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at his next interview he was enabled to form an opinion of his
administrative methods. He was again seated opposite the chairman, who
leaned back in his chair with an air of indolent ease. Tarleton was
pointing out to him the considerable difficulty there would be in
staffing the committee owing to the demands upon the department through
the War. There was also, he explained, the troublesome question of
securing accommodation, for which there was no room at the Government
Office. Sir Matthew loftily waved aside these difficulties.

"As to accommodation, Mr. Tarleton," he said, "just tell the Office of
Works that it is the Prime Minister's wish that I should have every
facility, and as to staff, look at these." As he spoke he touched a
bundle of papers which lay on the table. "You have choice enough there,
Mr. Tarleton."

Tarleton had seen the papers; in fact, he had placed them on the table
Himself after carefully going through them. They were applications from
all sorts of individuals offering their voluntary services. There were
letters from retired officers, judges, tea-planters, cowboys, fellows of
the Universities - in fact, the usual heterogeneous collection with which
those who have Government work to do are familiar since the War.

"It is very doubtful, Sir Matthew, whether any of these gentlemen would
be suitable for this sort of work. You will, I am sure, understand that a
certain training - "

"Oh, never mind the training, Mr. Tarleton. I'll soon select somebody for
you - let me have a look through them. Now, here's one - this is the sort
of man that I like; he telegraphs - he doesn't write. A man with
individuality - an original mind. Try him."

"Excuse me, Sir Matthew, have you noticed the name?"

Sir Matthew put on his eyeglass and examined the telegram.

"Louis Klein," he read, "and a very good name too - what's the matter with
it?"

"D'you think it advisable, Sir Matthew, in the present state of public
opinion - "

"Public opinion, Mr. Tarleton, means the Press, and that doesn't concern
_us_. The true interests of the nation are our concern, and in this
case I see no reason whatever why, because this man's name is Klein - As a
matter of fact, when I was dining with a member of the Cabinet a few
evenings ago, I met a most charming person called Schmerz, and, I have
reason for knowing, a most loyal subject. Indeed, I understand that my
friend the minister finds his advice most useful in certain cases. No,
no, by all means send for this Mr. Klein - let's have a look at him."

* * * * *

Mr. Klein arrived, and Oswald Tarleton was not favourably impressed by
him. He had thick features and a generally unattractive appearance; he
spoke, too, with an accent which Tarleton distrusted, although Klein
assured him that he was a French Alsatian, and as proof thereof showed
the secretary a letter from the French Embassy which vouched for his
being a devoted citizen of the Republic. Sir Matthew entirely approved of
him.

"Just the man we want, Mr. Tarleton. Make him assistant secretary.
That'll flatter him - then ask anything you like of him and he'll do it.
That's my way."

* * * * *

Presently Klein was installed and Tarleton soon found him a most
assiduous and useful assistant. Without the loss of a moment he got into
touch with various chiefs of subsidiary departments and obtained
stenographers and typewriters, clerks and porters. Urged by Sir Matthew,
he harried the Office of Works till they provided ample accommodation in
a fine building in a central position; from H.M. Stationery Office he
promptly ordered all sorts of indispensable supplies, and within an
incredibly short time Sir Matthew found himself installed in sumptuous
offices with a fine committee-room and everything in as perfect order as
even he could desire. Tarleton was compelled to admit that Klein had
proved to be an acquisition.

"What did I tell you?" cried Sir Matthew triumphantly. "Trust me to find
the right man, Mr. Tarleton, trust me. I always believe in demanding the
impossible and I generally get it. If you're modest, you get left."

Tarleton could vouch for the truth of this observation, and he disliked
the chairman more than ever.

In due course the committee held its first sitting. On Sir Matthew's
right sat Lord Milford, a wealthy peer of independent political opinions
and great obtuseness, by whose social prestige Sir Matthew was greatly
impressed; on his left Mr. Doubleday, the leader of the Labour Party
in the House of Commons. Ranged on either side, according to their
importance, sat the various other members of the committee.

Sir Matthew's opening address, written for him by Tarleton, met with an
Excellent reception, and the proceedings developed smoothly.

