The Kingom of the Blind

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 31


Ambrose announced a visitor, early on the following morning, with some show of interest.

"Captain Granet to see you, sir. We've a good many notes about him. Would you like the book?"

Thomson shook his head.

"Thank you," he answered drily, "I have it in my desk but I think I can remember. Is he outside now?"

"Yes, sir! He said he wouldn't keep you for more than a few minutes, if you could spare him a short interview."

"Any luck last night?"

Ambrose sighed.

"I was up till three o'clock again. Once I thought I was on the track of it. I have come to the conclusion now that it's one of those codes that depend upon shifting quantities. I shall start again to-night on a different idea. Shall I show Captain Granet in, sir?"

Thomson assented, and a few minutes later Granet entered the room. He made no attempt to shake hands or to take a seat. Thomson looked at him coldly.

"Well," he asked, abruptly, "what can I do for you?"

"I don't suppose you can do anything," Granet replied, "but I am going to spend to-day and to-morrow, too, if necessary, in this place, bothering every one I ever heard of. You have some influence, I know. Get me a job out of this country."

Thomson raised his eyebrows slightly.

"You want to go abroad again?"

"Anywhere--anyhow! If they won't have me back in France, although heaven knows why not, can I be sent to the Dardanelles, or even East Africa? I'll take out Territorials, if you like. I'll do anything sooner than be ordered to one of these infernal country towns to train young tradespeople. If I don't worry, I know I shall get a home appointment directly, and I don't want it."

Thomson studied his visitor, for a moment, carefully.

"So you want to be fighting again, eh?" he remarked.

"I do," Granet answered firmly.

Major Thomson drew a little locked book towards him, unfastened it with a key from his chain and held his hand over the page. It was noticeable that his right hand slipped open a few inches the right-hand drawer of his desk.

"You have come to me, Captain Granet," he said, "to ask my aid in getting you a job. Well, if I could give you one where I was perfectly certain that you would be shot in your first skirmish, I would give it to you, with pleasure. Under present conditions, however, it is my impression that the further you are from any British fighting force, the better it will be fore the safety and welfare of that force."

Granet's face was suddenly rigid. He had turned a little paler and his eyes flashed.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

Thomson had removed his hand and was glancing at the open page.

"There are a few notes here about you," he said. "I will not read them all but I will give you some extracts. There is your full name and parentage, tracing out the amount of foreign blood which I find is in your veins. There is a verbatim account of a report made to me by your Brigadier-General, in which it seems that in the fighting under his command you were three times apparently taken prisoner, three times you apparently escaped; the information which you brought back led to at least two disasters; the information which exactly at the time you were absent seemed to come miraculously into the hands of the enemy, resulted in even greater trouble for us."

"Do you insinuate, then, that I am a traitor?" Granet asked fiercely.

"I insinuate nothing," Thomson replied quietly. "So far as you and I are concerned, we may as well, I presume, understand one another. You are, without doubt, aware that my post as inspector of hospitals is a blind. I am, as a matter of fact, chief of the Intelligence Department, with a rank which at present I do not choose to use. I have been myself to your Brigadier-General and bought home this report, and if it is any satisfaction to you to know it, I brought also an urgent request that you should not be allowed to rejoin any part of the force under his control."

"It was simply rotten luck," Granet muttered.

"I come here to a few more notes," Thomson proceeded. "I meet you some weeks ago at a luncheon party at the Ritz. A Belgian waiter, who I learned, by later inquiries was present as a prisoner in the village where you were being entertained as a guest at the German headquarters, recognised you and was on the point of making a disclosure. The excitement, however, was too much for him and he fainted. He was at once removed, under your auspices, and died a few days later, at one of your uncle's country houses, before he could make any statement."

"This is ridiculous!" Granet exclaimed. "I never saw the fellow before in my life."

"Ridiculous, doubtless, but a coincidence," Major Thomson replied, turning over the next page of his book. "A little later I find you taking an immense interest in our new destroyers, trying, in fact, to induce young Conyers to explain our wire netting system, following him down to Portsmouth and doing your best to discover also the meaning of a new device attached to his destroyer."

