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- The Devil's Paw - 40/44 -


others have seen the original communications?"

Thomas Evans spoke up from the other end of the table,--a small, sturdily built man, a great power in South Wales.

"To be frank," he said, "I don't like these insinuations. Fenn's been our secretary from the first. He opened the negotiations, and he's carried them through. We either trust him, or we don't. I trust him."

"And I'm not saying you're not right, lad." Cross declared. "I'm for being cautious, but it's more with the idea that our German friends themselves may be a little too sanguine."

"I will pledge my word," Fenn pronounced fiercely, "to the truth of all the facts I have laid before you. Whatever my work may have been, to-day it is completed. I have brought you a people's peace from Germany. This very Council was formed for the purpose of imposing that peace upon the Government. Are you going to back out now, because a dilettante writer, an aristocrat who never did a stroke of work in his life, casts sneering doubts upon my honesty? I've done the work you gave me to do. It's up to you to finish it, I represent a million working men. So does David Sands there, Evans and Cross, and you others. What does Orden represent? Nobody and nothing! Miles Furley? A little band of Socialists who live in their gardens and keep bees! My lord Bishop? Just his congregation from week to week! Yet it's these outsiders who've come in and disturbed us. I've had enough of it and them. We've wasted the night, but I propose that the telegrams go out at eight o'clock tomorrow morning. Hands up for it!"

It was a counter-attack which swept everything before it. Every hand in the room except the Bishop's, Furley's, Cross's and Julian's was raised. Fenn led the way towards the door.

"We've our work to do, chaps," he said. "We'll leave the others to talk till daylight, if they want to."

CHAPTER XX

Julian and Furley left the place together. They looked for the Bishop but found that he had slipped away.

"To Downing Street, I believe," Furley remarked. "He has some vague idea of suggesting a compromise."

"Compromise!" Julian repeated a little drearily. "How can there be any such thing! There might be delay. I think we ought to have given Stenson a week--time to communicate with America and send a mission to France."

"We are like all theorists," Furley declared moodily, stopping to relight his pipe. "We create and destroy on palter with amazing facility. When it comes to practice, we are funks."

"Are you funking this?" Julian asked bluntly.

"How can any one help it? Theoretically we are right--I am sure of it. If we leave it to the politicians, this war will go dragging on for God knows how long. It's the people who are paying. It's the people who ought to make the peace. The only thing that bothers me is whether we are doing it the right way. Is Freistner honest? Could he be self-deceived? Is there any chance that he could be playing into the hands of the Pan-Germans?"

"Fenn is the man who has had most to do with him," Julian remarked. "I wouldn't trust Fenn a yard, but I believe in Freistner."

"So do I," Furley assented, "but is Fenn's report of his promises and the strength of his followers entirely honest?"

"That's the part of the whole thing I don't like," Julian acknowledged. "Fenn's practically the corner stone of this affair. It was he who met Freistner in Amsterdam and started these negotiations, and I'm damned if I like Fenn, or trust him. Did you see the way he looked at Stenson out of the corners of his eyes, like a little ferret? Stenson was at his best, too. I never admired the man more."

"He certainly kept his head," Furley agreed. "His few straight words were to the point, too."

"It wasn't the occasion for eloquence," Julian declared. "That'll come next week. I suppose he'll try and break the Trades Unions. What a chance for an Edmund Burke! It's all right, I suppose, but I wonder why I'm feeling so damned miserable."

"The fact is," Furley confided, "you and I and the Bishop and Miss Abbeway are all to a certain extent out of place on that Council. We ought to have contented ourselves with having supplied the ideas. When it comes to the practical side, our other instincts revolt. After all, if we believed that by continuing the war we could beat Germany from a military point of view, I suppose we should forget a lot of this admirable reasoning of ours and let it go on."

"It doesn't seem a fair bargain, though," Julian sighed. "It's the lives of our men to-day for the freedom of their descendants, if that isn't frittered away by another race of politicians. It isn't good enough, Miles."

"Then let's be thankful it's going to stop," Furley declared. "We've pinned our colours to the mast, Julian. I don't like Fenn any more than you do, nor do I trust him, but I can't see, in this instance, that he has anything to gain by not running straight. Besides, he can't have faked the terms, and that's the only document that counts. And so good night and to bed," he added, pausing at the street corner, where they parted.

There was something curiously different about the demeanour of Julian's trusted servant, as he took his master's coat and hat. Even Julian, engrossed as he was in the happenings of the evening, could scarcely fail to notice it.

"You seem out of sorts to-night, Robert!" he remarked.

The latter, whose manners were usually suave and excellent, answered almost harshly.

"I have enough to make me so, sir--more than enough. I wish to give a week's notice."

"Been drinking, Robert?" his master enquired.

The man smiled mirthlessly.

"I am quite sober, sir," he answered, "but I should be glad to go at once. It would be better for both of us."

"What have you against me?" Julian asked, puzzled.

"The lives of my two boys," was the fierce reply. "Fred's gone now--died in hospital last night. It was you who talked them into soldiering."

Julian's manner changed at once, and his tone became kinder.

"You are very foolish to blame anybody, Robert. Your sons did their duty. If they hadn't joined up when they did, they would have had to join as conscripts later on."

"Their duty!" Robert repeated, with smothered scorn. "Their duty to a squirming nest of cowardly politicians--begging your pardon, sir. Why, the whole Government isn't worth the blood of one of them!"

"I am sorry about Fred," Julian said sympathetically. "All the same, Robert, you must try and pull yourself together."

The man groaned.

"Pull myself together!" he said angrily. "Mr. Orden, sir, I'm trying to keep respectful, but it's a hard thing. I've been reading the evening papers. There's an article, signed `Paul Fiske', in the Pall Mall. They tell me that you're Paul Fiske. You're for peace, it seems--for peace with the German Emperor and his bloody crew."

"I am in favour of peace on certain terms, at the earliest possible moment," Julian admitted.

"That's where you've sold us, then--sold us all!" Robert declared fiercely. "My boys died believing they were fighting for men who would keep their word. The war was to go on till victory was won.. They died happily, believing that those who had spoken for England would keep their word. You're very soft-hearted in that article, sir, about the living. Did you think, when you sat down to write it, about the dead?--about that wilderness of white crosses out in France? You're proposing in cold blood to let those devils stay on their own dunghill."

"It is a very large question, Robert," Julian reminded him. "The war is fast reaching a period of mutual exhaustion."

The man threw all restraint to the winds.

"Claptrap!" was his angry reply. "You wealthy people want your fleshpots again. We've a few more million men, haven't we? America has a few more millions?"

"Your own loss, Robert, has made you--and quite naturally, too-- very bitter," his master said gently. "You must let those who have thought this matter out come to a decision upon it. Beyond a certain point, the manhood of the world must be conserved."

"That sounds just like fine talk to me, sir, and no more; the sort of stuff that's printed in articles and that no one takes much stock of. Words were plain enough when we started out to fight this war. We were going to crush the German military spirit and not leave off fighting until we'd done it. There was nothing said then about conserving millions of men. It was to be fought out to the end, whatever it cost."


The Devil's Paw - 40/44

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