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

The Bishop and the Prime Minister met, one afternoon a few days later, at the corner of Horse Guards Avenue.  The latter was looking brown and well, distinctly the better for his brief holiday.  The Bishop, on the contrary, was pale and appeared harassed.  They shook hands and exchanged for a moment the usual inanitiés.

“Tell me, Mr. Stenson,” the Bishop asked earnestly, “what is the meaning of all this Press talk, about peace next month?  I have heard a hint that it was inspired.”

“You are wrong,” was the firm reply.  “I have sent my private secretary around to a few of the newspapers this morning.  It just happens to be the sensation, of the moment, and it’s fed all the time from the other side.”

“There is nothing in it, then, really?”

“Nothing whatever.  Believe me, Bishop ­and there is no one feeling the strain more than I am ­the time has not yet come for peace.”

“You politicians!” the Bishop sighed.  “Do you sometimes forget, I wonder, that even the pawns you move are human?”

“I can honestly say that I, at any rate, have never forgotten it,” Mr. Stenson answered gravely.  “There isn’t a man in my Government who has a single personal feeling in favour of, or a single benefit to gain, by the continuance of this ghastly war.  On the other hand, there is scarcely one who does not realise that the end is not yet.  We have pledged our word, the word of the English nation, to a peace based only upon certain contingencies.  Those contingencies the enemy is not at present prepared to accept.  There is no immediate reason why he should.”

“But are you sure of that?” the Bishop ventured doubtfully.  “When you speak of Germany, you speak of William of Hohenzollern and his clan.  Is that Germany?  Is theirs the voice of the people?”

“I would be happy to believe that it was not,” Mr. Stenson replied, “but if that is the case, let them give us a sign of it.”

“That sign,” declared the Bishop, with a gleam of hopefulness in his tone, “may come, and before long.”

The two men were on the point of parting.  Mr. Stenson turned and walked a yard or two with his companion.

“By the bye, Bishop,” he enquired, “have you heard any rumours concerning the sudden disappearance of our young friend Julian Orden?”

The Bishop for a moment was silent.  A passer-by glanced at the two men sympathetically.  Of the two, he thought, it was the man in spiritual charge of a suffering people who showed more sign of the strain.

“I have heard rumours,” the Bishop acknowledged.  “Tell me what you know?”

“Singularly little,” Mr. Stenson replied.  “He left Maltenby with Miss Abbeway the day after their engagement, and, according to the stories which I have heard, arranged to dine with her that night.  She came to call for him and found that he had disappeared.  According to his servant, he simply walked out in morning clothes, soon after six o’clock, without leaving any message, and never returned.  On the top of that, though, there followed, as I expect you have heard, some very insistent police enquiries as to Orden’s doings on the night he spent with his friend Miles Furley.  There is no doubt that a German submarine was close to Blakeney harbour that night and that a communication of some sort was landed.”

“It seems absurd to connect Julian with any idea of treasonable communication with Germany,” the Bishop said slowly.  “A more typical young Englishman of his class I never met.”

“Up to a certain point I agree with you,” Mr. Stenson confessed, “but there are some further rumours to which I cannot allude, concerning Julian.  Orden, which are, to say the least of it, surprising.”

The two men came to a standstill once more.

Stenson laid his hand upon his companion’s shoulder.  “Come,” he went on, “I know what is the matter with you, my friend.  Your heart is too big.  The cry of the widow and the children lingers too long in your ears.  Remember some of your earlier sermons at the beginning of the war.  Remember how wonderfully you spoke one morning at St. Paul’s upon the spirituality to be developed by suffering, by sacrifice. `The hand which chastises also purifies.’  Wasn’t that what you said?  You probably didn’t know that I was one of your listeners, even ­I myself, in those days, scarcely looked upon the war as I do now.  I remember crawling in at the side door of the Cathedral and sitting unrecognised on a hard chair.  It was a great congregation, and I was far away in the background, but I heard.  I remember the rustle, too, the little moaning, indrawn breath of emotion when the people rose to their feet.  Take heart, Bishop.  I will remind you once more of your own words `These are the days of purification.’”

The two men separated.  The Bishop walked thoughtfully towards the Strand, his hands clasped behind his back, the echo of those quoted words of his still in his ear.  As he came to the busy crossing, he raised his head and looked around him.

“Perhaps,” he murmured, “my eyes have been closed.  Perhaps there are things to be seen.”

