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Nicholas Fenn, although civilisation had laid a heavy hand upon him during the last few years, was certainly not a man whose outward appearance denoted any advance in either culture or taste. His morning clothes, although he had recently abandoned the habit of dealing at a ready-made emporium, were neither well chosen nor well worn. His evening attire was, if possible, worse. He met Catherine that evening in the lobby of what he believed to be a fashionable grillroom, in a swallow-tailed coat, a badly fitting shirt with a single stud-hole, a black tie, a collar which encircled his neck like a clerical band, and ordinary walking boots. She repressed a little shiver as she shook hands and tried to remember that this was not only the man whom several millions of toilers had chosen to be their representative, but also the duly appointed secretary of the most momentous assemblage of human beings in the world's history.
"I hope I am not late," she said. "I really do not care much about dining out, these days, but your message was so insistent."
"One must have relaxation," he declared. "The weight of affairs all day long is a terrible strain. Shall we go in?"
They entered the room and stood looking aimlessly about them, Fenn having, naturally enough, failed to realise the necessity of securing a table. A maitre d'hotel, however, recognised Catherine and hastened to their rescue. She conversed with the man for a few minutes in French, while her companion listened admiringly, and finally, at his solicitation, herself ordered the dinner.
"The news, please, Mr. Fenn?" she asked, as soon as the man had withdrawn.
"News?" he repeated. "Oh, let's leave it alone for a time! One gets sick of shop."
She raised her eyebrows a little discouragingly. She was dressed with extraordinary simplicity, but the difference in caste between the two supplied a problem for many curious observers.
"Why should we talk of trifles," she demanded, "when we both have such a great interest in the most wonderful subject in the world?"
"What is the most wonderful subject in the world?" he asked impressively.
"Our cause, of course," she answered firmly, "the cause of all the peoples - Peace."
"One labours the whole day long for that," he grumbled. "When the hour for rest comes, surely one may drop it for a time?"
"Do you feel like that?" she remarked indifferently. "For myself, during these days I have but one thought. There is nothing else in my life. And you, with all those thousands and millions of your fellow creatures toiling, watching and waiting for a sign from you - oh, I can't imagine how your thoughts can ever wander from them for a moment, how you can ever remember that self even exists! I should like to be trusted, Mr. Fenn, as you are trusted."
"My work," he said complacently, "has, I hope, justified that trust."
"Naturally," she assented, "and yet the greatest part of it is to come. Tell me about Mr. Orden?"
"There is no change in the fellow's attitude. I don't imagine there will be until the last moment. He is just a pig-headed, insufferably conceited Englishman, full of class prejudices to his finger tips."
"He is nevertheless a man," she said thoughtfully. "I heard only yesterday that he earned considerable distinction even in his brief soldiering."
"No doubt," Fenn remarked, without enthusiasm, "he has the bravery of an animal. By the bye, the Bishop dropped in to see me this morning."
"Really?" she asked. "What did he want?"
"Just a personal call," was the elaborately careless reply. "He likes to look in for a chat, now and then. He spoke about Orden, too. I persuaded him that if we don't succeed within the next twenty four hours, it will be his duty to see what he can do."
"Oh, but that was too bad!" she declared. "You know how he feels his position, poor man. He will simply loathe having to tell Julian - Mr. Orden, I mean that he is connected with - "
"Well, with what, Miss Abbeway?"
"With anything in the nature of a conspiracy. Of course, Mr. Orden wouldn't understand. How could he? I think it was cruel to bring the Bishop into the matter at all."
"Nothing," Fenn pronounced, "is cruel that helps the cause. What will you drink, Miss Abbeway? You'll have some champagne, won't you?"
"What a horrible idea!" she exclaimed, smiling at him nevertheless. "Fancy a great Labour leader suggesting such a thing! No, I'll have some light French wine, thank you."
Fenn passed the order on to the waiter, a little crestfallen.
"I don't often drink anything myself," he said, "but this seemed to me to be something of an occasion."
"You have some news, then?"
"Not at all. I meant dining with you."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Oh, that?" she murmured. "That is simply a matter of routine. I thought you had some news, or some work."
"Isn't it possible, Miss Abbeway," he pleaded, "that we might have some interests outside our work?"
