A telephone upon the table rang softly. Monsieur Grisson held the receiver to his ear and listened. Then he rose to his feet.
"Count von Munchen desires a word with me," he announced. "He pledges himself not to keep me more than five minutes. I had better receive him. Excuse me, gentlemen."
The two men were left alone. The elder and stouter of the two busied himself with an inch rule and an atlas. He seemed to be making calculations as to the distance between Cherbourg and a certain spot in the North Sea.
"What is the chief's own mind?" his companion asked. "Does any one know?"
The other shook his head.
"Who can say? Our ties of friendship with England are too recent to make this a matter of sentiment. I believe that without proof he fears to accept this statement. And yet above all things he fears Germany. There was some talk of a missing page of the actual treaty between Russia and Germany. If this could be found I believe that he would sign the draft treaty."
"I myself," the other said, "do not believe that England would be so easily overpowered."
"It is the suddenness and treachery of the attack which counts so greatly in its favor," his companion said. "It might be all over in two days before she could assemble a fifth part of her forces. If our information is correct Germany has men enough mobilized to run huge risks. Besides, you know how Lafarge's report ran, and what he said. The German army is beginning to suffer from a sort of dry rot, as must all institutions which fulfil a different purpose than that for which they exist. The Emperor knows it. If war does not come Germany will have to face severe military troubles."
"I myself am for the alliance!"
"And I," the other replied, "if proof of this Germano-Russian understanding could be produced."
Monsieur Grisson returned. He carefully closed and locked the door behind him.
"Gentlemen," he said, "the German Ambassador has just left me. His mission in every way confirms our secret information. He has been instructed to inquire as to our attitude in the event of any British interference with the Baltic Fleet while in home waters."
The two men looked up expectantly. Monsieur Grisson continued:—
"I replied that it was a contingency which we scarcely thought it worth while to consider. I expressed my firm belief that England would observe all the conventions, written and understood, of international law."
"He was not satisfied, of course. He declared that he had certain information that England was making definite plans with a view to ensure the delay of the fleet. He went on to say that Germany was determined not to tolerate any such thing, and he concludes that we, as Russia's ally, would at any rate remain neutral should Germany think it her duty to interfere."
"And your reply?"
"I answered that in the event of untoward happenings France would act as her honor dictated—remaining always mindful of the obligations of her alliance. He was quite satisfied."
"He had no suspicion of this?" the young man asked, touching the treaty with his forefinger.
"None. It is believed in Germany that the young Englishman was really found drowned in the Seine after a short career of dissipation. Our friends served us well here. Now, gentlemen, the English Ambassador will be here in twenty minutes. What am I to say to him? Do we sign this draft agreement or do we not?"
There was a silence which lasted nearly a minute. Then the younger of the two men spoke.
"Sir," he said respectfully, "without some proof of Russia's falsity I cannot see how in honor we can depart from our treaty obligations with her to the extent of signing an agreement with her putative enemy. England must fight her own battle, and God help her!"
"And you?" Monsieur Grisson asked, turning to the third man.
"I agree," was the regretful answer. "If this treacherous scheme is carried out I believe that France will be face to face with the greatest crisis she has known in history. Even then I dare not suggest that we court dishonor by breaking an alliance with a friend in distress."
"You are right, gentlemen," Monsieur Grisson said with a sigh. "We must tell Lord Fothergill that our relations with his country must remain unfettered. I——"
Again the telephone bell rang. Monsieur Grisson listened, and replied with a sudden return to his old briskness of manner.
"It is young De Bergillac," he announced. "He has been in England in search of that missing page of the treaty. I have told them to show him in."
The Vicomte entered, paler than ever from recent travel, and deeply humiliated from the fact that there was a smut upon his collar which he had had no time to remove. He presented a paper to Monsieur Grisson and bowed. The President spread it out upon the table, and the faces of the three men as they read became a study. Monsieur Grisson rang the bell.
"Monsieur le Duc de Bergillac and a young English gentleman," he told the attendant, "are in my private retiring-room. Desire their presence."
The servant withdrew. The three men looked at one another.
"If this is genuine!" the younger murmured.
"It is the Russian official paper," his vis-a-vis declared, holding it up to the light.
Then the Duc de Bergillac and Guy Poynton were ushered in. Monsieur Grisson rose to his feet.
"Monsieur Poynton," he said, "we have all three heard your story as to what you witnessed in the forest of Pozen. It is part of your allegation that a page of writing from the private car which you were watching was blown to your feet, and that you picked it up and brought it to Paris with you. Look at this sheet of paper carefully. Tell me if it is the one."
