"You are not afraid of the German shells, then?" he asked.
"Monsieur," the old man answered, "one must live or die—it does not matter which. For the rest, if one is to live, one must eat. Therefore I work. Four sons I have and a nephew away yonder," he added, waving his hand southwards. "That is why I dig alone. Why do you not send us more soldiers, Monsieur l'Anglais?"
"Wait but a little time longer," Thomson answered cheerfully.
The old man looked sadly at his ruined barn.
"It is always 'wait,'" he muttered, "and one grows old and tired. Bonjour, monsieur!"
The car passed on again and suddenly dropped into a little protected valley. They came to a standstill before a tiny chateau, in front of which stretched what might once have been an ornamental garden, but which was now torn to pieces by gun carriages, convoy waggons, and every description of vehicle. From the top of the house stretched many wires. A sentry stood at the iron gates and passed Major Thomson after a perfunctory challenge. An office with mud-stained boots and wind-tossed hair, who looked as though he had been out all night, stood on the steps of the house and welcomed Thomson.
"Hullo, Major," he called out, "just across, eh?"
"This moment," Thomson assented. "Anything fresh?"
"Nothing to speak of," the other replied. "We've just had a message in that the French have been giving them a knock. We've had a quiet time the last two days. They're bringing up some more Bavarians, we think."
"Do you think I could have a few words with the General?" Major Thomson asked.
"Come in and have some coffee. Yes, he'll see you, of course. He is in his own room with two of the flying men, just for the moment. I'll let you know when you can go in."
They passed into an apartment which had once been the dining-room of the chateau, and in which a long table was laid. One or two staff officers greeted Thomson, and the man who had brought him in attended to his wants.
"The General had his breakfast an hour ago," the latter observed. "We're pretty well forward here and we have to keep on the qui vive. We got some shells yesterday dropped within a quarter of a mile of us. I think we're going to try and give them a push back on the left flank. I'll go in and see about you, Thomson."
"Good fellow! You might tell them to give my chauffeur something. The destroyer that brought me over is waiting at Boulogne, and I want to be in London to-night."
One of the officers from the other side of the table, smiled queerly.
"London! My God!" he muttered. "There is still a London, I suppose? Savoy and Carlton going still? Pall Mall where it was?"
"And very much as it was," Thomson assured him. "London's wonderfully unchanged. You been out long?"
"September the second," was the cheerful reply. "I keep on getting promised a week but I can't bring it off."
"He's such a nut with the telephones," the man by his side explained, helping himself to marmalade. "The General positively can't spare him."
"Oh, chuck it!" the other exclaimed in disgust. "What about you?—the only man with an eye to a Heaven-ordained gun position, as old Wattles declared one day. We're all living wonders, Major," he went on, turning to Thomson, "but if I don't get a Sole Colbert and a grill at the Savoy, and a front seat at the Alhambra, before many weeks have passed, I shall get stale—that's what'll happen to me."
"Hope you'll have your hair cut before you go back," a man from the other end of the table remarked. "Your own mother wouldn't know you like that—much less your sweetheart."
The young man fingered his locks reflectively.
"Chap who was going to cut it for me got shot yesterday," he grumbled. "Anything doing as you came over the ridge, Major?"
Thomson shook his head.
"One aeroplane and a few shells."
"That would be Johnny Oates going out in his Bleriot," some one remarked. "He'll be back here before long with a report."
The officer who had met Thomson in the garden, re-entered the room.
"General says he'll see you at once," he announced.
Thomson followed his guide into a small back room. An officer was seated before a desk, writing, another was shouting down a telephone, and a third was making some measurements upon a large Ordnance map nailed upon one of the walls. The General was standing with his back to the fire and a pipe in his mouth. He nodded cheerily to Thomson.
"When did you leave London?" he asked.
"Nine o'clock last evening, sir," Thomson replied. "Rather a record trip. We had a special down and a destroyer over."
"And I'm going to tell you what you want to know," the General continued glancing at a document in his hand. "Well, close the door, Harewood. Out with it?"
"It's about Captain Granet of Harrison's staff," Thomson began.
The General frowned and knocked the ashes from his pipe.
"Well," he asked, "what is it?"
"We've reasons of our own for wishing to know exactly what you meant by asking the War Office not to send him back again," Thomson continued.
The General hesitated.
"Well, what are they?"
"They are a little intangible, sir," Thomson confessed, "but exceedingly important. Without any direct evidence, I have come to the conclusion that Captain Granet is a mysterious person and needs watching. As usual, we are in trouble with the civil authorities, and, to be frank with you, I am trying to strengthen my case."
The General shrugged his shoulders.
"Very well," he decided, "under the circumstances you have the right to know what my message meant. We sent Granet back because of a suspicion which may be altogether unjustifiable. The suspicion was there, however, and it was sufficiently strong for me to make up my mind that I should prefer not to have him back again. Now you shall know the facts very briefly. Granet was taken prisoner twice. No one saw him taken—as a matter of fact, both of the affairs were night attacks. He seemed suddenly to disappear—got too far ahead of his men, was his explanation. All I can say is that he was luckier than most of them. Anything wandering about loose in a British uniform—but there, I won't go on with that. He came back each time with information as to what he had seen. Each time we planned an attack on the strength of that information. Each time that information proved to be misleading and our attack failed, costing us heavy losses. Of course, dispositions might have been changed since his observations were made, but there the fact remains. Further," the General continued, filling his pipe slowly and pressing in the tobacco, "on the second occasion we had four hundred men thrown forward into the village of Ossray. They were moved in the pitch darkness, and silently. It was impossible for any word of their presence in Ossray to have been known to the Germans. Yet the night of Granet's capture the village was shelled, and those who escaped were cut off and made prisoners. Follow me, Major?"
"Yes, sir!" Thomson acquiesced.
"Those are just the facts," the General concluded. "Now on the other hand, Granet has handled his men well, shown great personal bravery, and has all the appearance of a keen soldier. I hate to do him a wrong even in my thoughts but there were others besides myself to whom these coincidences seemed amazing. We simply decided that they'd better give Granet a billet at home. That's the reason of my message."
"I am very much obliged to you, sir," Thomson said slowly. "You have given me exactly the information which we desire."
The General was called away for a moment to give some instructions to the young officer who was sitting in a distant corner of the room with a telephone band around his head. He signed to Thomson, however, to remain.
"Now that I have gratified your curiosity," he said, when he returned, "perhaps you will gratify mine? Will you tell me just how you over in England have come to have suspicions of this man?"
"That," Thomson explained, "is almost a personal matter with me. Three months ago I spent the night with the Third Army Corps up by Niemen. I was there on other business, as you may imagine, but there was some hot fighting and I went out to help. I was attending to some of our fellows and got very near to the German lines. I became separated from the others a little and was groping about when I heard voices talking German within a few feet of me. I couldn't hear what they said but I could just distinguish two figures. One of them made off towards the German lines. The other, after standing still for a moment, came in my direction. I took out my revolver, and to tell you the truth I very nearly fired on sight, for it would have been an exceedingly awkward matter for me to have been taken prisoner just then. Just as my finger was on the trigger, I became conscious that the man who was approaching was humming 'Tipperary.' I flashed my light on his face and saw at once that he was a British officer. He addressed me quickly in German. I answered him in English. I fancied for a moment that he seemed annoyed. 'We'd better get out of this,' he whispered. 'We're within a hundred yards of the German trenches and they are bringing searchlights up.' 'Who were you talking to just now?' I asked, as we stole along. 'No one at all,' he answered. I didn't take the thing seriously for the moment, although it seemed to me queer. Afterwards I regretted, however, that I hadn't set myself to discover the meaning of what was apparently a deliberate lie. The next time I met Granet was at a luncheon party at the Ritz, a few days ago. I recognised his face at once, although I had only seen it by the flash of my electric lamp. From that moment I have had my suspicions."
The General nodded. He was looking a little grave.
"It's a hateful thing to believe," he said, "that any one wearing his Majesty's uniform could ever play such a dastardly part. However, on the whole I am rather glad that I passed in that request to the War Office. Anything more we can do for you, Major?"
Thomson took the hint and departed. A few minutes later he was in his car and on his way back to Boulogne.
Olive Moreton gave a little start as the long, grey, racing car came noiselessly to a standstill by the side of the kerbstone. Captain Granet raised his hat and leaned from the driving seat towards her.
"Hope I didn't frighten you, Miss Moreton?"
"Not at all," she replied. "What a perfectly lovely car!"
He assented eagerly.
"Isn't she! My uncle's present to me to pass away the time until I can do some more soldiering. They only brought it round to me early this morning. Can I take you anywhere?"
"I was just going to see Geraldine Conyers," she began.
"Do you know, I guessed that," he remarked, leaning on one side and opening the door. "Do let me take you. I haven't had a passenger yet."
She stepped in at once.
"As a matter of fact," she told him, "I was looking for a taxicab. I have had a telegram from Ralph. He wants us to go down to Portsmouth by the first train we can catch this morning. He says that if we can get down there in time to have lunch at two o'clock, he can show us over the Scorpion. After to-day she will be closed to visitors, even his own relations. I was just going to see if Geraldine could come."
Granet was thoughtful for a moment. He glanced at the little clock on the dashboard opposite to him.
"I tell you what," he suggested, "why not let me motor you and Miss Conyers down? I don't believe there's another fast train before one o'clock, and we'd get down in a couple of hours, easily. It's just what I'm longing for, a good stretch into the country."
"I should love it," the girl exclaimed, "and I should think Geraldine would. Will you wait while I run in and see her?"
"Of course," Granet replied. "Here we are, and there's Miss Conyers at the window. You go in and talk her over and I'll just see that we've got lots of petrol. I'll have you down there within two hours, all right, if we can get away before the roads are crowded."
She hurried into the house. Geraldine met her on the threshold and they talked together for a few moments. Then Olive reappeared, her face beaming.
"Geraldine would simply love it," she announced. "She will be here in five minutes. Could we just stop at my house for a motor-coat?"
"Certainly!" Granet agreed, glancing at his watch. "This is absolutely ripping! We shall be down there by one o'clock. Why is this to be Conyers' last day for entertaining?"
"I don't know," she answered indifferently. "Some Admiralty regulation, I suppose."
