"The letter," Thomson remarked, "was opened by my orders."
"I happened," Mr. Gordon Jones went on, "to be dining at Sir Alfred's house when the letter was presented. Sir Alfred, I must say, took it exceedingly well. At the same time, I have made it my business to see that this does not occur again."
Thomson made no sign. His eyebrows, however, rose a little higher.
"The country," his visitor continued, "will know some day what it owes to Sir Alfred Anselman. At present I can only express, and that poorly, my sense of personal obligation to him. He has been of the greatest assistance to the Government in the city and elsewhere. His contributions to our funds have been magnificent; his advice, his sympathy, invaluable. He is a man inspired by the highest patriotic sentiments, one of the first and most noteworthy of British citizens."
Thomson listened in silence and without interruption. He met the well-satisfied peroration of his visitor without comment.
"I am hoping to hear," the latter concluded, with some slight asperity in his manner, "that the circumstance to which I have alluded was accidental and will not be repeated."
Major Thomson glanced thoughtfully at a little pile of documents by his side. Then he looked coldly towards his visitor and provided him, perhaps, with one of the most complete surprises of his life.
"I am sorry, Mr. Gordon Jones," he said, "but this is not a matter which I can discuss with you."
The Cabinet Minister's face was a study.
"Not discuss it?" he repeated blankly.
Major Thomson shook his head.
"Certain responsibilities," he continued quietly, "with regard to the safe conduct of this country, have been handed over to the military authorities, which in this particular case I represent. We are in no position for amenities or courtesies. Our country is in the gravest danger and nothing else is of the slightest possible significance. The charge which we have accepted we shall carry out with regard to one thing only, and that is our idea of what is due to the public safety."
"You mean, in plain words," Mr. Gordon Jones exclaimed, "that no requests from me or say, for instance, the Prime Minister, would have any weight with you?"
"None whatever," Major Thomson replied coolly. "Without wishing to be in any way personal, I might say that there are statesmen in your Government, for whom you must accept a certain amount of responsibility, who have been largely instrumental in bringing this hideous danger upon the country. As a company of law-makers you may or may not be excellent people—that is, I suppose, according to one's political opinions. As a company of men competent to superintend the direction of a country at war, you must permit me to say that I consider you have done well in placing certain matters in our hands, and that you will do better still not to interfere."
Mr. Gordon Jones sat quite still for several moments.
"Major Thomson," he said at last, "I have never heard of your before, and I am not prepared for a moment to say that I sympathise with your point of view. But it is at least refreshing to hear any one speak his mind with such frankness. I must now ask you one question, whether you choose to answer it or not. The letter which you have opened, addressed to Sir Alfred—you couldn't possibly find any fault with it?"
"It was apparently a quite harmless production," Major Thomson confessed.
"Do you propose to open any more?"
Thomson shook his head.
"That is within our discretion, sir."
Mr. Gordon Jones struggled with his obvious annoyance.
"Look here," he said, with an attempt at good-humour, "you can at least abandon the official attitude for a moment with me. Tell me why, of all men in the world, you have chosen to suspect Sir Alfred Anselman?"
"I am sorry," Thomson replied stiffly, "but this is not a matter which I can discuss in any other way except officially, and I do not recognise you as having any special claims for information."
The Minister rose to his feet. Those few minutes marked to him an era in his official life.
"You are adopting an attitude, sir," he said, "which, however much I may admire it from one point of view, seems to me scarcely to take into account the facts of the situation."
Thomson made no reply. He had risen to his feet. His manner clearly indicated that he considered the interview at an end. Mr. Gordon Jones choked down his displeasure.
"When you are wanting a civil job, Major Thomson," he concluded, "come and give us a call. Good morning!"
"A lady to see you, sir," Jarvis announced discreetly.
Granet turned quickly around in his chair. Almost instinctively he pulled down the roll top of the desk before which he was seated. Then he rose to his feet and held out his hand. He managed with an effort to conceal the consternation which had succeeded his first impulse of surprise.
"Miss Worth!" he exclaimed.
She came towards him confidently, her hands outstretched, slim, dressed in sober black, her cheeks as pale as ever, her eyes a little more brilliant. She threw her muff into a chair and a moment afterwards sank into it herself.
"You have been expecting me?" she asked eagerly.
Granet was a little taken aback.
"I have been hoping to hear from you," he said. "You told me, if you remember, not to write."
"It was better not," she assented. "Even after you left I had a great deal of trouble. That odious man, Major Thomson, put me through a regular cross-examination again, and I had to tell him at last—"
"What?" Granet exclaimed anxiously.
"That we were engaged to be married," she confessed. "There was really no other way out of it."
"That we were engaged," Granet repeated blankly.
"He pressed me very hard," she went on, "and I am afraid I made some admissions—well, there were necessary—which, to say the least of it, were compromising. There was only one way out of it decently for me, and I took it. You don't mind?"
"Of course not," he replied.
"There was father to be considered," she went on. "He was furious at first—"
"You told your father?" he interrupted.
"I had to," she explained, smoothing her muff. "He was there all the time that Thomson man was cross-examining me."
"Then your father believes in our engagement, too?"
"He does," she answered drily, "or I am afraid you would have heard a little more from Major Thomson before now. Ever since that night, father has been quite impossible to live with. He says he has to being a part of his work all over again."
"The bombs really did do some damage, then?" he asked.
She nodded, looking at him for a moment curiously.
"Yes," she acknowledged, "they did more harm than any one knows. The place is like a fortress now. They say that if they can find the other man who helped to light that flare, he will be shot in five minutes."
Granet, who had been standing with his elbow upon the mantelpiece, leaned over and took a cigarette from a box.
"Then, for his sake, let us hope that they do not find him," he remarked.
"And ours," she said softly.
Granet stood and looked at her steadfastly, the match burning in his fingers. Then he threw it away and lit another. The interval had been full of unadmitted tension, which suddenly passed.
"Shall you think I am horribly greedy," she asked, "if I say that I should like something to eat? I am dying of hunger."
Granet for a moment was startled. Then he moved towards the bell.
"How absurd of me!" he exclaimed. "Of course, you have just come up, haven't you?"
"I have come straight from the station here," she replied.
"Where are you staying, then?"
She shook her head.
"I don't know yet," she admitted.
"You don't know?" he repeated.
She met his gaze without flinching. There was a little spot of colour in her cheeks, however, and her lips quivered.
"You see," she explained, "things became absolutely impossible for me at Market Burnham. I won't say that they disbelieved me—not my father, at any rate—but he seems to think that it was somehow my fault—that if you hadn't been there that night the thing wouldn't have happened. I am watched the whole of the time, in fact not a soul has said a civil word to me—since you left. I just couldn't stand it any longer. I packed up this morning and I came away without saying a word to any one."
Granet glanced at the clock. It was a quarter past ten.
"Well, the first thing to do is to get you something to eat," he said; ringing the bell. "Do you mind having something here or would you like to go to a restaurant?"
"I should much prefer having it here," she declared. "I am not fit to go anywhere, and I am tired."
He rang the bell and gave Jarvis a few orders. The girl stood up before the glass, took off her hat and smoothed her hair with her hands. She had the air of being absolutely at home.
"Did you come up without any luggage at all?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"I have a dressing-bag and a few things downstairs on a taxicab," she said. "I told the man to stop his engine and wait for a time—until I had seen you," she added, turning around.
There was a very slight smile upon her lips, the glimmer of something that was almost appealing, in her eyes. Granet took her hand and patted it kindly. Her response was almost hysterical.
"It's very sweet of you to trust me like this," he said. "Jarvis will bring you something to eat, then I'll take you round to your aunt's. Where is it she lives—somewhere in Kensington, isn't it? Tomorrow we must talk things over."
She threw herself back once more in the easy-chair and glanced around her.
"I should like," she decided, "to talk them over now."
He glanced towards the door.
"Just as you please," he said, "only Jarvis will be in with your sandwiches directly."
She brushed aside his protest.
"I was obliged," she continued, "to say that I was engaged to you, to save you from something—I don't know what. The more I have thought about it, the more terrible it has all seemed. I am not going to even ask you for any explanation. I—I daren't."
Granet looked at his cigarette for a moment thoughtfully. Then he threw it into the fire.
"Perhaps you are wise," he said coolly. "All the same, when the time comes there is an explanation."
"It is the present which has become such a problem," she went on. "I was driven to leave home and I don't think I can go back again. Father is simply furious with me, and every one about the place seems to have an idea that I am somehow to blame for what happened the other night."
"That seems to me a little unjust," he protested.
"It isn't unjust at all," she replied brusquely. "I've told them all lies and I've got to pay for them. I came to you—well, there really wasn't anything else left for me to do, was there? I hope you don't think that I am horribly forward. I am quite willing to admit that I like you, that I liked you from the first moment we met at Lady Anselman's luncheon. At the same time, if that awful night hadn't changed everything, I should have behaved just like any other stupidly and properly brought-up young woman—waited and hoped and made an idiot of myself whenever you were around, and in the end, I suppose, been disappointed. You see, fate has rather changed that. I had to invent our engagement to save you—and here I am," she added, with a little nervous laugh, turning her head as the door opened.
Jarvis entered with the sandwiches and arranged them on a small table by her side. Granet poured out the wine for her, mixed himself a whiskey-and-soda and took a sandwich also from the plate.
"Now tell me," he began, as soon as Jarvis had disappeared, "what is there at the back of your mind about my presence there at Market Burnham that night?"
She laid down her sandwich. For the first time her voice trembled. Granet realised that beneath all this quietness of demeanour a volcano was threatening.
"I have told you that I do not want to think of that night," she said firmly. "I simply do not understand."
"You have something in your mind?" he persisted. "You don't believe, really, that that man Collins, who was found shot—"
She glanced at the door.
"I couldn't sleep that night," she interrupted. "I heard your car arrive, I saw you both together, you and the man who was shot. I saw—more than that. I hadn't meant to tell you this but perhaps it is best. I ask you for no explanation. You see, I am something of an individualist. I just want one thing, and about the rest I simply don't care. To me, to myself, to my own future, to my own happiness the rest is very slight, and I never pretend to be anything else but a very selfish person. Only you know now that I have lied, badly."