Guy glanced at it for a moment, and handed it back.
"It is certainly the one," he answered. "If you look at the back you will see my initials there and the date."
Monsieur Grisson turned it over quickly. The two other men looked over his shoulder, and one of them gave a little exclamation. The initials and date were there.
Then Monsieur Grisson turned once more to Guy. He was not a tall man, but he had dignity, and his presence was impressive. He spoke very slowly.
"Monsieur Guy Poynton," he said, "it is not often that so great an issue—that the very destinies of two great countries must rest upon the simple and uncorroborated story of one man. Yet that is the position in which we stand to-day. Do not think that you are being treated with distrust. I speak to you not on behalf of myself, but for the millions of human beings whose welfare is my care, and for those other millions of your own countrymen, whose interests must be yours. I ask you solemnly—is this story of yours word for word a true one?"
Guy looked him in the face resolutely, and answered without hesitation.
"On my honor as an Englishman," he declared, "it is true!"
Monsieur Grisson held out his hand.
"Thank you!" he said.
The three men were again alone. The man who controlled the destinies of France dipped his pen in the ink.
"Gentlemen," he said, "do you agree with me that I shall sign this draft?"
"We do!" they both answered.
The President signed his name. Then he turned the handle of the telephone.
"You may show Lord Fothergill in!" he ordered.
AN OLD FRIEND
It was perhaps as well for Andrew Pelham that he could not see Phyllis' look as she entered the room. An English gentleman, she had been told, was waiting to see her, and she had thought of no one but Duncombe. It was true that she had sent him away, but only an hour ago the Marquise had told her that her emancipation was close at hand. He too might have had a hint! The little smile, however, died away from her lips as she saw who was waiting for her with such manifest impatience.
"You, Andrew!" she exclaimed in amazement. "Why, however did you find me out?"
He took both her hands in his. The look upon his face was transfiguring.
"At last! At last!" he exclaimed. "Never mind how I found you! Tell me, what does it all mean? Are you here of your own free will?"
"Absolutely!" she answered.
"It was you at Runton?"
"Under a false name—with a man who committed robbery!"
She shrugged her shoulders a little wearily.
"My dear Andrew!" she said, "I will admit that I have been doing all manner of incomprehensible things. I couldn't explain everything. It would take too long. What I did, I did for Guy's sake, and of my own free will. It will be all over in a day or two now, and we shall be coming back to Raynesworth. Then I will tell you tales of our adventures which will make your hair stand on end."
"It isn't true about Guy, then?" he exclaimed.
She hesitated for a moment.
"Andrew," she said, "I cannot tell you anything. It must sound rather horrid of me, but I cannot help it. I want you to go away. In a day or two I will write."
He looked at her in pained bewilderment.
"But, Phyllis," he protested, "I am one of your oldest friends! You ask me to go away and leave you here with strangers, without a word of explanation. Why, I have been weeks searching for you."
"Andrew," she said, "I know it. I don't want to be unkind. I don't want you to think that I have forgotten that you are, as you say, one of my oldest friends. But there are times when one's friends are a source of danger rather than pleasure. Frankly, this is one of them."
His face darkened. He looked slowly around the magnificent room. He saw little, but what he could distinguish was impressive.
"Your riddles," he said gravely, "are hard to read. You want me to go away and leave you here."
"You must," she said firmly.
"Did you treat Duncombe like this?" he asked in a blind fit of jealousy.
"You have not the right to ask me such a question," she answered coldly.
"Not the right! Not the right!" he repeated. "Who else has, then? Haven't I watched you grow from a beautiful, capricious child into the woman you are? Haven't I taught you, played with you, done your bidding blindly ever since you came into your kingdom? Haven't I felt the pain and the joy of you in my heart? Who else has a better right, then? Duncombe, who came here, a stranger to you—or is it one of your new friends?"
She came close to him, and laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Don't be foolish, Andrew!" she said softly.
His whole expression changed. The bitterness left his tone.
"Ah, Phyllis!" he said. "That is more like yourself."
"And I want you," she said, "to be like your old self. You have always been my best friend, Andrew. I hope you will always be that."
He tried to look into her face. It seemed to him that there was a little unnecessary emphasis in her words.
"I am not a child now, you know," she continued. "I am quite old enough to take care of myself. You must believe that, Andrew. You must go away, and not worry about me. You will do this, please, because I ask you!"
