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It was a little more than half an hour later when Julian ascended the steps of his club in Pall Mall and asked the hall porter for letters. Except that he was a little paler than usual and was leaning more heavily upon his stick, there was nothing about his appearance to denote several days of intense strain. There was a shade of curiosity, mingled with surprise, in the commissionaire's respectful greeting.
"There have been a good many enquiries for you the last few days, sir," he observed.
"I dare say," Julian replied. "I was obliged to go out of town unexpectedly."
He ran through the little pile of letters and selected a bulky envelope addressed to himself in his own handwriting. With this he returned to the taxicab in which the Bishop and Catherine were seated. They gazed with fascinated eyes at the packet which he was carrying and which he at once displayed.
"You see," he remarked, as he leaned back, "there is nothing so impenetrable in the world as a club of good standing. It beats combination safes hollow. It would have taken all Scotland Yard to have dragged this letter from the rack."
"That is really - it?" Catherine demanded breathlessly.
"It is the packet," he assured her, "which you handed to me for safe keeping at Maltenby."
They drove almost in silence to the Bishop's house, where it had been arranged that Julian should spend the night. The Bishop left the two together before the fire in his library, while he personally superintended the arrangement of a guest room. Catherine came over and knelt by the side of Julian's chair.
"Shall I beg forgiveness for the past," she whispered, "or may I not talk of the future, the glorious future?"
"Is it to be glorious?" he asked a little doubtfully.
"It can be made so," she answered with fervour, "by you more than by anybody else living. I defy you -you, `Paul Fiske - to impugn our scheme, our aims, the goal towards which we strive. All that we needed was a leader who could lift us up above the localness, the narrow visions of these men. They are in deadly earnest, but they can't see far enough, and each sees along his own groove. It is true that at the end the same sun shines, but no assembly of people can move together along a dozen different ways and keep the same goal in view."
He touched the packet.
"We do not yet know the written word here," he reminded her.
"I do," she insisted. "My heart tells me. Besides, I have had many hints. There are people in London whose position forces them to remain silent, who understand and know."
"Foreigners?" Julian asked suspiciously.
"Neutrals, of course, but neutrals of discretion are very useful people. The military party in Germany is making a brave show still, but it is beaten, notwithstanding its victories. The people are gathering together in their millions. Their voice is already being heard. Here we have the proof of it."
"But even if these proposed terms are as favourable as you say," Julian objected, "how can you force them upon the English Cabinet? There is America-France. Yours is purely a home demand. A government has other things to think of and consider."
"France is war-weary to the bone," she declared. "France will follow England, especially when she knows the contents of that packet. As for America, she came into this after the great sacrifices had been made. She demands nothing more than is to be yielded up. It is not for the sake of visionary ideas, not for diplomatic precedence that the humanitarians of the world are going to hesitate about ending this brutal slaughter."
He studied her curiously. In the firelight her face seemed to him almost strangely beautiful. She was uplifted by the fervour of her thoughts. The depth in her soft brown eyes was immeasurable; the quiver of her lips, so soft and yet so spiritual, was almost inspiring. Her hand was resting upon his shoulder. She seemed to dwell upon .his expression, to listen eagerly for his words. Yet he realised that in all this there was no personal note. She was the disciple of a holy cause, aflame with purpose.
"It will mean a revolution," he said thoughtfully.
"A revolution was established two years ago," she pointed out, "and the people have held their power ever since. I will tell you what I believe to-day," she went on passionately. "I believe that the very class who was standing the firmest, whose fingers grasp most tightly the sword of warfare, will be most grateful to the people who will wrest the initiative from their and show them the way to an honourable, inevitable peace."
"When do you propose to break those seals?" he enquired.
"To-morrow evening," she replied. "There will be a full meeting of the Council. The terms will be read. Then you shall decide."
"What am I to decide?"
"Whether you will accept the post of spokesman - whether you will be the ambassador who shall approach the Government."
"But they may not elect me," he objected.
"They will," she replied confidently. "It was you who showed them their power. It is you whose inspiration has carried them along: It is you who shall be their representative. Don't you realise," she went on, "that it is the very association of such men as yourself and Miles Furley and the Bishop with this movement which will endow it with reality in the eyes of the bourgeoisie of the country and Parliament?"
Their host returned, followed by his butler carrying a tray with refreshments, and the burden of serious things fell away from them. It was only after Catherine had departed, and the two men lingered for a moment near the fire before retiring, that either of them reverted to the great subject which dominated their thoughts.
