Granet resumed his seat and lit the cigarette which she insisted upon his smoking.
"Well," he observed, "it does seem hard upon you, Miss Worth. On the other hand, it really is rather interesting, isn't it, to think that your father is such a man of mysteries?"
The girl sighed.
"I suppose so," she admitted, "but then, you see, father is almost brutal about taking any one into his confidence. He never tells even me a thing, or encourages me to ask a question. I think for that reason I have grown rather to resent his work and the ridiculous restriction he places upon my freedom because of it."
A parlourmaid entered with tea, a few minutes later, and Granet moved to his hostess' side upon the sofa. He showed no more interest in outside happenings. He was an adept at light conversation and he made himself thoroughly agreeable for the next hour. Then he rose quickly to his feet.
"I must go," he declared.
"It has been so nice to have you here," she said, "but if you only knew how difficult it was to arrange, it, you'd understand why I hesitate to ask you to come again."
"Why shouldn't you come and lunch with me to-morrow at the Golf Club?" he asked.
She hesitated. It was obvious that the suggestion appealed to her.
"I believe I could," she assented. "Captain Chalmers has a small motor-car he'd lend me, and if I go out with my golf clubs it would be all right. Very likely father will sleep out there and we sha'n't see anything of him until to-morrow."
Granet stepped once more to the window. The mists had rolled up more thickly than ever and the queer little structure was almost invisible. A bright light, however, fell upon the water a little distance away.
"Your father has electric light out there," he remarked.
"Yes, they have a wire from the shed," she told him. "Whatever he's trying to do, he needs a very intense and concentrated light at times."
Granet drew a little sigh.
"Well, I hope it's something that'll do us a bit of good," he said. "We need it. The Germans are miles ahead of us with regard to all new-fangled ideas."
She opened her lips and closed them again. Granet, who had suddenly stiffened into rigid attention, felt a quick impulse of disappointment.
"I have rung the bell for my own maid," she said. "She will show you out of the place. Don't let any one see you, if you can help it."
"And to-morrow?" he asked. "You will lunch with me?"
"I will be at the Golf Club," she promised, "at one o'clock."
Granet was conducted almost stealthily down the stairs and into the avenue. Half-way to the gate he paused to listen. He was hidden from sight now by the gathering twilight and the rolling mists. From behind the house came the softly muffled roar of the tide sweeping in, and, with sharper insistence, the whirr of machinery from the boathouse. Granet lit a cigarette and walked thoughtfully away. Just as he climbed into the car, a peculiar light through the trees startled him. He stood up and watched. From the top of the house a slowly revolving searchlight played upon the waters.
It was a very cheerful little party dining that night at the Dormy House Club. There was Granet; Geoffrey Anselman, his cousin, who played for Cambridge and rowed two; Major Harrison, whose leave had been extended another three weeks; and the secretary of the club, who made up the quartette.
"By-the-bye, where were you this afternoon, Captain Granet?" the latter asked. "You left Anselman to play our best ball. Jolly good hiding he gave us, too."
"Went out for a spin," Granet explained, "and afterwards fell fast asleep in my room. Wonderful air, yours, you know," he went on.
"I slept like a top last night," Major Harrison declared. "The first three nights I was home I never closed my eyes."
Granet leaned across the table to the secretary.
"Dickens," he remarked, "that's a queer-looking fellow at the further end of the room. Who is he?"
The secretary glanced around and smiled.
"You mean that little fellow with the glasses and the stoop? He arrived last night and asked for a match this morning. You see what a miserable wizened-up looking creature he is? I found him a twelve man and he wiped the floor with me. Guess what his handicap is?"
"No idea," Granet replied. "Forty, I should think."
"Scratch at St. Andrews," Dickens told them. "His name's Collins. I don't' know anything else about him. He's paid for a week and we're jolly glad to get visitors at all these times."
"Bridge or billiards?" young Anselman asked, rising.
"Let's play billiards," Granet suggested. "The stretching across the table does me good."
"We'll have a snooker, then," Major Harrison decided.
They played for some time. The wizened-looking little man came and watched them benevolently, peering every now and then through his spectacles, and applauding mildly any particularly good stroke. At eleven o'clock they turned out the lights and made their way to their rooms. Shortly before midnight, Granet, in his dressing-gown, stole softly across the passage and opened, without knocking, the door of a room opposite to him. The wizened-looking little man was seated upon the edge of the bed, half-dressed. Granet turned the key in the lock, stood for a moment listening and swung slowly around.
"Well?" he exclaimed softly.
The tenant of the room nodded. He had taken off his glasses and their absence revealed a face of strong individuality. He spoke quietly but distinctly.
"You have explored the house?"
"As far as I could," Granet replied. "The place is almost in a state of siege."
"Proves that we are on the right track, any way. What's that building that seems to stand out in the water?"
"How do you know about it?" Granet demanded.
"I sailed out this evening, hired a boat at Brancaster Staithe. The fellow wouldn't go anywhere near Market Burnham, though, and I'm rather sorry I tried to make him. They've got the scares here, right enough, Granet. I asked him to let me the boat for a week and he wasn't even civil about it. Didn't want no strangers around these shores, he told me. When I paid him for the afternoon he was surly about it and kept looking at my field-glasses."
Granet frowned heavily.
"It isn't going to be an easy matter," he confessed. "I hear the Admiralty are going to take over the whole thing within the next few days, and are sending Marines down. How's the time?"
They glanced at their watches. It was five minutes before midnight. As though by common consent, they both crossed to the window and stood looking out into the darkness. A slight wind was moving amongst the treetops, the night was clear but moonless. About half a mile away they could just discern a corner of the club-house. They stood watching it in silence. At five minutes past twelve, Granet shut his watch with a click.
"Not to-night, then," he whispered. "Collins!"
"What is going on in that wooden shanty?"
The little man dropped his voice.
"Germany lost two submarines in one day," he murmured. "The device which got them came from that little workshop of Worth's. The plans are probably there or on the premises somewhere."
"As a matter of fact I have been within a few yards of the thing," he said. "It was all fenced around with match-boarding."
"Do you mean that you have been allowed on board the Scorpion?"
"I had the rottenest luck," he declared. "I took Miss Conyers and her friend down to see her brother, Commander Conyers. We were invited to lunch on board. At the last moment we were turned off. Through some glasses from the roof of the 'Ship' I saw some workmen pull down the match-boarding, but I couldn't make out what the structure was."
"I can give you an idea," Collins remarked. "This fellow Worth has got hold of some system of concentric lenses, with extraordinary reflectors which enable him to see distinctly at least thirty feet under water. Then they have a recording instrument, according to which they alter the gradient of a new gun, with shells that explode under water. Von Lowitz was on the track of something of this sort last year, but he gave it up chiefly because Krupps wouldn't guarantee him a shell."
"Krupps gave it up a little too soon, then," Granet muttered. "Collins, if we can't smash up this little establishment there'll be a dozen destroyers before long rigged up with this infernal contrivance."
The little man stood before the window and gazed steadfastly out seawards.
"They'll be here this week," he said confidently. "You'd better go now, Granet. It's all over for to-night."
Granet nodded and left the room quietly. Every one in the Dormy House was sound asleep. He made his way back to his own apartment without difficulty. Only the little man remained seated at the window, with his eyes fixed upon the bank of murky clouds which lowered over the sea.
Isabel Worth leaned back in the comfortable seat by Granet's side and breathed a little sigh of content. She had enjoyed her luncheon party a deux, their stroll along the sands afterwards, and she was fully prepared to enjoy this short drive homewards.
"What a wonderful car yours is!" she murmured. "But do tell me—what on earth have you got in behind?"
"It's just a little experimental invention of a friend of mine," he explained. "Some day we are going to try it on one of these creeks. It's a collapsible canvas boat."
"Don't try it anywhere near us," she laughed. "Two of the fishermen from Wells sailed in a little too close to the shed yesterday and the soldiers fired a volley at them."
Garnet made a grimace.
"Do you know I am becoming most frightfully curious about your father's work?" he observed.
"Are you really?" she replied carelessly. "For my part, I wouldn't even take the trouble to climb up the ladder into the workshop."
"But you must know something about what is going on there?" Granet persisted.
"I really don't," she assured him. "It's some wonderful invention, I believe, but I can't help resenting anything that makes us live like hermits, suspect even the tradespeople, give up entertaining altogether, give up even seeing our friends. I hope you are not going to hurry away, Captain Granet. I haven't had a soul to speak to down here for months."
"I don't think I shall go just yet," he answered. "I want first to accomplish what I came here for."
She turned her head very slowly and looked at him. There was quite a becoming flush upon her cheeks.
"What did you come for?" she asked softly.
He was silent for a moment. Already his foot was on the brake of the car; they were drawing near the plain, five-barred gates.
"Perhaps I am not quite sure about that myself," he whispered.
They had come to a standstill. She descended reluctantly.
"I hate to send you away," she sighed, "it seems so inhospitable. Will you come in for a little time? The worst that can happen, if we meet dad, is that he might be rather rude."
"I'll risk it with pleasure," Granet replied.
"Can I see your collapsible boat?" she asked, peering in behind.
He shook his head.
"It isn't my secret," he said, "and besides, I don't think my friend has the patent for it yet."
The sentry stood by and allowed them to pass, although he looked searchingly at Granet. They walked slowly up the scrubby avenue to the house. Once Granet paused to look down at the long arm of the sea on his left.
"You have quite a river there," he remarked.
"That used to be the principal waterway from Burnham village. Quite a large boat can get down now at high tide."
They entered the house and Isabel gave a little gesture of dismay. She clutched for a moment at Granet's arm. An elderly man, dressed in somber black clothes disgracefully dusty, collarless, with a mass of white hair blown all over his face, was walking up and down the hall with a great pair of horn-rimmed spectacles clutched in his hand. He stopped short at the sound of the opening door and hurried towards them. There was nothing about his appearance in the least terrifying. He seemed, in fact, bubbling over with excited good-humour.