"After all," he declared, "I am not sure whether I chose the right profession. There is so much that is mysterious about the Navy. They are always inventing something or trying something new."
Geraldine came down the steps, waving her hand.
"This is the most delightful idea!" she exclaimed, as Granet held the door open. "Do you really mean that you are going to take us down to Portsmouth and come and see Ralph?"
"I am not going to worry your brother," he answered, smiling, "but I am going to take you down to Portsmouth, if I may. We shall be there long before you could get there by train, and—well, what do you think of my new toy?"
"Simply wonderful," Geraldine declared. "Olive told me that your uncle had just given it you. What a lucky person you are, Captain Granet!"
He laughed a little shortly as they glided off.
"Do you think so?" he answered. "Well, I am lucky in my uncle, at any rate. He is one of those few people who have a great deal of money and don't mind spending it. I was getting bored to death with my game leg and arm, and certainly this makes one forget both of them. Six cylinders, you see, Miss Conyers, and I wouldn't like to tell you what we can touch if we were pressed."
"You won't frighten us," Geraldine assured him.
Granet glanced once more at the clock in front of him.
"For a time," he remarked, "I am your chauffeur. I just want to see what she'll do—to experiment a little."
From that point conversation became scanty. The girls leaned back in their seats. Granet sat bolt upright, with his eyes fixed upon the road. Shortly before one o'clock they entered Portsmouth.
"The most wonderful ride I ever had in my life!" Geraldine exclaimed.
"Marvelous!" Olive echoed. "Captain Granet, Ralph promised that there should be a pinnace at number seven dock from one until three."
Granet pointed with his finger.
"Number seven dock is there," he said, "and there's the pinnace. I shall go back to the hotel for lunch and wait for you there."
"You will do nothing of the sort," Geraldine insisted. "Ralph would be furious if you didn't come with us."
"Of course!" Olive interposed. "How could you think of anything so ridiculous! It's entirely owing to you that we were able to get here."
Captain Granet looked for a moment doubtful.
"You see, just now," he explained, "I know the regulations for visiting ships in commission are very strict. Perhaps an extra visitor might embarrass your brother."
"How can you be so absurd!" Geraldine protested. "You—a soldier! Why, of course he'd be delighted to have you."
Granet swung the car around into the archway of a hotel exactly opposite the dock.
"All right," he agreed. "We'll leave the car here. Of course, I'd like to come all right."
They crossed the cobbled street and made their way to the dock. The pinnace was waiting for them and in a very few minutes they were on their way across the harbour. The Scorpion was lying well away from other craft, her four squat funnels emitting faint wreaths of smoke. She rode very low in the water and her appearance was certainly menacing.
"Personally," Geraldine observed, leaning a little forward to look at her, "I think a destroyer is one of the most vicious, the most hideous things I ever saw. I do hope that Ralph will be quick and get a cruiser."
"Is that the Scorpion just ahead of us?" Granet asked.
"Did you ever see anything so ugly? She looks as though she would spit out death from every little crevice."
"She's a fine boat," Granet muttered. "What did your brother say she could do?"
"Thirty-nine knots," Geraldine replied. "It seems wonderful, doesn't it?"
The officer in charge of the pinnace smiled.
"Our speeds are only nominal, any way," he remarked. "If our chief engineer there had the proper message, there's none of us would like to say what he could get out of those new engines."
He turned and shouted an order. In a moment or two they swung around and drew up by the side of the vessel. Ralph waved his hand to them from the top of the gangway.
"Well done, you people!" he exclaimed. "Hullo Granet! Have you brought the girls down?"
"In the most wonderful racing car you ever saw!" Geraldine told him, as they climbed up the gangway. "We shouldn't have been here for hours if we had waited for the train."
"I met Captain Granet this morning by accident," Olive explained, as she stepped on deck, "and he insisted on bringing us down."
"I hope I'm not in the way at all?" Granet asked anxiously. "If I am, you have only to say the word and put me on shore, and I'll wait, with pleasure, until the young ladies come off. I have a lot of pals down here, too, I could look up."
"Don't be silly," Conyers replied. "Our dear old lady friend Thomson isn't here to worry so I think we can make you free of the ship. Come along down and try a cocktail. Mind your heads. We're not on a battleship, you know. You will find my quarters a little cramped, I'm afraid."
They drank cocktails cheerfully, and afterwards Geraldine exclaimed, taking a long breath. "If Olive weren't so fearfully in love, she'd be suffocated."
Granet paused and looked before him with a puzzled frown.
"What in heaven's name is this?"
Exactly opposite to them was an erection of light framework, obviously built around some hidden object for purposes of concealment. A Marine was standing on guard before it, with drawn cutlass. Granet was in the act of addressing him when an officer ran lightly down the fore part of the ship, and saluted.
"Very sorry, sir," he said, "but would you mind keeping to the other side? This deck is closed, for the present."
"What on earth have you got there?" Granet asked good-humouredly,—"that is if it's anything a landsman may know about?"
The young officer piloted them across to the other side.
"It's just a little something we are not permitted to talk about just now," he replied. "I didn't know the commander expected any visitors to-day or we should have had it roped off. Anything I can show you on this deck?" he inquired politely.
"Nothing at all, thanks," Geraldine assured him. "We'll just stroll about for a little time."
They leaned over the rail together. The young officer saluted and withdrew. A freshening breeze blew in their faces and the sunshine danced upon the foam-flecked sea. The harbour was lively with small craft, an aeroplane was circling overhead, and out in the Roads several warships were lying anchored.
"I was in luck this morning," Granet asserted.
"So were we," Geraldine replied. "I never enjoyed motoring more. Your new car is wonderful."
"She is a beauty, isn't she?" Granet assented enthusiastically. "What she could touch upon fourth speed I wouldn't dare to say. We were going over sixty plenty of times this morning, and yet one scarcely noticed it. You see, she's so beautifully hung."
"You are fortunate," she remarked, "to have an appreciative uncle."
"He is rather a brick," Granet acknowledged. "He's done me awfully well all my life."
"You really are rather to be envied, aren't you, Captain Granet? You have most of the things a man wants. You've had your opportunity, too of doing just the finest things a man can, and you've done them."
He looked gloomily out seawards.
"I am lucky in one way," he admitted. "In others I am not so sure."
She kept her head turned from him. Somehow or other, she divined quite well what was in his mind. She tried to think of something to say, something to dispel the seriousness which she felt to be in the atmosphere, but words failed her. It was he who broke the silence.
"May I ask you a question, Miss Conyers?"
"A question? Why not?"
"Are you really engaged to Major Thomson?"
She did not answer him at once. She still kept her eyes resolutely turned away from his. When at last she spoke, her voice was scarcely raised above a whisper.
"Certainly I am," she assented.
He leaned a little closer towards her. His voice sounded to her very deep and firm. It was the voice of a man immensely in earnest.
"I am going to be an awful rotter," he said. "I suppose I ought to take your answer to my question as final. I won't that's all. He came along first but that isn't everything. It's a fair fight between him and me. He hates me and takes no pains to hide it. He hates me because I care for you—you know that. I couldn't keep it to myself even if I would."
She drew a little away but he forced her to look at him. There was something else besides appeal in her eyes.
"You've been the victim of a mistake," he insisted, his hand resting upon hers. "I don't believe that you really care for him at all. He doesn't seem the right sort for you, he's so much older and graver. You mustn't be angry. You must forgive me, please, if I have said more than I ought—if I say more now—because I am going to tell you, now that we are alone together for a moment, that I love you."
She turned upon him a little indignantly, though the distress in her face was still apparent.
"Captain Granet!" she exclaimed. "You should not say that! You have no right—no right at all."
"On the contrary, I have every right," he answered doggedly. "It isn't as though Thomson were my friend. He hates me and I dislike him. Every man has a right to do his best to win the girl he cares for. It's the first time I've felt anything of this sort. I've never wanted the big things before from any woman. And now—"
She turned impetuously away from him. Over their head an electric message was sparkling and crackling. She stood looking up, her hand outstretched as though to keep him away.
"I cannot listen any more," she declared. "If you say another word I shall go below."
He remained for a moment gloomily silent. A young officer stepped out of the wireless room and saluted Geraldine.
"Very sorry for you people, Miss Conyers," he announced, "but I am afraid we'll have to put you on shore. We've an urgent message here from the flag-ship to clear off all guests."
"But we haven't had lunch yet!" Geraldine protested.
Conyers suddenly made his appearance in the gangway, followed by Olive.
"What's the message, Howard?" he inquired.
The officer saluted and handed over a folded piece of paper. Conyers read it with a frown and stepped at once out on to the deck. He gave a few orders, then he turned back to his guests.
"Gels," he explained, "and you, Granet, I'm frightfully sorry but I can't keep you here another second. I have ordered the pinnace round. You must get on shore and have lunch at the 'Ship.' I'll come along as soon as I can. Frightfully sorry, Granet, but I needn't apologise to you, need I? War's war, you know and this is a matter of urgency."
"You're not going out this tide?" Geraldine demanded breathlessly.
Conyers shook his head.
"It isn't that," he replied. "We've got some engineers coming over to do some work on deck, and I've had a private tip from my chief to clear out any guests I may have on board."
"Is it anything to do with this wonderful screened-up thing?" Olive asked, strolling towards the framework-covered edifice.
Conyers shrugged his shoulders.
"Can't disclose Government secrets! Between just us four—our friend Thomson isn't here, is he?" he added, smiling,—"we are planning a little Hell for the submarines."
They glanced curiously at the mysterious erection. Granet sighed.
"Secretive chaps, you sailors," he observed. "Never mind, I have a pal in the Admiralty who gives me a few hints now and then. I shall go and pump him."
"Don't you breathe a word about having been board the Scorpion," Conyers begged quickly. "They wink at it down here, so long as it's done discreetly, but it's positively against the rules, you know."
"Righto!" Granet agreed. "There isn't a soul I'm likely to mention it to."
"I'll come over to the 'Ship' as soon as I can get away," Conyers promised.
They raced across the mile of broken water to the landing-stage. They were all a little silent. Olive was frankly disappointed, Geraldine was busy with her thoughts. Granet's gaze seemed rivetted upon the Scorpion. Another pinnace had drawn up alongside and a little company of men were boarding her.
