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Title: War-time Silhouettes
Author: Hudson, Stephen
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "War-time Silhouettes" ***

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WAR-TIME SILHOUETTES


By Stephen Hudson



CONTENTS

I. MR. REISS’S FINAL GRIEVANCE

II. IN THE TRUE INTEREST OF THE NATION

III. WAR WORK

IV. BUSINESS IS BUSINESS

V. “BOBBY”

VI. A WAR VICTIM

VII. DULCE ET DECORUM



I. MR. REISS’S FINAL GRIEVANCE

Mr. Adolf Reiss, merchant, sits alone on a gloomy December afternoon.
He gazes into the fire with jaundiced eyes reflecting on his grievance
against Life. The room is furnished expensively but arranged without
taste, and it completely lacks home atmosphere. Mr. Reiss’s room is,
like himself, uncomfortable. The walls are covered with pictures, but
their effect is unpleasing; perhaps this is because they were bought
by him as reputed bargains, sometimes at forced sales of bankrupt
acquaintances Making and thinking about money has not left Mr. Reiss
time to consider comfort, but for Art, in the form of pictures and
other saleable commodities, he has a certain respect. Such things if
bought judiciously have been known to increase in value in the most
extraordinary manner, and as this generally happens long after their
creators are dead, he leaves living artists severely alone. The essence
of successful speculation is to limit your liability.

Mr. Reiss is a short, stoutish, ungainly man past seventy, and he suffers
from chronic indigestion. He is one of those people of whom it is
difficult to believe that they ever were young.

But it is not on account of these disadvantages that Mr. Reiss considers
himself ill treated by Fate. It is because since the War he regards
himself as a ruined man. Half his fortune remains; but Mr. Reiss, though
he hates the rich, despises the merely well-off. Of a man whose income
would generally be considered wealth he says, “Bah! He hasn’t a penny.”
 Below this level every one is “a pauper”; now he rather envies such
pitiable people because “they’ve got nothing to lose.” His philosophy
of life is simple to grasp, and he can never understand why so many
people refuse to accept it. If they did, he thinks that the world would
not be such an unpleasant place to live in. Life in his opinion is
simply a fight for money. All the trouble in the world is caused by
the want of it, all the happiness man requires can be purchased with
it. Those who think the contrary are fools, and if they go to the length
of professing indifference to money they are “humbugs.”

“Humbug” and “Bunkum” are favourite words of his. He generally dismisses
remarks and stops discussion by the use of either or both. His solitary
term of praise is the word “respectable” and he uses it sparingly,
being as far as he can conscientiously go in approval of any one; he
thus eulogizes those who live within their means and have never been
known to be hard up. People who are hard up are “wasters.” No one has
any business to be hard up; “respectable” men live on what they’ve
got. If any one were to ask him how people are to live within their
means when they’ve not got any, he would reply with the word “bunkum”
 and clinch the argument with a grunt. It will be understood that
conversation with Mr. Adolf Reiss is not easy.

       *       *       *       *       *

A knock on the door. Mr. Reiss’s servant announces some one and
withdraws.

Intuitively Mr. Reiss, who is rather deaf, and has not caught the name,
grasps the paper and hides behind it. From long experience he has
discovered the utility of the newspaper as a sort of parapet
behind which he can better await attack.

A slight figure in khaki advances into the room, observes the newspaper
above the legs and smiles slightly.

“Hello, uncle!” It’s a fresh young voice.

Mr. Reiss grunts, slowly lowers the paper and gazes at the youth over
his eyeglasses.

“Oh, it’s you. When did you come up?”

“Just arrived, uncle. We’re ordered out. I thought I’d look you up
at once as there are one or two things--”

“Eh--what?”

Among Mr. Reiss’s characteristics is a disconcerting habit of making
people repeat their remarks. This is deliberate and its purpose
twofold--to gain time and to embarrass the person addressed.

The young fellow sits down rather uncomfortably and begins again--

“We’re ordered out, you know--”

“No, I didn’t know. How could I? You never write--”

Mr. Reiss consolidates his defence with the pretence of a grievance.

“I didn’t know myself until yesterday. They don’t give one much time,
you know.”

“They--who?”

“The War Office people. You see, our first battalion has had a lot
of casualties and three of us subs are being taken from the third.
We’ve got to join the day after to-morrow. Bit of a rush. And I’ve
got things to get. I’m afraid I must ask you to give me a leg up, uncle.
I’m a bit short--”

“Short? Why, you’ve got an ample allowance besides your pay and the
Government pays for your outfit at an extravagant rate.” Mr. Reiss
never ceases denouncing the extravagance of the Government. He now
adjusts his glasses and glowers at the youngster, who fidgets under
the scrutiny. “Yes, I know. I--” he stammers.

“Well--well?”

“The fact is--when Staples, our captain, went back--he--I--”

A grunt. Then, “Eh--what?”

“He was engaged, you know.”

“Well--well?” irritably.

“I can’t explain, uncle, if you don’t give me a chance.”

Another grunt.

“Jimmie--I mean Staples--wanted to give his girl a ring before he went
back. He hadn’t enough money--so I lent him fifty pounds.”

Mr. Reiss drops his glasses, gets up from his chair, and stands before
the fire, facing his nephew.

“So you lent him fifty pounds, did you? A third of your annual allowance.
You had no business to--and if Captain Whatever’s-his-name were a
respectable man, he would have saved the money to pay for the ring.
Instead of that _I_ have to pay for it.”

“Oh no, uncle.”

“How d’you mean--‘no, uncle’? Aren’t you asking me for money? It’s
always the same story with the lot of you. You like to be generous
at other people’s expense. I’ve told you I’m a ruined man. The fortune
which was the result of my hard work all my life has disappeared. I’m
a poor man. I spend nothing on myself. I’ve given up my car. I’ve put
down everything. I’m trying to dispose of my pictures and to sell the
lease of this place. You don’t seem to understand what this infernal
war means to people like myself. _You_ don’t have to pay for it.
Do you realize that one-third of my entire income goes for income
tax? I’ve paid your bills over and over again, but I can’t do it any
more. For this once I’ll--” The boy holds up his hand.

“Look here, uncle. I’d better tell you at once. I shall need another
fifty to make me square. But I’ll pay you back--on my honour--”

“Bah! Your honour! Pay me back. I know what that means. So it’s a hundred
pounds you want. Very well. You shall have your hundred pounds. But
I solemnly warn you that it’s the last penny I intend to pay for your
extravagance. As for that waster of a Captain What’s-his--”

The boy flushes to the roots of his light, wavy hair.

“I say, uncle. He’s not a waster. He’s the finest fellow in the regiment.
I can’t allow you--Look here--never mind the money. The jeweller knows
it’s all right. I’d rather--”

He stops. The words won’t come. He gazes at his uncle helplessly. Mr.
Reiss goes slowly to the writing-table and sits down. Taking a blank
cheque from a pocket-book he always carries, he fills it in and passes
it to the boy without speaking.

“I don’t like taking it, uncle. I don’t, really--”

Mr. Reiss half turns round. He still says nothing, he does not even
grunt. He knows that there are times when silence is golden. Moreover,
he knows that money talks.

A few minutes later Mr. Adolf Reiss is again sitting alone, gazing
into the fire. And he has another grievance against Life.

       *       *       *       *       *

The philosophy of Mr. Reiss is a natural result of his early environment.
In Magdeburg, where he was born and brought up, education in business
principles is combined with the theory of family duty. Whether this
theory takes the place of affection or not, its application in the
case of Mr. Reiss resulted in his migration at an early age to England,
where he soon found a market for his German industry, his German
thriftiness, and his German astuteness. He established a business and
took out naturalization papers. Until the War came Mr. Reiss was growing
richer and richer. His talent for saving kept pace with his gift for
making.

He spent evening after evening, when he came home from the
City, thinking out different ways of tying up his fortune on Percy,
so that it could remain intact as long as possible. Some of his schemes
for insuring the safety of his capital, for the resettlement of the
greater part of the income by trustees--for combining, in fact, a maximum
of growing power for the fortune with a minimum of enjoyment for the
heir--were really marvels of ingenuity.

But since the War his thoughts have taken a different turn. Half his
fortune has gone. He is too old now to catch up again. It’s all over
with money-making. The most he can hope for is to keep “the little
that is left.” If only Percy had been older and had a son, he could
settle the money upon his great-nephew. Then there would have been
time for the money to accumulate again.

And now he’s gone to the Front. He might be killed. It doesn’t bear
thinking about. He has toiled all his life. Surely after _all_
his self-sacrifice and self-denial he is not to be robbed of the one
satisfaction he asks for, to know that the beggarly remains of his
wealth shall be safe after his own death.

Every day he scans the papers anxiously. His one preoccupation is the
daily casualty list.

       *       *       *       *       *

Spring is at hand, and though there is chill in the air Mr. Reiss is
economical and sits before an empty grate. Self-mortification always
seems to him to be evidence of moral superiority and to confirm his
right to special grievances. He is reading a letter over again received
that morning from Percy. It bears the stamp of the Base Censor and
is some days old.


DEAR UNCLE ADOLF,

You remember my friend Jimmy Staples--the one I told you about, who
was engaged and I lent that money to? Well, he’s been killed, or rather
he has just died of wounds. He has done splendidly. Our Brigadier had
sent in his name for a V.C. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you.
But what I wanted to say is that it’s all right about the money. I’ve
got lots in the bank now, and in another couple of months I shall be
able to pay you back. One can’t spend anything much out here. I’m quite
fit, but I’m rather in the blues about Jimmy. Mother will give you
all my news.

Your affectionate Nephew.

P.S.--By the way, I gave your name as nearest relative in case of
accidents, to save mother.


Mr. Reiss has a curious and unaccustomed feeling of flatness as he
re-reads the letter. Somehow or other he does not want Percy to pay
him back that fifty pounds. He thinks he’ll write and tell him so at
once.

He sits down at the writing-table--the same one at which he had
written the cheque the last time he saw Percy. The scene comes back
to him with a strange vividness as he dips his pen in the ink. He
hesitates a moment before beginning the letter. Was there anything he
could say that would please Percy? He has a curious and at the same time
a strong desire to do something now--at once. He has never felt like this
before. Supposing he were to--A knock on the door. His servant brings in a
telegram. Why do Mr. Reiss’s fingers tremble so? Why does Mr. Reiss begin
cleaning his glasses before he opens the envelope?

He holds the pink paper under the lamp.


Deeply regret to inform you....


Mr. Adolf Reiss does not need to read farther, and now he has a final
grievance against Life.



II. IN THE TRUE INTEREST OF THE NATION

Sir Matthew Bale, baronet and Member of Parliament, appears to be,
at first sight, a distinguished person. When you know him better, you
ask yourself what misled you, and you reconsider his personality. Careful
scrutiny reveals that he is a skilful imitation. On the other hand,
he is not just a façade, for there is will behind the mask. His imitation
is, in fact, the result of an endeavour to be, not merely to appear,
distinguished, and he fails because, while the manner is there, the
moral qualities which should support it are not. Though he does not
know it, this failure to realize his own ideal of himself is the fly
in the amber. Sir Matthew was an ambitious man, and believed that all
that was necessary in order to “arrive” was to will it sufficiently.
Up to a point his career supports his theory, but not altogether; for
while, considering where he began, he has climbed to a considerable
height, Sir Matthew is very far from satisfied with his position.

Sir Matthew is wily, but he is not able, and he is exceedingly ignorant;
this ignorance even extends to matters in which he is directly and
personally interested. In most men this defect would have proved an
insuperable obstacle to success, but it has not been so with Sir Matthew
because he is aware of his own shortcomings, and when he can’t do a
thing himself he is exceedingly good at getting some one to do it for
him.

Nobody knows anything about his origin, but he began to make his
living at an early age, and while still in the twenties he was doing
well as a bookmaker.

Reggy Dumbarton owed him a good deal more money than he could ever
have paid, so, on reflection, Bale turned his back on bookmaking and
started finance with large plate-glass windows in Threadneedle Street,
and Lord Reginald Dumbarton as junior (very junior) partner.

The Dumbarton connection made the new office a rendezvous for young
bloods whose profession in life it is to induce their friends to
cultivate a taste for speculative investment. The growth of the business
demanding a wider financial knowledge than Bale’s bookmaking experience
could supply, his discriminating eye discovered a promising additional
partner in the person of Maurice Blum, who had survived two startling
bankruptcies and an action against him for fraud. Bale, Dumbarton,
and Blum now did so thriving a business that Bale started an elegantly
appointed flat in Mayfair, drove a phaeton and pair (it was before
the days of motors), and was much about town with gentlemen of family
to whom his partnership with Dumbarton afforded a useful and easy
introduction. An indication that at this time he was among the minor
celebrities may be found in the fact that a flattering caricature of
him appeared in _Vanity Fair_.

When his engagement was announced to Dumbarton’s cousin, Lady Ermyntrude
Stanley-Dalrymple, elder daughter of Lord Belfast, a social personage
and a power in the inner councils of the Conservative Party, it was
suggested that there might be some connection between this rather
unexpected event and Lord Belfast’s heavy losses on the Stock Exchange
and subsequent directorships and holdings of shares in his future
son-in-law’s companies. Whether this supposition was well founded or
not, it can be said with certainty that Bale had secured at one stroke
a footing in society and in politics, for shortly after his marriage
to Lady Ermyntrude his father-in-law found him a safe seat in Parliament.

Meanwhile Mr. Maurice Blum, who in the absence of his chief partner
had been looking after himself as well as the business, presented an
ultimatum. If Mr. Bale wanted to be a politician, Blum had no objection,
but that meant, at all events at first, spending money instead of making
it, and under the circumstances the terms of the partnership must be
modified.

This was the nastiest blow Bale had yet received. He had regarded Blum
as his creature, and his resentment at what he considered his partner’s
treachery was deep. But his prudence and astuteness did not fail him;
he knew Blum’s value, and he was aware that even if he were himself
able to spare the time from his political activities, his knowledge
was not sufficient to enable him to manage the growing business of
the firm.

In Bale’s view wealth is a necessary accompaniment of
distinction. He longed to be aristocratically indifferent to money,
and it humiliated him that not only was he not rich, but that to keep
up the style of living his position demanded involved no inconsiderable
strain. And, as a matter of fact, his financial position was precarious
and depended entirely upon the fluctuating and speculative income he
derived from the business of Blum & Co. Obviously, therefore, Mr. Maurice
Blum was not a person with whom Bale could afford to quarrel. Wherefore
he mastered his resentment and accepted the change of the name of the
firm to Blum & Co., and the incidental reduction of his income that
change implied with a smile on his face in spite of the bitterness
in his heart.

To a man less adroit than he, the change in the partnership
might well have constituted a serious check in his upward career, but
once more Bale’s native resourcefulness asserted itself. This crisis
in his private affairs took place when the country was torn by
dissensions over Tariff Reform. He had early learnt to fish in troubled
waters, and the political upheaval gave him his opportunity; he promptly
crossed the floor of the House and obtained, without paying for it, a
baronetcy as his reward.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Matthew Bale is tall and slender; his head is well placed on his
shoulders, he has clear-cut features, a firm mouth with excellent teeth,
and is clean-shaven. Although he is over fifty, he has plenty of hair,
originally sandy, but now tinged with grey, which he parts at the side
and brushes straight back from the forehead. He dresses with a certain
quiet elegance, and he has a way of drawing down his cuffs as he talks
to you, and of placing the tips of his fingers together so that you
notice his nicely kept nails. He speaks in a low tone, which he only
raises when he forgets himself, and relies for emphasis on little
restrained gestures adopted by him, together with other tricks of speech
and manner, from his wife’s male relations. In this he is unconscious
of imitation, for he is by nature adaptable and his desire to be
identified with the aristocracy is instinctive.

He has now associated himself with the extreme Radical and Labour wing,
where it flatters his vanity to think he is regarded as an elegant
exotic. A constant saying of his is “Keep your eye on labour,” but,
though they don’t say so, the Labour Members keep their eye on him
and regard his advances with distrust.

He has been active on departmental committees, and has on occasion
served as chairman. It did not need a long experience to teach him
that whatever the ostensible object of these convenient arrangements
may be, their usual purpose is to throw dust in the eyes of the public,
to burke discussion, and to save the face of embarrassed ministers.
Therefore, whenever he was appointed, his first step was invariably
to make certain what the wish of the minister was who nominated him.

