Read CHAPTER V of The Devil's Paw , free online book, by E. Phillips Oppenheim, on ReadCentral.com.

Maltenby was one of those old-fashioned houses where the port is served as a lay sacrament and the call of the drawing-room is responded to tardily.  After the departure of the women, Doctor Lennard drew his chair up to Julian’s.

“An interesting face, your dinner companion’s,” he remarked.  “They tell me that she is a very brilliant young lady.”

“She certainly has gifts,” acknowledged Julian.

“I watched her whilst she was talking to you,” the Oxford don continued.  “She is one of those rare young women whose undoubted beauty is put into the background by their general attractiveness.  Lady Maltenby was telling me fragments of her history.  It appears that she is thinking of giving up her artistic career for some sort of sociological work.”

“It is curious,” Julian reflected, “how the cause of the people has always appealed to gifted Russians.  England, for instance, produces no real democrats of genius.  Russia seems to claim a monopoly of them.”

“There is nothing so stimulating as a sense of injustice for bringing the best out of a man or woman,” Doctor Lennard pointed out.  “Russia, of course, for many years has been shamefully misgoverned.”

The conversation, owing to the intervention of other of the guests, became general and platitudinal.  Soon after, Mr. Stenson rose and excused himself.  His secretary; who had been at the telephone, desired a short conference.  There was a brief silence after his departure.

“Stenson,” the Oxonian observed, “is beginning to show signs of strain.”

“Why not?” Lord Shervinton pointed out.  “He came into office full of the most wonderful enthusiasm.  His speeches rang through the world like a clarion note.  He converted waverers.  He lit fires which still burn.  But he is a man of movement.  This present stagnation is terribly irksome to him.  I heard him speak last week, and I was disappointed.  He seems to have lost his inspiration.  What he needs is a stimulus of some sort, even of disaster.”

“I wonder,” the Bishop reflected, “if he is really afraid of the people?”

“I consider his remark concerning them most ill-advised,” Lord Maltenby declared pompously.

“I know the people,” the Bishop continued, “and I love them.  I think, too, that they trust me.  Yet I am not sure that I cannot see a glimmering of what is at the back of Stenson’s mind.  There are a good many millions in the country who honestly believe that war is primarily an affair of the politicians; who believe, too, that victory means a great deal more to what they term `the upper classes’ than it does to them.  Yet, in every sense of the word, they are bearing an equal portion of the fight, because, when it comes down to human life, the life of the farm labourer’s son is of the same intrinsic value as the life of the peer’s.”

Lord Maltenby moved a little in his chair.  There was a slight frown upon his aristocratic forehead.  He disagreed entirely with the speaker, with whom he feared, however, to cross swords.  Mr. Hannaway Wells, who had been waiting for his opportunity, took charge of the conversation.  He spoke in a reserved manner, his fingers playing with the stem of his wineglass.

“I must confess,” he said, “that I feel the deepest interest in what the Bishop has just said.  I could not talk to you about the military situation, even if I knew more than you do, which is not the case, but I think it is clear that we have reached something like a temporary impasse.  There certainly seems to be no cause for alarm upon any front, yet, not only in London, but in Paris and even Rome, there is a curious uneasiness afoot, for which no one can, account which no one can bring home to any definite cause.  In the same connection, we have confidential information that a new spirit of hopefulness is abroad in Germany.  It has been reported to us that sober, clear-thinking men ­and there are a few of them, even in Germany ­have predicted peace before a month is out.”

“The assumption is,” Doctor Lennard interpolated, “that Germany has something up her sleeve.”

“That is not only the assumption,” the Cabinet Minister replied, “but it is also, I believe, the truth.”

“One could apprehend and fear a great possible danger,” Lord Shervinton observed, “if the Labour Party in Germany were as strong as ours, or if our own Labour, Party were entirely united.  The present conditions, however, seem to me to give no cause for alarm.”

“That is where I think you are wrong,” Hannaway Wells declared.  “If the Labour Party in Germany were as strong as ours, they would be strong enough to overthrow the Hohenzollern clique, to stamp out the militarism against which we are at war, to lay the foundations of a great German republic with whom we could make the sort of peace for which every Englishman hopes.  The danger, the real danger which we have to face, would lie in an amalgamation of the Labour Party, the Socialists and the Syndicalists in this country, and in their insisting upon treating with the weak Labour Party in Germany.”

“I agree with the Bishop,” Julian pronounced.  “The unclassified democracy of our country may believe itself hardly treated, but individually it is intensely patriotic.  I do not believe that its leaders would force the hand of the country towards peace, unless they received full assurance that their confreres in Germany were able to assume a dominant place in the government of that country ­a place at least equal to the influence of the democracy here.”

Doctor Lennard glanced at the speaker a little curiously.  He had known Julian since he was a boy but had never regarded him as anything but a dilettante.