"If I must," he said reluctantly. "I will go away, but not to worry about you—that is impossible. You seem to be surrounded by all the mediaeval terrors which confronted the emancipation of princesses in our fairy books. Only a short time ago Duncombe implored me to follow his example, and leave you and Paris alone. The detective whom I brought with me has been shadowed ever since we left Paris. Last night he left me for a few hours, and this morning comes a note from the hospital. He is lying there with the back of his head beaten in—garotters, of course, the police say, looking for plunder. How can you ask me to be easy in my mind about you?"
She smiled reassuringly.
"No harm will come to me here, I can promise you," she said. "It is you who run the most risk if you only knew it. Sir George Duncombe gave you the best advice when he tried to get you to return to England."
"I cannot leave Lloyd now until he has recovered," Andrew answered. "Tell me, Phyllis, has Duncombe found you out? Has he been here?"
"Yes," she answered. "I sent him away—as I am sending you."
"Has he ever told you," Andrew asked, "why he was willing in the first instance to come to Paris in search of you?"
"No," she answered. "Wasn't it because he was your friend?"
He shook his head.
"It is his affair, not mine," he said with a sigh. "Ask him some day."
"You won't tell me, Andrew?"
"No! I will go now! You know where to send for me if you should need help. I can find my way down, thank you. I have a guide from the hotel outside."
The Marquise swept into the room as he passed out, an impression of ermine and laces and perfume.
"Another of your English lovers, ma belle?" she asked.
"Scarcely that," Phyllis answered. "He is a very old friend, and he was rather hard to get rid of."
"I think," the Marquise said, "you would get rid of all very willingly for the sake of one, eh?"
The Marquise stared insolently into the girl's face. Phyllis only laughed.
"One is usually considered the ideal number—in our country," she remarked demurely.
"But the one?" the Marquise continued. "He would not be one of these cold, heavy countrymen of yours, no? You have learnt better perhaps over here?"
It was a cross-examination, but Phyllis could not imagine its drift.
"I have not had very much opportunity over here, have I, to amend my ideals?" she asked. "I think the only two Frenchmen I have met are the Marquis and that languid young man with the green tie, the Vicomte de Bergillac, wasn't it?"
The Marquise watched her charge closely.
"Well," she said, "he is comme il faut, is he not? You find him more elegant, more chic than your Englishmen, eh?"
Phyllis shook her head regretfully.
"To me," she admitted, "he seemed like an exceedingly precocious spoilt child!"
"He is twenty-three," the Marquise declared.
Phyllis laughed softly.
"Well," she said, "I do not think that I shall amend my ideals for the sake of the Vicomte de Bergillac!"
The Marquise looked at her doubtfully.
"Tell me, child," she said, "you mean, then, that of the two—your English Sir George Duncombe and Henri—you would prefer Sir George?"
Phyllis looked at her with twinkling eyes.
"You would really like to know?" she asked.
"Sir George Duncombe—infinitely!"
The Marquise seemed to have recovered her good spirits.
"Come, little one," she said, "you lose color in the house. I will take you for a drive!"
* * * * *
Andrew, conscious that he was being followed, sat down outside a cafe on his way homewards, and bade his guide leave him for a little time. Instantly there was the soft rustle of feminine skirts by his side, and a woman seated herself on the next chair.
"Monsieur has not been up to the Cafe Montmartre lately!"
Pelham turned his head. It was the young lady from Vienna.
"No!" he answered. "I have not been there since I had the pleasure of seeing Mademoiselle!"
"Monsieur has discovered all that he wanted to know?"
He nodded a little wearily.
"Yes, I think so!"
She drew her chair quite close to his. The sable of her turban hat almost brushed his cheek, and the perfume of the violets at her bosom was strong in his nostrils.
"Monsieur has seen the young lady?"
"I have seen her," he answered.
"Monsieur is indebted to me," she said softly, "for some information. Let me ask him one question. Is it true, this story in the newspapers, of the finding of this young man's body? Is Monsieur Guy Poynton really dead?"
"I know no more than we all read in the newspapers," he answered.
"His sister spoke of him as dead?" she asked.
"I cannot discuss this matter with you, Mademoiselle," he answered.
"Monsieur is ungrateful," she declared with a little grimace. "It is only that which I desire to know. He was such a beau garcon, that young Englishman. You will tell me that?" she whispered.
He shook his head.
"Mademoiselle will excuse me," he said. "I am going to take a carriage to my hotel!"
"It is on the way to leave me at my rooms, if you will be so kind," she suggested, laying her hand upon his arm.
"Mademoiselle will excuse me," he answered, turning away. "Good afternoon."
Mademoiselle also took a carriage, and drove to a large house at the top of the Champs Elysees. She was at once admitted, and passed with the air of one familiar with the place into a small room at the back of the house, where a man was sitting at a table writing. He looked up as she entered.
