“Somewhere near it,” was the candid admission. “Never mind, Horridge, you’ve done your bit. You shall pass on your experience to a new hand, take your pension and try the south coast of England for a few months. Now let’s get on with it. You know what I want to hear about.”
Horridge produced from his pocket a long strip of paper.
“They’re there, sir,” he announced, “coaled to the scuppers, every man standing to stations and steam up. There’s the list.”
He handed the paper across to Sir Henry, who glanced it down.
“The fast cruiser squadron,” he observed. “Hm! Three new ships we haven’t any note of. No transports, then, Horridge?’”
“Not a sign of one, sir,” was the reply. “They’re after a bombardment.”
He rose to his feet, walked to a giant map of England, and touched a certain port on the east coast. Sir Henry’s eyes glistened.
“It is a certainty,” Horridge replied. “I’ve been on three of those ships. I’ve dined with four of the officers. They’re under sealed orders, and the crew believes that they’re going to escort out half a dozen commerce destroyers. But I have the truth. That’s their objective,” Horridge repeated, touching once more the spot upon the map, “and they are waiting just for one thing.”
Sir Henry smiled thoughtfully.
“I know what they’re waiting for,” he said. “Perhaps if they’d a Herr Horridge to send over here for it, they’d have got it before now. As it is—well, I’m not sure,” he went on. “It seems a pity to disappoint them, doesn’t it? I’d love to give them a run for their money.”
Horridge smiled faintly. He knew a good deal about his companion.
“They’re spoiling for it, sir,” he admitted. Sir Henry spoke down a telephone and a few minutes later Ensol reappeared.
“Find Mr. Horridge a comfortable room,” his chief directed, “and one of our confidential typists. You can make out your report at your leisure,” he went on. “Come in and see me when it’s all finished.”
“Certainly, sir,” Horridge replied, rising.
Sir Henry held out his hand. He looked with something like wonder at the nerve-shattered man who had risen to his feet with a certain air of briskness.
“Horridge,” he said, “I wish I had your pluck.”
“I don’t know any one in the service from whom you need borrow any, sir,” was the quiet reply.
Lessingham sat upon a fallen tree on Dutchman’s Common near the scene of his romantic descent, and looked rather ruefully over the moorland, seawards. Above him, the sky was covered with little masses of quickly scudding clouds. A fugitive and watery sunshine shone feebly upon a wind-tossed sea and a rain-sodden landscape. He found a certain grim satisfaction in comparing the disorderliness of the day with the tumult in his own life. He felt that he had embarked upon an enterprise greater than his capacity, for which he was in many ways entirely unsuitable. And behind him was the scourge of the telegram which he had received a few hours ago, a telegram harmless enough to all appearance, but which, decoded, was like a scourge to his back.