“It is my opinion also,” Monsieur Guillot declared, “and furthermore, listen. It is not our war at all, that is the cruel part of it. It is Russia’s war and yours. Yet it is we who suffer most, we, the richest part of whose country is in the hands of the foe, we whose industries are paralysed, my country from whom the life-blood is being slowly drained. You English, what do you know of the war? No enemy has set foot upon your soil, no Englishman has seen his womankind dishonoured or his home crumble into ashes. The war to you is a thing of paper, an abstraction—that same war which has turned the better half of my beloved country into a lurid corner of hell.”
“Our time has not yet come,” Granet admitted, “but before long, unless diplomacy can avert it, fate will be knocking at our doors, too. Listen. You have friends still in power, Monsieur Guillot?—friends in the Cabinet, is it not so?”
“It is indeed true,” Monsieur Guillot assented.
“You have, too,” Granet continued, “a great following throughout France. You are the man for the task I bring to you. You, if you choose, shall save your country and earn the reward she will surely bestow upon you.”
Monsieur Guillot’s cheeks were flushed a little. With long, nervous fingers he rolled a cigarette and lit it.
“Monsieur,” he said, “I listen to you eagerly, and yet I am puzzled. You wear the uniform of an English officer, but you come to me, is it not so, as an emissary of Germany?”
“In bald words that may be true,” Granet confessed, “yet I would remind you of two things. First, that the more dominant part of the personality which I have inherited comes to me from Alsatian ancestors; and secondly, that this peace for which I am striving may in the end mean salvation for England, too.”
“I hear you with relief,” Monsieur Guillot admitted. “In this transaction it is my great desire to deal with a man of honour. As such I know perceive that I can recognise you, monsieur.”
Granet bowed gravely and without any shadow of embarrassment.
“That assuredly, Monsieur Guillot,” he said. “Shall I proceed?”
“By all means.”
Granet drew a thin packet from the breast pocket of his coat. He laid it on the table between them.
“I received this,” he announced, “less than three weeks ago from the hands of the Kaiser himself.”
Monsieur Guillot gazed at his companion incredulously.
“It was very simple,” Granet continued. “I was taken prisoner near the village of Ossray. I was conducted at once to headquarters and taken by motor-car to a certain fortified place which I will not specify, but which was at that time the headquarters of the German Staff. I received this document there in the way I have told you. I was then assisted, after some very remarkable adventures, to rejoin my regiment. You can open that document, Monsieur Guillot. It is addressed to you. Guard it carefully, though, for it is signed by the Kaiser himself. I have carried it with me now for more than a fortnight in the inner sole of my shoe. As you can imagine, its discovery upon my person would have meant instant death.”