“You may not know it,” he said, “but you are practically expounding the views of that extraordinary writer of whom we were speaking ­Paul Fiske.”

“I have been told,” the Bishop remarked, cracking a walnut, “that Paul Fiske is the pseudonym of a Cabinet Minister.”

“And I,” Hannaway Wells retorted, “have been informed most credibly that he is a Church of England clergyman.”

“The last rumour I heard,” Lord Shervinton put in, “was that he is a grocer in a small way of business at Wigan.”

“Dear me!” Doctor Lennard remarked.  “The gossips have covered enough ground!  A man at a Bohemian club of which I am a member ­the Savage Club, in fact ­assured me that he was an opium drugged journalist, kept alive by the charity of a few friends; a human wreck, who was once the editor of an important London paper.”

“You have some slight connection with journalism, have you not, Julian?” the Earl asked his son condescendingly.  “Have you heard no reports?”

“Many,” Julian replied, “but none which I have been disposed to credit.  I should imagine, myself, that Paul Fiske is a man who believes, having created a public, that his written words find an added value from the fact that he obviously desires neither reward nor recognition; just in the same way as the really earnest democrats of twenty years ago scoffed at the idea of a seat in Parliament, or of breaking bread in any way with the enemy.”

“It was a fine spirit, that,” the Bishop declared.  “I am not sure that we are not all of us a little over-inclined towards compromises.  The sapping away of conscience is so easy.”

The dining-room door was thrown open, and the butler announced a visitor.

“Colonel Henderson, your lordship.”

They all turned around in their places.  The colonel, a fine, military-looking figure of a man, shook hands with Lord Maltenby.

“My most profound apologies, sir,” he said, as he accepted a chair.  “The Countess was kind enough to say that if I were not able to get away in time for dinner, I might come up afterwards.”

“You are sure that you have dined?”

“I had something at Mess, thank you.”

“A glass of port, then?”

The Colonel helped himself from the decanter which was passed towards him and exchanged greetings with several of the guests to whom his host introduced him.

“No raids or invasions, I hope, Colonel?” the latter asked.

“Nothing quite so serious as that, I am glad to say.  We have had a little excitement of another sort, though.  One of my men caught a spy this morning.”

Every one was interested.  Even after three years of war, there was still something fascinating about the word.

“Dear me!” Lord Maltenby exclaimed.  “I should scarcely have considered our out-of-the-way part of the world sufficiently important to attract attentions of that sort.”

“It was a matter of communication,” the Colonel confided.  “There was an enemy submarine off here last night, and we have reason to believe that a message was landed.  We caught one fellow just at dawn.”

“What did you do with him?” the Bishop asked.

“We shot him an hour ago,” was the cool reply.

“Are there any others at large?” Julian enquired, leaning forward.

“One other,” the Colonel acknowledged, sipping his wine appreciatively.  “My military police here, however, are very intelligent, and I should think it very doubtful whether he can escape.”

“Was the man who was shot a foreigner?” the Earl asked.  “I trust that he was not one of my tenants?”

“He was a stranger,” was the prompt assurance.

“And his companion?” Julian ventured.

“His companion is believed to have been quite a youth.  There is a suggestion that he escaped in a motor-car, but he is probably hiding in the neighbourhood.”

Lord Maltenby frowned.  There seemed to him something incongruous in the fact that a deed of this sort should have been committed in his domain without his knowledge.  He rose to his feet.

“The Countess is probably relying upon some of us for bridge,” he said.  “I hope, Colonel, that you will take a hand.”

The men rose and filed slowly out of the room.  The Colonel, however, detained his host, and Julian also lingered.

“I hope, Lord Maltenby,” the former said, “that you will excuse my men, but they tell me that they find it necessary to search your garage for a car which has been seen in the neighbourhood.”

“Search my garage?” Lord Maltenby repeated, frowning.

“There is no doubt,” the Colonel explained, “that a car was made use of last night by the man who is still at large, and it is very possible that it was stolen.  You will understand, I am sure, that any enquiries which my men may feel it their duty to make are actuated entirely by military necessity.”

“Quite so,” the Earl acceded, still a little puzzled.  “You will find my head chauffeur a most responsible man.  He will, I am sure, give them every possible information.  So far as I am aware, however, there is no strange car in the garage.  Do you know of any, Julian?”

“Only Miss Abbeway’s,” his son replied.  “Her little Panhard was out in the avenue all night, waiting for her to put some plugs in.  Every one else seems to have come by train.”

The Colonel raised his eyebrows very slightly and moved slowly towards the door.

“The matter is in the hands of my police,” he said, “but if you could excuse me for half a moment, Lord Maltenby, I should like to speak to your head chauffeur.”

“By all means,” the Earl replied.  “I will take you round to the garage myself.”