Sir Alfred was silent for a moment.
“Very well,” he said at last, “only remember this, my boy—there must be no more risks. You’ve been sailing quite close enough to the wind.”
“Did you call at the War Office?” Granet asked quickly.
His uncle assented.
“I did and I saw General Brice. He admitted in confidence that they weren’t very keen about your rejoining. Nothing personal,” he went on quickly, “nothing serious, that is to say. There is a sort of impression out there that you’ve brought them bad luck.”
Granet shrugged his shoulders.
“Well,” he said, “they know their own business best. What I am afraid of is being saddled with some rotten home duty.”
“You need not be afraid of that any more, Ronnie,” his uncle told him calmly.
Granet turned quickly around.
“Do you mean that they don’t want to give me anything at all?” he demanded anxiously.
Sir Alfred shook his head.
“You are too impetuous, Ronnie. They’re willing enough to give you a home command, but I have asked that it should be left over for a little time, so as to leave you free.”
“You have something in your mind, then—something definite?”
Sir Alfred looked out of the window for a moment. Then he laid his hand upon his nephew’s shoulder.
“I think I can promise you, Ronnie,” he said seriously, “that before many days have passed you shall have all the occupation you want.”
Surgeon-Major Thomson reeled for a moment and caught at the paling by his side. Then he recovered himself almost as quickly, and, leaning forward, gazed eagerly at the long, grey racing-car which was already passing Buckingham Palace and almost out of sight in the slight morning fog. There was a very small cloud of white smoke drifting away into space, and a faint smell of gunpowder in the air. He felt his cheek and, withdrawing his fingers, gazed at them with a little nervous laugh—they were wet with blood.
He looked up and down the broad pathway. For nine o’clock in the morning the Birdcage Walk was marvellously deserted. A girl, however, who had been driving a small car very slowly on the other side of the road, suddenly swung across, drew up by the kerb and leaned towards him.
“Hugh—Major Thomson, what is the matter with you?”
He dabbed his cheek with his pocket handkerchief.
“Nothing,” he answered simply.
“Don’t be silly!” she exclaimed. “I felt certain that I heard a shot just now, and I saw you reel and spin round for a moment. And your cheek, too—it’s all over blood!”
“A bullet did come my way and just graze my cheek,” he admitted. “Most extraordinary thing. I wonder whether one of those fellows in the Park had an accident with his rifle.”
He glanced thoughtfully across towards where a number of khaki-clad figures were dimly visible behind the railings. Geraldine looked at him severely.