped it.
"It is my pardon!" he cried. "I may go back home—back to Bosnia!"
"It is your free pardon," Selingman replied, "but it is granted to you upon conditions. Those conditions, I may say, are entirely for your country's sake and are framed by those who feel exactly as you feel—that Austrian rule for Bosnia is an injustice."
"Go on," the young man muttered. "What am I to do?"
"You are a member," Selingman went on, "of the extreme revolutionary party, a party pledged to stop at nothing, to drive your country's enemies across her borders. Very well, listen to me. The pardon which you have there is granted to you without any promise having been asked for or given in return. It is I alone who dictate terms to you. Your country's position, her wrongs, and the abuses of the present form of government, can only be brought before the notice of Europe in one way. You are pledged to do that. All that I require of you is that you keep your pledge."
The young man half rose to his feet with excitement.
"Keep it! Who is more anxious to keep it than I? If Europe wants to know how we feel, she shall know! We will proclaim the wrongs of our country so that England and Russia, France and Italy, shall hear and judge for themselves. If you need deeds to rivet the attention of the world upon our sufferings, then there shall be deeds. There shall—"
He stopped short. A look of despair crossed his face.
"But we have no money!" he exclaimed. "We patriots are starving. Our lands have been confiscated. We have nothing. I live over here Heaven knows how—I, Sigismund Henriote, have toiled for my living with Polish Jews and the outcasts of Europe."
Selingman dived once more into his pocket-book. He passed a packet across the table.
"Young man," he said, "that sum has been collected for your funds by the friends of your country abroad. Take it and use it as you think best. All that I ask from you is that what you do, you do quickly. Let me suggest an occasion for you. The Archduke of Austria will be in your capital almost as soon as you can reach home."
The boy's face was transfigured. His great eyes were lit with a wonderful fire. His frame seemed to have filled out. Norgate looked at him in wonderment. He was like a prophet; then suddenly he grew calm. He placed his pardon, to which was attached his passport, and the notes, in his breast-coat pocket. He rose to his feet and took the cap from the floor by his side.
"There is a train to-night," he announced. "I wish you farewell, gentlemen. I know nothing of you, sir," he added, turning to Selingman, "and I ask no questions. I only know that you have pointed towards the light, and for that I thank you. Good night, gentlemen!"
He left them and walked out of the restaurant like a man in a dream. Selingman helped himself to a liqueur and passed the bottle to Norgate.
"It is in strange places that one may start sometimes the driving wheels of Fate," he remarked.
Anna almost threw herself from the railway carriage into Norgate's arms. She kissed him on both cheeks, held him for a moment away from her, then passed her arm affectionately through his.
"You dear!" she exclaimed. "Oh, how weary I am of it! Nearly a week in the train! And how well you are looking! And I am not going to stay a single second bothering about luggage. Marie, give the porter my dressing-case. Here are the keys. You can see to everything."
Norgate, carried almost off his feet by the delight of her welcome, led her away towards a taxicab.
"I am starving," she told him. "I would have nothing at Dover except a cup of tea. I knew that you would meet me, and I thought that we would have our first meal in England together. You shall take me somewhere where we can have supper and tell me all the news. I don't look too hideous, do I, in my travelling clothes?"
"You look adorable," he assured her, "and I believe you know it."
"I have done my best," she confessed demurely. "Marie took so much trouble with my hair. We had the most delightful coupe all to ourselves. Fancy, we are back again in London! I have been to Italy, I have spoken to kings and prime ministers, and I am back again with you. And queerly enough, not until to-morrow shall I see the one person who really rules Italy."
"Who is that?" he asked.
"I am not sure that I shall tell you everything," she decided. "You have not opened your mouth to me yet. I shall wait until supper-time. Have you changed your mind since I went away?"
"I shall never change it," he assured her eagerly. "We are in a taxicab and I know it's most unusual and improper, but—"
"If you hadn't kissed me," she declared a moment later as she leaned forward to look in the glass, "I should not have eaten a mouthful of supper."
They drove to the Milan Grill. It was a little early for the theatre people, and they were almost alone in the place. Anna drew a great sigh of content as she settled down in her chair.
"I think I must have been lonely for a long time," she whispered, "for it is so delightful to get back and be with you. Tell me what you have been doing?"
"I have been promoted," Norgate announced. "My prospective alliance with you has completed Selingman's confidence in me. I have been entrusted with several commissions."
He told her of his adventures. She listened breathlessly to the account of his dinner in Soho.
"It is queer how all this is working out," she observed. "I knew before that the trouble was to come through Austria. The Emperor was very anxious indeed that it should not. He wanted to have his country brought reluctantly into the struggle. Even at this moment I believe that if he thought there was the slightest chance of England becoming embroiled, he would travel to Berlin himself to plead with the Kaiser. I really don't know why, but the one thing in Austria which would be thoroughly unpopular would be a war with England."
"Tell me about your mission?" he asked.
"To a certain point," she confessed, with a little grimace, "it was unsuccessful. I have brought a reply to the personal letter I took over to the King. I have talked with Guillamo, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with whom, of course, everything is supposed to rest. What I have brought with me, however, and what I heard from Guillamo, are nothing but a repetition of the assurances given to our Ambassador. The few private words which I was to get I have failed in obtaining, simply because the one person who could have spoken them is here in London."
"Who is that?" he enquired curiously.
"The Comtesse di Strozzi," she told him. "It is she who has directed the foreign policy of Italy through Guillamo for the last ten years. He does nothing without her. He is like a lost child, indeed, when she is away. And where do you think she is? Why, here in London. She is staying at the Italian Embassy. Signor Cardina is her cousin. The great ball to-morrow night, of which you have read, is in her honour. You shall be my escort. At one time I knew her quite well."
"The Comtesse di Strozzi!" he exclaimed. "Why, she spent the whole of last season in Paris. I saw quite a great deal of her."
"How odd!" Anna murmured. "But how delightful! We shall be able to talk to her together, you and I."
"It is rather a coincidence," he admitted "She had a sort of craze to visit some of the places in Paris where it is necessary for a woman to go incognito, and I was always her escort. I heard from her only a few weeks ago, and she told me that she was coming to London."
Anna shook her head at him gaily.
"Well," she said, "I won't indulge in any ante-jealousies. I only hope that through her we shall get to know the truth. Are things here still quiet?"
"Also in Paris. Francis, I feel so helpless. On my way I thought of staying over, of going to see the Minister of War and placing certain facts before him. And then I realised how little use it would all be. They won't believe us, Francis. They would simply call us alarmists. They won't believe that the storm is gathering."
"Don't I know it!" Norgate assented earnestly. "Why, Hebblethwaite here has always been a great friend of mine. I have done all I can to influence him. He simply laughs in my face. To-day, for the first time, he admitted that there was a slight uneasiness at the Cabinet Meeting, and that White had referred to a certain mysterious activity throughout Germany. Nevertheless, he has gone down to Walton Heath to play golf."
She made a little grimace.
"Your great Drake," she reminded him, "played bowls when the Armada sailed. Your Cabinet Ministers will be playing golf or tennis. Oh, what a careless country you are!—a careless, haphazard, blind, pig-headed nation to watch over the destinies of such an Empire! I'm so tired of politics, dear. I am so tired of all the big things that concern other people. They press upon one. Now it is finished. You and I are alone. You are my lover, aren't you? Remind me of it. If you will, I will discuss the subject you mentioned the other day. Of course I shall say 'No!' I am not nearly ready to be married yet. But I should like to hear your arguments."
Their heads grew closer and closer together. They were almost touching when Selingman and Rosa Morgen came in. Selingman paused before their table.
"Well, well, young people!" he exclaimed. "Forgive me, Baroness, if I am somewhat failing in respect, but the doings of this young man have become some concern of mine."