"Isabel, my dear," he exclaimed, "it is wonderful! I have succeeded! I have changed the principles of a lifetime, made the most brilliant optical experiment which any man of science has ever ventured to essay, with the result—well, you shall see. I have wired to the Admiralty, wired for more work-people. Captain Chalmers, is it not?" he went on. "You must tell your men to double and redouble their energies. This place is worth watching now. Come, I will show you something amazing."
He turned and led them hastily towards the back door. Isabel gripped Granet's arm.
"He thinks you are the officer in command of the platoon here," she whispered. "Better let him go on thinking so."
"Is he going to take us to the workshop?"
"I believe so," she assented.
They had hard work to keep up with Sir Meyville as he led them hastily down the little stretch of shingle to where a man was sitting in a boat. They all jumped in. The man with the oars looked doubtfully for a moment at Granet, but pulled off at once when ordered to do so. They rowed round to the front of the queer little structure. A man from inside held out his hand and helped them up. Another young man, with books piled on the floor by his side, was making some calculations at a table. Almost the whole of the opening of the place was taken up by what seemed to be a queer medley of telescopes and lenses pointing different ways. Sir Meyville beamed upon them as he hastily turned a handle.
"Now," he promised, "you shall see what no one has ever seen before. See, I point that arrow at that spot, about fifty yards out. Now look through this one, Isabel."
The girl stooped forward, was silent for a moment, then she gave a little cry of wonder. She clutched Granet's arm and made him take her place. He, too, called out softly. He saw the sandy bottom covered with shells, a rock with tentacles of seaweed floating from it, several huge crabs, a multitude of small fishes. Everything was clear and distinct. He looked away with a little gasp.
"Wonderful!" he exclaimed.
Sir Meyville's smile was beatific.
"That is my share," he said. "Down in the other workshop my partners are hard at it. They, too, have met with success. You must tell your men, Captain Chalmers, never to relax their vigil. This place must be watched by night and by day. My last invention was a great step forward, but this is absolute success. For the next few months this is the most precious spot in Europe."
"It isn't Captain Chalmers, father," Isabel interrupted.
Sir Meyville seemed suddenly to become still. He looked fixedly at Granet.
"Who are you, then?" he demanded. "Who are you, sir?"
"I am Captain Granet of the Royal Fusiliers, back from the Front, wounded," Granet replied. "I can assure you that I am a perfectly trustworthy person."
"But I don't understand," Sir Meyville said sharply. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to call upon your daughter," Granet explained. "I had the pleasure of meeting her at lunch at Lady Anselman's the other day. We have been playing golf together at Brancaster."
Sir Meyville began to mumble to himself as he pushed them into the boat.
"My fault," he muttered,—"my fault. Captain Granet, I thought that my daughter knew my wishes. I am not at present in a position to receive guests or visitors of any description. You will pardon my apparent inhospitality. I shall ask you, sir, to kindly forget this visit and to keep away from here for the present."
"I shall obey your wishes, of course, sir," Granet promised. "I can assure you that I am quite a harmless person, though."
"I do not doubt it, sir," Sir Meyville replied, "but it is the harmless people of the world who do the most mischief. An idle word here or there and great secrets are given away. If you will allow me, I will show you a quicker way down the avenue, without going to the house."
Granet shrugged his shoulders.
"Just as you will, sir," he assented.
"You can go in, Isabel," her father directed curtly. "I will see Captain Granet off."
She obeyed and took leave of her guest with a little shrug of the shoulders. Sir Meyville took Granet's arm and led him down the avenue.
"Captain Granet," he said gravely, "I am an indiscreet person and I have an indiscreet daughter. Bearing in mind your profession, I may speak to you as man to man. Keep what you have seen absolutely secret. Put a seal upon your memory. Go back to Brancaster and don't even look again in this direction. The soldiers round this place have orders not to stand on ceremony with any one, and by to-night I believe we are to have an escort of Marines here as well. What you have seen is for the good of the country."
"I congratulate you heartily, sir," Granet replied, shaking hands. "Of course I'll keep away, if I must. I hope when this is all over, though, you will allow me to come and renew my acquaintance with your daughter."
"When it is over, with pleasure," Sir Meyville assented.
Granet stepped into his car and drove off. The inventor stood looking after him. Then he spoke to the sentry and made his way across the gardens towards the boat-shed.
"I ought to have known it from the first," he muttered. "Reciprocal refraction was the one thing to think about."
Granet, as he drove back to the Dormy House, was conscious of a curious change in the weather. The wind, which had been blowing more or less during the last few days, had suddenly dropped. There was a new heaviness in the atmosphere, little banks of transparent mist were drifting in from seawards. More than once he stopped the car and, standing up, looked steadily away seawards. The long stretch of marshland, on which the golf links were situated, was empty. A slight, drizzling rain was falling. He found, when he reached the Dormy House, that nearly all the men were assembled in one of the large sitting-rooms. A table of bridge had been made up. Mr. Collins was seated in an easy-chair close to the window, reading a review. Granet accepted a cup of tea and stood on the hearth-rug.
"How did the golf go this afternoon?" he inquired.
"I was dead off it," Anselman replied gloomily.
"Our friend in the easy-chair there knocked spots off us."
Mr. Collins looked up and grunted and looked out of the window again.
"Either of you fellows going to cut in at bridge?" young Anselman continued.
Granet shook his head and walked to the window.
"I can't stick cards in the daytime."
Mr. Collins shut up his review.
"I agree with you, sir," he said. "I endeavoured to persuade one of these gentlemen to play another nine holes—unsuccessfully, I regret to state."
Granet lit a cigarette.
"Well," he remarked, "it's too far to get down to the links again but I'll play you a game of bowls, if you like."
The other glanced out upon the lawn and rose to his feet.
"It is an excellent suggestion," he declared. "If you will give me five minutes to fetch my mackintosh and galoshes, it would interest me to see whether I have profited by the lessons I took in Scotland."
They met, a few moments later, in the garden. Mr. Collins threw the jack with great precision and they played an end during which his superiority was apparent. They strolled together across the lawn, well away now from the house. For the first time Granet dropped his careless tone.
"What do you make of this change in the weather?" he asked quickly.
"It's just what they were waiting for," the other replied. "What about this afternoon?"
"I am not scientist, worse luck," Granet replied impatiently, "but I saw enough to convince me that they've got the right idea. Sir Meyville thought I was the man commanding the escort they've given him,—actually rowed me out to the workshop and showed me the whole thing. I tell you I saw it just as you described it,—saw the bottom of the sea, even the colour of the seaweed, the holes in the rocks."
"And they've got the shells, too," Collins muttered, "the shells that burst under water."
Granet looked around. They were playing the other end now.
"Listen!" he said.
They paused in the middle of the lawn. Granet held up his handkerchief and turned his cheek seaward. There was still little more than a floating breath of air but his cheek was covered with moisture.
"I have everything ready," he said. "Just before we go to bed to-night I shall swear that I hear an aeroplane. You're sure your watch is right to the second, Collins?"
"I am as sure that it is right," the other replied grimly, "as I am that to-night you and I my young friend, are going to play with our lives a little more carelessly than with this china ball. A good throw, that I think," he went on, measuring it with his eye carefully. "Come, my friend, you'll have to improve. My Scotch practice is beginning to tell."
Geoffrey Anselman threw up the window and looked out.
"Pretty hot stuff, isn't he Ronnie?" he asked.
Granet glanced at his opponent, with his bent shoulders, his hard face, hooked nose and thin gold spectacles.
"Yes," he admitted quietly, "he's too good for me."
At about half-past ten that evening, Granet suddenly threw down his cue in the middle of a game of billiards, and stood, for a moment, in a listening attitude.
"Jove, I believe that's an airship!" he exclaimed, and hurried out of the room.
They all followed him. He was standing just outside the French-windows of the sitting-room, upon the gravel walk, his head upturned, listening intently. There was scarcely a breath of wind, no moon nor any stars. Little clouds of grey mist hung about on the marshes, shutting out their view of the sea. The stillness was more than usually intense.
"Can't hear a thing," young Anselman muttered at last.
"It may have been fancy," Granet admitted.
"A motor-cycle going along the Huntstanton Road," Major Harrison suggested.
"It's a magnificent night for a raid," Dickens remarked glancing around.
"No chance of Zepps over here, I should say," Collins declared, a little didactically. "I was looking at your map at the golf club only this morning."
They all made their way back to the house. Granet, however, seemed still dissatisfied.
"I'm going to see that my car's all right," he told them. "I left it in the open shed."