"You understand, Julian," the Bishop said, with a shade of anxiety in his tone, "that I am in the same position as yourself so far as regards the proposals which may lie within that envelope? I have joined this movement - or conspiracy, as I suppose it would be called - on the one condition that the terms pronounced there are such as a Christian and a law-loving country, whose children have already made great sacrifices in the cause of freedom, may honourably accept. If they are otherwise, all the weight and influence I may have with the people go into the other scale. I take it that it is so with you?"
"Entirely," Julian acquiesced. "To be frank with you," he added, "my doubts are not so much concerning the terms of peace themselves as the power of the German democracy to enforce them."
"We have relied a good deal," the Bishop admitted, "upon reports from neutrals."
Julian smiled a little grimly.
"We have wasted a good many epithets criticising German diplomacy," he observed, "but she seems to know how to hold most of the neutrals in the hollow of her hand. You know what that Frenchman said? 'Scratch a neutral and you find a German propaganda agent!'"
The Bishop led the way upstairs. Outside the door of Julian's room, he laid his hand affectionately upon the young man's shoulder.
"My godson," he said, "as yet we have scarcely spoken of this great surprise which you have given us - of Paul Fiske. All that I shall say now is this. I am very proud to know that he is my guest to-night. I am very happy to think that from tomorrow we shall be fellow workers."
Catherine, while she waited for her tea in the Carlton lounge on the following afternoon, gazed through the drooping palms which sheltered the somewhat secluded table at which she was seated upon a very brilliant scene. It was just five o'clock, and a packed crowd of fashionable Londoners was listening to the strains of a popular band, or as much of it as could be heard above the din of conversation.
"This is all rather amazing, is it not?" she remarked to her companion.
The latter, an attache at a neutral Embassy, dropped his eyeglass and polished it with a silk handkerchief, in the corner of which was embroidered a somewhat conspicuous coronet.
"It makes an interesting study," he declared. "Berlin now is madly gay, Paris decorous and sober. It remains with London to be normal, - London because its hide is the thickest, its sensibility the least acute, its selfishness the most profound."
Catherine reflected for a moment.
"I think," she said, "that a philosophical history of the war will some day, for those who come after us, be extraordinarily interesting. I mean the study of the national temperaments as they were before, as they are now during the war, and as they will be afterwards. There is one thing which will always be noted, and that is the intense dislike which you, perhaps I, certainly the majority of neutrals, feel towards England."
"It is true," the young man assented solemnly. "One finds it everywhere."
"Before the war," Catherine went on, "it was Germany who was hated everywhere. She pushed her way into the best places at hotels, watering places - Monte Carlo, for instance and the famous spas. Today, all that accumulated dislike seems to be turned upon England. I am not myself a great admirer of this country, and yet I ask myself why?"
"England is smug," the young man pronounced; "She is callous; she is, without meaning to be, hypocritical. She works herself into a terrible state of indignation about the misdeeds of her neighbours, and she does not realise her own faults. The Germans are overbearing, but one realises that and expects it. Englishmen are irritating. It is certainly true that amongst us remaining neutrals," he added, dropping his voice a little and looking around to be sure of their isolation, "the sympathy remains with the Central Powers."
"I have some dear friends in this country, too," Catherine sighed.
"Naturally - amongst those of your own order. But then there is very little difference between the aristocracies of every race in the world. It is the bourgeoisie which tells, which sets its stamp upon a nation's character."
Their tea had arrived, and for a few moments the conversation travelled in lighter channels. The young man, who was a person of some consequence in his own country, spoke easily of the theatres, of mutual friends, of some sport in which he had been engaged. Catherine relapsed into the role which had been her first in life, - the young woman of fashion. As such they attracted no attention save a few admiring glances on the part of passers-by towards Catherine. As the people around them thinned out a little, their conversation became more intimate.
"I shall always feel," the young man said thoughtfully, "that in these days I have lived very near great things. I have seen and realised what the historians will relate at second-hand. The greatest events move like straws in the wind. A month ago, it seemed as though the Central Powers would lose the war."
"I suppose," she observed, "it depends very much upon what you mean by winning it? The terms of peace are scarcely the terms of victory, are they?"
"The terms of peace," he repeated thoughtfully.
"We happen to know what they are, do we not?" she continued, speaking almost under her breath,"the basic terms, at any rate."
"You mean," he said slowly, "the terms put forward by the Socialist Party of Germany to ensure the granting of an armistice?"