Possessing such qualities it was no surprise to those who knew the
considerations involved when he was made chairman of the Government
Committee “to consider and report on the measures to be adopted during
the war with reference to the commercial, industrial, and financial
interests of British subjects in neutral countries.”

This was by far the most important committee over which Sir Matthew
had ever presided, and he cherished the hope that by means of it he
might secure the immediate desire of his heart, a Privy Councillorship;
once a “Right Honourable” he could aspire to anything--a seat in the
Cabinet, or, if Blum & Co. prospered, a peerage even. Sir Matthew’s
heart leaped at the thought of a coronet.

       *       *       *       *       *

About this time Oswald Tarleton was sent for by his chief, and informed
that he had been selected for the secretaryship of Sir Matthew Bale’s
committee.

“This is a very weighty committee, Mr. Tarleton,” said the permanent
secretary of the department. “The Government’s policy in regard to
enemy trading and proceedings under the Defence of the Realm Act will
largely depend upon the result of its deliberations. In Sir Matthew
Bale I have every reason for believing that you will find a most able,
and at the same time a most agreeable, chairman.”

Oswald Tarleton went off delighted. Although he had been for twenty
years a highly conscientious departmental official, and had received
nothing but praise for his services, he was too much a gentleman to
push himself, and this modesty had resulted in his never being given
an opportunity of showing how competent a public servant he really was.

Now, Tarleton is an honest man and something of an idealist. His
first interview with Sir Matthew Bale made him open his eyes wider
than ever in his life before.

The chairman settled himself in his chair opposite his secretary, pulled
down his cuffs, put the tips of his fingers together, and held forth.

“Mr. Tarleton, we have got to make a success of this committee. I need
hardly tell you how important it is and that upon it depend vital
questions of Government policy. I am not going too far in saying that
the future of the Government itself depends to a large extent upon
the guidance which we shall be able to afford them as the result of
our labours.”

Sir Matthew, as a rule, expressed himself badly, but he had been at
pains to prepare a little set speech with which to impress his secretary,
who now sat looking at him, silently meditating over the pompous
utterance, and wondering what was coming next.

“I understand, Mr. Tarleton,” the chairman continued, “that you have
not hitherto had any experience as secretary of committees?”

“Oh yes, Sir Matthew, excuse me--”

“I mean,” interrupted the chairman, “of Government committees. Now,
this one has been appointed by the Prime Minister himself, and I think
I may say, without indiscretion that he has largely consulted me as
to its composition. The--er--terms of reference will indicate to you
that the subject of our deliberations is a delicate one, and that it
will be necessary for us to remember that a grave responsibility rests
upon us in the selection of our witnesses. In other words, Mr.
Tarleton”--the chairman leaned back in his seat and scrutinized his
secretary--“we must, in the true interest of the nation--for of course
that is the paramount consideration--be careful to avoid anything in
the nature of disclosures which at this critical juncture
might--er--undermine the--er--confidence which rightly is reposed in
the Government. D’you follow me, Mr. Tarleton?”

The secretary hesitated for a moment.

“Do you mean, Sir Matthew, that we are not to accept evidence--”

“I mean, Mr. Tarleton, that we must discriminate in the selection of
our witnesses before we decide to call them. You are aware, perhaps, that
I am in the confidence of the Labour Party, and you will notice that
Amongst the members of the committee there are three prominent Labour
Members. Now you will understand that--er--er--while I have the
greatest--er--respect for the views of these--er--er--gentlemen,
there are limits to the influence I possess with them, and it is in
the highest degree desirable that no witness should come before them who
would be likely to prejudice in their eyes those who--er--indirectly
perhaps have--er--associations or connections--er--political or
otherwise, in the highest quarters.”

“But excuse me, Sir Matthew, I thought--”

“No ‘buts,’ Mr. Tarleton; no thoughts except on the lines indicated by
me.”

Oswald Tarleton withdrew from this preliminary interview with mingled
feelings, but uppermost there was already vaguely forming itself in his
mind a profound distrust, and still more a cordial dislike, of Sir
Matthew Bale.

       *       *       *       *       *

A recent and somewhat acrimonious debate in the House of Commons had
Precipitated the formation of this committee, and had unduly hastened the
selection of its members. Sir Matthew had been called in at short notice
as being, in the opinion of the minister who had been under criticism,
the most pliant chairman available.

The proceedings of the Committee were to be hurried on as much as
possible. This much Tarleton had gathered from his departmental chief,
and there was no doubt that he would have his hands full. He had had
opportunity of gauging the political qualities of Sir Matthew Bale;
at his next interview he was enabled to form an opinion of his
administrative methods. He was again seated opposite the chairman, who
leaned back in his chair with an air of indolent ease. Tarleton was
pointing out to him the considerable difficulty there would be in
staffing the committee owing to the demands upon the department through
the War. There was also, he explained, the troublesome question of
securing accommodation, for which there was no room at the Government
Office. Sir Matthew loftily waved aside these difficulties.

“As to accommodation, Mr. Tarleton,” he said, “just tell the Office of
Works that it is the Prime Minister’s wish that I should have every
facility, and as to staff, look at these.” As he spoke he touched a
bundle of papers which lay on the table. “You have choice enough there,
Mr. Tarleton.”

Tarleton had seen the papers; in fact, he had placed them on the table
Himself after carefully going through them. They were applications from
all sorts of individuals offering their voluntary services. There were
letters from retired officers, judges, tea-planters, cowboys, fellows of
the Universities--in fact, the usual heterogeneous collection with which
those who have Government work to do are familiar since the War.

“It is very doubtful, Sir Matthew, whether any of these gentlemen would
be suitable for this sort of work. You will, I am sure, understand that a
certain training--”

“Oh, never mind the training, Mr. Tarleton. I’ll soon select somebody for
you--let me have a look through them. Now, here’s one--this is the sort
of man that I like; he telegraphs--he doesn’t write. A man with
individuality--an original mind. Try him.”

“Excuse me, Sir Matthew, have you noticed the name?”

Sir Matthew put on his eyeglass and examined the telegram.

“Louis Klein,” he read, “and a very good name too--what’s the matter with
it?”

“D’you think it advisable, Sir Matthew, in the present state of public
opinion--”

“Public opinion, Mr. Tarleton, means the Press, and that doesn’t concern
_us_. The true interests of the nation are our concern, and in this
case I see no reason whatever why, because this man’s name is Klein--As a
matter of fact, when I was dining with a member of the Cabinet a few
evenings ago, I met a most charming person called Schmerz, and, I have
reason for knowing, a most loyal subject. Indeed, I understand that my
friend the minister finds his advice most useful in certain cases. No,
no, by all means send for this Mr. Klein--let’s have a look at him.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Klein arrived, and Oswald Tarleton was not favourably impressed by
him. He had thick features and a generally unattractive appearance; he
spoke, too, with an accent which Tarleton distrusted, although Klein
assured him that he was a French Alsatian, and as proof thereof showed
the secretary a letter from the French Embassy which vouched for his
being a devoted citizen of the Republic. Sir Matthew entirely approved of
him.

“Just the man we want, Mr. Tarleton. Make him assistant secretary.
That’ll flatter him--then ask anything you like of him and he’ll do it.
That’s my way.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently Klein was installed and Tarleton soon found him a most
assiduous and useful assistant. Without the loss of a moment he got into
touch with various chiefs of subsidiary departments and obtained
stenographers and typewriters, clerks and porters. Urged by Sir Matthew,
he harried the Office of Works till they provided ample accommodation in
a fine building in a central position; from H.M. Stationery Office he
promptly ordered all sorts of indispensable supplies, and within an
incredibly short time Sir Matthew found himself installed in sumptuous
offices with a fine committee-room and everything in as perfect order as
even he could desire. Tarleton was compelled to admit that Klein had
proved to be an acquisition.

“What did I tell you?” cried Sir Matthew triumphantly. “Trust me to find
the right man, Mr. Tarleton, trust me. I always believe in demanding the
impossible and I generally get it. If you’re modest, you get left.”

Tarleton could vouch for the truth of this observation, and he disliked
the chairman more than ever.

In due course the committee held its first sitting. On Sir Matthew’s
right sat Lord Milford, a wealthy peer of independent political opinions
and great obtuseness, by whose social prestige Sir Matthew was greatly
impressed; on his left Mr. Doubleday, the leader of the Labour Party
in the House of Commons. Ranged on either side, according to their
importance, sat the various other members of the committee.

Sir Matthew’s opening address, written for him by Tarleton, met with an
Excellent reception, and the proceedings developed smoothly.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the weeks passed the work of the committee increased, especially that
part of it which fell to the staff. Tarleton was worked off his legs. In
committee Sir Matthew was indisputably an adroit chairman. He knew how to
assert himself on occasion and play off the members against each other,
and he showed the dexterity of a conjurer in manipulating evidence. But
outside the committee-room, entirely absorbed by the decorative side
of his position, he talked and talked from morning till evening. Beyond
receiving important persons, he did nothing. He was as incapable of
composing a letter as of making a speech, and Tarleton had to write
both for him. He would arrive in the morning when Tarleton was trying to
get on with urgent correspondence or to frame questions to be asked of
witnesses, and so take up his unfortunate secretary’s time that it was
almost impossible for him to get his work finished for the next meeting.
He made the most exacting demands upon his overworked staff, showing as
little consideration for them as he did grasp of the mass of detail they
had to get through between committee meetings. Indeed, had it not been
for the industrious energy of Klein, who had relieved him of practically
all the routine work, ordinary correspondence and office supervision,
Tarleton had to admit to himself that it would have been beyond his power
to carry on.

As the proceedings of the committee advanced, Sir Matthew’s opinion of
his own importance increased, and Tarleton’s dislike of him grew into
hatred. Gentle, unassuming, and sensitive, he had never so far
encountered an individual like Sir Matthew Bale, who outraged all
his finer feelings and susceptibilities a dozen times a day. And the
secretary swore between his teeth that if he ever got the chance of
tripping him up, once the committee was done with, he would take good
care not to miss it.

Klein, on the other hand, grew in Tarleton’s esteem, and he felt he had
done him an injustice, for which he was determined to atone if occasion
offered.

The industry of the Alsatian was equalled by his perspicacity; he soon
fathomed the intentions of the chairman and understood that the chief
purpose of the committee was the exact opposite of that which its flowing
terms of reference were intended to convey.

In a small room, as far as possible removed from the one in which the
committee had their meetings, Klein sat like a mole delving into
documents and preparing the interim report for which the Government had
been pressed in Parliament. Here, when the day was over and Sir Matthew
had at last taken his departure, Tarleton would join him. It frequently
happened that they did not finish their labours until nearly midnight.
On such occasions Tarleton would go to his club to dine, whilst Klein
would make his way to some neighbouring restaurant, but after a time the
two men seemed to draw nearer to each other, until one day Tarleton
suggested that Klein should dine with him. Over a cigar in the club
smoking-room, the secretary for the first time expressed himself freely
to his colleague.

“I feel I ought to tell you, Klein, that at first I was foolish enough to
feel a little--”

He broke off, hesitating to use a word which might hurt the other’s
feelings.

“I know exactly what you mean, Tarleton, and I do not in the least blame
you. You are probably not aware that many of us Alsatians have German
names, but if you knew more of my life you would know what good cause I
have for hating the Germans more than any Englishman can possibly hate
them. Some day, perhaps, I shall have a chance of telling you.”

Klein’s eyes flashed under their drooping lids. Tarleton warmed to him
and began to talk about the committee and especially about the chairman.

“This has been a tremendous eye-opener to me, Klein,” he said. “I must
tell you that, in my innocence, I never imagined that the proceedings of
a committee could be conducted in such a fashion. I must confess I do not
understand the object of it.”

Klein smiled significantly.

“I do,” he remarked.

“What do you mean, Klein?”

“It is quite simple. There are things which the Government does not
desire to be known, and that is why they selected a man like Bale for
chairman. You see, Tarleton, we’re accustomed to that sort of thing in
France.”

“But we aren’t,” remarked Tarleton, “and I think it’s--something ought to
be done,” he added.

“Something can be done,” said Klein.

“How?”

“I suppose you’ve heard of Blum & Co.?”

The secretary stared at him. “No, I’ve never heard of them.”

“Well, Blum & Co. is Sir Matthew’s firm, and Mr. Blum would be an
exceedingly interesting witness.”

Tarleton almost jumped out of his chair. “Good Lord!” he said excitedly,
“you don’t mean--”

“I mean just exactly that,” Klein continued in his heavy way. “Moritz
Blum is Bale’s partner, and he’s one of the biggest scamps in the City.
Now supposing I give the tip to a member of the committee to call him.”

Tarleton could hardly believe his ears. Here was retribution for Sir
Matthew with a vengeance! But he hesitated.

“Would it be square, do you think? I mean, wouldn’t it be treacherous
towards the chairman?”

“That seems to depend upon which you put first--the chairman or the
country. For my part, the only thing that matters is that if we are able
to expose anything that helps the enemy, we should do so, and here’s our
chance.”

“D’you really mean that, Klein?”

“Mean it? Of course I mean it. Blum & Co. are amongst the largest
shareholders in the Swedenborg Coal and Iron Smelting Company, in
Stockholm; they have sold and are selling thousands of tons of
pig-iron to the German Government. What do you say to that?”

“How on earth do you know?” ejaculated Tarleton almost breathlessly.

Klein fixed his eyes on the other significantly.

“I haven’t been in the City for twelve years for nothing,” he answered.

“It’s a difficult position for me.” Tarleton spoke reflectively. “Loyalty
to one’s chairman is a tradition in the Government service. And though I
despise Bale, I don’t see my way to expose him. You see, it means the
ruin of all his hopes.”

“_Tant pis pour lui_. Doesn’t he always say himself our first duty
is to consider the true interest of the nation? Now, is it in the true
interest of the nation that the Germans should get this pig-iron? Tell me
that, Tarleton.”

The secretary made no reply. Indeed, none was needed, for the answer was
obvious.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days later there was an important meeting of the committee, at which
a full attendance had been specially requested by the chairman. A
question had been raised at the previous sitting by one of the Labour
Members who had desired to hear certain evidence, but the witness had
suddenly left the country. The Labour Members had withdrawn to discuss
the matter privately, and on their return showed that their suspicions
had been aroused. On a motion by the chairman the meeting had been
adjourned for four days.

All Sir Matthew’s resourcefulness had been needed to avert for the time
further discussion. Before the next meeting he and the minister involved
would get together and discover a means of putting inconvenient
questioners off the scent.

The committee took their seats. The chairman now spoke in his smoothest
tone, his manner was genial and urbane. He smiled towards Mr. Small, the
recalcitrant committee-man, as he glanced at the notes under his hand
prepared by Tarleton.

“Gentlemen, at the last meeting my friend Mr. Small took exception to the
fact that a certain witness had--er--left the country--er--before we had
an opportunity of examining him. I have to inform you--er--er--that
certain facts have come to light regarding this witness
which--er--preclude our going any further into the matter. The fact is,
gentlemen”--Sir Matthew; lowered his voice significantly--“he is a
particular friend of the--er--er--diplomatic representative of a friendly
Power, and I think you will agree with me that in the circumstances we
had better drop any further discussion of this subject and direct the
précis-writer to expunge the report of such part of our proceedings as
relate to it from our minutes.”

To Sir Matthew’s surprise no dissentient voice was raised. The resolution
was agreed to unanimously, and once more he congratulated himself on the
skill with which he had disposed of an awkward dilemma.

“And now, gentlemen, we will call the next witness. Mr. Tarleton, will
you kindly--”

“One moment please, Sir Matthew.”

The interruption was made in a very soft voice which almost lisped the
words. They came from the immediate right of the chairman, who turned
with surprise toward the speaker, Lord Milford, who until this moment had
never opened his mouth.

“I have to propose,” continued the gentle voice, “that we call before us,
without delay, Mr. Maurice Blum, of the firm of Blum & Co., Threadneedle
Street.”

Sir Matthew gasped and turned deadly pale. For an instant he felt as
though he would collapse, then, summoning all his will, he fought back
the emotion which was almost choking him. By a supreme effort he
partially regained his self-possession and managed to assume an ordinary
expression. With one rapid and comprehensive glance he took in the faces
of Lord Milford and the committee, and with an immense relief told
himself that they were one and all ignorant of what the proposal
signified to him.