"I only hope that they really have hit upon a device to rid the sea of these cursed submarines!" he remarked, as they made their way across the dock. "I see the brutes have taken to sinking fishing boats now."
"Ralph believes that they have got something," Olive declared eagerly. "He is simply aching to get to work."
"Sailors are all so jolly sanguine," Granet reminded her. "They are doing something pretty useful with nets, of course, in the way your brother was beginning to explain to me when Major Thomson chipped in, but they could only keep a fixed channel clear in that way. What they really need is some way of tackling them when they are under water. Here we are at last. I hope you girls are as hungry as I am."
They lunched in leisurely fashion, Olive in particular glancing often towards the door, and afterwards they sat about in the lounge, drinking their coffee. Granet had seemed to be in high spirits throughout the meal, and told the girls many little anecdotes of his adventures at the Front. Afterwards, however, he became silent, and finally, with a word of excuse, strolled off alone. Olive looked once more at the clock.
"Ralph doesn't seem to be coming back, does he?" she sighed. "Let's walk a little way down to the landing-stage."
The two girls strolled out and made their way towards the harbour. They could see the Scorpion but there was no sign of any pinnace leaving her. Reluctantly they turned back towards the hotel.
"I wonder what has become of Captain Granet?" Olive asked.
Geraldine stopped short. There was a little frown gathering upon her forehead. She pointed up to the roof of the hotel, where a man was crouching with a telescope glued to his eyes. He lowered it almost as they paused, and waved his hand to them.
"Can't see any sign of Conyers," he shouted. "I'm waiting for the pinnace. Come up here. There's such a ripping view."
They entered the hotel in silence.
"I don't believe," Geraldine remarked uneasily, "that Ralph would like that."
They made their way to the top of the house and were escorted by a buxom chambermaid to what was practically a step-ladder opening out on to a skylight. From here they crawled on to the roof, where they found Granet comfortably ensconced with his back to a chimney, smoking a cigarette.
"This is rather one on your brother," he chuckled.
"Where did you find the telescope?" Geraldine asked.
"I borrowed it from downstairs," he answered. "Do come and have a look. You can see the Scorpion quite distinctly. All the officers seem to be gathered around that mysterious structure on the upper deck. I thought at first it was a stand for a gun but it isn't."
Olive held out her hand for the telescope but Geraldine shook her head. There was a troubled expression in her eyes.
"I suppose it's awfully silly, Captain Granet," she said, "but honestly, I don't think Ralph would take it as a joke at all if he knew that we were up here, trying to find out what was going on."
Olive set down the telescope promptly.
"I didn't think of that," she murmured.
Granet laughed easily.
"Perhaps you are right," he admitted. "All the same, we are a little exceptionally placed, aren't we?—his sister, his fiancee, and—"
He broke off suddenly. A hand had been laid upon his shoulder. A small, dark man, who had come round the corner of the chimney unperceived, was standing immediately behind him.
"I must trouble you all for your names and addresses, if you please," he announced quietly.
The two girls stared at him, dumbfounded. Granet, however, remained perfectly at his ease. He laid down the telescope and scrutinised the newcomer.
"I really don't altogether see," he remarked good humouredly, "why I should give my name and address to a perfect stranger just because he asks for it."
The man opened his coat and displayed a badge.
"I am on Government service, sir."
"Well, I am Captain Granet, back from the Front with dispatches a few days ago," Granet told him. "This is Miss Conyers, sister of Commander Conyers of the Scorpion, and Miss Olive Moreton, his fiancee. We are waiting for Commander Conyers at the present moment, and we were just looking to see if the pinnace had started. Is it against the law to use a telescope in Portsmouth?"
The man made a few notes in his pocket-book. Then he opened the trapdoor and stood on one side.
"No one is allowed out here, sir," he said. "The hotel people are to blame for not having the door locked. I shall have to make a report but I have no doubt that your explanation will be accepted. Will you be so good as to descend, please?"
Granet struggled to his feet and turned towards his companions.
"The fellow's quite right," he decided. "I am only glad that the Government are looking after things so. The Admiralty are much more go-ahead in this way than we are. I vote we have out the car and go down the front to Southsea—unless we are under arrest?" he added pleasantly, turning towards the man who had accosted them.
"You are at liberty to do whatever you please, sir," was the polite reply. "In any case, I think it would be quite useless of you to wait for Commander Conyers."
"Why?" Olive asked quickly.
"The Scorpion has just received orders to leave on this evening's tide, madam," the man announced. "You can see that she is moving even now."
They looked out across the harbour. The smoke was pouring from the funnels of the destroyer. Already she had swung around and was steaming slowly towards the Channel.
"She's off, right enough!" Granet exclaimed. "Nothing left for us, then, but London."
Geraldine, a few hours later, set down the telephone receiver with a little sigh of resignation. Lady Conyers glanced up inquiringly from her book.
"Was that some one wanting to come and see you at this time of night, Geraldine?" she asked.
"It's Hugh," she explained. "He has rung up from the War Office or somewhere—says he has just got back from France and wants to see me at once. I think he might have waited till to-morrow morning. I can scarcely keep my eyes open, I am so sleepy."
Lady Conyers glanced at the clock.
"It isn't really so late," she remarked, "and I dare say, if the poor man's been travelling all day, he'd like to say good-night to you."
Geraldine made a little grimace.
"I shall go into the morning room and wait for him," she announced. "He'll very likely find me asleep."
The Admiral looked up from behind the Times.
"Where's that nice young fellow Granet?" he asked. "Why didn't you bring him in to dinner?"
"Well, we didn't get back until nearly eight," Geraldine reminded her father. "I didn't think he'd have time to change and get back here comfortably."
"Fine young chap, that," Sir Seymour remarked. "The very best type of young English soldier. We could do with lots like him."
Geraldine left the room without remark. She could hear her father rustling his paper as she disappeared.
"Can't think why Geraldine didn't pick up with a smart young fellow like Granet instead of an old stick like Thomson," he grumbled. "I hate these Army Medicals, anyway."
"Major Thomson has a charming disposition," Lady Conyers declared warmly. "Besides, he will be very well off some day—he may even get the baronetcy."
"Who cares about that?" her husband grunted. "Geraldine has all the family she needs, and all the money. How she came to choose Thomson from all her sweethearts, I can't imagine."
Geraldine, notwithstanding her fatigue, welcomed her lover very charmingly when he arrived, a few minutes later. Major Thomson was still in travelling clothes, and had the air of a man who had been working at high pressure for some time. He held her fingers tightly for a moment, without speaking. Then he led her to the sofa and seated himself beside her.
"Geraldine," he began gravely, "has what I say any weight with you at all?"
"A good deal," she assured him.
"You know that I do not like Captain Granet, yet you took him with you down to Portsmouth today and even allowed him to accompany you on board the Scorpion."
Geraldine started a little.
"How do you know that already?" she asked curiously.
He shook his head impatiently.
"It doesn't matter. I heard. Why did you do it, Geraldine?"
"In the first place, because he offered to motor us down after we had missed the train. There are heaps of other reasons."
"As, for instance?"
"Well, Olive and I preferred having an escort and Captain Granet was a most agreeable one. He took us down in a car his uncle has just given him—a sixty horse-power Panhard. I never enjoyed motoring more in my life."
"You are all very foolish," Thomson said slowly. "I am going to tell you something now, dear, which you may not believe, but it is for your good, and it is necessary for me to have some excuse for the request I am going to make. Granet is under suspicion at the War Office."
"Under suspicion?" Geraldine repeated blankly.
"Nothing has been proved against him," Thomson continued, "and I tell you frankly that in certain quarters the idea is scouted as absurd. On the other hand, he is under observation as being a possible German spy."
Geraldine for a moment sat quite still. Then she broke into a peal of laughter. She sat up, a moment later, wiping her eyes.
"Are you really serious, Hugh?" she demanded.
"Absolutely," he assured her, a little coldly.
She wiped her eyes once more.
"Hugh, dear," she sighed, patting his hand, "you do so much better looking after your hospitals and your wounded than unearthing mare's-nests like this. I don't think that you'd be a brilliant success in the Intelligence Department. As to the War Office, well, you know what I think of them. Captain Granet a German spy, indeed!"
"Neither the War Office nor I myself," Thomson continued, "have arrived at these suspicions without some reason. Perhaps you will look at the matter a little more seriously when I tell you that Captain Granet will not be allowed to return to the Front."
"Not be allowed?" she repeated. "Hugh, you are not serious!"
"I have never been more serious in my life," he insisted. "I am not in a position to tell you more than the bare facts or I might disclose some evidence which even you would have to admit throws a rather peculiar light upon some of this young man's actions. As it is, however, I can do no more than warn you, and beg you," he went on, "to yield to my wishes in the matter of your further acquaintance with him."
There was a moment's rather curious silence. Geraldine seemed to be gazing through the walls of the room. Her hands were clenched in one another, her fingers nervously interlocked.
"I shall send for him to come and see me the first thing to-morrow morning," she decided.
"You will do nothing of the sort," Thomson objected firmly.
She turned her head and looked at him. He was conscious of the antagonism which had sprung up like a wall between them. His face, however, showed no sign.
"How do you propose to prevent me?" she asked, with ominous calm.
"By reminding you of your duty to your country," he answered. "Geraldine, dear, I did not expect to have to talk to you like this. When I tell you that responsible people in the War Office, officials whose profession it is to scent out treachery, have declared this young man suspect, I am certainly disappointed to find you embracing his cause so fervently. It is no personal matter. Believe, me," he added, after a moment's pause, "whatever my personal bias may be, what I am saying to you now is not actuated in the slightest by any feelings of jealousy. I have told you what I know and it is for you to make your choice as to how much or how little in the future you will see of this young man. But I do forbid you, not in my own name but for our country's sake to breathe a single word to him of what I have said to you."
"It comes to this, then," she said, "that you make accusations against a man and deny him the right of being heard?"
"If you choose to put it like that, yes," he assented. "Only I fancied that considering—considering the things between us, you might have taken my word."
He leaned a little towards her. If she had been looking she could scarcely have failed to have been touched by the sudden softness of his dark eyes, the little note of appeal in his usually immobile face. Her eyes, however, were fixed upon the diamond ring which sparkled upon her third finger. Slowly she drew it off and handed it to him.
