The Kingom of the Blind

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 15


TWO MORE GERMAN SUBMARINES SUNK WITH ALL HANDS

The Admiralty report that they received last night a message from Commander Conyers of the destroyer "Scorpion," announcing that he has destroyed German submarines U 22 and 27, with all hands.

"Well, I'm damned!" the Admiral exclaimed, as he laid down the newspaper a few mornings later. "Ralph's done it this time, and no mistake."

Geraldine looked over his shoulder, her cheeks aglow.

"I knew at seven o'clock," she declared. "Harris brought me the paper up. They are all so excited about it in the kitchen. You'd just gone out in the Park."

"I want to know how it was done," the Admiral speculated. "Can't have been ramming if he bagged two of them, and they surely never came to the surface voluntarily, with a destroyer about."

Geraldine glanced around the room to be sure that they were alone.

"Don't you remember when Olive and I were at Portsmouth?" she said. "Ralph has been absolutely dumb about it but he did just give us a hint that he had a little surprise in store for the submarines. There was something on deck, covered all up and watched by a sentry, and just before we sat down to lunch, you know, we were turned off and had to go to the Ship. Ralph wouldn't tell us a word about it but I'm sure he's got some new contrivance on the Scorpion for fighting the submarines."

"There may be something in it," the Admiral admitted cheerfully. "I noticed the Morning Post naval man the other day made a very guarded reference to some secret means of dealing with these vermin."

Lady Conyers sailed into the room, a telegram in her hand.

"A wireless from Ralph," she announced. "Listen."

Have sunk two of the brutes. More to come. Love. Ralph.

They pored over the telegram and the newspaper until the breakfast was cold. The Admiral was like a boy again.

"If we can get rid of these curses of the sea," he said, settling down at last to his bacon and eggs, "and get those Germans to come out, the war will be over months before any one expected. I shall go down to the Admiralty after breakfast and see if they've got anything to tell. Ralph gave me a hint about the net scheme but he never even mentioned anything else."

The telephone rang in the next room and a servant summoned Geraldine.

Captain Granet wishes to speak to Miss Conyers," he announced.

Geraldine left her place at once and hastened into the library. She took up the receiver.

"Is that you, Captain Granet?" she asked.

"I felt that I must ring you up," he declared, "to congratulate you, Miss Conyers, upon your brother's exploit. I have had half a dozen soldier fellows in already this morning to talk about it, and we're simply mad with curiosity. Do you think we shall be told soon how it was done?"

"Father's going down to the Admiralty to try and find out," Geraldine replied. "Ralph doesn't say a word except that he sunk them. We've had a wireless from him this morning."

"It really doesn't matter much, does it," Granet went on, "so long as we get rid of the brutes. I was perfectly certain, when we were down at Portsmouth, that your brother had something up his sleeve. Does give one a thrill, doesn't it, when one's ashore and doing nothing, to read of things like this?"

"You'll soon be at work again," she told him encouragingly.

"I don't know," he sighed. "They talk about giving me a home job and I don't think I could stick it. Are you walking in the Park this morning, Miss Conyers?"

She hesitated for a moment.

"No, I am playing golf at Ranelagh."

Might I call this afternoon?"

"If you like," she assented. "After four o'clock, though, because I am staying out to lunch."

"Thank you so much," he replied gratefully.

She set down the receiver again and went back to the breakfast-room.

"Captain Granet just wanted to congratulate us all," she announced, "and to know if he could come in to tea this afternoon."

"Better ask him to dinner, my dear," the Admiral suggested hospitably. "He's a fine young fellow, Granet. Very thoughtful of him to ring us up."

Lady Conyers made no comment. Geraldine was bending over her plate. The Admiral rose to his feet. He was much too excited to pursue the conversation.

"I shall walk down to the Admiralty and see if I can get hold of old Wilcock," he continued. "If he won't tell me anything, I'll wring the old beggar's neck."

The Admiral left the house a few minutes later and Lady Conyers walked arm in arm with her daughter into the pleasant little morning-room which looked out upon the Square. The former paused for a moment to look at Thomson's photograph, which stood upon one of the side tables. Then she closed the door.

"Geraldine," she said, "I am not very happy about you and Hugh."

"Why not, mother?" the girl asked, looking out of the window.