Where had Milford obtained his information? How much did he know? While
these thoughts flashed through his brain the soft voice lisped on--

“Certain evidence has reached me which points to Mr. Blum’s having
interests in Sweden of a character that immediately, concerns our
investigations. The firm are large holders of shares in a smelting
concern called the Swedenborg Coal and Iron Smelting Company, and there
is also a probability that Messrs. Blum’s interests extend in a direction
which, though I am not suggesting disloyalty or illegality, urgently
necessitates inquiry.”

Lord Milford sat down. His expression was solemn; it was evident that he
was rather pleased at finding himself for once in the unusual position of
having something to say and saying it. There was a buzz of whispered
conversation round the table, then a sudden hush--the chairman was
addressing the meeting.

For a moment Sir Matthew paused. Once more his eyes took in the room.
Where was the enemy? Just behind him, in his usual place, sat Tarleton at
his table covered with papers. The secretary’s face was white and drawn;
he was twisting his small moustache nervously; his eyes were fixed on the
chairman with a half-frightened expression.

Once more Sir Matthew’s eyes scanned the faces. Where was the enemy? And
now, at the opposite end of the table, he noticed, for the first time, a
figure almost concealed behind the stout form of Mr. Small. It was Klein.
The two men’s eyes met. It was only for a fraction of a moment, but it
was long enough. In the concentrated gaze of the Alsatian there was
neither hatred nor vindictiveness, but only determination. The two
wills were in conflict, and this time Sir Matthew knew he had met his
master. In that instant he made up his mind.

“Gentlemen”--his voice was calm, his bearing unruffled; the old habit was
as strong as ever, he drew down his cuffs and leaned easily on the table,
spreading out his fingers--“I have a very short personal statement to
make. You are perhaps unaware that I have been for many years connected
with the firm of Blum & Co.; in fact, I was the original founder of the
business in which for a considerable period Lord Milford’s nephew, Lord
Reginald Dumbarton, was also partner.” Sir Matthew paused a moment and
smiled towards his neighbour. “For some years my interest has been
confined to a sleeping partnership; I have been completely ignorant of
the details of the business. While I need hardly tell you that the
situation in which I find myself is very trying, I support Lord
Milford’s suggestion that the affairs of the firm shall be investigated
and that Mr. Maurice Blum shall be summoned before you. But in these
circumstances I have to inform you with great regret that I shall
immediately place my resignation of the chairmanship in the hands of the
Prime Minister. Gentlemen, may I, as my last act before leaving the
chair, propose that, pending the appointment of a new chairman by the
Government, Lord Milford shall take my place.”

Bowing slightly to right and left and gathering up his papers, Sir
Matthew walked with a dignified step to the door and disappeared.



III. WAR WORK

Mrs. Dobson, though short and portly, carries her fifty-five years with
buoyancy. She is a good-natured woman, with purple cheeks, a wide mouth,
and a small nose; one connects something indefinable in her appearance
with church on Sundays, so that one learns without surprise that she
is a strict Anglican. She lives in the neighbourhood of Cadogan Square,
and has five daughters, of whom two are married, to a well-known surgeon
and a minor canon respectively. The beauty of the family is Joan, who
plays the piano and is considered intellectual and artistic. She spent a
year at the Conservatoire in Brussels, and often uses French words in
conversation. Effie, the youngest, is an adept at games, and rather
alarms her mother by her habit of using slang expressions and the
shortness of her skirts.

Soon after the beginning of the War, Lady Whigham having discontinued her
days at home, Mrs. Dobson gave up hers, and as the other ladies in her
circle followed suit, her chief occupation was gone.

Of course, like her friend Lady Whigham, she joined several committees,
but she was rather disappointed to find the meetings less sociable than
she expected. What Mrs. Dobson likes is a friendly, chat over a cup of
tea; when you sit formally round a green table, you never seem to get to
know any one properly.

“It’s so much nicer,” she said to Maud, the eldest unmarried daughter, a
bouncing young woman of generous proportions, “to have something at your
own house. My idea is to make a pleasure of charity. The most
disagreeable things can be got through pleasantly. Now, you’re such a
sensible girl, can’t you think of something?”

Mrs. Dobson always speaks of Maud as “such a sensible girl”; spiteful
people suggest that this praise is a form of apology for the absence of
physical charm.

Maud meditated deeply. “Everybody seems to have thought of everything,
mamma, that’s the worst of it. You see, Mrs. Newt has that drawing class
for orphan boys; then there’s Mrs. Badger’s fund for giving musical
instruction to the children of soldiers and sailors, and the Parrys have
dancing classes for them.”

“That’s just it. We ought to be doing something useful of that kind. It’s
a public duty for people in our position.”

“But I think we are doing our share, mamma. What with your committee and
Effie teaching those Belgian refugee children to play hockey and me at
the canteen for ineligible shop assistants.”

“I know, my dear. Still, it would be so nice to have something here--just
to bring people together, as it were, in a cosy way.”

Before any conclusion was reached tea was brought, and just then Joan
came in from a concert at the Mandolin Hall, bringing a startling piece
of news.

“Who do you think I met at the concert, mamma?”

Joan was evidently excited. She spoke almost breathlessly, and went on
without waiting for a reply.

“Jack Leclerc is back from the Front on sick leave, and he’s been made a
captain.”

Mrs. Dobson glanced at Maud. “Really, my dear!” she said, but her voice
was not cordial.

“What else did he tell you?”

“He hardly said anything. In fact, he didn’t tell me even that. Mr. Mayo,
the manager, saw him as we were going out and I heard him call him
‘Captain’!”

“Perhaps it’s a mistake, anyhow,” suggested Maud.

“No, it isn’t. I stopped to find out--about the next concert, I mean--and
Mr. Mayo told me he had greatly distinguished himself, and I’m not a bit
surprised either.” And Joan looked at her mother and her sister with an
air of saying, “What did I tell you?”

“Well, he’s sure to come and see us and tell us all about it,” Mrs.
Dobson remarked complacently.

“I’m not so sure of that!” Joan spoke sharply.

“Nonsense, dear! he’ll be only too pleased to, especially if we ask
him--and now it’s war-time I think we might. Bygones are bygones.”

Joan sighed deeply. It was evident she meant her mother to notice it.

“Surely you’ve got over that little affair? You didn’t seem to mind at
the time. Did you now, dear?”

“What could I do with you all against me?” Joan’s face wore an expression
of aggrieved reminiscence.

“We thought it for your good, Joan. He was only a music-teacher and had
no means at all.”

“He was getting on splendidly, though. You forget that he had been
appointed conductor of a big orchestra to tour the provinces--when the
War came.”

“Yes, but the War put a complete end to that and to all his prospects. A
nice time you’d have had to wait,” said Maud.

“It’s over now, so what’s the good of talking about it? I daresay he’s
forgotten all about me long ago.” Joan sighed again and helped herself to
tea.

Half an hour later Clara Whigham called up Joan on the telephone. The
family was accustomed to these conversations, which were sometimes of
long duration. The two girls were intimate. It was through Clara that
Joan had taken piano lessons at the Royal School of Music from Jack
Leclerc.

When Joan left the room Mrs. Dobson turned to her elder daughter.

“Now, Maud, you’re such a sensible girl--what do you think about this
young man turning up? He’s sure to be after Joan again, don’t you think?”

Maud considered the question with her usual conscientious earnestness,
while her mother sat anxiously watching her.

“Well, now,” she said at length, “supposing he does?”

“What do you mean, Maud? I don’t understand.”

“Well, I mean that the War has changed everything. Look at Dora Newt. She
Wouldn’t accept that young Mr. Firning because he was only a clerk in the
bank. Now she’s engaged to him, all because he’s in the Army. Why, you
know, mamma, Clara told you herself the other day she meant to have a War
wedding.”

“I must say I was shocked that so well brought up a girl should talk so
lightly about marrying.”

“I know, mamma, but everybody’s the same now; the War makes all the
difference. And I think if Joan still wants him--after all, he’s a
captain and--”

“I think perhaps you are right, Maud. The War does make such a
difference, doesn’t it? I really think I shall encourage
it now that he has made a position for himself.” Mrs. Dobson was
interrupted by the return of Joan with another piece of news.

“Oh, mamma,” she said, more breathlessly than ever, “Lady Whigham’s going
to give a concert for poor artists, and she wants us to give one, too!
Isn’t it a heavenly idea?”

Though Mrs. Dobson knew nothing about art, and supposed that the only
reason why people ever were artists was because they were too poor to be
anything else, she heartily agreed to the suggestion, coming as it did
through Lady Whigham, and being so exactly the form of charity that she
approved.

The next morning Mrs. Dobson received a typewritten postcard--


205 CADOGAN SQUARE, S.W.

DEAR MRS. DOBSON,--

To help the artists, 2/6 teas are again being started. I am having one on
Thursday the 14th. May I rely on your kind co-operation? Will you come,
bring your friends, your work, have an hour’s good music, tea, a chat,
and feel that you are doing a great kindness to the artists?

Hoping to see you.

Yours sincerely,

CONSTANCE WHIGHAM.

Music 3.30 to 4.30.

Tea 4.30.


There was a chorus of approval round the Dobsons’ breakfast-table.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lady Whigham’s concert went off with great _éclat_.

It was attended by many ladies, of whom one was a dowager countess, but
there were also a bishop and a midshipman. The last had a bad cold and
kept on blowing his nose during the performance of the soprano, a lady of
strange appearance, said to be a Serbian refugee of noble origin.

Joan did not enjoy the concert as much as the others. She said the
pianoforte playing was very indifferent--she wondered what Captain
Leclerc, who sat in the front row next to Clara Whigham, thought of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The 28th was fixed for the concert at Mrs. Dobson’s. Joan would have
liked to write to Jack Leclerc and ask him to recommend the artists, but
she wasn’t sure how he would take it, and besides, she did not know his
address. Of course she could have asked Clara, but somehow she did not
like to.

As Lady Whigham had specially asked Mrs. Dobson to engage performers she
was interested in, there was no difficulty and the day of the concert
arrived.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the first arrivals were Lady and Miss Whigham, attended by Jack
Leclerc.

Mrs. Dobson, wreathed in smiles, with Maud at her right hand, received
the guests. Effie gave them tea and Joan showed them to their places.

There were five “artists.” Three young men opened the performance with a
trio for piano, violin, and ‘cello. The ladies who had had tea knitted
and conversed. When the performance was over they went into raptures
about it. A middle-aged and melancholy-looking man with a beard followed.
He was the feature of the occasion, having been strongly recommended by
Lady Whigham as a “finished and accomplished vocalist.” He sang a series
of very modern French songs.

“It sounds to me as if something was wrong,” commented Mrs. Dobson to
Maud, who replied--

“Sh! mamma, they’re not supposed to have any tune.”

Lady Whigham in the front seat was applauding vigorously, so every one
else, especially Mrs. Dobson, did the same, with the result that the
accomplished vocalist sang them all over again, making exactly the same
faces.

After that an old lady in a yellow wig livened things up with a rendering
of Tosti’s “Good-bye” in a cracked contralto. While the audience was
applauding, Joan noticed that Jack Leclerc got up. He was making his way
gently to the door, evidently anxious to escape observation. Her heart
was in her mouth, but she sat on stonily, determined that he should not
know she had seen him.

At the door he encountered Mrs. Dobson.

“So sorry, I must run, Mrs. Dobson,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Oh, I am sorry, Mr.--er--Captain Leclerc. Can’t you wait till the end?
Joan will be so disappointed not to see you.”

“Oh, thank you. The fact is--” Leclerc stopped, looking a little
embarrassed. But Mrs. Dobson did not notice this and ran on--

“And what did you think of the concert, Mr.--er--Captain Leclerc?”

The musician’s professional conscience forbade a complimentary reply.

“It was very bad,” he said, “except the old Frenchman. That woman had no
business to sing in public, and as for those youths who call themselves
artists--why aren’t they in the trenches?” And hastily touching Mrs.
Dobson’s hand, he slipped away: the expression in her rubicund face was
pained as she gazed after him.

       *       *       *       *       *

After the concert had come to an end and the guests had gradually
dispersed, Lady Whigham and Mrs. Dobson counted up the money and
discussed how much each performer should receive. This _tête-à-tête_
with Lady Whigham was what Mrs. Dobson most enjoyed the whole afternoon.
Meanwhile Clara drew Joan aside.

“Congratulate me, dearest,” she whispered. “I’m going to marry Captain
Leclerc.”



IV. BUSINESS IS BUSINESS

Stephen Ringsmith in his way is a public man, and such he likes to
consider himself.

He is an art dealer in a very big way, and he is also a pillar of one of
the political parties. He could have a baronetcy for the asking, but he
has no children and he prefers to be a power behind the throne rather
than a lackey in front of it.

Ringsmith is what is called a strong man. He knows the value of money,
but he enjoys spending it. He lives in princely style, but he is not
exactly a snob and he prides himself on his independence. His hobby is
what he calls “picking winners”--men, not horses. He likes to “spot” some
young fellow who he thinks has it in him to get on, then he backs him. He
believes that nothing succeeds like success, having tested the truth of
the saying himself. When something disagreeable has to be done, he does
it and damns the consequences but he does not shrink from them.

One afternoon old Peter Knott went to see the famous art dealer. The
latter was sitting in a deep leather chair with his feet near the fender,
a silver tea-service resplendent under a high silver lamp beside him. To
Peter Knott, as he entered, the impression was that of a comfort both
solid and luxurious.

Ringsmith’s strong-willed face lit up. He had much regard for Peter, in
spite of the latter’s being almost the only man who did not hesitate to
say what he thought to him, whether palatable or not.

“Ha, old bird! I know what you’ve come for.”

Ringsmith has a large mouth, and although he is getting towards sixty his
teeth are strong and sound. His voice is loud and its tone bullying, as
of one accustomed to ordering people about and to having his way. Somehow
this doesn’t offend, perhaps because you expect it of a man with his red,
mottled skin, bushy eyebrows, and heavy jaw.

Old Peter finished his bit of buttered toast and quietly sipped his tea.

“Yes?” he said.

“What is it this time, Peter, a box for the Red Cross Matinee or a
subscription to the new fund? Come on, out with it.”

Peter screwed his single glass into one of his shrewd grey eyes, and
examining the muffin dish, carefully selected another piece of toast.

“Try again,” he remarked.

“It’s worse than I thought.” The big man looked at his friend out of the
corner of his eye as he put a cigar in his mouth and lighted a match. The
other finished his tea and lay back in his chair.

“Not at all, not at all, Stephen. A friend of mine, Mrs. Stillwell, wants
to sell her pictures.”

Peter Knott has a soft, gentle voice, and he spoke slowly, looking into
the fire.

“She is an old friend of mine, Mrs. Stillwell. I was best man to Tom when
he married her. Lord! What a long time ago!”

Ringsmith glanced towards Peter; he said nothing, and there was a
moment’s silence before the latter continued--

“Tom didn’t leave anything except the property, which goes to the boy;
he’s at the Front. There are the two girls to provide for. I advised her
to sell the pictures long ago, but she couldn’t bear to part with them.
Now, with new taxation and so on, she feels she must. It’s a bad time for
selling, isn’t it, Stephen?”

“The worst.”

“What do you advise?”

“I never advise; people must make up their minds for themselves.” Then,
as though it were an after-thought: “What sort of pictures are they?”

“There are a Corot, a Mauve, and a Daubigny, I believe. The Corot is said
to be a particularly good one.”

“Um--what does she want for them?”

“I don’t think poor Mary has any idea about the price; she asked me, but
there’s one thing I won’t do, and that’s to be mixed up in an art deal--”

Ringsmith’s eyes flashed; he flicked the ash off his cigar angrily.

“Mixed up--art deal! Then why the devil do you come to me?”

Peter Knott smiled at him benignly.

“Oh! Because you and I are old friends, Stephen. I’m sure you’ll treat
her better than any one else.”

Ringsmith moved uneasily.

“Why don’t you tell her to go to some one else first? I like people to
fix their price before they come to me, then I can take it or leave it.
They’ve got such fantastic ideas about the value of things.”

“Oh, very well, if you prefer. I thought you’d be pleased I came to you,
but of course--”

Peter made a slight waving motion with his hand, dismissing the subject,
and began talking of other things.

A quarter of an hour later he rose to go. He said good-bye, and was just
leaving the room when Ringsmith called him back.

“About those pictures--I should like to oblige you, Peter.”

“Yes?”

“Where can they be seen?”

Peter Knott took a half-sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to
Ringsmith without comment. Ringsmith glanced at it and threw it on the
table.

