Part 5 out of 5
can deal with France and Russia to a mathematical certainty. What we
desire to avoid are any unforeseen complications. I leave you to-night,
and I cable my absolute belief in the statements deduced from your work.
You have nothing more to say?"
"Nothing," Norgate replied.
Selingman was apparently relieved. He rose, a little later, to his feet.
"My young friend," he concluded, "in the near future great rewards will
find their way to this country. There is no one who has deserved more
than you. There is no one who will profit more. That reminds me. There
was one little question I had to ask. A friend of mine has seen you on
your way back and forth to Camberley three or four times lately. You
lunched the other day with the colonel of one of your Lancer regiments.
How did you spend your time at Camberley?"
For a moment Norgate made no reply. The moonlight was shining into the
room, and Anna had turned out all the lights with the exception of one
heavily-shaded lamp. Her eyes were shining as she leaned a little forward
in her chair.
"Boko again, I suppose," Norgate grunted.
"Certainly Boko," Selingman acknowledged.
"I was in the Yeomanry when I was younger," Norgate explained slowly. "I
had some thought of entering the army before I took up diplomacy. Colonel
Chalmers is a friend of mine. I have been down to Camberley to see if I
could pick up a little of the new drill."
"For what reason?" Selingman demanded.
"Need I tell you that?" Norgate protested. "Whatever my feeling for
England may be at the present moment, however bitterly I may regret the
way she has let her opportunities slip, the slovenly political condition
of the country, yet I cannot put away from me the fact that I am an
Englishman. If trouble should come, even though I may have helped to
bring it about, even though I may believe that it is a good thing for the
country to have to meet trouble, I should still fight on her side."
"But there will be no war," Selingman reminded him. "You yourself have
ascertained that the present Cabinet will decline war at any cost."
"The present Government, without a doubt," Norgate assented. "I am
thinking of later on, when your first task is over."
Selingman nodded gravely.
"When that day comes," he said, as he rose and took up his hat, "it will
not be a war. If your people resist, it will be a butchery. Better to
find yourself in one of the Baroness' castles in Austria when that time
comes! It is never worth while to draw a sword in a lost cause. I wish
you good night, Baroness. I wish you good night, Norgate."
He shook hands with them both firmly, but there was still something of
reserve in his manner. Norgate rang for his servant to show him out. They
took their places once more by the window.
"War!" Norgate murmured, his eyes fixed upon the distant lights.
Anna crept a little nearer to him.
"Francis," she whispered, "that man has made me a little uneasy.
Supposing they should discover that you have deceived them, before they
have been obliged to leave the country!"
"They will be much too busy," Norgate replied, "to think about me."
Anna's face was still troubled. "I did not like that man's look," she
persisted, "when he asked you what you were doing at Camberley. Perhaps
he still believes that you have told the truth, but he might easily have
it in his mind that you knew too many of their secrets to be trusted when
the vital moment came."
Norgate leaned over and drew her towards him.
"Selingman has gone," he murmured. "It is only outside that war is
throbbing. Dearest, I think that my vital moments are now!"
Mr. Hebblethwaite permitted himself a single moment of abstraction. He
sat at the head of the table in his own remarkably well-appointed
dining-room. His guests--there were eighteen or twenty of them in
all--represented in a single word Success--success social as well as
political. His excellently cooked dinner was being served with faultless
precision. His epigrams had never been more pungent. The very
distinguished peeress who sat upon his right, and whose name was a
household word in the enemy's camp, had listened to him with enchained
and sympathetic interest. For a single second he permitted his thoughts
to travel back to the humble beginnings of his political career. He had a
brief, flashlight recollection of the suburban parlour of his early days,
the hard fight at first for a living, then for some small place in local
politics, and then, larger and more daring schemes as the boundary of his
ambitions became each year a little further extended. Beyond him now was
only one more step to be taken. The last goal was well within his reach.
The woman at his right recommenced their conversation, which had been for
a moment interrupted.
"We were speaking of success," she said. "Success often comes to one
covered by the tentacles and parasites of shame, and yet, even in its
grosser forms, it has something splendid about it. But success that
carries with it no apparent drawback whatever is, of course, the most
amazing thing of all. I was reading that wonderful article of Professor
Wilson's last month. He quotes you very extensively. His analysis of your
character was, in its way, interesting. Directly I had read it, however,
I felt that it lacked one thing--simplicity. I made up my mind that the
next time we talked intimately, I would ask you to what you yourself
attributed your success?"