"I understand," he said. "Finish your sandwiches and I will take you to your aunt's. To-morrow I will write to your father."
She drew a little sigh.
"I will do whatever you say," she agreed, "only—please look at me."
He stooped down a little. She seized his wrists, her voice was suddenly hoarse.
"You weren't pretending altogether?" she pleaded. "Don't make me feel a perfect beast. You did care a little? You weren't just talking nonsense?"
She would have drawn him further down but he kept away.
"Listen," he said, "when I tell you that I am going to write to your father to-morrow, you know what that means. For the rest, I must think. Perhaps this is the only way out. Of course, I like you but the truth is best, isn't it? I hadn't any idea of this. As a matter of fact, I am rather in love with someone else."
She caught at her breath for a moment, half closed her eyes as thought to shut out something disagreeable.
"I don't care," she muttered. "You see how low I have fallen—I'll bear even that. Come," she added, springing up, "my aunt goes to bed before eleven. You can drive me down there, if you like. Are you going to kiss me?"
He bent over her a little gravely and his lips touched her forehead. She caught his face suddenly between her hands and kissed him on the lips. Then she turned towards the door.
"Of course, I am horribly ashamed," she exclaimed, "but then—well, I'm myself. Come along, please."
He followed her down into the taxi and they drove off towards Kensington.
"How long have you known the other girl?" she asked abruptly.
"Very little longer than I have known you," he answered.
She took off her glove. He felt her hand steal into his.
"You'll try and like me a little, please?" she begged. "There hasn't been any one who cared for so many years—not all my life. When I came out—ever since I came out—I have behaved just like other properly, well-brought-up girls. I've just sat and waited. I've rather avoided men than otherwise. I've sat and waited. Girls haven't liked me much. They say I'm odd. I'm twenty-eight now, you know. I haven't enjoyed the last six years. Father's wrapped up in his work. He thinks he has done his duty if he sends me to London sometimes to stay with my aunt. She is very much like him, only she is wrapped up in missions instead of science. Neither of them seems to have time to be human."
"It must have been rotten for you," Granet said kindly.
Her hand clutched his, she came a little nearer.
"Year after year of it," she murmured. "If I had been good-looking, I should have run away and gone on the stage. If I had been clever, I should have left home and done something. But I am like millions of others—I am neither. I had to sit and wait. When I met you, I suddenly began to realise what it would be like to care for some one. I knew it wasn't any use. And then this miracle happened. I couldn't help it," she went on doggedly. "I never thought of it at first. It came to me like a great flash that the only way to save you—"
"To save me from what?" he asked.
"From being shot as a spy," she answered quickly. "There! I'm not a fool, you know. You may think I'm a fool about you but I am not about things in general. Good-bye! This is my aunt's. Don't come in. Ring me up to-morrow morning. I'll meet you anywhere. Good-bye, please! I want to run away."
He watched her go, a little dazed. A trim parlourmaid came out and, after a few words of explanation, superintended the disposal of her luggage in the hall. Then the taxicab man returned.
"Back to Sackville Street," Granet muttered.
Granet, on his return to Sackville Street, paid the taxicab driver, ascended the stairs and let himself into his rooms with very much the air of a man who has passed through a dream. A single glance around, however, brought him vivid realisations of his unwelcome visitor. The little plate of sandwiches, half finished, the partly emptied bottle of wine, were still there. One of her gloves lay in the corner of the easy-chair. He picked it up, drew it for a moment through his fingers, then crushed it into a ball and flung it into the fire. Jarvis, who had heard him enter, came from one of the back rooms.
"Clear these things away, Jarvis," his master ordered. "Leave the whiskey and soda and tobacco on the table. I may be late."
Jarvis silently obeyed. As soon as he was alone, Granet threw himself into the easy-chair. He was filled with a bitter sense of being entrapped. He had been a little rash at Market Burnham, perhaps, but if any other man except Thomson had been sent there, his explanations would have been accepted without a word, and all this miserable complication would have been avoided. He thought over Isabel's coming, all that she had said. She had left him no loophole. She had the air of a young woman who knew her own mind excellently well. A single word from her to Thomson and the whole superstructure of his ingeniously built-up life might tumble to pieces. He sat with folded arms in a grim attitude of unrest, thinking bitter thoughts. They rolled into his brain like black shadows. He had been honest in the first instance. With ancestors from both countries, he had deliberately chosen the country to which he felt the greatest attachment. He remembered his long travels in Germany, he remembered on his return his growing disapproval of English slackness, her physical and moral decadence. Her faults had inspired him not with the sorrow of one of her real sons, but with the contempt of one only half bound to her by natural ties. The ground had been laid ready for the poison. He had started honestly enough. His philosophy had satisfied himself. He had felt no moral degradation in wearing the uniform of one country for the benefit of another. All this self-disgust he dated from the coming of Geraldine Conyers. Now he was weary of it all, face to face, too, with a disagreeable and insistent problem.
He started suddenly in his chair. An interruption ordinary enough, but never without a certain startling effect, had broken in upon his thoughts. The telephone on his table was ringing insistently. He rose to his feet and glanced at the clock as he crossed the room. It was five minutes past twelve. As he took up the receiver a familiar voice greeted him.
"Is that Ronnie? Yes, this is Lady Anselman. Your uncle told me to ring you up to see if you were in. He wants you to come round."
"Do come, Ronnie," his aunt continued. "I don't suppose it's anything important but your uncle seems to want it. No, I sha'n't see you. I'm just going to bed. I have been playing bridge. I'm sure the duchess cheats—I have never won at her house in my life. I'll tell your uncle you'll come, then, Ronnie.... Good night!"
Granet laid down the receiver. Somehow or other, the idea of action, even at that hour of the night was a relief to him. He called to Jarvis and gave him a few orders. Afterwards he turned out and walked through the streets—curiously lit and busy it seemed to him—to the corner of Park Lane, and up to the great mansion fronting the Park, which had belonged to the Anselmans for two generations. There were few lights in the windows. He was admitted at once and passed on to his uncle's own servant.
"Sir Alfred is in the study, sir," the latter announced, "if you will kindly come this way."
Granet crossed the circular hall hung with wonderful tapestry, and passed through the sumptuously-furnished library into the smaller, business man's study, in which Sir Alfred spent much of his time. There were telephones upon his desk, a tape machine, and a private instrument connected with the telegraph department. There was a desk for his secretary, now vacant, and beyond, in the shadows of the apartment, winged bookcases which held a collection of editions de luxe, first editions, and a great collection of German and Russian literature, admittedly unique. Sir Alfred was sitting at his desk, writing a letter. He greeted his nephew with his usual cheerful nod.
"Wait before you go, Harrison," he said to his valet. "Will you take anything, Ronald? There are cigars and cigarettes here but nothing to drink. Harrison, you can put the whiskey and soda on the side, anyhow, then you can wait for me in my room. I shall not require any other service to-night. Some one must stay to let Captain Granet out. You understand?"
"Perfectly, sir," the man replied.
"If you don't mind, Ronnie, I will finish this letter while he brings the whiskey and soda," Sir Alfred said.
Captain Granet strolled around the room. There was no sound for a moment but the scratching of Sir Alfred's quill pen across the paper. Presently Harrison returned with the whiskey and soda. Sir Alfred handed him a note.
"To be sent to-night, Harrison," he directed; "no answer."
The man withdrew, closing the door behind him. Sir Alfred, with his hands in his pockets, walked slowly around. When he came back he turned out all the lights except the heavily shaded one over his desk, and motioned his nephew to draw his easy-chair up to the side.
"Well, Ronnie," he said, "I suppose you are wondering why I have sent for you at this hour of the night?"
"I am," Granet admitted frankly. "Is there any news?—anything behind the news, perhaps I should say?"
"What there is, is of no account," Sir Alfred replied. "We are going to talk pure human nature, you and I for the next hour. The fate of empires is a matter for the historians. It is your fate and mine which just now counts for most."
"There is some trouble?" Granet asked quickly,—"some suspicion?"
"None whatever," Sir Alfred repeated firmly. "My position was never more secure than it is at this second. I am the trusted confidant of the Cabinet. I have done, not only apparently but actually, very important work for them. Financially, too, my influence as well as my resources have been of vast assistance to this country."
Granet nodded and waited. He knew enough of his uncle to be aware that he would develop his statement in his own way.
"When all has gone well," Sir Alfred continued, "when all seems absolutely peaceful and safe, it is sometimes the time to pause and consider. We are at that spot at the present moment. You have been lucky, in your way, Ronnie. Three times, whilst fighting for England, you have managed to penetrate the German lines and receive from them communications of the greatest importance. Since your return home you have been of use in various ways. This last business in Norfolk will not be forgotten. Then take my case. What Germany knows of our financial position, our strength and our weakness, is due to me. That Germany is at the present time holding forty millions of money belonging to the city of London, is also owing to me. In a dozen other ways my influence has been felt. As I told you before, we have both, in our way, been successful, but we have reached the absolute limit of our effectiveness."
"What does that mean?" Granet asked.
"It means this," Sir Alfred explained. "When this war was started, I, with every fact and circumstance before me, with more information, perhaps, than any other man breathing, predicted peace within three months. I was wrong. Germany to-day is great and unconquered, but Germany has lost her opportunity. This may be a war of attrition, or even now the unexpected may come, but to all effects and purposes Germany is beaten."
"Do you mean this?" Granet exclaimed incredulously.
"Absolutely," his uncle assured him. "Remember that I know more than you do. There is a new and imminent danger facing the dual alliance. What it is you will learn soon enough. The war may drag on for many months but the chances of the great German triumph we have dreamed of, have passed. They know it as well as we do. I have seen the writing on the wall for months. To-day I have concluded all my arrangements. I have broken off all negotiations with Berlin. They recognise the authority and they absolve me. They know that it will be well to have a friend here when the time comes for drawing up the pact."