“All right,” he said, “leave it to me; I’ll see what can be done, but
these aren’t times to buy, you know.”

“So you said,” Peter replied, and went gently out of the room.

The next morning Ringsmith was early at his office. After looking over
his letters he sent for MacTavish. The shrewd Scotsman was said to be the
cleverest picture-buyer in the country. He came in, a tall, thin man,
clean-shaven, with wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Ringsmith
doesn’t stand on terms of ceremony with his employees: he comes to the
point at once.

“D’you remember that Corot we sold to Peter Whelan of Philadelphia? When
was it--two or three years ago?”

“Certainly I do, Mr. Ringsmith.”

“Can you say off-hand what we made on that deal?”

“No,” replied MacTavish cautiously, “but I do remember what we gave for
it, and what we sold it for. There were a lot of expenses on that deal.”
 There was a cunning look in MacTavish’s eyes as he added the last words.

“Um, yes--what were the figures?”

“We gave £4,000, but it included those ormulu vases which Joyce sold for
us at Christie’s. You remember we were wrong about those, and it took
some of the gilt off.”

Ringsmith’s heavy eyebrows met in a scowl.

“Well?” he said irritably.

“Whelan gave £7,500. He’s a hard nut, you know.”

“That’ll do now, MacTavish. I want you to go and call at this place, have
a look at the pictures, and report.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. MacTavish lost no time in calling at Mrs. Stillwell’s house. She was
out, but had left a note for the gentleman from Mr. Ringsmith’s, asking
him to look at the pictures, and expressing her regret that she could not
show them to him herself. She was quite unable, she said, to decide upon
a price, which she left entirely to Mr. Ringsmith.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days later Mrs. Stillwell was writing to her boy at the Front when
Mr. MacTavish was announced. She is a slight, refined, gentle-looking
little lady, and rose from her chair with some embarrassment. She had
never had anything to do with gentlemen like Mr. MacTavish before, and
hardly knew whether she ought to shake hands with him or not; but she did
so with a gracious and slightly deprecating air. She felt she was under
an obligation to him for giving him so much trouble, and she disliked
very much being compelled to talk to him about selling her pictures.

“Won’t you have a cup of tea, Mr. MacTavish?” she asked, not knowing
exactly what to say.

The tall Scotsman declined politely, and came straight to business.

“I’ve talked the matter over with Mr. Ringsmith, Mrs. Stillwell, and if
 you’re agreeable I am prepared to buy the three pictures for the firm.”

Mrs. Stillwell half-rose from her chair.

“Oh, thank you very much, thank you very much!” she said hastily.

“Purely a matter of business, madam. You may not be aware that in these
times buying pictures is a somewhat dangerous operation.”

“Oh, indeed! I didn’t know.”

Mrs. Stillwell blanched at the word “dangerous.”

“I mean, we may be compelled to keep them for a considerable time. It’s
not easy to find purchasers.”

“No, I suppose not, Mr. MacTavish.”

“You are still unable to fix a price, Mrs. Stillwell?”

“I really--I--no, I don’t think so. I have no idea what the value of the
pictures is.”

“Pictures have no value, madam; they are worth just what they can be sold
for, neither more nor less.”

“Oh, indeed! Yes.”

“Mr. Ringsmith has decided to give you what I think may be considered in
the circumstances a very handsome price for the three pictures. He has
told me that I may offer you £5,000.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s very kind indeed of Mr. Ringsmith.” Mrs. Stillwell
was quite astonished; she had not expected nearly so much.

MacTavish lost no time; he handed her a cheque, and in a few moments
took his departure.

Some weeks passed. Ringsmith again occupied the deep leather chair, and
Peter Knott was announced.

“Good afternoon, Stephen; thought I’d look in for a moment. No, thanks.”
 This in answer to Ringsmith’s offer of tea.

“Mrs. Stillwell told me about the deal, Stephen.”

“Well, were you satisfied?”

Peter Knott didn’t answer the question.

“By the way,” he remarked softly, “her boy’s just come back. Got shot
through one of his lungs. Extraordinary thing--miracle almost. He’s made
a marvellous recovery, thanks entirely to a motor ambulance being handy.
They got him to the base hospital, and now he’s almost convalescent.
Aren’t you glad you subscribed, Stephen?”

“Of course I’m glad. I don’t give money unless I want to.”

“You are very good about it, Stephen--very. I was wondering
whether”--Peter Knott looked up at Ringsmith--“you’d feel like giving me
another little cheque. You know these ambulances break down dreadfully
fast. Fresh ones are always wanted, and with the new campaign--”

“Really, Peter, you try me pretty high. It’s give, give, give. You seem
to think that I’ve got a bottomless pocket.”

“Not exactly bottomless, Stephen.”

“But I say you do. I can’t go on like this. Every day there’s some new
demand. Look at this.” He took a type-written letter from the table and
handed it to his friend. Peter Knott stuck his eyeglass into his eye and
slowly read the letter.

“I say, Stephen, this must be the wrong letter. It’s from those
wheelworks of yours, telling you they’ve got so many orders they can’t
execute them, and that there’s a new contract from the Government.
They want to extend the works.”

“Well, damn it! doesn’t that mean more money, and the Government takes
pretty nearly all the profit. You seem to forget that money’s wanted in
business. I shall have to shut up shop if this goes on. D’you think
giving employment to hundreds of workmen isn’t worth something, too? I’m
thinking very seriously of closing Crossways Hall altogether; in fact, I
should, only that it would cost me almost as much as keeping it open.
There’s no man in the country who has done more in the public interest
than I have, but there’s a limit to everything.”

Ringsmith scowled at Peter, who made no attempt at replying.

“By the way, Ringsmith, did you know Whelan is over here? I met him quite
by chance yesterday. Seems he’s come over on a large Government contract
for shells. He asked after you. Told me about a Corot you sold him some
years ago. He seemed to think he’d paid a big price.”

“Well, he didn’t.” The tone of Ringsmith’s reply was irritable. Peter
Knott stopped putting on his gloves and looked at Ringsmith inquiringly.

“Not a big price? He told me £7,500.”

“Oh, he told you that, did he? Have you any idea what kind of expenses
there are in a transaction of that kind?”

“Not the slightest, Stephen.”

“You don’t seem to realize that there are not many people who have the
antipathy to being mixed up in art deals that you have.”

“Ah!” Peter Knott moved to the door.

“Good-bye, Stephen,” he murmured, and closed it gently behind him.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the first post in the morning Peter Knott received the following
letter--


DEAR PETER,

Thinking it over after you left, I have decided to send you the enclosed
for the motor ambulance fund. I never like refusing you, but I should
like you to remember that business is one thing and charity another.

Yours ever,

STEPHEN RINGSMITH.


Within the letter was a cheque for £2,500.

“Not so bad,” muttered Peter, “but he’s got the Mauve and the Daubigny
for nothing, and there were no expenses on this deal.”



V. “BOBBY”

When War came, Julian Froelich, known to his friends as “Bobby,” found
himself in a situation which in his wildest dreams he had never
contemplated. This is not surprising, considering that his mental
activities had been exclusively limited to procuring himself what he
called “a good time.” In that brief phrase could be summed up Bobby’s
entire philosophy, and when he suddenly had to face a state of things
which from one moment to another swept away the groundwork upon which his
life reposed, it is no wonder that he felt himself “knocked out.” With
incredible velocity his friends were caught up and whirled in every
direction like cockle-shells in a hurricane. Their haunts knew them no
more, and before he could realize his personal concern with catastrophic
events Bobby became a disconsolate wanderer in search of the flotsam and
jetsam which were all that remained of his demolished world.

For a time Bobby was unnerved. At first singly, then by twos, by threes,
by dozens, those with whom his life had been spent--frequenters of the
restaurant, the racecourse, the tavern, and the theatre--followed one
another in a headlong race to the unknown. His brain reeled under
successive shocks. He was awestruck by the appalling suddenness of death
and destruction. Daring no inquiry, avoiding those whose faces he dreaded
to read, he forsook his former luxurious resorts and almost slunk into
the corners of obscure eating-places and cafés in Soho.

Bobby will not easily forget those first few weeks of the War.

Then gradually he pulled himself together, and unable to escape the
influence by which he was surrounded, he tried to take his little part in
the common effort. But his training was against him. At forty-five years
of age it is no easy task for any man to put the past behind him and
begin afresh; for Bobby to have done so would have needed a strength of
will and character which he never at any time in his life possessed. He
did succeed in getting various jobs, but one after another he threw them
up. In each case he found a suitable excuse for himself and an
explanation for his friends; there was always some insuperable reason why
he was “obliged to chuck it,” and he finally resigned himself to a form
of existence which differed from his former one, but only in degree.

In the early months of the War, before restrictions were placed upon
ordinary travellers, Bobby began going to Paris again, for although he
felt if possible even more there than in London the changes brought about
by the War, the old habit was too strong to resist; the journey itself
provided a reaction against the depression which overshadowed him.

Some time after von Kluck had been hurled back from the gates of
Paris--it must have been shortly after the return of the French
Government from Bordeaux--Bobby found himself arriving at the Gare
du Nord. He had engaged his apartment, as usual, at the Hôtel Ritz, and
was about to step into the car which even in such times as these was sent
to meet him, when a lady approached and asked him if he would mind taking
her to her destination, as there was neither cab nor car to be found at
the station. Bobby’s experienced eye took in the stranger at a glance;
she was unquestionably attractive, and with something of the old spirit
he placed himself and his car at her disposal. It so happened that there
was no inconvenience attached to the favour, which the lady acknowledged
with becoming grace, for her destination was the same as his, and by the
time Bobby had deposited her and her maid at the hotel they had struck up
a quite promising acquaintance.

Several days passed, and Bobby’s chance meeting ripened into an
engrossing adventure.

Many officers in those early days were continually passing through Paris
on their way to the Front or arriving there on short leave. There were
all sorts of other visitors--officials and bearers of dispatches,
diplomatists and cosmopolitan adventurers out for gain, not to speak of
their wives, sisters, and other female attachments. Some of these Bobby
knew, others he met, and not a few of them were well enough pleased to
accept his society, if only to profit by his ciceronage as evening
advanced. But on this occasion Bobby had no eyes for chance encounters.
His time was fully occupied, and he had come to the conclusion that his
new acquaintance was the most tempting and fascinating creature Fate
had ever cast across his path. He had, in fact, constituted himself her
permanent escort.

Her chief occupation seemed to consist in visiting people who lived in
various parts of Paris, where Bobby invariably accompanied her in the car
he had engaged chiefly for her benefit, and he observed that she had a
considerable acquaintance among people whom she came across at the hotel
or in the various restaurants and theatres they frequented. But she
never seemed to do more than bow to them, and though it was evident that
her appearance aroused flattering notice, she discouraged attentions and
was smilingly evasive when approached. Nevertheless, she was full of
engagements. One day she would have an appointment at eleven in the
morning near the Arc de Triomphe, in the afternoon in the Boulevard
Malesherbes; the next day it would be near the Odéon in the morning and
at a turning out of the Place Pigalle in the afternoon. On such occasions
she would sweetly ask him to drop her at a certain place and to fetch her
at a certain time; then she would disappear and Bobby would be left to
spend the interval kicking his heels.

She dressed modestly in a taste that was quiet and restrained. Without
being beautiful, her features were clear-cut, almost strong, and there
was a radiancy about her smile and a gaiety in her brown eyes that Bobby
found perfectly entrancing. She was no longer quite young; she might have
been thirty; indeed, her hair, which was dark brown, was ever so slightly
touched with silver, but this seemed to add to her attractiveness, which
resided perhaps more in her complete naturalness than in any other
quality. Bobby noticed that, unlike nearly all the women he knew, she
used no colour on her lips, and only lightly dusted her face with powder,
but her cheeks seemed always to have a bloom upon them as on grapes from
a hothouse.

He found her a most delightful companion, always ready to talk about the
things that interested him most and to go anywhere he liked, provided
that it did not clash with any of her private engagements.

But never in his experience had Bobby been so puzzled. He simply could
not make out who or what she really was. This mystery, if anything,
deepened her attraction for him. Her name was Madame de Corantin, and in
answer to his inquiry she told him her Christian name was Francine, but
he had not so far dared to call her by it. She had an extraordinary
power of quietly checking any attempt on his part to make tender
advances. He could not himself have explained how it was done, but she
contrived to make him feel that any suggestion of familiarity would put
an end to their intercourse, and for nothing in the world would he have
risked it. Indeed, in his loose-endedness, he looked upon the whole
adventure as a special dispensation of Providence in his favour. Madame
de Corantin was to him like a beacon to a lonely wayfarer who has lost
his way in the night. To act as her escort and protector was, quite apart
from the deeper feeling she inspired, a new object in life for him.
Ever since their first meeting his depression had left him; his existence
had once more regained its savour.

She had frequently asked him to post letters for her, and sometimes to
call at the hotel for them; her correspondence seemed to be large, and
the envelopes bore the stamps of various countries, chiefly Russia. She
spoke English and French equally well, with a slight foreign accent,
which she explained by saying that she was Russian by birth, but had
married a French diplomatist, who died in Brazil; she said, too, that she
had travelled a great deal, and had spent much of her time in South
America, where she had been in the habit of speaking Spanish. Perhaps,
had Bobby’s companion been less attractive, he might have been more
interested in these matters, but he was absorbed by her personality and
troubled little about anything else.

Ever bright, vivacious, and in good spirits, she awakened Bobby to a new
interest in life. The philosophy with which she regarded tumultuous
events, the easy cynicism with which she dismissed a discussion which
bordered upon the serious, seemed to deprive him of any means of
enlightening himself as to her real sympathies.

Several times he had suggested that some friend should join them at
dinner or at the theatre, but she opposed it with a velvety firmness. “We
are so well like this,” she would say. “Why should we spoil it?” And
Bobby was delighted beyond measure.

The days passed. Bobby’s original intention had been to remain in Paris
only a week, but he was fully determined to stop on as long as Madame de
Corantin accepted his companionship. If he stayed there until the end of
the War, he did not care, provided he could be with her.

About this time Bobby, waiting one evening in the hall of the hotel for
Madame de Corantin to come down to dinner, observed a familiar figure in
Staff uniform. It was Alistair Ramsey. They exchanged salutations, but
Ramsey’s manner was marked by a hauteur which even Bobby, good-natured as
he was, could not fail to notice. At that moment Madame de Corantin
stepped out of the lift, and with a “See you later,” to which the
other responded by a curt nod, Bobby went to meet her. As she greeted him
she stood still an instant, apparently looking at some one behind him,
and Bobby turned sharply to follow her eyes. They were fixed on Alistair
Ramsey, who was staring back at her with a look of astonishment.

The restaurant was fuller than usual, but their table was always
reserved, and Bobby (who prides himself on his taste in such matters)
looked forward to the little compliment he regularly received for
the appropriateness of his menu. But on this occasion Madame de Corantin
seemed to be oblivious of menu and of Bobby alike. She sat apparently
lost in thought, and, eating mechanically what was placed before her,
replied with monosyllables to Bobby’s attempts at conversation. Then,
of a sudden, her face cleared like the sky on an April day.

“Pardon me, my friend, I fear I have been very ill-mannered. I have
received an annoying letter, and was thinking about it.”

Bobby was full of concern. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked.

She looked at him with a half-smile. “Who knows? Perhaps!”

“Do tell me. You know I long to be of use to you, and there is so little
that I can do.”

“But who could do more? No lonely woman could ask for a more devoted
cavalier.” Her appreciative glance was nectar to Bobby. So susceptible
was he to the expression of her eyes, he would have been powerless to
resist anything they asked of him. But he had never been put to the test;
on the contrary, she had accepted with demur even the comparatively
trifling services he had been able to render her. She was most
punctilious in regard to any expense to which he was put, and insisted,
to his discomfiture, on paying her share of everything. At first they had
little quarrels about it, but Bobby had been compelled to give way to her
firm but gracious insistence.

“Tell me, my friend”--her eyes played full upon him as she spoke--“who
was that gentleman you were talking to just before dinner?”

For a moment Bobby hesitated. If there were one man in all his
acquaintance whom he would have preferred that Madame de Corantin should
not know, it was Alistair Ramsey. Bobby had known him for a good many
years. The acquaintance dated back to a period when Ramsey was a
comparatively young man of fashionable manner and appearance on
half-commission with a firm of stockbrokers. Even then he aspired to
smart society, but this social recognition involved an expenditure
considerably beyond his earning capacity. In those days Bobby had
been of no small use to him. Many were the dinners to which Ramsey had
done the inviting, he the paying, and if that gentleman of fashion was
not above accepting the lavish attentions of the man about town, whom he
regarded as quite outside his own world, still less was he averse to the
loans forthcoming at moments of embarrassment, accompanied by a thinly
veiled hint from Bobby that they were repayable only when circumstances
permitted.

