The two said nothing as they went out through the dimly lighted hall. Overhead hung the old banners in the high wooden roof; a great fire blazed on the hearth; and under the musician’s gallery at the farther end they saw the bright little window behind which sat the secretary.
They stopped here and peered in.
He was seated with his back to them before an instrument not altogether unlike an old-fashioned organ. A long row of black keys was in front of him; and half a dozen stops protruded on either side. Before him, in the front, a glass panel protected some kind of white sheet; and as the priest looked in he could see a movement as of small bluish sparks playing upon this. He had long ago made up his mind not to attempt to understand modern machinery; and he had no kind of idea what all this meant, beyond a guess that the keys were for sending messages, and the white sheet for receiving them.
“Any news?” said the General suddenly.
The secretary did not move or answer. His hands were before him, hidden, and he appeared entirely absorbed.
It must have been a minute before he turned round, drawing out as he did so from before him a slip of paper like those he had already brought in.
“This is from Rye, sir,” he said shortly. “They too have lost communication with Parliament Square. That is all, sir. I must take this in at once.”
The two passed on, still without speaking; and it was not until they were going slowly up the long covered staircase that ran inside the skirting wall that connected the keep with the more modern part of the castle that Monsignor began——
“I’m very ignorant,” he said. “Can you tell me the possibilities?”
The General paused before answering.
“Well,” he said, “the worst possibility is a riot, engineered by the Socialists. If that is successful, it means a certain delay of at least several years; and, at the worst, it means that the Socialists will increase enormously throughout Europe. And then anything may happen.”
“But I thought that all real danger was past, and that the Socialists were discredited.”
“Certainly, in one sense. In every country, that is to say, they are in a negligible minority. But if all these minorities are added together, they are not negligible at all. The Cabinet has produced this Bill suddenly, as of course you know, in order to prevent any large Continental demonstration, as this would certainly have a tremendous effect upon England. But it seems that they’ve been organizing for months. They must have known this was coming . . .”
“And if the Socialists fail?”
“Well, then they’ll make their last stand in Germany. But you know this better than I do, Monsignor?”
“I know a good deal here and there,” confessed the other; “but I find it hard sometimes to combine it all. I had an illness, you know——”