There was a momentary silence. The Duchess leaned back in her chair, and Mr. Hebblethwaite, always the courteous host, talked for a while to the woman on his left. The Duchess, however, reopened the subject a few minutes later.
"I come, you must remember, Mr. Hebblethwaite," she observed, "from long generations of soldiers, and you, as you have reminded me, from a long race of yeomen and tradespeople. Therefore, without a doubt, our point of view must be different. That, perhaps, is what makes conversation between us so interesting. To me, a conflict in Europe, sooner or later, appears inevitable. With England preserving a haughty and insular neutrality, which, from her present military condition, would be almost compulsory, the struggle would be between Russia, France, Italy, Germany, and Austria. Russia is an unknown force, but in my mind I see Austria and Italy, with perhaps one German army, holding her back for many months, perhaps indefinitely. On the other hand, I see France overrun by the Germans very much as she was in 1870. I adore the French, and I have little sympathy with the Germans, but as a fighting race I very reluctantly feel that I must admit the superiority of the Germans. Very well, then. With Ostend, Calais, Boulogne, and Havre seized by Germany, as they certainly would be, and turned into naval bases, do you still believe that England's security would be wholly provided for by her fleet?"
Mr. Hebblethwaite smiled.
"Duchess," he said, "sooner or later I felt quite sure that our conversation would draw near to the German bogey. The picture you draw is menacing enough. I look upon its probability as exactly on the same par as the overrunning of Europe by the yellow races."
"You believe in the sincerity of Germany?" she asked.
"I do," he admitted firmly. "There is a military element in Germany which is to be regretted, but the Germans themselves are a splendid, cultured, and peace-loving people, who are seeking their future not at the point of the sword but in the counting-houses of the world. If I fear the Germans, it is commercially, and from no other point of view."
"I wish I could feel your confidence," the Duchess sighed.
"I have myself recently returned from Berlin," Mr. Hebblethwaite continued. "Busby, as you know, has been many times an honoured guest there at their universities and in their great cities. He has had every opportunity of probing the tendencies of the people. His mind is absolutely and finally made up. Not in all history has there ever existed a race freer from the lust of bloodthirsty conquest than the German people of to-day."
Mr. Hebblethwaite concluded his sentence with some emphasis. He felt that his words were carrying conviction. Some of the conversation at their end of the table had been broken off to listen to his pronouncements. At that moment his butler touched him upon the elbow.
"Mr. Bedells has just come up from the War Office, sir," he announced. "He is waiting outside. In the meantime, he desired me to give you this."
The butler, who had served an archbishop, and resented often his own presence in the establishment of a Radical Cabinet Minister, presented a small silver salver on which reposed a hastily twisted up piece of paper. Mr. Hebblethwaite, with a little nod, unrolled it and glanced towards the Duchess, who bowed complacently. With the smile still upon his lips, a confident light in his eyes, Mr. Hebblethwaite held out the crumpled piece of paper before him and read the hurriedly scrawled pencil lines:
"Germany has declared war against Russia and presented an ultimatum to France. I have other messages."
Mr. Hebblethwaite was a strong man. He was a man of immense self-control. Yet in that moment the arteries of life seemed as though they had ceased to flow. He sat at the head of his table, and his eyes never left those pencilled words. His mind fought with them, discarded them, only to find them still there hammering at his brain, traced in letters of scarlet upon the distant walls. War! The great, unbelievable tragedy, the one thousand-to-one chance in life which he had ever taken! His hand almost fell to his side. There was a queer little silence. No one liked to ask him a question; no one liked to speak. It was the Duchess at last who murmured a few words, when the silence had become intolerable.
"It is bad news?" she whispered.
"It is very bad news indeed," Mr. Hebblethwaite answered, raising his voice a little, so that every one at the table might hear him. "I have just heard from the War Office that Germany has declared war against Russia. You will perhaps, under the circumstances, excuse me."