"I shouldn't think so," she answered, with an insolence which was above his head.
"There is no reason why we shouldn't have," he persisted.
"You must tell me your tastes," she suggested. "Are you fond of grand opera, for instance? I adore it. 'Parsifal' - 'The Ring'?"
"I don't know much about music," he admitted. "My sister, who used to live with me, plays the piano."
"We'll drop music, then," she said hastily. "Books? But I remember you once told me that you had never read anything except detective novels, and that you didn't care for poetry. Sports? I adore tennis and I am rather good at golf."
"I have never wasted a single moment of my life in games," he declared proudly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, you see, that leaves us rather a long way apart, outside our work, doesn't it?"
"Even if I were prepared to admit that, which I am not," he replied, "our work itself is surely enough to make up for all other things."
"You are quite right," she confessed. "There is nothing else worth thinking about, worth talking about. Tell me - you had an inner Council this afternoon - is anything decided yet about the leadership?"
He sighed a little.
"If ever there was a great cause in the world," he said, "which stands some chance of missing complete success through senseless and low-minded jealousy, it is ours."
"Mr. Fenn!" she exclaimed.
"I mean it," he assured her. "As you know, a chairman must be elected this week, and that chairman, of course, will hold more power in his hand than any emperor of the past or any sovereign of the present. That leader is going to stop the war. He is going to bring peace to the world. It is a mighty post, Miss Abbeway."
"It is indeed," she agreed.
"Yet would you believe," he went on, leaning across the table and neglecting for a moment his dinner, "would you believe, Miss Abbeway, that out of the twenty representatives chosen from the Trades Unions governing the principal industries of Great Britain, there is not a single one who does not consider himself eligible for the post."
Catherine found herself suddenly laughing, while Fenn looked at her in astonishment.
"I cannot help it," she apologised. "Please forgive me. Do not think that I am irreverent. It is not that at all. But for a moment the absurdity of the thing overcame me. I have met some of them, you know - Mr. Cross of Northumberland, Mr. Evans of South Wales - "
"Evans is one of the worst," Fenn interrupted, with some excitement. "There's a man who has only worn a collar for the last few years of his life, who evaded the board-school because he was a pitman's lad, who doesn't even know the names of the countries of Europe, but who still believes that he is a possible candidate. And Cross, too! Well, he washes when he comes to London, but he sleeps in his clothes and they look like it."
"He is very eloquent," Catherine observed.
"Eloquent!" Fenn exclaimed scornfully. "He may be, but who can understand him? He speaks in broad Northumbrian. What is needed in the leader whom they are to elect this week, Miss Abbeway, is a man of some culture and some appearance. Remember that to him is to be confided the greatest task ever given to man. A certain amount of personality he must have - personality and dignity, I should say, to uphold the position."
"There is Mr. Miles Furley," she said thoughtfully. "He is an educated man, is he not?"
"For that very reason unsuitable," Fenn explained eagerly. "He represents no great body of toilers. He is, in reality, only an honorary member of the Council, like yourself and the Bishop, there on account of his outside services."
"I remember, only a few nights ago," she reflected, "I was staying at a country house - Lord Maltenby's, by the bye - Mr. Orden's father. The Prime Minister was there and another Cabinet Minister. They spoke of the Labour Party and its leaderless state. They had no idea, of course, of the great Council which was already secretly formed, but they were unanimous about the necessity for a strong leader. Two people made the same remark, almost with apprehension: `If ever Paul Fiske should materialise, the problem would be solved!'
Fenn assented without enthusiasm.
"After all, though," he reminded her, "a clever writer does not always make a great speaker, nor has he always that personality and distinction which is required in this case. He would come amongst us a stranger, too - a stranger personally, that is to say."
"Not in the broadest sense of the word," Catherine objected. "Paul Fiske is more than an ordinary literary man. His heart is in tune with what he writes. Those are not merely eloquent words which he offers. There is a note of something above and beyond just phrase-making - a note of sympathetic understanding which amounts to genius."
Her companion stroked his moustache for a moment.
