Chapter IV.
The Compact

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A strong man and a prominent politician, Sir John Hampden had occupied the unfamiliar position in Parliament of belonging to no party. To no party, that is, as the term had then been current in English politics; for, more discerning than most of his contemporaries, he had foreseen the obliteration of the existing boundaries and the phenomenal growth of purely class politics even in the old century. It was, he recognised, to be that development of the franchise with which the world was later to become tolerably familiar: civil war on constitutional lines. His warnings fell on very stony ground. The powers that had never yet prepared for war abroad until the enemy had comfortably occupied all the strategic points, lest they should wound some wily protesting old gentleman's susceptibilities, were scarcely likely to take time by the forelock—or even by a hind fetlock, to enlarge the comparison—at home. While the Labour party was bringing pressure upon the Government of the day to grant an extension of suffrage that made Labour the master of eight out of every ten constituencies, the two great classical parties were quarrelling vehemently whether £5000 should be spent upon a sanatorium at Hai Yang and £5,000,000 upon a dockyard at Pittiescottie, or £5,000,000 upon a dockyard at Hai Yang and £5000 upon a sanatorium at Pittiescottie. When it is added that the Labour party was definitely pledged to the inauguration of universal peace by declining to go to war on any provocation, and looked towards wholesale disarmament as the first means of economy on attaining office, the cataclysmal humour of the situation becomes apparent.

They attained office, as it has been seen, thanks largely to the great Liberal party whom they succeeded. The great Liberal party, like the editor of The Masses some years later, was pained and surprised at this ingratitude. The great Liberal party had never contemplated such a development, and through thick and thin had insisted upon regarding the Labour party as its ally, notwithstanding the fact that the "ally" had always laughed uproariously at the "alliance," and had pleasantly announced its intention of strewing Westminster with the wreckage of all existing capitalistic parties when once it was strong enough to do so.

Little wonder that that great Liberal Administration was destined to pass down to future ages as the "House of Pathetic Fools." Posterity adjudicated that no greater example of servile fatuousness could be produced. This was unjust, for on 20th June 1792, Louis XVI., certainly, let it be admitted, harder pressed, had accepted a red "cap of liberty," and putting it on in obedience to the command of the "extreme party" of his time, had bowed right and left with ingratiating friendliness, while a Labour gentleman, bearing upon a pike a raw cow's heart labelled "The heart of an aristocrat," roared out, with his twenty thousand friends, an amused approval.

It was out of the material of the two great traditional parties that Sir John Hampden tried to create his "class" coalition to meet the new conditions. The spectacle of working men suddenly dropping party differences and merging into a solid phalanx of labour was before their eyes, but the Tories were disintegrated and inert, the Whigs self-satisfied and cock-sure. The years of grace—just so many years as Sir John was before his contemporaries—passed. Then came a brief period, desperate indeed, but not hopeless, while something might yet be done; but the leaders of the historical parties were waiting for some happy chance by which they might retract and yet preserve their dignity. It was during this crisis that the party whose idea of dignity was symbolised by the escort of a brass band on a green-grocer's cart, abolished the House of Lords, suspended the naval programme, and confiscated all ecclesiastical landed property. Panic reigned, but there could be no appeal, for the party in power had never concealed their aims and aspirations, and now that they had been returned, they were only carrying out their promises.

That is putting their position so mildly as to be almost unjust. They were, indeed, among political parties the only one immaculate and beyond reproach. All others had trimmed and whittled, promised and recalled, sworn and forsworn, till political assurances were emptier than libertines' vows. The Socialists had nailed their manifesto to the mast, and no man could charge them with duplicity. On every platform from Caithness to Cornwall they had stood openly and declared: We are the enemies to Capital; we are at war with Society as it is at present constituted; we are for the forcible distribution of wealth, however come by, the abolition of class distinctions, and the levelling of humanity, with the unskilled labourer as the ideal standard.

"Good fellows all," had, in effect, declared their Liberal "allies," "and they do not really mean that—not phraseologically accurately, that is. We go in for a little, say, serpent-charming ourselves at election times, and when these excellent men are in Parliament the refining influence of the surroundings will tone them down wonderfully, and they will turn out thoroughly moderate and conciliatory members."

"Don't you make any error about that, comrades," the Socialistic-Labour candidates had replied; and with a candour unparalleled in the history of electioneering they had not merely hinted this or said it among themselves, but had freely and honourably proclaimed it to the four winds. "If you like to help us just now that's your affair, and we are quite willing to profit by it. But if you knew what you were doing, you would go home and all have the nightmare."

"So naïve!" smiled the great Liberal party. "Suppose they have to talk like that at present to please the unemployed."

Then came the deluge. Sir John Hampden could have every section of the middle and upper class political parties to lead if he so deigned, but wherever else he might lead them there was no possible hope of it being to St. Stephen's. It was, as his daughter had said, then too late. Labour members of one complexion or another had captured three-quarters of the constituencies, and there was not the slightest chance of ousting them.