"Hugh," she said, "the things you speak of do not exist any more between us. I am sorry, but I think you are narrow and suspicious. You have your own work to do. It seems to me mean to spend your time suspecting soldiers who have fought for their king and their country, of such a despicable crime."
"Can't you trust me a little more than that, Geraldine?" he asked wistfully.
"In what way?" she demanded. "I judge only by the facts, the things you have said to me, your accusations against Captain Granet. Why should you go out of your way to investigate cases of suspected espionage?"
"You cannot believe that I would do so unless I was convinced that it was my duty?"
"I cannot see that it is your business at all," she told him shortly.
He rose from his place.
"I am very sorry, Geraldine," he said. "I will keep this ring. You are quite free. But—look at me."
Against her will she was forced to do as he bade her. Her own attitude, which had appeared to her so dignified and right, seemed suddenly weakened. She had the feeling of a peevish child.
"Geraldine," he begged, "take at least the advice of a man who loves you. Wait."
Even when he had opened the door she felt a sudden inclination to call him back. She heard him go down the hall, heard the front door open and close. She sat and looked in a dazed sort of way at the empty space upon her finger. Then she rose and went into the drawing-room, where her father and mother were still reading. She held out her hand.
"Mother," she announced, "I am not engaged to Major Thomson any more."
The Admiral laid down his newspaper.
"Damned good job, too!" he declared. "That young fellow Granet's worth a dozen of him. Never could stick an Army Medical. Well, well! How did he take it?"
Lady Conyers watched her daughter searchingly. Then she shook her head.
"I hope you have done wisely, dear," she said.
At a little after noon on the following day Captain Granet descended from a taxicab in the courtyard of the Milan Hotel, and, passing through the swing doors, made his way to the inquiry office. A suave, black-coated young clerk hastened to the desk.
"Can you tell me," Granet inquired, "whether a gentlemen named Guillot is staying here?"
The young man bowed.
"Monsieur Guillot arrived last night, sir," he announced. "He has just rung down to say that if a gentlemen called to see him he could be shown up. Here, page," he went on, turning to a diminutive youth in the background, "show this gentleman to number 322."
Granet followed the boy to the lift and was conducted to a room on the third floor. The door was opened by a tall, white-haired Frenchman.
"Monsieur Guillot?" Captain Granet inquired pleasantly. "My name is Granet."
The Frenchman ushered him in. The door was closed and carefully locked. Then Monsieur Guillot swung around and looked at his visitor with some curiosity. Granet was still wearing his uniform.
"France must live," Granet murmured.
The Frenchman at once extended his hand.
"My friend," he confessed, "for a moment I was surprised. It did not occur to me to see you in this guise."
"I have been out at the Front," he explained, "and am home wounded."
"But an English officer?" Monsieur Guillot remarked dubiously. "I do not quite understand, then. The nature of the communication which I have come to receive is known to you?"
Granet nodded and accepted the chair which his host had offered.
"I do not think that you should be so much surprised," he said simply. "If the war is grievous for your country, it is ruin to mine. We do not, perhaps, advertise our apprehensions in the papers. We prefer to keep them locked up in our own brain. There is one great fact always before us. Germany is unconquerable. One must find peace or perish."
Monsieur Guillot listened with a curious look upon his face. His forefinger tapped the copy of the Times which was lying upon the table. The other nodded gravely.
"Yes," he continued, "I know that our Press is carrying on a magnificent campaign of bluff. I know that many of the ignorant people of the country believe that this war is still being prosecuted with every hope of success. We who have been to the Front, especially those who have any source of information in Germany, know differently. The longer the war, the more ruinous the burden which your country and mine will have to bear."
"It is my opinion also," Monsieur Guillot declared, "and furthermore, listen. It is not our war at all, that is the cruel part of it. It is Russia's war and yours. Yet it is we who suffer most, we, the richest part of whose country is in the hands of the foe, we whose industries are paralysed, my country from whom the life-blood is being slowly drained. You English, what do you know of the war? No enemy has set foot upon your soil, no Englishman has seen his womankind dishonoured or his home crumble into ashes. The war to you is a thing of paper, an abstraction—that same war which has turned the better half of my beloved country into a lurid corner of hell."
"Our time has not yet come," Granet admitted, "but before long, unless diplomacy can avert it, fate will be knocking at our doors, too. Listen. You have friends still in power, Monsieur Guillot?—friends in the Cabinet, is it not so?"
"It is indeed true," Monsieur Guillot assented.
"You have, too," Granet continued, "a great following throughout France. You are the man for the task I bring to you. You, if you choose, shall save your country and earn the reward she will surely bestow upon you."
Monsieur Guillot's cheeks were flushed a little. With long, nervous fingers he rolled a cigarette and lit it.
"Monsieur," he said, "I listen to you eagerly, and yet I am puzzled. You wear the uniform of an English officer, but you come to me, is it not so, as an emissary of Germany?"
"In bald words that may be true," Granet confessed, "yet I would remind you of two things. First, that the more dominant part of the personality which I have inherited comes to me from Alsatian ancestors; and secondly, that this peace for which I am striving may in the end mean salvation for England, too."
"I hear you with relief," Monsieur Guillot admitted. "In this transaction it is my great desire to deal with a man of honour. As such I know perceive that I can recognise you, monsieur."
Granet bowed gravely and without any shadow of embarrassment.
"That assuredly, Monsieur Guillot," he said. "Shall I proceed?"
"By all means."
Granet drew a thin packet from the breast pocket of his coat. He laid it on the table between them.
"I received this," he announced, "less than three weeks ago from the hands of the Kaiser himself."
Monsieur Guillot gazed at his companion incredulously.
"It was very simple," Granet continued. "I was taken prisoner near the village of Ossray. I was conducted at once to headquarters and taken by motor-car to a certain fortified place which I will not specify, but which was at that time the headquarters of the German Staff. I received this document there in the way I have told you. I was then assisted, after some very remarkable adventures, to rejoin my regiment. You can open that document, Monsieur Guillot. It is addressed to you. Guard it carefully, though, for it is signed by the Kaiser himself. I have carried it with me now for more than a fortnight in the inner sole of my shoe. As you can imagine, its discovery upon my person would have meant instant death."
Monsieur Guillot was engrossed in reading the few lines of the missive. When he had finished, he covered the paper with the palm of his hand and leaned forward. There was a queer light in his eyes.
"Germany will give up Alsace and Lorraine," he said hoarsely, "and will retire within her own frontiers. She will ask for no indemnity. What is the meaning of it?"
"Simple enough," Granet pointed out. "A great politician like you should easily realise the actual conditions which prompt such an offer. What good is territory to Germany, territory over which she must rule by force, struggling always against the accumulated hatred of years? Alsace and Lorraine have taught her her lesson. It is not French territory she wants. Russia has far more to give. Russia and England between them can pay an indemnity which will make Germany rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Form your party, Monsieur Guillot, spread your tidings in any way that seems fit to you, only until the hour comes, guard that document as you would your soul. Its possession would mean death to you as it would to me."
Monsieur Guillot took the document and buttoned it up in his inside pocket.
"Supposing I succeed," he said quietly, "what of your country then?"
"My country will make peace," Granet replied.
"It will be a peace that will cost us much, but nothing more than we deserve. For generations the war has been the perfectly obvious and apparent sequence of European events. It threw its warning shadow across our path for years, and our statesmen deliberately turned their heads the other way or walked blindfolded. Not only our statesmen, mind, but our people, our English people. Our young men shirked their duty, our philosophers and essayists shirked theirs. We prated of peace and conventions, and we knew very well that we were living in times when human nature and red blood were still the controlling elements. We watched Germany arm and prepare. We turned for comfort towards our fellow sinners, America, and we prattled about conventions and arbitration, and hundred other silly abstractions. A father can watch the punishment of his child, Monsieur Guillot. Believe me, there are many other Englishmen besides me who will feel a melancholy satisfaction in the chastisement of their country, many who are more English, even, than I."
Monsieur Guillot passed away from the personal side of the matter. Already his mind was travelling swiftly along the avenues of his own future greatness.
"This is the chance which comes to few men," he muttered. "There is Dejane, Gardine, Debonnot, Senn, besides my own followers. My own journal, too! It is a great campaign, this which I shall start."
Granet rose to his feet.
"After to-day I breathe more freely," he confessed. "There have been enemies pressing closely around me, I have walked in fear. To-day I am a free man. Take care, monsieur. Take care especially whilst you are in England."
Monsieur Guillot extended his hand.
"My young friend," he said, "in the years to come you and I shall perhaps meet in our wonderful Paris, and if I may not tell the world so, I shall yet feel, as we look upon her greatness, that you and I together have saved France. Adieu!"
Granet made his way along the empty corridor, rang for the lift and descended into the hall. A smile was upon his lips. The torch at last was kindled! In the hall of the hotel he came across a group of assembling guests just starting for the luncheon room. A tall, familiar figure stepped for a moment on one side. His heart gave a little jump. Geraldine held out her pearl-gloved hand.
"Captain Granet," she said, "I wanted to tell you something."
"Yes?" he answered breathlessly.
She glanced towards where the little group of people were already on their way to the stairs.
"I must not stay for a second," she continued, dropping her voice, "but I wanted to tell you—I am no longer engaged to Major Thomson. Goodbye!"
A rush of words trembled upon his lips but she was gone. He watched her slim, graceful figure as she passed swiftly along the vestibule and joined her friends. He even heard her little laugh as she greeted one of the men who had waited for her.
"Decidedly," Granet said to himself triumphantly as he turned towards the door, "this is my day!"
Monsieur Guillot was a man of emotional temperament. For more than an hour after Granet had left him, he paced up and down his little room, stood before the high windows which overlooked the Thames, raised his hands above his head and gazed with flashing eyes into the future—such a future! All his life he had been a schemer, his eyes turned towards the big things, yet with himself always occupying the one glorified place in the centre of the arena. He was, in one sense of the word, a patriot, but it was the meanest and smallest sense. There was no great France for him in which his was not the commanding figure. In every dream of that wonderful future, of a more splendid and triumphant France, he saw himself on the pinnacle of fame, himself acclaimed by millions the strong great man, the liberator. France outside himself lived only as a phantasy. And now at last his chance had come. The minutes passed unnoticed as he built his way up into the future. He was shrewd and calculating, he took note of the pitfalls he must avoid. One by one he decided upon the men whom gradually and cautiously he would draw into his confidence. Finally he saw the whole scheme complete, the bomb-shell thrown, France hysterically casting laurels upon the man who had brought her unexpected peace.