Hebblethwaite smiled graciously.
"I will not attempt to answer you in epigrams," he replied. "I will pay a
passing tribute to a wonderful constitution, an invincible sense of
humour, which I think help one to keep one's head up under many trying
conditions. But the real and final explanation of my success is that I
embraced the popular cause. I came from the people, and when I entered
into politics, I told myself and every one else that it was for the
people I should work. I have never swerved from that purpose. It is to
the people I owe whatever success I am enjoying to-day."
The Duchess nodded thoughtfully.
"Yes," she admitted, "you are right there. Shall I proceed with my own
train of thought quite honestly?"
"I shall count it a compliment," he assured her earnestly, "even if your
thoughts contain criticisms."
"You occupy so great a position in political life to-day," she continued,
"that one is forced to consider you, especially in view of the future, as
a politician from every point of view. Now, by your own showing, you
have been a specialist. You have taken up the cause of the people against
the classes. You have stripped many of us of our possessions--the Duke,
you know, hates the sound of your name--and by your legislation you have,
without a doubt, improved the welfare of many millions of human beings.
But that is not all that a great politician must achieve, is it? There is
our Empire across the seas."
"Imperialism," he declared, "has never been in the foreground of my
programme, but I call myself an Imperialist. I have done what I could for
the colonies. I have even abandoned on their behalf some of my pet
principles of absolute freedom in trade."
"You certainly have not been prejudiced," she admitted. "Whether your
politics have been those of an Imperialist from the broadest point of
view--well, we won't discuss that question just now. We might, perhaps,
differ. But there is just one more point. Zealously and during the whole
of your career, you have set your face steadfastly against any increase
of our military power. They say that it is chiefly due to you and Mr.
Busby that our army to-day is weaker in numbers than it has been for
years. You have set your face steadily against all schemes for national
service. You have taken up the stand that England can afford to remain
neutral, whatever combination of Powers on the Continent may fight. Now
tell me, do you see any possibility of failure, from the standpoint of a
great politician, in your attitude?"
"I do not," he answered. "On the contrary, I am proud of all that I have
done in that direction. For the reduction of our armaments I accept the
full responsibility. It is true that I have opposed national service. I
want to see the people develop commercially. The withdrawing of a million
of young men, even for a month every year, from their regular tasks,
would not only mean a serious loss to the manufacturing community, but it
would be apt to unsettle and unsteady them. Further, it would kindle in
this country the one thing I am anxious to avoid--the military spirit. We
do not need it, Duchess. We are a peace-loving nation, civilised out of
the crude lust for conquest founded upon bloodshed. I do believe that
geographically and from every other point of view, England, with her
navy, can afford to fold her arms, and if other nations should at any
time be foolish enough to imperil their very existence by fighting for
conquest or revenge, then we, who are strong enough to remain aloof, can
only grow richer and stronger by the disasters which happen to them."
There was a momentary silence. The Duchess leaned back in her chair, and
Mr. Hebblethwaite, always the courteous host, talked for a while to the
woman on his left. The Duchess, however, reopened the subject a few
"I come, you must remember, Mr. Hebblethwaite," she observed, "from long
generations of soldiers, and you, as you have reminded me, from a long
race of yeomen and tradespeople. Therefore, without a doubt, our point
of view must be different. That, perhaps, is what makes conversation
between us so interesting. To me, a conflict in Europe, sooner or
later, appears inevitable. With England preserving a haughty and insular
neutrality, which, from her present military condition, would be almost
compulsory, the struggle would be between Russia, France, Italy,
Germany, and Austria. Russia is an unknown force, but in my mind I see
Austria and Italy, with perhaps one German army, holding her back for
many months, perhaps indefinitely. On the other hand, I see France
overrun by the Germans very much as she was in 1870. I adore the French,
and I have little sympathy with the Germans, but as a fighting race I
very reluctantly feel that I must admit the superiority of the Germans.
Very well, then. With Ostend, Calais, Boulogne, and Havre seized by
Germany, as they certainly would be, and turned into naval bases, do you
still believe that England's security would be wholly provided for by
Mr. Hebblethwaite smiled.
"Duchess," he said, "sooner or later I felt quite sure that our
conversation would draw near to the German bogey. The picture you draw is
menacing enough. I look upon its probability as exactly on the same par
as the overrunning of Europe by the yellow races."
"You believe in the sincerity of Germany?" she asked.
