Norgate, after leaving Anna at her
hotel, drove on to the club, where he arrived a few
minutes before seven. Selingman was there with
Prince Edward, and half a dozen others. Selingman,
who happened not to be playing, came over at once
and sat by his side on the broad fender.
“You are late, my young friend,” he remarked.
“My new career,” Norgate
replied, “makes demands upon me. I can no
longer spend the whole afternoon playing bridge.
I have been attending to business.”
“It is very good,” Selingman
declared amiably. “That is the way I like
to hear you talk. To amuse oneself is good, but
to work is better still. Have you, by chance,
any report to make?”
“I have had a long conversation
with Mr. Hebblethwaite at Ranelagh this afternoon,”
There was a sudden change in Selingman’s
expression, a glint of eagerness in his eyes.
“With Hebblethwaite! You
have begun well. He is the man above all others
of whose views we wish to feel absolutely certain.
We know that he is a strong man and a pacifist, but
a pacifist to what extent? That is what we wish
to be clear about. Now tell me, you spoke to him
“Very seriously, indeed,”
Norgate assented. “The subject suggested
itself naturally, and I contrived to get him to discuss
the possibilities of a European war. I posed
rather as a pessimist, but he simply jeered at me.
He assured me that an earthquake was more probable.
I pressed him on the subject of the entente.
He spoke of it as a thing of romance and sentiment,
having no place in any possible development of the
international situation. I put hypothetical cases
of a European war before him, but he only scoffed
at me. On one point only was he absolutely and
entirely firm-under no circumstances whatever
would the present Cabinet declare war upon anybody.
If the nation found itself face to face with a crisis,
the Government would simply choose the most dignified
and advantageous solution which embraced peace.
In short, there is one thing which you may count upon
as absolutely certain. If England goes to war
at any time within the next four years, it will be
under some other government.”
Selingman was vastly interested.
He had drawn very close to Norgate, his pudgy hands
stretched out upon his knees. He dropped his voice
so that it was audible only a few feet away.
“Let me put an extreme case,”
he suggested. “Supposing Russia and Germany
were at war, and France, as Russia’s ally, were
compelled to mobilise. It would not be a war
of Germany’s provocation, but Germany, in self-defence,
would be bound to attack France. She might also
be compelled by strategic considerations to invade
Belgium. What do you think your friend Hebblethwaite
would say to that?”
“I am perfectly convinced,”
Norgate replied, “that Hebblethwaite would work
for peace at any price. The members of our present
Government are pacifists, every one of them, with
the possible exception of the Secretary of the Admiralty.”
“Ah!” Mr. Selingman murmured.
“Mr. Spencer Wyatt! He is the gentleman
who clamours so hard and fights so well for his navy
estimates. Last time, though, not all his eloquence
could prevail. They were cut down almost a half,
“I believe that was so,” Norgate admitted.
“Mr. Spencer Wyatt, eh?”
Selingman continued, his eyes fixed upon the ceiling.
“Well, well, one cannot wonder at his attitude.
It is not his rôle to pose as an economist. He
is responsible for the navy. Naturally he wants
a big navy. I wonder what his influence in the
Cabinet really is.”
“As to that,” Norgate
observed, “I know no more than the man in the
“Naturally,” Mr. Selingman
agreed. “I was thinking to myself.”
There was a brief silence. Norgate
glanced around the room.
“I don’t see Mrs. Benedek
here this afternoon,” he remarked.
Selingman shook his head solemnly.
“The inquest on the death of
that poor fellow Baring is being held to-day,”
he explained. “That is why she is staying
away. A sad thing that, Norgate-a
very sad happening.”
“It was indeed.”
“And mysterious,” Selingman
went on. “The man apparently, an hour before,
was in high spirits. The special work upon which
he was engaged at the Admiralty was almost finished.
He had received high praise for his share in it.
Every one who had seen him that day spoke of him as
in absolutely capital form. Suddenly he whips
out a revolver from his desk and shoots himself, and
all that any one knows is that he was rung up by some
one on the telephone. There’s a puzzle
for you, Norgate.”
Norgate made no reply. He felt Selingman’s
eyes upon him.
“A wonderful plot for the sensational
novelist. To the ordinary human being who knew
Baring, there remains a substratum almost of uneasiness.
Where did that voice come from that spoke along the
wires, and what was its message? Baring, by all
accounts, had no secrets in his life. What was
the message-a warning or a threat?”
“I did not read the account
of the inquest,” Norgate observed. “Wasn’t
it possible to trace the person who rang up, through
the telephone office?”
“In an ordinary case, yes,”
Selingman agreed. “In this case, no!
The person who rang up made use of a call office.
But come, it is a gloomy subject, this. I wish
I had known that you were likely to see Mr. Hebblethwaite
this afternoon. Bear this in mind in case you
should come across him again. It would interest
me very much to know whether any breach of friendship
has taken place at all between him and Mr. Spencer
Wyatt. Do you know Spencer Wyatt, by-the-by?”
“Only slightly,” Norgate
replied, “Not well enough to talk to him intimately,
as I can do to Hebblethwaite.”
“Well, remember that last little
commission,” Selingman concluded. “Are
you staying on or leaving now? If you are going,
we will walk together. A little exercise is good
for me sometimes. My figure requires it.
It is a very short distance, but it is better than
nothing at all.”
“I am quite ready,” Norgate assured him.
They left the room and descended the
stairs together. At the entrance to the building,
Selingman paused for a moment. Then he seemed
suddenly to remember.
“It is habit,” he declared.
“I stand here for a taxi, but we have agreed
to walk, is it not so? Come!”
Norgate was looking across the street
to the other side of the pavement. A man was
standing there, engaged in conversation with a plainly-dressed
young woman. To Norgate there was something vaguely
familiar about the latter, who turned to glance at
him as they strolled by on the other side of the road.
It was not until they reached the corner of the street,
however, that he remembered. She was the young
woman at the telephone call office near Westbourne