Granet gripped the sides of his chair with his hand. It seemed to him impossible that with these few commonplace words the fate of all Europe was being pronounced.
"Do you mean that Germany will be crushed?" he demanded.
Sir Alfred shook his head.
"I still believe that impossible," he said, "but the peace of exhaustion will come, and come surely, before many months have passed. It is time for us to think of ourselves. So far as I am concerned, well, there is that one censored letter—nothing in itself, yet damning if the code should be discovered. As for you, well, you are safe from anything transpiring in France, and although you seem to have been rather unlucky there, you appear to be safe as regards Norfolk. You must make up your mind now to follow my lead. Take a home command, do the rest of your soldiering quietly, and shout with the others when the day of peace comes. These last few months must be our great secret. At heart we may have longed to call ourselves sons of a mightier nation, but fate is against us. We must continue Englishmen."
"You've taken my breath away," Granet declared. "Let me realise this for a moment."
He sat quite still. A rush of thoughts had crowded into his brain. First and foremost was the thought of Geraldine. If he could cover up his traces! If it were true that he was set free now from his pledges! Then he remembered his visitor of the evening and his heart sank.
"Look here," he confessed, "in a way this is a huge relief. I, like you, thought it was to last for three months and I thought I could stick it. While the excitement of the thing was about it was easy enough, but listen, uncle. That Norfolk affair—I am not really out of that."
"What do you mean?" Sir Alfred demanded anxiously. "This fellow Thomson?"
"Thomson, of course," Granet assented, "but the real trouble has come to me in a different way. I told you that the girl got me out of it. She couldn't stand the second cross-examination. She was driven into a corner, and finally, to clear herself, said that we were engaged to be married. She has come up to London, came to me to-night. She expects me to marry her."
"How much does she know?" Sir Alfred asked.
"Everything," Granet groaned. "It was she who had told me of the waterway across the marshes. She saw me there with Collins, just before the flare was lit. She knew that I lied to them when they found me."
Sir Alfred sighed.
"It's a big price, Ronnie," he said, "but you'll have to pay it. The sooner you marry the girl and close her mouth, the better."
"If it hadn't been for that damned fellow Thomson," Granet muttered, "there would never have been a suspicion."
"If it hadn't been for the same very enterprising gentleman," Sir Alfred observed, "my correspondence would never have been tampered with."
Granet leaned a little forward.
"Thomson is our one remaining danger," he said. "I have had the feeling since first he half recognised me. We met, you know, in Belgium. It was just when I was coming out of the German lines. Somehow or other he must have been on my track ever since. I took no notice of it. I thought it was simply because—because he was engaged to Geraldine Conyers."
"You are rivals in love, too, eh?" Sir Alfred remarked.
"Geraldine Conyers is the girl I want to marry," Granet admitted.
"Thomson," Sir Alfred murmured to himself,—"Surgeon-Major Hugh Thomson. He seems to be the only man, Ronnie, from whom we have the least danger to fear. Personally, I think I am secure. I do not believe that that single letter will be ever deciphered, and if it is, three-parts of the Cabinet are my friends. I could ruin the Stock Exchange to-morrow, bring London's credit, for a time, at any rate, below the credit of Belgrade."
"All the same, it seems to me," Granet declared grimly, "that we should both be more comfortable if there were no Surgeon-Major Thomson."
"The very last dispatches I had to deal with," Sir Alfred continued, "made allusion to him. They don't love some of his work in Berlin, I can tell you. What sort of a man is he, Ronnie? Can he be bought? A hundred thousand pounds would be a fortune to a man like that."
"There is only one way of dealing with him," Granet said fiercely. "I have tried it once. I expect I'll have to try again."
Sir Alfred leaned across the table.
"Don't be rash, Ronnie," he advised. "And yet, remember this. The man is a real danger, both to you and to me. He is the only man who has had anything to do with the Intelligence Department here, who is worth a snap of the fingers. Now go home, Ronnie. You came here—well, never mind what you were when you came here. You are going back an Englishman. If they won't send you to the Front again, bother them for some work here, and stick to it. You will get no reports nor any visitors. I have strangled the whole system. You and I are cut loose from it. We are free-lances. Mind, I still believe that in the end German progress and German culture will dominate the world, but it may not be in our day. It just happens that we have struck a little too soon. Let us make the best of things, Ronnie. You have many years of life. I have some of unabated power. Let us be thankful that we were wise enough to stop in time."
Granet rose to his feet. His uncle watched him curiously.
"You're young, of course, Ronnie," he continued indulgently. "You haven't yet fitted your burden on to your shoulders properly. England or Germany, you have some of both in you. After all, it isn't a vital matter under which banner you travel. It isn't quite like that with me. I have lived here all my life and I wouldn't care to live anywhere else, but that's because I carry my own country with me. It's English air I breathe but it's a German heart I still carry with me. Good night, Ronnie! Remember about Thomson."
The two men wrung hands and Granet made his way towards the door.
"About Thomson," he repeated to himself, as the servant conducted him towards the door.
Ambrose announced a visitor, early on the following morning, with some show of interest.
"Captain Granet to see you, sir. We've a good many notes about him. Would you like the book?"
Thomson shook his head.
"Thank you," he answered drily, "I have it in my desk but I think I can remember. Is he outside now?"
"Yes, sir! He said he wouldn't keep you for more than a few minutes, if you could spare him a short interview."
"Any luck last night?"
"I was up till three o'clock again. Once I thought I was on the track of it. I have come to the conclusion now that it's one of those codes that depend upon shifting quantities. I shall start again to-night on a different idea. Shall I show Captain Granet in, sir?"
Thomson assented, and a few minutes later Granet entered the room. He made no attempt to shake hands or to take a seat. Thomson looked at him coldly.
"Well," he asked, abruptly, "what can I do for you?"
"I don't suppose you can do anything," Granet replied, "but I am going to spend to-day and to-morrow, too, if necessary, in this place, bothering every one I ever heard of. You have some influence, I know. Get me a job out of this country."
Thomson raised his eyebrows slightly.
"You want to go abroad again?"
"Anywhere—anyhow! If they won't have me back in France, although heaven knows why not, can I be sent to the Dardanelles, or even East Africa? I'll take out Territorials, if you like. I'll do anything sooner than be ordered to one of these infernal country towns to train young tradespeople. If I don't worry, I know I shall get a home appointment directly, and I don't want it."
Thomson studied his visitor, for a moment, carefully.
"So you want to be fighting again, eh?" he remarked.
"I do," Granet answered firmly.
Major Thomson drew a little locked book towards him, unfastened it with a key from his chain and held his hand over the page. It was noticeable that his right hand slipped open a few inches the right-hand drawer of his desk.
"You have come to me, Captain Granet," he said, "to ask my aid in getting you a job. Well, if I could give you one where I was perfectly certain that you would be shot in your first skirmish, I would give it to you, with pleasure. Under present conditions, however, it is my impression that the further you are from any British fighting force, the better it will be for the safety and welfare of that force."
Granet's face was suddenly rigid. He had turned a little paler and his eyes flashed.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
Thomson had removed his hand and was glancing at the open page.
"There are a few notes here about you," he said. "I will not read them all but I will give you some extracts. There is your full name and parentage, tracing out the amount of foreign blood which I find is in your veins. There is a verbatim account of a report made to me by your Brigadier-General, in which it seems that in the fighting under his command you were three times apparently taken prisoner, three times you apparently escaped; the information which you brought back led to at least two disasters; the information which exactly at the time you were absent seemed to come miraculously into the hands of the enemy, resulted in even greater trouble for us."
"Do you insinuate, then, that I am a traitor?" Granet asked fiercely.
"I insinuate nothing," Thomson replied quietly. "So far as you and I are concerned, we may as well, I presume, understand one another. You are, without doubt, aware that my post as inspector of hospitals is a blind. I am, as a matter of fact, chief of the Intelligence Department, with a rank which at present I do not choose to use. I have been myself to your Brigadier-General and brought home this report, and if it is any satisfaction to you to know it, I brought also an urgent request that you should not be allowed to rejoin any part of the force under his control."
"It was simply rotten luck," Granet muttered.
"I come here to a few more notes," Thomson proceeded. "I meet you some weeks ago at a luncheon party at the Ritz. A Belgian waiter, who I learned, by later inquiries was present as a prisoner in the village where you were being entertained as a guest at the German headquarters, recognised you and was on the point of making a disclosure. The excitement, however, was too much for him and he fainted. He was at once removed, under your auspices, and died a few days later, at one of your uncle's country houses, before he could make any statement."
"This is ridiculous!" Granet exclaimed. "I never saw the fellow before in my life."
"Ridiculous, doubtless, but a coincidence," Major Thomson replied, turning over the next page of his book. "A little later I find you taking an immense interest in our new destroyers, trying, in fact, to induce young Conyers to explain our wire netting system, following him down to Portsmouth and doing your best to discover also the meaning of a new device attached to his destroyer."
"That is simply absurd," Granet protested. "I was interested in the subject, as any military officer would be in an important naval development. My journey to Portsmouth was simply an act of courtesy to Miss Conyers and her cousin."
"I find you next," Thomson went on immovably, "visiting the one French statesmen whom we in England had cause to fear, in his hotel in London. I find that very soon afterwards that statesman is in possession of an autograph letter from the Kaiser, offering peace to the French people on extraordinary terms. Who was the intermediary who brought that document, Captain Granet?"
Granet's face never twitched. He held himself with cold composure.
"These," he declared, "are fairy tales. Pailleton was a friend of mine. During my visit we did not speak of politics."
"More coincidences," Major Thomson remarked. "We pass on, then, to that night at Market Burnham Hall, when a Zeppelin was guided to the spot where Sir Meyville Worth was experimenting on behalf of the British Government, and dropped destructive bombs. A man was shot dead by the side of the flare. That man was one of your companions at the Dormy House Club."
"I neither spoke to him nor saw him there, except as a casual visitor," Granet insisted.