The door-bell rang. He answered it a little impatiently. A slim, fashionably dressed young Frenchman stood there, whose face was vaguely familiar to him.
"Monsieur Guillot?" the newcomer inquired politely.
Guillot bowed. The young man handed him a card.
"I am the Baron D'Evignon," he announced, "second secretary at the Embassy here."
Monsieur Guillot held the card and looked at his visitor. He was very puzzled. Some dim sense of foreboding was beginning to steal in upon him.
"Be so kind as to come in, Monsieur le Baron," he invited. "Will you not be seated and explain to me to what I am indebted for this honour? You do not, by any chance, mistake me for another? I am Monsieur Guillot, lately, alas! Of Lille."
The Baron smiled ever so slightly as he waved away the chair.
"There is no mistake, Monsieur Guillot," he said. "I come to you with a message from my Chief. He would be greatly honoured if you would accompany me to the Embassy. He wishes a few minutes' conversation with you."
"With me?" Monsieur Guillot echoed incredulously. "But there is some mistake."
"No mistake, I assure you," the young man insisted.
Monsieur Guillot drew back a little into the room.
"But what have I to do with the Ambassador, or with diplomatic matters of any sort?" he protested. "I am here on business, to see what can be saved from the wreck of my affairs. Monsieur the Ambassador is mistaking me for another."
The Baron shook his head.
"There is no mistake, my dear sir," he insisted. "We all recognise," he added, with a bow, "the necessities which force the most famous of us to live sometimes in the shadow of anonymity. If the Chief could find little to say to Monsieur Guillot of Lille, he will, I am sure, be very interested in a short conversation with Monsieur Henri Pailleton."
There was a brief, tense silence. The man who had called himself Guillot was transformed. The dreams which had uplifted him a few minutes ago, had passed. He was living very much in the present—an ugly and foreboding present. The veins stood out upon his forehead and upon the back of his hands, his teeth gleamed underneath his coarse, white moustache. Then he recovered himself.
"There is some mistake," he said, "but I will come."
In silence they left the hotel and drove to the Embassy, in silence the young man ushered his charge into the large, pleasant apartment on the ground floor of the Embassy, where the ambassador was giving instructions to two of his secretaries. He dismissed them with a little wave of his hand and bowed politely to his visitor. There was no longer any pretext on the part of Monsieur Guillot. He recognised its complete futility.
"Monsieur Pailleton," the ambassador began, "will you take a seat? It is very kind of you to obey so quickly my summons."
"I had no idea," the latter remarked, "that my presence in England was known. I am here on private business."
The ambassador bowed suavely.
"Precisely, my friend! You see, I use the epithet 'my friend' because at a time like this all Frenchmen must forget their differences and work together for the good and honour of their country. Is it not so, monsieur?"
"That is indeed true," Monsieur Pailleton admitted slowly. "We may work in different ways but we work towards the same end."
"No one has ever doubted your patriotism, Monsieur Pailleton," the ambassador continued. "It is my privilege now to put it to the test. There is a little misunderstanding in Brazil, every particular concerning which, and the views of our Government, is contained in the little parcel of documents which you see upon this table. Put them in your pocket, Monsieur Pailleton. I am going to ask you to serve your country by leaving for Liverpool this afternoon and for Brazil to-morrow on the steamship Hermes."
Monsieur Pailleton had been a little taken aback by the visit of the Baron. He sat now like a man temporarily stupefied. He was too amazed to find any sinister significance in this mission. He could only gasp. The ambassador's voice, as he continued talking smoothly, seemed to reach him from a long way off.
"It may be a little contrary to your wishes, my friend," the latter proceeded, "to find yourself so far from the throb of our great struggle, yet in these days we serve best who obey. It is the wish of those who stand for France that you should take that packet and board that steamer."
Monsieur Pailleton began in some measure to recover himself. He was still, however, bewildered.
"Monsieur," he protested, "I do not understand. This mission to Brazil of which you speak—it can have no great importance. Cannot it be entrusted to some other messenger?"
"Alas! No, my dear sir," was the uncompromising reply. "It is you—Monsieur Pailleton—whom the President desires to travel to Brazil."
The light was breaking in upon Pailleton. He clenched his fists.
"I am to be got out of the way!" he exclaimed. "The President fears me politically, he fears my following!"
The ambassador drew himself a little more upright, a stiff unbending figure. His words seemed suddenly to become charged with more weight.
"Monsieur Pailleton," he said, "the only thing that France fears is treachery!"
Pailleton gripped at the back of his chair. The room for a moment swam before his eyes.
"Is this an insult, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur?" he demanded.
"Take it as an insult if in your heart there is no shadow of treachery towards the France that is today, towards the cause of the Allies as it is to-day," was the stern answer.
"I refuse to accept this extraordinary mission," Pailleton declared, rising to his feet. "You can send whom you will to Brazil. I have greater affairs before me."
The ambassador shrugged his shoulders.
"I shall not press you," he said. "I shall only put before you the alternative. You are at this present moment upon French soil. If you refuse this mission which has been offered to you, I shall detain you here until I have the means of sending you under escort to France."
"Detain me? On what charge?" Pailleton exclaimed angrily.
"On the charge of treason," was the quiet reply. "I shall have you stripped and searched in this room. I shall have your luggage and your room searched at the Milan Hotel. And now, Monsieur Pailleton?"
Once more the man was bewildered. This time, however, it was bewilderment of a different sort. He thought for a moment steadfastly. Who was there who could have betrayed him?
"What is the nature of this document, monsieur, which you expect to find amongst my belongings?" he demanded.
"An authorised offer of peace from Germany to the French people," the ambassador answered slowly. "It is the second attempt which has been made. The first was torn into fragments before the face of the person who had the effrontery to present it. The second, Monsieur Pailleton, is in your possession. You may keep it if you will. In Brazil you will find it of little use."
Monsieur Pailleton folded his arms.
"I am a Frenchman," he proclaimed. "What I may do, I do for France."
"You refuse my mission, then?"
"I refuse it."
The ambassador struck a bell upon his table. One of his secretaries promptly appeared.
"Send Colonel Defarge to me at once," his chief ordered.
There was a brief pause. The ambassador was busy writing at his table. Pailleton, who was breathing heavily, said nothing. Presently an officer in French uniform entered.
"Monsieur le Colonel," the ambassador said, stretching out his hand towards Pailleton, "you will accept the charge of this man, whom you will consider under arrest. I take the full responsibility for this proceeding. You will conduct him to your rooms here and you will search him. Any document found in his possession you will bring to me. When you have finished, let me know and I will give you an authority to proceed to his apartments in the Milan Hotel. You understand?"
"Certainly, my chief."
The officer saluted and moved to Pailleton.
"You will come quietly, monsieur, is it not so?" he asked.
Pailleton waved him away. He turned to the ambassador.
"Monsieur," he decided, "I will go to Brazil."
TWO MORE GERMAN SUBMARINES SUNK WITH ALL HANDS
The Admiralty report that they received last night a message from Commander Conyers of the destroyer Scorpion, announcing that he has destroyed German submarines U 22 and 27, with all hands.
"Well, I'm damned!" the Admiral exclaimed, as he laid down the newspaper a few mornings later. "Ralph's done it this time, and no mistake."
Geraldine looked over his shoulder, her cheeks aglow.
"I knew at seven o'clock," she declared. "Harris brought me the paper up. They are all so excited about it in the kitchen. You'd just gone out in the Park."
"I want to know how it was done," the Admiral speculated. "Can't have been ramming if he bagged two of them, and they surely never came to the surface voluntarily, with a destroyer about."
Geraldine glanced around the room to be sure that they were alone.
"Don't you remember when Olive and I were at Portsmouth?" she said. "Ralph has been absolutely dumb about it but he did just give us a hint that he had a little surprise in store for the submarines. There was something on deck, covered all up and watched by a sentry, and just before we sat down to lunch, you know, we were turned off and had to go to the 'Ship'. Ralph wouldn't tell us a word about it but I'm sure he's got some new contrivance on the Scorpion for fighting the submarines."
"There may be something in it," the Admiral admitted cheerfully. "I noticed the Morning Post naval man the other day made a very guarded reference to some secret means of dealing with these vermin."
Lady Conyers sailed into the room, a telegram in her hand.
"A wireless from Ralph," she announced. "Listen."
Have sunk two of the brutes. More to come. Love.
They pored over the telegram and the newspaper until the breakfast was cold. The Admiral was like a boy again.
"If we can get rid of these curses of the sea," he said, settling down at last to his bacon and eggs, "and get those Germans to come out, the war will be over months before any one expected. I shall go down to the Admiralty after breakfast and see if they've got anything to tell. Ralph gave me a hint about the net scheme but he never even mentioned anything else."
The telephone rang in the next room and a servant summoned Geraldine.
"Captain Granet wishes to speak to Miss Conyers," he announced.
Geraldine left her place at once and hastened into the library. She took up the receiver.
"Is that you, Captain Granet?" she asked.
"I felt that I must ring you up," he declared, "to congratulate you, Miss Conyers, upon your brother's exploit. I have had half a dozen soldier fellows in already this morning to talk about it, and we're simply mad with curiosity. Do you think we shall be told soon how it was done?"
"Father's going down to the Admiralty to try and find out," Geraldine replied. "Ralph doesn't say a word except that he sunk them. We've had a wireless from him this morning."
"It really doesn't matter much, does it," Granet went on, "so long as we get rid of the brutes. I was perfectly certain, when we were down at Portsmouth, that your brother had something up his sleeve. Does give one a thrill, doesn't it, when one's ashore and doing nothing, to read of things like this?"
"You'll soon be at work again," she told him encouragingly.
"I don't know," he sighed. "They talk about giving me a home job and I don't think I could stick it. Are you walking in the Park this morning, Miss Conyers?"
She hesitated for a moment.
