“Thank you,” Norgate assented, “I shall be very pleased.”
They played three or four rubbers. Then Mrs. Benedek glanced at the clock.
“I must go,” she announced. “I am dining at eight o’clock.”
“Stay but for one moment,” Selingman begged. “We will all take a little mixed vermouth together. I shall tell the excellent Horton how to prepare it. Plenty of lemon-peel, and just a dash—but I will not give my secret away.”
He called the steward and whispered some instructions in his ear. While they were waiting for the result, a man came in with an evening paper in his hand. He looked across the room to a table beyond that at which Norgate and his friends were playing.
“Heard the news, Monty?” he asked.
“No! What is it?” was the prompt enquiry.
“Poor old Baring—”
The newcomer stopped short. For the first time he noticed Mrs. Benedek. She half rose from her chair, however, and her eyes were fixed upon him.
“What is it?” she exclaimed. “What has happened?”
There was a moment’s awkward silence. Mrs. Benedek snatched the paper away from the man’s fingers and read the little paragraph out aloud. For a moment she was deathly white.
“What is it?” Selingman demanded.
“Freddy Baring,” she whispered—“Captain Baring—shot himself in his room at the Admiralty this afternoon! Some one telephoned to him. Five minutes later he was found—dead—a bullet wound through his temple!... Give me my chair, please. I think that I am going to faint.”
Selingman and Norgate dined together that evening in a corner of a large, popular grill-room near the Strand. They were still suffering from the shock of the recent tragedy. They both rather avoided the topic of Baring’s sudden death. Selingman made but one direct allusion to it.
“Only yesterday,” he remarked, “I said to little Bertha—I have known her so long that I call her always Bertha—that this bureau work was bad for Baring. When I was over last, a few months ago, he was the picture of health. Yesterday he looked wild and worried. He was at work with others, they say, at the Admiralty upon some new invention. Poor fellow!”
Norgate, conscious of a curious callousness which even he himself found inexplicable, made some conventional reply only. Selingman began to talk of other matters.
“Truly,” he observed, “a visit to your country is good for the patriotic German. Behold! here in London, we are welcomed by a German maitre d’hotel; we are waited on by a German waiter; we drink German wine; we eat off what I very well know is German crockery.”
“And some day, I suppose,” Norgate put in, “we are to be German subjects. Isn’t that so?”
Selingman’s denial was almost unduly emphatic.