“Dear lady,” he said soothingly, “you are not like the others. You have earned the knowledge of the truth. You shall have it. I did not mistrust Francis Norgate, but I knew very well that when the blow fell, he would waver. These Englishmen are all like that. They can lose patience with their ill-governed country. They can go abroad, write angry letters to The Times, declare that they have shaken the dust of their native land from their feet. But when the pinch comes, they fall back. Norgate has served me well, but he knew too much. He is safer where he is.”
“He was murdered, then!” she whispered.
Selingman nodded very slightly.
“It is seldom,” he declared, “that we go so far. Believe me, it is only because our great Empire is making its move, stretching out for the great world war, that I gave the word. What is one man’s life when millions are soon to perish?”
She sank down into an easy-chair and covered her face with her hands.
“I am answered,” she murmured, “only I know now I was not made for these things. I love scheming, but I am a woman.”
Mr. Selingman’s influence over his fellows had never been more marked than on that gloomiest of all afternoons. They gathered around him as he sat on the cushioned fender, a cup of tea in one hand and a plateful of buttered toast by his side.
“To-day,” he proclaimed, “I bring good news. Yesterday, I must admit, things looked black, and the tragedy to poor young Norgate made us all miserable.”
“I should have said things looked worse,” one of the men declared, throwing down an afternoon paper. “The Cabinet Council is still sitting, and there are all sorts of rumours in the city.”
“I was told by a man in the War Office,” Mrs. Barlow announced, “that England would stand by her treaty to Belgium, and that Germany has made all her plans to invade France through Belgium.”
“Rumours, of course, there must be,” Selingman agreed, “but I bring something more than rumour. I received to-day, by special messenger from Berlin, a dispatch of the utmost importance. Germany is determined to show her entire friendliness towards England. She recognises the difficulties of your situation. She is going to make a splendid bid for your neutrality. Much as I would like to, I cannot tell you more. This, however, I know to be the basis of her offer. You in England could help in the fight solely by means of your fleet. It is Germany’s suggestion that, in return for your neutrality, she should withdraw her fleet from action and leave the French northern towns unbombarded. You will then be in a position to fulfil your obligations to France, whatever they may be, without moving a stroke or spending a penny. It is a triumph of diplomacy, that—a veritable triumph.”
“It does sound all right,” Mrs. Barlow admitted.