"No, I am playing golf at Ranelagh."
"Might I call this afternoon?"
"If you like," she assented. "After four o'clock, though, because I am staying out to lunch."
"Thank you so much," he replied gratefully.
She set down the receiver again and went back to the breakfast-room.
"Captain Granet just wanted to congratulate us all," she announced, "and to know if he could come in to tea this afternoon."
"Better ask him to dinner, my dear," the Admiral suggested hospitably. "He's a fine young fellow, Granet. Very thoughtful of him to ring us up."
Lady Conyers made no comment. Geraldine was bending over her plate. The Admiral rose to his feet. He was much too excited to pursue the conversation.
"I shall walk down to the Admiralty and see if I can get hold of old Wilcock," he continued. "If he won't tell me anything, I'll wring the old beggar's neck."
The Admiral left the house a few minutes later and Lady Conyers walked arm in arm with her daughter into the pleasant little morning-room which looked out upon the Square. The former paused for a moment to look at Thomson's photograph, which stood upon one of the side tables. Then she closed the door.
"Geraldine," she said, "I am not very happy about you and Hugh."
"Why not, mother?" the girl asked, looking out of the window.
"Perhaps because I like Hugh," Lady Conyers went on quietly, "perhaps, too, because I am not sure that you have done wisely. You haven't given me any reason yet, have you, for breaking your engagement?"
Geraldine was silent for a moment. Then she came back and sat on the rug at her mother's feet. She kept her face, however, a little turned away.
"It's so hard to put it into words, mother," she said thoughtfully, "only Hugh never seemed to give me any of his confidence. Of course, his is very dull work, looking after hospitals and that sort of thing, but still, I'd have liked to try and take an interest in it. He must have seen exciting things in France, but it is only by the merest chance that one ever realises that he has been even near the Front. He is so silent, so secretive."
Lady Conyers took up her knitting.
"Some men are like that, dear," she remarked. "It is just temperamental. Perhaps you haven't encouraged him to talk."
"But I have," Geraldine insisted. "I have asked him no end of questions, but before he has answered any of them properly, I find him trying to change the conversation."
"Men don't like talking about the war, you know," Lady Conyers went on. "There was that nice Major Tyndale who was back from the Front the other day with a V. C. and goodness knows what. Not a word would he say about any one of the fights, and he is cheery enough in a general way, isn't he, and fond of talking?"
"Even then," Geraldine protested, "Hugh's work is different. I can understand why he doesn't like to talk a lot about the wounded and that sort of thing, but he must have had some interesting adventures."
"I don't think," Lady Conyers said, "the very nicest men talk about their adventures."
Geraldine made a little grimace.
"Hugh doesn't talk about anything," she complained. "He goes about looking as though he had the cares of the world upon his shoulders, and then he has the—well, the cheek, I call it, to lecture me about Captain Granet. He does talk about Captain Granet in the most absurd manner, you know, mother."
"He may have his reasons," Lady Conyers observed.
Geraldine turned her head and looked at her mother.
"Now what reasons could he have for not liking Captain Granet and suspecting him of all manner of ridiculous things?" she asked. "Did you ever know a more harmless, ingenuous, delightful young man in your life?"
"Perhaps it is because you find him all these things," Lady Conyers suggested, "that Hugh doesn't like him."
"Of course, if he is going to be jealous about nothing at all—"
"Is it nothing at all?"
Lady Conyers raised her head from her knitting and looked across at her daughter. A little flush of colour had suddenly streamed into Geraldine's face. She drew back as though she had been sitting too near the fire.
"Of course it is," she declared. "I have only known Captain Granet for a very short time. I like him, of course—every one must like him who knows him—but that's all."
"Do you know," Lady Conyers said, a moment later, "I almost hope that it is all."
"And why, mother?"
"Because I consider Hugh is a great judge of character. Because we have known Hugh since he was a boy, and we have known Captain Granet for about a week."
Geraldine rose to her feet.
"You don't like Captain Granet, mother."
"I do not dislike him," Lady Conyers replied thoughtfully. "I do not see how any one could."
"Hugh does. He hinted things about him—that he wasn't honest—and then forbade me to tell him. I think Hugh was mean."
Lady Conyers glanced at the clock.
"You had better go and get ready, dear, if you have promised to be at Ranelagh at half-past ten," she said. "Will you just remember this?"
"I'll remember anything you say, mother," Geraldine promised.
"You're just a little impulsive, dear, at times, although you seem so thoughtful," Lady Conyers continued. "Don't rush at any conclusion about these two men. Sometimes I have fancied that there is a great well of feeling behind Hugh's silence. And more than that—that there is something in his life of which just now he cannot speak, which is keeping him living in great places. His abstractions are not ordinary ones, you know. It's just an idea of mine, but the other day—well, something happened which I thought rather queer. I saw a closed car turn into St. James's Park and, evidently according to orders, the chauffeur drove very slowly. There were two men inside, talking very earnestly. One of them was Hugh; the other was—well, the most important man at the War Office, who seldom, as you know, speaks to any one."
"You mean to say that he was alone, talking confidentially with Hugh?" Geraldine exclaimed incredulously.
"He was, dear," her mother assented, "and it made me think. That's all. I have a fancy that some day when the time comes that Hugh is free to talk, he will be able to interest you—well, quite as much as Captain Granet.... Now then, dear, hurry. There's the car at the door for you and you haven't your hat on."
Geraldine went upstairs a little thoughtfully. As she drew on her gloves, she looked down at the empty space upon her third finger. For a moment there was almost a lump in her throat.
The two men who had walked up together arm in arm from Downing Street, stood for several moments in Pall Mall before separating. The pressman who was passing yearned for the sunlight in his camera. One of the greatest financiers of the city in close confabulation with Mr. Gordon Jones, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was an interesting, almost an historical sight.
"It is a source of the greatest satisfaction to me, Sir Alfred," the Minister was saying earnestly, "to find such royal and whole-hearted support in the city. I am afraid," he went on, with a little twinkle in his eyes, "that there are times when I have scarcely been popular in financial circles."
"We have hated you like poison," the other assured him, with emphasis.
"The capitalists must always hate the man who tries to make wealth pay its just share in the support of the Empire," Mr. Gordon Jones remarked. "The more one has, the less one likes to part with it. However, those days have passed. You bankers have made my task easier at every turn. You have met me in every possible way. To you personally, Sir Alfred, I feel that some day I shall have to express my thanks—my thanks and the thanks of the nation—in a more tangible form."
"You are very kind," the banker acknowledged. "Times like this change everything. We remember only that we are Englishmen."
The Minister hailed a passing taxi and disappeared. The banker strolled slowly along Pall Mall and passed through the portals of an august-looking club. The hall-porter relieved him of his coat and hat with great deference. As he was crossing the hall, after having exchanged greetings with several friends, he came face to face with Surgeon-Major Thomson. The latter paused.
"I am afraid you don't remember me, Sir Alfred," he said, "but I have been hoping for an opportunity of thanking you personally for the six ambulance cars you have endowed. I am Surgeon-Major Thomson, chief inspector of Field Hospitals."
Sir Alfred held out his hand affably.
"I remember you perfectly, Major," he declared. "I am very glad that my gift is acceptable. Anything one can do to lessen the suffering of those who are fighting our battle, is almost a charge upon our means."
"It is very fortunate for us that you feel like that," the other replied. "Thank you once more, sir."
The two men separated. Sir Alfred turned to the hall-porter.
"I am expecting my nephew in to dine," he said,—"Captain Granet. Bring him into the smoking-room, will you, directly he arrives."
Sir Alfred passed on across the marble hall. Thomson, whose hand had been upon his hat, replaced it upon the peg. He looked after the great banker and stood for a moment deep in thought. Then he addressed the hall-porter.
"By-the-bye, Charles," he inquired, "if you ask a non-member to dinner, you have to dine in the strangers' room, I suppose?"
"Certainly, sir," the man replied. "It is just at the back of the general dining-room."
"I suppose an ordinary member couldn't dine in there alone?"
"It is not customary, sir."
Surgeon-Major Thomson made his way to the telephone booth. When he emerged, he interviewed the head-waiter.
"Keep a small table for me in the strangers' room," he ordered. "I shall require dinner for two."
"At what time, sir?"
Major Thomson seemed for a moment deaf. He was looking through the open door of the smoking-room to where Sir Alfred was deep in the pages of a review.
"Are there many people dining there to-night?" he asked.
"Sir Alfred has a guest at eight o'clock, sir," the man replied. "There are several others, I think, but they have not ordered tables specially."
"At a quarter past eight, if you please. I shall be in the billiard-room, Charles," he added, turning to the hall-porter.
Sir Alfred wearied soon of the pages of his review and leaned back in his chair, his hands folded in front of him, gazing through the window at the opposite side of the way. A good many people, passing backwards and forwards, glanced at him curiously. For thirty years his had been something like a household name in the city. He had been responsible, he and the great firm of which he was the head, for international finance conducted on the soundest principles, finance which scorned speculation, finance which rolled before it the great snowball of automatically accumulated wealth. His father had been given the baronetcy which he now enjoyed, and which, as he knew very well, might at any moment be transferred into a peerage. He was a short, rather thick-set man, with firm jaws and keen blue eyes, carefully dressed in somewhat old-fashioned style, with horn-rimmed eyeglass hung about his neck with a black ribbon. His hair was a little close-cropped and stubbly. No one could have called him handsome, no one could have found him undistinguished. Even without the knowledge of his millions, people who glanced at him recognised the atmosphere of power.
"Wonder what old Anselman's thinking about," one man asked another in an opposite corner.
"Money bags," was the prompt reply. "The man thinks money, he dreams money, he lives money. He lives like a prince but he has no pleasures. From ten in the morning till two, he sites in his office in Lombard Street, and the pulse of the city beats differently in his absence."
"I wonder!" the other murmured.
Other people had wondered, too. Still the keen blue eyes looked across through the misty atmosphere at the grey building opposite. Men and women passed before him in a constant, unseen procession. No one came and spoke to him, no one interfered with his meditations. The two men who had been discussing him passed out of the room presently one of them glanced backwards in his direction.
