"Don't say 'yeh,' say 'yes,' Dorothy dear."
"Yes, Dorothy de——"
Sir John Dene was interrupted in his apology by a napkin-ring whizzing past his left ear.
"What's wrong?" he enquired, laying aside his paper and picking up the napkin-ring.
"I'm trying to attract your attention," replied Lady Dene, slipping from her place at the breakfast-table and perching herself upon the arm of her husband's chair. She ran her fingers lightly through his hair. "Are you listening?"
"Well, what are you going to do for Mr. Sage?"
In his surprise at the question, Sir John Dene jerked up his head to look at her, and Dorothy's forefinger managed to find the corner of his eye.
He blinked vigorously, whilst she, crooning apologies into his ear, dabbed his eye with her handkerchief.
"Now," she said, when the damage had been repaired, "I'll go and sit down like a proper, respectable wife of a D.S.O.," and she returned to her seat. "Well?" she demanded, as he did not speak. "Yes, dear."
"What are you going to do for Mr. Sage, now that Department Z is being demobbed? You know you like him, because you didn't want to ginger him up, and you mustn't forget that he saved your life," she added.
"Don't say 'sure,' John," she cried. "You're a British baronet, and British baronets don't say 'sure,' 'shucks' or vamoose.' Do you understand?"
He nodded thoughtfully;
"I like Mr. Sage," announced Dorothy. Then a moment later she added, "He always reminds me of the superintendent of a Sunday-school, with his conical bald head and gold spectacles. He's not a bit like a detective, is he?"
"If you say it again, John, I shall scream," she cried.
For some seconds there was silence, broken at length by Dorothy.
"I like his wonderful hands, too," she continued. "I'm sure he's proud of them, because he can never keep them still. If you say 'sure,' I'll divorce you," she added hastily.
He smiled, that sudden, sunny smile she had learned to look for and love.
"Then again I like him because he's always courteous and kind. At Department Z they'd have had their appendixes out if Mr. Sage wanted them. Now have you made up your mind?"
"Made it up to what?" he asked, lighting a cigar.
"That you're going to set him up as a private detective," she said coolly. "I don't want him to come here and not find everything planned out."
"He won't do that," said Sir John Dene with conviction. "He's no lap-dog."
"I wrote and asked him to call at ten to-day," she said coolly.
"Snakes, you did!" he cried, sitting up in his chair.
"Alligators, I did!" she mocked.
"You're sure some wife;" he looked at her admiringly.
"I sure am," she laughed lightly, "but I'm only just beginning, John dear. By the way, I asked Sir James Walton to come too," she added casually.
"You——" he began, when the door opened and a little, silver-haired lady entered. Sir John Dene jumped to his feet.
"Behold the mother of the bride," cried Dorothy gaily.
"Good morning, John," said Mrs. West as he bent and kissed her cheek. She always breakfasted in her room; she abounded in tact.
"Now we'll get away from the eggs and bacon," cried Dorothy. "In the language of the woolly West, we'll vamoose," and she led the way out of the dining-room along the corridor to Sir John Dene's den.
"Come along, mother-mine," she cried over her shoulder. "We've got a lot to discuss before ten o'clock."
Sir John Dene's "den" was a room of untidiness and comfort. As Dorothy said, he was responsible for the untidiness and she the comfort.
"Heigh-ho!" she sighed, as she sank down into a comfortable chair. "I wonder what Whitehall would have done without Mr. Sage;" she smiled reminiscently. "He was the source of half its gossip."
"He was very kind to you, Dorothy, when John was—was lost," said Mrs. West gently, referring to the time when Sir John Dene had disappeared and a reward of 20,000 pounds had been offered for news of him.
"Sure!" Sir John Dene acquiesced. "He's a white man, clean to the bone."
"It was very wonderful that an accountant should become such a clever detective," said Mrs. West. "It shows——" she paused.
"You see, he wasn't a success as an accountant," said Dorothy. "He was always finding out little wangles that he wasn't supposed to see. So when they wouldn't have him in the army, he went to the Ministry of Supply and found out a great, big wangle, and Mr. Llewellyn John was very pleased. You get me, Honest John?" she demanded, turning to her husband.
Sir John Dene nodded and blew clouds of cigar smoke from his lips. He liked nothing better than to sit listening to his wife's reminiscences of Whitehall, despite the fact that he had heard most of them before.