He rose to his feet. There was a queer singing in his ears. The feast seemed to have turned to a sickly debauch. All that pinnacle of success seemed to have fallen away. The faces of his guests, even, as they looked at him, seemed to his conscience to be expressing one thing, and one thing only—that same horrible conviction which was deadening his own senses. He and the others—could it be true?—had they taken up lightly the charge and care of a mighty empire and dared to gamble upon, instead of providing for, its security? He thrust the thought away; and the natural strength of the man began to reassert itself. If they had done ill, they had done it for the people's sake. The people must rally to them now. He held his head high as he left the room.
Norgate found himself in an atmosphere of strange excitement during his two hours' waiting at the House of Commons on the following day. He was ushered at last into Mr. Hebblethwaite's private room. Hebblethwaite had just come in from the House and was leaning a little back in his chair, in an attitude of repose. He glanced at Norgate with a faint smile.
"Well, young fellow," he remarked, "come to do the usual 'I told you so' business, I suppose?"
"Don't be an ass!" Norgate most irreverently replied. "There are one or two things I must tell you and tell you at once. I may have hinted at them before, but you weren't taking things seriously then. First of all, is Mr. Bullen in the House?"
"Could you send for him here just for a minute?" Norgate pleaded. "I am sure it would make what I am going to say sound more convincing to you."
Hebblethwaite struck a bell by his side and despatched a messenger.
"How are things going?" Norgate asked.
"France is mobilising as fast as she can," Hebblethwaite announced. "We have reports coming in that Germany has been at it for at least a week, secretly. They say that Austrian troops have crossed into Poland. There isn't anything definite yet, but it's war, without a doubt, war just as we'd struck the right note for peace. Russia was firm but splendid. Austria was wavering. Just at the critical moment, like a thunderbolt, came Germany's declaration of war. Here's Mr. Bullen. Now go ahead, Norgate."
Mr. Bullen came into the room, recognised Norgate, and stopped short.
"So you're here again, young man, are you?" he exclaimed. "I don't know why you've sent for me, Hebblethwaite, but if you take my advice, you won't let that young fellow go until you've asked him a few questions."
"Mr. Norgate is a friend of mine," Hebblethwaite said. "I think you will find—"
"Friend or no friend," the Irishman interrupted, "he is a traitor, and I tell you so to his face."
"That is exactly what I wished you to tell Mr. Hebblethwaite," Norgate remarked, nodding pleasantly. "I just want you to recall the circumstances of my first visit here."
"You came and offered me a bribe of a million pounds," Mr. Bullen declared, "if I would provoke a civil war in Ireland in the event of England getting into trouble. I wasn't sure whom you were acting for then, but I am jolly certain now. That young fellow is a German spy, Hebblethwaite."
"Mr. Hebblethwaite knew that quite well," admitted Norgate coolly. "I came and told him so several times. I think that he even encouraged me to do my worst."
"Look here, Norgate," Hebblethwaite intervened, "I'm certain you are driving at something serious. Let's have it."
"Quite right, I am," Norgate assented. "I just wanted to testify to you that Mr. Bullen's reply to my offer was the patriotic reply of a loyal Irishman. I did offer him that million pounds on behalf of Germany, and he did indignantly refuse it, but the point of the whole thing is—my report to Germany."
"And that?" Mr. Hebblethwaite asked eagerly.
"I reported Mr. Bullen's acceptance of the sum," Norgate told them. "I reported that civil war in Ireland was imminent and inevitable and would come only the sooner for any continental trouble in which England might become engaged."
Mr. Hebblethwaite's face cleared.
"I begin to understand now, Norgate," he muttered. "Good fellow!"
Mr. Bullen was summoned in hot haste by one of his supporters and hurried out. Norgate drew his chair a little closer to his friend's.
