Norgate shrugged his shoulders.
“Well,” he observed, “we’ve agreed, haven’t we, that a little lesson would be good for England? It might as well come now as at any other time.”
“It will not come yet,” Mr. Selingman went on, “but I will tell you what is going to happen.”
His voice had fallen almost to a whisper, his manner had become portentous.
“Within a week or two,” he said, “Germany and Austria will have declared war upon Russia and Servia and France. Italy will join the allies—that you yourself know. As for England, her time has not come yet. We shall keep her neutral. All the recent information which we have collected makes it clear that she is not in a position to fight, even if she wished to. Nevertheless, to make a certainty of it, we shall offer her great inducements. We shall be ready to deal with her when Calais, Ostend, Boulogne, and Havre are held by our armies. Now listen, do you flinch?”
The two men were still standing in the middle of the room. Selingman’s brows were lowered, his eyes were keen and hard-set. He had gripped Norgate by the left shoulder and held him with his face to the light.
“Speak up,” he insisted. “It is now or never, if you mean to go through with this. You’re not funking it, eh?”
“Not in the least,” Norgate declared.
For the space of almost thirty seconds Selingman did not remove his gaze. All the time his hand was like a vice upon Norgate’s shoulder.
“Very well,” he said at last, “you represent rather a gamble on my part, but I am not afraid of the throw. Come back to our bridge now. It was just a moment’s impulse—I saw something in your face. You realise, I suppose—but there, I won’t threaten you. Come back and we’ll drink a mixed vermouth together. The next few days are going to be rather a strain.”
Norgate’s expression was almost one of stupefaction. He looked at the slim young man who had entered his sitting-room a little diffidently and for a moment he was speechless.
“Well, I’m hanged!” he murmured at last. “Hardy, you astonish me!”
“The clothes are a perfect fit, sir,” the man observed, “and I think that we are exactly the same height.”
Norgate took a cigarette from an open box, tapped it against the table and lit it. He was fascinated, however, by the appearance of the man who stood respectfully in the background.
“Talk about clothes making the man!” he exclaimed. “Why, Hardy, do you realise your possibilities? You could go into my club and dine, order jewels from my jeweller. I am not at all sure that you couldn’t take my place at a dinner-party.”
The man smiled deprecatingly.
“Not quite that, I am sure, sir. If I may be allowed to say so, though, when you were good enough to give me the blue serge suit a short time ago, and a few of your old straw hats, two or three gentlemen stopped me under the impression that I was you. I should not have mentioned it, sir, but for the present circumstances.”