Her greeting was tinged with a certain condescension. She had suddenly stiffened. There was something of the grande dame in the way she held up the tips of her fingers.
"You do not disapprove, I trust?"
"Baroness," Selingman declared earnestly, "it is an alliance for which no words can express my approval. It comes at the one moment. It has riveted to us and our interests one whose services will never be forgotten. May I venture to hope that your journey to Italy has been productive?"
"Not entirely as we had hoped," Anna replied, "yet the position there is not unfavourable."
Selingman glanced towards the table at which Miss Morgen had already seated herself.
"I must not neglect my duties," he remarked, turning away.
"Especially," Anna murmured, glancing across the room, "when they might so easily be construed into pleasures."
Selingman beamed amiably.
"The young lady," he said, "is more than ornamental—she is extremely useful. From the fact that I may not be privileged to present her to you, I must be careful that she cannot consider herself neglected. And so good night, Baroness! Good night, Norgate!"
He passed on. The Baroness watched him as he took his place opposite his companion.
"Is it my fancy," Norgate asked, "or does Selingman not meet entirely with your approval?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"It is not that," she replied. "He is a great man, in his way, the Napoleon of the bourgeoisie, but then he is one of them himself. He collects the whole scheme of information as to the social life and opinions—the domestic particulars, I call them—of your country. Details of your industries are at his finger-tips. He and I do not come into contact. I am the trusted agent of both sovereigns, but it is only in high diplomatic affairs that I ever intervene. Selingman, it is true, may be considered the greatest spy who ever breathed, but a spy he is. If we could only persuade your too amiable officials to believe one-tenth of what we could tell them, I think our friend there would breakfast in an English fortress, if you have such a thing."
"We should only place him under police supervision," declared Norgate, "and let him go. It's just our way, that's all."
She waved the subject of Selingman on one side, but almost at that moment he stood once more before them. He held an evening paper in his hand.
"I bring you the news," he announced. "A terrible tragedy has happened. The Archduke of Austria and his Consort have been assassinated on their tour through Bosnia."
For a moment neither Anna nor Norgate moved. Norgate felt a strange sense of sickening excitement. It was as though the curtain had been rung up!
"Is the assassin's name there?" he asked.
"The crime," Selingman replied, "appears to have been committed by a young Servian student. His name is Sigismund Henriote."
They paused at last, breathless, and walked out of the most wonderful ballroom in London into the gardens, aglow with fairy lanterns whose brilliance was already fading before the rising moon. They found a seat under a tall elm tree, and Anna leaned back. It was a queer mixture of sounds which came to their ears; in the near distance, the music of a wonderful orchestra rising and falling; further away, the roar of the great city still awake and alive outside the boundary of those grey stone walls.
"Of course," she murmured, "this is the one thing which completes my subjugation. Fancy an Englishman being able to waltz! Almost in that beautiful room I fancied myself back in Vienna, except that it was more wonderful because it was you."
"You are turning my head," he whispered. "This is like a night out of Paradise. And to think that we are really in the middle of London!"
"Ah! do not mention London," she begged, "or else I shall begin to think of Sodom and Gomorrah. After all, why need one live for anything else except the present?"
"There is the Comtesse," he reminded her disconsolately.
"How horrid of you!"
"Let us forget her, then," he begged. "We will go into the marquee there and have supper, and afterwards dance again. We'll steal to-night out of the calendar. We'll call it ours and play with it as we please."
She shook her head.
"No," she decided, "you have reminded me of our duty, and you are quite right. You were brought here to talk to the Comtesse. I do not know why, but she is in a curiously impenetrable frame of mind. I tried hard to get her to talk to me, but it was useless; you must see what you can do. Fortunately, she seems to be absolutely delighted to have met you again. You have a dance with her, have you not?"
He drew out his programme reluctantly.
"The next one, too," he sighed.
Anna rose quickly to her feet.
"How absurd of me to forget! Take me inside, please, and go and look for her at once."
"It's all very well," Norgate grumbled, "but the last time I saw her she was about three deep among the notabilities. I really don't feel that I ought to jostle dukes and ambassadors to claim a dance."
"You must not be so foolish," Anna insisted. "The Comtesse cares nothing for dukes and ambassadors, but she is most ridiculously fond of good-looking young men. Mind, you will do better with her if you speak entirely outside all of us. She is a very peculiar woman. If one could only read the secrets she has stored up in her brain! Sometimes she is so lavish with them, and at other times, and with other people, it seems as though it would take an earthquake to force a sentence from her lips. There she is, see, in that corner. Never mind the people around her. Go and do your duty."
Norgate found it easier than he had expected. She no sooner saw him coming than she rose to her feet and welcomed him. She laid her fingers upon his arm, and they moved away towards the ballroom.
"I am afraid," he apologised, "that I am rather an intruder. You all seemed so interested in listening to the Duke."
"On the contrary, I welcome you as a deliverer," she declared. "I have heard those stories so often, and worse than having heard them is the necessity always to smile. The Duke is a dear good person, and he has been exceedingly kind to me during the whole of my stay, but oh, how one sometimes does weary oneself of this London of yours! Yet I love it. Do you know that you were almost the first person I asked for when I arrived here? They told me that you were in Berlin."
"I was," he admitted. "I am in the act of being transferred."
"Fortunate person!" she murmured. "You speak the language of all capitals, but I cannot fancy you in Berlin."
They had reached the edge of the ballroom. He hesitated.
"Do you care to dance or shall we go outside and talk?"
She smiled at him. "Both, may we not? You dear, discreet person, when I think of the strange places where I have danced with you—Perhaps it is better not to remember!"
They moved away to the music and later on found their way into the garden. The Comtesse was a little thoughtful.
"You are a great friend of Anna's, are you not?" she enquired.
"We are engaged to be married," he answered simply.
She made a little grimace.
"Ah!" she sighed, "you nice men, it comes to you all. You amuse yourselves with us for a time, and then the real feeling comes, and where are we? But it is queer, too," she went on thoughtfully, "that Anna should marry an Englishman, especially just now."
"Why 'especially just now'?"
The Comtesse evaded the question.
"Anna seemed always," she said, "to prefer the men of her own country. Oh, what music! Shall we have one turn more, Mr. Francis Norgate? It is the waltz they played—but who could expect a man to remember!"
They plunged again into the crowd of dancers. The Comtesse was breathless yet exhilarated when at last they emerged.
"But you dance, as ever, wonderfully!" she cried. "You make me think of those days in Paris. You make me even sad."
"They remain," he assured her, "one of the most pleasant memories of my life."
She patted his hand affectionately. Then her tone changed.
"Almost," she declared, "you have driven all other things out of my mind. What is it that Anna is so anxious to know from me? You are in her confidence, she tells me."
"That again is strange," the Comtesse continued, "when one considers your nationality, yet Anna herself has assured me of it. Do you know that she is a person whom I very much envy? Her life is so full of variety. She is the special protegee of the Emperor. No woman at Vienna is more trusted."
"I am not sure," Norgate observed, "that she was altogether satisfied with the results of her visit to Rome."
The Comtesse's fan fluttered slowly back and forth. She looked for a moment or two idly upon the brilliant scene. The smooth garden paths, the sheltered seats, the lawns themselves, were crowded with little throngs of women in exquisite toilettes, men in uniform and Court dress. There were well-known faces everywhere. It was the crowning triumph of a wonderful London season.
"Anna's was a very difficult mission," the Comtesse pointed out confidentially. "There is really no secret about these matters. The whole world knows of Italy's position. A few months ago, at the time of what you call the Balkan Crisis, Germany pressed us very hard for a definite assurance of our support, under any conditions, of the Triple Alliance. I remember that Andrea was three hours with the King that day, and our reply was unacceptable in Berlin. It may have helped to keep the peace. One cannot tell. The Kaiser's present letter is simply a repetition of his feverish attempt to probe our intentions."