He was absent for about twenty minutes. When he returned, they had finished the game of snooker pool without him and were all sitting on the lounge by the side of the billiard table, talking of the war. Granet listened for a few minutes and then said good-night a little abruptly. He lit his candle outside and went slowly to his room. Arrived there, he glanced at his watch and locked the door. It was half-past eleven. He changed his clothes quickly, put on some rubber-soled shoes and slipped a brandy flask and a revolver into his pocket. Then he sat down before his window with his watch in his hand. He was conscious of a certain foreboding from which he had never been able to escape since his arrival. In France and Belgium he had lived through fateful hours, carrying more than once his life in his hands. His risk to-night was an equal one but the exhilaration seemed lacking. This work in a country apparently at peace seemed somehow on a different level. If it were less dangerous, it was also less stimulating. In those few moments the soldier blood in him called for the turmoil of war, the panorama of life and death, the fierce, hot excitement of juggling with fate while the heavens themselves seemed raining death on every side. Here there was nothing but silence, the soft splash of the distant sea, the barking of a distant dog. The danger was vivid and actual but without the stimulus of that blood-red background. He glanced at his watch. It wanted still ten minutes to twelve. For a moment then he suffered his thoughts to go back to the new thing which had crept into his life. He was suddenly back in the Milan, he saw the backward turn of her head, the almost wistful look in her eyes as she made her little pronouncement. She had broken her engagement. Why? It was a battle, indeed, he was fighting with that still, cold antagonist, whom he half despised and half feared, the man concerning whose actual personality he had felt so many doubts. What if things should go wrong to-night, if the whole dramatic story should be handed over for the glory and wonder of the halfpenny press! He could fancy their headlines, imagine even their trenchant paragraphs. It was skating on the thinnest of ice—and for what? His fingers gripped the damp window-sill. He raised himself a little higher. His eyes fell upon his watch—still a minute or two to twelve. Slowly he stole to his door and listened. The place was silent. He made his way on tiptoe across the landing and entered Collins' room. The latter was seated before the wide-open window. He had blown out his candle and the room was in darkness. He half turned his head at Granet's entrance.
"Two minutes!" he exclaimed softly. "Granet, it will be to-night. Are you ready?"
They stood by the open window in silence. Nothing had changed. It was not yet time for the singing of the earliest birds. The tiny village lay behind them, silent and asleep; in front, nothing but the marshes, uninhabited, lonely and quiet, the golf club-house empty and deserted. They stood and watched, their faces turned steadfastly in a certain direction. Gradually their eyes, growing accustomed to the dim and changing light, could pierce the black line above the grey where the sea came stealing up the sandy places with low murmurs, throwing with every wave longer arms into the land.
"Twelve o'clock!" Collins muttered.
Suddenly Granet's fingers dug into his shoulder. From out of that pall of velvet darkness which hung below the clouds, came for a single moment a vision of violet light. It rose apparently from nowhere, it passed away into space. It was visible barely for five seconds, then it had gone. Granet spoke with a little sob.
"My God!" he murmured. "They're coming!"
Collins was already on his feet. He had straightened himself wonderfully, and there was a new alertness in his manner. He, too, wore rubber shoes and his movements were absolutely noiseless. He carried a little electric torch in his hand, which he flashed around the room while he placed several small articles in his pocket. Then he pushed open the door and listened. He turned back, held up his finger and nodded. The two men passed down the stairs, through the sitting-room, out on to the lawn by a door left unfastened, and round the house to the shed. Together they pushed the car down the slight incline of the drive. Granet mounted into the driving-seat and pressed the self-starter. Collins took the place by his side.
"Remember," Granet whispered, "we heard something and I met you in the hall. Sit tight."
They sped with all the silence and smoothness of their six-cylinder up the tree-hung road, through the sleeping village and along the narrow lane to Market Burnham. When they were within about a hundred yards of the gate, Granet brought the car to a standstill.
"There are at least two sentries that way," he said, "and if Sir Meyville told me the truth, they may have a special guard of Marines out to-night. This is where we take to the marshes. Listen. Can you hear anything?"
They both held their breath.
"Nothing yet," Collins muttered. "Let's get the things out quickly."
Granet hurried to the back of the car, ripping open the coverings. In a few moments they had dragged over the side a small collapsible boat of canvas stretched across some bamboo joints, with two tiny sculls. They clambered up the bank.
"The creek must be close here," Granet whispered. "Don't show a light. Listen!"
This time they could hear the sound of an engine beating away in the boat-house on the other side of the Hall. Through the closely-drawn curtains, too, they could see faint fingers of light from the house on the sea.
"They are working still," Granet continued. "Look out, Collins, that's the creek."
They pushed the boat into the middle of the black arm of water and stepped cautiously into it. Taking one of the paddles, Granet, kneeling down, propelled it slowly seaward. Once or twice they ran into the bank and had to push off, but very soon their eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. By degrees the creek broadened. They passed close to the walls of the garden, and very soon they were perceptibly nearer the quaintly-situated workshop. Granet paused for a moment from his labours.
"The Hall is dark enough," he muttered. "Listen!"
They heard the regular pacing of a sentinel in the drive. Nearer to them, on the top of the wall, they fancied that they heard the clash of a bayonet. Granet dropped his voice to the barest whisper.
"We are close there now. Stretch out your hand, Collins. Can you feel a shelf of rock?"
"It's just in front of me," was the stifled answer.
"That's for the stuff. Down with it."
For a few moments Collins was busy. Then, with a little gasp, he gripped Granet's arm. His voice, shaking with nervous repression, was still almost hysterical.
"They're coming, Granet! My God, they're coming!"
Both men turned seaward. Far away in the clouds, it seemed, they could hear a faint humming, some new sound, something mechanical in its regular beating, yet with clamorous throatiness of some human force cleaving its way through the resistless air. With every second it grew louder. The men stood clutching one another.
"Have you got the fuse ready? They must hear it in a moment." Granet muttered.
Collins assented silently. The reverberations became louder and louder. Soon the air was full of echoes. From far away inland dogs were barking, from a farm somewhere the other side of the road they heard the shout of a single voice.
"Now," Granet whispered.
Collins leaned forward. The fuse in his hand touched the dark substance which he had spread out upon the rock. In a moment a strange, unearthly, green light seemed to roll back the darkness. The house, the workshop, the trees, the slowly flowing sea, their own ghastly faces—everything stood revealed in a blaze of hideous, awful light. For a moment they forgot themselves, they forgot the miracle they had brought to pass. Their eyes were rivetted skyward. High above them, something blacker than the heavens themselves, stupendous, huge, seemed suddenly to assume to itself shape. The roar of machinery was clearly audible. From the house came the mingled shouting of many voices. Something dropped into the sea a hundred yards away with a screech and a hiss, and a geyser-like fountain leapt so high that the spray reached them. Then there was a sharper sound as a rifle bullet whistled by.
"My God!" Granet exclaimed. "It's time we were out of this, Collins!"
He seized his scull. Even at that moment there was a terrific explosion. A stream of lurid fire seemed to leap from the corner of the house, the wall split and fell outwards. And then there came another sound, hideous, sickly, a sound Granet had heard before, the sound of a rifle bullet cutting its way through flesh, followed by an inhuman cry. For a moment Collins' arms whirled around him. Then, with no other sound save that one cry, he fell forward and disappeared. For a single second Granet leaned over the side of the boat as though to dive after him. Then came another roar. The sand flew up in a blinding storm, the whole of the creek was suddenly a raging torrent. The boat was swung on a precipitous mountain of salt water and as quickly capsized. Granet, breathless for a moment and half stunned, found his way somehow to the side of the marshland, and from there stumbled his way towards the road. The house behind him was on fire, the air seemed filled with hoarse shoutings. He turned and ran for the spot where he had left the car. Once he fell into a salt water pool and came out wet through to the waist. In the end, however, he reached the bank, clambered over it and slipped down into the road. Then a light was flashed into his eyes and a bayonet was rattled at his feet. There were a couple of soldiers in charge of his car.
"Hands up!" was the hoarse order.
Granet calmly flashed his own electric torch. There were at least a dozen soldiers standing around, and a little company were hurrying down from the gates. He switched off his light almost immediately.
"Is any one hurt?" he asked.
There was a dead silence. He felt his arms seized on either side.
"The captain's coming down the road," one of the men said. "Lay on to him, Tim!"
Granet sauntered in to breakfast a few minutes late on the following morning. A little volley of questions and exclamations reached him as he stood by the sideboard.
"Heard about the Zeppelin raid?"
"They say there's a bomb on the ninth green!"
"Market Burnham Hall is burnt to the ground!"
Granet sighed as he crossed the room and took his seat at the table.
"If you fellows hadn't slept like oxen last night," he remarked, "you'd have known a lot more about it. I saw the whole show."
"Nonsense!" Major Harrison exclaimed.
"Tell us all about it?" young Anselman begged.
"I heard the thing just as I was beginning to undress," Granet explained. "I rushed downstairs and found Collins out in the garden. ... Where the devil is Collins, by-the-bye?"
They glanced at his vacant place.
"Not down yet. Go on."
"Well, we could hear the vibration like anything, coming from over the marsh there. I got the car out and we were no sooner on the road than I could see it distinctly, right above us—a huge, cigar-shaped thing. We raced along after it, along the road towards Market Burnham. Just before it reached the Hall it seemed to turn inland and then come back again. We pulled up to watch it and Collins jumped out. He said he'd go as far as the Hall and warn them. I sat in the car, watching. She came right round and seemed to hover over those queer sort of outbuildings there are at Market Burnham. All at once the bombs began to drop."
"What are they like?" Geoffrey Anselman exclaimed.
Granet poured out his coffee carefully.
"I've seen 'em before—plenty of them, too," he remarked, "but they did rain them down. Then all of a sudden there was a sort of glare—I don't know what happened. It was just as though some one had lit one of those coloured lights. The Hall was just as clearly visible as at noonday. I could see the men running about, shouting, and the soldiers tumbling out of their quarters. All the time the bombs were coming down like hail and a corner of the Hall was in flames. Then the lighted stuff, whatever it was, burnt out and the darkness seemed as black as pitch. I hung around for some time, looking for Collins. Then I went up to the house to help them extinguish the fire. I didn't get back till four o'clock."
"What about Collins?" young Anselman asked. "I was playing him at golf."
"Better send up and see," Granet proposed. "I waited till I couldn't stick it any longer."
They sent a servant up. The reply came back quickly—Mr. Collins' bed had not been slept in. Granet frowned a little.
"I suppose he'll think I let him down," he said. "I waited at least an hour for him."
"Was any one hurt by the bombs?" Geoffrey Anselman inquired.
"No one seemed to be much the worse," Granet replied. "I didn't think of anything of that sort in connection with Collins, though. Perhaps he might have got hurt."