"That I venture to doubt," Major Thomson replied. "At any rate, there is enough circumstantial evidence against you in this book to warrant my taking the keenest interest in your future. As a matter of fact, you would have been at the Tower, or underneath it, at this very moment, but for the young lady who probably perjured herself to save you. Now that you know my opinion of you, Captain Granet, you will understand that I should hesitate before recommending you to any post whatever in the service of this country."
Granet made a stealthy movement forward. He had been edging a little closer to the desk and he was barely two yards away. He suddenly paused. Thomson had closed the drawer now and he was holding a small revolver very steadily in his right hand.
"Granet," he said, "that sort of thing won't do. You know now what I think of you. Besides these little incidents which I have related, you are suspected of having, in the disguise of an American clergyman, delivered a message from the German Government to an English Cabinet Minister, and, to come to more personal matters, I myself suspect you of having made two attempts on my life. It is my firm belief that you are nothing more nor less than a common and dangerous German spy. Keep back!"
The veins were standing out like whipcord on Granet's flushed forehead. He swayed on his feet. Twice he had seemed as though he would spring at his opponent.
"Now listen to me," Thomson continued. "On Monday I am going from Southampton to Boulogne for forty-eight hours, to attend a court martial there. There is only one decent thing you can do. You know what that is. I'll have you exchanged, if you are willing, into a line regiment with your present rank. Your colonel will have a hint. It will be your duty to meet the first German bullet you can find. If you are content with that, I'll arrange it for you. If not—"
Major Thomson paused. There was a queer twisted smile at the corners of his lips.
"If not," he concluded, "there is one more little note to add in this book and the account will be full. You know now the terms, Captain Granet, on which you can go to the Front. I will give you ten days to consider."
"If I accept an offer like this," Granet protested, "I shall be pleading guilty to all the rubbish you have talked."
"If it weren't for the fact," Major Thomson told him sternly, "that you have worn his Majesty's uniform, that you are a soldier, and that the horror of it would bring pain to every man who has shared with you that privilege, I have quite enough evidence here to bring your career to a disgraceful end. I give you your chance, not for your own sake but for the honour of the Army. What do you say?"
Granet picked up his hat.
"I'll think it over," he muttered.
He walked out of the room without any attempt at farewell, pushed his way along the corridors, down the steps and out into Whitehall. His face was distorted by a new expression. A sudden hatred of Thomson had blazed up in him. He was at bay, driven there by a relentless enemy, the man who had tracked him down, as he honestly believed, to some extent through jealousy. The thoughts framed themselves quickly in his mind. With unseeing eyes he walked across Trafalgar Square and made his way to his club in Pall Mall. Here he wrote a few lines to Isabel Worth, regretting that he was called out of town on military business for forty-eight hours. Afterwards he took a taxi and called at his rooms, walked restlessly up and down while Jarvis threw a few clothes into a bag, changed his own apparel for a rough tweed suit, and drove to Paddington. A few minutes later he took his place in the Cornish Express.
Granet emerged from the Tregarten Hotel at St. Mary's on the following morning, about half-past eight, and strolled down the narrow strip of lawn which bordered the village street. A couple of boatmen advanced at once to meet him. Granet greeted them cheerily.
"Yes, I want a boat," he admitted. "I'd like to do a bit of sailing. A friend of mine was here and had a chap named Rowsell—Job Rowsell. Either of you answer to that name, by chance?"
The elder of the two shook his head.
"My name's Matthew Nichols," he announced, "and this is my brother-in-law, Joe Lethbridge. We've both of us got stout sailing craft and all the recommendations a man need have. As for Job Rowsell, well, he ain't here—not just at this moment, so to speak."
Granet considered the matter briefly.
"Well," he decided, "it seems to me I must talk to this chap Rowsell before I do anything. I'm under a sort of promise."
The two boatmen looked at one another. The one who had addressed him first turned a little away.
"Just as you like, sir," he announced. "No doubt Rowsell will be up this way towards afternoon."
"Afternoon? But I want to go out at once," Granet protested.
Matthew Nichols removed his pipe from his mouth and spat upon the ground thoughtfully.
"I doubt whether you'll get Job Rowsell to shift before mid-day. I'm none so sure he'll go out at all with this nor-wester blowing."
"What's the matter with him?" Granet asked. "Is he lazy?"
The man who as yet had scarcely spoken, swung round on his heel.
"He's no lazy, sir," he said. "That's not the right word. But he's come into money some way or other, Job Rowsell has. There's none of us knows how, and it ain't our business, but he spends most of his time in the public-house and he seems to have taken a fancy for night sailing alone, which to my mind, and there are others of us as say the same, ain't none too healthy an occupation. And that's all there is to be said of Job Rowsell, as I knows of."
"It's a good deal, too," Granet remarked thoughtfully. "Where does he live?"
"Fourth house on the left in yonder street," Matthew Nichols replied, pointing with his pipe. "Maybe he'll come if you send for him, maybe he won't."
"I must try to keep my word to my friend," Granet decided. "If I don't find him, I'll come back and look for you fellows again."
He turned back to the little writing-room, scribbled a note and sent it down by the boots. In about half an hour he was called once more out into the garden. A huge, loose-jointed man was standing there, unshaven, untidily dressed, and with the look in his eyes of a man who has been drinking heavily.
"Are you Job Rowsell?" Granet inquired.
"That's my name," the man admitted. "Is there anything wrong with it?"
"Not that I know of," Granet replied. "I want you to take me out sailing. Is your boat ready?"
The man glanced up at the sky.
"I don't know as I want to go," he grumbled. "There's dirty weather about."
"I think you'd better," Granet urged. "I'm not a bad payer and I can help with the boat. Let's go and look at her any way."
They walked together down to the harbour. Granet said very little, his companion nothing at all. They stood on the jetty and gazed across to where the sailing boats were anchored.
"That's the Saucy Jane," Job Rowsell indicated, stretching out a forefinger.
Granet scrambled down into a small dinghy which was tied to the side of the stone wall.
"We'd better be getting on board," he suggested.
Rowsell stared at him for a moment but acquiesced. They pulled across and boarded the Saucy Jane. A boy whom they found on the deck took the boat back. Rowsell set his sails slowly but with precision. The moment he stepped on board he seemed to become an altered man.
"Where might you be wanting to go?" he asked. "You'll need them oilskins, sure."
"I want to run out to the Bishop Lighthouse," Granet announced.
Rowsell shook his head.
"It's no sort of a day to face the Atlantic, sir," he declared. "We'll try a spin round St. Mary and White Island, if you like."
Granet fastened his oilskins and stooped for a moment to alter one of the sails.
"Look here," he said, taking his seat at the tiller, "this is my show, Job Rowsell. There's a five pound note for you at the end of the day, if you go where I tell you and nowhere else."
The man eyed him sullenly. A few minutes later they were rushing out of the harbour.
"It's a poor job, sailing a pleasure boat," he muttered. "Not many of us as wouldn't sell his soul for five pounds."
They reached St. Agnes before they came round on the first tack. Then, with the spray beating in their faces, they swung around and made for the opening between the two islands. For a time the business of sailing kept them both occupied. In two hours' time they were standing out towards Bishop Lighthouse. Job Rowsell took a long breath and filled a pipe with tobacco. He was looking more himself now.
"I'll bring her round the point there," he said, "and we'll come up the Channel and home by Bryher."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," Granet ordered. "Keep her head out for the open sea till I tell you to swing round."
Rowsell looked at his passenger with troubled face.
"Are you another of 'em?" he asked abruptly.
"Don't you mind who I am," Granet answered. "I'm on a job I'm going to see through. If a fiver isn't enough for you, make it a tenner, but keep her going where I put her."
Rowsell obeyed but his face grew darker. He leaned towards his passenger.
"What's your game?" he demanded hoarsely. "There's some of them on the island'd have me by the throat if they only knew the things I could tell 'em. What's your game here, eh? Are you on the cross?"
"I am not," Granet replied, "or I shouldn't have needed to bring you to sea. I know all about you, Job Rowsell. You're doing very well and you may do a bit better by and by. Now sit tight and keep a still tongue in your head."
They were in a queer part of the broken, rocky island group. There was a great indenture in the rocks up which the sea came hissing; to the left, round the corner, the lighthouse. Granet drew what looked to be a large pocket-handkerchief from the inner pocket of his coat, pulled down their pennant with nimble fingers, tied on another and hauled it up. Job Rowsell stared at him.
"It's the German flag, you fool," Granet answered.
"I'll have none of that on my boat," the man declared surlily. "An odd fiver for a kindness—"
"Shut up!" Granet snapped, drawing his revolver from his pocket. "You run the boat and mind your own business, Rowsell. I'm not out here to be fooled with.... My God!"
Almost at their side the periscope of a submarine had suddenly appeared. Slowly it rose to the surface. An officer in German naval uniform struggled up and called out. Granet spoke to him rapidly in German. Job Rowsell started at them both, then he drew a flask from his pocket and took a long pull. The submarine grew nearer and Granet tossed a small roll of paper across the chasm of waters. All that passed between the two men was to Job Rowsell unintelligible. The last few words, however, the German repeated in English.
"The Princess Hilda from Southampton, tomorrow at midnight," he repeated thoughtfully. "Well, it's a big business."
"It's worth it," Granet assured him. "They may call it a hospital ship but it isn't. I am convinced that the one man who is more dangerous to us than any other Englishman, will be on board."
"It shall then be done," the other promised. "So!"
He looked upward to the flag and saluted Granet. A great sea bore them a little apart. Granet pulled down the German flag, tied up a stone inside it and threw it into the next wave.
"You can take me back now," he told the boatman.
They were four hours making the harbour. Three times they failed to get round the last point, met at each time by clouds of hissing spray. When at last they sailed in, there was a little crowd to watch them. Nichols and Lethbridge stood on one side with gloomy faces.
"It's a queer day for pleasure sailing," Nicholas remarked to Job Rowsell, as he came up the wet steps of the pier.
"It's all I want of it for a bit, any way," Rowsell muttered, pushing his way along the quay. "If there's any of you for a drink, I'm your man. What-ho, Nichols?—Lethbridge?"
Lethbridge muttered something and turned away. Nichols, too, declined.