"Look here, Hebblethwaite," he said, "you wouldn't listen to me, you know—I don't blame you—but I knew the truth of what I was saying. I knew what was coming. The only thing I could do to help was to play the double traitor. I did it. My chief, who reported to Berlin that this civil war was inevitable, will get it in the neck, but there's more to follow. The Baroness von Haase and I were associated in an absolutely confidential mission to ascertain the likely position of Italy in the event of this conflict. I know for a fact that Italy will not come in with her allies."
"Do you mean that?" Mr. Hebblethwaite asked eagerly.
"Absolutely certain," Norgate assured him.
Hebblethwaite half rose from his place with excitement.
"I ought to telephone to the War Office," he declared. "It will alter the whole mobilisation of the French troops."
"France knows," Norgate told him quietly. "My wife has seen to that. She passed the information on to them just in time to contract the whole line of mobilisation."
"You've been doing big things, young fellow!" Mr. Hebblethwaite exclaimed excitedly. "Go on. Tell me at once, what was your report to Germany?"
"I reported that Italy would certainly fulfil the terms of her alliance and fight," Norgate replied. "Furthermore, I have convinced my chief over here that under no possible circumstances would the present Cabinet sanction any war whatsoever. I have given him plainly to understand that you especially are determined to leave France to her fate if war should come, and to preserve our absolute neutrality at all costs."
"Go on," Hebblethwaite murmured. "Finish it, anyhow."
"There is very little more," Norgate concluded. "I have a list here of properties in the outskirts of London, all bought by Germans, and all having secret preparations for the mounting of big guns. You might just pass that on to the War Office, and they can destroy the places at their leisure. There isn't anything else, Hebblethwaite. As I told you, I've played the double traitor. It was the only way I could help. Now, if I were you, I would arrest the master-spy for whom I have been working. Most of the information he has picked up lately has been pretty bad, and I fancy he'll get a warm reception if he does get back to Berlin, but if ever there was a foreigner who abused the hospitality of this country, Selingman's the man."
"We'll see about that presently," Mr. Hebblethwaite declared, leaning back. "Let me think over what you have told me. It comes to this, Norgate. You've practically encouraged Germany to risk affronting us."
"I can't help that," Norgate admitted. "Germany has gone into this war, firmly believing that Italy will be on her side, and that we shall have our hands occupied in civil war, and in any case that we should remain neutral. I am not asking you questions, Hebblethwaite. I don't know what the position of the Government will be if Germany attacks France in the ordinary way. But one thing I do believe, and that is that if Germany breaks Belgian neutrality and invades Belgium, there isn't any English Government which has ever been responsible for the destinies of this country, likely to take it lying down. We are shockingly unprepared, or else, of course, there'd have been no war at all. We shall lose hundreds of thousands of our young men, because they'll have to fight before they are properly trained, but we must fight or perish. And we shall fight—I am sure of that, Hebblethwaite."
"We are all Englishmen," Hebblethwaite answered simply.
The door was suddenly opened. Spencer Wyatt pushed his way past a protesting doorkeeper. Hebblethwaite rose to his feet; he seemed to forget Norgate's presence.
"You've been down to the Admiralty?" he asked quickly. "Do you know?"
Spencer Wyatt pointed to Norgate. His voice shook with emotion.
"I know, Hebblethwaite," he replied, "but there's something that you don't know. We were told to mobilise the fleet an hour ago. My God, what chance should we have had! Germany means scrapping, and look where our ships are, or ought to be."
"I know it," Hebblethwaite groaned.
"Well, they aren't there!" Spencer Wyatt announced triumphantly. "A week ago that young fellow came to me. He told me what was impending. I half believed it before he began. When he told me his story, I gambled upon it. I mistook the date for the Grand Review. I signed the order for mobilisation at the Admiralty, seven days ago. We are safe, Hebblethwaite! I've been getting wireless messages all day yesterday and to-day. We are at Cromarty and Rosyth. Our torpedo squadron is in position, our submarines are off the German coast. It was just the toss of a coin—papers and a country life for me, or our fleet safe and a great start in the war. This is the man who has done it."