So it came about that in less than a decade from the first alarm, the extremity of the patriot's hope was that in perhaps twenty years' time, when the country was reduced to bankruptcy and the position of a third class power, and when there was no more property to confiscate in the interest of the working class voter, a popular rising or a foreign invasion might again place a responsible administration in power. But in the meantime the organisations of the old parties fell to pieces, the parties themselves ceased to be powers, their leaders were half forgotten. Sir John Hampden might still be a rallying point if he raised a standard in a time of renewed hope, but there was no hope, and Sir John was reported to have broken his staff, drowned his books, and cut himself off from politics in the bitterness of his indignation and impotent despair.

It was in something very like this mood that George Salt found him, and it was an issue of the mood that would have made him inaccessible to a less resourceful man. Day after day he had denied himself to his old associates, and little disappointed hucksters who were anxious to betray their party for their conscience' sake—provided there was a definite offer of a more lucrative position in a new party—vainly shadowed his doorway with ready-made cabals in their pocket-books. But the man who had been a sailor and spoke few words had an air that carried where fluency and self-assurance failed. Even then, almost at his first words, Sir John would have closed the subject, definitely and without discussion.

"Politics do not concern me, Mr Salt," he said, rising, with an angry flash in the eyes whose fighting light gave the lie to the story of abandoned hope. "If that is your business you have reached me by a subterfuge."

"Having reached you," replied Salt, unmoved, "will you allow me to put my suggestions before you?"

"I have no doubt that they are interesting," replied the baronet, falling into smooth indifference, "but, as you may see, I am exclusively devoted to Euplexoptera now." It might be true, for the table before him was covered with specimens, scientific instruments and entomological works, while not even a single newspaper betrayed an interest in the day; but a world of bitterness smouldered beneath his half-scornful admission. "If," he continued in the same vein, "you have an idea for an effective series of magic lantern slides, you will find the offices of the Union of Imperial Agencies in Whitehall."

The first act to which the new Government was pledged was the evacuation of Egypt, and the mighty counterblast from the headquarters of the remnant of the great opposing organisation was, it should be explained, a travelling magic lantern van, designed to satisfy rural voters as to the present happy condition of the fellahin!

"Possibly you would hardly complain that I am not prepared to go far enough," replied the visitor. "But in order to discuss that, I must have your serious attention."

"I have already expressed myself," replied Sir John formally. "I am not interested."

"If you will hear me out and then repeat that, I will go," urged Salt with desperate calmness. "Yet I have thrown up the profession of my life because I hold that there is a certain remedy. And I have come a hundred miles to-night to offer it to you: for you are the man. Realise that I am vitally concerned."

"I am very sorry," replied Sir John courteously, but without the faintest encouragement, "but the matter is beyond me. Leave me, and try some younger, less disillusionised man."

"There is no other man who will serve my purpose." Sir John stared hard, as well he might: others had not been in the habit of appealing to him to serve their purposes. "You are the natural leader of our classes. You alone can inspire them; you alone have the authority to call them to any effort."

"I have been invited to lead a hundred forlorn hopes," replied Sir John. "A dozen years—nine years—aye, perhaps even six years ago any one of them might have been sufficient. Now—I have my earwigs. Good night, Mr Salt."

The dismissal was so unmistakably final that the most stubborn persistence could scarcely ignore it. Mr Salt rose, but only to approach the table by which Sir John was standing.

"I wished to have you with me on the bare merits of my plan," he said in a low voice, "but you would not. But you shall save England in spite of your dead heart. Read this letter."

For a moment it seemed doubtful how Hampden would take so brusque a demand. Another second and he might have imperiously ordered Salt to leave the house, when his eyes fell with a start upon the writing thrust before him, and taking the letter in his hand he read it through, read it twice.

"Little fool!" he said, so low that it sounded tenderly; "poor little fool!" Then aloud: "Am I to understand that you have saved my daughter's life?"

"Yes," replied George Salt, and even the tropical sunburn could not cover his hot shame.

"At great personal risk to yourself?"

Again the reply was, "Yes," without an added word.

"Why did you not let me know of this before?"

"Does that matter now?" It had been his master card, but a very humiliating one to play throughout: to trade upon that moment's instinctive heroism, to assert his bravery, to apprise it at its worth, and to claim a fit return.

"No," admitted Sir John with intuition, "I don't suppose it does. The position then is, that instead of exchanging the usual compliments applicable to the occasion, I express my gratitude by listening to your views on the political situation? And further," he continued, with the same gentle air of irony, accepting Salt's silent acquiescence, "that I proceed to liquidate my obligation fully by identifying myself with a scheme which you have in your pocket for averting national disaster?"

"No," replied Salt sharply. "That is for you to accept or reject unconditionally on your own judgment."

"Very well. I am entirely at your service now."

"In the first place, then, I ask you to admit that a state of civil war morally exists, and that the only possible hope for our existence lies in adopting the methods of covert civil war to secure our ends."