"I do," he admitted firmly. "There is a military element in Germany which
is to be regretted, but the Germans themselves are a splendid, cultured,
and peace-loving people, who are seeking their future not at the point
of the sword but in the counting-houses of the world. If I fear the
Germans, it is commercially, and from no other point of view."
"I wish I could feel your confidence," the Duchess sighed.
"I have myself recently returned from Berlin," Mr. Hebblethwaite
continued. "Busby, as you know, has been many times an honoured guest
there at their universities and in their great cities. He has had every
opportunity of probing the tendencies of the people. His mind is
absolutely and finally made up. Not in all history has there ever existed
a race freer from the lust of bloodthirsty conquest than the German
people of to-day."
Mr. Hebblethwaite concluded his sentence with some emphasis. He felt that
his words were carrying conviction. Some of the conversation at their end
of the table had been broken off to listen to his pronouncements. At that
moment his butler touched him upon the elbow.
"Mr. Bedells has just come up from the War Office, sir," he announced.
"He is waiting outside. In the meantime, he desired me to give you this."
The butler, who had served an archbishop, and resented often his own
presence in the establishment of a Radical Cabinet Minister, presented a
small silver salver on which reposed a hastily twisted up piece of paper.
Mr. Hebblethwaite, with a little nod, unrolled it and glanced towards the
Duchess, who bowed complacently. With the smile still upon his lips, a
confident light in his eyes, Mr. Hebblethwaite held out the crumpled
piece of paper before him and read the hurriedly scrawled pencil lines:
"_Germany has declared war against Russia and presented an ultimatum to
France. I have other messages_."
Mr. Hebblethwaite was a strong man. He was a man of immense self-control.
Yet in that moment the arteries of life seemed as though they had ceased
to flow. He sat at the head of his table, and his eyes never left those
pencilled words. His mind fought with them, discarded them, only to find
them still there hammering at his brain, traced in letters of scarlet
upon the distant walls. War! The great, unbelievable tragedy, the one
thousand-to-one chance in life which he had ever taken! His hand almost
fell to his side. There was a queer little silence. No one liked to ask
him a question; no one liked to speak. It was the Duchess at last who
murmured a few words, when the silence had become intolerable.
"It is bad news?" she whispered.
"It is very bad news indeed," Mr. Hebblethwaite answered, raising his
voice a little, so that every one at the table might hear him. "I have
just heard from the War Office that Germany has declared war against
Russia. You will perhaps, under the circumstances, excuse me."
He rose to his feet. There was a queer singing in his ears. The feast
seemed to have turned to a sickly debauch. All that pinnacle of success
seemed to have fallen away. The faces of his guests, even, as they
looked at him, seemed to his conscience to be expressing one thing, and
one thing only--that same horrible conviction which was deadening his own
senses. He and the others--could it be true?--had they taken up lightly
the charge and care of a mighty empire and dared to gamble upon, instead
of providing for, its security? He thrust the thought away; and the
natural strength of the man began to reassert itself. If they had done
ill, they had done it for the people's sake. The people must rally to
them now. He held his head high as he left the room.
Norgate found himself in an atmosphere of strange excitement during his
two hours' waiting at the House of Commons on the following day. He was
ushered at last into Mr. Hebblethwaite's private room. Hebblethwaite had
just come in from the House and was leaning a little back in his chair,
in an attitude of repose. He glanced at Norgate with a faint smile.
"Well, young fellow," he remarked, "come to do the usual 'I told you so'
business, I suppose?"
"Don't be an ass!" Norgate most irreverently replied. "There are one or
two things I must tell you and tell you at once. I may have hinted at
them before, but you weren't taking things seriously then. First of all,
is Mr. Bullen in the House?"
"Could you send for him here just for a minute?" Norgate pleaded. "I am
sure it would make what I am going to say sound more convincing to you."
Hebblethwaite struck a bell by his side and despatched a messenger.
"How are things going?" Norgate asked.
"France is mobilising as fast as she can," Hebblethwaite announced.
"We have reports coming in that Germany has been at it for at least a
week, secretly. They say that Austrian troops have crossed into
Poland. There isn't anything definite yet, but it's war, without a
doubt, war just as we'd struck the right note for peace. Russia was
firm but splendid. Austria was wavering. Just at the critical moment,
like a thunderbolt, came Germany's declaration of war. Here's Mr.
Bullen. Now go ahead, Norgate."
