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Julian, absorbed for the first few minutes of dinner by the crystallisation of this new idea which had now taken a definite place in his brain, found his conversational powers somewhat at a discount. Catherine very soon, however, asserted her claim upon his attention.
"Please do your duty and tell me about things," she begged. "Remember that I am Cinderella from Bohemia, and I scarcely know a soul here."
"Well, there aren't many to find out about, are there?" he replied. "Of course you know Stenson?"
"I have been gazing at him with dilated eyes," she confided. "Is that not the proper thing to do? He seems to me very ordinary and very hungry."
"Well, then, there is the Bishop."
"I knew him at once from his photographs. He must spend the whole of the time when he isn't in church visiting the photographer. However, I like him. He is talking to my aunt quite amiably. Nothing does aunt so much good as to sit next a bishop."
"The Shervintons you know all about, don't you?" he went on. "The soldiers are just young men from the Norwich barracks, Doctor Lennard was my father's tutor at Oxford, and Mr. Hannaway Wells is our latest Cabinet Minister."
"He still has the novice's smirk," she remarked. "A moment ago I heard him tell his neighbour that he preferred not to discuss the war. He probably thinks that there is a spy under the table."
"Well, there we are - such as we are," Julian concluded. "There is no one left except me."
"Then tell me all about yourself," she suggested. "Really, when I come to think of it, considering the length of our conversations, you have been remarkably reticent. You are the youngest of the family, are you not? How many brothers are there?"
"There were four," he told her. "Henry was killed at Ypres last year. Guy is out there still. Richard is a Brigadier."
"I am a barrister by profession, but I went out with the first Inns of Court lot for a little amateur soldiering and lost part of my foot at Mons. Since then I have been indulging in the unremunerative and highly monotonous occupation of censoring."
"Monotonous indeed, I should imagine," she agreed. "You spend your time reading other people's letters, do you not, just to be sure that there are no communications from the enemy?"
"Precisely," he assented. "We discover ciphers and all sorts of things."
"What brainy people you must be!"
"We are, most of us."
"Do you do anything else?"
"Well, I've given up censoring for the present," he confided. "I am going back to my profession."
"As a barrister?"
"Just so. I might add that I do a little hack journalism."
"How modest!" she murmured. "I suppose you write the leading articles for the Times!"
"For a very young lady," Julian observed impressively, "you have marvellous insight. How did you guess my secret?"
"I am better at guessing secrets than you are," she retorted a little insolently.
He was silent for some moments. The faint curve of her lips had again given him almost a shock.
"Have you a brother?" he asked abruptly.
"Because I met some one quite lately - within the last few hours, as a matter of fact - with a mouth exactly like yours."
"But what a horrible thing!" she exclaimed, drawing out a little mirror from the bag by her side and gazing into it. "How unpleasant to have any one else going about with a mouth exactly like one's own! No, I never had a brother, Mr. Orden, or a sister, and, as you may have heard, I am an enfant mechante. I live in London, I model very well, and I talk very bad sociology. As I think I told you, I know your anarchist friend, Miles Furley."
"I shouldn't call Furley an anarchist," protested Julian.
"Well, he is a Socialist. I admit that we are rather lax in our definitions. You see, there is just one subject, of late years, which has brought together the Socialists and the Labour men, the Syndicalists and the Communists, the Nationalists and the Internationalists. All those who work for freedom are learning breadth. If they ever find a leader, I think that this dear, smug country of yours may have to face the greatest surprise of its existence."
Julian looked at her curiously.
"You have ideas, Miss Abbeway."
"So unusual in a woman!" she mocked. "Do you notice how every one is trying to avoid the subject of the war? I give them another half-course, don't you? I am sure they cannot keep it up."
"They won't go the distance," Julian whispered. "Listen."
"The question to be considered," Lord Shervinton pronounced, "is not so much when the war will be over as what there is to stop it? That is a point which I think we can discuss without inviting official indiscretions."
"If other means fail," declared the Bishop, "Christianity will stop it. The conscience of the world is already being stirred."
"Our enemies," the Earl pronounced confidently from his place at the head of the table, "are already a broken race. They are on the point of exhaustion. Austria is, if possible, in a worse plight. That is what will end the war - the exhaustion of our opponents."
"The deciding factor," Mr. Hannaway Wells put in, with a very non-committal air, "will probably be America. She will bring her full strength into the struggle just at the crucial moment. She will probably do what we farther north have as yet failed to do: she will pierce the line and place the German armies in Flanders in peril."
The Cabinet Minister's views were popular. There was a little murmur of approval, something which sounded almost like a purr of content. It was just one more expression of that strangely discreditable yet almost universal failing, - the over-reliance upon others. The quiet remark of the man who suddenly saw fit to join in the discussion struck a chilling and a disturbing note.
"There is one thing which could end the war at any moment," Mr. Stenson said, leaning a little forward, "and that is the will of the people."
There was perplexity as well as discomfiture in the minds of his hearers.
"The people?" Lord Shervinton repeated. "But surely the people speak through the mouths of their rulers?"
"They have been content to, up to the present," the Prime Minister agreed, "but Europe may still see strange and dramatic events before many years are out."
"Do go on, please," the Countess begged.
Mr. Stenson shook his head.
