Maraton stood, for a few seconds, perfectly still.
“You have courage, Mr. Beldeman,” he remarked.
“Sir,” Mr. Beldeman replied, “I have been as near death as most men. That is why I occupy my present position. I am the special agent of the greatest political power in the world. When I choose to make use of my machinery, I can kill or spare, abduct, rob, ruin—what I choose. You I only threaten. I fancy that will be enough. We have our hold upon the press of this country.”
Maraton walked to the door and back again.
“I killed a man once, Mr. Beldeman,” he said, “who threatened me.”
“You will not kill me,” Mr. Beldeman declared, with gentle confidence in his tone.
“If I had known,” Maraton continued softly, “I’d have wrung your neck at Manchester.”
“Quite easy, I should say,” Mr. Beldeman agreed. “You look strong. Without a doubt I could make you desperate. Better be reasonable. My people want the railway strike, the coal strike, and the iron strike—want them both within a month. Come, what are you afraid of? Stick to your colours, Mr. Maraton. Wasn’t it in the North. American Review you declared that a war and conquest were the inevitable prelude of social reform in this country?”
“Did I say that?” Maraton asked.
“You did. Now you are here, you are afraid. Never mind, war and conquest are to come. We give you a month in which to deliver your message. You have, I believe, two large meetings to address before that date. Make your pronouncement and all will be well. The million is yours for the people.”
“A sort of gigantic blackmail,” Maraton remarked drily.
“You can call it what you like. If you have conditions to make, I am prepared to listen. I do not insult you by offering—”
Maraton flung open the door a little noisily.
“That will do, Mr. Beldeman,” he said. “I congratulate you upon the manner in which you have conducted this interview. I presume I shall see you again one day before the month is up?”
“You certainly will,” Mr. Beldeman replied. “If you should want me before—an advance payment or anything of that sort—I am at the Royal Hotel.”
Maraton was alone in the room. For some moments he remained motionless. He heard Aaron and Julia in the hall but he did not hasten to join them. He moved instead to the window and stood watching Beldeman’s retreating form.
Maraton led the way on to the roof of one of London’s newer hotels.
“They won’t give us dinner here,” he explained. “London isn’t civilised enough for that yet, or perhaps it’s a matter of climate. But we can get all sorts of things to eat, and some wine, and sit and watch the lights come out. I was here the other night alone and I thought it the most restful spot in London.”
He called a waiter and had a table drawn up to the palisaded edge of the roof. Then he slipped something into the man’s hand, and there seemed to be no difficulty about serving them with anything they required.