"And acceded to," she reminded him, "by the Kaiser and the two greatest German statesmen."
He toyed with his teacup, drew a gold cigarette case from his pocket, selected a cigarette, and lit it.
"You would try to make me believe," he remarked, smiling at his companion, "that to-day you are not in your most intelligent mood."
"Explain, if you please," she begged earnestly.
He smoked stolidly for several moments.
"I imagine," he said, "that you preserve with me something of that very skilfully assumed ignorance which is the true mask of the diplomatist. But is it worth while, I wonder?"
She caught at her breath.
"You are too clever," she murmured, looking at him covertly.
"You have seen," he continued, "how Germany, who needs peace sorely, has striven to use the most despised power in her country for her own advantage - I mean the Socialist Party. From being treated with scorn and ignominy, they were suddenly, at the time of the proposed Stockholm Conference, judged worthy of notice from the All Highest himself. He suddenly saw how wonderful a use might be made of them. It was a very clever trap which was baited, and it was not owing to any foresight or any cleverness on the part of this country that the Allies did not walk straight into it. I say again," he went on, "that it was a mere fluke which prevented the Allies from being represented at that Conference and the driving in of the thin end of the wedge."
"You are quite right," Catherine agreed.
"German diplomacy," he proceeded, "may sometimes be obtuse, but it is at least persistent. Their next move will certainly rank in history as the most astute, the most cunning of any put forward since the war commenced. Of course," the young man went on, fitting his cigarette into a long, amber holder, "we who are not Germans can only guess, but even the guessing is fascinating."
"Go on, please, dear Baron," she begged. "It is when you talk like this and show me your mind that I seem to be listening to a second Bismarck."
"You flatter me, Countess," the young man said, "but indeed these events are interesting. Trace their course for yourself after the failure of Stockholm. The Kaiser has established certain relations with the Socialist Party. Once more he turns towards them. He affects a war weariness he does not feel. He puts it into their heads that they shall approach without molestation certain men in England who have a great Labour following. The plot is started. You know quite well how it has progressed."
"Naturally," Catherine assented, "but after all, tell me, where does the wonderful diplomacy come in? The terms of peace are not the terms of a conqueror. Germany is to engage herself to give up what she has sworn to hold, even to pay indemnities, to restore all conquered countries, and to retire her armies behind the Rhine."
The young man looked at his companion steadfastly for several seconds.
"In the idiom of this country, Countess," he said, "I raise my hat to you. You preserve your mask of ignorance to the end. So much so, indeed, that I find myself asking do you really believe that Germany intends to do this?"
"But you forget," she reminded him. "I was one of those present at the discussion of the preliminaries. The confirmation of the agreed terms, with the signatures, has arrived, and is to be placed before the Labour Council at six o'clock this evening."
The young man for a moment seemed puzzled. Then he glanced at a little gold watch upon his wrist, knocked the cigarette from its holder and carefully replaced the latter in its case.
"That is very interesting, Countess," he said. "For the moment I had forgotten your official position amongst the English Socialists."
She leaned forward and touched his coat sleeve.
"You had forgotten nothing," she declared eagerly. "There is something in your mind of which you have not spoken."
"No," he replied, "I have spoken a great deal of my mind - too much, perhaps, considering that we are seated in this very fashionable lounge, with many people around us. We must talk of these serious matters on another occasion, Countess. I shall pay my respects to your aunt, if I may, within the next few days."
"Why do you fence with me?" she persisted, drawing on her gloves. "You and I both know, so far as regards those peace terms, that -"
"If we both know," he interrupted, "let us keep each our own knowledge. Words are sometimes very, dangerous, and great events are looming. So, Countess! You have perhaps a car, or may I have the pleasure of escorting you to your destination?"
"I am going to Westminster," she told him, rising to her feet.
"In that case," he observed, as they made their way down the room, "perhaps I had better not offer my escort, although I should very much like to be there in person. You are amongst those to-day who will make history."
"Come and see me soon," she begged, dropping her voice a little, "and I will confide in you as much as I dare."
"It is tempting," he admitted, "I should like to know what passes at that meeting."
"You can, if you will, dine with us to-morrow night," she invited, "at half-past eight. My aunt will be delighted to see you. I forget whether we have people coming or not, but you will be very welcome."
The young man bowed low as he handed his charge into a taxicab.
"Dear Countess," he murmured, "I shall be charmed."
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