"We'll all go over and have a look for him this afternoon if he hasn't turned up," Anselman suggested. "What about playing me a round of golf this morning?"
"Suit me all right," Granet agreed. "I'd meant to lay up because of my arm, but it's better this morning. We'll start early and get back for the papers."
They motored down to the club-house and played their round. It was a wonderful spring morning, with a soft west wind blowing from the land. Little patches of sea lavender gave purple colour to the marshland. The creeks, winding their way from the sea to the village, shone like quicksilver beneath the vivid sunshine. It was a morning of utter and complete peace. Granet notwithstanding a little trouble with his arm, played carefully and well. When at last they reached the eighteenth green, he holed a wonderful curly putt for the hole and the match.
"A great game," his cousin declared, as they left the green. "Who the devil are these fellows?"
There were two soldiers standing at the gate, and a military motor-car drawn up by the side of the road. An orderly stepped forward and addressed Granet.
"Captain Granet?" he asked, saluting.
Granet nodded and stretched out his hand for the note. The fingers which drew it from the envelope were perfectly steady, he even lifted his head for a moment to look at a lark just overhead. Yet the few hastily scrawled lines were like a message of fate:—
The officer in command at Market Burnham Hall would be obliged if Captain Granet would favour him with an immediate interview, with reference to the events of last night.
"Do you mean that you want me to go at once, before luncheon?" he asked the orderly.
The man pointed to the car.
"My instructions were to take you back at once, sir."
"Come and have a drink first, at any rate," Geoffrey Anselman insisted.
The orderly shook his head, the two soldiers were barring the gateway.
"Some one from the War Office has arrived and is waiting to speak to Captain Granet," he announced.
"We're all coming over after lunch," young Anselman protested. "Wouldn't that do?"
The man made no answer. Granet, with a shrug of the shoulders, stepped into the motor-car. The two soldiers mounted motor-cycles and the little cavalcade turned away. Granet made a few efforts at conversation with his companion, but, meeting with no response, soon relapsed into silence. In less than twenty minutes the car was slowing down before the approach to the Hall. The lane was crowded with villagers and people from the neighbouring farmhouses, who were all kept back, however, by a little cordon of soldiers. Granet, closely attended by his escort, made his way slowly into the avenue and up towards the house. A corner of the left wing of the building was in ruins, blackened and still smouldering, and there was a great hole in the sand-blown lawn, where a bomb had apparently fallen. A soldier admitted them at the front entrance and his guide led him across the hall and into a large room on the other side of the house, an apartment which seemed to be half library, half morning-room. Sir Meyville and a man in uniform were talking together near the window. They turned around at Granet's entrance and he gave a little start. For the first time a thrill of fear chilled him, his self-confidence was suddenly dissipated. The man who stood watching him with cold scrutiny was the one man on earth whom he feared—Surgeon Major Thomson.
It was a queer little gathering in the drawing-room of Market Burnham Hall, queer and in a sense ominous. Two soldiers guarded the door. Another one stood with his back to the wide-flung window, the sunlight flashing upon his drawn bayonet. Granet, although he looked about him for a moment curiously, carried himself with ease and confidence.
"How do you do, Sir Meyville?" he said. "How are you, Thomson?"
Sir Meyville, who was in a state of great excitement, took absolutely no notice of the young man's greeting. Thomson pointed to a chair, in which Granet at once seated himself.
"I have sent for you, Captain Granet," the former began, "to ask you certain questions with reference to the events of last night."
"Delighted to tell you anything I can," Granet replied. "Isn't this a little out of your line, though, Thomson?"
Sir Meyville suddenly leaned forward.
"That is the young man," he declared. "I took him to be the officer in command here and I showed him over my workshop. Quite a mistake—absolutely a wrong impression!"
"It was a mistake for which you could scarcely hold me responsible," Granet protested, "and you must really excuse me if I fail to see the connection. Perhaps you will tell me, Major Thomson, what I am here for?"
Major Thomson seated himself before the desk and leaned a little back in his chair.
"We sent for you," he said, "because we are looking for two men who lit the magnesium light which directed the Zeppelin last night to this locality. One of them lies on the lawn there, with a bullet through his brain. We are still looking for the other."
"Do you imagine that I can be of any assistance to you?" Granet asked.
"That is our impression," Major Thomson admitted. "Perhaps you will be so good as to tell us what you were doing here last night?"
"Certainly," Granet replied. "About half-past ten last night I thought I heard the engine of an airship. We all went out on the lawn but could see nothing. However, I took that opportunity to get my car ready in case there was any excitement going. Later on, as I was on my way upstairs, I distinctly heard the sound once more. I went out, started my car, and drove down the lane. It seemed to be coming in this direction so I followed along, pulled up short of the house, climbed on the top of the bank and saw that extraordinary illumination from the marshland on the other side. I saw a man in a small boat fall back as though he were shot. A moment or two later I returned to my car and was accosted by two soldiers, to whom I gave my name and address. That is really all I know about the matter."
Major Thomson nodded.
"You had only just arrived, then, when the bombs were dropped?"
"I pulled up just before the illumination," Granet asserted.
Thomson looked at him thoughtfully.
"I am going to make a remark, Captain Granet," he said, "upon which you can comment or not, as you choose. Was not your costume last night rather a singular one for the evening? You say that you were on your way upstairs to undress when you heard the Zeppelin. Do you wear rubber shoes and a Norfolk jacket for dinner?"
Granet for a moment bit his lip.
"I laid out those things in case there was anything doing," he said. "As I told you, I felt sure that I had heard an airship earlier in the evening, and I meant to try and follow it if I heard it again."
There was a brief silence. Granet lounged a little back in his chair, but though his air of indifference was perfect, a sickening foreboding was creeping in upon him. He was conscious of failure, of blind, idiotic folly. Never before had he been guilty of such miserable short-sightedness. He fought desperately against the toils which he felt were gradually closing in upon him. There must be some way out!
"Captain Granet," he questioner continued, in his calm, emotionless tone, "according to your story you changed your clothes and reached here at the same time as the Zeppelin, after having heard its approach. It is four miles and a half to the Dormy House Club, and that Zeppelin must have been travelling at the rate of at least sixty miles an hour. Is your car capable of miracles?"
"It is capable of sixty miles an hour," Granet declared.
"Perhaps I may spare you the trouble," Thomson proceeded drily, "of further explanations, Captain Granet, when I tell you that your car was observed by one of the sentries quite a quarter of an hour before the arrival of the Zeppelins and the lighting of that flare. Your statements, to put it mildly, are irreconcilable with the facts of the case. I must ask you once more if you have any other explanation to give as to your movements last night?"
"What other explanation can I give?" Granet asked, his brain working fiercely. "I have told you the truth. What more can I say?"
"You have told me," Major Thomson went on, and his voice seemed like the voice of fate, "that you arrived here in hot haste simultaneously with the lighting of that flare and the dropping of the bombs. Not only one of the sentries on guard here, but two other people have given evidence that your car was out there in the lane for at least a quarter of an hour previous to the happenings of which I have just spoken. For the last time, Captain Granet, I must ask you whether you wish to amend your explanation?"
There was a little movement at the further end of the room. A curtain was drawn back and Isabel Worth came slowly towards them. She stood there, the curtains on either side of her, ghastly pale, her hands clasped in front of her, twitching nervously.
"I am very sorry," she said. "This is all my fault."
They stared at her in amazement. Only Granet, with an effort, kept his face expressionless. Sir Meyville began to mutter to himself.
"God bless my soul!" he mumbled. "Isabel, what do you want, girl? Can't you see that we are engaged?"
She took no notice of him. She turned appealingly towards Major Thomson.
"Can you send the soldiers away for a moment?" she begged. "I don't think that they will be needed."
Major Thomson gave a brief order and the men left the room. Isabel came a little nearer to the table. She avoided looking at Granet.
"I am very sorry indeed," she went on, "if anything I have done has caused all this trouble. Captain Granet came down here partly to play golf, partly at my invitation. He was here yesterday afternoon, as my father knows. Before he left—I asked him to come over last night."
There was a breathless silence. Isabel was standing at the end of the table, her fingers still clasped nervously together, a spot of intense colour in her cheeks. She kept her eyes turned sedulously away from Granet. Sir Meyville gripped her by the shoulder.
"What do you mean, girl?" he demanded harshly. "What do you mean by all this rubbish? Speak out."
Granet looked up for a moment.
"Don't," he begged. "I can clear myself, Miss Worth, if any one is mad enough to have suspicions about me. I should never—"
"The truth may just as well be told," she interrupted. "There is nothing to be ashamed of. It is hideously dull down here, and the life my father has asked me to lead for the last few months has been intolerable. I never sleep, and I invited Captain Granet to come over here at twelve o'clock last night and take me for a motor ride. I was dressed, meaning to go, and Captain Granet came to fetch me. It turned out to be impossible because of all the new sentries about the place, but that is why Captain Granet was here, and that," she concluded, turning to Major Thomson, "is why, I suppose, he felt obliged to tell you what was not the truth. It has been done before."
There was a silence which seemed composed of many elements. Sir Meyville Worth stood with his eyes fixed upon his daughter and an expression of blank, uncomprehending dismay in his features. Granet, a frown upon his forehead, was looking towards the floor. Thomson, with the air of seeing nobody, was studying them all in turn. It was he who spoke first.
"As you justly remark, Miss Worth," he observed, "this sort of thing has been done before. We will leave it there for the present. Will you come this way with me, if you please, Captain Granet? I won't trouble you, Miss Worth, or you, Sir Meyville. You might not like what we are going to see."
Granet rose at once to his feet.
"Of course, I will come wherever you like," he assented.