"It's the best news I've heard this week," Hebblethwaite declared, with glowing face. "If our fleet is safe, the country is safe for a time. If this thing comes, we've a chance. I'll go through the country. I'll start the day war's declared. I'll talk to the people I've slaved for. They shall come to our help. We'll have the greatest citizen army who ever fought for their native land. I've disbelieved in fighting all my life. If we are driven to it, we'll show the world what peace-loving people can do, if the weapon is forced into their hands. Norgate, the country owes you a great debt. Another time, Wyatt, I'll tell you more than you know now. What can we do for you, young fellow?"
Norgate rose to his feet.
"My work is already chosen, thanks," he said, as he shook hands. "I have been preparing for some time."
The card-rooms at the St. James's Club were crowded, but very few people seemed inclined to play. They were standing or sitting about in little groups. A great many of them were gathered around the corner where Selingman was seated. He was looking somewhat graver than usual, but there was still a confident smile upon his lips.
"My little friend," he said, patting the hand of the fair lady by his side, "reassure yourself. Your husband and your husband's friends are quite safe. For England there will come no fighting. Believe me, that is a true word."
"But the impossible is happening all the time," Mrs. Barlow protested. "Who would have believed that without a single word of warning Germany would have declared war against Russia?"
Mr. Selingman raised his voice a little.
"Let me make the situation clear," he begged. "Listen to me, if you will, because I am a patriotic German but also a lover of England, a sojourner here, and one of her greatest friends. Germany has gone to war against Russia. Why? You will say upon a trifling pretext. My answer to you is this. There is between the Teuton and the Slav an enmity more mighty than anything you can conceive of. It has been at the root of all the unrest in the Balkans. Many a time Germany has kept the peace at the imminent loss of her own position and prestige. But one knows now that the struggle must come. The Russians are piling up a great army with only one intention. They mean to wrest from her keeping certain provinces of Austria, to reduce Germany's one ally to the condition of a vassal state, to establish the Slav people there and throughout the Balkan States, at the expense of the Teuton. Germany must protect her own. It is a struggle, mind you, which concerns them alone. If only there were common sense in the world, every one else would stand by and let Germany and Austria fight with Russia on the one great issue—Slav or Teuton."
"But there's France," little Mrs. Barlow reminded him. "She can't keep out of it. She is Russia's ally."
"Alas! my dear madam," Selingman continued, "you point out the tragedy of the whole situation. If France could see wisdom, if France could see truth, she would fold her arms with you others, keep her country and her youth and her dignity. But I will be reasonable. She is, as you say, bound—bound by her alliance to Russia, and she will fight. Very well! Germany wants no more from France than what she has. Germany will fight a defensive campaign. She will push France back with one hand, in as friendly a manner as is compatible with the ethics of war. On the east she will move swiftly. She will fight Russia, and, believe me, the issue will not be long doubtful. She will conclude an honourable peace with France at the first opportunity."
"Then you don't think we shall be involved at all?" some one else asked.
"If you are," Selingman declared, "it will be your own doing, and it will simply be the most criminal act of this generation. Germany has nothing but friendship for England. I ask you, what British interests are threatened by this inevitable clash between the Slav and the Teuton? It is miserable enough for France to be dragged in. It would be lunacy for England. Therefore, though it is true that serious matters are pending, though, alas! I must return at once to see what help I can afford my country, never for a moment believe, any of you, that there exists the slightest chance of war between Germany and England."
"Then I don't see," Mrs. Barlow sighed, "why we shouldn't have a rubber of bridge."
"Let us," Selingman assented. "It is a very reasonable suggestion. It will divert our thoughts. Here is the afternoon paper. Let us first see whether there is any further news."
It was Mrs. Paston Benedek who opened it. She stared at the first sheet for a moment with eyes which were almost dilated. Then she looked around. Her voice sounded unnatural.