"But at present," Norgate ventured, "there is no Balkan Crisis."
The Comtesse looked at him lazily out of the corners of her sleepy eyes.
"Is there not?" she asked simply. "I have been away from Italy for a week or so, and Andrea trusts nothing to letters. Yesterday I had a dispatch begging me to return. I go to-morrow morning. I do not know whether it is because of the pressure of affairs, or because he wearies himself a little without me."
"One might easily imagine the latter," Norgate remarked. "But is it indeed any secret to you that there is a great feeling of uneasiness throughout the Continent, an extraordinary state of animation, a bustle, although a secret bustle, of preparation in Germany?"
"I have heard rumours of this," the Comtesse confessed.
"When one bears these things in mind and looks a little into the future," Norgate continued, "one might easily believe that the reply to that still unanswered letter of the Kaiser's might well become historical."
"You would like me, would you not," she asked, "to tell you what that reply will most certainly be?"
"You are an Englishman," she remarked thoughtfully, "and intriguing with Anna. I fear that I do not understand the position."
"Must you understand it?"
"Perhaps not," she admitted. "It really matters very little. I will speak to you just in the only way I can speak, as a private individual. I tell you that I do not believe that Andrea will ever, under any circumstances, join in any war against England, nor any war which has for its object the crushing of France. In his mind the Triple Alliance was the most selfish alliance which any country has ever entered into, but so long as the other two Powers understood the situation, it was scarcely Italy's part to point out the fact that she gained everything by it and risked nothing. Italy has sheltered herself for years under its provisions, but neither at the time of signing it, nor at any other time, has she had the slightest intention of joining in an aggressive war at the request of her allies. You see, her Government felt themselves safe—and I think that that was where Andrea was so clever—in promising to fulfil their obligations in case of an attack by any other Power upon Germany or Austria, because it was perfectly certain to Andrea, and to every person of common sense, that no such aggressive attack would ever be made. You read Austria's demands from Servia in the paper this morning?"
"I did," Norgate admitted. "No one in the world could find them reasonable."
"They are not meant to be reasonable," the Comtesse pointed out. "They are the foundation from which the world quarrel shall spring. Russia must intervene to protect Servia from their hideous injustice. Germany and Austria will throw down the gage. Germany may be right or she may be wrong, but she believes she can count on Great Britain's neutrality. She needs our help and believes she will get it. That is because German diplomacy always believes that it is going to get what it wants. Now, in a few words, I will tell you what the German Emperor would give me a province to know. I will tell you that no matter what the temptation, what the proffered reward may be, Italy will not join in this war on the side of Germany and Austria."
"You are very kind, Comtesse," Norgate said simply, "and I shall respect your confidence."
She rose and laid her fingers upon his arm.
"To people whom I like," she declared, "I speak frankly. I give away no secrets. I say what I believe. And now I must leave you for a much subtler person and a much subtler conversation. Prince Herschfeld is waiting to talk to me. Perhaps he, too, would like to know the answer which will go to his master, but how can I tell?"
The Ambassador had paused before them. The Comtesse rose and accepted his arm.
"I shall take away with me to-night at least two charming memories," she assured him, as she gathered up her skirts. "My two dances, Mr. Norgate, have been delightful. Now I am equally sure of entertainment of another sort from Prince Herschfeld."
The Prince bowed.
"Ah! madame," he sighed, "it is so hard to compete with youth. I fear that the feet of Mr. Norgate will be nimbler than my brain to-night."
She nodded sympathetically.
"You are immersed in affairs, of course," she murmured. "Au revoir, Mr. Norgate! Give my love to Anna. Some day I hope that I shall welcome you both in Rome."
Norgate pushed his way through a confused medley of crates which had just been unloaded and made his way up the warehouse to Selingman's office. Selingman was engaged for a few minutes but presently opened the door of his sanctum and called his visitor in.
"Well, my young friend," he exclaimed, "you have brought news? Sit down. This is a busy morning. We have had large shipments from Germany. I have appointments with buyers most of the day, yet I can talk to you for a little time. You were at the ball last night?"
"I was permitted to escort the Baroness von Haase," Norgate replied.
Selingman nodded ponderously.
"I ask you no questions," he said. "The Baroness works on a higher plane. I know more than you would believe, though. I know why the dear lady went to Rome; I know why she was at the ball. I know in what respect you were probably able to help her. But I ask no questions. We work towards a common end, but we work at opposite ends of the pole. Curiosity alone would be gratified if you were to tell me everything that transpired."
"You keep yourself marvellously well-informed as to most things, don't you, Mr. Selingman?" Norgate remarked.
"Platitudes, young man, platitudes," Selingman declared, "words of air. What purpose have they? You know who I am. I hold in my hand a thousand strings. Any one that I pull will bring an answering message to my brain. Come, what is it you wish to say to me?"
"I am doing my work for you," Norgate remarked, "and doing it extraordinarily well. I do not object to a certain amount of surveillance, but I am getting fed up with Boko."
"Who the hell is Boko?" Selingman demanded.
"I must apologise," Norgate replied. "A nickname only. He is a little red-faced man who looks like a children's toy and changes his clothes about seven times a day. He is with me from the moment I rise to the last thing at night. He is getting on my nerves. I am fast drifting into the frame of mind when one looks under the bed before one can sleep."
"Young man," Selingman said, "a month ago you were a person of no importance. To-day, so far as I am concerned, you are a treasure-casket. You hold secrets. You have a great value to us. Every one in your position is watched; it is part of our system. If the man for whom you have found so picturesque a nickname annoys you, he shall be changed. That is the most I can promise you."
"You don't trust me altogether, then?" Norgate observed coolly.
Selingman tapped on the table in front of him with his pudgy forefinger.
"Norgate," he declared solemnly, "trust is a personal matter. I have no personal feelings. I am a machine. All the work I do is done by machinery, the machinery of thought, the machinery of action. These are the only means by which sentiment can be barred and the curious fluctuations of human temperament guarded against. If you were my son, or if you had dropped straight down from Heaven with a letter of introduction from the proper quarters, you would still be under my surveillance."
"That seems to settle the matter," Norgate confessed, "so I suppose I mustn't grumble. Yours is rather a bloodless philosophy."
"Perhaps," Selingman assented. "You see me as I sit here, a merchant of crockery, and I am a kind person. If I saw suffering, I should pause to ease it. If a wounded insect lay in my path, I should step out of my way to avoid it. But if my dearest friend, my nearest relation, seemed likely to me to do one fraction of harm to the great cause, I should without one second's compunction arrange for their removal as inevitably, and with as little hesitation, as I leave this place at one o'clock for my luncheon."
Norgate shrugged his shoulders.
"One apparently runs risks in serving you," he remarked.
"What risks?" Selingman asked keenly.
"The risk of being misunderstood, of making mistakes."
"Pooh!" Selingman exclaimed. "I do not like the man who talks of risks. Let us dismiss this conversation. I have work for you."
Norgate assumed a more interested attitude.
"I am ready," he said. "Go on, please."
"A movement is on foot," Selingman proceeded, "to establish manufactories in this country for the purpose of producing my crockery. A very large company will be formed, a great part of the money towards which is already subscribed. We have examined several sites with a view to building factories, but I have not cared at present to open up direct negotiations. A rumour of our enterprise is about, and the price of the land we require would advance considerably if the prospective purchaser were known. The land is situated, half an acre at Willesden, three-quarters of an acre at Golder's Hill, and an acre at Highgate. I wish you to see the agents for the sale of these properties. I have ascertained indirectly the price, which you will find against each lot, with the agent's name," Selingman continued, passing across a folded slip of foolscap. "You will treat in your own name and pay the deposit yourself. Try and secure all three plots to-day, so that the lawyers can prepare the deeds and my builder can make some preparatory plans there during the week."