"Even as a private individual I have said more than I intended," he replied. "I have only one thing to say about the war in public, and that is that we are winning, that we must win, that our national existence depends upon winning, and that we shall go on until we do win. The obstacles between us and victory, which may remain in our minds, are not to be spoken of."
There was a brief and somewhat uncomfortable pause. It was understood that the subject was to be abandoned. Julian addressed a question to the Bishop across the table. Lord Maltenby consulted Doctor Lennard as to the date of the first Punic War. Mr. Stenson admired the flowers. Catherine, who had been sitting with her eyes riveted upon the Prime Minister, turned to her neighbour.
"Tell me about your amateur journalism, Mr. Orden?" she begged. "I have an idea that it ought to be interesting."
"Deadly dull, I can assure you."
"You write about politics? Or perhaps you are an art critic? I ought to be on my best behaviour, in case."
"I know little about art," he assured her. "My chief interest in life - outside my profession, of course - lies in sociology."
His little confession had been impulsive. She raised her eyebrows.
"You are in earnest, I believe!" she exclaimed. "Have I really found an Englishman who is in earnest?"
"I plead guilty. It is incorrect philosophy but a distinct stimulus to life."
"What a pity," she sighed, "that you are so handicapped by birth! Sociology cannot mean anything very serious for you. Your perspective is naturally distorted."
"What about yourself?" he asked pertinently.
"The vanity of us women!" she murmured. "I have grown to look upon myself as being an exception. I forget that there might be others. You might even be one of our prophets - a Paul Fiske in disguise."
His eyes narrowed a little as he looked at her closely. From across the table, the Bishop broke off an interesting discussion on the subject of his addresses to the working classes, and the Earl set down his wineglass with an impatient gesture.
"Does no one really know," Mr. Stenson asked, "who Paul Fiske is?"
"No one, sir," Mr. Hannaway Wells replied. "I thought it wise, a short time ago, to set on foot the most searching enquiries, but they were absolutely fruitless."
The Bishop coughed.
"I must plead guilty," he confessed, "to having visited the offices of The Monthly Review with the same object. I left a note for him there, in charge of the editor, inviting him to a conference at my house. I received no reply. His anonymity seems to be impregnable."
"Whoever he may be," the Earl declared, "he ought to be muzzled. He is a traitor to his country."
"I cannot agree with you, Lord Maltenby," the Bishop said firmly. "The very danger of the man's doctrines lies in their clarity of thought, their extraordinary proximity to the fundamental truths of life."
"The man is, at any rate," Doctor Lennard interposed, "the most brilliant anonymous writer since the days of Swift and the letters of Junius."
Mr. Stenson for a moment hesitated. He seemed uncertain whether or no to join in the conversation. Finally, impulse swayed him.
"Let us all be thankful," he said, "that Paul Fiske is content with the written word. If the democracy of England found themselves to-day with such a leader, it is he who would be ruling the country, and not I."
"The man is a pacifist!" the Earl protested.
"So we all are," the Bishop declared warmly. "We are all pacifists in the sense that we are lovers of peace. There is not one of us who does not deplore the horrors of to-day. There is not one of us who is not passionately seeking for the master mind which can lead us out of it."
"There is only one way out," the Earl insisted, "and that is to beat the enemy."
"It is the only obvious way," Julian intervened, joining in the conversation for the first time, "but meanwhile, with every tick of the clock a fellow creature dies."
"It is a question," Mr. Hannaway Wells reflected, "whether the present generation is not inclined to be mawkish with regard to human life. History has shown us the marvellous benefits which have accrued to the greatest nations through the lessening of population by means of warfare."
"History has also shown us," Doctor Lennard observed, "that the last resource of force is force. No brain has ever yet devised a logical scheme for international arbitration."
"Human nature, I am afraid, has changed extraordinarily little since the days of the Philistines," the Bishop confessed.
Julian turned to his companion.
"Well, they've all settled it amongst themselves, haven't they?" he murmured. "Here you may sit and listen to what may be called the modern voice."
"Yet there is one thing wanting," she whispered. "What do you suppose, if he were here at this moment, Paul Fiske would say? Do you think that he would be content to listen to these brazen voices and accept their verdict?"
"Without irreverence," Julian answered, "or comparison, would Jesus Christ?"
"With the same proviso," she retorted, "I might reply that Jesus Christ, from all we know of him, might reign wonderfully in the Kingdom of Heaven, but be certainly wouldn't be able to keep together a Cabinet in Downing Street! Still, I am beginning to believe in your sincerity. Do you think that Paul Fiske is sincere?"
"I believe," Julian replied, "that he sees the truth and struggles to express it."
The women were leaving the table. She leaned towards him.
"Please do not be long," she whispered. "You must admit that I have been an admirable dinner companion. I have talked to you all the time on your own subject. You must come and talk to me presently about art."
Julian, with his hand on the back of his chair, watched the women pass out of the soft halo of the electric lights into the gloomier shadows of the high, vaulted room, Catherine a little slimmer than most of the others, and with a strange grace of slow movement which must have come to her from some Russian ancestor. Her last words lingered in his mind. He was to talk to her about art! A fleeting vision of the youth in the yellow oilskins mocked him. He remembered his morning's tramp and the broken-down motor-car under the trees. The significance of these things was beginning to take shape in his mind. He resumed his seat, a little dazed.
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