He called a taxicab and, giving the man some muttered directions, was driven slowly down the Strand, looking eagerly first on one side of the way and then on the other.  It was approaching the luncheon hour and the streets were thronged.  Here seemed to be the meeting place of the Colonial troops, ­long, sinewy men, many of them, with bronzed faces and awkward gait.  They elbowed their way along, side by side with the queerest collection of people in the world.  They stopped and talked in little knots, they entered and left the public houses, stood about outside the restaurants.  Here and there they walked arm in arm with women.  Taxicabs were turning in at the Savoy, taxicabs and private cars.  Young ladies of the stage, sometimes alone, very often escorted, were everywhere in evidence.  The life of London was flowing on in very much the same channels.  There were few, if any signs of that thing for which he sought.  The taxicab turned westwards, crossed Piccadilly Circus and proceeded along Piccadilly, its solitary occupant still gazing into the faces of the people with that same consuming interest.  It was all the same over again ­the smiling throngs entering and leaving the restaurants, the smug promenaders, the stream of gaily dressed women and girls.  Bond Street was even more crowded with shoppers and loiterers.  The shop windows were as full as ever, the toilettes of the women as wonderful.  Mankind, though khaki-clad, was plentiful.  The narrow thoroughfare was so crowded that his taxicab went only at a snail’s crawl, and occasionally he heard scraps of conversation.  Two pretty girls were talking to two young men in uniform.

“What a rag last night!  I didn’t get home till three!”

“Dick never got home at all.  Still missing!”

“Evie and I are worn out with shopping.  Everything’s twice as expensive, but one simply can’t do without.”

“I shouldn’t do without anything, these days.  One never knows how long it may last.”

The taxicab moved on, and the Bishop’s eyes for a moment were half-closed.  The voices followed him, however.  Two women, leading curled and pampered toy dogs, were talking at the corner of the street.

“Sugar, my dear?” one was saying.  “Why, I laid in nearly a hundredweight, and I can always get what I want now.  The shopkeepers know that they have to have your custom after the war.  It’s only the people who can’t afford to buy much at a time who are really inconvenienced.”

“Of course, it’s awfully sad about the war, and all that, but one has to think of oneself.  Harry told me last night that after paying all the income tax he couldn’t get out of, and excess profits; he is still ­”

The voices dropped to a whisper.  The Bishop thrust his head out of the window.

“Drive me to Tothill Street, Westminster,” he directed.  “As quickly as possible, please.”

The man turned up a side street and drove off.  Still the Bishop watched, only by now the hopefulness had gone from his face.  He had sought for something of which there had been no sign.

He dismissed his taxicab in front of a large and newly finished block of buildings in the vicinity of Westminster.  A lift man conducted him to the seventh floor, and a commissionaire ushered him into an already crowded waiting room.  A youth, however, who had noticed the Bishop’s entrance, took him in charge, and, conducting him through two other crowded rooms, knocked reverently at the door of an apartment at the far end of the suite.  The door was opened, after a brief delay, by a young man of unpleasant appearance, who gazed suspiciously at the distinguished visitor through heavy spectacles.

“The Bishop wishes to see Mr. Fenn,” his guide announced.

“Show him in at once,” a voice from the middle of the room directed.  “You can go and have your lunch, Johnson.”

The Bishop found himself alone with the man whom he had come to visit, ­a moderately tall, thin figure, badly-dressed, with a drooping moustache, bright eyes and good forehead, but peevish expression.  He stood up while he shook hands with the Bishop and motioned him to a chair.

“First time you’ve honoured us, Bishop,” he remarked, with the air of one straining after an equality which he was far from feeling.

“I felt an unconquerable impulse to talk with you,” the Bishop admitted.  “Tell me your news?”

“Everything progresses,” Nicholas Fenn declared confidently.  “The last eleven days have seen a social movement in this country, conducted with absolute secrecy, equivalent in its portentous issues to the greatest revolution of modern times.  For the first time in history, Bishop, the united voice of the people has a chance of making itself heard.”

“Mr. Fenn,” the Bishop said, “you have accomplished a wonderful work.  Now comes the moment when we must pause and think.  We must be absolutely and entirely certain that the first time that voice is heard it is heard in a righteous cause.”

“Is there a more righteous cause in the world than the cause of peace?” Fenn asked sharply.

“Not if that peace be just and reasonable,” the Bishop replied, “not if that peace can bring to an end this horrible and bloody struggle.”

“We shall see to that,” Fenn declared, with a self-satisfied air.

“You have by now, I suppose, the terms proposed by your ­your kindred body in Germany?”

Nicholas Fenn stroked his moustache.  There was a frown upon his forehead.

“I expect to have them at any moment,” he said, “but to tell you the truth, at the present moment they are not available.”

“But I thought ­”

“Just so,” the other interrupted.  “The document, however, was not where we expected to find it.”