"Admit! Good God! I have been shrieking it into deaf ears for half my life, it seems," cried Sir John, suddenly stirred despite himself. "They called me the Phantom Storm-petrel—'Wolf-cry' Hampden, Heaven knows what not—through an entire decade. Admit! Go on, Mr Salt. I accept your first clause more easily than Lord Stirling swallowed Socialistic amendments to his own Bills, and that is saying a great deal."

"Then," continued Salt, taking a bundle of papers from an inner pocket and selecting a docket of half a dozen typewritten sheets from it, "I propose for your acceptance the following plan of campaign."

He looked round the littered desk for a vacant space on which to lay the document. With an impetuous movement of his arm Sir John swept books, trays, and insects into one chaotic heap, and spreading the summary before him plunged into it forthwith.

Chapter VI.
Miss Lisle Tells a Long Pointless Story

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Sir John Hampden lived within a stone-throw of the Marble Arch; George Salt had established himself in Westminster; and about midway between the two, in the neighbourhood of Pall Mall, a convenient but quite unostentatious suite of offices had been taken and registered as the headquarters of the Unity League.

The Unity League was a modern organisation that had come into existence suddenly, and with no great parade, within a week of that day when George Salt had forced Hampden to hear what he wished to say, a day now nearly two years ago. The name was simple and commonplace, and therefore it aroused neither curiosity nor suspicion; it was explained by the fact that it had only one object: "By constitutional means to obtain an adequate representation of the middle and upper classes in Parliament," a phrase rendered by the lighter-hearted members colloquially as "To kick out the Socialists." The Government, quite content to govern constitutionally (in the wider sense) and to be attacked constitutionally (in the narrower sense), treated the existence of the Unity League as a playful ebullition on the part of the milch sections of society, and raised the minimum income-tax to four and threepence as a sedative.

At first the existence of the League met with very little response and no enthusiasm among those for whom it was intended. It had become an article of faith with the oppressed classes that no propagandism could ever restore an equitable balance of taxation. Every change must inevitably tend to be worse than the state before. To ask the working classes (the phrase lingered; by the demarcation of taxation it meant just what it conventionally means to-day, and, similarly, it excluded clerical workers of all grades)—to ask this privileged class which dominated practically every constituency to throw out their own people and put in a party whose avowed policy would be to repeal the Employers' Liability Act (Extended), the Strikes Act, the Unemployed Act, the Amended Companies Act, the Ecclesiastical Property Act, the infamous Necessity Act, and a score of other preposterous Acts of Injustice before they even gave their attention to anything else, had long been recognised to be grotesque. A League, therefore, which spoke of working towards freedom on constitutional lines fell flat. The newspapers noticed it in their various individual fashions, and all but the Government organs extended to it a welcome of cold despair. The general reader gathered the impression that he might look for its early demise.

The first revulsion of opinion came when it was understood that Sir John Hampden had returned to public life as the President of the League. What his name meant to his contemporaries, how much the League gained from his association, may be scarcely realised in an age existing under different and more conflicting conditions. Briefly, his personality lifted the effort into the plane—not of a national movement, for with the nation so sharply riven by two irreconcilable interests that was impossible, but certainly beyond all cavil as to motives and methods. When it was further known that he was not lending his name half-heartedly as to a forlorn hope, or returning reluctantly as from a tardy sense of duty, men began to wonder what might lie behind.

The first public meeting of the newly formed League deepened the impression. Men and women of the middle and upper classes were invited to become members. The annual subscription being a guinea, none but adults were expected. Those of the working class were not invited. If the subscription seemed large, the audience was asked to remember what lay at stake, and to compare with it the case of the artisan cheerfully contributing his sixpence a week to the strike fund of his class. "As a result there is a Strikes Act now in force," the President reminded them, "and the artisan no longer pays the cost——"

"No, we do," interjected a listener.

"I ask you to pay it for three years longer; no more, perhaps less," replied Hampden with a reassuring smile, and his audience stared.

If the subscription seemed large for an organisation of the kind the audience was assured that it was by no means all, or even the most, that would be expected of them. They must be prepared to make some sacrifice when called upon; the nature he could not indicate at that early stage. No balance sheet would be published; no detailed reports would be issued. There would be no dances, no garden-parties, no club houses, no pretty badges. The President warned them that membership offered no facilities for gaining a precarious footing in desirable society, through the medium of tea on the Vicarage lawn, or croquet in the Home Park. "We are not playing at tin politics nowadays," he caustically remarked.

That closed the exordium. In a different vein Hampden turned to review the past, and with the chartered freedom of the man who had prophesied it all, he traced in broad lines and with masterly force the course of Conservative ineptitude, Radical pusillanimity, Labour selfishness, and Socialistic tyranny. What would be the crowning phase of grab government? History foreshadowed it; common-sense certified it. Before the dark curtain of that last stupendous act the wealth and wisdom, the dignity and responsibility of the nation, stood in paralysed expectancy.