"Fiske goes right to the spot," he admitted, "but the question of the leadership, so far as he is concerned, doesn't come into the sphere of practical politics. It has been suggested, Miss Abbeway, by one or two of the more influential delegates, suggested, too, by a vast number of letters and telegrams which have poured in upon us during the last few days, that I should be elected to this vacant post."
"You?" she exclaimed, a little blankly.
"Can you think of a more suitable person?" he asked, with a faint note of truculence in his tone. "You have seen us all together. I don't wish to flatter myself, but as regards education, service to the cause, familiarity with public speaking and the number of those I represent - "
"Yes, yes! I see," she interrupted. "Taking the twenty Labour representatives only, Mr. Fenn, I can see nothing against your selection, but I fancied, somehow, that some one outside - the Bishop, for instance - "
"Absolutely out of the question," Fenn declared. "The people would lose faith in the whole thing in a minute. The person who throws down the gage to the Prime Minister must have the direct mandate of the people."
They finished dinner presently. Fenn looked with admiration at the gold, coroneted case from which Catherine helped herself to one of her tiny cigarettes. He himself lit an American cigarette.
"I had meant, Miss Abbeway," he confided, leaning towards her, "to suggest a theatre to you to-night - in fact, I looked at some dress circle seats at the Gaiety with a view to purchasing. Another matter has cropped up, however. There is a little business for us to do."
"Business?" Catherine repeated.
He produced a folded paper from his pocket and passed it across the table. Catherine read it with a slight frown.
"An order entitling the bearer to search Julian Orden's apartments!" she exclaimed. "We don't want to search them, do we? Besides, what authority have we?"
"The best," he answered, tapping with his discoloured forefinger the signature at the foot of the, strip of paper.
She examined it with a doubtful frown.
"But how did this come into your possession?" she asked.
He smiled at her in superior fashion.
"By asking for it," he replied bluntly. "And between you and me, Miss Abbeway, there isn't much we might ask for that they'd care to refuse us just now."
"But the police have already searched Mr. Orden's rooms," she reminded him.
"The police have been known to overlook things. Of course, what I am hoping is that amongst Mr. Orden's papers there may be some indication as to where he has deposited our property."
"But this has nothing to do with me," she protested. "I do not like to be concerned in such affairs."
"But I particularly wish you to accompany me," he urged. "You are the only one who has seen the packet. It would be better, therefore, if we conducted the search in company."
Catherine made a little grimace, but she objected no further. She objected very strongly, however, when Fenn tried to take her arm on leaving the place, and she withdrew into her own corner of the taxi immediately they had taken their seats.
"You must forgive my prejudices, Mr. Fenn," she said - "my foreign bringing up, perhaps - but I hate being touched."
"Oh, come!" he remonstrated. "No need to be so stand-offish."
He tried to hold her hand, an attempt which she skilfully frustrated.
"Really," she insisted earnestly, "this sort of thing does not amuse me. I avoid it even amongst my own friends."
"Am I not a friend?" he demanded.
"So far as regards our work, you certainly are," she admitted. "Outside it, I do not think that we could ever have much to say to one another."
"Why not?" he objected, a little sharply. "We're as close together in our work and aims as any two people could be. Perhaps," he went on, after a moment's hesitation and a careful glance around, "I ought to take you into my confidence as regards my personal position."
"I am not inviting anything of the sort," she observed, with faint but wasted sarcasm.
"You know me, of course," he went on, "only as the late manager of a firm of timber merchants and the present elected representative of the allied Timber and Shipbuilding Trades Unions. What you do not know" - a queer note of triumph stealing into his tone "is that I am a wealthy man."
She raised her eyebrows.
"I imagined," she remarked, "that all Labour leaders were like the Apostles - took no thought for such things."
"One must always keep one's eye on the main chance; Miss Abbeway," he protested, "or how would things be when one came to think of marriage, for instance?"
"Where did your money come from?" she asked bluntly.
Her question was framed simply to direct him from a repulsive subject. His embarrassment, however, afforded her food for future thought.
"I have saved money all my life," he confided eagerly. "An uncle left me a little. Lately I have speculated - successfully. I don't want to dwell on this. I only wanted you to understand that if I chose I could cut a very different figure - that my wife wouldn't have to live in a suburb."
