The Devil's Paw
If the closely drawn blinds of the many windows of Westminster Buildings could have
been raised that night and early morning, the place would have seemed a very hive of
industry. Twenty men were hard at work in twenty different rooms. Some went about
their labours doubtfully, some almost timorously, some with jubilation, one or two with
real regret. Under their fingers grew the more amplified mandates which, following upon
the bombshell of the already prepared telegrams, were within a few hours to paralyse
industrial England, to keep her ships idle in the docks, her trains motionless upon the
rails, her mines silent, her forges cold, her great factories empty. Even the least
imaginative felt the thrill, the awe of the thing he was doing. On paper, in the brain, it
seemed so wonderful, so logical, so certain of the desired result. And now there were
other thoughts forcing their way to the front. How would their names live in history?
How would Englishmen throughout the world regard this deed? Was it really the truth
they were following, or some false and ruinous shadow? These were fugitive doubts,
perhaps, but to more than one of those midnight toilers they presented themselves in the
guise of a chill and drear presentiment.
They all heard a motor-car stop outside. No one, however, thought it worth while to
discontinue his labours for long enough to look out and see who this nocturnal visitor
might be. In a very short time, however, these labours were disturbed. From room to
room, Julian, with Catherine and the Bishop, for whom they had called on the way,
passed with a brief message. No one made any difficulty about coming to the Council
room. The first protest was made when they paid the visit which they had purposely left
until last. Nicholas Fenn had apparently finished or discontinued his efforts. He was
seated in front of his desk, his chin almost resting upon his folded arms, and a cigarette
between his lips. Bright was lounging in an easy-chair within a few feet of him. Their
heads were close together; their conversation, whatever the subject of it may have been,
was conducted in whispers. Apparently they had not heard Julian's knock, for they started
apart, when the door was opened, like conspirators. There was something half-fearful,
half-malicious in Fenn's face, as he stared at them.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "What's wrong?"
Julian closed the door.
"A great deal," he replied curtly. "We have been around to every one of the delegates and
asked them to assemble in the Council room. Will you and Bright come at once?"
Fenn looked from one to the other of his visitors and remained silent for a few seconds.
"Climbing down, eh?" he asked viciously.
"We have some information to communicate," Julian announced.