“But her honor?”
“Tut, my dear sir, we live in a utilitarian age. Honour is a mediaeval conception. Besides England is not ready. It is an inconceivable thing, but even our special war tax of fifty million, which one would think made our purpose as clear as if we had advertised it on the front page of the Times, has not roused these people from their slumbers. Here and there one hears a question. It is my business to find an answer. Here and there also there is an irritation. It is my business to soothe it. But I can assure you that so far as the essentials go–the storage of munitions, the preparation for submarine attack, the arrangements for making high explosives–nothing is prepared. How, then, can England come in, especially when we have stirred her up such a devil’s brew of Irish civil war, window-breaking Furies, and God knows what to keep her thoughts at home.”
“She must think of her future.”
“Ah, that is another matter. I fancy that in the future we have our own very definite plans about England, and that your information will be very vital to us. It is to-day or to-morrow with Mr. John Bull. If he prefers to-day we are perfectly ready. If it is to-morrow we shall be more ready still. I should think they would be wiser to fight with allies than without them, but that is their own affair. This week is their week of destiny. But you were speaking of your papers.” He sat in the armchair with the light shining upon his broad bald head, while he puffed sedately at his cigar.
The large oak-panelled, book-lined room had a curtain hung in the further corner. When this was drawn it disclosed a large, brass-bound safe. Von Bork detached a small key from his watch chain, and after some considerable manipulation of the lock he swung open the heavy door.
“Look!” said he, standing clear, with a wave of his hand.
The light shone vividly into the opened safe, and the secretary of the embassy gazed with an absorbed interest at the rows of stuffed pigeon-holes with which it was furnished. Each pigeon-hole had its label, and his eyes as he glanced along them read a long series of such titles as “Fords,” “Harbour-defences,” “Aeroplanes,” “Ireland,” “Egypt,” “Portsmouth forts,” “The Channel,” “Rosythe,” and a score of others. Each compartment was bristling with papers and plans.
“Colossal!” said the secretary. Putting down his cigar he softly clapped his fat hands.
“And all in four years, Baron. Not such a bad show for the hard-drinking, hard-riding country squire. But the gem of my collection is coming and there is the setting all ready for it.” He pointed to a space over which “Naval Signals” was printed.
“But you have a good dossier there already.”
“Out of date and waste paper. The Admiralty in some way got the alarm and every code has been changed. It was a blow, Baron–the worst setback in my whole campaign. But thanks to my check-book and the good Altamont all will be well to-night.”
The Baron looked at his watch and gave a guttural exclamation of disappointment.
“Well, I really can wait no longer. You can imagine that things are moving at present in Carlton Terrace and that we have all to be at our posts. I had hoped to be able to bring news of your great coup. Did Altamont name no hour?”
Von Bork pushed over a telegram.
Will come without fail to-night and bring new sparking plugs.
“Sparking plugs, eh?”
“You see he poses as a motor expert and I keep a full garage. In our code everything likely to come up is named after some spare part. If he talks of a radiator it is a battleship, of an oil pump a cruiser, and so on. Sparking plugs are naval signals.”
“From Portsmouth at midday,” said the secretary, examining the superscription. “By the way, what do you give him?”
“Five hundred pounds for this particular job. Of course he has a salary as well.”
“The greedy rogue. They are useful, these traitors, but I grudge them their blood money.”
“I grudge Altamont nothing. He is a wonderful worker. If I pay him well, at least he delivers the goods, to use his own phrase. Besides he is not a traitor. I assure you that our most pan-Germanic Junker is a sucking dove in his feelings towards England as compared with a real bitter Irish-American.”