Considering the crowded state of the waiting-room and the number of highly important people who were there for the same purpose, Surgeon-Major Thomson seemed to have remarkably little difficulty in procuring the interview he desired. He was conducted by a boy scout into a room on the second floor of the War Office, within a few minutes of his arrival. A tall, grey-haired man in the uniform of a general looked up and nodded with an air of intimacy as soon as the door had been closed.
“Sit down, Thomson. We’ve been expecting you. Any news?”
“I have come to you for that, sir,” the other replied.
The General sighed.
“I am afraid you will be disappointed,” he said. “I received your report and I went to a certain official myself—saw him in his own house before breakfast this morning. I had reports of three other men occupying responsible positions in the city, Thomson, against whom there was really tangible and serious evidence. Our friend had the effrontery almost to laugh at me.”
There was a little glitter in Thomson’s eyes.
“These damned civilians!” he murmured softly. “They’ve done their best to ruin Great Britain by crabbing every sort of national service during the last ten years. They feed and pamper the vermin who are eating away the foundations of the country, and, damn it all, when we put a clear case to them, when we show them men whom we know to be dangerous, they laugh at us and tell us that it isn’t our department! They look upon us as amateurs and speak of Scotland Yard with bated breath. My God! If I had a free hand for ten minutes, there’d be two Cabinet Ministers eating bread and water instead of their dinners to-night.”
The General raised his eyebrows. He knew Thomson well enough to be aware how unusual such an ebullition of feeling on his part was.
“Got you a bit worked up, Major,” he remarked.
“Isn’t it enough to make any man’s blood boil?” the other replied. “The country to-day looks to its army and its navy to save it from the humiliation these black-coated parasites have encouraged, and yet even now we haven’t a free hand. You and I, who control the secret service of the army, denounce certain men, upon no slight evidence, either, as spies, and we are laughed at! One of those very blatant idiots whose blundering is costing the country millions of money and thousands of brave men, has still enough authority to treat our reports as so much waste paper.”
“I am bound to say I agree with you, Thomson,” the General declared, a little hopelessly. “It’s the weakest spot of our whole organisation, this depending on the civil powers. Two of my cases were absolutely flagrant. As regards yours, Thomson, I am not at all sure that we shouldn’t be well-advised to get just a little more evidence before we press the matter.”
“And meanwhile,” Thomson retorted bitterly, “leave him a free hand to do what mischief he can. But for the merest accident in the world, the night before last he would have learnt our new scheme for keeping the Channel communication free from submarines.”