Bobby was not calculating, but without any deep reflection on the subject
he knew that Ramsey was “on the make,” and it was not unreasonable to
expect him to have at least a kindly feeling for an old friend when he
“arrived.” In this, however, he was disappointed. Though with the rise in
his fortunes Ramsey’s vanity extinguished his sense of obligation, his
pride was not equal to paying his debts. Bobby may or may not have
realized that his former friend’s gratitude was of the same quality as
his honour, but in any case he showed no resentment. He was sufficiently
accustomed to the ways of the successful to take them as they were, and
to pass over those characteristics to which, after all, they partly owe
their success. Indeed, had it been a question of introducing any one but
Madame de Corantin to Ramsey, he would have ignored the latter’s
insolence and ingratitude alike and conformed to his habitual rôle as
purveyor of amusement to all and sundry. For Bobby’s dignity was not
great, and the secret of the kind of popularity he enjoyed was in no
small measure attributable to his own lack of self-respect. But for the
first time in his life Bobby’s pride now asserted itself. At last he was
being “tried too high.”

“Excuse me, madame, if before answering you I ask you why you are
interested?”

Madame de Corantin considered an instant. “I shall tell you, my friend,
but not now.” She glanced round her significantly as she spoke. “The
little story is rather private, and I should not care to be overheard.
You understand?”

“Oh, please don’t--please,” he stammered, feeling he had been indiscreet,
but flattered all the same by the promise of her confidence. “His name is
Alistair Ramsey. I have known him a long time.”

“Is he an intimate friend of yours, monsieur?”

“Well, no, I can’t say intimate, but I used to know him very well.”

“What is his position in London?”

Bobby thought a moment. “Do you mean his position now during the War or
generally?”

“Both.”

“Well, shortly before the War he had been made a partner in an important
firm in the Stock Exchange. He is supposed to come of a good family, and
he went about a great deal. One of those sort of men ladies like--asked
out a lot, that sort of thing--good-looking, too, don’t you think?”

The question was inspired by jealousy. The more Bobby thought about
Ramsey the less he liked the prospect of introducing him to Madame de
Corantin.

“I quite believe he is considered so,” she replied evasively. “But you
were saying--”

“Well, it’s generally believed, I dare say it isn’t true, that he was
made a member of that firm through being--ahem--a great friend of the
wife of the chief partner. I don’t like suggesting that sort of thing,
you know, but as you asked me--”

“Oh please go on,” Madame de Corantin said, holding her chin with both
hands and leaning her elbows on the table. Her eyes were looking closely
into Bobby’s, and he moved uneasily under their sustained gaze.

“Just after the War began--Oh, I forgot to mention something: he is a
very great friend of Mrs. Norman Lockyard, the wife of the Cabinet
Minister. I seem to keep on bringing in ladies, but somehow when one
talks about Alistair Ramsey one can’t help it. Through Mrs. Lockyard, he
got introduced to Sir Archibald Fellowes. It wasn’t very difficult, you
know; Ramsey gives little parties in his flat in Mount Street--all sorts
of people go. It’s extraordinary when one thinks of it--I mean to me who
know what his life has been--but he’s considered amusing. I know one
evening, a week or two ago, Lord Coleton was there, and--”

Madame de Corantin was listening attentively. “Did you say Lord Coleton?”
 she asked. “Those English names are so puzzling.”

“Yes,” said Bobby. “Why, do you know him?”

“Oh, slightly,” she answered, “but continue your story, it is so
interesting.”

“Where was I? Oh, yes, let me see. Have you ever heard of Léonie Blas?”

Madame de Corantin smiled at the sudden question. “Oh yes, the chanteuse.
What has she to do with it?”

“Well, you see, Ramsey and Léonie were more or less _collés_, and
Ramsey introduced old Fellowes to her. Soon afterwards Ramsey became
Fellowes’ private secretary.”

“Ah!” The exclamation came through Madame de Corantin’s closed lips
almost like a sigh. “And Sir Archibald is a very important personage, I
believe?”

“Important! They say he runs the whole War Office.”

Madame de Corantin laughed. The sound of it rippled away joyously. It was
infectious, and Bobby laughed too.

“Anything more I can tell you?”

“Oh no, thanks. Now let us talk about other things, but I must know this
wonderful Mr. Ramsey. You will introduce him to me, won’t you? Ah!” The
reason for the exclamation was evident.

Their table faced the entrance, and Madame de Corantin’s seat enabled her
to see every one who entered or left the restaurant. Alistair Ramsey was
standing in the doorway, waiting for the head waiter to show him to his
table. His eyes were fixed upon Madame de Corantin’s face. The look of
astonishment Bobby had noticed before had given place to one of mingled
surprise and curiosity. He had exchanged his uniform for evening dress,
and wore a flower in his buttonhole. A waiter went towards him, and he
began threading his way through the diners. Another instant, and he stood
beside Madame de Corantin’s chair.

Under the compulsion of a will felt but not expressed in words, Bobby
rose as he approached, and introduced him.

“I hope you will allow me to join you after dinner?” Alistair Ramsey
asked as he bowed.

Madame de Corantin smiled affirmatively, and Bobby ground his teeth as
Ramsey proceeded to his table.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madame de Corantin did not care for the chatter and casual encounters of
the public rooms of an hotel. It was her practice to retire to her own
salon after dinner, unless she were going to a theatre. After the first
two or three days of their acquaintance she had invited Bobby to join her
there, and he had been immensely flattered. He looked forward to that
moment every evening, for it seemed to him to admit a certain intimacy
which he greatly valued. But now his heart was beating with apprehension.
Would she ask Ramsey to her private apartment?

“May I tell the waiter to bring coffee upstairs?” he asked in a low tone.

“By all means,” she said, “but you might order for three and leave word
for Mr. Ramsey to join us when he has finished his dinner.” Her tone was
careless, and Bobby’s heart turned to stone.

“Perhaps I had better tell him myself?” He tried to conceal his chagrin,
but his voice betrayed him.

Madame de Corantin turned to him gaily. “Oh, I expect he’ll find his way
without that,” she answered, “and I want to tell you something before he
comes.”

“Come and sit here by me,” she said, as they entered her apartment. “You
have been very discreet; I have noticed it from the beginning. Had it not
been for that I could not have allowed you to be with me so much.
Discretion is a great gift, Mr. Froelich.”

“Oh, please don’t call me ‘Mr. Froelich’; couldn’t you manage to say
‘Bobby’ at least once before Ramsey appears?”

Madame de Corantin broke into that catching laugh of hers. “Very well
then, ‘Bobby,’ my friend, I am going to trust to your discretion by
telling you my little story. I was once travelling on a ship going to
America--at that time I was very unhappy. I was quite alone. My husband
had recently died. I have been very lucky in my life--you are an
example.”

“I?” exclaimed Bobby.

“Yes, you. Did you not arrive on the  scene just when I wanted you, at
the Gare du Nord?”

“Oh yes, I see what you mean. Of course, of course; thanks awfully for
saying that.”

“Well, just as you arrived then, so some one else arrived once long ago,
and I was grateful to him, as indeed I am grateful to you.”

Bobby was trying to find something to say, but Madame de Corantin
continued--

“I was glad of protection going to America. It is not pleasant for a
woman to have to travel alone. I daresay some people would have
misunderstood the position. My companion on that voyage was well known.
He was a Prince of a distinguished German family. He was nothing to me. I
need hardly tell you that.”

The suggestion in her last remark was not very flattering to Bobby, but
he was too much interested to notice it.

“On that same ship was travelling your friend, Mr. Ramsey. He knew the
Prince slightly, I do not know how.”

“Oh, he always manages to get to know people somehow or other. That’s
one of Ramsey’s special gifts,” Bobby remarked with as near an approach
to bitterness as he was capable of expressing.

“He used to come up and speak to the Prince when we were reclining on our
deck chairs, but my companion did not encourage him. I think, Bobby, he
was like you--a little jealous. Anyhow, towards the end of the voyage I
received a note. It was handed to me by a stewardess. It was from Mr.
Ramsey, and I handed it to the Prince. I do not exactly know what
happened, for I did not see Mr. Ramsey again, but from what the Prince
told me, he must have said something very disagreeable to Mr. Ramsey.
That is all the story.”

She had hardly said the words when there was a knock on the door, and
Alistair Ramsey entered the room and stood before her, bowing. With a few
easy words the new-comer settled himself in a chair, and at the
invitation of Madame de Corantin lit a cigarette. Nothing in his attitude
or in hers suggested that they had ever seen each other before, still
less that an embarrassing episode figured in the background of their
earlier acquaintance.

Madame de Corantin led the conversation by a few casual remarks, which
were immediately taken up by Ramsey, and in a few minutes they were
talking together as people do who, though they have not met before, have
known of each other for years. Ramsey brought in the names of common
acquaintances, of places they both knew, with an easy assumption of
mutual understanding that what he had to say about them would interest
her.

As a rule his attitude in the presence of ladies was that of a man
accustomed to the recognition of his ascendency.

Perhaps this was one of the reasons of the quite peculiar hostility with
which most men regarded him, but with Madame de Corantin his manner was
deferential, and it was clear that he was doing everything in his power
to ingratiate himself.

Bobby took little part in the conversation, and Ramsey’s demeanour
towards him was not such as to encourage him to do so. Ramsey had the
assurance which comes from social success, and he took no trouble to
conceal the indifference, if not contempt, with which he regarded the
other man. His manner was alternately insolent and condescending; he kept
his eyes fixed upon Madame de Corantin, ignoring Bobby’s presence
completely.

Glib of speech, Ramsey had a certain gift of humour, which displayed
itself in flippant witticisms generally at the expense of others. He
undoubtedly possessed the art of provoking laughter, but there was always
malice behind his frivolity. In appearance he was elegant without being
engaging, and one felt the spitefulness of the dark eyes beneath the
abundant hair, and the hardness of his mouth showed itself even when he
laughed. An onlooker could not have failed to contrast Madame de
Corantin’s two visitors, and an Englishman certainly would have done so
to the disadvantage of Ramsey.

In spite of his German name Bobby was typically English in appearance,
and no one would have supposed that of the two he was the more
cosmopolitan. As he sat now listening to the conversation his
good-natured face wore an expression of perplexity and discomfort. Bobby
was suffering the pangs of jealousy, and at every fresh sally of the
other he was watching Madame de Corantin’s face to see its effect. No
wonder, he thought, that Ramsey had few friends, and yet he could not
help envying the caustic readiness of his tongue and the skill with
which he had so quickly turned the situation to his advantage.

For an hour they talked until, in some subtle and indefinable manner,
Bobby felt that Madame de Corantin desired to be left alone. He had
frequently had this experience with her; she seemed to be able to
indicate a desire without expressing it, and he rose now from his seat
and wished her good-night. Ramsey did not move, and Bobby’s heart sank
within him at the prospect of leaving his rival in possession, but, as he
took Madame de Corantin’s hand, she held it an instant in hers, turning
at the same time towards Ramsey.

“I am so sorry,” she said to him, “that our agreeable little party must
break up, but I have many letters to write this evening, and shall look
forward to seeing you both to-morrow.”

Bobby was elated as he went out of the room, closely followed by Ramsey;
indeed, reaction prompted geniality.

“I think I’ll go round to Maxim’s for an hour; it’s quite early. Will you
join me? There are sure to be people you know there.”

They were standing in the hall of the hotel.

“Thanks, it’s very good of you, but I too have letters to write,” Ramsey
replied, and turning coldly on his heel he left Bobby to go out alone.

Bobby strolled down the Place de la Concorde, but before he reached
Maxim’s his heart misgave him; he was reviewing the events of the evening
and, though he could not justify it, his mind was full of suspicion. It
was queer her wanting to see Ramsey again after the way he had behaved.
What could have been her object? Was he really so irresistible? She had
certainly shown quite plainly that she wanted to see him, and yet she had
shown equally plainly that she didn’t want him to remain with her alone.
He wondered how long Ramsey would be staying in Paris, and what effect
his presence would have on his intercourse with Madame de Corantin. Would
he be able to see as much of her or would she drop him in favour of
Ramsey. The thought tortured him, but it wormed its way more and more
into his brain. Bobby had very little confidence in his powers of
pleasing; it was a common experience of his to be thrown over in favour
of men much less attractive to women than Ramsey. It was true that
hitherto he had not much cared, and when he had been given the “go-by” he
had always reflected that there were as good fish in the sea, and so on;
but that wasn’t the case now.

Thinking deeply, he had reached the entrance of Maxim’s without knowing
it, but looking in, he turned away in disgust; he had no desire to face
the crowd inside, he wanted to think things over. He walked on up the
Boulevard de la Madeleine, and with every step his jealousy increased.
The suspicion rankled; he felt certain that Ramsey would somehow or other
manage to see her again before he could--why, he might even contrive to
do so that very evening. He knew that Ramsey would dare anything where
women were concerned. Very likely while he was walking up the Boulevard,
Ramsey was sitting in her room.

Finally, he could bear it no longer. Turning, he walked swiftly back to
the hotel; it was a little past eleven, too early to go to bed, too late
in a darkened and subdued Paris to do anything else. He wondered where
Ramsey was, and, going to the porter, asked him casually if he had seen
him.

No, he had not seen Monsieur Ramsey since he had gone upstairs half an
hour ago; he supposed he had gone to bed.

Had Ramsey gone to bed? The more Bobby turned it over in his mind the
stronger his suspicions grew, and then came a moment of desperation--he
must know, he could not bear the suspense. His own room was two floors
above that on which was Madame de Corantin’s apartment. Declining the
lift, he walked slowly upstairs, and as though he were doing so by
mistake, directed his steps softly past the door of her salon. No one was
in the corridor, and noiselessly he approached the door. Was that a man’s
voice? Yes, there was not a doubt of it. He listened again, he looked up
and down the passage, no one was in sight. He placed his head close to
the woodwork of the door; with a sense of ignominy he realized that if
there had been a keyhole he would have placed his ear to that--anything
to know--anything. Yes, he recognized Ramsey’s voice distinctly; he was
there. On tiptoe he retraced his steps. Arrived at the entrance hall he
flung himself into a chair, a prey to utter wretchedness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Somehow the night passed.

Towards morning, perhaps at six or seven, he fell into a heavy sleep,
completely worn out by his mental sufferings. He awoke late, and,
glancing at his watch, saw to his horror that it was already eleven
o’clock. Cursing himself as he realized that this was the hour at which
Madame de Corantin generally went out, he rang the bell. How he longed
for his trusted valet, enlisted two months back. Now he had only a hotel
servant to send on messages. When the man arrived he dispatched him
instantly to find out whether Madame de Corantin had sent him any
message, and began to dress hurriedly. The servant did not return, and in
his impatience Bobby cursed him and rang again. Another servant appeared
and was hurried off on the same errand. In this way twenty minutes
passed; Bobby was dressed and flew downstairs. Unable to disguise his
anxiety, he asked the porter if he had seen Madame de Corantin.

“Madame de Corantin left an hour ago, Monsieur.”

“Left? What do you mean?”

“Yes, Monsieur, she left--left with her luggage and her
maid--everything.”

Controlling himself as best he could Bobby turned away in a state of
complete dejection. He sought an out-of-the-way corner and sat down,
trying to calm himself so that he could think.

“Gone away! Gone away!” He repeated the words mechanically. What did
it all mean?

Somebody was approaching him; he looked up, a servant handed him a note.
He tore it open breathlessly.


DEAR BOBBY, MY FRIEND,

News reached me early this morning which necessitated my immediate
departure. I know, alas, that you will feel sad at not seeing me again.
Believe me, so am I, but it is unavoidable. I asked for you before I
left, but they told me at the hotel that you had not yet left your room.
I scribble this line at the station. Forgive me, my dear friend, for all
the trouble I have given you, and believe that I am very grateful. We
shall meet again some day, and meanwhile keep a kindly remembrance of
your friend

FRANCINE DE CORANTIN.


She gave no address.

