The Kingom of the Blind

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 36


"London, too, has its scars, and London is proud of them," a great morning paper declared the next morning. "The last and gigantic effort of German 'frightfulness' has come and passed. London was visited before dawn this morning by a fleet of sixteen Zeppelins and forty aeroplanes. Seven of these former monsters lie stranded and wrecked in various parts of the city, two are known to have collapsed in Essex, and another is reported to have come to grief in Norfolk. Of the aeroplanes, nineteen were shot down, and of the rest so far no news has been heard. The damage to life and property, great though it may seem, is much less than was expected. Such losses as we have sustained we shall bear with pride and fortitude. We stand now more closely than ever in touch with our gallant allies. We, too, bear the marks of battle in the heart of our country."

Thomson paused to finish his breakfast, and abandoning the leading article turned to a more particular account.

"The loss of life," the journal went on to say, "although regrettable, is, so far as accounts have reached us, not large. There are thirty-one civilians killed, a hundred and two have been admitted into hospitals, and, curiously enough, only one person bearing arms has suffered. We regret deeply to announce the death of a very distinguished young officer, Captain Ronald Granet, a nephew of Sir Alfred Anselman. A bomb passed through the roof of his house in Sackville Street, completely shattering the apartment in which he was sitting. His servant perished with him. The other occupants of the building were, fortunately for them, away for the night."

The paper slipped from Thomson's fingers. He looked through the windows of his room, across the Thames. Exactly opposite to him a fallen chimney and four blackened walls, still smouldering, were there to remind him of the great tragedy. He looked down at the paper again. There was no mistake. It was the judgment of a higher Court than his!

He made his way down to the War Office at a little before ten o'clock. The streets were crowded with people and there were throngs surrounding each of the places where bombs had been dropped. Towards the PallMall Arch the people were standing in thousands, trying to get near the wreck of the huge Zeppelin, which completely blocked all the traffic through St. James's Park. Thomson paused for a moment at the top of Trafalgar Square and looked around him. The words of the newspaper were indeed true. London had her scars, yet there was nothing in the faces of the people to show fear. If anything, there was an atmosphere all around of greater vitality, of greater intensity. The war had come a little nearer at last than the columns of the daily Press. It was the real thing with which even the every-day Londoner had rubbed shoulders. From Cockspur Street to Nelson's Monument the men were lined up in a long queue, making their way to the recruiting office.

Admiral Conyers paid his usual morning visit to the Admiralty, lunched at his club and returned home that evening in a state of suppressed excitement. He found his wife and Geraldine alone and at once took up his favourite position on the hearth-rug.

"Amongst the other surprises of the last twenty-four hours," he announced, "I received one to-day which almost took my breath away. It had reference to a person whom you both know."

"Not poor Captain Granet?" Lady Conyers asked. "You read about him, of course?"

"Nothing to do with Granet, poor fellow," the Admiral continued. "Listen, I was walking, if you please, for a few yards with the man who is practically responsible to-day for the conduct of the war. At the corner of Pall Mall we came face to face with Thomson. I nodded and we were passing on, when to my astonishment my companion stopped and held out both his hands. 'Thomson, my dear fellow,' he said, 'I came round to your rooms to-day but you were engaged three or four deep. Not another word save this--thanks! When we write our history, the country will know what it owes you. At present, thanks!'"

"Major Thomson?" Lady Conyers gasped.

"Hugh?" Geraldine echoed.

The Admiral smiled.

"We passed on," he continued, "and I said to his lordship--'Wasn't that Thomson, the Inspector of Field Hospitals?' He simply laughed at me. 'My dear Conyers,' he said, 'surely you knew that was only a blind? Thomson is head of the entire Military Intelligence Department. He has the rank of a Brigadier-General waiting for him when he likes to take it. He prefers to remain as far as possible unknown and unrecognised, because it helps him with his work.' Now listen! You've read in all the papers of course, that we had warning of what was coming last night, that the reason we were so successful was because every light in London had been extinguished and every gun-station was doubly manned? Well, the warning we received was due to Thomson and no one else!"

"And to think," Lady Conyers exclaimed "that we were half afraid to tell your father that Hugh was coming to dinner!"

Geraldine had slipped from the room. The Admiral blew his nose.

"I hope Geraldine's going to be sensible," he said. "I've always maintained that Thomson was a fine fellow, only Geraldine seemed rather carried away by that young Granet. Poor fellow! One can't say anything about him now, but he was just the ordinary type of showy young soldier, not fit to hold a candle to a man like Thomson."

Lady Conyers was a little startled.

"You have such sound judgement, Seymour," she murmured.

Thomson was a few minutes late for dinner but even the Admiral forgave him.

"Just ourselves, Thomson," he said, as they made their way into the dining-room. "What a shock the Chief gave me to-day! You've kept things pretty dark. Inspector of Hospitals, indeed!"

Thomson smiled.