"I am not sure, Job Rowsell," the latter declared, "that I like your money nor the way you earn it."
Job Rowsell stopped for a minute. There was an ugly look in his sullen face.
"If you weren't my own bother-in-law, Matthew Nichols," he said, "I'd shove those words down your throat."
"And if you weren't my sister's husband," Nichols retorted, turning away, "I'd take a little trip over to Penzance and say a few words at the Police Station there."
Granet laughed good-humouredly.
"You fellows don't need to get bad-tempered with one another," he observed. "Look here, I shall have three days here. I'll take one of you each day—make a fair thing of it, eh? You to-morrow, Nichols, and you the next day Lethbridge. I'm not particular about the weather, as Job Rowsell can tell you, and I've sailed a boat since I was a boy. I'm no land-lubber, am I, Rowsell?"
"No, you can sail the boat all right," Rowsell admitted, looking back over his shoulder. "You'd sail it into Hell itself, if one'd let you. Come on, you boys, if there's any one of you as fancies to drink. I'm wet to the skin."
Nichols' boat was duly prepared at nine o'clock on the following morning. Lethbridge shouted to him from the rails.
"Gentleman's changed his mind, I reckon. He went off on the eight o'clock boat for Penzance."
Nichols commenced stolidly to furl his sails again.
"It's my thinking Lethbridge," he said, as he clambered into the dinghy, "that there's things going on in this island which you and me don't understand. I'm for a few plain words with Job Rowsell, though he's my own sister's husband."
"Plain words is more than you'll get from Job," Lethbridge replied gloomily. "He slept last night on the floor at the 'Blue Crown,' and he's there this morning, clamouring for brandy and pawing the air. He's got the blue devils, that's what he's got."
"There's money," Nichols declared solemnly, "some money, that is, that does no one any good."
There was a shrill whistle from the captain's bridge, and the steamer, which had scarcely yet gathered way, swung slowly around. Rushing up towards it through the mists came a little naval launch, in the stern of which a single man was seated. In an incredibly short space of time it was alongside, the passenger had climbed up the rope ladder, the pinnace had sheered off and the steamer was once more heading towards the Channel.
The newly-arrived passenger was making his way towards the saloon when a voice which seemed to come from behind a pile of rugs heaped around a steamer-chair, arrested his progress.
"Hugh! Major Thomson!"
He stopped short. Geraldine shook herself free from her rugs and sat up. They looked at one another in astonishment.
"Why, Geraldine," he exclaimed, "where are you off to?"
"To Boulogne, of course," she answered. "Don't pretend that you are surprised. Why, you got me the appointment yourself."
"Of course," he agreed, "only I had no idea that you were going just yet, or that you were on this boat."
"They told me to come out this week," she said, as he drew a chair to her side, "and so many of the nurses and doctors were going by this boat that I thought I would come, too. I feel quite a professional already. Nearly all the women here are in nurse's uniform and three-quarters of the men on board are doctors. Where are you going, Hugh?"
"Just to the Base and back again to-morrow," he told here. "There's a court martial I want to attend."
"Still mysterious," she laughed. "What have you to do with courts martial, Hugh?"
"Too much, just for the moment," he answered lightly. "Would you like some coffee or anything?"
She shook her head.
"No, thank you. I had an excellent supper before we started. I looked at some of the cabins but I decided to spend the night on deck. What about you? You seem to have arrived in a hurry."
"I missed the train in London," he explained. "They kept me at the War Office. Then I had to come down in a Government car and we couldn't quite catch up. Any news from Ralph?"
"I had a letter days ago," she told him. "It was posted at Harwich but he couldn't say where he was, and of course he couldn't give me any news. Father came back from the Admiralty very excited yesterday, though. He says that we have sunk four or five more submarines, and that Ralph's new equipment is an immense success. By-the-bye, is there any danger of submarines here?"
"I shouldn't think so," Thomson answered. "They are very busy round the Scilly Islands but we seem to have been able to keep them out of the Channel. I thought we should have been convoyed, though."
"In any case," she remarked, "we are a hospital ship. I expect they'd leave us alone. Major Thomson," she went on, "I wonder, do you really believe all these stories of the horrible doings of the Germans—the way they have treated drowning people attacked by their submarines, and these hateful stories of Belgium? Sometimes it seems to me as though there was a fog of hatred which had sprung up between the two countries, and we could neither of us quite see clearly what the other was doing."
"I think there is something in that," Major Thomson agreed. "On the other hand I think it is part of the German principle to make war ruthlessly. I have seen things in Belgium which I shall never forget. As to the submarine business, if half the things are true that we have read, they seem to have behaved like brutes. It's queer, too," he went on, "for as a rule seamen are never cruel."
They were silent for a time. For some reason or other, they both avoided mention of the one subject which was in the minds of both. It was not until after the steward had brought him some coffee and they were more than half-way across, that Thomson a little abruptly asked her a question.
"Have you seen anything of Captain Granet lately?"
"Nothing," she replied.
He turned his head slightly towards her.
"Would it trouble you very much if he never came to see you again?"
She was watching the misty dawn.
"I do not know," she answered, "but I think that he will come."
"I am not so sure," he told her.
"Do you mean that he is in any fresh trouble?" she asked quickly.
"I don't think he needs any fresh trouble exactly," Thomson remarked, "but suppose we leave him alone for a little time? Our meeting was so unexpected, and, for me, such a pleasure. Don't let us spoil it."
"Let us talk of other things," she agreed readily. "Tell me, for instance, just what does a submarine look like when it pops up out of the sea?"
"I have never seen one close to," he admitted, "except on the surface. Why do you ask?"
She pointed with her forefinger to a little spot almost between two banks of mist.
"Because I fancied just now that I saw something sticking up out of the water there, something which might have been the periscope of a submarine," she replied.
He looked in the direction which she indicated but shook his head.
"I can see nothing," he said, "but in any case I don't think they would attack a hospital ship. This is a dangerous area for them, too. We are bound to have a few destroyers close at hand. I wonder if Ralph—"
He never finished his sentence. The shock which they had both read about but never dreamed of experiencing, flung them without a moment's warning onto their hands and feet. The steamer seemed as though it had been lifted out of the water. There was a report as though some great cannon had been fired off in their very ears. Looking along the deck, it suddenly seemed to Thomson that her bows were pointing to the sky. The after portion, where they were seated, was vibrating and shaking as though they had struck a rock, and only a few yards away from them, towards the middle of the boat, the end of the cabin was riven bare to the heavens. Timbers were creaking and splintering in every direction. There was a great gap already in the side of the steamer, as though some one had taken a cut out of it. Then, high above the shrieking of the escaped steam and the cracking of woodwork, the siren of the boat screamed out its frantic summons for help. Geraldine for the moment lost her nerve. She began to shriek, and ran towards the nearest boat, into which the people were climbing like ants. Thomson drew her back.
"Don't hurry," he begged. "Here!"
He threw open the door of a cabin which leaned over them, snatched two of the lifebelts from the berth and rapidly fastened one on her. There was some semblance of order on deck now that the first confusion had passed. The men were all rushing to quarters. Three of the boats had been blown into splinters upon their davits. The fourth, terribly overloaded, was being lowered. Thomson, working like a madman, was tying some spare belts on to a table which had floated out from the cabin. More than once the boat gave a great plunge and they had to hold on to the cabin doors. A huge wave broke completely over them, drenching them from head to foot. The top of the rail now was on a level with the sea. Thomson stood up for a moment and looked around. Then he turned to Geraldine.
"Look here," he said, "there'll be plenty of craft around to pick us up. This thing can't sink. Keep the lifebelt on and get your arms through the belt I have tied on to the table, so. That's right. Now come over to the side."
"You're not going to jump overboard?" she cried.
"We are going to just step overboard," he explained. "It's the only chance. Throw off your fur cloak. You see, if we stay a moment later we shall be dragged down after the steamer. We must get clear while we can."
"I can swim," he answered quickly, throwing off his coat and waistcoat. "This thing will support me easily. Believe me, Geraldine, there's nothing to be frightened about. We can keep her afloat for half-a-dozen hours, if necessary, with this only don't let go of it. Keep your arms through, and—by God! Quick!"
A huge wave broke right over their heads. The boat, which had nearly reached the level of the water, was overturned, and the air seemed full of the screaming of women, the loud shouting of orders from the bridge, where the captain was standing with his hands upon the fast sinking rail. The water was up to their waists now. In a moment they ceased to feel anything beneath their feet. Geraldine found herself suddenly buoyant. Thomson, swimming with one arm, locked the other in their raft.
"Push yourself away from everything as well as you can," he whispered, "and, Geraldine—if anything should happen to us, I never changed—not for a moment."
"I don't believe I ever did, either," she sobbed, holding out her hand.
Another wave broke over them. They came up, however. He gripped her wet hand for a moment. All around them were articles of ship's furniture, broken planks, here and there a man swimming. From close at hand came the shriek of the vanishing siren.
"Look!" Geraldine cried.
Barely fifty feet away from them was the submarine. The captain and four or five of the men were on deck. Thomson shouted to him.
"Can't you save some of these women?"
The answer was a laugh—hoarse, brutal, derisive. The submarine glided away. Thomson's face as he looked after it, was black with anger. The next moment he recovered himself, however. He had need of all his strength.
"Don't listen to anything, Geraldine," he begged her. "They will nearly all be saved. Can't you hear the sirens already? There are plenty of ships coming up. Remember, we can't go down so long as we keep hold here."
"But you've no lifebelt on," she faltered.
"I don't need it," he assured her. "I can keep afloat perfectly well. You're not cold?"
"No," she gasped, "but I feel so low down. The sky seems suddenly further away. Oh, if some one would come!"
There were sirens now, and plenty of them, close at hand. Out of the mist they saw a great black hull looming.
"They're here all right!" he cried. "Courage, Geraldine! It's only another five minutes."
Thirty miles an hour into a fog of mist, with the spray falling like a fountain and the hiss of the seawater like devil's music in their ears. Then the haze lifted like the curtain before the stage of a theatre, and rolled away into the dim distance. An officer stood by Conyers' side.