There was a telling pause; a dramatic poignant silence hung over the massed crowd that listened to the one man who could still inspire a kindling spark of hope. Then, just at the opportune moment, a friendly challenge gave the effective lead:

"And what does Sir John Hampden offer now?"

"Absolute victory," replied the speaker, with the thrilling energy of quiet but assured conviction, "and with it the ending of this nightmare dream of life in which we are living now, when every man in his half-guilty helplessness shuns his own thoughts, and all are filled with a new unnatural pain: the shame of being Englishmen. Blink the fact or not, it is civil war upon which we are now engaged. Votes are the weapons, and England and her destiny, nothing more or less, are the stakes. It has frequently been one of the curious features even of the most desperate civil struggles of the past, that while battles were raging all around, towns besieged, and thrones falling, commerce was at the same time being carried on as usual, wordy controversies on trivial alien subjects were being hotly discussed by opposing sections, as though their pedantic differences were the most serious matters in the world, and the ordinary details of everyday life were proceeding as before. So it is to-day, but civil, social, war is in our midst, and—again blink it or not—we are losing, and wage it as it is being waged we shall continue to lose. I am not here to-day to urge the justice of our cause, to palliate unwise things done, to indulge in regrets for wise things left undone. One does not discuss diplomacy in the middle of a battle. I am here to hold out a new hope for the triumph of our cause, for the revival of an era of justice, for the recovered respect of nations. I have never been accused of undue optimism, yet fully weighing my words, I stand on this platform to-night to share with you my conviction that it is within our power, in three years' time, to send an overwhelming majority of our reconstructed party into power, to reduce the income-tax to a sane and normal level, and to recommence the building up of a treasonably neglected navy."

Another man—perhaps any other man—would have been met by ridicule, but Hampden's reputation was unique. The one point of emphasis that could not fail to impress itself upon every listener was that there was something behind all this. It was a point that did not convey itself half so forcefully in the newspaper reports, so that, as Socialists and their friends did not attend the meetings (even as members of the wealthier classes had ignored Socialistic "vapourings" in days gone by), any menace to the Government that the League might contain was lost on them for the present. It was the moral of an old fable: the Dog in Luxury grown slothful and unready.

The subscription deterred few. It was an epoch when everything was, apparently, being given away for nothing; though never had the grandfatherly maxim that in business nothing ever is offered without its price, been so keenly observed. But superficially, to ride in a penny 'bus entitled one to a probable pension for life; to buy a pound of tea was only the preliminary to being presented with a motor-car or a grand piano. Fortunes lurked in cigarette boxes, whole libraries sprang gratuitously from the columns of the daily papers; not only oxen, but silver spoons inexhaustible were compressed within the covers of each jar of meat extract, and buried treasure, "Mysterious Millionaires," and "Have-you-that-ten-pound-note?" men littered the countryside. To be asked to subscribe a guinea for nothing definite in return, was therefore a pleasing novelty which took amazingly. So, too, the idea of participating in some sort of legal revolution which would entail sacrifices and result in unexpected developments, was found to be delightfully invigorating. How the movement spread is a matter of history. Incomes had been reduced wholesale, yet, so great was the confidence in Hampden's name, that many members sent their subscription ten times told. When he asked, as he frequently did at the close of a meeting, for recruits who were willing to devote their whole time unpaid to the work in various departments, more than could be accepted were invariably forthcoming. All members proselytised on their own initiative, but within these there were thousands of quiet and devoted workers who were in close touch with the office of the League. They acted on detailed instructions in their methods, and submitted regular reports of progress and of the state of public feeling in every part of the kingdom and among every class of the community. To what length the roll of membership had now extended only two men knew, even approximately. All that could be used as a guide was the fact that it was the exception rather than the rule anywhere to find a family among the classes aimed at, that did not contain at least one member; while London, within the same indicated limits, had practically gone solid for membership.

And George Salt? The public knew nothing of him; his name did not appear in connection with the League, nor did he ever take a place among the notables upon the platform at its meetings. But the thousands of the inner ring knew him very well, and few whose business led them to the offices missed encountering him. He was officially supposed to be a League secretary to Sir John Hampden, endowed with large discretionary powers.

At the moment when this chapter opens he was receiving in his office a representative of the leading Government organ: a daily paper which purveyed a mixture of fervent demagogism and child-like inconsistency, for the modest sum of one halfpenny. The Tocsin, as it was called, was widely read by a public who believed every word it contained, with that simple credulity in what is printed which is one of the most pathetic features of the semi-illiterate.