"Poor Mr. Sage," continued Dorothy, "nobody liked him, and he's got such lovely down on his head, just like a baby," she added, with a far-away look in her eyes.
"Perhaps no one understood him," suggested Mrs. West, with instinctive charity for the Ishmaels of the world.
"Isn't that like her," cried Dorothy, "but this time she's right," she smiled across at her mother. "When a few thousand tons of copper went astray, or someone ordered millions of shells the wrong size, Mr. Sage got the wind up, and tried to find out all about it, and in Whitehall such things weren't done."
"They tried to put it up on me," grumbled Sir John Dene, twirling his cigar with his lips, "but I soon stopped their funny work."
"Everybody was too busy winning the war to bother about trifles," Dorothy continued. "The poor dears who looked after such things found life quite difficult enough, with only two hours for lunch and pretty secretaries to be——"
"Dorothy!" cried Mrs. West reproachfully.
"Well, it's true, mother," she protested.
It was true, as Malcolm Sage had discovered. "Let us concentrate on what we know we have got," one of his chiefs had once gravely said to him. "Something is sure to be swallowed up in the fog of war," he had added. Pleased with the phrase, which he conceived to be original, he had used it as some men do a titled relative, with the result that Whitehall had clutched at it gratefully.
"The fog of war," General Conyers Bardulph had muttered when, for the life of him, he could not find a division that was due upon the Western Front. and which it was his duty to see was sent out.
"The fog of war," murmured spiteful Anita McGowan, when the pretty little widow, Mrs. Sleyton, was being interrogated as to the whereabouts of her husband.
"The fog of war," laughed the girls in Department J.P.Q., when at half-past four one afternoon neither its chief nor his dark-eyed secretary had returned from lunch.
"But when he went to Department Z he was wonderful," said Mrs. West, still clinging tenderly to her Ishmael.
"He was," said Sir John Dene. "He was the plumb best man at his job I ever came across."
"Yes, John dear, that's all very well," said Dorothy, her eyes dancing, "but suppose you had been the War Cabinet and you had sent for Mr. Sage;" she paused.
"Well?" he demanded.
"And he had come in a cap and a red tie," she proceeded, "and had resigned within five minutes, saying that you were talking of things you didn't know anything about." She laughed at the recollection.
"He was right," said Sir John Dene with conviction. "I've come across some fools; but——"
"There, there, dear," said Dorothy, "remember there are ladies present. In Whitehall we all loved Mr. Sage because he snubbed Ministers, and we hadn't the pluck to do it ourselves," she added.
Sir John Dene snorted. His mind travelled back to the time when he had been "up against the whole sunflower-patch," as he had once expressed it.
"But why did they keep him if they didn't like him?" enquired Mrs. West.
"When you don't like anyone in Whitehall," Dorothy continued, "you don't give him the push, mother dear, you just transfer him to another department."
"Like circulating bad money," grumbled Sir John Dene.
"It sure was, John," she agreed. "Poor Mr. Sage soon became the most transferred man in Whitehall. They used to say, 'Uneasy lies the head that has a Sage.'" She laughed at the recollection.
"But wasn't it rather unkind?" said Mrs. West gently.
"It was, mother-mine; but Whitehall was a funny place. One of Mr. Sage's chiefs went about for months trying to get rid of him. He offered to give a motor-cycle to anyone who would take him, it was a Government cycle," she added; "but there was nothing doing. We called him Henry the Second and Mr. Sage Becket, the archbishop not the boxer," 'she explained. "You know," she added, "there was once an English king who wanted to get rid of——"
"We'll have it the sort of concern that insurance companies can look to," Sir John Dene broke in.
"What on earth are you talking about, John?" cried Dorothy.
Whilst his wife talked Sir John Dene had been busy planning Malcolm Sage's future, and he had uttered his thoughts aloud. He proceeded to explain. When he had finished, Dorothy clapped her hands.
"Hurrah! for Malcolm Sage, Detective," she cried and, jumping up, she perched herself upon the arm of her husband's chair, and rumpled the fair hair, which with her was always a sign of approval. "That's his ring, or Sir James's," she added as the bell sounded.
"Now we'll leave you lords of creation to carry out my idea," she said as she followed Mrs. West to the door.
And Sir John Dene smiled.