Bobby read the letter again and again; he could hardly believe his eyes.
The worst thing that could possibly happen had befallen him. Where could
she have gone, and why couldn’t she tell him, and oh, how could he have
been such a fool as to have gone on sleeping like a stupid log at the
moment that she was going away? He would never be able to forgive himself
for that. Was there any connection between her departure and her meeting
with Alistair Ramsey? Bobby tried to concentrate his mind on the problem,
but it baffled him.

Completely bewildered, he cross-questioned the hall porter, but he could
add nothing to what he had already said. Madame de Corantin had gone and
she had left no address and he had not the slightest idea where, nor did
he know to what station she had gone. A car had come for her, apparently
a private one, she had not ordered it at the hotel. What trains were
there leaving? Oh, there were numbers; there was one to Rouen and Havre
and also to Dieppe about that time, to Bordeaux and San Sebastian, to all
kinds of places. Bobby realized the utter hopelessness of attempting to
trace her. Wretchedly the hours passed; in the middle of the afternoon he
decided that whatever happened he would not stay another night in Paris.
The thought of it sickened him. Paris, the hotel, and everything else had
become hateful. No, he would spend that night at Dieppe, and go to London
the next day, that was all he could think of.

Back in London, Bobby’s condition of misery, so far from improving,
became worse. His life, aimless enough ever since the War, seemed now
more aimless than ever. Every man he knew had something to do; he alone
was objectless and workless. More profoundly than ever he realized all
that Madame de Corantin had meant to him. Her disappearance had made his
life a blank. Had there been some glimmer of hope, however slight, of
penetrating the mystery, had there been the faintest clue to her present
whereabouts, he would have thrown himself heart and soul into the
endeavour to trace her, but he had absolutely nothing to go upon.

Weary and desolate, he haunted restaurants and hotels, in the vague
hope that chance might some day yield him a glimpse of her, as a gambler
clings to a faint prospect of redeeming his fortunes through some
wonderful and unexpected revulsion of luck. But the days passed without
the slightest encouragement, and his misery turned almost to despair.

At last, at his wits’ end to know what to do with himself, he besought
a boon companion of his night life to come to his rescue. To this one war
had brought opportunity. His name was Bertram Trent. He had lived all
sorts of lives, had been married and divorced, and had made his
appearance more than once in the Bankruptcy Court, but he had knocked
about the world and seen service.

Offering himself at the beginning of the War, he had taken part in the
Great Retreat and had been wounded. On his recovery he had been given the
command of a battalion, and at Bobby’s earnest entreaty he promised him a
commission, provided he could get it confirmed at the War Office. This
saved Bobby. He lost no time in putting in his application, and, awaiting
the Gazette, he occupied himself in ordering his kit  and in getting
himself into some sort of physical condition to undertake duties for
which his previous life had ill-prepared him. Though considerably past
the age for military service, he had not contemplated the possibility of
being refused a commission.

Dropping in one day at the Carlton for lunch, he met Harold Clancey, who,
to his surprise, was wearing the Staff cap. Clancey told him that he had
been working for some time at the War Office, and had been given the rank
of captain.

“Let’s have lunch together,” suggested Bobby.

Bobby had met Clancey at all sorts of places, but they had never been on
intimate terms; in fact, the two men had little more than a nodding
acquaintance. Bobby had run into him the last time at Homburg, and
Clancey had given him to understand that he had some sort of vague
diplomatic appointment. He had drifted across Bobby’s life afterwards in
a shadowy way, seeming to have nothing special to do, but to know a great
many people and to take life as a sort of a joke. He talked lightly and
cynically about serious things, and used foreign expressions with great
ease and fluency. It was characteristic of him that since the War he made
frequent use of German idioms, and when conversation turned upon passing
events he professed a complete contempt for English ideas, habits, and
methods, and a great admiration for those of the Germans.

“What’s your job at the War Office?” asked Bobby.

“As I really don’t know myself it is rather difficult to explain it to
you,” answered the other, “but it seems chiefly to consist in sitting
tight and preventing other people from annexing it.”

“I’m up for a commission,” remarked Bobby. “Can you do anything to help
me about it?”

“Dear me, what a silly thing to do! What regiment?”

Bobby explained.

“I shall be charmed to do what I can,” replied Clancey, “but as they
simply loathe me at Headquarters I don’t think it will do you much good.”

They fell to discussing other things. Bobby, obsessed by his recent
experiences, could not resist telling his companion something about them.
But he did not mention Ramsey. The implied admission that he had been cut
out was too humiliating. Clancey’s interest was evidently aroused. He
wanted to hear all about Madame de Corantin.

“She seems to have fascinated you,” he remarked.

“She’d fascinate anybody.”

“And you really don’t know what has become of her? How extraordinary!”

“Isn’t it?”

“You mean to say you cannot trace her in any way?”

“I have no more idea than the man in the moon where she is.”

Clancey reflected.

“Did you say she was French?” he asked.

“Her husband was; she herself is Russian.”

Clancey looked at him.

“Oh, Russian, is she? Corantin, Corantin. Let me see. I seem to remember
the name somehow.”

“No, do you?” Bobby’s voice betrayed his interest.

“I must think about it,” said Clancey. He pulled out his watch. “I think
it is time I got back to the War Office. I’ll see about the commission,
Froelich, and let you know.”

“This is where I live,” said Bobby, handing him a card. “Do look me up. I
do want that commission, and as quickly as possible.”

They went out of the restaurant and separated in the street, Bobby taking
his way towards his rooms in Down Street. He was wondering whether
perhaps luck had come his way, and whether Clancey would reveal to him
some means of finding Madame de Corantin. If he did, damn the commission!

That evening, as on all others, Bobby was bored to death; the habits of
twenty years were not to be thrown off in a day. It was impossible for
him to go to bed before the small hours, and not knowing how else to kill
time he dropped in at the Savoy restaurant. It was late when he got
there, and he strolled through the foyer, stopping at various tables to
talk to acquaintances. He had no intention of taking supper, but just
wanted to see who was there.

Of a sudden, for no reason that he could possibly have explained, an
impulse made him walk into the restaurant. In that instant he felt
 positively, he could have sworn that Madame de Corantin was there. His
heart beat so that he thought it must be heard as he made his way to the
entrance, and immediately, with a strange sort of intuition, his eyes
found her.

There she was, at the table on the right. He could see her through the
glass screen, and Ramsey was with her. He stood still a moment, devouring
her with his eyes, and then she looked up and recognized him. Was she
really beckoning to him? The reaction was so great that he dared not
believe the evidence of his senses. No, there was no doubt; she was
actually beckoning. As he walked towards the table he felt as though his
legs would give way under him; and now he was by her; he held her hand.

“Ah, Bobby, my friend, I am so pleased to see you.”

The familiar voice, the familiar glance! It was all too good to be true.
He was blind to the presence of Ramsey. He was alone with her; Ramsey did
not exist; the restaurant did not exist. The hum of voices, the clatter
of plates, the movements of the waiters, were distant sounds: all he knew
was that he was standing there by her.

“Sit down, Bobby.”

Mechanically he seated himself, and gradually some of his equanimity
returned. He could speak, but he said nothing of what he felt.
Instinctively he knew that it was wiser to make no reference to anything
that had passed.

Ramsey’s face was set and cold, but all his capacity for insolent
indifference did not enable him to conceal his annoyance. His eyes
flashed with anger.

“I think we ought to be going; it is getting rather late. We don’t want
to be swept out with the dust, do we?” He addressed Madame de Corantin.

“Oh, I am in no hurry, Mr. Ramsey,” she replied. “It gives me great
pleasure to see Mr. Froelich again. I was obliged to leave Paris so
suddenly, and never had an opportunity of showing him how much I
appreciated his kindness to me.”

Ramsey said nothing, but he glared at Bobby vindictively.

Presently Madame de Corantin rose, but as she left the room she made a
point of keeping Bobby beside her, and in her inimitable way she asked
Ramsey to fetch her cloak. For a moment Bobby had the exquisite joy of
being alone with her.

“Only tell me one thing,” he almost gasped. “Tell me that I may see you,
and when.”

She thought a moment. “Not tomorrow, I fear. I should like to so much,
but I have not a moment. Come the next day to lunch. I am staying at
Claridge’s.”

Ramsey appeared with the cloak, and she was gone.

What the next hours meant to Bobby can be imagined. They were passing
somehow. The night, the morning, the afternoon wore away. He bought some
magnificent roses and returned to his flat to dress, determined that he
would take them himself to Claridge’s, hoping that by some chance he
might catch a glimpse of her.

He was just starting out when, to his surprise, Clancey was announced.

“There is something I wanted to tell you, Froelich.”

Bobby waited impatiently.

“That lady you were talking about, Madame de Corantin. I think I remember
something.”

Bobby was nervously anxious to get away. What Clancey had to tell him
mattered little now.

“Oh, thanks very much, Clancey. The fact is, I’ve seen her.”

Clancey’s nonchalant manner changed instantaneously.

“Really!” he exclaimed.

“At the Savoy last night. She is here in London. She is staying at
Claridge’s. In fact, to tell you the truth, I am taking these flowers
there now. I am to lunch with her to-morrow. It has been a great surprise.
I never dreamt of such a thing,” Bobby stammered on excitedly.

Clancey became calm again.

“Oh, that’s most interesting,” he said. “You will lunch with her
to-morrow! I say, Froelich, you might introduce me. I could turn up after
lunch, you know.”

Bobby’s face got serious.

“Well, I tell you, Clancey, old chap, as a rule I am quite ready to
introduce my friends to any lady I know, but in this particular case it
is not quite the same. You see, the fact is--the last time I introduced a
friend of mine the result was--well, it was not exactly what I bargained
for.”

“What do you mean?” asked Clancey.

“What I mean is that I introduced Alistair Ramsey to her in Paris, with
the result that I have never seen her since until yesterday.”

Clancey did not immediately reply, but a curious expression overspread
his face. “Alistair Ramsey,” he murmured, and then again, “Alistair
Ramsey, dear me!”

Bobby looked at him wonderingly. Clancey laughed lightly.

“That reminds me,” he said. “I inquired about your commission at the War
Office. You know, I suppose, that Alistair Ramsey is private secretary to
Sir Archibald Fellowes. Old Fellowes decides upon all commissions,
and your charming friend, Mr. Ramsey, informed him you were not a fit
person to wear his Majesty’s uniform.”

Bobby stared.

“The dirty dog!” he exclaimed. “Well, I’m damned! That at the last, after
everything!”

“Yes, just that,” remarked Clancey. “So you introduced him to Madame de
Corantin?”

“Not because I wanted to,” replied Bobby.

“And she has been with him ever since?”

“Oh, I don’t know that.”

“But she was with him last night at the Savoy?”

“Yes. Damn him! I must be off now. Clancey, really, I’m awfully obliged
to you.”

“Well, may I come to Claridge’s tomorrow? I promise I won’t cut you
out--I only want to make her acquaintance. She must be such a charming
woman.”

“All right. Look in after lunch,” Bobby answered, and, seizing the huge
parcel which contained his flowers, he led the way out of the room and
thence out of the flat to the cab which was waiting for him.

Had Bobby looked out of the window of that cab he would have been
surprised. Clancey was running down the street towards Piccadilly as fast
as his legs could carry him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another shock was in store for poor Bobby. Jumping out of his taxi, he
presented himself to the hall-porter, armed with his huge paper parcel
from the florist.

“For Madame de Corantin,” he said.

The porter looked at him; he knew him well and accepted the offering
hesitatingly.

“For Madame de Corantin, you said, sir?”

“Yes,” said Bobby.

“Madame de Corantin left early this afternoon, Mr. Froelich.”

For a moment Bobby was speechless.

“Left?” he gasped. “Are you sure?”

“I’m perfectly certain, sir.”

“But surely she is coming back again, isn’t she? Why, I’m lunching with
her to-morrow.”

The porter looked at him in surprise.

“Take a seat for a moment, sir, and I’ll go and inquire, though to the
best of my belief she took all her luggage with her.”

In a moment the man came back.

“Yes, sir, she and her maid and all her luggage left about two o’clock.
There were two cars; one was brought by a gentleman.”

Bobby pulled himself together.

“Ah! Mr. Alistair Ramsey, I suppose?” He tried to put indifference into
his voice.

“Yes, sir, I think it was Mr. Alistair Ramsey.”

Bobby walked out of the hotel. “Oh, damn him, damn him, damn him!” he
muttered as he threw himself into a cab.

“Go to Down Street.”

Arrived at his rooms, Bobby cast his poor flowers into a corner, and,
flinging himself on to a sofa, buried his face in his hands. What was the
meaning of it, and how could she be so cruel as to play the same trick on
him again? What was the object of telling him to come and see her? It
would have been by far kinder to ignore him when she saw him at the
Savoy. And yet even now Bobby was not resentful. He was bewildered,
but far more was he humiliated at the thought of Ramsey’s triumph. There
must surely be some explanation. She had greeted him so kindly; she had
shown such evident pleasure at seeing him again. Why should she have
acted that part? There was no object in it. Something must have happened,
something quite outside the range of ordinary events. As he had done a
hundred times, Bobby returned on the past and tried to piece together
consecutively all the incidents since his first meeting with Madame de
Corantin. Gradually an impression formed itself in his mind that what at
first had seemed an attractive mystery was something deeper than he had
imagined. Gradually there spread over him a vague sensation of
discomfort, of apprehension even. Still, when he thought about her it
seemed impossible to connect anything sinister with a personality so
charming, with a disposition so amiable. No, it was beyond him; it
was useless his attempting to puzzle out the problem. Only time could
explain it. As they had met at the Savoy, so sooner or later they would
meet again. He knew it was useless to try and forget her; that was
impossible, but, in the meantime, what?

Suddenly his reflections were interrupted. Some one was ringing the bell
at the entrance. Bobby went to the door. Two men were standing
outside--strangers to him.

“Are you Mr. Froelich?” one of them asked.

“Yes,” answered Bobby. “Why? What do you want?”

“I should like to speak to you a moment.”

“What about?” Bobby eyed them suspiciously.

“I am from Scotland Yard, Mr. Froelich. We’d better go inside to talk.”

Bobby, quite bewildered, led them into his sitting-room, and shut the
door.

“My name is Inspector Groombridge,” said the spokesman of the two. “I
have been instructed to place you under arrest.”

“Me! Under arrest? What on earth have I done? There must be some
mistake.”

Bobby was horrified.

“Those are my instructions, Mr. Froelich, and I am afraid I must ask you
to come with me. My colleague, Sub-inspector Dane, is to remain here in
possession, and I am afraid I must ask you to hand him your keys.”

“My keys?” Bobby felt in his pockets. “What sort of keys do you mean?” He
pulled a gold chain out of his pocket to which were attached his latchkey
and a few others. He held them in his hand, and ticked them off one by
one mechanically. “This is the key of the cupboard where I keep my cigars
and liqueurs; this is the key of my dispatch-box. I don’t think I’ve got
anything else locked up.”

“Have you no safe, no desk or other receptacle where you keep your
papers, Mr. Froelich--documents of any kind?”

“Papers--documents?” ejaculated Bobby. “No, I haven’t got any documents
or papers. What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m afraid it will be the duty of Sub-inspector Dane to search
your apartment, Mr. Froelich, and I want to save you from having anything
broken open if it can be avoided.”

“There is nothing to break open. I don’t lock anything up except cigars
and things of that kind, and as to my dispatch-box, there’s not much
there either. I hardly know what there is--I haven’t looked inside it for
ever so long. There may be a few private letters.”

“What sort of letters?” asked the inspector.

To Bobby this sounded menacing.

“Oh, I don’t know; perhaps there may be one or two--well, what shall I
call them?--love letters, I suppose. Anyhow, here are the keys.” He
handed them over to the other man as he spoke.

“Call a cab.” The inspector spoke to his subordinate.

“I say,” asked Bobby apprehensively, “am I going to be locked up?”

The inspector hesitated slightly. Bobby’s innocence seemed to strike him.
He was not the sort of person he was used to arresting.

“I am afraid it’s more than likely, Mr. Froelich.”

“Can’t I change my clothes?” queried Bobby. “You see, I’ve got on evening
dress, and I suppose I shan’t have a chance of getting out of it.”

The inspector reflected a moment.

“Oh yes, Mr. Froelich. I don’t see why you should not change, but I’m
afraid I must ask you to let me accompany you.”

“Well, I’m--D’you think I’m going to try and escape?”

“Oh, I don’t say that, Mr. Froelich, but sometimes things happen on these
occasions, and it’s my duty to be on the safe side. I’m sorry to
inconvenience you.”

