“And I with your secret service,” Lessingham agreed heartily. “I dare say there may be some branches of it in which existence is tolerable. That, however, does not apply to the task upon which I have been engaged.”
“You have been completely duped,” Hayter told him calmly, “and the information you have sent us is valueless. Sir Henry Cranston, instead of being the type of man whom you have described, is one of the greatest experts upon coast defense and mine-laying, in the English Admiralty.”
Lessingham laughed shortly.
“That,” he declared, “is perfectly absurd.”
“It is,” Hayter repeated, with emphasis, “the precise truth. Sir Henry Cranton’s fishing excursions are myths. He is simply transferred from his fishing boat on to one of a little fleet of so-called mine sweepers, from which he conducts his operations. Nearly every one of the most important towns on the east coast are protected by minefields of his design.”
Lessingham was dumbfounded. His companion’s manner was singularly convincing.
“But how could Sir Henry or any one else keep this a secret?” he protested. “Even his wife is scarcely on speaking terms with him because she believes him to be an idler, and the whole neighbourhood gossips over his slackness.”
“The whole neighbourhood is easily fooled,” Hayter retorted. “There are one or two who know, however.”
“There are one or two,” Lessingham observed grimly, “who are beginning to suspect me.”
“That is a pity,” Hayter admitted, “because it will be necessary for you to return to Dreymarsh at once.”
“Return to Dreymarsh at once? But Cranston is away. There is nothing for me to do there in his absence.”
“He will be back on Wednesday or Thursday night,” was the confident reply. “He will bring with him the plan of his latest defenses of a town on the east coast, which our cruiser squadron purpose to bombard. We must have that chart.”
Lessingham listened in mute distress.
“Could you possibly get me relieved?” he begged. “The fact is—”
“We could not, and we will not,” Hayter interrupted fiercely. “Unless you wish me to denounce you at home as a renegade and a coward, you will go through with the work which has been allotted to you. Your earlier mistakes will be forgiven if that chart is in my hands by Friday.”
“But how do you know that he will have it?” Lessingham protested. “Supposing you are right and he is really responsible for the minefields you speak of, I should think the last thing he would do would be to bring the chart back to Dreymarsh.”
“As a matter of fact, that is precisely what he will do,” Hayter assured his listener. “He is bringing it back for the inspection of one of the commissioners for the east coast defense, who is to meet him at his house. And I wish to warn you, too, Maderstrom, that you will have very little time. For some reason or other, Cranston is dissatisfied with the secrecy under which he has been compelled to work, and has applied to the Admiralty for recognition of his position. Immediately this is given, I gather that his house will be inaccessible to you.”