Mr. Hebblethwaite was undoubtedly annoyed. He found himself regretting more than ever the good nature which had prompted him to give this visitor an audience at a most unusual hour. He had been forced into the uncomfortable position of listening to statements the knowledge of which was a serious embarrassment to him.
“Whatever made you come to me, Mr. Harrison?” he exclaimed, when at last his caller’s disclosures had been made. “It isn’t my department.”
“I came to you, sir,” the official replied, “because I have the privilege of knowing you personally, and because I was quite sure that in your hands the matter would be treated wisely.”
“You are sure of your facts, I suppose?”
“I do not know much about navy procedure,” Mr. Hebblethwaite said thoughtfully, “but it scarcely seems to me possible for what you tell me to have been kept secret.”
“It is not only possible, sir,” the man assured him, “but it has been done before in Lord Charles Beresford’s time. You will find, if you make enquiries, that not only are the Press excluded to-day from the shipbuilding yards in question, but the work-people are living almost in barracks. There are double sentries at every gate, and no one is permitted under any circumstances to pass the outer line of offices.”
Mr. Hebblethwaite sat, for a few moments, deep in thought.
“Well, Mr. Harrison,” he said at last, “there is no doubt that you have done what you conceived to be your duty, although I must tell you frankly that I wish you had either kept what you know to yourself or taken the information somewhere else. Since you have brought it to me, let me ask you this question. Are you taking any further steps in the matter at all?”
“Certainly not, sir,” was the quiet reply. “I consider that I have done my duty and finished with it, when I leave this room.”
“You are content, then,” Mr. Hebblethwaite observed, “to leave this matter entirely in my hands?”
“Entirely, sir,” the official assented. “I am perfectly content, from this moment, to forget all that I know. Whatever your judgment prompts you to do, will, I feel sure, be satisfactory.”
Mr. Hebblethwaite rose to his feet and held out his hand.
“Well, Mr. Harrison,” he concluded, “you have performed a disagreeable duty in a tactful manner. Personally, I am not in the least grateful to you, for, as I dare say you know, Mr. Spencer Wyatt is a great friend of mine. As a member of the Government, however, I think I can promise you that your services shall not be forgotten. Good evening!”
The official departed. Mr. Hebblethwaite thrust his hands into his pockets, glanced at the clock impatiently, and made use of an expression which seldom passed his lips. He was in evening dress, and due to dine with his wife on the other side of the Park. Furthermore, he was very hungry. The whole affair was most annoying. He rang the bell.