“Thank God!” Maraton muttered. “What about the mob?”
“Loafers and wastrels,” Aaron exclaimed indignantly, “dirty parasites of humanity, thieves; not an honest worker amongst them! They’re the sort who shouted themselves hoarse on Mafeking night and hid in their holes when the war drums were calling. The authorities got a hundred police from somewhere, and they crumbled away like rats running for their holes. Ernshaw asks you not to go back to Russell Square because of the difficulty of getting at you, but this was his message to you, sir, when I told him of your arrival. He begged me to tell you that they were the scum of the earth; that from Newcastle to the Thames the men who stand idle to-day wait in faith and trust for your word and yours only. He will be here before long.”
Selingman nodded ponderously. His mouth was very full, but he did not delay his speech.
“You have brought a splendid message, young man,” he pronounced. “Sit down and eat with us. Exercise your imagination but a little and you will indeed believe that you have been bidden to a feast of Lucullus. Has any one, I wonder, ever appreciated the marvellous and yet subtle sympathy which can exist between potted meat and biscuits—especially when washed down with hock? Join us, my young friend Aaron. Abandon yourself with us to the pleasure of the table. We will discuss any subject upon the earth—except butter! Miss Julia, do you know where I shall go when I leave here? No? I go to seek chocolates and flowers for you.”
She laughed gaily.
“Chocolates and flowers,” she repeated, “at ten o’clock at night! And for me, too!”
“And why not for you?” Selingman demanded, almost indignantly. “You are like all enthusiasts of your sex. You are too intense, you concentrate too much. You have lived in a cold and austere atmosphere. You have waited a long time for the hand which is to lead you into the sunshine.”
She laughed at him once more, yet perhaps this time a little wistfully.
“Very well,” she promised, “I will reform. I will eat all the chocolates you can bring me, and I will sleep with your flowers at my bedside. There! Am I improving?”
Selingman rose to his feet. He drained his glass of wine and lit one of his long black cigars by the flame of the candle.
“Dear Julia,” he said, “you have spoken. I start on the quest of my life.”
Selingman had scarcely left the place when Ernshaw arrived, piloted into the room by Aaron, who had been waiting for him below. Maraton and he gripped hands heartily. During the first few days of the campaign they had been constant companions.