"Look!" she cried. "Francis Norgate—Mr. Francis Norgate has committed suicide in his rooms!"
"It is not possible!" Selingman exclaimed.
They all crowded around the paper. The announcement was contained in a few lines only. Mr. Francis Norgate had been discovered shot through the heart in his sitting-room at the Milan Court, with a revolver by his side. There was a letter addressed to his wife, who had left the day before for Paris. No further particulars could be given of the tragedy. The little group of men and women all looked at one another in a strange, questioning manner. For a moment the war cloud seemed to have passed even from their memories. It was something newer and in a sense more dramatic, this. Norgate—one of themselves! Norgate, who had played bridge with them day after day, had been married only a week or so ago—dead, under the most horrible of all conditions! And Baring, only a few weeks before! There was an uneasiness about which no one could put into words, vague suspicions, strange imaginings.
"It's only three weeks," some one muttered, "since poor Baring shot himself! What the devil does it mean? Norgate—why, the fellow was full of common sense."
"He was fearfully cut up," some one interposed, "about that Berlin affair."
"But he was just married," Mrs. Paston Benedek reminded them, "married to the most charming woman in Europe,—rich, too, and noble. I saw them only two days ago together. They were the picture of happiness. This is too terrible. I am going into the other room to sit down. Please forgive me. Mr. Selingman, will you give me your arm?"
She passed into the little drawing-room, almost dragging her companion. She closed the door behind them. Her eyes were brilliant. The words came hot and quivering from her lips.
"Listen!" she ordered. "Tell me the truth. Was this suicide or not?"
"Why should it not be?" Selingman asked gravely. "Norgate was an Englishman, after all. He must have felt that he had betrayed his country. He has given us, as you know, very valuable information. The thought must have preyed upon his conscience."
"Don't lie to me!" she interrupted. "Tell me the truth now or never come near me again, never ask me another question, don't be surprised to find the whole circle of your friends here broken up and against you. It's only the truth I ask for. If a thing is necessary, do I not know that it must be done? But I will hear the truth. There was that about Baring's death which I never understood; but this—this shall be explained."
Selingman stood for a moment or two with folded arms.
"Dear lady," he said soothingly, "you are not like the others. You have earned the knowledge of the truth. You shall have it. I did not mistrust Francis Norgate, but I knew very well that when the blow fell, he would waver. These Englishmen are all like that. They can lose patience with their ill-governed country. They can go abroad, write angry letters to The Times, declare that they have shaken the dust of their native land from their feet. But when the pinch comes, they fall back. Norgate has served me well, but he knew too much. He is safer where he is."
"He was murdered, then!" she whispered.
Selingman nodded very slightly.
"It is seldom," he declared, "that we go so far. Believe me, it is only because our great Empire is making its move, stretching out for the great world war, that I gave the word. What is one man's life when millions are soon to perish?"
She sank down into an easy-chair and covered her face with her hands.
"I am answered," she murmured, "only I know now I was not made for these things. I love scheming, but I am a woman."
Mr. Selingman's influence over his fellows had never been more marked than on that gloomiest of all afternoons. They gathered around him as he sat on the cushioned fender, a cup of tea in one hand and a plateful of buttered toast by his side.
"To-day," he proclaimed, "I bring good news. Yesterday, I must admit, things looked black, and the tragedy to poor young Norgate made us all miserable."
"I should have said things looked worse," one of the men declared, throwing down an afternoon paper. "The Cabinet Council is still sitting, and there are all sorts of rumours in the city."
"I was told by a man in the War Office," Mrs. Barlow announced, "that England would stand by her treaty to Belgium, and that Germany has made all her plans to invade France through Belgium."
