Cossar, the well-known civil engineer, found them in the great doorway of the flat mansions, Redwood holding out the damp pink paper, and Bensington on tiptoe reading over his arm. Cossar was a large-bodied man with gaunt inelegant limbs casually placed at convenient corners of his body, and a face like a carving abandoned at an early stage as altogether too unpromising for completion. His nose had been left square, and his lower jaw projected beyond his upper. He breathed audibly. Few people considered him handsome. His hair was entirely tangential, and his voice, which he used sparingly, was pitched high, and had commonly a quality of bitter protest. He wore a grey cloth jacket suit and a silk hat on all occasions. He plumbed an abysmal trouser pocket with a vast red hand, paid his cabman, and came panting resolutely up the steps, a copy of the pink paper clutched about the middle, like Jove’s thunderbolt, in his hand.
“Skinner?” Bensington was saying, regardless of his approach.
“Nothing about him,” said Redwood. “Bound to be eaten. Both of them. It’s too terrible… . Hullo! Cossar!”
“This your stuff?” asked Cossar, waving the paper.
“Well, why don’t you stop it?” he demanded.
“Can’t be jiggered!” said Cossar.
“Buy the place?” he cried. “What nonsense! Burn it! I knew you chaps would fumble this. What are you to do? Why— what I tell you.
“You? Do? Why! Go up the street to the gunsmith’s, of course. Why? For guns. Yes— there’s only one shop. Get eight guns! Rifles. Not elephant guns— no! Too big. Not army rifles— too small. Say it’s to kill— kill a bull. Say it’s to shoot buffalo! See? Eh? Rats? No! How the deuce are they to understand that? Because wewant eight. Get a lot of ammunition. Don’t get guns without ammunition— No! Take the lot in a cab to— where’s the place? Urshot? Charing Cross, then. There’s a train—– Well, the first train that starts after two. Think you can do it? All right. License? Get eight at a post-office, of course. Gun licenses, you know. Not game. Why? It’s rats, man.
“You— Bensington. Got a telephone? Yes. I’ll ring up five of my chaps from Ealing. Why five? Because it’s the right number!
“Where you going, Redwood? Get a hat! Nonsense. Have mine. You want guns, man— not hats. Got money? Enough? All right. So long.
“Where’s the telephone, Bensington?”
Bensington wheeled about obediently and led the way.
Cossar used and replaced the instrument. “Then there’s the wasps,” he said. “Sulphur and nitre’ll do that. Obviously. Plaster of Paris. You’re a chemist. Where can I get sulphur by the ton in portable sacks? What for? Why, Lord bless my heart and soul!— to smoke out the nest, of course! I suppose it must be sulphur, eh? You’re a chemist. Sulphur best, eh?”
“Yes, I should think sulphur.”
“Right. That’s your job. That’s all right. Get as much sulphur as you can— saltpetre to make it burn. Sent? Charing Cross. Right away. See they do it. Follow it up. Anything?”
He thought a moment.
“Plaster of Paris— any sort of plaster— bung up nest— holes— you know. That I’d better get.”
“How much what?”
Bensington tightened his glasses with a hand tremulous with determination. “Right,” he said, very curtly.
“Money in your pocket?” asked Cossar.
“Hang cheques. They may not know you. Pay cash. Obviously. Where’s your bank? All right. Stop on the way and get forty pounds— notes and gold.”
Another meditation. “If we leave this job for public officials we shall have all Kent in tatters,” said Cossar. “Now is there— anything? No! HI!”
He stretched a vast hand towards a cab that became convulsively eager to serve him ("Cab, Sir?” said the cabman. “Obviously,” said Cossar); and Bensington, still hatless, paddled down the steps and prepared to mount.
“I think,” he said, with his hand on the cab apron, and a sudden glance up at the windows of his flat, “I ought to tell my cousin Jane— ”
“More time to tell her when you come back,” said Cossar, thrusting him in with a vast hand expanded over his back… .
“Clever chaps,” remarked Cossar, “but no initiative whatever. Cousin Jane indeed! I know her. Rot, these Cousin Janes! Country infested with ’em. I suppose I shall have to spend the whole blessed night, seeing they do what they know perfectly well they ought to do all along. I wonder if it’s Research makes ’em like that or Cousin Jane or what?”
He dismissed this obscure problem, meditated for a space upon his watch, and decided there would be just time to drop into a restaurant and get some lunch before he hunted up the plaster of Paris and took it to Charing Cross.
The train started at five minutes past three, and he arrived at Charing Cross at a quarter to three, to find Bensington in heated argument between two policemen and his van-driver outside, and Redwood in the luggage office involved in some technical obscurity about this ammunition. Everybody was pretending not to know anything or to have any authority, in the way dear to South-Eastern officials when they catch you in a hurry.
“Pity they can’t shoot all these officials and get a new lot,” remarked Cossar with a sigh. But the time was too limited for anything fundamental, and so he swept through these minor controversies, disinterred what may or may not have been the station-master from some obscure hiding-place, walked about the premises holding him and giving orders in his name, and was out of the station with everybody and everything aboard before that official was fully awake to the breaches in the most sacred routines and regulations that were being committed.
“Who was he?” said the high official, caressing the arm Cossar had gripped, and smiling with knit brows.
“’E was a gentleman, Sir,” said a porter, “anyhow. ’Im and all ’is party travelled first class.”
“Well, we got him and his stuff off pretty sharp— whoever he was,” said the high official, rubbing his arm with something approaching satisfaction.
And as he walked slowly back, blinking in the unaccustomed daylight, towards that dignified retirement in which the higher officials at Charing Cross shelter from the importunity of the vulgar, he smiled still at his unaccustomed energy. It was a very gratifying revelation of his own possibilities, in spite of the stiffness of his arm. He wished some of those confounded armchair critics of railway management could have seen it.