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THE events of that memorable night formed a most emphatic contradiction to the prophecy in Macaulay's "Armada"
"Such night in England ne'er had been, nor e'er again shall be."
The speeches in the House of Commons and in the House of Peers were being printed even as they were spoken; hundreds of printing-presses were grinding out millions of copies of newspapers. Thousands of newsboys were running along the pavements, or with great bags of new editions slung on their shoulders tearing through the traffic on bicycles; but all the speeches in the two Houses of Parliament, all the reports and hurriedly-written leaders in the papers just represented to the popular mind one word, and that word was war.
It was true that for over a hundred years no year had passed in which the British Empire had not been engaged in a war of some kind, but they were wars waged somewhere in the outlands of the earth. To the stop-at-home man in the street they were rather more matters of latitude and longitude than battle, murder, and sudden death. The South African War, and even the terrible struggle between Russia and Japan, were already memories drifting out of sight in the rush of the headlong current of twentieth-century life.
But this was quite another matter; here was war not war that was being waged thousands of miles away in another hemisphere or on another side of the globe but war within twenty-one miles of English land within two or three hours, as it were, of every Englishman's front door.
This went home to every man who had a home, or who possessed anything worth living for. It was not now a case of sending soldiers, militia and yeomanry away in transports, and cheering them as they went. Not now, as Kipling too truly had said of the fight for South Africa
"When your strong men cheered in their millions, while your striplings went to the war."
Now it was the turn of the strong men; the turn of every man who had the strength and courage to fight in defence of all that was nearest and dearest to him.
As yet there was no excitement. At every theatre and every music-hall in London and the great provincial cities and towns, the performances were stopped as soon as the news was received by telegraph. The managers read the news from the stage, the orchestras played the first bar of the National Anthem, the audiences rose to their feet, and all over the British Islands millions of voices sang "God save the King," and then, obeying some impulse, which seemed to have inspired the whole land, burst into the triumphant psalm of "Rule Britannia."
And when the theatres and music-halls closed, men and women went on their way home quietly discussing the tremendous tidings which had been officially announced. There was no attempt at demonstration, there was very little cheering. It was too serious a matter for that. The men and women of Britain were thinking, not about what they should say, but about what they should do. There was no time for shouting, for to-morrow, perhaps even to-night, the guns would be talking "The drumming guns which have no doubts."
The House rose at half-past eleven, and at ten minutes to twelve Lieutenant Denis Castellan, came into the smoking-room of the Keppel's Head Hotel, Portsmouth, with a copy of the last edition of the Southern Evening News in his hand, and said to Captain Erskine:
"It's all right, my boy. It's war, and you've got the Ithuriel. Your own ship, too. Designer, creator, captain; and I'm your First Luff."
"I think that's about good enough for a bottle of the best, Castellan," said Erskine, in the quiet tone in which the officer of the finest Service in the world always speaks. "Touch the button, will you?"
As Denis Castellan put his finger on the button of the electric bell, a man got up from an armchair on the opposite side of the room, and said, as he came towards the table at which Erskine was sitting:
"You will pardon me, I hope, if I introduce myself without the usual formalities. My name is Gilbert Lennard."
"Then, I take it, you're the man who swam that race with my brother John, in Clifden Bay, when Miss Parmenter was thrown out of her skiff. But he's no brother of mine now. He's sold himself to the Germans, and," he continued, suddenly lowering his voice almost to a whisper, "come up to my room, we'll have the bottle there, and Mr Lennard will join us. Yes, waiter, you can take it up to No. 24, we can't talk here," he went on in a louder tone. "There's a German spy in the room, and by the piper that was supposed to play before Moses, if he's here when I come back, I'll throw him out."
Everyone in the smoking-room looked up. Castellan walked out, looking at a fair-haired, clean-shaven little man, sitting at a table in the right-hand corner of the room from the door. He also looked up, and glanced vacantly about the room; then as the three went out, he took a sip of the whisky and soda beside him, and looked back on to the paper that he was reading.
"Who's that chap?" asked Erskine, as they went upstairs.
"I'll tell you when we're a bit more to ourselves," replied Castellan; and when they had got into his sitting-room, and the waiter had brought the wine, he locked the door, and said:
"That is Staff-Captain Count Karl von Eckstein, of the German Imperial Navy, and also of His Majesty, the Kaiser's, Secret Service. He knows a little more than we do about every dockyard and fort on the South Coast, to say nothing of the ships. That's his district, and thanks to the most obliging kindness of the British authorities he has made very good use of it."
"But, surely," exclaimed Lennard, "now that there is a state of war, such a man as that could be arrested."
"Faith," said Denis Castellan, as he filled the glasses. "Law or no law, he will be arrested to-night if he stops here long enough for me to lay hands upon him. Now then, what's the news, Mr Lennard? I'm told that you've just come back from the United States, what's the opinion of things over there?"
Such news that Lennard had was, of course, even more terrible than the news of war and invasion, which was now thrilling through England like an electric shock, and he kept it to himself, thinking quite rightly that the people of England had quite enough to occupy their attention for the immediate present, and so he replied as he raised the glass which Denis had filled for him:
"I am afraid that I have no news except this: that from all I have heard in the States, if it does come to death-grips, the States will be with us. But you see, of course, that I have only just got back, and this thing has been sprung on us so suddenly. In fact, it was only this morning that we got an aerogram from the Lizard as we came up Channel to say that war was almost a certainty, and advising us to get into Southampton as soon as we could."
"Well," said Erskine, taking up his glass, "that's all right, as far as it goes. I've always believed that it's all rot saying that blood isn't thicker than water. It is. Of course, relations quarrel more than other people do, but it's only over domestic matters. Let an outsider start a row, and he very soon sees what happens, and that's what I believe our friends on the other side of the Channel are going to find out if it comes to extremities. Well, Mr Lennard, I am very pleased that you have introduced yourself to us to-night. Of course, we have both known you publicly, and therefore we have all the more pleasure in knowing you privately."