Mr. Bullen came into the room, recognised Norgate, and stopped short.
"So you're here again, young man, are you?" he exclaimed. "I don't know
why you've sent for me, Hebblethwaite, but if you take my advice, you
won't let that young fellow go until you've asked him a few questions."
"Mr. Norgate is a friend of mine," Hebblethwaite said. "I think you
"Friend or no friend," the Irishman interrupted, "he is a traitor, and I
tell you so to his face."
"That is exactly what I wished you to tell Mr. Hebblethwaite," Norgate
remarked, nodding pleasantly. "I just want you to recall the
circumstances of my first visit here."
"You came and offered me a bribe of a million pounds," Mr. Bullen
declared, "if I would provoke a civil war in Ireland in the event of
England getting into trouble. I wasn't sure whom you were acting for
then, but I am jolly certain now. That young fellow is a German spy,
"Mr. Hebblethwaite knew that quite well," admitted Norgate coolly. "I
came and told him so several times. I think that he even encouraged me to
do my worst."
"Look here, Norgate," Hebblethwaite intervened, "I'm certain you are
driving at something serious. Let's have it."
"Quite right, I am," Norgate assented. "I just wanted to testify to you
that Mr. Bullen's reply to my offer was the patriotic reply of a loyal
Irishman. I did offer him that million pounds on behalf of Germany, and
he did indignantly refuse it, but the point of the whole thing is--my
report to Germany."
"And that?" Mr. Hebblethwaite asked eagerly.
"I reported Mr. Bullen's acceptance of the sum," Norgate told them. "I
reported that civil war in Ireland was imminent and inevitable and would
come only the sooner for any continental trouble in which England might
Mr. Hebblethwaite's face cleared.
"I begin to understand now, Norgate," he muttered. "Good fellow!"
Mr. Bullen was summoned in hot haste by one of his supporters and hurried
out. Norgate drew his chair a little closer to his friend's.
"Look here, Hebblethwaite," he said, "you wouldn't listen to me, you
know--I don't blame you--but I knew the truth of what I was saying. I
knew what was coming. The only thing I could do to help was to play the
double traitor. I did it. My chief, who reported to Berlin that this
civil war was inevitable, will get it in the neck, but there's more to
follow. The Baroness von Haase and I were associated in an absolutely
confidential mission to ascertain the likely position of Italy in the
event of this conflict. I know for a fact that Italy will not come in
with her allies."
"Do you mean that?" Mr. Hebblethwaite asked eagerly.
"Absolutely certain," Norgate assured him.
Hebblethwaite half rose from his place with excitement.
"I ought to telephone to the War Office," he declared. "It will alter the
whole mobilisation of the French troops."
"France knows," Norgate told him quietly. "My wife has seen to that. She
passed the information on to them just in time to contract the whole line
"You've been doing big things, young fellow!" Mr. Hebblethwaite exclaimed
excitedly. "Go on. Tell me at once, what was your report to Germany?"
"I reported that Italy would certainly fulfil the terms of her alliance
and fight," Norgate replied. "Furthermore, I have convinced my chief over
here that under no possible circumstances would the present Cabinet
sanction any war whatsoever. I have given him plainly to understand that
you especially are determined to leave France to her fate if war should
come, and to preserve our absolute neutrality at all costs."
"Go on," Hebblethwaite murmured. "Finish it, anyhow."
"There is very little more," Norgate concluded. "I have a list here of
properties in the outskirts of London, all bought by Germans, and all
having secret preparations for the mounting of big guns. You might just
pass that on to the War Office, and they can destroy the places at their
leisure. There isn't anything else, Hebblethwaite. As I told you, I've
played the double traitor. It was the only way I could help. Now, if I
were you, I would arrest the master-spy for whom I have been working.
Most of the information he has picked up lately has been pretty bad, and
I fancy he'll get a warm reception if he does get back to Berlin, but if
ever there was a foreigner who abused the hospitality of this country,
Selingman's the man."
"We'll see about that presently," Mr. Hebblethwaite declared, leaning
back. "Let me think over what you have told me. It comes to this,
Norgate. You've practically encouraged Germany to risk affronting us."
