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Chapter Fifteen

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« on: September 04, 2023, 08:24:44 am »

"THE Chief wants to see you, Hugh," said Gregson. "You, too, Ronald, and Seymour as well. Old Portrush is with him cluckling like an agitated hen."

Drummond grinned faintly, and followed the speaker along the passage to a large airy room overlooking Whitehall. Behind a big desk sat a grey-haired man with a pair of keen, penetrating eyes, while beside him Sir James Portrush clutched the inevitable attaché case.

"So you are the sinners who have been corrupting my young gentlemen," said Colonel Talbot genially. "The tale I have listened to from Gregson is just about the most completely immoral recital of utter illegality I have ever heard. In fact at a rough guess I should think you have all laid yourselves open to at least ten years' penal servitude."

"At least," agreed Drummond happily. "But we've had a grand time, Colonel."

"What staggers me," cried Sir James, "are these disclosures about Kalinsky. I can scarcely credit them. Why, only a few nights ago, I was having a long conversation with him on the European situation at the Ritz-Carlton."

"I heard it all," said Drummond, lighting a cigarette.

"You heard it?" spluttered Sir James. "But we were alone."

"I heard it through the keyhole," said Drummond calmly, and Colonel Talbot hurriedly bent down to pick up a paper. "I was the waiter."

"Really, Captain Drummond," cried the minister angrily, "that is quite inexcusable."

"If I hadn't," said Drummond, "Kalinsky would now have the Graham Caldwell plans. And Morgenstein. He was in it too."

"Nevertheless unpardonable," continued Sir James. "To listen to a private conversation! It's . . . it's not done."

"It was that night," laughed Drummond. "'Dictators, knaves, or fools'---do you remember?"

Sir James flushed scarlet.

"This is intolerable," he snapped.

"Come, come, Sir James, be reasonable. You must judge every case on its own merits. And in this instance I consider I was justified. I knew Veight was coming to see Kalinsky, which by itself was enough to prove he was a wrong 'un. But if I may be permitted to say so---wrong 'un or not, the advice he gave you was the goods."

"I am infinitely obliged to you for your opinion," remarked Sir James sarcastically.

"And," continued Drummond imperturbably, "it will not be through any fault of mine if that advice is not broadcast to the country when Veight and Gregoroff come up for trial. They'll hang 'em as high as Haman---both of 'em, and that always interests the public."

"Do you mean to tell me"---Sir James appeared to be on the verge of a seizure of sorts--"do you mean to tell me that you have the audacity---the damned audacity---to pass on a private conversation you heard through a keyhole?"

"Most certainly," answered Drummond. "I won't say it was you, but I'm undoubtedly going to tell the public Kalinsky's remarks that night. Wait, Sir James!"

He held up his hand, and after an abortive splutter the minister subsided.

"You did not go through the last war as---er---as a combatant. We did, and we don't want another, any more than some of the pacifist young gentlemen to-day, who have never heard a shot fired in anger. We know the horrors of it first-hand; we are all out to prevent it again if we can. But we maintain that the present policy of cutting down our fighting forces to the extent they have been reduced, is the most certain way of precipitating it. Do you realise that if this young feller here had not got us out of that house, war would have come? I ask you---do you realise that? But for the tick of an electric-light meter war would have come. As you know, they intended to kill Waldron and Graham Caldwell, so that those two secrets would have been Kalinsky's sole property. Do you suppose he was going to use 'em for shaving-paper?"

"Really, Captain Drummond, I am not accustomed to being hectored in this way." Sir James had at last found his voice. "The Government's policy on such matters is---er---a matter for the Government alone."

"Well, at any rate, you know Kalinsky's opinion of that policy. And," Drummond added pleasantly, "though he may be a knave, Sir James, he most certainly is not a fool."

With a snort like an angry bull, Sir James snatched up his hat and rose to his feet.

"You, it seems to me, Captain Drummond, combine both qualities. Good morning, Colonel Talbot; I am already late for a Cabinet meeting."

"Totes on greyhound tracks still worrying the old grey matter?" asked Drummond anxiously. "But they tell me Flying Fish for the third race at the White City to-night is a cinch. Shall I put on a quid for you?"

"I am not interested in dog-racing, thank you."

"Great fun, you know. And you could always earn a spot of honest dough as a tick-tack man. All you've got to do is to wave your arms and legs about and make faces. Just like a Cabinet meeting."

The door shut with a crash, and then Drummond threw up his hands in despair.

"How long, O Lord, how long?" he cried. "It isn't that his opinion differs from mine, but it is that ghastly air of smug self-complacency that gets my goat. What's your opinion, Colonel?"

But that worthy officer was beyond speech. Tears were pouring down his face; his shoulders heaved convulsively.

"Portrush as a tick-tack man!" he gasped at length. "You're a thoroughly reprehensible scoundrel, Drummond," he continued in a shaking voice, "and your proper fate is to be hanged between Veight and Gregoroff. But at any rate you've made me laugh. Now tell me, how many crimes have you committed in the course of the last few days?"

"How many, Ronald?" asked Drummond cheerfully.

"The only one, Chief, is burning down the house," said Standish. "And a few odd trifles against some lower excrescences of the Key Club, which they brought on themselves. But with regard to Hartley Court, I do not think there will be any trouble. Hugh and I will settle matters with Doctor Belfage."

"All right. But I don't want to hear anything about it," laughed the Colonel. "You're a bunch of miscreants, and the whole thing is hopelessly irregular. Get out. And I shall be delighted if you'll all dine with me to-night. Cabbageface knows the house, and the port is passing fair. Incidentally Ginger and that girl are coming. We must drink their health."

"Bye-bye, Hugh, for the moment," said Standish, as they reached the street. "I'm going round to the insurance wallahs now. See you again this evening."

The traffic roared past in a ceaseless stream, and for a space Seymour stood staring at it beside a man grown suddenly silent.

"I can still hardly believe that it has all happened," he said at length.

Drummond turned to him slowly.

"Make England believe that it will happen, unless . . ."

The sentence uncompleted, he strode off, and Trafalgar Square swallowed him up.

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