"That was my excuse," he explained, "for running backwards and forwards between France and England at the beginning of the war. There's no particular secret about my position now. I've had a very hard fight to keep it, a very hard fight to make it a useful one. Until last night, at any rate, it hasn't seemed to me that English people realised that we were at war. Now, I hope at last that we are going to take the gloves off. Do you know," he went on, a little later, "that in France they think we're mad. Honestly, in my position, if I had had the French laws at my back I believe that by to-day the war would have been over. As it is, when I started even my post was a farce. We had to knuckle under the whole of the time, to the civil authorities. They wanted to fine a spy ten shillings or to bind him over to keep the peace! I've never had to fight for anything so hard in my life as I've had to fight once or twice for my file of men at the Tower. At the beginning of the war we'd catch them absolutely red-handed. All they had to do was to surrender to the civil authorities, and we had a city magistrate looking up statutes to see how to deal with them."

"There are a good many things which will make strange reading after the war is over," the Admiral said grimly. "I fancy that my late department will provide a few sensations. Still, our very mistakes are our justification. We were about as ready for war as Lady Conyers there is to play Rugby football for Oxford."

"It has taken us the best part of a year to realise what war means," Thomson assented. "Even now there are people whom one meets every day who seem to be living in abstractions."

"Last night's raid ought to wake a few of them up," the Admiral grunted. "I should like to have shown those devils where to have dropped a few of their little toys. There are one or two men who were making laws not so long ago, who'd have had a hole in their roofs."

Geraldine laughed softly.

"I really think that dad feels more bloodthirsty when he talks about some of our politicians than he does about the Germans," she declared.

"Some of our worst enemies are at home, any way," Sir Seymour insisted, "and we shall never get on with the war till we've weeded them out."

"Where did the nearest bomb to you drop?" Thomson inquired.

"The corner of St. James's Street," Sir Seymour replied. "There were two houses in Berkeley Street alight, and a hole in the roof of a house in Hay Hill. The bomb there didn't explode, though. Sad thing about young Granet, wasn't it? He seems to be the only service man who suffered at all."

Lady Conyers shivered sympathetically.

"It was perfectly ghastly," she murmured.

"A very promising young officer, I should think," the Admiral continued, "and a very sad death. Brings things home to you when you remember that it was only yesterday he was here, poor fellow!"

Geraldine and her mother rose from their places, a few minutes later. The latter looked up at Thomson as he held open the door.

"You won't be long, will you?" she begged.

"You can take him with you, if you like," the Admiral declared, also rising to his feet. "He doesn't drink port and the cigarettes are in your room. I have to take the Chair at a recruiting meeting at Holborn in a quarter of an hour. The car's waiting now. You'll excuse me, won't you, Thomson?"

"Of course," the latter assented. "I must leave early myself. I have to go back to the War Office." Geraldine took his arm and led him into the little morning-room.

"You see, I am carrying you off in the most bare-faced fashion," she began, motioning him to a seat by her side, "but really you are such an elusive person, and only this morning, in the midst of that awful thunder of bombs, when we stood on the roof and looked at London breaking out into flames, I couldn't help thinking--remembering, I mean--how short a time it is since you and I were face to face with the other horror and you saved my life. Do you know, I don't think that I have ever said 'thank you'--not properly?"

"I think the words may go," he answered, smiling. "It was a horrible time while it lasted but it was soon over. The worst part of it was seeing those others, whom we could not help, drifting by."

"I should have been with them but for you," she said quietly. "Don't think that I don't know it. Don't think that I don't regret sometimes, Hugh, that I didn't trust you a little more completely. You are right about so many things. But, Hugh, will you tell me something?"

"Of course!"

"Why were you so almost obstinately silent when father spoke of poor Captain Granet's death?"

"Because I couldn't agree with what he said," Thomson replied. "I think that Granet's death in exactly that fashion was the best thing that could possibly have happened for him and for all of us."

She shivered as she looked at him.

"Aren't you a little cruel?" she murmured.

"I am not cruel at all," he assured her firmly. "Let me quote the words of a greater man--'I have no enemies but the enemies of my country, and for them I have no mercy.'"

"You still believe that Captain Granet--"

"There is no longer any doubt as to his complete guilt. As you know yourself, the cipher letter warning certain people in London of the coming raid, passed through his hands. He even came here to warn you. There were other charges against him which could have been proved up to the hilt. While we are upon this subject, Geraldine, let me finish with it absolutely. Only a short time ago I confronted him with his guilt, I gave him ten days during which it was my hope that he would embrace the only honourable course left to him. I took a risk leaving him free, but during the latter part of the time he was watched day and night. If he had lived until this morning, there isn't any power on earth could have kept him from the Tower, or any judge, however merciful, who could have saved him from being shot."

"It is too awful," she faltered, "and yet--it makes me so ashamed, Hugh, to think that I could not have trusted you more absolutely."

He opened his pocket-book and a little flush of colour came suddenly into her cheeks. He drew out the ring silently.

"Will you trust yourself now and finally, Geraldine?" he asked.

She held out her finger.

"I shall be so proud and so happy to have it again," she whispered. "I do really feel as though I had behaved like a foolish child, and I don't like the feeling at all, because in these days one should be more than ordinarily serious, shouldn't one? Shall I be able to make it up to you, Hugh, do you think?"

He stooped to meet her lips.

"There is an atonement you might make, dear," he ventured. "Do you remember a suggestion of mine at one of those historic luncheons of Lady Anselman's?"

She laughed into his eyes for a moment and then looked away.

"I was wondering whether you had forgotten that," she confessed.