Mr Hammet, the representative of The Tocsin, had come to find out what was really behind the remarkable spread of the Unity League. Possibly members of the Government were beginning to fidget. Salt had seen him for the purpose of telling him everything else that he cared to know. To enquirers, the officials of the League were always candid and open, and laughingly disclaimed any idea of a mysterious secret society. So Salt admitted that they really hoped for a change of public opinion shortly; that they based their calculation on the inevitable swing of the pendulum, and so forth. He allowed it to be drawn easily from him that they had great faith in party organisation, and that perhaps—between themselves and not for publication—the Government would be surprised by a substantial lowering of their majority at the next election, as a result of quiet, unostentatious "spade work." "As a party we are not satisfied with the state of things," he said. "We cannot be expected to be satisfied with it, and we are certainly relying on a stronger representation in opposition to make our views felt."

"Quite right," said Mr Hammet sympathetically. He closed the note-book in which he had made a few entries and put it away, to indicate that his visit was officially at an end, and whatever passed between them now was simply one private gentleman talking to another, and might be regarded as sacredly confidential. Salt also relaxed the secretarial manner which he had taken the pains to acquire, and seemed as though he would be glad of a little human conversation with a man who knew life and Fleet Street: which meant, of course, that both were prepared to be particularly alert.

"I was at one of your meetings the other night—the Albert Hall one," remarked the newspaper man casually. "Your Chief fairly took the crowd with him. No being satisfied with a strong opposition for him! Why, he went bald-headed for sweeping the country and going in with a couple of hundred majority or so."

Salt laughed appreciatively. "No good being down-hearted," he replied. "That was the end of all the old organisations. 'We see no hope for the future, so you all may as well mark time,' was their attitude, and they dropped out. 'When anything turns up we intend being ready for it, so come in now,' we say."

"Seems to take all right too," admitted Mr Hammet. "I was offered a level dollar by a friend of mine the other day that you had over half a million members. I took it in a sporting spirit, because I know that half a million needs a lot of raking in, and I put it at rather less myself—but, of course, as you are close about it we can never settle up." Half a million, it may be observed, was everybody's property, as an estimate on "excellent authority."

"We don't publish figures, as a matter of fact," admitted Salt half-reluctantly, "but I don't know why there should be any very particular secret about it——"

"Oh, every office has its cupboards and its skeletons," said Mr Hammet generously. "But if one could see inside," he added with a knowing look, "I think that I should win."

"No," exclaimed Salt suddenly. "I don't mind telling you in confidence. We have passed the half million: passed it last—well, some time ago."

"Lucky for me that it is in confidence," remarked the pressman with a grimace, "or I should have to pay up. What is the exact figure, then?" he ventured carelessly.

"No one could quite tell you that," replied Salt, equally off-hand.

"Six hundred thousand?" suggested Mr Hammet.

"Oh, that is a considerable advance,—a hundred thousand," admitted Salt with transparent disappointment. It is not pleasant when you have impressed your man to have him expecting too much the next minute.

"I was thinking of the old Buttercup League," said Mr Hammet. "You took the remains over, lock, stock, and barrel, I believe?"

"Yes, all that would come. Half belonged to your party really, and half of the remainder were children. What an organisation that was in its time! A million and a half!" The smart young newspaper man noted Mr Salt's open admiration for these figures. It convinced him that the newer League was not yet within measurable distance of half that total.

"And in the end it did—what?" he remarked.

Salt was bound to apologise. "What is there to do, after all?" he admitted. "What can you do but keep your people together, show them where their interest lies, and wait?"

"And rake in the shekels?" suggested Mr Hammet airily.

"Oh, that!" agreed Salt a little uneasily. "Of course one has to look after the finances."

"Ra-ther," agreed Mr Hammet. "Wish I had the job. Do you smoke here as a general thing?"

"Oh yes," replied Salt, who never did. "Try one of these."

"Fairish cigars. Better than you'd find in the old man's private box up at our show," was the verdict. "But then we haven't a revenue of half a million."

"Of course I rely on you not to say anything about our numbers," said the secretary anxiously.

The visitor made a reassuring gesture, expressive of inviolable secrecy. "Though I suppose you have to make a return for income-tax purposes," he mused. "My aunt! what an item you must have!"

"No," replied Salt. "We do not pay anything."

Mr Hammet stared in incredulous surprise. "How do you manage to work it?" he demanded familiarly. "You don't mean that they have forgotten you?"

"No; it's quite simple," explained Salt. "Your friends made the funds and incomes of Trades Unions sacred against claims and taxes of every kind a few years ago, and we rank as a Trade Union."

"Don't call them my friends, please God," exclaimed Mr Hammet with ingratiating disloyalty. "I work as in a house of bondage. You don't publish any balance-sheet, by the way, do you?"

"No, we don't see why we should let every one know how the money is being spent. No matter how economically things are carried on there are always some who want to interfere."

"Especially if they sampled your weeds," suggested the visitor pleasantly. "Pretty snug cribs you must have, but that's not my business. Between ourselves, what does Sir John draw a year?"

"Nothing," protested Salt eagerly, too eagerly. "As President of the League he does not receive a penny."

