The Kingom of the Blind

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 12


Geraldine, a few hours later, set down the telephone receiver with a little sigh of resignation. Lady Conyers glanced up inquiringly from her book.

"Was that some one wanting to come and see you at this time of night, Geraldine?" she asked.

Geraldine yawned.

"It's Hugh," she explained. "He has rung up from the War Office or somewhere--says he has just got back from France and wants to see me at once. I think he might have waited till to-morrow morning. I can scarcely keep my eyes open, I am so sleepy."

Lady Conyers glanced at the clock.

"It isn't really so late," she remarked, "and I dare say, if the poor man's been travelling all day, he'd like to say good-night to you."

Geraldine made a little grimace.

"I shall go into the morning room and wait for him," she announced. "He'll very likely find me asleep."

The Admiral looked up from behind the Times.

"Where's that nice young fellow Granet?" he asked. "Why didn't you bring him in to dinner?"

"Well, we didn't get back until nearly eight," Geraldine reminded her father. "I didn't think he'd have time to change and get back here comfortably."

"Fine young chap, that," Sir Seymour remarked. "The very best type of young English soldier. We could do with lots like him."

Geraldine left the room without remark. She could hear her father rustling his paper as she disappeared.

"Can't think why Geraldine didn't pick up with a smart young fellow like Granet instead of an old stick like Thomson," he grumbled. "I hate these Army Medicals, anyway."

"Major Thomson has a charming disposition," Lady Conyers declared warmly. "Besides, he will be very well off some day--he may even get the baronetcy."

"Who cares about that?" her husband grunted. "Gerald has all the family shee needs, and all the money. How she came to choose Thomson from all her sweethearts, I can't imagine."

Geraldine, notwithstanding her fatigue, welcomed her lover very charmingly when he arrived, a few minutes later. Major Thomson was still in travelling clothes, and had the air of a man who had been working at high pressure for some time. He held her fingers tightly for a moment, without speaking. Then he led her to the sofa and seated himself beside her.

"Geraldine," he began gravely, "has what I say any weight with you at all?"

"A good deal," she assured him.

"You know that I do not like Captain Granet, yet you took him with you down to Portsmouth today and even allowed him to accompany you on board the Scorpion."

Geraldine started a little.

"How do you know that already?" she asked curiously.

He shook his head impatiently.

"It doesn't matter. I heard. Why did you do it, Geraldine?"

"In the first place, because he offered to motor us down after we had missed the train. There are heaps of other reasons."

"As, for instance?"

"Well, Olive and I preferred having an escort and Captain Granet was a most agreeable one. He took us down in a car his uncle has just given him--a sixty horse-power Panhard. I never enjoyed motoring more in my life."

"You are all very foolish," Thomson said slowly. "I am going to tell you something now, dear, which you may not believe, but it is for your good, and it is necessary for me to have some excuse for the request I am going to make. Granet is under suspicion at the War Office."

"Under suspicion?" Geraldine repeated blankly.

"Nothing has been proved against him," Thomson continued, "and I tell you frankly that in certain quarters the idea is scouted as absurd. On the other hand, he is under observation as being a possible German spy."

Geraldine for a moment sat quite still. Then she broke into a peal of laughter. She sat up, a moment later, wiping her eyes.

"Are you really serious, Hugh?" she demanded.

"Absolutely," he assured her, a little coldly.

She wiped her eyes once more.

"Hugh, dear," she sighed, patting his hand, "you do so much better looking after your hospitals and your wounded than unearthing mare's-nests like this. I don't think that you'd be a brilliant success in the Intelligence Department. As to the War Office, well, you know what I think of them. Captain Granet a German spy, indeed!"

"Neither the War Office nor I myself," Thomson continued, "have arrived at these suspicions without some reason. Perhaps you will look at the matter a little more seriously when I tell you that Captain Granet will not be allowed to return to the Front."

"Not be allowed?" she repeated. "Hugh, you are not serious!"

"I have never been more serious in my life," he insisted. "I am not in a position to tell you more than the bare facts or I might disclose some evidence which even you would have to admit throws a rather peculiar light upon some of this young man's actions. As it is, however, I can do no more than warn you, and beg you," he went on, "to yield to my wishes in the matter of your further acquaintance with him."

There was a moment's rather curious silence. Geraldine seemed to be gazing through the walls of the room. Her hands were clenched in one another, her fingers nervously interlocked.

"I shall send for him to come and see me the first thing to-morrow morning," she decided.

"You will do nothing of the sort," Thomson objected firmly.

She turned her head and looked at him. He was conscious of the antagonism which had sprung up like a wall between them. His face, however, showed no sign.

"How do you propose to prevent me?" she asked, with ominous calm.

"By reminding you of your duty to your country," he answered. "Geraldine, dear, I did not expect to have to talk to you like this. When I tell you that responsible people in the War Office, officials whose profession it is to scent out treachery, have declared this young man suspect, I am certainly disappointed to find you embracing his cause so fervently. It is no personal matter. Believe, me," he added, after a moment's pause, "whatever my personal bias may be, what I am saying to you now is not actuated in the slightest by any feelings of jealousy. I have told you what I know and it is for you to make your choice as to how much or how little in the future you will see of this young man. But I do forbid you, not in my own name but for our country's sake to breathe a single word to him of what I have said to you."

"It comes to this, then," she said, "that you make accusations against a man and deny him the right of being heard?"

"If you choose to put it like that, yes," he assented. "Only I fancied that considering--considering the things between us, you might have taken my word."

He leaned a little towards her. If she had been looking she could scarcely have failed to have been touched by the sudden softness of his dark eyes, the little note of appeal in his usually immobile face. Her eyes, however, were fixed upon the diamond ring which sparkled upon her third finger. Slowly she drew it off and handed it to him.

"Hugh," she said, "the things you speak of do not exist any more between us. I am sorry, but I think you are narrow and suspicious. You have your own work to do. It seems to me mean to spend your time suspecting soldiers who have fought for their king and their country, of such a despicable crime."

"Can't you trust me a little more than that, Geraldine?" he asked wistfully.

"In what way?" she demanded. "I judge only by the facts, the things you have said to me, your accusations against Captain Granet. Why should you go out of your way to investigate cases of suspected espionage?"

"You cannot believe that I would do so unless I was convinced that it was my duty?"

"I cannot see that it is your business at all," she told him shortly.

He rose from his place.

"I am very sorry, Geraldine," he said. "I will keep this ring. You are quite free. But--look at me."

Against her will she was forced to do as he bade her. Her own attitude, which had appeared to her so dignified and right, seemed suddenly weakened. She had the feeling of a peevish child.

"Geraldine," he begged, "take at least the advice of a man who loves you. Wait."

Even when he had opened the door she felt a sudden inclination to call him back. She heard him go down the hall, heard the front door open and close. She sat and looked in a dazed sort of way at the empty space upon her finger. Then she rose and went into the drawing-room, where her father and mother were still reading. She held out her hand.

"Mother," she announced, "I am not engaged to Major Thomson any more."

The Admiral laid down his newspaper.

"Damned good job, too!" he declared. "That young fellow Granet's worth a dozen of him. Never could stick an Army Medical. Well, well! How did he take it?"

Lady Conyers watched her daughter searchingly. Then she shook her head.

"I hope you have done wisely, dear," she said.