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The Devil's Paw

Chapter 19
There were one or two amongst those present in the Council room at Westminster that
evening, who noted and never forgot a certain indefinable dignity which seemed to come
to Stenson's aid and enabled him to face what must have been an unwelcome and anxious
ordeal without discomposure or disquiet. He entered the room accompanied by Julian and
Phineas Cross, and he had very much the air of a man who has come to pay a business
visit, concerning the final issue of which there could be no possible doubt. He shook
hands with the Bishop gravely but courteously, nodded to the others with whom he was
acquainted, asked the names of the few strangers present, and made a careful mental note
of what industries and districts they represented. He then accepted a chair by the side of
the Bishop, who immediately opened the proceedings.
"My friends," the latter began, "as I sent word to you a little time ago, Mr. Stenson has
preferred to bring you his answer himself. Our ambassador - Mr. Julian Orden - waited
upon him at Downing Street at the hour arranged upon, and, in accordance with his wish
to meet you all, Mr. Stenson is paying us this visit."
The Bishop hesitated, and the Prime Minister promptly drew his chair a little farther into
the circle.
"Gentlemen," he said, "the issue which you have raised is so tremendous, and its results
may well be so catastrophic, that I thought it my duty to beg Mr. Orden to arrange for me
to come and speak to you all, to explain to you face to face why, on behalf of His
Majesty's Government, I cannot do your bidding."
"You don't want peace, then?" one of the delegates from the other side of the table asked
bluntly.
"We do not," was the quiet reply. "We are not ready for it."
"The country is," Fenn declared firmly. "We are."
"So your ambassador has told me," was the calm reply. "In point of numbers you may be
said, perhaps, to represent the nation. In point of intellect, of knowledge - of inner
knowledge, mind - I claim that I represent it. I tell you that a peace now, even on the
terms which your Socialist allies in Germany have suggested, would be for us a peace of
dishonour."
"Will you tell us why?" the Bishop begged.
"Because it is not the peace we promised our dead or our living heroes," Mr. Stenson said
slowly. "We set out to fight for democracy - your cause. That fight would be a failure if
we allowed the proudest, the most autocratic, the most conscienceless despot who ever
sat upon a throne to remain in his place."
 
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