"Hospital ship Princess Hilda just torpedoed by a submarine, sir. They're picking up the survivors already. We're right into 'em sir."
Even as he spoke, the moonlight shone down. There were two trawlers and a patrol boat in sight, and twenty or thirty boats rowing to the scene of the disaster. Suddenly there was a shout.
"Submarine on the port bow!"
They swung around. The sea seemed churned into a mass of soapy foam. Conyers gripped the rail in front of him. The orders had scarcely left his lips before the guns were thundering out. The covered-in structure on the lower deck blazed with an unexpected light. The gun below swung slowly downwards, moved by some unseen instrument. Columns of spray leapt into the air, the roar of the guns was deafening. Then there was another shout—a hoarse yell of excitement. Barely a hundred yards away, the submarine, wobbling strangely, appeared on the surface. An officer in the stern held up the white flag.
"We are sinking!" he shouted. "We surrender!"
For a single second Conyers hesitated. Then he looked downwards. The corpse of a woman went floating by; a child, tied on to a table, was bobbing against the side. The red fires flashed before his eyes; the thunder of his voice broke the momentary stillness. In obedience to his command, the guns belched out a level line of flame,—there was nothing more left of the submarine, or of the men clinging on to it like flies. Conyers watched them disappear without the slightest change of expression.
"Hell's the only place for them!" he muttered. "Send out the boats, Johnson, and cruise around. There may be something else left to be picked up."
The word of command was passed forward and immediately a boat was lowered.
"A man and a woman clinging to a table, sir," an officer reported to Conyers. "We're bringing them on board."
Conyers moved to the side of the bridge. He saw Geraldine lifted into the boat, and Thomson, as soon as she was safe, clamber in after her. He watched them hauled up on to the deck of the destroyer and suddenly he recognised them.
"My God!" he exclaimed, as he dashed down the ladder. "It's Geraldine!"
She was standing on the deck, the wet streaming from her, supported by a sailor on either side. She gasped a little when she saw him. She was quite conscious and her voice was steady.
"We are both here, Ralph," she cried, "Hugh and I. He saved my life. Thank heavens you are here!"
Already the steward was hastening forward with brandy. Geraldine sipped a little and passed the glass to Thomson. Then she turned swiftly to her brother. There was an unfamiliar look in her face.
"Ralph," she muttered, "don't bother about us. Don't stop for anything else. Can't you find that submarine? I saw them all—the men—laughing as they passed away!"
Conyers' eyes blazed for a moment with reminiscent fury. Then his lips parted and he broke into strange, discordant merriment.
"They'll laugh no more in this world, Geraldine," he cried, in fierce triumph. "They're down at the bottom of the sea, every man and dog of them!"
She gripped him by the shoulder—Geraldine, who had never willingly hurt and insect.
"Ralph," she sobbed, "thank God! Thank God you did it!"
It was towards the close of an unusually long day's work and Major Thomson sighed with relief as he realised that at last his anteroom was empty. He lit a cigarette and stretched himself in his chair. He had been interviewed by all manner of people, had listened to dozens of suspicious stories. His work had been intricate and at times full of detail. On the whole, a good day's work, he decided, and he had been warmly thanked over the wires by a Brigadier-General at Harwich for his arrest and exposure of a man who had in his possession a very wonderful plan of the Felixstowe land defences. He lit a cigarette and glanced at his watch. Just then the door was hurriedly opened. Ambrose came in without even the usual ceremony of knocking. He held a worn piece of paper in his hand. There was a triumphant ring in his tone as he looked up from it towards his chief.
"I've done it, sir!" he exclaimed. "Stumbled across it quite by accident. I've got the whole code. It's based upon the leading articles in the Times of certain dates. Here's this last message—'Leave London June 4th. Have flares midnight Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's steps, gardens in front of Savoy. Your last report received.'"
"'Leave London June 4th,'" Thomson repeated, glancing at his calendar,—"to-day! 'Have flares,'—Zeppelins, Ambrose!"
The clerk nodded.
"I thought of them at once, sir," he agreed. "That's a very plain and distinct warning in a remarkably complicated code, and it's addressed—to Sir Alfred Anselman."
A smouldering light flashed in Thomson's eyes.
"Ambrose," he declared, "you're a brick. I sha'n't forget this. Just find out at once if the Chief's in his room, please."
There followed half an hour of breathless happenings. From the Chief's room Thomson hurried over to the Admiralty. Here he was taken by one of the men whom he had called to see, on to the flat roof, and they stood there, facing eastwards. Twilight was falling and there was scarcely a breath of air.
"It's a perfect night," the official remarked. "If they start at the right time, they'll get here before any one can see them. All the same, we're warning the whole coast, and our gun-stations will be served all night."
"Shall we have a chance, do you think, of hitting any of them?" Thomson asked.
The sailor winked.
"There are a couple of gun-stations I know of not far from here," he said. "I tell you they've got armament there which will make our friends tear their hair' shells that burst in the air, mind, too, which you needn't mind letting 'em have as quick as we can fire 'em off. I shall try and get on to one of those stations myself at midnight."
"What time do you think they'd attack if they do get over?"
The other took out his watch and considered the subject.
"Of course," he reflected, "they'll want to make the most of the darkness, but I think what they'll aim at chiefly is to get here unobserved. Therefore, I think they won't start until it's dark, probably from three or four different bases. That means they'll be here a little before dawn. I shall just motor my people up to Harrow and get back again by midnight."
Thomson left the Admiralty, a little later, and took a taxi to Berkeley Square. The servant hesitated a little at his inquiry.
"Miss Geraldine is in, sir, I believe," he said. "She is in the morning-room at the moment."
"I shall not keep her," Thomson promised. "I know that it is nearly dinner-time."
The man ushered him across the hall and threw open the door of the little room at the back of the stairs.
"Major Thomson, madam," he announced.
Geraldine rose slowly from the couch on which she had been seated. Standing only a few feet away from her was Granet. The three looked at one another for a moment and no word was spoken. It was Geraldine who first recovered herself.
"Hugh!" she exclaimed warmly. "Why, you are another unexpected visitor!"
"I should not have come at such a time," Thomson explained, "but I wanted just to have a word with you, Geraldine. If you are engaged, your mother would do."
"I am not in the least engaged," Geraldine assured him, "and I have been expecting to hear from you all day. I got back from Boulogne last night."
"None the worse, I am glad to see," Thomson remarked.
She shivered a little. Then she looked him full in the face and her eyes were full of unspoken things.
"Thanks to you," she murmured. "However," she added, with a little laugh, "I don't want to frighten you away, and I know what would happen if I began to talk about our adventure. I am sorry, Captain Granet," she went on, turning towards where he was standing, "but I cannot possibly accept your aunt's invitation. It was very good of her to ask me and very kind of you to want me to go so much, but to-night I could not leave my mother. She has been having rather a fit of nerves about Ralph the last few days, and she hates being left alone."
"Captain Granet is trying to persuade you to leave London this evening?" Thomson asked quietly.
"He wants me very much to go down to Lady Anselman's at Reigate to-night," Geraldine explained. "I really accepted Lady Anselman's invitation some days ago, but that was before mother was so unwell. I have written your aunt, Captain Granet," she continued, turning to him. "Do please explain to her how disappointed I am, and it was very nice of you to come and ask me to change my mind."
There was brief but rather curious silence. Granet had turned away form Geraldine as though to address Thomson. He was meeting now the silent, half contemptuous challenge of the latter's eyes.
"Captain Granet is showing great consideration for your comfort and safety," Thomson remarked.
Granet for a moment forgot himself. His eyes flashed. He was half angry, half terrified.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
Thomson made no immediate answer. He seemed to be pondering over his words, his expression was inscrutable. Geraldine looked from one to the other.
"There is something between you two which I don't understand," she declared.
"There is a very great deal about Captain Granet which I am only just beginning to understand," Thomson said calmly. "You should find his solicitude about your movements this evening a great compliment, Geraldine. It arises entirely from his desire to spare you the shock of what may turn out yet to be a very lamentable catastrophe."
"You two men are quite incomprehensible," Geraldine sighed. "If only either of you would speak plainly!"
"Perhaps I may be able to indulge you presently," he observed. "Since you have failed to persuade Miss Conyers to leave London, Captain Granet," he went on, turning towards the latter, "may I ask what your own movements are likely to be?"
"You may not," was the passionate reply. "They are no concern of yours."
"They are unfortunately," Thomson retorted, "my very intimate concern. This, you will remember, is your ninth day of grace. It is not my desire that you should suffer unduly for your humane visit here, but I might remind you that under the circumstances it is a little compromising. No, don't interrupt me! We understand one another, I am quite sure."
Granet had taken a step backwards. His face for a moment was blanched, his lips opened but closed again without speech. Thomson was watching him closely.
"Precisely," he went on. "You have guessed the truth, I can see. We have been able, within the last few hours, to decode that very interesting message which reached your uncle some little time ago."
Geraldine's bewilderment increased. Granet's almost stupefied silence seemed to amaze her.
"Hugh, what does it all mean?" she cried. "Is Captain Granet in trouble because he has come here to warn me of something? He has not said a word except to beg me to go down into the country tonight."
"And he as begged you to do that," Thomson said, "because he is one of those privileged few who have been warned that to-night or to-morrow morning is the time selected for the Zeppelin raid on London of which we have heard so much. Oh! He knows all about it, and his uncle, and a great many of the guests they have gathered together. They'll all be safe enough at Reigate! Come, Captain Granet, what have you to say about it?"
Granet drew himself up. He looked every inch a soldier, and, curiously enough, he seemed in his bearing and attitude to be respecting the higher rank by virtue of which Thomson had spoken.
"To-morrow, as you have reminded me, is my tenth day, sir," he said. "I shall report myself at your office at nine o'clock. Good-bye, Miss Conyers! I hope that even though I have failed, Major Thomson may persuade you to change your mind."
He left the room. Geraldine was so amazed that she made no movement towards ringing the bell. She turned instead towards Thomson.