Norgate accepted the little bundle of papers with some surprise. Enclosed with them was a thick wad of bank-notes.
"There are two thousand pounds there for your deposits," Selingman continued. "If you need more, telephone to me, but understand I want to start to work laying the foundations within the next few days."
"I'll do the best I can," Norgate promised, "but this is rather a change for me, isn't it? Will Boko come along?"
Selingman smiled for a moment, but immediately afterwards his face was almost stern.
"Young man," he said, "from the moment you pledged your brains to my service, every action of your day has been recorded. From one of my pigeonholes I could draw out a paper and tell you where you lunched yesterday, where you dined the day before, whom you met and with whom you talked, and so it will be until our work is finished."
"So long as I know," Norgate sighed, rising to his feet, "I'll try to get used to him."
Norgate found no particular difficulty in carrying out the commissions entrusted to him. The sale of land is not an everyday affair, and he found the agents exceedingly polite and prompt. The man with whom he arranged the purchase of about three quarters of an acre of building land at Golder's Green, on the conclusion of the transaction exhibited some little curiosity.
"Queer thing," he remarked, "but I sold half an acre, a month or two ago, to a man who came very much as you come to-day. Might have been a foreigner. Said he was going to put up a factory to make boots and shoes. He is not going to start to build until next year, but he wanted a very solid floor to stand heavy machinery. Look here."
The agent climbed upon a pile of bricks, and Norgate followed his example. There was a boarded space before them, with scaffolding poles all around, but no other signs of building, and the interior consisted merely of a perfectly smooth concrete floor.
"That's the queerest way of setting about building a factory I ever saw," the man pointed out.
Norgate, who was not greatly interested, assented. The agent escorted him back to his taxicab.
"Of course, it's not my business," he admitted, "and you needn't say anything about this to your principals, but I hope they don't stop with laying down concrete floors. Of course, money for the property is the chief thing we want, but we do want factories and the employment of labour, and the sooner the better. This fellow—Reynolds, he said his name was—pays up for the property all right, has that concrete floor prepared, and clears off."
"Raising the money to build, perhaps," Norgate remarked. "I don't think there's any secret about my people's intentions. They are going to build factories for the manufacture of crockery."
The agent brightened up.
"Well, that's a new industry, anyway. Crockery, eh?"
"It's a big German firm in Cannon Street," Norgate explained. "They are going to make the stuff here. That ought to be better for our people."
The young man nodded.
"I expect they're afraid of tariff reform," he suggested. "Those Germans see a long way ahead sometimes."
"I am beginning to believe that they do," Norgate assented, as he stepped into the taxi.
Norgate walked into the club rather late that afternoon. Selingman and Prince Lenemaur were talking together in the little drawing-room. They called him in, and a few minutes later the Prince took his leave.
"Well, that's all arranged," Norgate reported. "I have bought the three sites. There was only one thing the fellow down at Golder's Hill was anxious about."
"He hoped you weren't just going to put down a concrete floor and then shut the place up."
Mr. Selingman's amiable imperturbability was for once disturbed.
"What did the fellow mean?" he enquired.
"Haven't an idea," Norgate replied, "but he made me stand on a pile of bricks and look at a strip of land which some one else had bought upon a hill close by. I suppose they want the factories built as quickly as possible, and work-people around the place."
"I shall have two hundred men at work to-morrow morning," Selingman remarked. "If that agent had not been a very ignorant person, he would have known that a concrete floor is a necessity to any factory where heavy machinery is used."
"Is it?" Norgate asked simply.
"Any other question?" Selingman demanded.
"None at all."
"Then we will go and play bridge."
They cut into the same rubber. Selingman, however, was not at first entirely himself. He played his cards in silence, and he once very nearly revoked. Mrs. Benedek took him to task.
"Dear man," she said, "we rely upon you so much, and to-day you fail to amuse us. What is there upon your mind? Let us console you, if we can."
"Dear lady, it is nothing," Selingman assured her. "My company is planning big developments in connection with our business. The details afford me much food for thought. My attention, I fear, sometimes wanders. Forgive me, I will make amends. When the day comes that my new factories start work, I will give such a party as was never seen. I will invite you all. We will have a celebration that every one shall talk of. And meanwhile, behold! I will wander no longer. I declare no trumps."
Selingman for a time was himself again. When he cut out, however, he fidgeted a little restlessly around the room and watched Norgate share the same fate with an air of relief. He laid his hand upon the latter's arm.
"Come into the other room, Norgate," he invited. "I have something to say to you."
Norgate obeyed at once, but the room was already occupied. A little blond lady was entertaining a soldier friend at tea. She withdrew her head from somewhat suspicious proximity to her companion's at their entrance and greeted Selingman with innocent surprise.
"How queer that you should come in just then, Mr. Selingman!" she exclaimed. "We were talking about Germany, Captain Fielder and I."
Selingman beamed upon them both. He was entirely himself again. He looked as though the one thing in life he had desired was to find Mrs. Barlow and her military companion in possession of the little drawing-room.
"My country is flattered," he declared, "especially," he added, with a twinkle in his eyes, "as the subject seemed to be proving so interesting."
She made a little grimace at him.
"Seriously, Mr. Selingman," she continued, "Captain Fielder and I have been almost quarrelling. He insists upon it that some day or other Germany means to declare war upon us. I have been trying to point out that before many years have passed England and France will have drifted apart. Germany is the nearest to us of the continental nations, isn't she, by relationship and race?"
"Mrs. Barlow," Selingman pronounced, "yours is the most sensible allusion to international politics which I have heard for many years. You are right. If I may be permitted to say so," he added, "Captain Fielder is wrong. Germany has no wish to fight with any one. The last country in the world with whom she would care to cross swords is England."
"If Germany does not wish for war," Captain Fielder persisted, "why does she keep such an extraordinary army? Why does she continually add to her navy? Why does she infest our country with spies and keep all her preparations as secret as possible?"
"Of these things I know little," Selingman confessed, "I am a manufacturer, and I have few friends among the military party. But this we all believe, and that is that the German army and navy are our insurance against trouble from the east. They are there so that in case of political controversy we shall have strength at our back when we seek to make favourable terms. As to using that strength, God forbid!"
The little lady threw a triumphant glance across at her companion.
"There, Captain Fielder," she declared, "you have heard what a typical, well-informed, cultivated German gentleman has to say. I rely much more upon Mr. Selingman than upon any of the German reviews or official statements of policy."
Captain Fielder was bluntly unconvinced.
"Mr. Selingman, without doubt," he agreed, "may represent popular and cultivated German opinion. The only thing is whether the policy of the country is dictated by that class. Do you happen to have seen the afternoon papers?"
"Not yet," Mr. Selingman admitted. "Is there any news?"
"There is the full text," Captain Fielder continued, "of Austria's demands upon Servia. I may be wrong, but I say confidently that those demands, which are impossible of acceptance, which would reduce Servia, in fact, to the condition of a mere vassal state, are intended to provoke a state of war."
Mr. Selingman shook his head.
"I have seen the proposals," he remarked. "They were in the second edition of the morning papers. They are onerous, without a doubt, but remember that as you go further east, all diplomacy becomes a matter of barter. They ask for so much first because they are prepared to take a great deal less."
"It is my opinion," Captain Fielder pronounced, "that these demands are couched with the sole idea of inciting Russia's intervention. There is already a report that Servia has appealed to St. Petersburg. It is quite certain that Russia, as the protector of the Slav nations, can never allow Servia to be humbled to this extent."
"Even then," Mr. Selingman protested good-humouredly, "Austria is not Germany."