* * * * *

As the weeks passed the work of the committee increased, especially that
part of it which fell to the staff. Tarleton was worked off his legs. In
committee Sir Matthew was indisputably an adroit chairman. He knew how to
assert himself on occasion and play off the members against each other,
and he showed the dexterity of a conjurer in manipulating evidence. But
outside the committee-room, entirely absorbed by the decorative side
of his position, he talked and talked from morning till evening. Beyond
receiving important persons, he did nothing. He was as incapable of
composing a letter as of making a speech, and Tarleton had to write
both for him. He would arrive in the morning when Tarleton was trying to
get on with urgent correspondence or to frame questions to be asked of
witnesses, and so take up his unfortunate secretary's time that it was
almost impossible for him to get his work finished for the next meeting.
He made the most exacting demands upon his overworked staff, showing as
little consideration for them as he did grasp of the mass of detail they
had to get through between committee meetings. Indeed, had it not been
for the industrious energy of Klein, who had relieved him of practically
all the routine work, ordinary correspondence and office supervision,
Tarleton had to admit to himself that it would have been beyond his power
to carry on.

As the proceedings of the committee advanced, Sir Matthew's opinion of
his own importance increased, and Tarleton's dislike of him grew into
hatred. Gentle, unassuming, and sensitive, he had never so far
encountered an individual like Sir Matthew Bale, who outraged all
his finer feelings and susceptibilities a dozen times a day. And the
secretary swore between his teeth that if he ever got the chance of
tripping him up, once the committee was done with, he would take good
care not to miss it.

Klein, on the other hand, grew in Tarleton's esteem, and he felt he had
done him an injustice, for which he was determined to atone if occasion
offered.

The industry of the Alsatian was equalled by his perspicacity; he soon
fathomed the intentions of the chairman and understood that the chief
purpose of the committee was the exact opposite of that which its flowing
terms of reference were intended to convey.

In a small room, as far as possible removed from the one in which the
committee had their meetings, Klein sat like a mole delving into
documents and preparing the interim report for which the Government had
been pressed in Parliament. Here, when the day was over and Sir Matthew
had at last taken his departure, Tarleton would join him. It frequently
happened that they did not finish their labours until nearly midnight.
On such occasions Tarleton would go to his club to dine, whilst Klein
would make his way to some neighbouring restaurant, but after a time the
two men seemed to draw nearer to each other, until one day Tarleton
suggested that Klein should dine with him. Over a cigar in the club
smoking-room, the secretary for the first time expressed himself freely
to his colleague.

"I feel I ought to tell you, Klein, that at first I was foolish enough to
feel a little - "

He broke off, hesitating to use a word which might hurt the other's
feelings.

"I know exactly what you mean, Tarleton, and I do not in the least blame
you. You are probably not aware that many of us Alsatians have German
names, but if you knew more of my life you would know what good cause I
have for hating the Germans more than any Englishman can possibly hate
them. Some day, perhaps, I shall have a chance of telling you."

Klein's eyes flashed under their drooping lids. Tarleton warmed to him
and began to talk about the committee and especially about the chairman.

"This has been a tremendous eye-opener to me, Klein," he said. "I must
tell you that, in my innocence, I never imagined that the proceedings of
a committee could be conducted in such a fashion. I must confess I do not
understand the object of it."

Klein smiled significantly.

"I do," he remarked.

"What do you mean, Klein?"

"It is quite simple. There are things which the Government does not
desire to be known, and that is why they selected a man like Bale for
chairman. You see, Tarleton, we're accustomed to that sort of thing in
France."

"But we aren't," remarked Tarleton, "and I think it's - something ought to
be done," he added.

"Something can be done," said Klein.

"How?"

"I suppose you've heard of Blum & Co.?"

The secretary stared at him. "No, I've never heard of them."

"Well, Blum & Co. is Sir Matthew's firm, and Mr. Blum would be an
exceedingly interesting witness."

Tarleton almost jumped out of his chair. "Good Lord!" he said excitedly,
"you don't mean - "

"I mean just exactly that," Klein continued in his heavy way. "Moritz
Blum is Bale's partner, and he's one of the biggest scamps in the City.
Now supposing I give the tip to a member of the committee to call him."

Tarleton could hardly believe his ears. Here was retribution for Sir
Matthew with a vengeance! But he hesitated.

"Would it be square, do you think? I mean, wouldn't it be treacherous
towards the chairman?"