"I can't help that," Norgate admitted. "Germany has gone into this war,
firmly believing that Italy will be on her side, and that we shall have
our hands occupied in civil war, and in any case that we should remain
neutral. I am not asking you questions, Hebblethwaite. I don't know what
the position of the Government will be if Germany attacks France in the
ordinary way. But one thing I do believe, and that is that if Germany
breaks Belgian neutrality and invades Belgium, there isn't any English
Government which has ever been responsible for the destinies of this
country, likely to take it lying down. We are shockingly unprepared, or
else, of course, there'd have been no war at all. We shall lose hundreds
of thousands of our young men, because they'll have to fight before they
are properly trained, but we must fight or perish. And we shall fight--I
am sure of that, Hebblethwaite."
"We are all Englishmen," Hebblethwaite answered simply.
The door was suddenly opened. Spencer Wyatt pushed his way past a
protesting doorkeeper. Hebblethwaite rose to his feet; he seemed to
forget Norgate's presence.
"You've been down to the Admiralty?" he asked quickly. "Do you know?"
Spencer Wyatt pointed to Norgate. His voice shook with emotion.
"I know, Hebblethwaite," he replied, "but there's something that you
don't know. We were told to mobilise the fleet an hour ago. My God, what
chance should we have had! Germany means scrapping, and look where our
ships are, or ought to be."
"I know it," Hebblethwaite groaned.
"Well, they aren't there!" Spencer Wyatt announced triumphantly. "A week
ago that young fellow came to me. He told me what was impending. I half
believed it before he began. When he told me his story, I gambled upon
it. I mistook the date for the Grand Review. I signed the order for
mobilisation at the Admiralty, seven days ago. We are safe,
Hebblethwaite! I've been getting wireless messages all day yesterday and
to-day. We are at Cromarty and Rosyth. Our torpedo squadron is in
position, our submarines are off the German coast. It was just the toss
of a coin--papers and a country life for me, or our fleet safe and a
great start in the war. This is the man who has done it."
"It's the best news I've heard this week," Hebblethwaite declared, with
glowing face. "If our fleet is safe, the country is safe for a time. If
this thing comes, we've a chance. I'll go through the country. I'll start
the day war's declared. I'll talk to the people I've slaved for. They
shall come to our help. We'll have the greatest citizen army who ever
fought for their native land. I've disbelieved in fighting all my life.
If we are driven to it, we'll show the world what peace-loving people can
do, if the weapon is forced into their hands. Norgate, the country owes
you a great debt. Another time, Wyatt, I'll tell you more than you know
now. What can we do for you, young fellow?"
Norgate rose to his feet.
"My work is already chosen, thanks," he said, as he shook hands. "I have
been preparing for some time."
The card-rooms at the St. James's Club were crowded, but very few people
seemed inclined to play. They were standing or sitting about in little
groups. A great many of them were gathered around the corner where
Selingman was seated. He was looking somewhat graver than usual, but
there was still a confident smile upon his lips.
"My little friend," he said, patting the hand of the fair lady by his
side, "reassure yourself. Your husband and your husband's friends are
quite safe. For England there will come no fighting. Believe me, that is
a true word."
"But the impossible is happening all the time," Mrs. Barlow protested.
"Who would have believed that without a single word of warning Germany
would have declared war against Russia?"
Mr. Selingman raised his voice a little.
"Let me make the situation clear," he begged. "Listen to me, if you will,
because I am a patriotic German but also a lover of England, a sojourner
here, and one of her greatest friends. Germany has gone to war against
Russia. Why? You will say upon a trifling pretext. My answer to you is
this. There is between the Teuton and the Slav an enmity more mighty than
anything you can conceive of. It has been at the root of all the unrest
in the Balkans. Many a time Germany has kept the peace at the imminent
loss of her own position and prestige. But one knows now that the
struggle must come. The Russians are piling up a great army with only one
intention. They mean to wrest from her keeping certain provinces of
Austria, to reduce Germany's one ally to the condition of a vassal state,
to establish the Slav people there and throughout the Balkan States, at
the expense of the Teuton. Germany must protect her own. It is a
struggle, mind you, which concerns them alone. If only there were common
sense in the world, every one else would stand by and let Germany and
Austria fight with Russia on the one great issue--Slav or Teuton."
"But there's France," little Mrs. Barlow reminded him. "She can't keep
out of it. She is Russia's ally."
"Alas! my dear madam," Selingman continued, "you point out the tragedy of
the whole situation. If France could see wisdom, if France could see
truth, she would fold her arms with you others, keep her country and her
youth and her dignity. But I will be reasonable. She is, as you say,
bound--bound by her alliance to Russia, and she will fight. Very well!