"Rumours, of course, there must be," Selingman agreed, "but I bring something more than rumour. I received to-day, by special messenger from Berlin, a dispatch of the utmost importance. Germany is determined to show her entire friendliness towards England. She recognises the difficulties of your situation. She is going to make a splendid bid for your neutrality. Much as I would like to, I cannot tell you more. This, however, I know to be the basis of her offer. You in England could help in the fight solely by means of your fleet. It is Germany's suggestion that, in return for your neutrality, she should withdraw her fleet from action and leave the French northern towns unbombarded. You will then be in a position to fulfil your obligations to France, whatever they may be, without moving a stroke or spending a penny. It is a triumph of diplomacy, that—a veritable triumph."
"It does sound all right," Mrs. Barlow admitted.
"It has relieved my mind of a mighty burden," Selingman continued, setting down his empty plate and brushing the crumbs from his waistcoat. "I feel now that we can look on at this world drama with sorrowing eyes, indeed, but free from feelings of hatred and animosity. I have had a trying day. I should like a little bridge. Let us—"
Selingman did not finish his sentence. The whole room, for a moment, seemed to become a study in still life. A woman who had been crossing the floor stood there as though transfixed. A man who was dealing paused with an outstretched card in his hand. Every eye was turned on the threshold. It was Norgate who stood there, Norgate metamorphosed, in khaki uniform—an amazing spectacle! Mrs. Barlow was the first to break the silence with a piercing shriek. Then the whole room seemed to be in a turmoil. Selingman alone sat quite still. There was a grey shade upon his face, and the veins were standing out at the back of his hands.
"So sorry to startle you all," Norgate said apologetically. "Of course, you haven't seen the afternoon papers. It was my valet who was found dead in my rooms—a most mysterious affair," he added, his eyes meeting Selingman's. "The inquest is to be this afternoon."
"Your valet!" Selingman muttered.
"A very useful fellow," Norgate continued, strolling to the fireplace and standing there, "but with a very bad habit of wearing my clothes when I am away. I was down in Camberley for three days and left him in charge."
They showered congratulations upon him, but in the midst of them the strangeness of his appearance provoked their comment.
"What does it mean?" Mrs. Benedek asked, patting his arm. "Have you turned soldier?"
"In a sense I have," Norgate admitted, "but only in the sense that every able-bodied Englishman will have to do, in the course of the next few months. Directly I saw this coming, I arranged for a commission."
"But there is to be no war!" Mrs. Barlow exclaimed. "Mr. Selingman has been explaining to us this afternoon what wonderful offers Germany is making, so that we shall be able to remain neutral and yet keep our pledges."
"Mr. Selingman," Norgate said quietly, "is under a delusion. Germany, it is true, has offered us a shameless bribe. I am glad to be able to tell you all that our Ministry, whatever their politics may be, have shown themselves men. An English ultimatum is now on its way to Berlin. War will be declared before midnight."
Selingman rose slowly to his feet. His face was black with passion. He pushed a man away who stood between them. He was face to face with Norgate.
"So you," he thundered, suddenly reckless of the bystanders, "are a double traitor! You have taken pay from Germany and deceived her! You knew, after all, that your Government would make war when the time came. Is that so?"
"I was always convinced of it," Norgate replied calmly. "I also had the honour of deceiving you in the matter of Mr. Bullen. I have been the means, owing to your kind and thoughtful information, of having the fleet mobilised and ready to strike at the present moment, and there are various little pieces of property I know about, Mr. Selingman, around London, where we have taken the liberty of blowing up your foundations. There may be a little disappointment for you, too, in the matter of Italy. The money you were good enough to pay me for my doubtful services, has gone towards the establishment of a Red Cross hospital. As for you, Selingman, I denounce you now as one of those who worked in this country for her ill, one of those pests of the world, working always in the background, dishonourably and selfishly, against the country whose hospitality you have abused. If I have met you on your own ground, well, I am proud of it. You are a German spy, Selingman."
Selingman's hand fumbled in his pocket. Scarcely a soul was surprised when Norgate gripped him by the wrist, and they saw the little shining revolver fall down towards the fender.
