‘Well, that makes it the more effective. You yacht against them, you hunt with them, you play polo, you match them in every game. Your four-in-hand takes the prize at Olympia—I have even heard that you go to the length of boxing with the young officers. What is the result? Nobody takes you seriously. You are a “good old sport”, “quite a decent fellow for a German”, a hard-drinking, night-club, knock-about- town, devil-may-care young fellow. And all the time this quiet country-house of yours is the centre of half the mischief in England, and the sporting squire—the most astute secret-service man in Europe. Genius, my dear Van Bork—genius!’

‘You flatter me, Baron. But certainly I may claim that my four years in this country have not been unproductive. I’ve never shown you my little store. Would you mind stepping in for a moment?’

The door of the study opened straight on to the terrace. Von Bork pushed it back, and, leading the way, he clicked the switch of the electric light. He then closed the door behind the bulky form which followed him, and carefully adjusted the heavy curtain over the latticed window. Only when all these precautions had been taken and tested did he turn his sun-burned, aquiline face to his guest.

‘Some of my papers have gone,’ said he. ‘When my wife and the household left yesterday for Flushing they took the less important with them. I must, of course, claim the protection of the Embassy for the others.’

‘Everything has been most carefully arranged. Your name has already been filed as one of the personal suite. There will be no difficulties for you or your baggage. Of course, it is just possible that we may not have to go. England may leave France to her fate. We are sure that there is no binding treaty between them.’

‘And Belgium?’ He stood listening intently for the answer.

‘Yes, and Belgium, too.’

Von Bork shook his head. ‘I don’t see how that could be. There is a definite treaty there. It would be the end of her—and what an end! She could never recover from such a humiliation.’

‘She would at least have peace for the moment.’

‘But her honour?’

‘Tut, my dear sir, we live in a utilitarian age. Honour is a mediaeval conception. Besides, England is not ready. It is an inconceivable thing, but even our special war-tax of fifty millions, which one would think made our purpose as clear as if we had advertised it on the front page of The Times, has not roused these people from their slumbers. Here and there one hears a question. It is my business to find an answer. Here and there also there is irritation. It is my business to soothe it. But I can assure you that so far as the essentials go—the storage of munitions, the preparation for submarine attack, the arrangements for making high explosives—nothing is prepared. How then can England come in, especially when we have stirred her up such a devil’s brew of Irish civil war, window-breaking furies, and God knows what to keep her thoughts at home?’

‘She must think of her future.’

‘Ah, that is another matter. I fancy that in the future we have our own very definite plans about England, and that your information will be very vital to us. It is to-day or to-morrow with Mr John Bull. If he prefers to-day we are perfectly ready. If it is to-morrow we shall be more ready still. I should think they would be wiser to fight with allies than without them, but that is their own affair. This week is their week of destiny. But let us get away from speculation and back to real-politik. You were speaking of your papers.’

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