Germany wants no more from France than what she has. Germany will fight a
defensive campaign. She will push France back with one hand, in as
friendly a manner as is compatible with the ethics of war. On the east
she will move swiftly. She will fight Russia, and, believe me, the issue
will not be long doubtful. She will conclude an honourable peace with
France at the first opportunity."
"Then you don't think we shall be involved at all?" some one else asked.
"If you are," Selingman declared, "it will be your own doing, and it will
simply be the most criminal act of this generation. Germany has nothing
but friendship for England. I ask you, what British interests are
threatened by this inevitable clash between the Slav and the Teuton? It
is miserable enough for France to be dragged in. It would be lunacy for
England. Therefore, though it is true that serious matters are pending,
though, alas! I must return at once to see what help I can afford my
country, never for a moment believe, any of you, that there exists the
slightest chance of war between Germany and England."
"Then I don't see," Mrs. Barlow sighed, "why we shouldn't have a rubber
"Let us," Selingman assented. "It is a very reasonable suggestion. It
will divert our thoughts. Here is the afternoon paper. Let us first see
whether there is any further news."
It was Mrs. Paston Benedek who opened it. She stared at the first sheet
for a moment with eyes which were almost dilated. Then she looked around.
Her voice sounded unnatural.
"Look!" she cried. "Francis Norgate--Mr. Francis Norgate has committed
suicide in his rooms!"
"It is not possible!" Selingman exclaimed.
They all crowded around the paper. The announcement was contained in a
few lines only. Mr. Francis Norgate had been discovered shot through the
heart in his sitting-room at the Milan Court, with a revolver by his
side. There was a letter addressed to his wife, who had left the day
before for Paris. No further particulars could be given of the tragedy.
The little group of men and women all looked at one another in a strange,
questioning manner. For a moment the war cloud seemed to have passed even
from their memories. It was something newer and in a sense more dramatic,
this. Norgate--one of themselves! Norgate, who had played bridge with
them day after day, had been married only a week or so ago--dead, under
the most horrible of all conditions! And Baring, only a few weeks before!
There was an uneasiness about which no one could put into words, vague
suspicions, strange imaginings.
"It's only three weeks," some one muttered, "since poor Baring shot
himself! What the devil does it mean? Norgate--why, the fellow was full
of common sense."
"He was fearfully cut up," some one interposed, "about that Berlin
"But he was just married," Mrs. Paston Benedek reminded them, "married to
the most charming woman in Europe,--rich, too, and noble. I saw them only
two days ago together. They were the picture of happiness. This is too
terrible. I am going into the other room to sit down. Please forgive me.
Mr. Selingman, will you give me your arm?"
She passed into the little drawing-room, almost dragging her companion.
She closed the door behind them. Her eyes were brilliant. The words came
hot and quivering from her lips.
"Listen!" she ordered. "Tell me the truth. Was this suicide or not?"
"Why should it not be?" Selingman asked gravely. "Norgate was an
Englishman, after all. He must have felt that he had betrayed his
country. He has given us, as you know, very valuable information. The
thought must have preyed upon his conscience."
"Don't lie to me!" she interrupted. "Tell me the truth now or never come
near me again, never ask me another question, don't be surprised to find
the whole circle of your friends here broken up and against you. It's
only the truth I ask for. If a thing is necessary, do I not know that it
must be done? But I will hear the truth. There was that about Baring's
death which I never understood; but this--this shall be explained."
Selingman stood for a moment or two with folded arms.
"Dear lady," he said soothingly, "you are not like the others. You have
earned the knowledge of the truth. You shall have it. I did not mistrust
Francis Norgate, but I knew very well that when the blow fell, he would
waver. These Englishmen are all like that. They can lose patience with
their ill-governed country. They can go abroad, write angry letters to
_The Times_, declare that they have shaken the dust of their native land
from their feet. But when the pinch comes, they fall back. Norgate has
served me well, but he knew too much. He is safer where he is."
"He was murdered, then!" she whispered.
Selingman nodded very slightly.
"It is seldom," he declared, "that we go so far. Believe me, it is only
because our great Empire is making its move, stretching out for the great
world war, that I gave the word. What is one man's life when millions are
soon to perish?"
She sank down into an easy-chair and covered her face with her hands.
"I am answered," she murmured, "only I know now I was not made for these
things. I love scheming, but I am a woman."