The two men passed together side by side, in momentous silence, across the stone hall, out of the house, and round the back of the garden to a wooden shed, before which was posted a sentry. The man stood on one side to let them pass. On the bare stone floor inside was stretched the dead body of Collins. The salt water was still oozing from his clothes and limbs, running away in little streams. There was a small blue hole in the middle of his forehead.
"This, apparently," Thomson said, "is the man who lit the magnesium light which showed the Zeppelin where to throw her bombs. The thing was obviously prearranged. Can you identify him?"
"Identify him?" Granet exclaimed. "Why, I was playing bowls with him yesterday afternoon. He is a Glasgow merchant named Collins, and a very fine golf player. He is staying at the Dormy House Club."
"He has also another claim to distinction," Major Thomson remarked drily, "for he is the man who fired those lights. The sergeant who shot him fancied that he heard voices on the creek, and crept up to the wall just before the flare came. The sergeant, I may add, is under the impression that there were two men in the boat."
Granet shook his head dubiously.
"I know nothing whatever of the man or his movements," he declared, "beyond what I have told you. I have scarcely spoken a dozen words to him in my life, and never before our chance meeting at the Dormy House."
"You do not, for instance, happen to know how he came here from the Dormy House?"
"If you mean did he come in my car," Granet answered easily, "please let me assure you that he did not. My errand here last night was indiscreet enough, but I certainly shouldn't have brought another man, especially a stranger, with me."
"Thank you," Major Thomson concluded, "that is all I have to say to you for the present."
"Has there been much damage done?" Granet inquired.
They had reached the corner of the avenue. Granet glanced down towards the road.
"I presume," he remarked, "that I am at liberty to depart?"
Thomson gave a brief order to the soldier who had been attending them.
"You will find the car in which you came waiting to take you back, Captain Granet," he announced.
The two men had paused. Granet was on the point of departure. With the passing of his sudden apprehension of danger, his curiosity was awakened.
"Do you mind telling me, Major Thomson," he asked, "how it is that you, holding, I presume, a medical appointment, were selected to conduct an inquiry like this? I have voluntarily submitted myself to your questioning, but if I had had anything to conceal I might have been inclined to dispute your authority."
Thomson's face was immovable. He simply pointed to the gate at the end of the avenue.
"If it had been necessary, Captain Granet," he said coldly, "I should have been able to convince you that I was acting under authority. As it is, I wish you good-morning."
Granet hesitated, but only for a moment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.
He made his way down to the lane, which was still crowded with villagers and loungers. He was received with a shower of questions as he climbed into the car.
"Not much damage done that I can hear," he told them all. "The corner of the house caught fire and the lawn looks like a sand-pit."
He was driven in silence back to the Dormy House. When he arrived there the place was deserted. The other men were lunching at the golf club. He made his way slowly to the impromptu shed which served for a garage. His own car was standing there. He looked all around to make sure that he was absolutely alone. Then he lifted up the cushion by the driving-seat. Carefully folded and arranged in the corner were the horn-rimmed spectacles and the silk handkerchief of the man who was lying at Market Burnham with a bullet through his forehead.
Mr. Gordon Jones rose to his feet. It had been an interesting, in some respects a momentous interview. He glanced around the plain but handsomely furnished office, a room which betrayed so few evidences of the world-flung power of its owner.
"After all, Sir Alfred," he remarked, smiling, "I am not sure that it is Downing Street which rules. We can touch our buttons and move armies and battleships across the face of the earth. You pull down your ledger, sign your name, and you can strike a blow as deadly as any we can conceive."
The banker smiled.
"Let us be thankful, then," he said, "that the powers we wield are linked together in the great cause."
Mr. Gordon Jones hesitated.
"Such things, I know, are little to you, Sir Alfred," he continued, "but at the same time I want you to believe that his Majesty's Government will not be unmindful of your help at this juncture. To speak of rewards at such a time is perhaps premature. I know that ordinary honours do not appeal to you, yet it has been suggested to me by a certain person that I should assure you of the country's gratitude. In plain words, there is nothing you may ask for which it would not be our pleasure and privilege to give you."
Sir Alfred bowed slightly.
"You are very kind," he said. "Later on, perhaps, one may reflect. At present there seems to be only one stern duty before us, and for that one needs no reward."
The two men parted. Sir Alfred rose from the chair in front of his desk and threw himself into the easy-chair which his guest had been occupying. A ray of city sunshine found its way through the tangle of tall buildings on the other side of the street, lay in a zigzag path across his carpet, and touched the firm lines of his thoughtful face. He sat there, slowly tapping the sides of the chair with his pudgy fingers. So a great soldier might have sat, following out the progress of his armies in different countries, listening to the roar of their guns, watching their advance, their faltering, their success and their failures. Sir Alfred's vision was in a sense more sordid in many ways more complicated, yet it too, had its dramatic side. He looked at the money-markets of the world, he saw exchanges rise and fall. He saw in the dim vista no khaki-clad army with flashing bayonets, but a long, thin line of black-coated men with sallow faces, clutching their money-bags.
There was a knock at the door and his secretary entered.
"Captain Granet has been here for some time, sir," he announced softly.
The banker came back to the present. He woke up, indeed, with a little start.
"Show my nephew in at once," he directed. "I shall be engaged with him for at least a quarter of an hour. Kindly go round to the Bank of England and arrange for an interview with Mr. Williams for three o'clock this afternoon."
The clerk silently withdrew. Granet entered, a few minutes later. The banker greeted him pleasantly.
"Well, Ronnie," he exclaimed, "I thought that you were going to be down in Norfolk for a week! Come in. Bring your chair up to my side, so. This is one of my deaf mornings."
Granet silently obeyed. Sir Alfred glanced around the room. There was no possible hiding-place, not the slightest chance of being overheard.
"What about it, Ronnie?"
"We did our share," Granet answered. "Collins was there at the Dormy House Club. We got the signal and we lit the flare. They came down to within two or three hundred feet, and they must have thrown twenty bombs, at least. They damaged the shed but missed the workshop. The house caught fire, but they managed to put that out."
"You escaped all right, I'm glad to see?"
"They got Collins," Granet said, dropping his voice almost to a whisper. "He was shot by my side. They caught me, too. I've been in a few tight corners but nothing tighter than that. Who do you think was sent down from the War Office to hold an inquiry? Thomson—that fellow Thomson!"
The banker frowned.
"Do you mean the man who is the head of the hospitals?"
"Supposed to be," Granet answered grimly. "I am beginning to wonder—Tell me, you haven't heard anything more about him, have you?"
"Not a word," Sir Alfred replied. "Why should I?"
"Nothing except that I have an uncomfortable feeling about him," Granet went on. "I wish I felt sure that he was just what he professes to be. He is the one man who seems to suspect me. If it hadn't been for Isabel Worth, I was done for—finished—down at that wretched hole! He had me where I couldn't move. The girl lied and got me out of it."
Sir Alfred drummed for a moment with his fingers upon the table.
"I am not sure that these risks are worth while for you, Ronnie," he said.
The young man shrugged his shoulders. His face certainly seemed to have grown thinner during the last few days.
"I don't mind it so much abroad," he declared. "It seems a different thing there, somehow. But over here it's all wrong; it's the atmosphere, I suppose. And that fellow Thomson means mischief—I'm sure of it."
"Is there any reason for ill-feeling between you two?" the banker inquired.
"You've hit it, sir."
"Miss Conyers, eh?"
The young man's face underwent a sudden change.
"Yes," he confessed. "If I hadn't begun this, if I hadn't gone so far into it that no other course was possible, I think that I should have been content to be just what I seem to be—because of her."
Sir Alfred leaned back in his chair. He was looking at his nephew as a man of science might have looked at some interesting specimen.
"Well," he said, "I suppose you simply confirm the experience of the ages, but, frankly, you amaze me. You are moving amongst the big places of life, you are with those who are making history, and you would be content to give the whole thing up. For what? You would become a commonplace, easy-going young animal of a British soldier, for the sake of the affection of a good-looking, well-bred, commonplace British young woman. I don't understand you, Ronald. You have the blood of empire-makers in your veins. Your education and environment have developed an outward resemblance to the thing you profess to be, but behind—don't you fell the grip of the other things?"
"I feel them, right enough," Granet replied. "I have felt them for the last seven or eight years. But I am feeling something else, too, something which I dare say you never felt, something which I have never quite believed in."
Sir Alfred leaned back in his chair.
"In a way," he admitted, "this is disappointing. You are right. I have never felt the call of those other things. When I was a young man, I was frivolous simply when I felt inclined to turn from the big things of life for purposes of relaxation. When an alliance was suggested to me, I was content to accept it, but thank heavens I have been Oriental enough to keep women in my life where they belong. I am disappointed in you, Ronnie."
The young man shrugged his shoulders.
"I haven't flinched," he said.
"No, but the soft spot's there," was the grim reply. "However, let that go. Tell me why you came up? Wasn't it better to have stayed down at Brancaster for a little longer?"
"Perhaps," his nephew assented. "My arm came on a little rocky and I had to chuck golf. Apart from that, I wasn't altogether comfortable about things at Market Burnham. I was obliged to tell Thomson that I saw nothing of Collins that night but they know at the Dormy House Club that he started with me in the car and has never been heard of since. Then there was the young woman."
"Saved you by a lie, didn't she?" the banker remarked. "That may be awkward later on."
"I'm sick of my own affairs," Granet declared gloomily. "Is there anything fresh up here at all?"
Sir Alfred frowned slightly.