"That is simply absurd," Granet protested. "I was interested in the subject, as any military officer would be in an important naval development. My journey to Portsmouth was simply an act of courtesy to Miss Conyers and her cousin."

"I find you next," Thomson went on immovably, "visiting the one French statesmen whom we in England had cause to fear, in his hotel in London. I find that very soon afterwards that statesman is in possession of an autograph letter from the Kaiser, offering peace to the French people on extraordinary terms. Who was the intermediary who brought that document, Captain Granet?"

Granet's face never twitched. He held himself with cold composure.

"These," he declared, "are fairy tales. Pailleton was a friend of mine. During my visit we did not speak of politics.

"More coincidences," Major Thomson remarked. "We pass on, then, to that night at Market Burnham Hall, when a Zeppelin was guided to the spot where Sir Meyville Worth was experimenting on behalf of the British Government, and dropped destructive bombs. A man was shot dead by the side of the flare. That man was one of your companions at the Dormy House Club."

"I neither spoke to him nor saw him there, except as a casual visitor," Granet insisted.

"That I venture to doubt," Major Thomson replied. "At any rate, there is enough circumstantial evidence against you in this book to warrant my taking the keenest interest in your future. As a matter of fact, you would have been at the Tower, or underneath it, at this very moment, but for the young lady who probably perjured herself to save you. Now that you know my opinion of you, Captain Granet, you will understand that I should hesitate before recommending you to any post whatever in the service of this country."

Granet made a stealthy movement forward. He had been edging a little closer to the desk and he was barely two yards away. He suddenly paused. Thomson had closed the drawer now and he was holding a small revolver very steadily in his right hand.

"Granet," he said, "that sort of thing won't do. You know now what I think of you. Besides these little incidents which I have related, you are suspected of having, in the disguise of an American clergyman, delivered a message from the German Government to an English Cabinet Minister, and, to come to more personal matters, I myself suspect you of having made two attempts on my life. It is my firm belief that you are nothing more nor less than a common and dangerous German spy. Keep back!"

The veins were standing out like whipcord on Granet's flushed forehead. He swayed on his feet. Twice he had seemed as though he would spring at his opponent.

"Now listen to me," Thomson continued. "On Monday I am going from Southampton to Boulogne for forty-eight hours, to attend a court martial there. There is only one decent thing you can do. You know what that is. I'll have you exchanged, if you are willing, into a line regiment with your present rank. Your colonel will have a hint. It will be your duty to meet the first German bullet you can find. If you are content with that, I'll arrange it for you. If not--"

Major Thomson paused. There was a queer twisted smile at the corners of his lips.

"If not," he concluded, "there is one more little note to add in this book and the account will be full. You know now the terms, Captain Granet, on which you can go to the Front. I will give you ten days to consider."

"If I accept an offer like this," Granet protested, "I shall be pleading guilty to all the rubbish you have talked."

"If it weren't for the fact," Major Thomson told him sternly, "that you have worn his Majesty's uniform, that you are a soldier, and that the horror of it would bring pain to every man who has shared with you that privilege, I have quite enough evidence here to bring your career to a disgraceful end. I give you your chance, not for your own sake but for the honour of the Army. What do you say?"

Granet picked up his hat.

"I'll think it over," he muttered.

He walked out of the room without any attempt at farewell, pushed his way along the corridors, down the steps and out into Whitehall. His face was distorted by a new expression. A sudden hatred of Thomson had blazed up in him. He was at bay, driven there by a relentless enemy, the man who had tracked him down, as he honestly believed, to some extent through jealousy. The thoughts framed themselves quickly in his mind. With unseeing eyes he walked across Trafalgar Square and made his way to his club in Pall Mall. Here he wrote a few lines to Isabel Worth, regretting that he was called out of town on military business for forty-eight hours. Afterwards he took a taxi and called at his rooms, walked restlessly up and down while Jarvis threw a few clothes into a bag, changed his own apparel for a rough tweed suit, and drove to Paddington. A few minutes later he took his place in the Cornish Express.