“I can only thank your Grace for your past kindness,” I answered with sinking heart.
He looked across at me with still cold eyes.
“Do not misunderstand me,” he said. “I do not dismiss you. I shall leave that to the Board. If my colleagues are favourably disposed towards you I shall not interfere. Only so far as I am concerned you must take your chance.”
“I quite understand your Grace,” I declared. “I think that you are treating me very fairly.”
The Duke leaned back in his chair.
“Here they come!” he remarked.
IN WHICH I SPEAK OUT
The door was thrown open. Lord Chelsford and Colonel Ray entered together. The Commander-in-Chief accompanied them, and there was also present a person who sat a little apart from the others, and who, I learned afterwards, was a high official in the secret service. More than ever, perhaps, I realized at that moment in the presence of these men the strangeness of the events which for a short space of time, at any rate, had brought me into association with persons and happenings of such importance.
Lord Chelsford seated himself at the open desk opposite to the Duke. As was his custom, he wasted no time in preliminaries.
“We wish for a few minutes’ conversation with you, Mr. Ducaine,” he said, “on the subject of this recent leakage of news concerning our proceedings on the Council of Defence. I need not tell you that the subject is a very serious one.”
“I quite appreciate its importance, sir,” I answered.
“The particular documents of which we have news from Paris,” Lord Chelsford continued, “are those having reference to the proposed camp at Winchester and the subway at Portsmouth. I understand, Mr. Ducaine, that these were drafted by you, and placed in a safe in the library of Rowchester on the evening of the eighteenth of this month.”
“That is so, sir,” I answered. “And early the next morning I reported to the Duke that the papers had been tampered with.”
There was a dead silence for several moments. Lord Chelsford glanced at the Duke, who sat there imperturbable, with a chill, mirthless smile at the corner of his lips. Then he looked again at me, as though he had not heard aright.
“Will you kindly repeat that, Mr. Ducaine?” he said.
“Certainly, sir,” I answered. “I had occasion to go to the safe again early on the morning of the nineteenth, and I saw at once that the documents in question had been tampered with. I reported the matter at once to his Grace.”
The eyes of every one were bent upon the Duke. He nodded his head slowly.
“Mr. Ducaine,” he said, “certainly came to me and made the statement which he has just repeated. I considered the matter, and I came to the conclusion that he was mistaken. I was sure of it then. I am equally sure of it now.”