"Thanks," replied Lennard, putting his hand into the inside pocket of his coat and taking out an envelope. "But to be quite candid with you, although of course I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, I did not introduce myself to you and Mr Castellan only for personal reasons. I have devoted some attention to the higher chemistry as well as the higher mathematics and astronomy, and I have also had the pleasure of going through the designs of the cruiser which you have invented, and which you are now to command. I have been greatly interested in them, and for that reason I think that this may interest you. I brought it here in the hope of meeting you, as I knew that your ship was lying here."
Erskine opened the envelope, and took out a sheet of notepaper, on which were written just a few chemical formulae and about forty words.
Castellan, who was watching him keenly, for the first time since they had sailed together through stress and storm under the White Ensign, saw him start. The pupils of his eyes suddenly dilated; his eyelids and eyebrows went up for an instant and came down again, and the rigid calm of the British Naval Officer came back. He put the letter into his hip pocket, buttoned it up, and said, very quietly:
"Thank you, Mr Lennard. You have done me a very great personal service, and your country a greater one still. I shall, of course, make use of this. I am afraid if you had sent it to the Ordnance Department you wouldn't have heard anything about it for the next three months or more; perhaps not till the war was over."
"And that is just why I brought it to you," laughed Lennard. "Well, here's good luck to you and the Ithuriel, and all honour, and God save the King!"
"God save the King!" repeated Erskine and Castellan, with that note of seriousness in their tone which you can hear in the voice of no man who has not fought, or is not going to fight; in short, to put his words into action.
They emptied their glasses, and as they put them down on the table again there came a knock at the door, sharp, almost imperative.
"Come in," said Erskine.
The head waiter threw the door open, and a Naval messenger walked in, saluted, handed Erskine an official envelope, and said:
"Immediately, sir. The steam pinnace is down at the end of the Railway Quay."
Erskine tore open the envelope and read the brief order that it contained, and said:
"Very good. We shall be on board in ten minutes."
The messenger, who was a very useful-looking specimen of the handy man, saluted and left the room. Castellan ran out after him, and they went downstairs together. At the door of the hotel the messenger put two fingers into his mouth, and gave three soft whistles, not unlike the sounds of a boatswain's pipe. In two minutes a dozen bluejackets had appeared from nowhere, and just as a matter of formality were asked to have a drink at the bar. Meanwhile Denis Castellan had gone into the smoking-room, where he found the sandy-haired, blue-eyed man still sitting at his table in the corner, smoking his cigar, and looking over the paper. He touched him on the shoulder and whispered, in perfectly idiomatic German:
"I thought you were a cleverer man than that, Count. Didn't I give you a warning? God's thunder, man. You ought to have been miles away by this time; haven't you a motor that would take you to Southampton in an hour, and put you on the last of the German liners that's leaving? You know it will be a shooting or a hanging matter if you're caught here. Come on now. My name's Castellan, and that should be good enough for you. Come on, now, and I'll see you safe."
The name of Castellan was already well known to every German confidential agent, though it was not known that John Castellan had a brother who was a Lieutenant in the British Navy.
Captain Count Karl von Eckstein got up, and took his hat down from the pegs, pulled on his gloves, and said deliberately:
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr Castellan, for your warning, which I ought to have taken at first, but I hope there is still time. I will go and telephone for my motor at once."
"Yes, come along and do it," said Castellan, catching him by the arm. "You haven't much time to lose, I can tell you."
They went out of the smoking-room, turned to the left, and went into the hall. Then Castellan snatched his hand away from Eckstein's arm, took him by the shoulders, and pitched him forward into the middle of the semicircle of bluejackets, who were waiting for him, saying:
"That's your man, boys. Take him down to the pinnace, and put him on board. I'll take the consequences, and I think the owners will, too, when they know the facts."
Von Eckstein tried to shout, but a hand about half the size, of a shoulder of mutton came down hard over his mouth and nose. Other hands, with grips like vices, picked him off his feet, and out he went, half stifled, along the yard, and up to the Railway Pier.
"Rather summary proceedings, weren't they, Castellan?"
Denis drew himself up, formally saluted his superior officer, and said, with a curious mixture of fun and seriousness in his voice:
"That man's the most dangerous German spy in the South of England, sir, and all's fair in war and the other thing. We've got him. In half an hour he'd have been aboard a fast yacht he's got here in the harbour, and across to Dieppe, with a portmanteau full of plans and photographs of our forts that would be worth millions in men and money to the people we've got to fight. I can't say it here, but you know why I know."
Captain Erskine nodded, and did his best to conceal an unofficial smile.
"That's right, Castellan," he said. "I'll take your word for it. Get that chap on board, lads, as quick as you can. We'll follow at once."
Ship's Corporal Sandy M'Grath, the huge Scotsman, whose great fist had stifled Count von Eckstein's attempt to cry out, touched his cap and said: "Awa' wi' him, boys," and out they went at a run. Then Erskine turned to Lennard, and said:
"We can do all this that you've given me on board the Ithuriel. It isn't quite regular, but in consideration of this, if you like to take a cruise, and see your own work done, I'll take the responsibility of inviting you, only mind, there will probably be some fighting."
Even as he spoke two deep dull bangs shook the atmosphere and the windows of the hotel shivered in their frames.
"I'll come," said Lennard. "They seem to have begun already."
"Begorra they have," said Denis Castellan, making a dash to the door. "Come on. If that's so, there'll be blood for supper to-night, and the sooner we're aboard the better."
The next moment the three were outside, and sprinting for the end of the Railway Pier for all they were worth.
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