Mr. Selingman's influence over his fellows had never been more marked
than on that gloomiest of all afternoons. They gathered around him as he
sat on the cushioned fender, a cup of tea in one hand and a plateful of
buttered toast by his side.
"To-day," he proclaimed, "I bring good news. Yesterday, I must admit,
things looked black, and the tragedy to poor young Norgate made us all
"I should have said things looked worse," one of the men declared,
throwing down an afternoon paper. "The Cabinet Council is still sitting,
and there are all sorts of rumours in the city."
"I was told by a man in the War Office," Mrs. Barlow announced, "that
England would stand by her treaty to Belgium, and that Germany has made
all her plans to invade France through Belgium."
"Rumours, of course, there must be," Selingman agreed, "but I bring
something more than rumour. I received to-day, by special messenger from
Berlin, a dispatch of the utmost importance. Germany is determined to
show her entire friendliness towards England. She recognises the
difficulties of your situation. She is going to make a splendid bid for
your neutrality. Much as I would like to, I cannot tell you more. This,
however, I know to be the basis of her offer. You in England could help
in the fight solely by means of your fleet. It is Germany's suggestion
that, in return for your neutrality, she should withdraw her fleet from
action and leave the French northern towns unbombarded. You will then be
in a position to fulfil your obligations to France, whatever they may be,
without moving a stroke or spending a penny. It is a triumph of
diplomacy, that--a veritable triumph."
"It does sound all right," Mrs. Barlow admitted.
"It has relieved my mind of a mighty burden," Selingman continued,
setting down his empty plate and brushing the crumbs from his waistcoat.
"I feel now that we can look on at this world drama with sorrowing eyes,
indeed, but free from feelings of hatred and animosity. I have had a
trying day. I should like a little bridge. Let us--"
Selingman did not finish his sentence. The whole room, for a moment,
seemed to become a study in still life. A woman who had been crossing the
floor stood there as though transfixed. A man who was dealing paused with
an outstretched card in his hand. Every eye was turned on the threshold.
It was Norgate who stood there, Norgate metamorphosed, in khaki
uniform--an amazing spectacle! Mrs. Barlow was the first to break the
silence with a piercing shriek. Then the whole room seemed to be in a
turmoil. Selingman alone sat quite still. There was a grey shade upon his
face, and the veins were standing out at the back of his hands.
"So sorry to startle you all," Norgate said apologetically. "Of course,
you haven't seen the afternoon papers. It was my valet who was found
dead in my rooms--a most mysterious affair," he added, his eyes meeting
Selingman's. "The inquest is to be this afternoon."
"Your valet!" Selingman muttered.
"A very useful fellow," Norgate continued, strolling to the fireplace and
standing there, "but with a very bad habit of wearing my clothes when I
am away. I was down in Camberley for three days and left him in charge."
They showered congratulations upon him, but in the midst of them the
strangeness of his appearance provoked their comment.
"What does it mean?" Mrs. Benedek asked, patting his arm. "Have you
"In a sense I have," Norgate admitted, "but only in the sense that every
able-bodied Englishman will have to do, in the course of the next few
months. Directly I saw this coming, I arranged for a commission."
"But there is to be no war!" Mrs. Barlow exclaimed. "Mr. Selingman
has been explaining to us this afternoon what wonderful offers
Germany is making, so that we shall be able to remain neutral and yet
keep our pledges."
"Mr. Selingman," Norgate said quietly, "is under a delusion. Germany, it
is true, has offered us a shameless bribe. I am glad to be able to tell
you all that our Ministry, whatever their politics may be, have shown
themselves men. An English ultimatum is now on its way to Berlin. War
will be declared before midnight."
Selingman rose slowly to his feet. His face was black with passion.
He pushed a man away who stood between them. He was face to face
"So you," he thundered, suddenly reckless of the bystanders, "are a
double traitor! You have taken pay from Germany and deceived her! You
knew, after all, that your Government would make war when the time came.
Is that so?"
"I was always convinced of it," Norgate replied calmly. "I also had the
honour of deceiving you in the matter of Mr. Bullen. I have been the
means, owing to your kind and thoughtful information, of having the fleet
mobilised and ready to strike at the present moment, and there are
various little pieces of property I know about, Mr. Selingman, around
London, where we have taken the liberty of blowing up your foundations.