"Nothing very much," he said. "At the same time, there are distinct indications of a change which I don't like. With certain statesmen here at the top of the tree, it was perfectly easy for me to carry out any schemes which I thought necessary. During the last few weeks, however, there has been a change. Nominally, things are the same. Actually, I seem to find another hand at work, another hand which works with the censorship, too. One of my very trusted agents in Harwich made the slightest slip the other day. A few weeks ago, he would either have been fined twenty pounds or interned. Do you know what happened to him on Wednesday? Of course you don't he was arrested at one o'clock and shot in half an hour. Then you saw the papers this morning? All sailings between here and a certain little spot we know of have been stopped without a moment's warning. I am compelled to pause in several most interesting schemes."
"Nothing for me, I suppose?" Granet asked, a little nervously.
Sir Alfred looked at him.
"Not for the moment," he replied, "but there will be very soon. Take hold of yourself Ronnie. Don't look downwards so much. You and I are walking in the clouds. It is almost as bad to falter as to slip. Confess—you've been afraid."
"I have," Granet admitted, "not afraid of death but afraid of what might follow upon discovery. I am half inclined, if just one thing in the world came my way, to sail for New York to-morrow and start again."
"When those fears come to you," Sir Alfred continued slowly, "consider me. I run a greater risk than you. There are threads from this office stretching to many corners of England, to many corners of America, to most cities of Europe. If a man with brains should seize upon any one of them, he might follow it backwards—even here."
Sir Alfred touched his chest for a moment. Then his hand dropped to his side and he proceeded.
"For twenty-eight years I have ruled the money-markets of the world. No Cabinet Council is held in this country at which my influence is not represented. The Ministers come to me one by one for help and advice. I represent the third great force of war, and there isn't a single member of the present Government who doesn't look upon me as the most important person in the country. Yet I, too, have enemies, Ronnie. There is the halfpenny Press. They'd give a million for the chance that may come at any day. They'd print my downfall in blacker lines than the declaration of war. They'd shriek over my ruin with a more brazen-throated triumph even than they would greet the heralds of peace. And the threads are there, Ronald. Sometimes I feel one shiver a little. Sometimes I have to stretch out my arm and brush too curious an inquirer into the place where curiosity ends. I sit and watch and I am well served. There are men this morning at Buckingham Palace with a V.C. to be pinned upon their breast, who faced dangers for ten minutes, less than I face day and night."
Granet rose to his feet.
"For a moment," he exclaimed, "I had forgotten!... Tell me," he added, with sudden vigour, "what have we done it for? You made your great name in England, you were Eton and Oxford. Why is it that when the giant struggle comes it should be Germany who governs your heart, it should be Germany who calls even to me?"
Sir Alfred held out his hand. His eye had caught the clock.
"Ronnie," he said, "have you ever wondered why in a flock of sheep every lamb knows its mother? Germany was the mother of our stock. Birth, life and education count for nothing when the great days come, when the mother voice speaks. It isn't that we are false to England, it is that we are true to our own. You must go now, Ronnie! I have an appointment."
Granet walked out to the street a little dazed, and called for a taxi.
"I suppose that must be it," he muttered to himself.
Geraldine welcomed her unexpected visitor that afternoon cordially enough but a little shyly.
"I thought that you were going to stay at Brancaster for a week," she remarked, as they shook hands.
"We meant to stay longer," Granet admitted, "but things went a little wrong. First of all there was this Zeppelin raid. Then my arm didn't go very well. Altogether our little excursion fizzled out and I came back last night."
"Did you see anything of the raid?" Geraldine inquired eagerly.
"Rather more than I wanted," he answered grimly. "I was motoring along the road at the time, and I had to attend a perfect court martial next day, with your friend Thomson in the chair. Can you tell me, Miss Conyers," he continued, watching her closely, "how it is that a medical major who is inspector of hospitals, should be sent down from the War Office to hold an inquiry upon that raid?"
"Was Hugh really there?" she asked in a puzzled manner.
"He was, and very officially," Granet replied. "If it weren't that I had conclusive evidence to prove what I was doing there, he seemed rather set on getting me into trouble."
"Hugh is always very fair," she said a little coldly.
"You can't solve my puzzle for me, then?" he persisted.
"Why an inspector of hospitals should hold an inquiry upon a Zeppelin raid?"
"I'm afraid I cannot," she admitted. "Hugh certainly seems to have become a most mysterious person, but then, as you know, I haven't seen quite so much of him lately. Your change, Captain Granet, doesn't seem to have done you much good. Has your wound been troubling you?"
He rose abruptly and stood before her.
"Do you care whether my wound is troubling me or not?" he asked. "Do you care anything at all about me?"
There was a moment's silence.
"I care very much," she confessed.
He seemed suddenly a changed person. The lines which had certainly appeared in his face during the last few days, become more noticeable. He leaned towards her eagerly.
"Miss Conyers," he went on, "Geraldine, I want you to care—enough for the big things. Don't interrupt me, please. Listen to what I have to say. Somehow or other, the world has gone amiss with me lately. They won't have me back, my place has been filled up, I can't get any fighting. They've shelved me at the War Office; they talk about a home adjutancy. I can't stick it, I have lived amongst the big things too long. I'm sick of waiting about, doing nothing—sick to death. I want to get away. There's some work I could do in America. You understand?"
"Not in the least," Geraldine told him frankly.
"It's my fault," he declared. "The words all seem to be tumbling out anyhow and I don't know how to put them in the right order. Can't you see that I love you, Geraldine? I want you to be my wife, and I want to get right away as quickly as ever I can. Why not America? Why couldn't we be married this week and get away from everybody?"
She looked at him in sheer amazement, amazement tempered just a little with a sort of tremulous uncertainty.
"But, Captain Granet," she exclaimed, "you can't be serious! You couldn't possibly think of leaving England now."
"Why not?" he protested. "They won't let me fight again. I couldn't stand the miserable routine of home soldiering. I'd like to get away and forget it all."
"I am sure you are not in earnest," she said quietly. "No Englishman could feel like that."
"He could if he cared for you," Granet insisted. "I'm afraid of everything here, afraid that Thomson will come back and take you away, afraid of all sorts of hideous things happening during the next few months."
"You mustn't talk like this, please," she begged. "You know as well as I do that neither you nor I could turn our backs on England just now and be happy."
He opened his lips to speak but stopped short. It was obvious that she was deeply in earnest.
"And as for the other thing you spoke of," she continued, "please won't you do as I beg you and not refer to it again for the present? Perhaps," she added, "when the war is over we may speak of it, but just now everything is so confused. I, too, seem to have lost my bearings....You know that I am going out to Boulogne in a few days with Lady Headley's hospital? Don't look so frightened. I am not an amateur nurse, I can assure you. I have all my certificates."
"To Boulogne?" he muttered. "You are going to leave London?"
"Major Thomson arranged it for me, a few days ago. We may meet there at any time," she added, smiling. "I am perfectly certain that the War Office will find you something abroad very soon."
For a moment that queer look of boyish strength which had first attracted her, reasserted itself. His teeth came together.
"Yes," he agreed, "there's work for me somewhere. I'll find it. Only—"
She checked him hurriedly.
"And I am quite sure," she interrupted, "that when you are yourself again you will agree with me. These are not the times for us to have any selfish thoughts, are they?"
"Until a few weeks ago," he told her, "I thought of nothing but the war and my work in it—until you came, that is."
She held out her hands to check him. Her eyes were eloquent.
"Please remember," she begged, "that it is too soon. I can't bear to have you talk to me like that. Afterwards—"
"There will be no afterwards for me!" he exclaimed bitterly.
A shade of surprise became mingled with her agitation.
"You mustn't talk like that," she protested, "you with your splendid courage and opportunities! Think what you have done already. England wants the best of her sons to-day. Can't you be content to give that and to wait? We have so much gratitude in our hearts, we weak women, for those who are fighting our battle."
Her words failed to inspire him. He took her hand and lifted her fingers deliberately to his lips.
"I was foolish," he groaned, "to think that you could feel as I do. Good-bye!"
Geraldine was alone when her mother came into the room a few minutes later. Lady Conyers was looking a little fluttered and anxious.
"Was that Captain Granet?" she asked.
Geraldine nodded. Lady Conyers anxiety deepened.
"I have sent him away," Geraldine said quietly, "until the end of the war."
Granet brought his car to a standstill outside the portals of that very august club in Pall Mall. The hall-porter took in his name and a few minutes his uncle joined him in the strangers' room.
"Back again so soon, Ronnie?"
"America's off," he announced shortly. "I thought I'd better let you know. It must be the whole thing now."
Sir Alfred was silent for a moment.
"Very well," he said at last, "only remember this, my boy—there must be no more risks. You've been sailing quite close enough to the wind."
"Did you call at the War Office?" Granet asked quickly.
His uncle assented.
"I did and I saw General Brice. He admitted in confidence that they weren't very keen about your rejoining. Nothing personal," he went on quickly, "nothing serious, that is to say. There is a sort of impression out there that you've brought them bad luck."
Granet shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," he said, "they know their own business best. What I am afraid of is being saddled with some rotten home duty."
"You need not be afraid of that any more, Ronnie," his uncle told him calmly.
Granet turned quickly around.
"Do you mean that they don't want to give me anything at all?" he demanded anxiously.
Sir Alfred shook his head.
"You are too impetuous, Ronnie. They're willing enough to give you a home command, but I have asked that it should be left over for a little time, so as to leave you free."
"You have something in your mind, then—something definite?"
Sir Alfred looked out of the window for a moment. Then he laid his hand upon his nephew's shoulder.
"I think I can promise you, Ronnie," he said seriously, "that before many days have passed you shall have all the occupation you want."
Surgeon-Major Thomson reeled for a moment and caught at the paling by his side. Then he recovered himself almost as quickly, and, leaning forward, gazed eagerly at the long, grey racing-car which was already passing Buckingham Palace and almost out of sight in the slight morning fog. There was a very small cloud of white smoke drifting away into space, and a faint smell of gunpowder in the air. He felt his cheek and, withdrawing his fingers, gazed at them with a little nervous laugh—they were wet with blood.