"There are very few people," Captain Fielder continued, "who do not realise that Austria is acting exactly as she is bidden by Germany. To-morrow you will find that Russia has intervened. If Vienna disregards her, there will be mobilisation along the frontiers. It is my private and very firm impression that Germany is mobilising to-day, and secretly."
Mr. Selingman laughed good-humouredly.
"Well, well," he said, "let us hope it is not quite so bad as that."
"You are frightening me, Captain Fielder," Mrs. Barlow declared. "I am going to take you off to play bridge."
They left the room. Selingman looked after them a little curiously.
"Your military friend," he remarked, "is rather a pessimist."
"Well, we haven't many of them," Norgate replied. "Nine people out of ten believe that a war is about as likely to come as an earthquake."
Selingman glanced towards the closed door.
"Supposing," he said, dropping his voice a little, "supposing I were to tell you, young man, that I entirely agreed with your friend? Supposing I were to tell you that, possibly by accident, he has stumbled upon the exact truth? What would you say then?"
Norgate shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," he observed, "we've agreed, haven't we, that a little lesson would be good for England? It might as well come now as at any other time."
"It will not come yet," Mr. Selingman went on, "but I will tell you what is going to happen."
His voice had fallen almost to a whisper, his manner had become portentous.
"Within a week or two," he said, "Germany and Austria will have declared war upon Russia and Servia and France. Italy will join the allies—that you yourself know. As for England, her time has not come yet. We shall keep her neutral. All the recent information which we have collected makes it clear that she is not in a position to fight, even if she wished to. Nevertheless, to make a certainty of it, we shall offer her great inducements. We shall be ready to deal with her when Calais, Ostend, Boulogne, and Havre are held by our armies. Now listen, do you flinch?"
The two men were still standing in the middle of the room. Selingman's brows were lowered, his eyes were keen and hard-set. He had gripped Norgate by the left shoulder and held him with his face to the light.
"Speak up," he insisted. "It is now or never, if you mean to go through with this. You're not funking it, eh?"
"Not in the least," Norgate declared.
For the space of almost thirty seconds Selingman did not remove his gaze. All the time his hand was like a vice upon Norgate's shoulder.
"Very well," he said at last, "you represent rather a gamble on my part, but I am not afraid of the throw. Come back to our bridge now. It was just a moment's impulse—I saw something in your face. You realise, I suppose—but there, I won't threaten you. Come back and we'll drink a mixed vermouth together. The next few days are going to be rather a strain."
Norgate's expression was almost one of stupefaction. He looked at the slim young man who had entered his sitting-room a little diffidently and for a moment he was speechless.
"Well, I'm hanged!" he murmured at last. "Hardy, you astonish me!"
"The clothes are a perfect fit, sir," the man observed, "and I think that we are exactly the same height."
Norgate took a cigarette from an open box, tapped it against the table and lit it. He was fascinated, however, by the appearance of the man who stood respectfully in the background.
"Talk about clothes making the man!" he exclaimed. "Why, Hardy, do you realise your possibilities? You could go into my club and dine, order jewels from my jeweller. I am not at all sure that you couldn't take my place at a dinner-party."
The man smiled deprecatingly.
"Not quite that, I am sure, sir. If I may be allowed to say so, though, when you were good enough to give me the blue serge suit a short time ago, and a few of your old straw hats, two or three gentlemen stopped me under the impression that I was you. I should not have mentioned it, sir, but for the present circumstances."
"And no wonder!" Norgate declared. "If this weren't really a serious affair, Hardy, I should be inclined to make a little humorous use of you. That isn't what I want now, though. Listen. Put on one of my black overcoats and a silk hat, get the man to call you a taxi up to the door, and drive to Smith's Hotel. You will enquire for the suite of the Baroness von Haase. The Baroness will allow you to remain in her rooms for half an hour. At the end of that time you will return here, change your clothes, and await any further orders."
"Very good, sir," the man replied.
"Help yourself to cigarettes," Norgate invited, passing the box across. "Do the thing properly. Sit well back in the taxicab, although I'm hanged if I think that my friend Boko stands an earthly. Plenty of money in your pocket?"
"Plenty, thank you, sir."
The man left the room, and Norgate, after a brief delay, followed his example. A glance up and down the courtyard convinced him that Boko had disappeared. He jumped into a taxi, gave an address in Belgrave Square, and within a quarter of an hour was ushered into the presence of Mr. Spencer Wyatt, who was seated at a writing-table covered with papers.
"Mr. Norgate, isn't it?" the latter remarked briskly. "I had Mr. Hebblethwaite's note, and I am very pleased to give you five minutes. Sit down, won't you, and fire away."
"Did Mr. Hebblethwaite give you any idea as to what I wanted?" Norgate asked.
"Better read his note," the other replied, pushing it across the table with a little smile.
Norgate took it up and read:—
"My dear Spencer Wyatt,
"A young friend of mine, Francis Norgate, who has been in the Diplomatic Service for some years and is home just now from Berlin under circumstances which you may remember, has asked me to give him a line of introduction to you which will secure him an interview during to-day. Here is that line. Norgate is a young man for whom I have a great friendship. I consider him possessed of unusual intelligence and many delightful gifts, but, like many others of us, he is a crank. You can listen with interest to anything he may have to say to you, unless he speaks of Germany. That's his weak point. On any other subject he is as sane as the best of us.
"Many thanks. Certainly I am coming to the Review. We are all looking forward to it immensely.
"JOHN W. HEBBLETHWAITE."
Norgate set down the letter.
"There are two points of view, Mr. Spencer Wyatt," he said, "as to Germany. Mr. Hebblethwaite believes that I am an alarmist. I know that I am not. This isn't any ordinary visit of mine. I have come to see you on the most urgent matter which any one could possibly conceive. I have come to give you the chance to save our country from the worst disaster that has ever befallen her."
Mr. Spencer Wyatt looked at his visitor steadily. His eyebrows had drawn a little closer together. He remained silent, however.
"I talk about the things I know of," Norgate continued. "By chance I have been associated during the last few weeks with the head of the German spies who infest this country. I have joined his ranks; I have become a double traitor. I do his work, but every report I hand in is a false one."
"Do you realise quite what you are saying, Mr. Norgate?"
"Realise it?" Norgate repeated. "My God! Do you think I come here to say these things to you for dramatic effect, or from a sense of humour, or as a lunatic? Every word I shall say to you is the truth. At the present moment there isn't a soul who seriously believes that England is going to be drawn into what the papers describe as a little eastern trouble. I want to tell you that that little eastern trouble has been brought about simply with the idea of provoking a European war. Germany is ready to strike at last, and this is her moment. Not a fortnight ago I sat opposite the boy Henriote in a cafe in Soho. My German friend handed him the money to get back to his country and to buy bombs. It's all part of the plot. Austria's insane demands are part of the plot; they are meant to drag Russia in. Russia must protest; she must mobilise. Germany is secretly mobilising at this moment. She will declare war against Russia, strike at France through Belgium. She will appeal to us for our neutrality."
"These are wonderful things you are saying, Mr. Norgate!"
"I am telling you the simple truth," Norgate went on, "and the history of our country doesn't hold anything more serious or more wonderful. Shall I come straight to the point? I promised to reach it within five minutes."
"Take your own time," the other replied. "My work is unimportant enough by the side of the things you speak of. You honestly believe that Germany is provoking a war against Russia and France?"
"I know it," Norgate went on. "She believes—Germany believes—that Italy will come in. She also believes, from false information that she has gathered in this country, that under no circumstances will England fight. It isn't about that I came to you. We've become a slothful, slack, pleasure-loving people, but I still believe that when the time comes we shall fight. The only thing is that we shall be taken at a big disadvantage. We shall be open to a raid upon our fleet. Do you know that the entire German navy is at Kiel?"