Sharp Mr Hammet, who prided himself upon being a terror for exposures and on having a record of seven flagrant cases of contempt of court, read the secretary's eagerness like an open book. "But then there are Committees, Sub-committees, Executives, Emergency Funds, and what not," he pointed out, "and our unpaid League President may be Chairman of one, and Secretary of another, and Grand Master of a third with a royal salary from each, eh? Can you assure me——"

"Oh, well; of course," admitted Salt, cornered beyond prevarication, "that is a private matter that has to do with the officials of the League alone. But you may take it from me that every one in these offices earns his salary whatever it may be."

Mr Hammet smiled his polite acquiescence broadly.

"Same here, changing the scene of action to Stonecutter Street," he commented. "Do you happen to know how Sir John came to start this affair? Well, Tagg M.P. met Miss Hampden once and wanted to marry her. He called on Sir John, who received him about as warmly as a shoulder of Canterbury lamb even before he knew what his business was. When he did know, he gave such an exhibition of sheet lightning that Tagg, who is really a very level-headed young fellow in general, completely lost his nerve and tried to dazzle him into consenting, by offering him a safe seat in the Huddersfield division and a small place in the Government if he'd consent to put up as a bracketted Imperialist hyphened Socialist. Then the old man kicked Tagg out of the house, and swore to do the same with his Government within three years. At least that's what I heard about the time, but very likely there isn't a word of truth in it;" a tolerably safe inference on Mr Hammet's part, as, in point of fact, he had concocted Mr Tagg's romance on the spur of the moment.

"No," volunteered Salt. "I don't think that that is the true story, or I should have heard something about it. It's rather curious that you should have mentioned it. I believe——But it's scarcely worth taking up your time with."

"Not at all: I mean that I am quite interested," protested Mr Hammet.

"Well—of course it sounds rather absurd in the broad light of day, but I believe, as a matter of fact, that he was led into founding the League simply as the result of a dream."

"A dream!" exclaimed Mr Hammet, deeply surprised. "What sort of a dream?"

"Well, it naturally must have been a rather extraordinary dream to affect him so strongly. In fact you might perhaps call it a vision."

"A vision!" repeated Mr Hammet, thoroughly absorbed in the mysterious element thus brought in. "Do I understand that this is Sir John's own explanation?" Hampden's sudden return to activity had, indeed, from time to time been a riddle of wide interest.

"Oh no," Salt hastened to correct. "I expect that he would be the last man to admit it, or to offer any explanation at all. Of course the history of the world has been changed in every age through dreams and visions, but that explanation nowadays, in a weighty matter, would run the risk of being thought trivial and open to ridicule."

"But what do you base your deductions upon, then?" demanded Mr Hammet, rather fogged by the serious introduction of this new light. "Is Sir John a believer in clairvoyance?"

"I am afraid that I must not state the real grounds for several reasons, if you won't think me discourteous," replied Salt firmly. "But this I may say: that I had occasion to see Sir John late one night, and then he had not the faintest intention of coming forward. Early the following morning I saw him again, and by that time the whole affair was cut and dried. Of course you are at liberty to confirm or contradict the story just as you like, if you should happen to come across it again."

In a state of conscious bewilderment through which he was powerless to assert himself, Mr Hammet submitted to polite dismissal. The visible result of his interview was half a column of peptonised personalities in The Tocsin, rendered still easier of assimilation to the dyspeptic mind by being well cut up into light paragraphs and garnished with sub-headings throughout. The unseen result, except to the privileged eyes of half a dozen people, was a confidential report which found its way ultimately into the desk of the Home Secretary. The following points summarised Mr Hammet's deductions.

"The Unity League probably has a membership of half a million. It may be safely assumed that it does not exceed that figure by a hundred thousand at the most.

"While largely recruiting by the device of holding out a suggestion of some indefinite and effective political scheme, the policy of the League will be that of laisser faire, and its influence may be safely ignored. Very little of its vast income is spent in propagandism or organisation. On the contrary, there is the certainty that considerable sums are lying at short notice at the banks, and strong evidence that equally large sums have been sent out of the country through the agency of foreign houses.

"Many men of so-called 'good position' enjoy obvious sinecure posts under the League, and all connected with the organisation appear to draw salaries disproportionate to their positions, and in some cases wildly disproportionate.

"The plain inference from the bulk of evidence is that the League is, and was formed to be, the preserve for a number of extravagant and incapable unemployed of the so-called upper and upper-middle classes, who have organised this means of increasing their incomes to balance the diminution which they have of late years experienced through the equalising legislation of Socialism. The money sent abroad is doubtless a reserve for a few of the higher officials to fall back on if future contingencies drive them out of this country.

"This information has been carefully derived from a variety of sources, including John Hampden's secretary, a man called Salt. Salt appears to be a simple, unsuspicious sort of fellow, and with careful handling might be used as a continual means of securing information in the future should there be any necessity."