"I really do not see," was the cold response, "how this concerns me in the least."
"You, call yourself a Socialist, don't you, Miss Abbeway?" he demanded. "You're not allowing the fact that you're an aristocrat and that I am a self-made man to weigh with you?"
"The accident of birth counts for nothing," she replied"you must know that those are my principles - but it sometimes happens that birth and environment give one tastes which it is impossible to ignore. Please do not let us pursue this conversation any further, Mr. Fenn. We have had a very pleasant dinner, for which I thank you - and here we are at Mr. Orden's flat."
Her companion handed her out a little sulkily, and they ascended in the lift to the fifth floor. The door was opened to them by Julian's servant. He recognised Catherine and greeted her respectfully. Fenn produced his authority, which the man accepted without comment.
"No news of your master yet?" Catherine asked him.
"None at all, madam," was the somewhat depressed admission. "I am afraid that something must have happened to him. He was not the kind of gentleman to go away like this and leave no word behind him."
"Still," she advised cheerfully, "I shouldn't despair. More wonderful things have happened than that your master should return home to-morrow or the next day with a perfectly simple explanation of his absence."
"I should be very glad to see him, madam," the man replied, as he backed towards the door. "If I can be of any assistance, perhaps you will ring."
The valet departed, closing the door behind him. Catherine looked around the room into which they had been ushered, with a little frown. It was essentially a man's sitting room, but it was well and tastefully furnished, and she was astonished at the immense number of books, pamphlets and Reviews which crowded the walls and every available space. The Derby desk still stood open, there was a typewriter on a special stand, and a pile of manuscript paper.
"What on earth," she murmured, "could Mr. Orden have wanted with a typewriter! I thought journalism was generally done in the offices of a newspaper - the sort of journalism that he used to undertake."
"Nice little crib, isn't it?" Fenn remarked, glancing around. "Cosy little place, I call it."
Something in the man's expression as be advanced towards her brought all the iciness back to her tone and manner.
"It is a pleasant apartment," she said, "but I am not at all sure that I like being here, and I certainly dislike our errand. It does not seem credible that, if the police have already searched, we should find the packet here."
"The police don't know what to look for," he reminded her. "We do."
There was apparently very little delicacy about Mr. Fenn. He drew a chair to the desk and began to look through a pile of papers, making running comments as he did so.
"Hm! Our friend seems to have been quite a collector of old books. I expect second-hand booksellers found him rather a mark. Some fellow here thanking him for a loan. And here's a tailor's bill. By Jove, Miss Abbeway, just listen to this! `One dress suit-fourteen guineas!' That's the way these fellows who don't know any better chuck their money about," he added, swinging around in his chair towards her. "The clothes I have on cost me exactly four pounds fifteen cash, and I guarantee his were no better."
Catherine frowned impatiently.
"We did not come here, did we, Mr. Fenn, to discuss Mr. Orden's tailor's bill? I can see no object at all in going through his correspondence in this way. What you have to search for is a packet wrapped up in thin yellow oilskin, with `Number 17' on the outside in black ink."
"Oh, he might have slipped it in anywhere," Fenn pointed out. "Besides, there's always a chance that one of his letters may give us a clue as to where he has hidden the document. Come and sit down by the side of me, won't you, Miss Abbeway? Do!"
"I would rather stand, thank you," she replied. "You seem to find your present occupation to your taste. I should loathe it!"
"Never think of my own feelings," Fenn said briskly, "when there's a job to be done. I wish you'd be a bit more friendly, though, Miss Abbeway. Let me pull that chair up by the side of mine. I like to have you near. You know, I've been a bachelor for a good many years," he went on impressively, "but a little homey place like this always makes me think of things. I've nothing against marriage if only a man can be lucky enough to get the right sort of girl, and although advanced thinkers like you and me and some of the others are looking at things differently, nowadays, I wouldn't mind much which way it was," he confided, dropping his voice a little and laying his hand upon her arm, "if you could make up your mind - "
She snatched her arm away, and this time even he could not mistake the anger which blazed in her eyes.
"Mr. Fenn," she exclaimed, "why is it so difficult to make you understand? I detest such liberties as you are permitting yourself. And for the rest, my affections are already engaged."
