Thomson made no sign. His eyebrows, however, rose a little higher.
“The country,” his visitor continued, “will know some day what it owes to Sir Alfred Anselman. At present I can only express, and that poorly, my sense of personal obligation to him. He has been of the greatest assistance to the Government in the city and elsewhere. His contributions to our funds have been magnificent; his advice, his sympathy, invaluable. He is a man inspired by the highest patriotic sentiments, one of the first and most noteworthy of British citizens.”
Thomson listened in silence and without interruption. He met the well-satisfied peroration of his visitor without comment.
“I am hoping to hear,” the latter concluded, with some slight asperity in his manner, “that the circumstance to which I have alluded was accidental and will not be repeated.”
Major Thomson glanced thoughtfully at a little pile of documents by his side. Then he looked coldly towards his visitor and provided him, perhaps, with one of the most complete surprises of his life.
“I am sorry, Mr. Gordon Jones,” he said, “but this is not a matter which I can discuss with you.”
The Cabinet Minister’s face was a study.
“Not discuss it?” he repeated blankly.
Major Thomson shook his head.
“Certain responsibilities,” he continued quietly, “with regard to the safe conduct of this country, have been handed over to the military authorities, which in this particular case I represent. We are in no position for amenities or courtesies. Our country is in the gravest danger and nothing else is of the slightest possible significance. The charge which we have accepted we shall carry out with regard to one thing only, and that is our idea of what is due to the public safety.”
“You mean, in plain words,” Mr. Gordon Jones exclaimed, “that no requests from me or say, for instance, the Prime Minister, would have any weight with you?”
“None whatever,” Major Thomson replied coolly. “Without wishing to be in any way personal, I might say that there are statesmen in your Government, for whom you must accept a certain amount of responsibility, who have been largely instrumental in bringing this hideous danger upon the country. As a company of law-makers you may or may not be excellent people—that is, I suppose, according to one’s political opinions. As a company of men competent to superintend the direction of a country at war, you must permit me to say that I consider you have done well in placing certain matters in our hands, and that you will do better still not to interfere.”
Mr. Gordon Jones sat quite still for several moments.
“Major Thomson,” he said at last, “I have never heard of your before, and I am not prepared for a moment to say that I sympathise with your point of view. But it is at least refreshing to hear any one speak his mind with such frankness. I must now ask you one question, whether you choose to answer it or not. The letter which you have opened, addressed to Sir Alfred—you couldn’t possibly find any fault with it?”