"What does it mean? You must tell me!" she insisted. "I am not a child."
"It means that what I have told you all along is the truth," Thomson replied earnestly. "You thought, Geraldine, that I was narrow and suspicious. I had powers and an office and responsibilities, too, which you knew nothing of. That young man who has just left the room is in the pay of Germany. So is his uncle."
"What, Sir Alfred Anselman?" she exclaimed. "Are you mad, Hugh?"
"Not in the least," he assured her. "These are bald facts."
"But Sir Alfred Anselman! He has done such wonderful things for the country. They all say that he ought to have been in the Cabinet. Hugh, you can't be serious!"
"I am so far serious," Thomson declared grimly, "that an hour ago we succeeded in decoding a message from Holland to Sir Alfred Anselman, advising him to leave London to-day. We are guessing what that means. We may be right and we may be wrong. We shall see. I come to beg you to leave the city for twenty-four hours. I find Granet on the same errand."
"But they may have warned him—some personal friend may have done it," she insisted. "He is a man with world-wide friends and world-wide connections."
"They why didn't he bring the warning straight to the Admiralty?" Thomson argued. "If he were a patriotic Englishman, do you think that any other course was open to him? It won't do, Geraldine. I know more about Captain Granet than I am going to tell you at this moment. Shall we leave that subject? Can't we do something to persuade your mother to take you a little way from town? You can collect some of your friends, if you like. You ought to take Olive, for instance. We don't want a panic, but there is no reason why you shouldn't tell any of your friends quietly."
The door was suddenly opened. The Admiral put his head in.
"Sorry!" he apologised. "I thought I heard that young Granet was here."
"He has been and gone, father," Geraldine told him. "You'd better see what you can do with father," she added, turning to Thomson.
"What's wrong, eh? What's wrong? What's wrong?" the Admiral demanded.
"The fact is, Sir Seymour," Thomson explained, "we've had notice—not exactly notice, but we've decoded a secret dispatch which gives us reason to believe that a Zeppelin raid will be attempted on London during the next twenty-four hours. I came round to try and induce Geraldine to have you all move away until the thing's over."
"I'll be damned if I do!" the Admiral grunted. "What, sneak off and leave five or six million others who haven't had the tip, to see all the fun? Not I! If what you say is true, Thomson,—and I am going straight back to the Admiralty,—I shall find my way on to one of the air stations myself, and the women can stay at home and get ready to be useful."
Geraldine passed her hand through her father's arm.
"That's the sort of people we are," she laughed, turning to Thomson. "All the same, Hugh, it was very nice of you to come," she added. "I couldn't see us scuttling away into the country, you know. I shall go round and persuade Olive to stay with me. I am expecting to return to Boulogne almost at once, to the hospital there, to bring some more wounded back. I may get a little practice here."
Thomson picked up his hat.
"Well," he said quietly, "I cannot complain of your decision. After all, it is exactly what I expected."
He made his adieux and departed. The Admiral sniffed as he glanced after him.
"Very good chap, Thomson," he remarked, "but he doesn't quite understand. I bet you that fine young fellow Granet would never have suggested our running away like frightened sheep! Come along, my dear, we'll go and dine."
About three o'clock the next morning Thomson was awakened by a light touch upon his shoulder. He sprang up from the couch upon which he had thrown himself. Ambrose was standing over him. He was still in his room at the War Office, and fully dressed.
"Mr. Gordon Jones has rung up from Downing Street, sir," he announced. "He is with the Prime Minister. They want to know if you could step across."
"I'll go at once," Thomson agreed,—"just sponge my eyes and have a brush up. Nothing else fresh, Ambrose?"
"Nothing at all sir," the young man replied. "All the newspapers in London have rung up but of course we have not answered any of them. You'll be careful outside, please? There isn't a single light anywhere, and the streets are like pitch. A man tried to use an electric torch on the other side of the way just now, and they shot him. There's a double line of sentries all round from Whitehall corner."
"No flares this time, eh?" Thomson muttered. "All right, Ambrose, I think I can feel my way there."
He descended into the street but for a few moments he found himself hopelessly lost at sea. So far as he could see there was no light nor any glimmer of one. He reached the corner of the street like a blind man, by tapping the kerbstone with his cane. Arrived here, he stood for a moment in the middle of the road, bareheaded. There was not a breath of wind anywhere. He made his way carefully down towards Downing Street, meeting few people, and still obliged to grope rather than walk. Along Downing Street he made his way by the railings and rang the bell at last at the Premier's house. He was shown at once into the council room. The four or five men who were seated around a table, and who looked up at his entrance, bore every one of them, household names. The Premier held out his hand.
"Good evening, Major Thomson," he began. "Please sit down and join us for a moment."
Thomson was a little surprised at the gathering.
"You'll forgive my suggesting that this is likely to be a marked spot to-night," he said.
The Premier smiled.
"Well, you could scarcely expect us to hide, could you, Major Thomson?" he remarked. "In any case, there is not one of us who is not prepared to share what the other citizens of London have to face. The country for the women and children, if you please. We gather, sir, that it is chiefly through you that we are in the fortunate position of being prepared to-night."
"It was through my action in a matter which I understand has been subjected to a great deal of criticism," Thomson replied.
"I admit it frankly," the statesman acknowledged. "That particular matter, the matter of your censorship of a certain letter, has been the subject of a grave and earnest conference here between us all. We decided to send for you. We telephoned first of all to the Chief but he told us that you were entirely head of your department and responsible to no one, that you had been—forgive me—a brilliant success, and that it was his intention to interfere in no possible way with any course you chose to take. I may say that he intimated as much to me when I went to him, simply furious because you had removed a certain person from the list of those whose correspondence is free from censorship."
"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" Thomson asked.
"Listen to us while we put a matter to you from a common-sense point of view," Mr. Gordon Jones begged. "You see who we are. We are those upon whose shoulders rests chiefly the task of ruling this country. I want to tell you that we have come to a unanimous decision. We say nothing about the moral or the actual guilt of Sir Alfred Anselman. How far he may have been concerned in plotting with our country's enemies is a matter which we may know in the future, but for the present—well, let's make a simple matter of it—we want him left alone."
"You wish him to continue in his present high position?" Thomson said slowly,—"a man who is convicted of having treasonable correspondence with our enemy?"
"We wish him left alone," Mr. Gordon Jones continued earnestly, "not for his own sake but for ours. When the time comes, later on, it may be possible for us to deal with him. To-day, no words of mine could explain to you his exact utility. He has a finger upon the money-markets of the world. He has wealth, great wealth, and commands great wealth in every city. Frankly, this man as an open enemy today could bring more harm upon us than if any neutral Power you could name were to join the Triple Alliance. Remember, too, Major Thomson, that there may be advantages to us in this waiting attitude. Since your warning, his letters can be admitted to censorship. You have the control of a great staff of military detectives; the resources of Scotland Yard, too, are at your service. Have him watched day and night, his letters opened, his every movement followed, but don't provoke him to open enmity. We don't want him in the Tower. The scandal and the shock of it would do us enormous harm, apart from the terrible financial panic which would ensue. We will see to it that he does no further mischief than he may already have done. We make an appeal to you, all of us here to-night. Be guided entirely by us in this matter. You have rendered the country great service by your discovery. Render it a greater one, Major Thomson, by keeping that discovery secret."
"I will not make conditions with you," Thomson replied gravely. "I will say at once that I am perfectly willing to yield to your judgement in this matter. In return I ask something. I have more serious charges still to bring against Sir Alfred's nephew. Will you leave the matter of dealing with this young man in my hands?"
"With pleasure," the Premier agreed. "I think, gentlemen," he added, looking around the table, "that we need not detain Major Thomson any longer? We others have still a little business to finish."
It was all over in those few minutes and Thomson found himself in the street again. He guided his way by the railings into Whitehall. The blackness seemed to him to be now less impenetrable. Looking fixedly eastward he seemed to be conscious of some faint lightening in the sky. He heard the rumbling of carts in the road, the horses mostly being led by their drivers. Here and there, an odd taxicab which had escaped the police orders came along with one lamp lit, only to be stopped in a few yards and escorted to the edge of the pavement. All the way up Whitehall there was one long line of taxicabs, unable to ply for hire or find their way to the garages until daylight. The unusualness of it all was almost stimulating. At the top of the broad thoroughfare, Thomson turned to the left through the Pall Mall Arch and passed into St. James's Park. He strolled slowly along until he came to the thoroughfare to the left, leading down to the Admiralty. There he paused for a moment, and, turning around, listened intently. He was possessed of particularly keen hearing and it seemed to him as though from afar off he could hear the sound of a thousand muffled hammers beating upon an anvil; of a strange, methodical disturbance in the air. He grasped the railing with one hand and gazed upward with straining eyes. Just at that moment he saw distinctly what appeared to be a flash of lightning in the sky, followed by a report which sounded like a sharp clap of thunder. Then instinctively he covered his eyes with his hands. From a dozen places—one close at hand—a long, level stream of light seemed to shoot out towards the clouds. There was one of them which came from near the Carlton Hotel, which lit up the whole of the Pall Mall Arch with startling distinctness, gave him a sudden vision of the Admiralty roof, and, as he followed it up, brought a cry to his lips. Far away, beyond even the limits of the quivering line of light, there was something in the sky which seemed a little blacker than the cloud. Even while he looked at it, from the Admiralty roof came a lurid flash, the hiss and screech of a shell as it dashed upwards. And then the sleeping city seemed suddenly to awake and the night to become hideous. Not fifty yards away from him something fell in the Park, and all around him lumps of gravel and clods of earth fell in a shower. A great elm tree fell crashing into the railings close by his side. Then there was a deafening explosion, the thunder of falling masonry, and a house by the side of the arch broke suddenly into flames. A few moments later, a queer sight amongst all these untoward and unexpected happenings, a fire engine dashed under the arch, narrowly missing the broken fragments of brick and stone, swung around, and a dozen fire-hoses commenced to play upon the flaming building.