"You shall suffer for these words," Selingman thundered. "You young fool, you shall bite the dust, you and hundreds of thousands of your cowardly fellows, when the German flag flies from Buckingham Palace."
Norgate held up his hand and turned towards the door. Two men in plain clothes entered.
"That may be a sight," Norgate said calmly, "which you, at any rate, will not be permitted to see. I have had some trouble in arranging for your arrest, as we are not yet under martial law, but I think you will find your way to the Tower of London before long, and I hope it will be with your back to the light and a dozen rifles pointing to your heart."
A third man had come into the room. He tapped Selingman on the shoulder and whispered in his ear.
"I demand to see your warrant!" the latter exclaimed.
The officer produced it. Selingman threw it on the floor and spat upon it. He looked around the room, in the further corner of which two men and a woman were standing upon chairs to look over the heads of the little crowd.
"Take me where you will," he snarled. "You are a rotten, treacherous, cowardly race, you English, and I hate you all. You can kill me first, if you will, but in two months' time you shall learn what it is like to wait hand and foot upon your conquerors."
He strode out of the room, a guard on either side of him and the door closed. One woman had fainted. Mrs. Paston Benedek was swaying back and forth upon the cushioned fender, sobbing hysterically. Norgate stood by her side.
"I have forgotten the names," he announced pointedly, "of many of that fellow's dupes. I am content to forget them. I am off now," he went on, his tone becoming a little kinder. "I am telling you the truth. It's war. You men had better look up any of the forces that suit you and get to work. We shall all be needed. There is work, too, for the women, any quantity of it. My wife will be leaving again for France next week with the first Red Cross Ambulance Corps. I dare say she will be glad to hear from any one who wants to help."
"I shall be a nurse," Mrs. Paston Benedek decided. "I am sick of bridge and amusing myself."
"The costume is quite becoming," Mrs. Barlow murmured, glancing at herself in the looking-glass, "and I adore those poor dear soldiers."
"Well, I'll leave you to it," Norgate declared. "Good luck to you all!"
They crowded around him, shaking him by the hand, still besieging him with questions about Selingman. He shook his head good-humouredly and made his way towards the door.
"There's nothing more to tell you," he concluded. "Selingman is just one of the most dangerous spies who has ever worked in this country, but the war itself was inevitable. We've known that for years, only we wouldn't believe it. We'll all meet again, perhaps, in the work later on."
Late that night, Norgate stood hand in hand with Anna at the window of their little sitting-room. Down in the Strand, the newsboys were shouting the ominous words. The whole of London was stunned. The great war had come!
"It's wonderful, dear," Anna whispered, "that we should have had these few days of so great happiness. I feel brave and strong now for our task."
Norgate held her closely to him.
"We've been in luck," he said simply. "We were able to do something pretty soon. I have had the greatest happiness in life a man can have. Now I am going to offer my life to my country and pray that it may be spared for you. But above all, whatever happens," he added, leaning a little further from the window towards where the curving lights gleamed across the black waters of the Thames, "above all, whatever may happen to us, we are face to face with one splendid thing—a great country to fight for, and a just cause. I saw Hebblethwaite as I came in. He is a changed man. Talks about raising an immense citizen army in six months. Both his boys have taken up commissions. Hebblethwaite himself is going around the country, recruiting. They are his people, after all. He has given them their prosperity at the expense, alas! of our safety. It's up to them now to prove whether the old spirit is there or not. We shall need two million men. Hebblethwaite believes we shall get them long before the camps are ready to receive them. If we do, it will be his justification."
"And if we don't?" Anna murmured.
Norgate threw his head a little further back.
"Most pictures," he said, "have two sides, but we need only look at one. I am going to believe that we shall get them. I am going to remember the only true thing that fellow Selingman ever said: that our lesson had come before it is too late. I am going to believe that the heart and conscience of the nation is still a live thing. If it is, dear, the end is certain. And I am going to believe that it is!"