“Come on in, then.” Bobby led the way into his dressing-room, and in a
few minutes he was rolling off with his strange companion to some
destination unknown.

After the most uncomfortable night Bobby had ever spent in his life he
was escorted next morning by Sub-inspector Dane to Scotland Yard. He was
ushered into a waiting-room, and there he sat with the inspector, waiting
until he should be summoned before the Assistant Commissioner. Had he
been able to see what was going on in the adjoining room, he would have
been exceedingly surprised.

The Assistant Commissioner, one of those public servants whose quiet,
unobtrusive manner covers a strong character and a great efficiency, was
sitting at his table talking to Harold Clancey. They were in earnest
consultation.

“Then I understand, Captain Clancey,” said the Assistant Commissioner,
“that this lady has got clear off?”

Clancey smiled serenely.

“Oh, rather! Address: Hôtel des Indes, The Hague--quite a comfortable
place and quite an important German espionage centre.”

“I gather that our man was too late.”

“By some hours, I should say,” Clancey replied. “You see, we only got the
report in from France quite late. I sent your man to watch her while I
went to see Froelich. I was sure he was all right, but I wanted to
satisfy myself. By the time I reached our place I found the chief in the
deuce of a stew. Your man had got back, and reported that she’d gone.
They’d kicked up the devil’s delight at Headquarters, and the chief was
out for blood. He was determined to arrest somebody, and I suggested
Ramsey, but he got purple in the face and told me he’d instructed your
people to bag Froelich. I thought this quite idiotic, but it relieved
the chief’s feelings, and it was too late to do anything sensible. We
knew the ship she took; of course, she was much too clever to sail under
the English flag. Naturally we wirelessed, but they won’t dare touch her.
After that last row it’s hands off these Dutchmen.”

“And the view of your department, Captain Clancey, is that it’s useless
for us to detain Mr. Froelich?”

“Absolutely useless. I can swear to it. As I told you, I don’t know him
well, but I know all about him, and I am satisfied of his complete
innocence, and that he is entirely unaware of Madame de Corantin’s
objects and activities.”

“Then what do you propose that we should do, Captain Clancey?”

“I propose nothing at all, Mr. Crane.”

“What, after her getting those passports?”

Clancey twisted his moustache.

“That’s a matter which concerns spheres altogether over my head, Mr.
Crane.”

“But Mr. Ramsey says that it’s entirely owing to Mr. Froelich’s
introduction that he provided the lady with passports, that he’d known
her through him, and having been a friend of Mr. Froelich for many years,
he had implicitly trusted him. He was here only a few minutes before you
came, and he told me that there was no doubt at all but that he had been
the victim of a conspiracy between Froelich and this Madame de Corantin.
He admitted that he ought to have been on his guard, considering that Mr.
Froelich’s name was German, and of course it was natural that he would
have German sympathies.”

“Um! And what do you think, Mr. Crane?”

The Assistant Commissioner was silent for a moment.

“You see, I don’t know Mr. Froelich,” he said.

“But you do know Mr. Ramsey,” replied Clancey.

“Not well.”

“What about his chief? You know him well enough. Why not ask him?”

The Assistant Commissioner’s answer was to throw a note across the table
to his questioner. It ran as follows--


WAR OFFICE.

DEAR MR. CRANE,--

I desire you to take the most rigorous measures without fear or favour
regarding this matter of the passports accorded to Madame de Corantin.
There has been a disgraceful dereliction of duty, and I intend to make an
example of the offender, whoever he may be.

Yours very truly,

ARCHIBALD FELLOWES.


Clancey whistled.

“That looks rather awkward for Master Alistair.”

There was a knock on the door. It was Inspector Groombridge.

“Excuse me, sir, my man has just brought this. It was delivered by a
stranger to the hall-porter of the building where Mr. Froelich occupies a
flat.” He handed a letter to the Assistant Commissioner, who read it
slowly and without comment passed it to Clancey. Clancey, read it
through, smiled, and passed it back.

“I think that settles it,” he remarked, “and with your kind permission I
will now depart.”

Nodding farewell to the Assistant Commissioner, Clancey withdrew by the
private exit opposite to the one which led into the room where Bobby was
miserably awaiting his fate.

“Show Mr. Froelich in, Inspector Groombridge, and, by the way, I hope you
have treated him with courtesy.”

The inspector cleared his throat.

“Oh, I think so, sir. Of course, it’s rather difficult in these cases to
make a gentleman comfortable, but I gave him a shake-down in my own
private room for the night and sent a man for his toilet things and so on
in the morning.”

“Very well, Inspector; show him in at once.”

Bobby came into the room; his expression was more bewildered than
apprehensive. The Assistant Commissioner held out his hand, which Bobby
took with a look of surprise.

“Do sit down, Mr. Froelich. I am so sorry to have troubled you. You will,
I am sure, understand that in times like these one has to be very
careful, and your acquaintance with Madame de Corantin--”

“Madame de Corantin!” Bobby, exclaimed. “What in the world--”

“One moment, Mr. Froelich. I’ll try and explain it to you. Madame de
Corantin is known to us. She is a very clever emissary of the German
Government, and she has succeeded in baffling us entirely up till now
because by a chain of coincidences there has been no one who could
identify her on the various occasions that she has been in England.
Thanks to her influential connections, she has succeeded in obtaining
information of considerable value, and has also been enabled to elude
both the French authorities and ourselves. We have reason to believe that
she has secured travelling facilities and passports through her relations
with high Government officials, both French and English, whom she knew
before the War. You will understand, therefore, that your acquaintance
with her was at first sight a suspicious circumstance. I am glad to be
able to tell you, however, that on inquiry we find that you are entirely
innocent of any complicity with her plans, and this result of our
investigations is confirmed by a letter which she apparently addressed
to you.”

Bobby’s face had been growing longer and longer as the Assistant
Commissioner proceeded. When Mr. Crane mentioned the letter Bobby could
not restrain an exclamation.

“A letter?” he asked excitedly. “What letter?”

“This,” said the Assistant Commissioner, handing him the note that
Clancey and he had previously seen.

Bobby took it eagerly and read--


DEAR BOBBY, MY FRIEND,--

Once more I fear I am causing you unhappiness. I cannot explain
everything, but I can at least tell you this. When I prevailed upon you
to introduce Mr. Ramsey to me, so much against your will, I had an
object. This object was very far from being a desire for Mr. Ramsey’s
acquaintance as you supposed, for I am still, and always shall be,
devoted to that former friend of whom I told you. His name, I may now
tell you, is Prince von Waldheim und Schlangenfurst. When I came to
London I had hoped to have remained long enough to see you again, but I
had no alternative but to go at a moment’s notice. To have remained would
have been dangerous.

This letter will be delivered to you by a person whom I can trust. By the
time you get it I shall be in Holland.

Some day when peace is restored I hope we may meet, and it will give me
great pleasure to see you and introduce you to Prince von Waldheim, who
esteems loyalty as I do.

As to Mr. Ramsey I do not know which I despise most--his vanity or his
stupidity.

With every good wish,

Believe me,

Always sincerely and gratefully yours,

FRANCINE DE CORANTIN.


As Bobby finished the letter he looked up and met the eyes of the
Assistant Commissioner who rose from his chair.

“I need not detain you, Mr. Froelich; it only remains for me to apologize
for any trouble I may have given you. I must ask you to be kind enough to
lend me this letter, which, however, I shall send on to you in a few
days.”

Bobby returned to his flat, relieved but chastened. It was not long
before he received the commission he coveted. The same Gazette contained
two announcements: one that a commission as lieutenant had been granted
to Mr. J. Froelich, the other that his Majesty had no further use for the
services of Mr. Alistair Ramsey.



VI. A WAR VICTIM

Gilbert Baxendale is at fifty what people call “a nice-looking man.” He
hardly seems any older than he did ten years ago, except that he is
rather stouter below the belt, and that when he takes off his hat one
notices that he is getting a little bald. His skin is pink and
unwrinkled, and his hair and moustache are so light that one does not
notice whether they are turning grey or not, and he looks as spruce as
ever. Baxendale always has been particular about his appearance, and
he is never so pleased as when you ask him the name of his tailor. But
his reply in that case is deprecating, implying that he doesn’t think
very much of him, do you? which is intended to draw further reassurance
and compliment. On the other hand, if, inspired by the lustre of their
beautiful polish, you should inquire where he gets his boots, his
expression changes. Although boots are about as near a hobby as he has
ever got, he is distressed about the shape of his feet, and says that his
corns give him a lot of trouble. But he likes to talk about boots, and a
recurring subject of conversation with him is the difficulty of finding a
man who really understands doing them properly. He knows a great deal
about blacking and brushes, and is no mean authority on the art of boning
or polishing or varnishing refractory footgear of all kinds. To look at
him one would think Baxendale has never had a day’s illness in his life,
but as a matter of fact he has never been well since any one can
remember. He has always suffered from what one may call ailments, and
when one saw him at the club or in Bond Street he would tell you he was
not quite the thing--he was run down or had lumbago or a bit of a chill
on the liver.

Baxendale is very particular about cooking. He used to complain a good
deal about the food at the club, but after his marriage he said it had
improved, which no one could understand, as the kitchen staff has not
been changed for twenty years. Freddy Catchpole said that once when he
dined with them Mrs. Baxendale asked him about the club cook, because
Gilbert was very dissatisfied with theirs. Servants worried Baxendale
a great deal after he got married. He said they almost made him long for
his bachelor days, when he did not know what domestic cares were.

The Baxendales live in one of those new, well-built houses in the
neighbourhood of Grosvenor Square. It was some time before Baxendale
could make up his mind to buy the lease of it. For a year or two he tried
taking furnished houses alternately in the country and in town. Being a
cautious man, he wanted to give both a good trial, but his wife finally
made up his mind for him. She took no end of trouble in decorating and
furnishing their house in some antique style. At first Baxendale seemed
to be pleased. Every now and then he told men at the club how clever she
was at picking up bargains; but after a time he got gloomy when one asked
how the house was getting on. He said he had met a man who had made a
collection of antiques, and when he wanted to sell them he found they
were all shams, and it nearly ruined him.

After it was all finished the Baxendales gave a house-warming party.
Peter Knott said afterwards that Baxendale took him aside and confided to
him that he wasn’t at all pleased with the house. It faced west instead
of south, and the drawing-room was so large one could never buy enough
furniture to put in it, whereas his smoking-room was a rotten little hole
you couldn’t swing a cat in. Besides, it really was a mistake living in
town; the country was much better for the health and less expensive on
the whole, even if you had shooting and entertained a good deal. He had
a great mind to sell the lease if he could get a good offer. Then he
would have a flat just to run up to when he wanted to stay in town for a
week at a time and do the theatres.

The Baxendales have no children, and apparently no nephews, nieces, nor
other youthful belongings in whom they take any special interest. One day
Peter Knott met Baxendale playing golf with a young man whom he
introduced to him as his nephew, Dick Barnard, but the youth did not
reappear on any other occasion, and Peter remembers that Baxendale told
him in confidence that the boy put on side and was cheeky.

Baxendale always tells things in confidence to people, and occasionally
they happen to meet and compare notes; in this way they sometimes get to
know what Baxendale thinks about them, and this does not add to his
popularity. Baxendale retired from business after his marriage, and
invested his capital as remuneratively as security permitted. He came to
the conclusion that as his wife’s income, added to his own, provided all
the money they needed, there was no object in boring himself by going to
the City. After he gave up business, every week when in town Baxendale
had certain obligations which filled up his time agreeably for him. For
instance, he looked over the share list every morning to see that his and
Mrs. Baxendale’s investments were all right. He liked a pleasant object
for a walk, so at least once a week he made a point of fetching his
passbook from the bank. One day Freddy Catchpole met him just as he was
coming out, and he said he was awfully upset about his quarter’s balance,
which had never been so low before. Freddy told him he had never had a
balance at the end of a quarter in his life, and Baxendale replied that,
at all events, that saved him anxiety about investing it.

There used to be lots of other ways in which Baxendale passed his time.
There was always something or other to order at his tailor’s or his
shirtmaker’s. He was never extravagant in these matters, but when he
decided to get something he took time and trouble over it, and would go
several times to try things on. He used to say that in this way he got
quite a lot of exercise. On Saturdays and Sundays he and his wife
sometimes motored down to play golf at one or the other of their clubs.
Baxendale said since his marriage he was off his game, and it was really
no fun playing with a woman. Mrs. Baxendale asked Peter Knott’s advice
about it. She said it was such a pity Gilbert lost his temper and never
would finish the round when she was one up, as the exercise really was
good for him. During the racing season Baxendale generally managed to
avoid golf and go down to Sandown or Kempton or Gatwick instead; he said
he got just as much air and exercise there, and there was always a chance
of paying your expenses. Sometimes he succeeded, as he was very careful;
but whenever he failed he would say he’d chuck it up altogether, the game
wasn’t worth the candle.

In the winter Baxendale used at one time to take a shoot near London, but
he gave it up because he got bored with looking after it and arranging
parties. He said he was sick of being sponged on by men who never asked
him back.

He complained a good deal about the snobbishness of people generally.
Somebody was always cutting or ignoring him, and then “look at the sort
of men that one meets nowadays; fellows whose fathers keep shops and
haven’t an ‘h’ in their alphabets.” He couldn’t understand how people
could stand the cads that went about; yet you could go into the Ritz
or the Carlton and see the Countess of Daventry and Lady FitzStuart
lunching and dining with “bounders like that fellow Clutterbuck.”

After his marriage Baxendale became absorbed more and more by his wife’s
family. He seemed to be impressed especially by old Sir Robert and Jack
Barnard, his wife’s uncle and brother. Whatever Jack did interested
Baxendale, and whatever he said Baxendale repeated in confidence to most
of his acquaintances. Of course Jack is a romancer, but Baxendale never
knows whether to believe him or not, and Jack, being aware of this,
concocts imposing fairy tales for Baxendale’s benefit. Sir Robert is
supposed to be very rich, and the amount of his fortune and what he is
going to do with it are matters of deep concern to Baxendale, who made a
habit of calling on him daily and constantly inviting him to dinner. He
told Peter Knott he was sorry for the old man being so lonely, and that
his wife was his favourite niece and much attached to him; but Jack
declared that his uncle was horribly mean, and only tolerated Baxendale
because he could get dinner at his house for nothing.

At the beginning of the War Baxendale began complaining about his nerves.
Somehow he didn’t enjoy his food and couldn’t get a proper night’s sleep.
He’d tried Benger’s Food last thing at night and Quaker Oats for
breakfast, but nothing seemed to do him any good.

The curious part of Baxendale’s illness was that he continued to look
perfectly well, but he seemed to get offended if people said so; what
really touched him was pity. There’s a man at the club called Funkelstein
whom everybody supposed was a German, but now he says he’s Dutch. Just
after the War broke out, Baxendale told every one confidentially he was a
spy, but, to our surprise, they suddenly became quite friendly. It seemed
that Funkelstein also suffered from nerves. Baxendale said he was most
sympathetic to him personally, and alluded to him as “poor Funkelstein.”
 As time went on Baxendale’s nerves grew worse, and it was thought he must
have been badly hit financially by the War, till Peter Knott told us that
he had invested most of his wife’s and his own money in shipping
companies and coal-mine debentures which had done nothing but rise ever
since the War began. On the strength of this satisfactory information
Baxendale was occasionally approached for subscriptions; but his response
was generally evasive, or the amount offered so minute that he felt
compelled to explain it by expressing his apprehensions about new
taxation and the insane extravagance of the Government.

After a time Baxendale told us he could hardly bear to open a paper; he
never knew what he might read next, and he felt he could not stand any
more shocks. That made us suppose he had a brother or some near relative
at the Front, and for some days we were rather apologetic in our attitude
towards him, as, what with the War and our own anxieties, we had shown
some indifference to Baxendale’s nerves.

But one day Jack Barnard turned up as a major in khaki, and said
something so rude to his brother-in-law, who was sitting in the corner
with Funkelstein, that the latter turned pale and left the room
hurriedly. It appeared afterwards that Jack had got his back up against
“that blighter Gilbert” because he hadn’t done a thing for Dick, who had
been at Sandhurst, and was now with his regiment in France. “It wasn’t as
though the selfish swine had kids of his own or some one else’s whom he
cared about. Not a soul. Sickening, I call it. He didn’t even say
good-bye to him or ask after him.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Later on Baxendale developed a habit of questioning every one as to what
they were doing. On one occasion he asked Postlethwaite, who runs a
convalescent home at Margate, if there was anything he could do down
there. Postlethwaite suggested that he might drive wounded soldiers down
to Margate in his car if he liked. Baxendale said he’d think it over, but
when Postlethwaite had gone he asked Peter Knott in confidence if he
didn’t think it was taking advantage of people to mess up their cars like
that.