There may be a little disappointment for you, too, in the matter of
Italy. The money you were good enough to pay me for my doubtful services,
has gone towards the establishment of a Red Cross hospital. As for you,
Selingman, I denounce you now as one of those who worked in this country
for her ill, one of those pests of the world, working always in the
background, dishonourably and selfishly, against the country whose
hospitality you have abused. If I have met you on your own ground, well,
I am proud of it. You are a German spy, Selingman."
Selingman's hand fumbled in his pocket. Scarcely a soul was surprised
when Norgate gripped him by the wrist, and they saw the little shining
revolver fall down towards the fender.
"You shall suffer for these words," Selingman thundered. "You young
fool, you shall bite the dust, you and hundreds of thousands of your
cowardly fellows, when the German flag flies from Buckingham Palace."
Norgate held up his hand and turned towards the door. Two men in plain
"That may be a sight," Norgate said calmly, "which you, at any rate, will
not be permitted to see. I have had some trouble in arranging for your
arrest, as we are not yet under martial law, but I think you will find
your way to the Tower of London before long, and I hope it will be with
your back to the light and a dozen rifles pointing to your heart."
A third man had come into the room. He tapped Selingman on the shoulder
and whispered in his ear.
"I demand to see your warrant!" the latter exclaimed.
The officer produced it. Selingman threw it on the floor and spat upon
it. He looked around the room, in the further corner of which two men
and a woman were standing upon chairs to look over the heads of the
"Take me where you will," he snarled. "You are a rotten, treacherous,
cowardly race, you English, and I hate you all. You can kill me first, if
you will, but in two months' time you shall learn what it is like to wait
hand and foot upon your conquerors."
He strode out of the room, a guard on either side of him and the door
closed. One woman had fainted. Mrs. Paston Benedek was swaying back
and forth upon the cushioned fender, sobbing hysterically. Norgate
stood by her side.
"I have forgotten the names," he announced pointedly, "of many of that
fellow's dupes. I am content to forget them. I am off now," he went on,
his tone becoming a little kinder. "I am telling you the truth. It's war.
You men had better look up any of the forces that suit you and get to
work. We shall all be needed. There is work, too, for the women, any
quantity of it. My wife will be leaving again for France next week with
the first Red Cross Ambulance Corps. I dare say she will be glad to hear
from any one who wants to help."
"I shall be a nurse," Mrs. Paston Benedek decided. "I am sick of bridge
and amusing myself."
"The costume is quite becoming," Mrs. Barlow murmured, glancing at
herself in the looking-glass, "and I adore those poor dear soldiers."
"Well, I'll leave you to it," Norgate declared. "Good luck to you all!"
They crowded around him, shaking him by the hand, still besieging him
with questions about Selingman. He shook his head good-humouredly and
made his way towards the door.
"There's nothing more to tell you," he concluded. "Selingman is just one
of the most dangerous spies who has ever worked in this country, but the
war itself was inevitable. We've known that for years, only we wouldn't
believe it. We'll all meet again, perhaps, in the work later on."
Late that night, Norgate stood hand in hand with Anna at the window of
their little sitting-room. Down in the Strand, the newsboys were
shouting the ominous words. The whole of London was stunned. The great
war had come!
"It's wonderful, dear," Anna whispered, "that we should have had
these few days of so great happiness. I feel brave and strong now for
Norgate held her closely to him.
"We've been in luck," he said simply. "We were able to do something
pretty soon. I have had the greatest happiness in life a man can have.
Now I am going to offer my life to my country and pray that it may be
spared for you. But above all, whatever happens," he added, leaning a
little further from the window towards where the curving lights gleamed
across the black waters of the Thames, "above all, whatever may happen to
us, we are face to face with one splendid thing--a great country to fight
for, and a just cause. I saw Hebblethwaite as I came in. He is a changed
man. Talks about raising an immense citizen army in six months. Both his
boys have taken up commissions. Hebblethwaite himself is going around the
country, recruiting. They are his people, after all. He has given them
their prosperity at the expense, alas! of our safety. It's up to them now
to prove whether the old spirit is there or not. We shall need two
million men. Hebblethwaite believes we shall get them long before the
camps are ready to receive them. If we do, it will be his justification."
"And if we don't?" Anna murmured.
Norgate threw his head a little further back.
"Most pictures," he said, "have two sides, but we need only look at one.
I am going to believe that we shall get them. I am going to remember the
only true thing that fellow Selingman ever said: that our lesson had come
before it is too late. I am going to believe that the heart and
conscience of the nation is still a live thing. If it is, dear, the end
is certain. And I am going to believe that it is!"