Mr. Wyatt nodded. "Manoeuvres," he murmured.
"Their manoeuvre," Norgate continued earnestly, "is to strike one great blow at our scattered forces. Mr. Spencer Wyatt, I have come here to warn you. I don't understand the workings of your department. I don't know to whom you are responsible for any step you might take. But I have come to warn you that possibly within a few days, probably within a week, certainly within a fortnight, England will be at war."
Mr. Wyatt glanced down at Hebblethwaite's letter.
"You are rather taking my breath away, Mr. Norgate!"
"I can't help it, sir," Norgate said simply. "I know that what I am telling you must sound like a fairy tale. I beg you to take it from me as the truth."
"But," Mr. Spencer Wyatt remarked, "if you have come into all this information, Mr. Norgate, why didn't you go to your friend Hebblethwaite? Why haven't you communicated with the police and given this German spy of yours into charge?"
"I have been to Hebblethwaite, and I have been to Scotland Yard," Norgate told him firmly, "and all that I have got for my pains has been a snub. They won't believe in German spies. Mr. Wyatt, you are a man of a little different temperament and calibre from those others. I tell you that all of them in the Cabinet have their heads thrust deep down into the sand. They won't listen to me. They wouldn't believe a word of what I am saying to you, but it's true."
Mr. Spencer Wyatt leaned back in his chair. He had folded his arms. He was looking over the top of his desk across the room. His eyebrows were knitted, his thoughts had wandered away. For several moments there was silence. Then at last he rose to his feet, unlocked the safe which stood by his side, and took out a solid chart dotted in many places with little flags, each one of which bore the name of a ship. He looked at it attentively.
"That's the position of every ship we own, at six o'clock this evening," he pointed out. "It's true we are scattered. We are purposely scattered because of the Review. On Monday morning I go down to the Admiralty, and I give the word. Every ship you see represented by those little flags, moves in one direction."
"In other words," Norgate remarked, "it is a mobilisation."
Norgate leaned forward in his chair.
"You're coming to what I want to suggest," he proceeded. "Listen. You can do it, if you like. Go down to the Admiralty to-night. Give that order. Set the wireless going. Mobilise the fleet to-night."
Mr. Wyatt looked steadfastly at his companion. His fingers were restlessly stroking his chin, his eyes seemed to be looking through his visitor.
"But it would be a week too soon," he muttered.
"Risk it," Norgate begged. "You have always the Review to fall back upon. The mobilisation, to be effective, should be unexpected. Mobilise to-morrow. I am telling you the truth, sir, and you'll know it before many days are passed. Even if I have got hold of a mare's nest, you know there's trouble brewing. England will be in none the worse position to intervene for peace, if her fleet is ready to strike."
Mr. Spencer Wyatt rose to his feet. He seemed somehow an altered man.
"Look here," he announced gravely, "I am going for the gamble. If I have been misled, there will probably be an end of my career. I tell you frankly, I believe in you. I believe in the truth of the things you talk about. I risked everything, only a few weeks ago, on my belief. I'll risk my whole career now. Keep your mouth shut; don't say a word. Until to-morrow you will be the only man in England who knows it. I am going to mobilise the fleet to-night. Shake hands, Mr. Norgate. You're either the best friend or the worst foe I've ever had. My coat and hat," he ordered the servant who answered his summons. "Tell your mistress, if she enquires, that I have gone down to the Admiralty on special business."
Anna passed her hand through Norgate's arm and led him forcibly away from the shop window before which they had been standing.
"My mind is absolutely made up," she declared firmly. "I adore shopping, I love Bond Street, and I rather like you, but I will have no more trifles, as you call them. If you do not obey, I shall gaze into the next tobacconist's window we pass, and go in and buy you all sorts of unsmokable and unusable things. And, oh, dear, here is the Count! I feel like a child who has played truant from school. What will he do to me, Francis?"
"Don't worry, dear," Norgate laughed. "We're coming to the end of this tutelage, you know."
Count Lanyoki, who had stopped his motor-car, came across the street towards them. He was, as usual, irreproachably attired. He wore white gaiters, patent shoes, and a grey, tall hat. His black hair, a little thin at the forehead, was brushed smoothly back. His moustache, also black but streaked with grey, was twisted upwards. He had, as always, the air of having just left the hands of his valet.
"Dear Baroness," he exclaimed, as he accosted her, "London has been searched for you! At the Embassy my staff are reduced to despair. Telephones, notes, telegrams, and personal calls have been in vain. Since lunch-time yesterday it seemed to us that you must have found some other sphere in which to dwell."
"Perhaps I have," Anna laughed. "I am so sorry to have given you all this trouble, but yesterday—well, let me introduce, if I may, my husband, Mr. Francis Norgate. We were married by special license yesterday afternoon."
The Count's amazement was obvious. Diplomatist though he was, it was several seconds before he could collect himself and rise to the situation. He broke off at last, however, in the midst of a string of interjections and realised his duties.
"My dear Baroness," he said, "my dear lady, let me wish you every happiness. And you, sir," he added, turning to Norgate, "you must have, without a doubt, my most hearty congratulations. There! That is said. And now to more serious matters. Baroness, have you not always considered yourself the ward of the Emperor?"
"His Majesty has been very kind to me," she admitted. "At the same time, I feel that I owe more to myself than I do to him. His first essay at interfering in my affairs was scarcely a happy one, was it?"
"Perhaps not," the Count replied. "And yet, think what you have done! You have married an Englishman!"
"I thought English people were quite popular in Vienna," Anna reminded him.
The Count hesitated. "That," he declared, "is scarcely the question. What troubles me most is that forty-eight hours ago I brought you a dispatch from the Emperor."
"You brought," Anna pointed out, "what really amounted to an order to return at once to Vienna. Well, you see, I have disobeyed it."
They were standing at the corner of Clifford Street, and the Count, with a little gesture, led the way into the less crowded thoroughfare.
"Dear Baroness," he continued, as they walked slowly along, "I am placed now in a most extraordinary position. The Emperor's telegram was of serious import. It cannot be that you mean to disobey his summons?"
"Well, I really couldn't put off being married, could I," Anna protested, "especially when my husband had just got the special license. Besides, I do not wish to return to Vienna just now."
The Count glanced at Norgate and appeared to deliberate for a moment.
"The state of affairs in the East," he said, "is such that it is certainly wiser for every one just now to be within the borders of their own country."
"You believe that things are serious?" Anna enquired. "You believe, then, that real trouble is at hand?"
"I fear so," the Count acknowledged. "It appears to us that Servia has a secret understanding with Russia, or she would not have ventured upon such an attitude as she is now adopting towards us. If that be so, the possibilities of trouble are immense, almost boundless. That is why, Baroness, the Emperor has sent for you. That is why I think you should not hesitate to at once obey his summons."
Anna looked up at her companion, her eyes wide open, a little smile parting her lips.
"But, Count," she exclaimed, "you seem to forget! A few days ago, all that you say to me was reasonable enough, but to-day there is a great difference, is there not? I have married an Englishman. Henceforth this is my country."
There was a moment's silence. The Count seemed dumbfounded. He stared at Anna as though unable to grasp the meaning of her words.
"Forgive me, Baroness!" he begged. "I cannot for the moment realise the significance of this thing. Do you mean me to understand that you consider yourself now an Englishwoman?"
"I do indeed," she assented. "There are many ties which still bind me to Austria—ties, Count," she proceeded, looking him in the face, "of which I shall be mindful. Yet I am not any longer the Baroness von Haase. I am Mrs. Francis Norgate, and I have promised to obey my husband in all manner of ridiculous things. At the same time, may I add something which will, perhaps, help you to accept the position with more philosophy? My husband is a friend of Herr Selingman's."