The simple, unsuspicious secretary had dismissed Mr Hammet with scarcely another thought as soon as that gentleman had departed. In order to fit himself for the requirements of his new sphere of action, Salt had, during the past two years, compelled himself to acquire that art of ready speech which we are told is the most efficient safeguard of our thoughts. But he hated it. Most of all he despised the necessity of engaging in such verbal chicane as Mr Hammet's mission demanded. Of that mission he had the amplest particulars long before the representative of The Tocsin had passed his threshold. He knew when he was coming, why he was coming, and the particular points upon which information was desired. He could have disconcerted Hammet beyond measure by placing before him a list of all those persons who had been so delicately sounded, together with an abstract of the results; and finally, he received as a matter of ordinary routine a copy of the confidential report three hours before it reached Mr James Tubes. Armies engaged in active warfare have their Intelligence Departments, and the Secret Service of the Unity League was remarkably complete and keen.

"My name is Irene Lisle," said the next caller, and there being nothing particular to say in reply Salt expressed himself by his favourite medium—silence; but in such a way that Miss Lisle felt encouraged to continue.

"I have come to you because I am sick of seeing things go on as they have been going for years, and no one doing anything. I believe that you are going to do something."

"Why?" demanded Salt with quiet interest. It mattered—it might matter a great deal—why this unknown Miss Lisle should have been led to form that conclusion.

"I have a great many friends—some in London, others all over the country. I have been making enquiries lately, through them and also by other means. It is generally understood that your membership is about half a million, and you tacitly assent to that." She took up a scrap of waste paper that lay before her, and writing on it, passed it across the desk. "That, however, is my estimate. If I am right, or anything like it, you are concealing your strength."

Salt took the paper, glanced at it, smiled and shook his head without committing himself to any expression. But he carefully burned the fragment with its single row of figures after Miss Lisle had left.

"I have attended your meetings," continued Miss Lisle composedly, "for, of course, I am a member in the ordinary way. I came once as a matter of curiosity, or because one's friends were speaking of it, and I came again because, even then, I was humbled and dispirited at the shameful part that our country was being made to play before the world. I caught something, but I did not grasp all—because I am not a man, I suppose. I saw meeting after meeting of impassive unemotional, black-coated gentlemen lifted into the undemonstrative white-heat of purposeful enthusiasm by the suggestion of that new hope which I failed to understand. At one of the earliest Queen's Hall meetings I particularly noticed a young man who sat next to me. He was just an ordinary keen-faced, gentlemanly, well-dressed, athletic-looking youth, who might have been anything from an upper clerk to a millionaire. He sat through the meeting without a word or a sign of applause, but when at the finish twenty volunteers were asked for, to give their whole time to serving the object of the League, he was the first to reach the platform, with a happier look on his face, in the stolid English style, than I should have ever expected to see there. It was beyond me. Then among the audiences one frequently heard remarks such as 'I believe there's something behind it all'; 'I really think Hampden has more than an idea'; 'It strikes me that we are going to have something livelier than tea and tennis,' and suggestions of that kind. Some time ago, after a meeting at Kensington, I was walking home alone when you overtook me. Immediately in front were two gentlemen who had evidently been to the meeting also, and they were discussing it. At that moment one said emphatically to the other: 'I don't know what it is, but that it is something I'll swear; and if it is I'd give them my last penny sooner than have things as they are.' Sir John Hampden, who was with you, looked at you enquiringly, and you shook your head and said, 'Not one of our men.' 'Then I believe it's beginning to take already,' he replied."

Two things occurred to Salt: that Miss Lisle might be a rather sharp young lady, and that he and Hampden had been unusually careless. "Anything else?" was all he said.

"It's rather a long wild tale, and it has no particular point," explained the lady.

"If you can spare the time," he urged. The long pointless tale might be a pointer to others beside Miss Lisle.

"I was cycling a little way out in the country recently," narrated Miss Lisle, "when I found that I required a spanner, or I could not go on. It was rather a lonely part for so near London, within ten or twelve miles, I suppose, and there was not a house to be seen. I wheeled my bicycle along and soon came to a narrow side lane. It had a notice 'Private Road' up, and I could not see far down it as it wound about very much, but it seemed to be well used, so I turned into it hoping to find a house. There was no house, for after a few turns the lane ended suddenly. It ended, so to speak, in a pair of large double doors—like those of a coach-house—for before me was a stream crossed by an iron bridge; immediately beyond that a high wall and the doors. But do you care for me to go on?"

"If you please," said Salt, and paid the narrative the compliment of a close and tranquil attention.

"It was rather a peculiar place to come on unexpectedly," continued Miss Lisle. "It had originally been a powder works, and the old notices warning intruders had been left standing; as a matter of fact a stranger would probably still take it to be a powder mill, but one learned locally that it was the depot and distributing centre of an artificial manure company with a valuable secret process. Which, of course, made it less interesting than explosives."

"And less dangerous," suggested Salt, smiling.