He looked up and down the broad pathway. For nine o'clock in the morning the Birdcage Walk was marvellously deserted. A girl, however, who had been driving a small car very slowly on the other side of the road, suddenly swung across, drew up by the kerb and leaned towards him.
"Hugh—Major Thomson, what is the matter with you?"
He dabbed his cheek with his pocket handkerchief.
"Nothing," he answered simply.
"Don't be silly!" she exclaimed. "I felt certain that I heard a shot just now, and I saw you reel and spin round for a moment. And your cheek, too—it's all over blood!"
"A bullet did come my way and just graze my cheek," he admitted. "Most extraordinary thing. I wonder whether one of those fellows in the Park had an accident with his rifle."
He glanced thoughtfully across towards where a number of khaki-clad figures were dimly visible behind the railings. Geraldine looked at him severely.
"Of course," she began, "if you really think that I don't know the difference between the report of a pistol and a rifle shot—"
He interrupted her.
"I was wrong," he confessed. "Forgive me. You see, my head was a little turned. Some one did deliberately fire at me, and I believe it was from a grey racing-car. I couldn't see who was driving it and it was out of sight almost at once."
"But I never heard of such a thing!" she exclaimed. "Why on earth should they fire at you? You haven't any enemies, have you?"
"Not that I know of," he assured her.
She stepped from the car and came lightly over to his side.
"Take your handkerchief away," she ordered. "Don't be foolish. You forget that I am a certificated nurse."
He raised his handkerchief and she looked for a moment at the long scar. Her face grew serious.
"Another half-inch," she murmured,—"Hugh, what an abominable thing! A deliberate attempt at murder here, at nine o'clock in the morning, in the Park! I can't understand it."
"Well, I've been under fire before," he remarked, smiling.
"Get into my car at once," she directed. "I'll drive you to a chemist's and put something on that. You can't go about as you are, and it will have healed up then in a day or two."
He obeyed at once and she drove off.
"Of course, I'm a little bewildered about it still," she went on. "I suppose you ought to go to the police-station. It was really a deliberate attempt at assassination, wasn't it? If you had been—"
She paused and he completed her sentence with a humorous twinkle in his eyes.
"If I had been a person of importance, eh? Well, you see, even I must have been in somebody's way."
She drove in silence for some little distance.
"Hugh," she asked abruptly, "why did the War Office send you down to Market Burnham after that Zeppelin raid?"
His face was suddenly immovable. He turned his head very slightly.
"Did Granet tell you that?"
"Captain Granet came to see me yesterday afternoon. He seemed as much surprised as I was. You were a little hard on him, weren't you?"
"I think not!"
"But why were you sent down?" she persisted. "I can't imagine what you have to do with a Zeppelin raid."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I really don't think it is worth while your bothering about the bandage," he said.
"Hugh, you make me so angry!" she exclaimed. "Of course, you may say that I haven't the right to ask, but still I can't see why you should be so mysterious.... Here's the chemist's. Now come inside with me, please."
He followed her obediently into the shop at the top of Trafalgar Square. She dressed his wound deftly and adjusted a bandage around his head.
"If you keep that on all day," she said, "I think—but I forgot. I was treating you like an ordinary patient. Don't laugh at me, sir. I am sure none of your professional nurses could have tied that up any better."
"Of course they couldn't," he agreed. "By-the-bye, have you obtained your papers for Boulogne yet?"
"I expect to be going next week. Lady Headley promised to let me know this afternoon. Now I'll take you down to the War Office, if you like."
He took his place once more by her side.
"Hugh," she inquired, "have you any idea who fired that shot?"
"None whatever," he replied, "no definite idea, that is to say. It was some one who as driving a low, grey car. Do we know any one who possesses such a thing?"
She frowned. The exigencies of the traffic prevented her glancing towards him.
"Only Captain Granet," she remarked, "and I suppose even your dislike of him doesn't go so far as to suggest that he is likely to play the would-be murderer in broad daylight."
"It certainly does seem a rather rash and unnecessary proceeding," he assented, "but the fact remains that some one thought it worth while."
"Some one with a grudge against the Chief Inspector of Hospitals," she observed drily.
He did not reply. They drew up outside the War Office.
"Thank you very much," he said, "for playing the Good Samaritan."
She made a little grimace. Suddenly her manner became more earnest. She laid her fingers upon his arm as he stood on the pavement by her side.
"Hugh," she said, "before you go let me tell you something. I think that the real reason why I lost some of my affection for you was because you persisted in treating me without any confidence at all. The little things which may have happened to you abroad, the little details of your life, the harmless side of your profession—there were so many things I should have been interested in. And you told me nothing. There were things which seemed to demand an explanation with regard to your position. You ignored them. You seemed to enjoy moving in a mysterious atmosphere. It's worse than ever now. I am intelligent, am I not—trustworthy?"
"You are both," he admitted gravely. "Thank you very much for telling me this, Geraldine."
"You still have nothing to say to me?" she asked, looking him in the face.
"Nothing," he replied.
She nodded, slipped in her clutch and drove off. Surgeon-Major Thomson entered the War Office and made his way up many stairs and along many wide corridors to a large room on the top floor of the building. Two men were seated at desks, writing. He passed them by with a little greeting and entered an inner apartment. A pile of letters stood upon his desk. He examined them one by one, destroyed some, made pencil remarks upon others. Presently there was a tap at the door and Ambrose entered.
"Chief's compliments and he would be glad if you would step round to his room at once, sir," he announced.
Thomson locked his desk, made his way to the further end of the building and was admitted through a door by which a sentry was standing, to an anteroom in which a dozen people were waiting. His guide passed him through to an inner apartment, where a man was seated alone. He glanced up at Thomson's entrance.
"Good morning, Thomson!" he said brusquely. "Sit down, please. Leave the room, Dawkes, and close the door. Thanks! Thomson, what about this request of yours?"
"I felt bound to bring the matter before you, sir," Thomson replied. "I made my application to the censor and you know the result."
The Chief swung round in his chair.
"Look here," he said, "the censor's department has instructions to afford you every possible assistance in any researches you make. There are just twenty-four names in the United Kingdom which have been admitted to the privileges of free correspondence. The censor has no right to touch any letters addressed to them. Sir Alfred Anselman is upon that list."
Thomson nodded gravely.
"So I have been given to understand," he remarked.
The Chief leaned back in his chair. His cold grey eyes were studying the other's face.
"Thomson," he continued, "I know that you are not a sensationalist. At the same time, this request of yours is a little nerve-shattering, isn't it? Sir Alfred Anselman has been the Chancellor's right-hand man. It was mainly owing to his efforts that the war loan was such a success. He has done more for us in the city than any other Englishman. He has given large sums to the various war funds, his nephew is a very distinguished young officer. Now there suddenly comes a request from you to have the censor pass you copies of all his Dutch correspondence. There'd be the very devil to pay if I consented."
Thomson cleared his throat for a moment.
"Sir," he said, "you and I have discussed this matter indirectly more than once. You are not yet of my opinion but you will be. The halfpenny Press has sickened us so with the subject of spies that the man who groans about espionage to-day is avoided like a pestilence. Yet it is my impression that there is in London, undetected and unsuspected, a marvellous system of German espionage, a company of men who have sold themselves to the enemy, whose names we should have considered above reproach. It is my job to sift this matter to the bottom. I can only do so if you will give me supreme power over the censorship."
"Look here, Thomson," the Chief demanded, "you don't suspect Sir Alfred Anselman?"
"I do, sir!"
The Chief was obviously dumbfounded. He sat, for a few moments, thinking.
"You're a sane man, too, Thomson," he muttered, "but it's the most astounding charge I've ever heard."
"It's the most astounding conspiracy," Thomson replied. "I was in Germany a few weeks ago, as you know."
"I heard all about it. A very brilliant but a very dangerous exploit, that of yours, Thomson."
"I will tell you my impressions, sir," the latter continued. "The ignorance displayed in the German newspapers about England is entirely a matter of censorship. Their actual information as regards every detail of our military condition is simply amazing. They know exactly what munitions are reaching our shores from abroad, they know how we are paying for them, they know exactly our financial condition, they know all about our new guns, they know just how many men we could send over to France to-morrow and how many we could get through in three months' time. They know the private views of every one of the Cabinet Ministers. They knew in Berlin yesterday what took place at the Cabinet Council the day before. You must realise yourself that some of this is true. How does the information get through?"
"There are spies, of course," the Chief admitted.
"The ordinary spy could make no such reports as the Germans are getting hour by hour. If I am to make a success of my job, I want the letters of Sir Alfred Anselman."
The Chief considered for several moments. Then he wrote a few lines on a sheet of paper.
"There'll be the perfect devil to pay," he said simply. "We shall have Cabinet Ministers running about the place like black beetles. What's the matter with your head?"
"I was shot at in the Park," Thomson explained. "A man had a flying go at me from a motor-car."
"Was he caught?"
Thomson shook his head.
"I didn't try," he replied. "I want him at liberty. His time will come when I break up this conspiracy, if I do it at all."
The Chief looked a little aggrieved.
"No one's even let off a pop-gun at me," he grumbled. "They must think you're the more dangerous of the two, Thomson. You'd better do what you can with that order as soon as possible. No telling how soon I may have to rescind it."
Thomson took the hint and departed. He walked quickly back to his room, thrust the order he had received into an envelope, and sent it round to the Censor's Department.
Mr. Gordon Jones, who had moved his chair a little closer to his host's side, looked reflectively around the dining-room as he sipped his port. The butler remained on sufferance because of his grey hairs, but the footmen, who had been rather a feature of the Anselman establishment, had departed, and their places had been filled by half a dozen of the smartest of parlourmaids, one or two of whom were still in evidence.