“Surely that is a very serious complication?”

“It will mean a certain delay if we don’t succeed in getting hold of it,” Fenn admitted.  “We intend to be firm about the matter, though.”

The Bishop’s expression was troubled.

“Julian Orden,” he said, “is my godson.”

“Necessity knows neither friendship nor relationship,” Fenn pronounced didactically.  “Better ask no questions, sir.  These details do not concern you.”

“They concern my conscience,” was the grave reply.  “Ours is an earnest spiritual effort for peace, a taking away from the hands of the politicians of a great human question which they have proved themselves unable to handle.  We should look, therefore, with peculiar care to the means we adopt.”

Nicholas Fenn nodded.  He lit a very pungent cigarette from a paper packet by his side.

“You and I, Bishop,” he said, “are pacifists in the broadest meaning of the word, but that does not mean that we may not sometimes have to use force to attain our object.  We have a department which alone is concerned with the dealing of such matters.  It is that department which has undertaken the forwarding and receipt of all communications between ourselves and our friends across the North Sea.  Its operations are entirely secret, even from the rest of the Council.  It will deal with Julian Orden.  It is best for you not to interfere, or even to have cognisance of what is going on.”

“I cannot agree,” the Bishop protested.  “An act of unchristian violence would be a flaw in the whole superstructure which we are trying to build up.”

“Let us discuss some other subject,” Fenn proposed.

“Pardon me,” was the firm reply.  “I have come here to discuss this one.”

Nicholas Fenn looked down at the table.  His expression was not altogether pleasant.

“Your position with us, sir,” he said, “although much appreciated, does not warrant your interference in executive details.”

“Nevertheless,” the Bishop insisted, “you must please treat me reasonably in this matter, Mr. Fenn.  Remember I am not altogether extinct as a force amongst your followers.  I have three mass meetings to address this week, and there is the sermon next Sunday at Westminster Abbey, at which it has been agreed that I shall strike the first note of warning.  I am a helper, I believe, worth considering, and there is no man amongst you who risks what I risk.”

“Exactly what are you asking from me?” Fenn demanded, after a moment’s deliberation.

“I wish to know the whereabouts and condition of Julian Orden.”

“The matter is one which is being dealt with by our secret service department,” Fenn replied, “but I see no reason why I should not give you all reasonable information.  The young man in question asked for trouble, and to a certain extent he has found it.”

“I understand,” the Bishop reminded his companion, “that he has very nearly, if not altogether, compromised himself in his efforts to shield Miss Abbeway.”

“That may be so,” Fenn admitted, “but it doesn’t alter the fact that he refuses to return to her the packet which she entrusted to his care.”

“And he is still obdurate?”

“Up to now, absolutely so.  Perhaps,” Fenn added, with a slightly malicious smile, “you would like to try what you can do with him yourself?”

The Bishop hesitated.

“Julian Orden,” he said, “is a young man of peculiarly stubborn type, but if I thought that my exhortations would be of any benefit, I would not shrink from trying them, whatever it might cost me.”

“Better have a try, then,” Fenn suggested.  “If we do not succeed within the next twenty-four hours, I shall give you an order to see him.  I don’t mind confessing,” he went on confidentially, “that the need for the production of that document is urgent, apart from the risk we run of having our plans forestalled if it should fall into the hands of the Government.”

“I presume that Miss Abbeway has already done her best?”

“She has worn herself out with persuasions.”

“Has he himself been told the truth?”

Fenn shook his head.

“From your own knowledge of the young man, do you think that it would be of any use?  Even Miss Abbeway is forced to admit that any one less likely to sympathise with our aims it would be impossible to find.  At the same time, if we do arrange an interview for you, use any arguments you can think of.  To tell you the truth, our whole calculations have been upset by not discovering the packet upon his person.  He was on his way to Downing Street when our agents intervened, and we never doubted that he would have it with him.  When will it be convenient for you to pay your visit?”

“At any time you send for me,” the Bishop replied.  “Meanwhile, Mr. Fenn, before I leave I want to remind you once more of the original purpose of my call upon you.”

Fenn frowned a little peevishly as he rose to usher his visitor out.

“Miss Abbeway has already extorted a foolish promise from us,” he said.  “The young man’s safety for the present is not in question.”

The Bishop, more from custom than from any appetite, walked across the Park to the Athenaeum.  Mr. Hannaway Wells accosted him in the hall.

“This is a world of rumours,” he remarked with a smile.  “I have just heard that Julian Orden, of all men in the world, has been shot as a German spy.”

The Bishop smiled with dignity.

“You may take it from me,” he said gravely, “that the rumour is untrue.”