“I thank your Grace,” I answered. “I will take the liberty of declining your gift. My salary has been fully paid.”
For a moment I fancied I caught a softer gleam in Ray’s eyes. He seemed about to speak, but checked himself. Lord Chelsford hurried me from the room, and into his little brougham, which was waiting.
“Do you really mean me to go to China, sir?” I asked him, anxiously.
“Not I!” he answered. “I am going to send you to Braster.”
LORD CHELSFORD’S DIPLOMACY
I dined alone with Lord and Lady Chelsford. From the moment of our arrival at Chelsford House my host had encouraged nothing but the most general conversation. It happened that they were alone, as a great dinner party had been postponed at the last moment owing to some Royal indisposition. Lord Chelsford in his wife’s presence was careful to treat me as an ordinary guest; but directly she had left the room and we were alone he abandoned his reticence.
“Mr. Ducaine,” he said, “from the time of our last conversation at the War Office and our subsequent tete-a-tete I have reposed in you the most implicit confidence.”
“I have done my best, sir,” I answered, “to deserve it.”
“I believe you,” he declared. “I am going now to extend it. I am going to tell you something which will probably surprise you very much. Since the first time when you found your documents tampered with, every map and every word of writing entrusted to the safe, either at Braster House or Cavendish Square, has been got at. Exact copies of them are in Paris to-day.”
I looked at him in blank amazement. The thing seemed impossible.
“But in very many cases,” I protested, “the code word for opening the safe has been known only to Colonel Ray, the Duke, and myself.”
“The fact remains as I have stated it,” Lord Chelsford said slowly. “My information is positive. When you came to me and suggested that you should make two copies of everything, one correct, one a mass of incorrectness, I must admit that I thought the idea farfetched and unworkable. Events, however, have proved otherwise. I have safely received everything which you sent me, and up to the present, with the exception of that first plan of the Winchester forts, our secrets are unknown. But now we have come to a deadlock.”
“If you do not mind telling me, Lord Chelsford, I should very much like to know why you did not explain the exact circumstances to Ray and the Duke this afternoon.”
Lord Chelsford nodded.
“I thought that you would ask that,” he said. “It is not altogether an easy question to answer. Remember this. The French War Office are to-day in possession of an altogether false scheme of our proposed defences—a scheme which, if they continue to regard it as genuine, should prove nothing short of disastrous to them. Only you and I are in the secret at present. Positively I did not feel that I cared to extend that knowledge to a single other person.”