Another time he tackled old Colonel Bridge, who had been up all night
doing special constable duty, and was not in the sweetest of tempers.
When Baxendale asked him what he was doing he told him he’d better come
round to the police-station at three the next morning and see for
himself.

Baxendale has not turned up at the club since, and we were all hoping he
had found suitable employment. This happens to nearly every one sooner or
later except to us seniors. But it had not happened to Baxendale; for
Freddy Catchpole, who has managed to get a job at the War Office, dined
one evening with Mrs. Baxendale, and she told him poor Gilbert had got so
bad with his nerves that he had to go to a nursing-home in the country to
take a cure. And there, for all I know, he will stay till the War is
over.



VII. DULCE ET DECORUM

David Saunderson lived on the top floor of one of the few lofty buildings
in Chelsea, and as his years increased, the ascent of the five flights of
stairs became a serious matter. His heart was none too sound, and the
three minutes he once needed to reach his attic from the ground floor had
already become five when the War began.

With the first shock of battles the emaciated remains of his bedridden
brother were borne down the steep stairs and out of the little flat he
had not left for the last five years of his life.

The two had lived together since Philip had returned from India as a man
of fifty, with the reasonable hope of enjoying his pensioned retirement.
Philip had spent his energy freely in the Indian Civil Service, and the
two middle-aged brothers, either too poor to marry, too shy, or both,
determined to combine resources with companionship and keep house
together.

For a time they sailed contentedly downstream. Philip’s public spirit and
industrious habits would not permit of what he called “a life of indolent
ease.” He rose early and put in a good eight hours’ day at various unpaid
labours. He became churchwarden of the parish, joined the vestry, and was
a much valued unit of that obscure element in the population which does a
great part of the public work for which individuals of a less modest type
get the recognition.

David earned his living as a journalist and literary hack. He had never
done or been anything else in his life, although to his small circle he
loved, in a guileless way, to convey the impression that his youthful
performances had been of no little brilliance.

He would mention the names of the celebrated editors by whom he had been
employed as literary or dramatic critic, and was never tired of
eulogizing these and other lettered heroes for whom he had slaved in the
distant past. He insisted on the appreciation that these forgotten lions
had shown of his work; but, however that might be, its manifestation had
certainly never been translated into terms of cash, for within no one’s
memory had David’s pecuniary resources been other than exiguous.

He was a great lover of the Arts, but his tastes were catholic and he
worshipped at many shrines. He had no great patience with those who
admire the modern to the exclusion of the old, or whose allegiance to one
school precludes acceptance of another. He held his arms wide open and
embraced Art in all its manifestations.

He was a great hero-worshipper; there was no sort of achievement he did
not admire, but he had his special favourites; generally these were
successful playwrights or novelists whose work he revised for publication
at a minimum rate and whose additional recognition, in the form of a back
seat for a first night or a signed presentation copy, produced in him a
quite inordinate gratitude.

David Saunderson was the embodiment of ponderousness; he spoke as slowly
as he moved his cumbersome limbs. So gradual were his mental processes
that his friends forbore to ask him questions, knowing that they would
not have time to wait for his replies. For these reasons the agile in
body and mind avoided encounters with him, but if he chanced to meet them
where there was no escape they would evade him by cunning or invent
transparent excuses which only one so artless as he would have believed.

Now and then he paid visits to old friends who were sometimes caught
unawares. Then he would settle his huge bulk in an arm-chair, and his
head, bald except for a fringe of grey hair about the ears, seemed to
sink into his chest, upon which the bearded chin reposed as though the
whole affair were too heavy to support. At such times he gave one the
impression of a massive fixture which could be about as easily moved as a
grand piano, and his hosts would resign themselves to their fate.

If any one had the temerity to provoke him to discussion, he would wait
patiently for an opening, and once he secured it, would maintain his
opinion steadily, the even, dispassionate voice slowly wearing down all
opposition.

He was not without humour and a certain shrewdness in judging men and
things, and would smile tolerantly when views were advanced with which he
disagreed. It was not difficult to make merry at his expense, for he
suspected no one, and only those who spoke ill of their neighbours
disturbed his equanimity. Towards cynics his attitude was compassionate.

Directly war broke out David enrolled himself in the special volunteer
corps of artists raised by an eminent Academician. He took his duties
very seriously, and was at great pains to master the intricacies of
squad-drill. He never admitted that some of the exercises, especially the
one that consists in lying on the ground face downwards and raising
yourself several times in succession by your arms, were trying to a man
of his weight and proportions, but about the time he was beginning to
pride himself on his military proficiency Philip’s death occurred. He
said little about it and quietly occupied himself with the funeral and
with settling his dead brother’s small affairs, but the battalion were
little surprised when shortly afterwards his resignation followed on
medical grounds.

The Saundersons were connected with a family of some distinction, the
head of which, knowing that Philip’s pension died with him and that
David’s earnings were smaller than ever since the War, would gladly have
offered him some pecuniary assistance. But David’s pride equalled his
modesty, and Peter Knott had to be charged with the mission of
approaching him.

One afternoon Peter found David in his attic going through his dead
brother’s papers and smoking a pipe. Peter knew his man too well to
attempt direct interrogation. He felt his way by inquiries as to the
general situation of Art, and David was soon enlarging on the merits
of sundry unknown but gifted painters and craftsmen whose work he hoped
Peter might bring to the notice of his wealthy friends.

“The poor fellows are starving, Knott,” he said in his leisurely way as
he raised himself painfully from his chair and walked heavily to a corner
where lay a portfolio.

Every piece of furniture in the small sitting-room was littered with a
heterogeneous collection of manuscripts and books; the latter were piled
up everywhere. David slowly removed some from a table and laid the folio
upon it.

“Now, here’s--a charming--etching.” He had a way of saying a word or two
and then pausing as though to take breath, which demanded great patience
of a listener.

Peter stood by him and examined it, David meanwhile puffing at his pipe.

“The man--who did that--is one of our best line engravers--his name is
Macmanus--he’s dreadfully hard up--look at this.”

He held another before his visitor.

“That’s by Plimsoll--a silver point--isn’t it a beautiful thing?”

“Delightful,” replied Peter.

“Well, do you know--Knott--that--” David’s pipe had gone out. He moved
slowly towards his chair and began looking for the matches. “Do you know,
Plimsoll is one of the most gifted”--he was holding a match to his pipe
as he spoke--“gifted young artists in the country--and two days
ago--he--was literally hungry--” David took his pipe from his mouth and
looked at Peter to see the effect of his words.

“It’s very sad, very”--Peter Knott’s tone was sympathetic--“but after
all, they’re young; they could enlist, couldn’t they?”

David sat down in his chair and pulled at his pipe reflectively before
answering.

“They’re--neither of them--strong, Knott. They’d--be laid up in a week.”

“Um--hard luck that,” Peter Knott agreed. “But what’s to be done?
Everybody’s in the same boat. The writers now, I wager they’re just as
badly hit, aren’t they?”

“That depends--” David paused, and Peter gave him time to finish his
sentence. “The occasional--er--contributors--are having a bad time--but
the regular journalists--the people on the staffs--are all right--of
course I know cases--there’s a man called--er, let me see--I’ve got a
letter from him somewhere--Wyatt’s his name--now, he’s--” David’s huge
body began to rise again gradually. Peter Knott stopped him.

“By the way,” he remarked briskly, “I saw your friend Seaford yesterday.”

David had subsided, and once more began relighting his pipe; he looked up
at the name.

“Frank Seaford--oh, did you? How is he? I haven’t seen him for some
time--”

“So I gathered,” Peter remarked dryly. “He seems to be getting on very
well since Ringsmith took him up.”

“Ah! Ringsmith’s right. He’s a beautiful--artist. Did you--see--”

Peter interrupted. “I think I’ve seen all Seaford’s work. Anyhow he owes
his recognition entirely to you. I introduced him to Ringsmith entirely
on your recommendation two years ago. He’s sold a lot of pictures during
that time. When did you see him last, Saunderson?”

David stroked his beard thoughtfully.

“Let me see--some time before the War--it must have been--more than a
year ago.”

“Not very grateful,” Peter could not help rapping out.

David stopped smoking, and seemed to rouse himself.

“You’re quite wrong, Knott. He sent me--that exquisite study--on the wall
yonder.” He pointed as he spoke to a small drawing in water colours.

Peter got up, looked at it a moment, and shrugged his shoulders.

“If you’re satisfied, I’ve got nothing to say.”

“Satisfied--of course I’m satisfied--” A tolerant, almost condescending
smile stole over David’s eyes and mouth. “You don’t understand--artists,
Knott.”

“Perhaps not, perhaps not.” Knott pulled out his watch. “Anything doing
in your own line, Saunderson?” he asked in a tone of careful
indifference.

David puffed at his pipe.

“I’m not very busy--but--you know--that’s rather a good thing--now I’m a
special constable.”

Peter Knott’s single eyeglass wandered over the unwieldy frame sitting
opposite him.

“A special constable?” he echoed.

David puffed complacently.

“Sergeant,” he replied.

Peter Knott dropped his glass.

“Really, you know, Saunderson. For a man at your time of life, and
obliged to work for his living, it’s--” He hesitated. “Well, you oughtn’t
to do it.”

David smiled in a superior way.

“That’s just where--you’re wrong--Knott--we relieve the--younger
men--that’s our job--and I’m proud to--”

Peter Knott’s kindly old eyes twinkled at the thought of David tackling a
lusty cracksman, twinkled and then became grave.

“Supposing you get laid up, injured in some way?” he asked.

“We don’t think about that.” David’s expression was serene. “I go
on--duty at--two--very quiet then--lovely it is--on fine nights--when
I’ve been working--to get out--into the cool air--”

As David spoke Peter Knott pulled out his watch again and then got up.

“I saw your cousin Herbert a few days ago, Saunderson. He said he hadn’t
seen you for a long time, wondered whether you’d go down to Rendlesham
for a few weeks. He wants a catalogue of his prints, and there are some
old manuscripts he would like your opinion about. I’m going down this
week-end. What shall I tell him?”

David put down his pipe.

“Tell him--I’m much obliged--later on perhaps--I can’t--leave my
duties--while these Zeppelin scares last. They need experienced
men--one doesn’t know what--may happen.” He had got on his feet and had
gradually reached the door of the tiny flat. “Good-bye, Knott,” he said
as he took the other’s hand. “Don’t forget--about Macmanus
and--Plimsoll--”

His visitor was two flights below when David called to him--

“If you happen--to hear of--a secretaryship--Wyatt’s--”

But by the time he got the words out Peter Knott was out of hearing.

In due course Peter Knott reported the result of his visit to Sir Herbert
Saunderson. The latter, a kindly man with an income barely enough for the
responsibilities a large family entailed on him, took counsel with his
old friend as to what could be done next. There was reason for believing
that David’s stolid silence regarding his own concerns concealed a
general impecuniousness quite as pronounced as that of the artist friends
whose cause he pleaded.

“Why not send him the prints with a cheque on account and say you need
the catalogue soon, as you may make up your mind to sell them?”

“A capital idea,” replied the other, and the suggestion was promptly
carried into effect.

       *       *       *       *       *

One winter morning, some months afterwards, a seedy-looking individual
called at Portland Place with a typewritten letter, requiring an answer.

Sir Herbert Saunderson, busy reading and signing letters, tossed it over
to his secretary. The young lady read it aloud according to rule.


DEAR HERBERT [it ran],--

I have finished the catalogue, but there are one or two details which I
should like to settle before sending it to the printers. My friend Mr.
Wyatt, who has been kindly helping me with the work since my little
accident, will explain the different points to you and take your
instructions, I am so sorry I can’t come myself, but Mr. Wyatt is
thoroughly competent and I can strongly recommend him if you have any
other work of an analogous character.

Yours ever,

D.S.


The one ear with which Sir Herbert Saunderson was listening while he went
on signing the papers before him had caught part though not all of the
letter.

“Did I hear the word ‘accident,’ Miss Milsome?” he asked, looking up.

“Yes, Sir Herbert.”

“How did it happen? Let’s have a look.”

The busy man glanced through it.

“Send for Mr. Wyatt, please.”

The seedy little man entered and was asked courteously to seat himself.

“What has happened to my cousin?” asked Sir Herbert.

Mr. Wyatt seemed embarrassed by the question.

“The fact is, Sir Herbert,” he began hesitatingly, “Mr. Saunderson didn’t
want much said about that. His great wish is that I should be given
certain necessary data regarding the catalogue, but to tell you the
truth--”

Mr. Wyatt stopped. There was a note of anxiety in his pleasant,
cultivated voice.

Sir Herbert Saunderson and Miss Milsome exchanged glances.

“Pray don’t hesitate to tell me if anything is wrong with my cousin,
Mr.--er--”

“Wyatt,” added Miss Milsome softly.

“I’m afraid he’s rather bad.”

The little man looked at Miss Milsome as he spoke. Her expression was
sympathetic, and he continued--

“You know, I believe, that he has been a special constable?”

Sir Herbert Saunderson nodded.

“As sergeant, he had charge of the arrangements for reducing the lighting
of the streets in his own district. One evening, about a month ago, he
was returning from duty, when he slipped on a curbstone owing to the
darkness. Fortunately it was close to his own place, and he was able,
though with difficulty, to make his way slowly up to his flat. When I got
there in the morning, at our usual hour for work, he was in great pain.
He had injured his arm and right hand--twisted it in some way so that it
was quite useless--”

Mr. Wyatt paused.

“I hope you sent for a doctor?” There was evident apprehension in Sir
Herbert’s question.

“He absolutely refused to have one. He said he was only one of the light
casualties, and that doctors must be spared in these times for important
cases. He gave me quite a lecture about it. The charwoman came in with a
laudanum dressing from the chemist, who, he said, was a friend of his,
and just as good as a doctor.”

“But this is madness--simple madness!” Sir Herbert’s voice was agitated.

“Oh, his hand soon got better,” the little man broke in, “and the pain
gradually eased off. In a couple of days he went on working again, but of
course he couldn’t write. He joked about it. He seemed to like thinking
he was in a sort of way in the firing line, as though he was slightly
wounded.”

Mr. Wyatt laughed very softly.

“But I must see to this at once. Miss Milsome, kindly ring up Dr.
Freeman. Tell him I’ll call for him.” Sir Herbert looked at his table,
covered with papers, and then at his watch. His fine mouth closed firmly.
“Now, at once, as soon as he can be ready.”

Miss Milsome took the telephone from the stand beside her.

Sir Herbert Saunderson rose hurriedly and rang the bell.

“The car, at once!” he ordered as the servant entered.

       *       *       *       *       *

“It’s his heart I’m afraid of,” said Mr. Wyatt. He was sitting on the
front seat of the landaulette, facing Sir Herbert Saunderson and Dr.
Freeman. “I don’t think he knows how bad he is.”

They were already in Chelsea.

“I think it will be better if Mr. Wyatt and I go up together first,” the
doctor suggested as they arrived at the door. “If his heart is weak, a
sudden emotion might be injurious.”

“I quite agree,” Sir Herbert replied. “In fact, you need not mention my
presence. I only want to know your opinion. Now that he will be in good
hands I shall feel relieved.”

The doctor jumped out. Sir Herbert detained the other an instant.

“Please keep me informed, Mr. Wyatt. I’m very much indebted to you for
telling me about this and for your care of my cousin.”

Mr. Wyatt acknowledged the courteous utterance with a deprecating gesture
as they shook hands and followed quickly after the doctor, who was
proceeding slowly up the steep staircase.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Herbert Saunderson buried himself in _The Times_, always placed
in his car. Suddenly he was disturbed. Mr. Wyatt, pale and hatless, stood
on the pavement.

“We were too late!” He uttered the words in a whisper, which ended in a
gulp.

The awed face told its own tale. Sir Herbert got out of his car and
followed him without a word.

At the bedside the three men stood silently, reverently looking down on
David Saunderson.

On his face that happy, superior smile seemed to say to them: “What a
lucky fellow I am to have the best of it like this--and Wyatt provided
for, too!”





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