The darkness was over now, and the silence. There were houses on the other side of the river on fire, and scarcely a moment passed without the crash of a falling bomb. The air for a second or two was filled with piteous shrieks from somewhere towards Charing-Cross, shrieks drowned almost immediately by another tremendous explosion from further north. Every now and then, looking upwards in the line of the long searchlights, Thomson could distinctly see the shape of one of the circling airships. Once the light flashed downwards, and between him and Buckingham Palace he saw a great aeroplane coming head foremost down, heard it strike the ground with a tremendous crash, heard the long death cry, a cry which was more like a sob, of the men who perished with it....
Every moment the uproar became more deafening. From all sorts of unsuspected places and buildings came the lightning quiver of the guns, followed by the shrieking of the shells. Right on to the tops of the houses between where he was standing and the Carlton, another aeroplane fell, smashing the chimneys and the windows and hanging there like a gigantic black bat. There was not a soul anywhere near him, but by the occasional flashes of light Thomson could see soldiers and hurrying people in the Admiralty Square, and along the Strand he could hear the patter of footsteps upon the pavement. But he himself remained alone, a silent, spellbound, fascinated witness of this epic of slaughter and ruin.
Then came what seemed to him to be its culmination. High above his head he was suddenly conscious of a downward current of air. He looked up. The shouting voices, apparently from the falling clouds, voices unfamiliar and guttural, warned him of what was coming. The darkness which loomed over him, took shape. He turned and ran for his life. Only a little way above his head a storm of shrapnel now was streaming from the lowered guns of the Admiralty. Turning back to look, he saw, scarcely fifty yards above him, the falling of a huge Zeppelin. He felt himself just outside its range and paused, breathless. With a crash which seemed to split the air, the huge structure fell. The far end of it, all buckled up, rested against the back of the Admiralty. The other end was only a few yards from where Thomson stood, at the bottom of the steps leading up into Pall Mall. A dozen searchlights played upon it. Men suddenly appeared as though from underneath. Some of them stood for a moment and swayed like drunken men, others began to run. Round the corner from the Admiralty Square a little company of soldiers came with fixed bayonets. There was a shout. Two of the men ran on.
Thomson heard the crack of a rifle and saw one of them leap into the air and collapse. The other one staggered and fell on his knees. A dozen of them were there together with their hands stretched to the skies. Then Thomson was conscious that one of the oil-clad figures was coming in his direction, making for the steps, running with swift, stealthy gait. A flash of light gleamed upon the fugitive for a moment. He wore a hat like a helmet; only his face, blackened with grease, and his staring eyes, were visible. He came straight for Thomson, breathing heavily.
"Hands up!" Thomson cried.
The man aimed a furious blow at him. Thomson, who quite unconsciously had drawn a revolver from his pocket, shot him through the heart, watched him jump up and fall, a senseless, shapeless heap upon the bottom of the steps, and, with a queer instinct of bloodthirstiness, ran down the line of the wrecked Zeppelin, seeking for more victims. The soldiers were coming up in force now, however, and detachments of them were marching away their prisoners. Another company was stationed all around the huge craft, keeping guard. Thomson walked back once more towards the Admiralty. The sky was still lurid with the reflection of many fires but the roar of the guns had diminished, and for several minutes no bomb had been thrown. With the revolver in his hand still smoking, he ran into a man whom he knew slightly at the Admiralty.
"Thomson, by God!" the man exclaimed. "What are you doing with that revolver?"
"I don't know," he answered. "I've just shot one of those fellows from the Zeppelin. How are things going?"
"There are six Zeppelins down in different parts, and a couple of dozen aeroplanes," the other replied. "Woolwich is safe, and the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall. Heaps of reports to come in but I don't believe they've done much damage."
Thomson passed on. It was lighter now and the streets were thronged with people. He turned once more towards the Strand and stood for a moment in Trafalgar Square. One wing of the National Gallery was gone, and the Golden Cross Hotel was in flames. Leaning against the Union Club was another fallen aeroplane. Men and women were rushing everywhere in wild excitement. He made his way down to the War Office. It seemed queer to find men at work still in their rooms. He sent Ambrose for an orderly and received a message from headquarters.
"Damage to public buildings and property not yet estimated. All dockyards and arsenals safe, principal public buildings untouched. Only seventeen dead and forty injured reported up to five minutes ago. Great damage done to enemy fleet; remainder in full retreat, many badly damaged. Zeppelin just down in Essex, four aeroplanes between here and Romford."
Thomson threw down his revolver.
"Well," he muttered to himself, "perhaps London will believe now that we are at war!"
"London, too, has its scars, and London is proud of them," a great morning paper declared the next morning. "The last and gigantic effort of German 'frightfulness' has come and passed. London was visited before dawn this morning by a fleet of sixteen Zeppelins and forty aeroplanes. Seven of these former monsters lie stranded and wrecked in various parts of the city, two are known to have collapsed in Essex, and another is reported to have come to grief in Norfolk. Of the aeroplanes, nineteen were shot down, and of the rest so far no news has been heard. The damage to life and property, great though it may seem, is much less than was expected. Such losses as we have sustained we shall bear with pride and fortitude. We stand now more closely than ever in touch with our gallant allies. We, too, bear the marks of battle in the heart of our country."
Thomson paused to finish his breakfast, and abandoning the leading article turned to a more particular account.
"The loss of life," the journal went on to say, "although regrettable, is, so far as accounts have reached us, not large. There are thirty-one civilians killed, a hundred and two have been admitted into hospitals, and, curiously enough, only one person bearing arms has suffered. We regret deeply to announce the death of a very distinguished young officer, Captain Ronald Granet, a nephew of Sir Alfred Anselman. A bomb passed through the roof of his house in Sackville Street, completely shattering the apartment in which he was sitting. His servant perished with him. The other occupants of the building were, fortunately for them, away for the night."
The paper slipped from Thomson's fingers. He looked through the windows of his room, across the Thames. Exactly opposite to him a fallen chimney and four blackened walls, still smouldering, were there to remind him of the great tragedy. He looked down at the paper again. There was no mistake. It was the judgment of a higher Court than his!
He made his way down to the War Office at a little before ten o'clock. The streets were crowded with people and there were throngs surrounding each of the places where bombs had been dropped. Towards the Pall Mall Arch the people were standing in thousands, trying to get near the wreck of the huge Zeppelin, which completely blocked all the traffic through St. James's Park. Thomson paused for a moment at the top of Trafalgar Square and looked around him. The words of the newspaper were indeed true. London had her scars, yet there was nothing in the faces of the people to show fear. If anything, there was an atmosphere all around of greater vitality, of greater intensity. The war had come a little nearer at last than the columns of the daily Press. It was the real thing with which even the every-day Londoner had rubbed shoulders. From Cockspur Street to Nelson's Monument the men were lined up in a long queue, making their way to the recruiting office.
Admiral Conyers paid his usual morning visit to the Admiralty, lunched at his club and returned home that evening in a state of suppressed excitement. He found his wife and Geraldine alone and at once took up his favourite position on the hearth-rug.
"Amongst the other surprises of the last twenty-four hours," he announced, "I received one to-day which almost took my breath away. It had reference to a person whom you both know."
"Not poor Captain Granet?" Lady Conyers asked. "You read about him, of course?"
"Nothing to do with Granet, poor fellow," the Admiral continued. "Listen, I was walking, if you please, for a few yards with the man who is practically responsible to-day for the conduct of the war. At the corner of Pall Mall we came face to face with Thomson. I nodded and we were passing on, when to my astonishment my companion stopped and held out both his hands. 'Thomson, my dear fellow,' he said, 'I came round to your rooms to-day but you were engaged three or four deep. Not another word save this—thanks! When we write our history, the country will know what it owes you. At present, thanks!'"
"Major Thomson?" Lady Conyers gasped.
"Hugh?" Geraldine echoed.
The Admiral smiled.
"We passed on," he continued, "and I said to his lordship—'Wasn't that Thomson, the Inspector of Field Hospitals?' He simply laughed at me. 'My dear Conyers,' he said, 'surely you knew that was only a blind? Thomson is head of the entire Military Intelligence Department. He has the rank of a Brigadier-General waiting for him when he likes to take it. He prefers to remain as far as possible unknown and unrecognised, because it helps him with his work.' Now listen! You've read in all the papers of course, that we had warning of what was coming last night, that the reason we were so successful was because every light in London had been extinguished and every gun-station was doubly manned? Well, the warning we received was due to Thomson and no one else!"
"And to think," Lady Conyers exclaimed "that we were half afraid to tell your father that Hugh was coming to dinner!"
Geraldine had slipped from the room. The Admiral blew his nose.
"I hope Geraldine's going to be sensible," he said. "I've always maintained that Thomson was a fine fellow, only Geraldine seemed rather carried away by that young Granet. Poor fellow! One can't say anything about him now, but he was just the ordinary type of showy young soldier, not fit to hold a candle to a man like Thomson."
Lady Conyers was a little startled.
"You have such sound judgement, Seymour," she murmured.
Thomson was a few minutes late for dinner but even the Admiral forgave him.
"Just ourselves, Thomson," he said, as they made their way into the dining-room. "What a shock the Chief gave me to-day! You've kept things pretty dark. Inspector of Hospitals, indeed!"
"That was my excuse," he explained, "for running backwards and forwards between France and England at the beginning of the war. There's no particular secret about my position now. I've had a very hard fight to keep it, a very hard fight to make it a useful one. Until last night, at any rate, it hasn't seemed to me that English people realised that we were at war. Now, I hope at last that we are going to take the gloves off. Do you know," he went on, a little later, "that in France they think we're mad. Honestly, in my position, if I had had the French laws at my back I believe that by to-day the war would have been over. As it is, when I started even my post was a farce. We had to knuckle under the whole of the time, to the civil authorities. They wanted to fine a spy ten shillings or to bind him over to keep the peace! I've never had to fight for anything so hard in my life as I've had to fight once or twice for my file of men at the Tower. At the beginning of the war we'd catch them absolutely red-handed. All they had to do was to surrender to the civil authorities, and we had a city magistrate looking up statutes to see how to deal with them."