The Count glanced quickly towards Norgate. There was some relief in his face—a great deal of distrust, however.
"Baroness," he said, "my advice to you, for your own good entirely, is, with all respect to your husband, that you shorten your honeymoon and pay your respects to the Emperor. I think that you owe it to him. I think that you owe it to your country."
Anna for a moment was grave again.
"Just at present," she pronounced, "I realise one debt only, and that is to my husband. I will come to the Embassy to-morrow and discuss these matters with you, Count, but whether my husband accompanies me or not, I have now no secrets from him."
"The position, then," the Count declared, "is intolerable. May I ask whether you altogether realise, Baroness; what this means? The Emperor is your guardian. All your estates are subject to his jurisdiction. It is his command that you return to Vienna."
Anna laughed again. She passed her fingers through Norgate's arm.
"You see," she explained, as they stood for a moment at the corner of the street, "I have a new emperor now, and he will not let me go."
* * * * *
Selingman frowned a little as he recognised his visitor. Nevertheless, he rose respectfully to his feet and himself placed a chair by the side of his desk.
"My dear Count!" he exclaimed. "I am very glad to see you, but this is an unusual visit. I would have met you somewhere, or come to the Embassy. Have we not agreed that it was well for Herr Selingman, the crockery manufacturer—"
"That is all very well, Selingman," the Count interrupted, "but this morning I have had a shock. It was necessary for me to talk with you at once. In Bond Street I met the Baroness von Haase. For twenty-four hours London has been ransacked in vain for her. This you may not know, but I will now tell you. She has been our trusted agent, the trusted agent of the Emperor, in many recent instances. She has carried secrets in her brain, messages to different countries. There is little that she does not know. The last twenty-four hours, as I say, I have sought for her. The Emperor requires her presence in Vienna. I meet her in Bond Street this morning and she introduces to me her husband, an English husband, Mr. Francis Norgate!"
He drew back a little, with outstretched hands. Selingman's face, however, remained expressionless.
"Married already!" he commented. "Well, that is rather a surprise."
"A surprise? To be frank, it terrifies me!" the Count cried. "Heaven knows what that woman could tell an Englishman, if she chose! And her manner—I did not like it. The only reassuring thing about it was that she told me that her husband was one of your men."
"Quite true," Selingman assented. "He is. It is only recently that he came to us, but I do not mind telling you that during the last few weeks no one has done such good work. He is the very man we needed."
"You have trusted him?"
"I trust or I do not trust," Selingman replied. "That you know. I have employed this young man in very useful work. I cannot blindfold him. He knows."
"Then I fear treachery," the Count declared.
"Have you any reason for saying that?" Selingman asked.
The Count lit a cigarette with trembling fingers.
"Listen," he said, "always, my friend, you undervalue a little the English race. You undervalue their intelligence, their patriotism, their poise towards the serious matters of life. I know nothing of Mr. Francis Norgate save what I saw this morning. He is one of that type of Englishmen, clean-bred, well-born, full of reserve, taciturn, yet, I would swear, honourable. I know the type, and I do not believe in such a man being your servant."
The shadow of anxiety crossed Selingman's face.
"Have you any reason for saying this?" he repeated.
"No reason save the instinct which is above reason," the Count replied quickly. "I know that if the Baroness and he put their heads together, we may be under the shadow of catastrophe."
Selingman sat with folded arms for several moments.
"Count," he said at last, "I appreciate your point of view. You have, I confess, disturbed me. Yet of this young man I have little fear. I did not approach him by any vulgar means. I took, as they say here, the bull by the horns. I appealed to his patriotism."
"To what?" the Count demanded incredulously.
"To his patriotism," Selingman repeated. "I showed him the decadence of his country, decadence visible through all her institutions, through her political tendencies, through her young men of all classes. I convinced him that what the country needed was a bitter tonic, a kind but chastening hand. I convinced him of this. He believes that he betrays his country for her ultimate good. As I told you before, he has brought me information which is simply invaluable. He has a position and connections which are unique."
The Count drew his chair a little nearer.
"You say that he has done you great service," he said. "Well, you must admit for yourself that the day is too near now for much more to be expected. Could you not somehow guard against his resolution breaking down at the last moment? Think what it may mean to him—the sound of his national anthem at a critical moment, the clash of arms in the distance, the call of France across the Channel. A week—even half a week's extra preparation might make much difference."
Selingman sat for a short time, deep in thought. Then he drew out a box of pale-looking German cigars and lit one.
"Count," he announced solemnly, "I take off my hat to you. Leave the matter in my hands."
Norgate set down the telephone receiver and turned to Anna, who was seated in an easy-chair by his side.
"Selingman is down-stairs," he announced. "I rather expected I should see something of him as I didn't go to the club this afternoon. You won't mind if he comes up?"
"The man is a nuisance," Anna declared, with a little grimace. "I was perfectly happy, Francis, sitting here before the open window and looking out at the lights in that cool, violet gulf of darkness. I believe that in another minute I should have said something to you absolutely ravishing. Then your telephone rings and back one comes to earth again!"
Norgate smiled as he held her hand in his.
"We will get rid of him quickly, dearest," he promised.
There was a knock at the door, and Selingman entered, his face wreathed in smiles. He was wearing a long dinner coat and a flowing black tie. He held out both his hands.
"So this is the great news that has kept you away from us!" he exclaimed. "My congratulations, Norgate. You can never say again that the luck has left you. Baroness, may I take advantage of my slight acquaintance to express my sincere wishes for your happiness?"
They wheeled up a chair for him, and Norgate produced some cigars. The night was close. They were on the seventh story, overlooking the river, and a pleasant breeze stole every now and then into the room.
"You are well placed here," Selingman declared. "Myself, I too like to be high up."
"These are really just my bachelor rooms," Norgate explained, "but under the circumstances we thought it wiser to wait before we settled down anywhere. Is there any news to-night?"
"There is great news," Selingman announced gravely. "There is news of wonderful import. In a few minutes you will hear the shouting of the boys in the Strand there. You shall hear it first from me. Germany has found herself compelled to declare war against Russia."
They were both speechless. Norgate was carried off his feet. The reality of the thing was stupendous.
"Russia has been mobilising night and day on the frontiers of East Prussia," Selingman continued. "Germany has chosen to strike the first blow. Now listen, both of you. I am going to speak in these few minutes to Norgate here very serious words. I take it that in the matters which lie between him and me, you, Baroness, are as one with him?"
"It is so," Norgate admitted.
"To be frank, then," Selingman went on, "you, Norgate, during these momentous days have been the most useful of all my helpers here. The information which I have dispatched to Berlin, emanating from you, has been more than important—it has been vital. It has been so vital that I have a long dispatch to-night, begging me to reaffirm my absolute conviction as to the truth of the information which I have forwarded. Let us, for a moment, recapitulate. You remember your interview with Mr. Hebblethwaite on the subject of war?"
"Distinctly," Norgate assented.
"It was your impression," Selingman continued, "gathered from that conversation, that under no possible circumstances would Mr. Hebblethwaite himself, or the Cabinet as a whole, go to war with Germany in support of France. Is that correct?"
"It is correct," Norgate admitted.
"Nothing has happened to change your opinion?"
"To proceed, then," Selingman went on. "Some little time ago you called upon Mr. Bullen at the House of Commons. You promised a large contribution to the funds of the Irish Party, a sum which is to be paid over on the first of next month, on condition that no compromise in the Home Rule question shall be accepted by him, even in case of war. And further, that if England should find herself in a state of war, no Nationalists should volunteer to fight in her ranks. Is this correct?"
"Perfectly," Norgate admitted.
"The information was of great interest in Berlin," Selingman pointed out. "It is realised there that it means of necessity a civil war."