"I don't know," shot back Miss Lisle with a glance. "Mark the precautions. There was the stream almost enclosing this place—the size, I suppose, of a considerable farm—and in the powder mill days it had been completely turned into an island by digging a canal or moat at the narrowest point of the bend. Immediately on the other side of the water rose the high brick wall topped with iron spikes. The one bridge was the only way across the stream, the one set of double doors, as high as the wall, the only way through beyond. Inside was thickly wooded. I don't suggest wild animals, you know, but savage dogs would not surprise me.

"As I stood there, concluding that I should have to turn back, I heard a heavy motor coming down the lane. It came on very quickly as though the driver knew the twisting road perfectly, shot across the bridge, the big gates fell open apparently of their own accord, and it passed inside. I had only time to note that it was a large trade vehicle with a square van-like body, before the gates had closed again."

Miss Lisle paused for a moment, but she had by no means reached the end of her pointless adventure.

"I had seen no one but the motor driver, but I was mistaken in thinking that there was no one else to see, for as I stood there undecided a small door in the large gate was opened and a man came out. He was obviously the gate-keeper, and in view of the notices I at once concluded that he was coming to warn me off, so I anticipated him by asking him if he could lend me a spanner. He muttered rather surlily that if I waited there he would see, and went back, closing the little door behind him. I thought that I heard the click of a self-acting lock. Presently he came back just as unamiable as before and insisted on screwing up the bolt himself—to get me away the sooner, I suppose. He absolutely started when I naturally enough offered him sixpence—I imagine the poor man doesn't get very good wages—and went quite red as he took it."

"And all ended happily?" remarked Salt tentatively, as though he had expected that a possible relevance might have been forthcoming after all.

"Happily but perplexingly," replied Miss Lisle, looking him full in the face as she unmasked the point of her long pointless story. "For the surly workman who was embarrassed by sixpence was my gentlemanly neighbour of the Queen's Hall meeting, and I was curious to know how he should be serving the object of the League by acting as a gate-keeper to the Lacon Equalised Superphosphate Company."

Salt laughed quietly and looked back with unmoved composure. "No doubt many possible explanations will occur to you," he said with very plausible candour. "The simplest is the true one. Several undertakings either belong to the League or are closely connected with it, for increasing its revenue or for other purposes. The Lacon is one of these."

"And I don't doubt that even the position of doorkeeper is a responsible one, requiring the intelligence of an educated gentleman to fill it," retorted Miss Lisle. "It must certainly be an exacting one. You know better than I do how many great motor vans pass down that quiet little lane every hour. They bear the names of different companies, they are ingeniously different in appearance, and they pass through London by various roads and by-roads. But they have one unique resemblance: they are all driven by mechanics who are astonishingly disconcerted by the offer of stray sixpences and shillings! It is the same at the little private wharf on the canal a mile away. It was quite a relief to find that the bargemen were common human bargees!"

Salt still smiled kindly. The slow, silent habit gives the best mask after all. "And why have you come to me?" he asked.

"Because I know that you are going to do something, and I want to help. I loathe the way things are being done down there." The nod meant the stately Palace of Westminster, though it happened to be really in the direction of Charing Cross, but it was equally appropriate, for the monuments of the Government, like those of Wren, lay all around. "Who can go on playing tennis as usual when an ambassador who learned his diplomacy in a Slaughter-housemen's Union represents us by acting alternately as a fool and a cad before an astounded Paris? Or have an interest in bridge when the Sultan of Turkey is contemptuously ordering us to keep our fleet out of sight of Mitylene and we apologise and obey? I will be content to address envelopes all day long if it will be of any use. Surely there are other secret processes down other little lanes? I will even be the doorkeeper at another artificial manure works if there is nothing else!"

Salt sat thinking, but from the first he knew that for good or ill some degree of their confidence must be extended to a woman. It is the common experience of every movement when it swells beyond two members: or conspiracies would be much more dangerous to their foes.

"It may be monotonous, perhaps even purposeless as far as you can see," he warned. "I do not know yet, and it will not be for you to say."

Miss Lisle flushed with the pleasurable thrill of blind sacrifice. "I will not question," she replied. "Only if there should be any need you might find that an ordinary uninteresting middle-class girl with a slangy style and a muddy complexion could be as devoted as a Flora Macdonald or a Charlotte Corday."

Salt made a quiet deprecating gesture. "A girl with a fearless truthful face can be capable of any heroism," he remarked as he began to write. "Especially when she combines exceptional intelligence with exceptional discretion. Only," he added as an afterthought, "it may be uncalled-for, and might be inconvenient in a law-abiding constitutional age."

"I quite understand that now; the conscientious addressing of circulars shall bound my horizon. Only, please let me be somewhere in it, when it does come."

"I say, Salt," drawled an immaculately garbed young man, lounging into the room, "do you happen——"

Miss Lisle, who had been cut off from the door by a screen, rose to leave.

"Oh, I say, I beg your pardon," exclaimed the young man. "They told me that you were alone."