"After all, I suppose," he observed, as he passed down the hall, "there is something great about wealth or else one wouldn't believe that old Anselman there was thinking of his money-bags. Why, here's Granet. Good fellow! I'd no idea you'd joined this august company of old fogies."
Granet smiled as he shook hands.
"I haven't," he explained. "You have to be a millionaire, don't you, and a great political bug, before they'd let you in? No place for poor soldiers! I have to be content with the Rag."
"Poor devil!" his friend remarked sympathetically,—"best cooking, best wines in London. These Service men look after themselves all right. What are you doing here, anyhow, Granet?"
"I'm dining with my uncle," Granet replied, quickly.
"Sir Alfred's in there, waiting for you," his friend told him, indicating the door,—"he has been sitting at the window watching for you, in fact. So long!"
The two men passed out and Granet was ushered into the smoking-room. Sir Alfred came back from his reverie and was greeted by his nephew cordially. The two men sat by the window for a few moments in silence.
"An aperitif?" Sir Alfred suggested. "Capital!"
They drank mixed vermouth. Sir Alfred picked up an evening paper from his side.
"Any news?" he asked.
"Nothing fresh," Granet replied. "The whole worlds excited about this submarine affair. Looks as though we'd got the measure of those Johnnies, doesn't it?"
"It does indeed," Sir Alfred agreed. "Two submarines, one after the other, two of the latest class, too, destroyed within a few miles and without a word of explanation. No wonder every one's excited about it!"
"They're fearfully bucked at the Admiralty, I believe," Granet remarked. "Of course, they'll pretend that they had this new dodge or whatever it may be, up their sleeves all the time."
Sir Alfred nodded.
"Well," he said, "come in to dinner, young fellow. You shall entertain me with tales of your adventures whilst you compare our cuisine here with your own commissariat."
They passed on into the strangers' dining-room, a small but cheerful apartment opening out of the general dining-room. The head-waiter ushered them unctuously to a small table set in the far corner of the room.
"I have obeyed your wishes, Sir Alfred," he announced, as they seated themselves. "No one else will be dining anywhere near you."
Sir Alfred nodded.
"Knowing how modest you soldiers are in talking of your exploits," he remarked to Granet, "I have pleaded for seclusion. Here, in the intervals of our being served with dinner, you can spin me yarns of the Front. The whole thing fascinates me. I want to hear the story of your escape."
They seated themselves, and Sir Alfred studied the menu for a moment through his eyeglass. After the service of the soup they were alone. He leaned a little across the table.
"Ronnie," he said, "I thought it was better to ask you here than to have you down at the city."
"This seems all right," he admitted, glancing around. "Well, one part of the great work is finished. I have lived for eleven days not quite sure when I wasn't going to be stood up with my back to the light at the Tower. Now it's over."
"You've seen Pailleton?"
"Seen him, impressed him, given him the document. He has his plans all made."
"Good! Very good!"
Sir Alfred ate soup for several moments as though it were the best soup on earth and nothing else was worth consideration. Then he laid down his spoon.
"Magnificent!" he said. "Now listen—these submarines. There was a Taube close at hand and I can tell you something which the Admiralty here are keeping dark, with their tongues in their cheeks. Both those submarines were sunk under water."
"I guessed it," Granet replied coolly. "I not only guessed it but I came very near the key of the whole thing."
A waiter appeared with the next course, followed by the wine steward, carrying champagne. Sir Alfred nodded approvingly.
"Just four minutes in the ice," he instructed, "not longer. What you tell me about the champagne country is, I must confess, a relief," he added, turning to Granet. "It may not affect us quite so much, but personally I believe that the whole world is happier and better when champagne is cheap. It is the bottled gaiety of the nation. A nation of ginger ale drinkers would be doomed before they reached the second generation. 1900 Pommery, this, Ronnie, and I drink your health. If I may be allowed one moment's sentiment," he added, raising his glass, "let me say that I drink your health from the bottom of my hear, with all the admiration which a man of my age feels for you younger fellows who are fighting for us and our country."
They drank the toast in silence. In a moment or two they were alone again.
"Go on, Ronnie," his uncle said. "I am interested."
"I met Conyers the other day," Granet proceeded, "the man who commands the Scorpion. I managed to get an invitation down to Portsmouth to have lunch with him on his ship. I went down with his sister and the young lady he is engaged to marry. On deck there was a structure of some sort covered up. I tried to make inquires about it but they headed me off pretty quick. There was even a sentry standing on guard before it—wouldn't let me even feel the shape of it. However, I hadn't given up hope when there came a wireless—no guests to be allowed on board. Conyers had to pack us all off back to the hotel, without stopping even for lunch. From the hotel I got a telescope and I saw a pinnace with half-a-dozen workmen, and a pilot who was evidently an engineer, land on board. They seemed to be completing the adjustments of some new piece of mechanism. Then they steamed away out of sight of the land."
"A busy life, yours, Ronnie," Sir Alfred remarked, after a moments pause. "What about it now? I've had two urgent messages from Berlin this morning."
"It's pretty difficult," Granet acknowledged. "The Scorpion's out in the Channel or the North Sea. No getting at her. And I don't believe there's another destroyer yet fitted with this apparatus, whatever it may be."
"They must be making them somewhere, though," Sir Alfred remarked.
His nephew nodded.
"To think," he muttered, "that we've two hundred men spread out at Tyneside, Woolwich and Portsmouth, and not one of them got on to this! A nation of spies, indeed! They're mugs, uncle."
"Not altogether that," the banker replied. "We have some reports, although they don't go far enough. I can put you on to the track of the thing. The apparatus you saw is something in the nature of an inverted telescope, with various extraordinary lenses treated by a new process. You can see forty feet down under the surface of the water for a distance of a mile, and we believe that attached to the same apparatus is an instrument which brings any moving object within the range of what they call a deep-water gun."
"Did that come from reports?" Granet asked eagerly.
"It did," Sir Alfred said. "Further than that, the main part of the instrument is being made under the supervision of Sir Meyville Worth, in a large workshop erected on his estate in a village near Brancaster in Norfolk."
"I take it back," Granet remarked.
"The plans of the instrument should be worth a hundred thousand pounds," Sir Alfred continued calmly. "If that is impossible, the destruction of the little plant would be the next consideration."
"Do I come in here?" Granet inquired.
"You do, Ronnie," his uncle replied. "The name of the village where Sir Meyville Worth lives is Market Burnham, which, as I think I told you, is within a few miles of Brancaster. Geoffrey, at my instigation, has arranged a harmless little golf party to go to Brancaster the day after to-morrow. You will accompany them. In the meantime, Miss Worth, Sir Meyville Worth's only daughter, is staying in London until Wednesday. She is lunching with your aunt at the Ritz to-morrow. I have made some other arrangements in connection with your visit to Norfolk, which will keep for the present. I see that some strangers have entered the room. Tell me exactly how you came by the wound in your foot?"
Granet turned a little around. There was a queer change in his face as he looked back at his uncle.
"Do you know the man at that corner table?" he asked.
Sir Alfred glanced across the room.
"Very slightly. I spoke to him an hour ago. He thanked me for some ambulances. He is the chief inspector of hospitals, I think—Major Thomson, his name is."
"Did you happen to say that I was dining with you?"
Sir Alfred reflected for a moment.
"I believe that I did mention it," he admitted. "Why?"
Granet struggled for a moment with an idea and rejected it. He drained his glass and leaned across the table.
"He's a dull enough person really," he remarked, a little under his breath, "but I seem to be always running up against him. Once or twice he's given me rather a start."
Sir Alfred smiled. He called the wine steward and pointed to his nephew's glass.
"The best thing in the world," he observed drily, as he watched the wine being poured out, "for presentiments."
Lady Anselman stood once more in the foyer of the Ritz Hotel and counted her guests. It was a smaller party this time, and in its way a less distinguished one. There were a couple of officers, friends of Granet's, back from the Front on leave; Lady Conyers, with Geraldine and Olive; Granet himself; and a tall, dark girl with pallid complexion and brilliant eyes, who had come with Lady Anselman and who was standing now by her side.
"I suppose you know everybody, my dear?" Lady Anselman asked her genially.
The girl shook her head a little disconsolately.
"We are so little in London, Lady Anselman," she murmured. "You know how difficult father is, and just now he is worse than ever. In fact, if he weren't so hard at work I don't believe he'd have let me come even now."
"These scientific men," Lady Anselman declared, "are great boons to the country, but as parent I am afraid they are just a little thoughtless. Major Harrison and Colonel Grey, let me present you to my young charge—for the day only, unfortunately—Miss Worth. Now, Ronnie, if you can be persuaded to let Miss Conyers have a moment's peace perhaps you will show us the way in to lunch."
Granet promptly abandoned his whispered conversation with Geraldine. The little company moved in and took their places at the round table which was usually reserved for Lady Anselman on Tuesdays.
"Some people," the latter remarked, as she seated herself, "find fault with me for going on with my luncheons this season. Even Alfred won't come except now and then. Personally, I have very strong views about it. I think we all ought to keep on doing just the same as usual—to a certain extent, of course. There is no reason why we should bring the hotel proprietors and shopkeepers to the brink of ruin because we are all feeling more or less miserable."
"Quite right," her neighbour, Colonel Grey, assented. "I am sure it wouldn't do us any good out there to feel that you were all sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Besides, think how pleasant this is to come home to," he added, looking around the little table. "Jove! What a good-looking girl Miss Conyers is!"
Lady Anselman nodded and lowered her voice a little.
"She has just broken her engagement to Surgeon-Major Thomson. I wonder whether you know him?"
"Inspector of Field Hospitals or something, isn't he?" the other remarked carelessly. "I came across him once at Boulogne. Rather a dull sort of fellow he seemed."
Lady Anselman sighed.
"I am afraid Geraldine found him so," she agreed. "Her mother is very disappointed. I can't help thinking myself, though, that a girl with her appearance ought to do better."
The Colonel reflected for a moment.
"Seems to me I've heard something about Thomson somewhere," he said, half to himself. "By-the-bye, who is the pale girl with the wonderful eyes, to whom your nephew is making himself so agreeable?"
"That is Isabel Worth," Lady Anselman replied. "She is the daughter of Sir Meyville Worth, the great scientist. I am afraid she has rather a dull time, poor girl. Her father lives in an out-of-the-way village of Norfolk, spends all his time trying to discover things, and forgets that he has a daughter at all. She has been in London for a few days with an aunt, but I don't believe that the old lady is able to do much for her."