"That seems to depend upon which you put first - the chairman or the
country. For my part, the only thing that matters is that if we are able
to expose anything that helps the enemy, we should do so, and here's our
chance."

"D'you really mean that, Klein?"

"Mean it? Of course I mean it. Blum & Co. are amongst the largest
shareholders in the Swedenborg Coal and Iron Smelting Company, in
Stockholm; they have sold and are selling thousands of tons of
pig-iron to the German Government. What do you say to that?"

"How on earth do you know?" ejaculated Tarleton almost breathlessly.

Klein fixed his eyes on the other significantly.

"I haven't been in the City for twelve years for nothing," he answered.

"It's a difficult position for me." Tarleton spoke reflectively. "Loyalty
to one's chairman is a tradition in the Government service. And though I
despise Bale, I don't see my way to expose him. You see, it means the
ruin of all his hopes."

"_Tant pis pour lui_. Doesn't he always say himself our first duty
is to consider the true interest of the nation? Now, is it in the true
interest of the nation that the Germans should get this pig-iron? Tell me
that, Tarleton."

The secretary made no reply. Indeed, none was needed, for the answer was
obvious.

* * * * *

Two days later there was an important meeting of the committee, at which
a full attendance had been specially requested by the chairman. A
question had been raised at the previous sitting by one of the Labour
Members who had desired to hear certain evidence, but the witness had
suddenly left the country. The Labour Members had withdrawn to discuss
the matter privately, and on their return showed that their suspicions
had been aroused. On a motion by the chairman the meeting had been
adjourned for four days.

All Sir Matthew's resourcefulness had been needed to avert for the time
further discussion. Before the next meeting he and the minister involved
would get together and discover a means of putting inconvenient
questioners off the scent.

The committee took their seats. The chairman now spoke in his smoothest
tone, his manner was genial and urbane. He smiled towards Mr. Small, the
recalcitrant committee-man, as he glanced at the notes under his hand
prepared by Tarleton.

"Gentlemen, at the last meeting my friend Mr. Small took exception to the
fact that a certain witness had - er - left the country - er - before we had
an opportunity of examining him. I have to inform you - er - er - that
certain facts have come to light regarding this witness
which - er - preclude our going any further into the matter. The fact is,
gentlemen" - Sir Matthew; lowered his voice significantly - "he is a
particular friend of the - er - er - diplomatic representative of a friendly
Power, and I think you will agree with me that in the circumstances we
had better drop any further discussion of this subject and direct the
précis-writer to expunge the report of such part of our proceedings as
relate to it from our minutes."

To Sir Matthew's surprise no dissentient voice was raised. The resolution
was agreed to unanimously, and once more he congratulated himself on the
skill with which he had disposed of an awkward dilemma.

"And now, gentlemen, we will call the next witness. Mr. Tarleton, will
you kindly - "

"One moment please, Sir Matthew."

The interruption was made in a very soft voice which almost lisped the
words. They came from the immediate right of the chairman, who turned
with surprise toward the speaker, Lord Milford, who until this moment had
never opened his mouth.

"I have to propose," continued the gentle voice, "that we call before us,
without delay, Mr. Maurice Blum, of the firm of Blum & Co., Threadneedle
Street."

Sir Matthew gasped and turned deadly pale. For an instant he felt as
though he would collapse, then, summoning all his will, he fought back
the emotion which was almost choking him. By a supreme effort he
partially regained his self-possession and managed to assume an ordinary
expression. With one rapid and comprehensive glance he took in the faces
of Lord Milford and the committee, and with an immense relief told
himself that they were one and all ignorant of what the proposal
signified to him.

Where had Milford obtained his information? How much did he know? While
these thoughts flashed through his brain the soft voice lisped on -

"Certain evidence has reached me which points to Mr. Blum's having
interests in Sweden of a character that immediately, concerns our
investigations. The firm are large holders of shares in a smelting
concern called the Swedenborg Coal and Iron Smelting Company, and there
is also a probability that Messrs. Blum's interests extend in a direction
which, though I am not suggesting disloyalty or illegality, urgently
necessitates inquiry."

Lord Milford sat down. His expression was solemn; it was evident that he
was rather pleased at finding himself for once in the unusual position of
having something to say and saying it. There was a buzz of whispered
conversation round the table, then a sudden hush - the chairman was
addressing the meeting.

