“Welcome back again, Horridge,” he said cordially. “Miles, I’ll ring when I want you.”
“Very good, sir,” the secretary replied. “There’s a fisherman from Norfolk downstairs, when you’re at liberty.”
Sir Henry nodded.
“I’ll see him presently. Shut him up somewhere where he can smoke.”
The young man withdrew, carefully closing the door, around which Sir Henry, with a word of apology, arranged a screen.
“I don’t think,” he explained, “that eavesdropping extends to these premises, or that our voices could reach outside. Still, a ha’porth of prevention, eh? Have a cigar, Horridge.”
“I’m not smoking for a day or two, thank you, sir.”
“You look as though they’d put you through it,” Sir Henry remarked.
His visitor smiled.
“I’ve travelled fourteen miles in a barrel,” he said, “and we were out for twenty-four hours in a Danish sailing skiff. You know what the weather’s been like in the North Sea. Before that, the last word of writing I saw on German soil was a placard, offering a reward of five thousand marks for my detention, with a disgustingly lifelike photograph at the top. I had about fifty yards of quay to walk in broad daylight, and every other man I passed turned to stare after me. It gives you the cold shivers down your back when you daren’t look round to see if you’re being followed.”
Sir Henry groped in the cupboard of his desk, and produced a bottle of whisky and a syphon of soda water. His visitor nodded approvingly.
“I’ve touched nothing until I’ve reached what I consider sanctuary,” he observed. “My nerves have gone rotten for the first time in my life. Do you mind, sir, if I lock the door?”
“Go ahead,” Sir Henry assented.
He brought the whisky and soda himself across the room. Horridge resumed his seat and held out his hand almost eagerly. For a moment or two he shook as though he had an ague. Then, just as suddenly as it had come upon him, the fit passed. He drained the contents of the tumbler at a gulp, set it down empty by his side, and stretched out his hand for a cigar.
“The end of my journey didn’t help matters any,” he went on. “I daren’t even make for a Dutch port, and we were picked up eventually by a tramp steamer from Newcastle to London with coals. I hadn’t been on board more than an hour before a submarine which had been following overhauled us. I thought it was all up then, but the fog lifted, and we found ourselves almost in the midst of a squadron of destroyers from Harwich. I made another transfer, and they landed me in time to catch the early morning train from Felixstowe.”
“Did they get the submarine?” his listener asked eagerly.
“Get it!” the other repeated, with a smile. “They blew it into scrap metal.”
“Plenty of movement in your life!”
“I’ve run the gauntlet over there once too often,” Horridge said grimly. “Just look at me now, Sir Henry. I’m twenty-nine years old, and it’s only two years and a half since I was invalided out of the navy and took this job on. The last person I asked to guess my age put me down at fifty. What should you have said?”