"Sounds a bit old-fashioned, that," he remarked, scowling a little. "Of course, I don't expect - "
"Never mind what you expect," she interrupted, "Please go on with this search, if you are going to make one at all. The vulgarity of the whole thing annoys me, and I do not for a moment suppose that the packet is here."
"It wasn't on Orden," he reminded her sullenly.
"Then he must have sent it somewhere for safe keeping," she replied. "I had already given him cause to do so."
"If he has, then amongst his correspondence there may be some indication as to where he sent it," Fenn pointed out, with unabated ill-temper. "If you don't like the job, and you won't be friendly, you'd better take the easy-chair and wait till I'm through."
She sat down, watching him with angry eyes, uncomfortable, unhappy, humiliated. She seemed to have dropped in a few hours from the realms of rarefied and splendid thought to a world of petty deeds. Not one of her companion's actions was lost upon her. She watched him study with ill-concealed reverence a ducal invitation, saw him read through without hesitation a letter which she felt sure was from Julian's mother. And then:
The change in the man was so startling, his muttered exclamation - so natural that its profanity never even grated. His eyes seemed to be starting out of his head, his lips were drawn back from his teeth. Blank, unutterable surprise held him, dumb and spellbound, as he stared at a half-sheet of type written notepaper. She herself, amazed at his transformed appearance, found words for the moment impossible. Then a queer change came into his expression. His eyebrows drew closer together, his lips turned malevolently. He pushed the paper underneath a pile of others and turned his head towards her. Their eyes met. There was something like fear in his.
"What is it that you have found?" she cried breathlessly.
"Nothing," he answered, "nothing of any importance."
She rose slowly to her feet and came towards him.
"I am your partner in this hateful enterprise," she reminded him. "Show me that paper which you have just concealed."
He laid his hand on the lid of the desk, but she caught it and held it open.
"I insist upon seeing it," she said firmly.
He turned and faced her. There was a most unpleasant light in his eyes.
"And I say that you shall not," he declared.
There was a brief, intense silence. Each seemed to be measuring the other's strength. Of the two, Catherine was the more composed. Fenn's face was still white and strained. His lips were twitching, his manner nervous and jerky. He made a desperate effort to reestablish ordinary relations.
"Look here, Miss Abbeway," he said, "we don't need to quarrel about this. That paper I came across has a special interest for me personally. I want to think about it before I say anything to a soul in the world."
"You can consult with me," she persisted. "Our aims are the same. We are here for the same purpose."
"Not altogether," he objected. "I brought you here as my assistant."
"Well, have the truth, then!" he exclaimed. "I brought you here to be alone with you, because I hoped that I might find you a little kinder."
"I am afraid you have been disappointed, haven't you?" she asked sweetly.
"I have," he answered, with unpleasant meaning in his tone, "but we are not out of here yet."
"You cannot frighten me," she assured him. "Of course, you are a man - of a sort - and I am a woman, but I do not fancy that you would find, if it came to force, that you would have much of an advantage. However, we are wandering from the point. I claim an equal right with you to see anything which you may discover in Mr. Orden's papers. I might, indeed, if I chose, claim a prior right:"
"Indeed?" he answered, with an ugly scowl on his face. "Mr. Julian Orden is by way of being a particular friend, eh?"
"As a matter of fact," Catherine told him, "we are engaged to be married. It isn't a serious engagement. It was entered into by him in a most chivalrous manner, to save me from the consequences of a very clumsy attempt on my part to get back that packet. But there it is. Every one down at his home believes at the present moment that we are engaged and that I have come up to London to see our Ambassador."
"If you are engaged," Fenn sneered, "why hasn't he told you more of his secrets?"
"Secrets!" she repeated, a little scornfully. "I shouldn't think he has any. I should imagine his daily life could be investigated without the least fear."
"You'd imagine wrong, then."
"But how interesting! You excite my curiosity. And must you continue to hold my wrist?"
"Let me pull down the top of this desk, then."
"I intend to examine those papers."
With a quick movement he gained a momentary advantage and shut the desk down. The key, however, disturbed by the jerk, fell on to the carpet, and Catherine possessed herself of it. She sprang lightly back from him and pressed the bell.
