“Well, bring your man in whenever you want to,” Norgate invited, as he turned away. “I can promise, at least, that I shall not understand what you are saying, and that I won’t sneak your designs.”
There was a queer little smile on Herr Selingman’s broad face. It almost seemed as though he had discovered some hidden though unsuspected meaning in the other’s words.
Norgate dozed fitfully as the train sped on through the darkness. He woke once to find Herr Selingman in close confabulation with his agent on the opposite side of the compartment. They had a notebook before them and several papers spread out upon the seat. Norgate, who was really weary, closed his eyes again, and it seemed to him that he dreamed for a few moments. Then suddenly he found himself wide-awake. Although he remained motionless, the words which Selingman had spoken to his companion were throbbing in his ears.
“I do not doubt your industry, Meyer, but it is your discretion which is sometimes at fault. These plans of the forts of Liege—they might as well be published in a magazine. We had them when they were made. We have received copies of every alteration. We know to a metre how far the guns will carry, how many men are required to man them, what stocks of ammunition are close at hand. Understand, therefore, my friend, that the sight of these carefully traced plans, which you hint to have obtained at the risk of your life, excites me not at all.”
The other man’s reply was inaudible. In a moment or two Selingman spoke again.
“The information which I am lacking just at present in your sphere of operations, is civilian in character. Take Ghent, for instance. What I should like here, what our records need at present, is a list of the principal inhabitants with their approximate income, and, summarising it all, the rateable value of the city. With these bases it would be easy to fix a reasonable indemnity.”
Norgate was wide-awake now. He was curled up on his seat, underneath his rug, and though his eyelids had quivered with a momentary excitement, he was careful to remain as near as possible motionless. Again Selingman’s agent spoke, this time more distinctly.
“The young man opposite,” he whispered. “He is English, surely?”
“He is English indeed,” Selingman admitted, “but he speaks no German. That I have ascertained. Give me your best attention, Meyer. Here is again an important commission for you. Within the next few days, hire an automobile and visit the rising country eastwards from Antwerp. At some spot between six and eight miles from the city, on a slight incline and commanding the River Scheldt, we desire to purchase an acre of land for the erection of a factory. You can say that we have purchased the concession for making an American safety razor. The land is wanted, and urgently. See to this yourself and send plans and price to me in London. On my return I shall call and inspect the sites and close the bargain.”