"Without a doubt."
"You believe," Selingman persisted, "that I did not take an exaggerated or distorted view of the situation, as discussed between you and Mr. Bullen, when I reported that civil war in Ireland was inevitable?"
"It is inevitable," Norgate agreed.
Selingman sat for several moments in portentous silence.
"We are on the threshold of great events," he announced. "The Cabinet opinion in Berlin has been swayed by the two factors which we have discussed. It is the wish of Germany, and her policy, to end once and for all the eastern disquiet, to weaken Russia so that she can no longer call herself the champion of the Slav races and uphold their barbarism against our culture. France is to be dealt with only as the ally of Russia. We want little more from her than we have already. But our great desire is that England of necessity and of her own choice, should remain, for the present, neutral. Her time is to come later. Italy, Germany, and Austria can deal with France and Russia to a mathematical certainty. What we desire to avoid are any unforeseen complications. I leave you to-night, and I cable my absolute belief in the statements deduced from your work. You have nothing more to say?"
"Nothing," Norgate replied.
Selingman was apparently relieved. He rose, a little later, to his feet.
"My young friend," he concluded, "in the near future great rewards will find their way to this country. There is no one who has deserved more than you. There is no one who will profit more. That reminds me. There was one little question I had to ask. A friend of mine has seen you on your way back and forth to Camberley three or four times lately. You lunched the other day with the colonel of one of your Lancer regiments. How did you spend your time at Camberley?"
For a moment Norgate made no reply. The moonlight was shining into the room, and Anna had turned out all the lights with the exception of one heavily-shaded lamp. Her eyes were shining as she leaned a little forward in her chair.
"Boko again, I suppose," Norgate grunted.
"Certainly Boko," Selingman acknowledged.
"I was in the Yeomanry when I was younger," Norgate explained slowly. "I had some thought of entering the army before I took up diplomacy. Colonel Chalmers is a friend of mine. I have been down to Camberley to see if I could pick up a little of the new drill."
"For what reason?" Selingman demanded.
"Need I tell you that?" Norgate protested. "Whatever my feeling for England may be at the present moment, however bitterly I may regret the way she has let her opportunities slip, the slovenly political condition of the country, yet I cannot put away from me the fact that I am an Englishman. If trouble should come, even though I may have helped to bring it about, even though I may believe that it is a good thing for the country to have to meet trouble, I should still fight on her side."
"But there will be no war," Selingman reminded him. "You yourself have ascertained that the present Cabinet will decline war at any cost."
"The present Government, without a doubt," Norgate assented. "I am thinking of later on, when your first task is over."
Selingman nodded gravely.
"When that day comes," he said, as he rose and took up his hat, "it will not be a war. If your people resist, it will be a butchery. Better to find yourself in one of the Baroness' castles in Austria when that time comes! It is never worth while to draw a sword in a lost cause. I wish you good night, Baroness. I wish you good night, Norgate."
He shook hands with them both firmly, but there was still something of reserve in his manner. Norgate rang for his servant to show him out. They took their places once more by the window.
"War!" Norgate murmured, his eyes fixed upon the distant lights.
Anna crept a little nearer to him.
"Francis," she whispered, "that man has made me a little uneasy. Supposing they should discover that you have deceived them, before they have been obliged to leave the country!"
"They will be much too busy," Norgate replied, "to think about me."
Anna's face was still troubled. "I did not like that man's look," she persisted, "when he asked you what you were doing at Camberley. Perhaps he still believes that you have told the truth, but he might easily have it in his mind that you knew too many of their secrets to be trusted when the vital moment came."
Norgate leaned over and drew her towards him.
"Selingman has gone," he murmured. "It is only outside that war is throbbing. Dearest, I think that my vital moments are now!"
Mr. Hebblethwaite permitted himself a single moment of abstraction. He sat at the head of the table in his own remarkably well-appointed dining-room. His guests—there were eighteen or twenty of them in all—represented in a single word Success—success social as well as political. His excellently cooked dinner was being served with faultless precision. His epigrams had never been more pungent. The very distinguished peeress who sat upon his right, and whose name was a household word in the enemy's camp, had listened to him with enchained and sympathetic interest. For a single second he permitted his thoughts to travel back to the humble beginnings of his political career. He had a brief, flashlight recollection of the suburban parlour of his early days, the hard fight at first for a living, then for some small place in local politics, and then, larger and more daring schemes as the boundary of his ambitions became each year a little further extended. Beyond him now was only one more step to be taken. The last goal was well within his reach.
The woman at his right recommenced their conversation, which had been for a moment interrupted.
"We were speaking of success," she said. "Success often comes to one covered by the tentacles and parasites of shame, and yet, even in its grosser forms, it has something splendid about it. But success that carries with it no apparent drawback whatever is, of course, the most amazing thing of all. I was reading that wonderful article of Professor Wilson's last month. He quotes you very extensively. His analysis of your character was, in its way, interesting. Directly I had read it, however, I felt that it lacked one thing—simplicity. I made up my mind that the next time we talked intimately, I would ask you to what you yourself attributed your success?"
Hebblethwaite smiled graciously.
"I will not attempt to answer you in epigrams," he replied. "I will pay a passing tribute to a wonderful constitution, an invincible sense of humour, which I think help one to keep one's head up under many trying conditions. But the real and final explanation of my success is that I embraced the popular cause. I came from the people, and when I entered into politics, I told myself and every one else that it was for the people I should work. I have never swerved from that purpose. It is to the people I owe whatever success I am enjoying to-day."
The Duchess nodded thoughtfully.
"Yes," she admitted, "you are right there. Shall I proceed with my own train of thought quite honestly?"
"I shall count it a compliment," he assured her earnestly, "even if your thoughts contain criticisms."
"You occupy so great a position in political life to-day," she continued, "that one is forced to consider you, especially in view of the future, as a politician from every point of view. Now, by your own showing, you have been a specialist. You have taken up the cause of the people against the classes. You have stripped many of us of our possessions—the Duke, you know, hates the sound of your name—and by your legislation you have, without a doubt, improved the welfare of many millions of human beings. But that is not all that a great politician must achieve, is it? There is our Empire across the seas."
"Imperialism," he declared, "has never been in the foreground of my programme, but I call myself an Imperialist. I have done what I could for the colonies. I have even abandoned on their behalf some of my pet principles of absolute freedom in trade."
"You certainly have not been prejudiced," she admitted. "Whether your politics have been those of an Imperialist from the broadest point of view—well, we won't discuss that question just now. We might, perhaps, differ. But there is just one more point. Zealously and during the whole of your career, you have set your face steadfastly against any increase of our military power. They say that it is chiefly due to you and Mr. Busby that our army to-day is weaker in numbers than it has been for years. You have set your face steadily against all schemes for national service. You have taken up the stand that England can afford to remain neutral, whatever combination of Powers on the Continent may fight. Now tell me, do you see any possibility of failure, from the standpoint of a great politician, in your attitude?"
"I do not," he answered. "On the contrary, I am proud of all that I have done in that direction. For the reduction of our armaments I accept the full responsibility. It is true that I have opposed national service. I want to see the people develop commercially. The withdrawing of a million of young men, even for a month every year, from their regular tasks, would not only mean a serious loss to the manufacturing community, but it would be apt to unsettle and unsteady them. Further, it would kindle in this country the one thing I am anxious to avoid—the military spirit. We do not need it, Duchess. We are a peace-loving nation, civilised out of the crude lust for conquest founded upon bloodshed. I do believe that geographically and from every other point of view, England, with her navy, can afford to fold her arms, and if other nations should at any time be foolish enough to imperil their very existence by fighting for conquest or revenge, then we, who are strong enough to remain aloof, can only grow richer and stronger by the disasters which happen to them."