"D-n you, what are you going to do now?" he demanded.
"You will see," she replied. "Don't come any nearer, or you may find that I can be unpleasant."'
He shrugged his shoulders and waited. She turned towards the servant who presently appeared.
"Robert," she said, "will you telephone for me?"
"Certainly, madam," the man answered.
"Telephone to 1884 Westminster. Say that you are speaking for Miss Abbeway, and ask Mr. Furley, Mr. Cross, or whoever is there, to come at once to this address."
"Look here, there's no sense in that," Fenn interrupted.
"Will you do as I ask, please, Robert?" she persisted.
The man bowed and left the room. Fenn strode sulkily back to the desk.
"Very well, then," he conceded, "I give in. Give me the key, and I'll show you the letter."
"You intend to keep your word?"
"I do," he assured her.
She held out the key. He took it, opened the desk, searched amongst the little pile of papers, drew out the half-sheet of notepaper, and handed it to her.
"There you are," he said, "although if you are really engaged to marry Mr. Julian Orden," he added, with disagreeable emphasis, "I am surprised that he should have kept such a secret from you."
She ignored him and started to read the letter, glancing first at the address at the top. It was from the British Review, and was dated a few days back:
My dear Orden,
I think it best to let you know, in case you haven't seen it yourself, that there is a reward of 100 pounds offered by some busybody for the name of the author of the `Paul Fiske' articles. Your anonymity has been splendidly preserved up till now, but I feel compelled to warn you that a disclosure is imminent. Take my advice and accept it with a good grace. You have established yourself so irrevocably now that the value of your work will not be lessened by the discovery of the fact that you yourself do not belong to the class of whom you have written so brilliantly.
I hope to see you in a few days.
Even after she had concluded the letter, she still stared at it. She read again the one conclusive sentence - "Your anonymity has been splendidly preserved up till now." Then she suddenly broke into a laugh which was almost hysterical.
"So this is his hack journalism!" she exclaimed. "Julian Orden - Paul Fiske!"
"I don't wonder you're surprised," Fenn observed. "Fourteen guineas for a dress suit, and he thinks he understands the working man!"
She turned her head slowly and looked at him. There was a strange, repressed fire in her eyes. "You are a very foolish person," she said. "Your parents, I suppose, were small shopkeepers, or something of the sort, and you were brought up at a board-school and Julian Orden at Eton and Oxford, and yet he understands, and you do not. You see, heart counts, and sympathy, and the flair for understanding. I doubt whether these things are really found where you come from."
He caught up his hat. His face was very white. His tone shook with anger.
"This is our own fault," he exclaimed angrily, "for having ever permitted an aristocrat to hold any place in our counsels! Before we move a step further, we'll purge them of such helpers as you and such false friends as Julian Orden."
"You very foolish person," she repeated. "Stop, though. Why all this mystery? Why did you try to keep that letter from me?"
"I conceived it to be for the benefit of our cause," he said didactically, "that the anonymity - of `Paul Fiske' should be preserved."
"Rubbish!" she scoffed. "You were afraid of him. Why, what fools we are! We will tell him the whole truth. We will tell him of our great scheme. We will tell him what we have been working for, these many months. The Bishop shall tell him, and you and I, and Miles Furley, and Cross. He shall hear all about it. He is with us! He must be with us! You shall put him on the Council. Why, there is your great difficulty solved," she went on, in growing excitement. "There is not a working man in the country who would not rally under `Paul Fiske's' banner. There you have your leader. It is he who shall deliver your ultimatum."
"I'm damned if it is!" Fenn declared, suddenly throwing his hat down and coming towards her furiously. "I'm - "
The door opened. Robert stood there.
"The message, madam," he began - and then stopped short. She crossed the room towards him.
"Robert," she said, "I think I have found the way to bring your master back to you. Will you take me downstairs, please, and fetch me a taxi?"
She looked back from the threshold.
"I shall telephone to Westminster in a few minutes, Mr. Fenn," she said. "I hope I shall be in time to stop the others from coming. Perhaps you had better wait here, in case they have already started."
He made no reply. To Catherine the world had become so wonderful that his existence scarcely counted.
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