The slight smile passed from the lips of Hamel’s sunburnt, good-natured face. He himself seemed to become infected with something of his companion’s anxiety.
“There’s nothing seriously wrong, is there, Reggie?” he asked.
“Dick,” said Kinsley, with a sigh, “I am afraid there is. It’s very seldom I talk as plainly as this to any, one but you are just the person one can unburden oneself to a little; and to tell you the truth, it’s rather a relief. As you say, these eighteen arrests in one week do mean something. Half of the Englishmen who have been arrested are, to my certain knowledge, connected with our Secret Service, and they have been arrested, in many cases, where there are no fortifications worth speaking of within fifty miles, on one pretext or another. The fact of the matter is that things are going on in Germany, just at the present moment, the knowledge of which is of vital interest to us.”
“Then these arrests,” Hamel remarked, “are really bona fide?”
“Without a doubt,” his companion agreed. “I only wonder there have not been more. I am telling you what is a pretty open secret when I tell you that there is a conference due to be held this week at some place or another on the continent—I don’t know where, myself —which will have a very important bearing upon our future. We know just as much as that and not much more.”
“A conference between whom?” Hamel asked.
Kinsley dropped his voice almost to a whisper.
“We know,” he replied, “that a very great man from Russia, a greater still from France, a minister from Austria, a statesman from Italy, and an envoy from Japan, have been invited to meet a German minister whose name I will not mention, even to you. The subject of their proposed discussion has never been breathed. One can only suspect. When I tell you that no one from this country was invited to the conference, I think you will be able, broadly speaking, to divine its purpose. The clouds have been gathering for a good many years, and we have only buried our heads a little deeper in the sands. We have had our chances and wilfully chucked them away. National Service or three more army corps four years ago would have brought us an alliance which would have meant absolute safety for twenty-one years. You know what happened. We have lived through many rumours and escaped, more narrowly than most people realise, a great many dangers, but there is every indication this time that the end is really coming.”
“And what will the end be?” Hamel enquired eagerly.
Kinsley shrugged his shoulders and paused while their glasses were filled with wine.