"Perhaps because I like Hugh," Lady Conyers went on quietly, "perhaps, too, because I am not sure that you have done wisely. You haven't given me any reason yet, have you, for breaking your engagement?"

Geraldine was silent for a moment. Then she came back and sat on the rug at her mother's feet. She kept her face, however, a little turned away.

"It's so hard to put it into words, mother," she said thoughtfully, "only Hugh never seemed to give me any of his confidence. Of course, his is very dull work, looking after hospitals and that sort of thing, but still, I'd have liked to try and take an interest in it. He must have seen exciting things in France, but it is only by the merest chance that one ever realises that he has been even near the Front. He is so silent, so secretive."

Lady Conyers took up her knitting.

"Some men are like that, dear," she remarked. "It is just temperamental. Perhaps you haven't encouraged him to talk."

"But I have," Geraldine insisted. "I have asked him no end of questions, but before he has answered any of them properly, I find him trying to change the conversation.""

"Men don't like talking about the war, you know," Lady Conyers went on. "There was that nice Major Tyndale who was back from the Front the other day with a V. C. and goodness knows what. Not a word would he say about any one of the fights, and he is cheery enough in a general way, isn't he, and fond of talking?"

"Even then," Geraldine protested, "Hugh's work is different. I can understand why he doesn't like to talk a lot about the wounded and that sort of thing, but he must have had some interesting adventures."" "I don't think," Lady Conyers said, "the very nicest men talk about their adventures."

Geraldine made a little grimace.

"Hugh doesn't talk about anything," she complained. "He goes about looking as though he had the cares of the world upon his shoulders, and then he has the--well, the cheek, I call it, to lecture me about Captain Granet. He does talk about Captain Granet in the most absurd manner, you know, mother."

"He may have his reasons," Lady Conyers observed.

Geraldine turned her head and looked at her mother.

"Now what reasons could he have for not liking Captain Granet and suspecting him of all manner of ridiculous things?" she asked. "Did you ever know a more harmless, ingenuous, delightful young man in your life?"

"Perhaps it is because you find him all these things," Lady Conyers suggested, "that Hugh doesn't like him."

"Of course, if he is going to be jealous about nothing at all--"

"Is it nothing at all?"

Lady Conyers raised her head from her knitting and looked across at her daughter. A little flush of colour had suddenly streamed into Geraldine's face. She drew back as though she had been sitting too near the fire.

"Of course it is," she declared. "I have only known Captain Granet for a very short time. I like him, of course--every one must like him who knows him--but that's all.

"Do you know," Lady Conyers said, a moment later, "I almost hope that it is all."

"And why, mother?"

"Because I consider Hugh is a great judge of character. Because we have known Hugh since he was a boy, and we have known Captain Granet for about a week."

Geraldine rose to her feet.

"You don't like Captain Granet, mother."

"I do not dislike him," Lady Conyers replied thoughtfully. "I do not see how any one could."

"Hugh does. He hinted things about him--that he wasn't honest--and then forbade me to tell him. I think Hugh was mean."

Lady Conyers glanced at the clock.

"You had better go and get ready, dear, if you have promised to be at Ranelagh at half-past ten," she said. "Will you just remember this?"

"I'll remember anything you say, mother," Geraldine promised.

"You're just a little impulsive, dear, at times, although you seem so thoughtful," Lady Conyers continued. "Don't rush at any conclusion about these two men. Sometimes I have fancied that there is a great well of feeling behind Hugh's silence. And more than that--that there is something in his life of which just now he cannot speak, which is keeping him living in great places. His abstractions are not ordinary ones, you know. It's just an idea of mine, but the other day--well, something happened which I thought rather queer. I saw a closed car turn into St. James's Park and, evidently according to orders, the chauffeur drove very slowly. There were two men inside, talking very earnestly. One of them was Hugh; the other was--well, the most important man at the War Office, who seldom, as you know, speaks to any one."

"You mean to say that he was alone, talking confidentially with Hugh?" Geraldine exclaimed incredulously.

"He was, dear," her mother assented, "and it made me think. That's all. I have a fancy that some day when the time comes that Hugh is free to talk, he will be able to interest you--well, quite as much as Captain Granet. . . . Now then, dear, hurry. There's the car at the door for you and you haven't your hat on."

Geraldine went upstairs a little thoughtfully. As she drew on her gloves, she looked down at the empty space upon her third finger. For a moment there was almost a lump in her throat.