"Yours is certainly one of the most patriotic households, Sir Alfred, which I have entered," he declared. "Tell me again, how many servants have you sent to the war?"
Sir Alfred smiled with the air of one a little proud of his record.
"Four footmen and two chauffeurs from here, eleven gardeners and three indoor servants from the country," he replied. "That is to say nothing about the farms, where I have left matters in the hands of my agents. I am paying the full wages to every one of them."
"And thank heavens you'll still have to pay us a little super-tax," the Cabinet Minister remarked, smiling.
Sir Alfred found nothing to dismay him in the prospect.
"You shall have every penny of it, my friend," he promised. "I have taken a quarter of a million of your war loan and I shall take the same amount of your next one. I spend all my time upon your committees, my own affairs scarcely interest me, and yet I thought to-day, when my car was stopped to let a company of the London Regiment march down to Charing-Cross, that there wasn't one of those khaki-clad young men who wasn't offering more than I."
The Bishop leaned forward from his place.
"Those are noteworthy words of yours, Sir Alfred," he said. "There is nothing in the whole world so utterly ineffective as our own passionate gratitude must seem to ourselves when we think of all those young fellows—not soldiers, you know, but young men of peace, fond of their pleasures, their games, their sweethearts, their work—throwing it all on one side, passing into another life, passing into the valley of shadows. I, too, have seen those young men, Sir Alfred."
The conversation became general. The host of this little dinner-party leaned back in his place for a moment, engrossed in thought. It was a very distinguished, if not a large company. There were three Cabinet Ministers, a high official in the War Office, a bishop, a soldier of royal blood back for a few days from the Front, and his own nephew—Granet. He sat and looked round at them and a queer little smile played upon his lips. If only the truth were known, the world had never seen a stranger gathering. It was a company which the King himself might have been proud to gather around him; serious, representative Englishmen—Englishmen, too, of great position. There was not one of them who had not readily accepted his invitation, there was not one of them who was not proud to sit at his table, there was not one of them who did not look upon him as one of the props of the Empire.
There was a little rustle as one of the new parlourmaids walked smoothly to his side and presented a silver salver. He took the single letter from her, glanced at it for a moment carelessly and then felt as though the fingers which held it had been pierced by red-hot wires. The brilliant little company seemed suddenly to dissolve before his eyes. He saw nothing but the marking upon that letter, growing larger and larger as he gazed, the veritable writing of fate pressed upon the envelope by a rubber stamp—by the hand, perchance, of a clerk—"Opened by Censor."
There was a momentary singing in his ears. He looked at his glass, found it full, raised it to his lips and drained it. The ghastly moment of suspended animation passed. He felt no longer that he was in a room from which all the air had been drawn. He was himself again but the letter was there. Mr. Gordon Jones, who had been talking to the bishop, leaned towards him and pointed to the envelope.
"Is that yours, Sir Alfred?" he asked.
Sir Alfred nodded.
"Becoming a little more stringent, I see," he observed, holding it up.
"I thought I recognised the mark," the other replied. "A most outrageous mistake! I am very glad that it came under my notice. You are absolutely free from the censor, Sir Alfred."
"I thought so myself," Sir Alfred remarked. "However, I suppose an occasional mistake can scarcely be wondered at. Don't worry them about it, please. My Dutch letters are simply records of the balances at my different banks, mere financial details."
"All the same," Mr. Gordon Jones insisted, "there has been gross neglect somewhere. I will see that it is inquired into to-morrow morning."
"Very kind of you," Sir Alfred declared. "As you know, I have been able to give you fragments of information now and then which would cease at once, of course, if my correspondence as a whole were subject to censorship. An occasional mistake like this is nothing."
There was another interruption. This time a message had come from the house—Ministers would be required within the next twenty minutes. The little party—it was a men's dinner-party only—broke up. Very soon Sir Alfred and his nephew were left alone. Sir Alfred's fingers shook for a moment as he tore open the seal of his letter. He glanced through the few lines it contained and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Come this way, Ronnie," he invited.
They left the dining-room and, eschewing the inviting luxuries of the billiard room and library, passed into a small room behind, plainly furnished as a business man's study. Granet seized his uncle by the arm.
"It's coded, I suppose?"
Sir Alfred nodded.
"It's coded, Ronnie, and between you and me I don't believe they'll be able to read it, but whose doing is that?" he added, pointing with his finger to the envelope.
"It must have been a mistake," Granet muttered.
Sir Alfred glanced toward the closed door. Without a doubt they were alone.
"I don't know," he said. "Mistakes of this sort don't often occur. As I looked around to-night, Ronnie, I thought—I couldn't help thinking that our position was somewhat wonderful. Does it mean that this is the first breath of suspicion, I wonder? Was it really only my fancy, or did I hear to-night the first mutterings of the storm?"
"No one can possibly suspect," Granet declared, "no one who could have influence enough to override your immunity from censorship. It must have been an accident."
"I wonder!" Sir Alfred muttered.
"Can't you decode it?" Granet asked eagerly. "There may be news."
Sir Alfred re-entered the larger library and was absent for several minutes. When he returned, the message was written out in lead pencil:—
Leave London June 4th. Have flares midnight Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's steps, gardens in front of Savoy. Your last report received.
Granet glanced eagerly back at the original message. It consisted of a few perfectly harmless sentences concerning various rates of exchange. He gave it to his uncle with a smile.
"I shouldn't worry about that, sir," he advised.
"It isn't the thing itself I worry about," Sir Alfred said thoughtfully,—"they'll never decode that message. It's the something that lies behind it. It's the pointing finger, Ronnie. I thought we'd last it out, at any rate. Things look different now. You're serious, I suppose? You don't want to go to America?"
"I don't," Granet replied grimly. "That's all finished, for the present. You know very well what it is I do want."
Sir Alfred frowned.
"There are plenty of wild enterprises afoot," he admitted, "but I don't know, after all, that I wish you particularly to be mixed up in them."
"I can't hang about here much longer," his nephew grumbled. "I get the fever in my blood to be doing something. I had a try this morning."
His uncle looked at him for a moment.
"This morning," he repeated. "Well?"
Granet thrust his hands into his trousers pockets. There was a frown upon his fine forehead.
"It's that man I told you about," he said bitterly,—"the man I hate. He's nobody of any account but he always seems to be mixed up in any little trouble I find myself in. I got out of that affair down at Market Burnham without the least trouble, and then, as you know, the War Office sent him down, of all the people on earth, to hold an inquiry. Sometimes I think that he suspects me. I met him at a critical moment on the battlefield near Niemen. I always believed that he heard me speaking German—it was just after I had come back across the lines. The other day—well, I told you about that. Isabel Worth saved me or I don't know where I should have been. I think I shall kill that man!"
"What did you say his name was?" Sir Alfred asked, with sudden eagerness.
There was a moment's silence. Sir Alfred's expression was curiously tense. He leaned across the table towards his nephew.
"Thomson?" he repeated. "My God! I knew there was something I meant to tell you. Don't you know, Ronnie?—but of course you don't. You're sure it's Thomson—Surgeon-Major Thomson?"
"That's the man."
"He is the man with the new post," Sir Alfred declared hoarsely. "He is the head of the whole Military Intelligence Department! They've set him up at the War Office. They've practically given him unlimited powers."
"Why, I thought he was inspector of Field Hospitals!" Granet gasped.
"A blind!" his uncle groaned. "He is nothing of the sort. He's Kitchener's own man, and this," he added, looking at the letter, "must be his work!"
Surgeon-Major Thomson looked up almost eagerly as Ambrose entered his room the next morning. The young man's manner was dejected and there were black lines under his eyes. He answered his chief's unspoken question by a little shake of the head.
"No luck, sir," he announced. "I spent the whole of last night at it, too—never went to bed at all. I've tried it with thirty-one codes. Then I've taken the first line or two and tried every possible change."
"I couldn't make anything of it myself," Thomson confessed, looking at the sheet of paper which even at that moment was spread out before him. "All the same, Ambrose, I don't believe in it."
"Neither do I, sir." The other assented eagerly. "I am going to have another try this afternoon. Perhaps there'll be some more letters in then and we can tell whether there's any similarity."
"I've a sort of feeling, Ambrose," he said, "that we sha'n't have many of these letters."
"Why not, sir?"
"I heard by telephone, just before you came," Thomson announced, "that a certain very distinguished person was on his way to see me. Cabinet Ministers don't come here for nothing, and this one happens to be a friend of Sir Alfred's."
"More interference, sir," he groaned. "I don't see how they can expect us to run our department with the civilians butting in wherever they like. They want us to save the country and they're to have the credit for it."
There was a knock at the door. A boy scout entered. His eyes were a little protuberant, his manner betokened awe.
"Mr. Gordon Jones, sir!"
Mr. Gordon Jones entered without waiting for any further announcement. Thomson rose to his feet and received a genial handshake, after which the newcomer glanced at Ambrose. Thomson signed to his assistant to leave the room.
"Major Thomson," the Cabinet Minister began impressively, as he settled down in his chair, "I have come here to confer with you, to throw myself, to a certain extent, upon your understanding and your common sense," he added, speaking with the pleased air of a man sure of his ground and himself.
"You have come to protest, I suppose," Thomson said slowly, "against our having—"
"To protest against nothing, my dear sir," the other interrupted. "Simply to explain to you, as I have just explained to your Chief, that while we possess every sympathy with, and desire to give every latitude in the world to the military point of view, there are just one or two very small matters in which we must claim to have a voice. We have, as you know, a free censorship list. We have put no one upon it who is not far and away above all suspicion. I am given to understand that a letter addressed to Sir Alfred Anselman was opened yesterday. I went to see your Chief about it this morning. He has referred me to you."