For a moment Sir Matthew paused. Once more his eyes took in the room.
Where was the enemy? Just behind him, in his usual place, sat Tarleton at
his table covered with papers. The secretary's face was white and drawn;
he was twisting his small moustache nervously; his eyes were fixed on the
chairman with a half-frightened expression.

Once more Sir Matthew's eyes scanned the faces. Where was the enemy? And
now, at the opposite end of the table, he noticed, for the first time, a
figure almost concealed behind the stout form of Mr. Small. It was Klein.
The two men's eyes met. It was only for a fraction of a moment, but it
was long enough. In the concentrated gaze of the Alsatian there was
neither hatred nor vindictiveness, but only determination. The two
wills were in conflict, and this time Sir Matthew knew he had met his
master. In that instant he made up his mind.

"Gentlemen" - his voice was calm, his bearing unruffled; the old habit was
as strong as ever, he drew down his cuffs and leaned easily on the table,
spreading out his fingers - "I have a very short personal statement to
make. You are perhaps unaware that I have been for many years connected
with the firm of Blum & Co.; in fact, I was the original founder of the
business in which for a considerable period Lord Milford's nephew, Lord
Reginald Dumbarton, was also partner." Sir Matthew paused a moment and
smiled towards his neighbour. "For some years my interest has been
confined to a sleeping partnership; I have been completely ignorant of
the details of the business. While I need hardly tell you that the
situation in which I find myself is very trying, I support Lord
Milford's suggestion that the affairs of the firm shall be investigated
and that Mr. Maurice Blum shall be summoned before you. But in these
circumstances I have to inform you with great regret that I shall
immediately place my resignation of the chairmanship in the hands of the
Prime Minister. Gentlemen, may I, as my last act before leaving the
chair, propose that, pending the appointment of a new chairman by the
Government, Lord Milford shall take my place."

Bowing slightly to right and left and gathering up his papers, Sir
Matthew walked with a dignified step to the door and disappeared.




III. WAR WORK

Mrs. Dobson, though short and portly, carries her fifty-five years with
buoyancy. She is a good-natured woman, with purple cheeks, a wide mouth,
and a small nose; one connects something indefinable in her appearance
with church on Sundays, so that one learns without surprise that she
is a strict Anglican. She lives in the neighbourhood of Cadogan Square,
and has five daughters, of whom two are married, to a well-known surgeon
and a minor canon respectively. The beauty of the family is Joan, who
plays the piano and is considered intellectual and artistic. She spent a
year at the Conservatoire in Brussels, and often uses French words in
conversation. Effie, the youngest, is an adept at games, and rather
alarms her mother by her habit of using slang expressions and the
shortness of her skirts.

Soon after the beginning of the War, Lady Whigham having discontinued her
days at home, Mrs. Dobson gave up hers, and as the other ladies in her
circle followed suit, her chief occupation was gone.

Of course, like her friend Lady Whigham, she joined several committees,
but she was rather disappointed to find the meetings less sociable than
she expected. What Mrs. Dobson likes is a friendly, chat over a cup of
tea; when you sit formally round a green table, you never seem to get to
know any one properly.

"It's so much nicer," she said to Maud, the eldest unmarried daughter, a
bouncing young woman of generous proportions, "to have something at your
own house. My idea is to make a pleasure of charity. The most
disagreeable things can be got through pleasantly. Now, you're such a
sensible girl, can't you think of something?"

Mrs. Dobson always speaks of Maud as "such a sensible girl"; spiteful
people suggest that this praise is a form of apology for the absence of
physical charm.

Maud meditated deeply. "Everybody seems to have thought of everything,
mamma, that's the worst of it. You see, Mrs. Newt has that drawing class
for orphan boys; then there's Mrs. Badger's fund for giving musical
instruction to the children of soldiers and sailors, and the Parrys have
dancing classes for them."

"That's just it. We ought to be doing something useful of that kind. It's
a public duty for people in our position."

"But I think we are doing our share, mamma. What with your committee and
Effie teaching those Belgian refugee children to play hockey and me at
the canteen for ineligible shop assistants."

"I know, my dear. Still, it would be so nice to have something here - just
to bring people together, as it were, in a cosy way."

Before any conclusion was reached tea was brought, and just then Joan
came in from a concert at the Mandolin Hall, bringing a startling piece
of news.