"Ronnie seems to be making the running all right," her neighbour observed.
"I asked him specially to look after her," Lady Anselman confided, "and Ronnie is always such a dear at doing what he is told."
Major Harrison leaned across the table towards them.
"Didn't I hear you mention Thomson's name just now?" he inquired. "I saw him the other day in Boulogne. Awful swell he was about something, too. A destroyer brought him across, and a Government motor-car was waiting at the quay to rush him up to the Front. We all thought at Boulogne that royalty was coming, at least."
There was a slight frown on Granet's forehead. He glanced half unconsciously towards Geraldine.
"Mysterious sort of fellow, Thomson," Major Harrison continued, in blissful ignorance of the peculiar significance of his words. "You see him in Paris one day, you hear of him at the furthermost point of the French lines immediately afterwards, he reports at headquarters within a few hours, and you meet him slipping out of a back door of the War Office, a day or two later."
"Inspector of Field Hospitals is a post which I think must have been created for him," Colonel Grey remarked. "He's an impenetrable sort of chap."
"Was Major Thomson going or returning from France when you saw him last?" Geraldine asked, looking across the table.
"Coming back. When we left Boulogne, the destroyer which brought him over was waiting in the harbour. It passed us in mid-Channel, doing about thirty knots to our eighteen. Prince Cyril was rather sick. He was bringing dispatches but no one seemed to have thought of providing a destroyer for him."
"After all," Lady Anselman murmured, "there is nothing very much more important than our hospitals."
The conversation drifted away from Thomson. Granet was making himself very agreeable indeed to Isabel Worth. There was a little more colour in her cheeks than at the commencement of luncheon, and her manner had become more animated.
"Tell me about the village where you live?" he inquired—"Market Burnham, isn't it?"
"When we first went there," she replied, "I thought that it was simply Paradise. That was four years ago, though, and I scarcely counted upon spending the winters there."
"You find it lovely, then."
She shivered a little, half closing her eyes as though to shut out some unpleasant memory.
"The house," she explained, "is on a sort of tongue of land, with a tidal river on either side and the sea not fifty yards away from our drawing-room window. When there are high tides, we are simply cut off from the mainland altogether unless we go across on a farm cart."
"You mustn't draw too gloomy a picture of your home," Lady Anselman said. "I have seen it when it was simply heavenly."
"And I have seen it," the girl retorted, with a note of grimness in her tone, "when it was a great deal more like the other place—stillness that seems almost to stifle you, grey mists that choke your breath and blot out everything; nothing but the gurgling of a little water, and the sighing—the most melancholy sighing you ever heard—of the wind in our ragged elms. I am talking about the autumn and winter now, you must remember."
"It doesn't sound attractive," Granet admitted. "By-the-bye, which side of Norfolk are you? You are nowhere near Brancaster, I suppose?"
"We are within four miles of it," the girl replied quickly. "You don't ever come there, do you?"
Granet looked at her with uplifted eyebrows.
"This is really rather a coincidence!" he exclaimed. "I've never been to Brancaster in my life but I've promised one or two fellows to go down to the Dormy House there, to-morrow or the next day, and have a week's golf. Geoff Anselman is going, for one."
The girl was for a moment almost good-looking. Her eyes glowed, her tone was eloquently appealing.
"You'll come by and see us, won't you?" she begged.
"If I may, I'd be delighted," Granet promised heartily. "When are you going back?"
"To-morrow. You're quite sure that you'll come?"
"I shall come all right," Granet assured her. "I'm not so keen on golf as some of the fellows, and my arm's still a little dicky, but I'm fed up with London, and I'm not allowed even to come before the Board again for a fortnight, so I rather welcome the chance of getting right away. The links are good, I suppose?"
"Wonderful," Miss Worth agreed eagerly, "and I think the club-house is very comfortable. There are often some quite nice men staying there. If only father weren't so awfully peculiar, the place would be almost tolerable in the season. That reminds me," she went on, with a little sigh, "I must warn you about father. He's the most unsociable person that ever lived."
"I'm not shy," Granet laughed. "By-the-bye, pardon me, but isn't your father the Sir Meyville Worth who invents things? I'm not quite sure what sort of things," he added. "Perhaps you'd better post me up before I come?"
"I sha'n't tell you a thing." Isabel Worth declared. "Just now it's very much better for you to know nothing whatever about him. He has what I call the inventors' fidgets, for some reason or other. If a strange person comes near the place he simply loses his head."
"Perhaps I sha'n't be welcome, then?" Granet remarked disconsolately.
There was a flash in the girl's eyes as she answered him.
"I can assure you that you will, Captain Granet," she said. "If father chooses to behave like a bear, well, I'll try and make up for him."
She glanced at him impressively and Granet bowed. A few minutes later in obedience to Lady Anselman's signal, they all made their way into the lounge, where coffee was being served. Granet made his way to Geraldine's side but she received him a little coldly.
"I have been doing my aunt's behests," he explained. "My strict orders were to make myself agreeable to a young woman who lives in a sort of bluebeard's house, where no visitors are allowed and smiling is prohibited."
Geraldine looked across at Isabel Worth.
"I never met Miss Worth before," she said. "I believe her father is wonderfully clever. Did I hear you say that you were going out of town?"
"I am going away for a few days. I am going away," he added, dropping his voice, "ostensibly for a change of air. I have another reason for going."
He looked at her steadfastly and she forgot her vague misgivings of a few minutes ago. After all, his perceptions were right. It was better for him to leave London for a time.
"I hope the change will do you good," she said quietly. "I think, perhaps, you are right to go."
Granet, a few days later, brought his car to a standstill in front of an ordinary five-barred gate upon which was painted in white letters "Market Burnham Hall." A slight grey mist was falling and the country inland was almost blotted from sight. On the other side of the gate a sandy driver disappeared into an avenue of ragged and stunted elm trees, which effectually concealed any view of the house.
"Seems as though the girl were right," Granet muttered to himself. "However, here goes."
He backed his car close to the side of the hedge, and laying his hand upon the latch of the gate, prepared to swing it open. Almost immediately a figure stepped out from the shrubs.
Granet looked with surprise at the khaki-clad figure.
"Your name and destination?" the man demanded.
"Captain Granet of the Royal Fusiliers, home from the Front on leave," Granet replied. "I was going up to the Hall to call on Miss Worth."
"Stay where you are, if you please, sir," the man replied.
He stepped back into the sentry box and spoke through a telephone. In a moment or two he reappeared.
"Pass on, please, sir," he said.
Granet walked slowly up the avenue, his hands behind him, a frown upon his forehead. Perhaps, after all, things were not to be so easy for him. On either side he could see the stretches of sand, and here and there the long creeks of salt water. As he came nearer to the house, the smell of the sea grew stronger, the tops of the trees were more bowed than ever, sand was blown everywhere across the hopeless flower-beds. The house itself, suddenly revealed, was a grim weather-beaten structure, built on the very edge of a queer, barrow-like tongue of land which ended with the house itself. The sea was breaking on the few yards of beach sheer below the windows. To his right was a walled garden, some lawns and greenhouses; to the left, stables, a garage, and two or three labourer's cottages. At the front door another soldier was stationed doing sentry duty. He stood on one side, however, and allowed Granet to ring the bell.
"Officers quartered here?" Granet inquired.
"Only one, sir," the man replied.
The door was opened almost immediately by a woman-servant. She did not wait for Granet to announce himself but motioned him to follow her into a large, circular, stone hall, across which she led him quickly and threw open the door of the drawing-room. Isabel Worth was standing just inside the room, as though listening. She held out her hand and there was no doubt about her welcome.
"Captain Granet," she said almost in a whisper, "of course you'll think we are all mad, but would you mind coming upstairs into my little sitting-room?"
"Of course not," Granet acquiesced. "I'll come anywhere, with pleasure. What a view you have from here!"
He glanced through the high windows at the other end of the room. She laid her fingers upon his arm and led him towards the door.
"Quietly, please," she whispered. "Try and imagine that you are in a house of conspirators."
She led him up the quaint stone staircase, spiral-shaped, to the first floor. Arrived there, she paused to listen for a moment, then breathed a little more freely and led him to a small sitting-room at the end of a long passage. It was a pleasant little apartment and looked sheer out over the sea. She threw herself down upon a sofa with a sigh of relief, and pointed to a chair.
"Do sit down, Captain Granet," she begged. "I am really not in the least insane but father is. You know, I got back on Wednesday night and was met at once with stern orders that no visitors of any sort were to be received, that the tradespeople were to be interviewed at the front gates—in fact that the house was to be in a state of siege."
Granet appeared puzzled.
"Simply because dad has gone out of his senses," she replied wearily. "Look here."
She led him cautiously to the window and pointed downwards. About fifty yards out at sea was a queer wooden structure, set up on strong supports. From where they were, nothing was to be seen but a windowless wall of framework and a rope ladder. Underneath, a boat was tethered to one of the supports. About thirty yards away, a man was rowing leisurely around in another small boat.
"That's where father spends about twelve hours a day," she said. "What he is doing no one knows. He won't even allow me to speak of it. When we meet at meals, I am not supposed to allude to the fact that he has been out in that crazy place. If ever he happens to speak of it, he calls it his workshop."
"But he is not alone there?" Granet asked.
"Oh, no! There are two or three men from London, and an American, working with him. Then do you see the corner of the garden there?"
She pointed to a long barn or boathouse almost upon the beach. Before the door two sentries were standing. Even from where they sat they could hear the faint whirr of a dynamo.
"There are twenty men at work in there," she said. "They all sleep in the barn or the potting sheds. They are not allowed even to go down to the village. Now, perhaps, you can begin to understand, Captain Granet, what it is like to be here."
"Well, it all sounds very interesting," he remarked, "but I should think it must be deadly for you. Your father invents no end of wonderful things, doesn't he?"
"If he does, he never speaks about it," the girl answered a little bitterly. "All that he wants from me is my absence or my silence. When I came back the other night, he was furious. If he'd thought about it, I'm sure he'd have had me stay in London. Now that I am here, though, I am simply a prisoner."