"Who do you think I met at the concert, mamma?"

Joan was evidently excited. She spoke almost breathlessly, and went on
without waiting for a reply.

"Jack Leclerc is back from the Front on sick leave, and he's been made a
captain."

Mrs. Dobson glanced at Maud. "Really, my dear!" she said, but her voice
was not cordial.

"What else did he tell you?"

"He hardly said anything. In fact, he didn't tell me even that. Mr. Mayo,
the manager, saw him as we were going out and I heard him call him
'Captain'!"

"Perhaps it's a mistake, anyhow," suggested Maud.

"No, it isn't. I stopped to find out - about the next concert, I mean - and
Mr. Mayo told me he had greatly distinguished himself, and I'm not a bit
surprised either." And Joan looked at her mother and her sister with an
air of saying, "What did I tell you?"

"Well, he's sure to come and see us and tell us all about it," Mrs.
Dobson remarked complacently.

"I'm not so sure of that!" Joan spoke sharply.

"Nonsense, dear! he'll be only too pleased to, especially if we ask
him - and now it's war-time I think we might. Bygones are bygones."

Joan sighed deeply. It was evident she meant her mother to notice it.

"Surely you've got over that little affair? You didn't seem to mind at
the time. Did you now, dear?"

"What could I do with you all against me?" Joan's face wore an expression
of aggrieved reminiscence.

"We thought it for your good, Joan. He was only a music-teacher and had
no means at all."

"He was getting on splendidly, though. You forget that he had been
appointed conductor of a big orchestra to tour the provinces - when the
War came."

"Yes, but the War put a complete end to that and to all his prospects. A
nice time you'd have had to wait," said Maud.

"It's over now, so what's the good of talking about it? I daresay he's
forgotten all about me long ago." Joan sighed again and helped herself to
tea.

Half an hour later Clara Whigham called up Joan on the telephone. The
family was accustomed to these conversations, which were sometimes of
long duration. The two girls were intimate. It was through Clara that
Joan had taken piano lessons at the Royal School of Music from Jack
Leclerc.

When Joan left the room Mrs. Dobson turned to her elder daughter.

"Now, Maud, you're such a sensible girl - what do you think about this
young man turning up? He's sure to be after Joan again, don't you think?"

Maud considered the question with her usual conscientious earnestness,
while her mother sat anxiously watching her.

"Well, now," she said at length, "supposing he does?"

"What do you mean, Maud? I don't understand."

"Well, I mean that the War has changed everything. Look at Dora Newt. She
Wouldn't accept that young Mr. Firning because he was only a clerk in the
bank. Now she's engaged to him, all because he's in the Army. Why, you
know, mamma, Clara told you herself the other day she meant to have a War
wedding."

"I must say I was shocked that so well brought up a girl should talk so
lightly about marrying."

"I know, mamma, but everybody's the same now; the War makes all the
difference. And I think if Joan still wants him - after all, he's a
captain and - "

"I think perhaps you are right, Maud. The War does make such a
difference, doesn't it? I really think I shall encourage
it now that he has made a position for himself." Mrs. Dobson was
interrupted by the return of Joan with another piece of news.

"Oh, mamma," she said, more breathlessly than ever, "Lady Whigham's going
to give a concert for poor artists, and she wants us to give one, too!
Isn't it a heavenly idea?"

Though Mrs. Dobson knew nothing about art, and supposed that the only
reason why people ever were artists was because they were too poor to be
anything else, she heartily agreed to the suggestion, coming as it did
through Lady Whigham, and being so exactly the form of charity that she
approved.

The next morning Mrs. Dobson received a typewritten postcard -


205 CADOGAN SQUARE, S.W.

DEAR MRS. DOBSON, -

To help the artists, 2/6 teas are again being started. I am having one on
Thursday the 14th. May I rely on your kind co-operation? Will you come,
bring your friends, your work, have an hour's good music, tea, a chat,
and feel that you are doing a great kindness to the artists?

Hoping to see you.

Yours sincerely,

CONSTANCE WHIGHAM.

Music 3.30 to 4.30.

Tea 4.30.


There was a chorus of approval round the Dobsons' breakfast-table.


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Online LibraryStephen HudsonWar-time Silhouettes → online text (page 2 of 7)