She threw herself into a chair.
"I have been following the Englishman, Pelham, all day," she said in German. "He has seen Miss Poynton. I have talked with him since at a cafe, but he would tell me nothing. He has evidently been warned."
The man grumbled as he resumed his writing.
"That fact alone should be enough for us," he remarked. "If there is anything to conceal we can guess what it is. These amateurs who are in league with the secret service are the devil! I would as soon resign. What with them and the regular secret service, Paris is an impossible city for us. Where we would watch we are watched ourselves. The streets and cafes bristle with spies! I do not wonder that you find success so difficult, Mademoiselle!"
"I haven't done so badly!" she protested.
"No, for you have not been set easy tasks. Can you tell me, though, where that young Englishman disappeared to when he left the Cafe Montmartre before your very eyes? Can you tell me whether the secret service got hold of his story, how much the French Government believed of it, whether they have communicated with the English Government, and how much they know? Beyond these things, it is not your province to see, or mine, Mademoiselle, and it is not for us to guess at or inquire into the meaning of things. Tell me, is it worth while to have this man Pelham put out of the way for a time?"
She shook her head.
"I do not think so," she answered. "He is quite stupid. The other, Sir George Duncombe, he was different. If he had stayed in Paris he would have been worth watching."
A bell rang. The man rose.
"The chief!" he said. "Be at the cafe to-night."
Mademoiselle went away thoughtfully.
"It is over this affair," she said to herself. "Carl knows everything!"
A NEWSPAPER SENSATION
Spencer, whose recovery during the last few days had been as rapid as the first development of his indisposition, had just changed for dinner, and was lighting a cigarette d'appertit when, without waiting to be announced, the Vicomte de Bergillac entered the room. Spencer, with lightning-like intuition, knew that his time was come.
"Off with your coat, man, and get your code books out. I am going to give you the most sensational story which has ever appeared in your paper!" he exclaimed. "Only, remember this! It must appear to-morrow morning. I am arranging for the French papers to have it. Yours shall be the only English journal. Glance through these sheets. They contain the story of l'affaire Poynton!"
Spencer was master of the gist of the thing in a very few moments. His eyes were bright with excitement.
"Who guarantees this?" he asked quickly.
"My uncle has signed it," Henri de Bergillac answered, "and at the bottom of the page there you will see a still more distinguished signature. You understand l'affaire Poynton now? It is very simple. That English boy actually witnessed a meeting between the Czar and the Emperor, and turns up in Paris with a loose sheet of a treaty between the two, relative to an attack upon England. Our people got hold of him at the Cafe Montmartre, and we have hidden him away ever since. Our friends, the Germans, who seem to have had some suspicions about him, have filled the city with spies, but from the first we have kept them off the scent. We had a little difficulty in convincing our friends your country-people, but we managed to borrow a few papers from the German Ambassador whilst he was staying at a country-house in England, which were sufficient."
Spencer was already writing. His coat lay on the floor where he had thrown it.
"Don't go for a moment, De Bergillac," he said. "I want to ask you a few things. I can talk and code at the same time. What about Miss Poynton?"
"Well, we had to take care of her too," De Bergillac said. "Of course all her inquiries over here would have led to nothing, but they knew her at the English Embassy, so we walked her off from the Cafe Montmartre one night and took her to a friend of mine, the Marquise de St. Ethol. We told her a little of the truth, and a little, I'm afraid, which was an exaggeration. Anyhow, we kept her quiet, and we got her to go to England for us with Toquet. They had a very narrow shave down at Runton, by the by."
"After this," Spencer said with a smile, "the secret service people proper will have to look to their laurels. It is a triumph for the amateurs."
The Vicomte twirled his tiny black moustache.
"Yes," he said, "we have justified ourselves. It has cost us something, though!"
Spencer stopped writing.
"It was an affair of a million francs," the Vicomte said. "I hope he has got the money."
Spencer resumed his work.
"The Baron a traitor!" he exclaimed. "Where is he?"
"In England! We are not vindictive. If the Germans paid him a million francs they got nothing for it. He has been watched from the first. We knew of it the moment he came to terms with them. He only knows bare facts. Nothing beyond. He is going to Brazil, I think. We shall not interfere."
"Tell me why," Spencer said, "you were so down on all of us who joined in the search for the Poyntons."
"We could not afford to run any risks of your discovering a clue," De Bergillac answered, "because you in your turn were closely watched by German spies, hoping to discover them through you. That is why we had to strike hard at all of you who interfered. I was sorry for little Flossie—but she knew the risk she ran. We had to stop you, induce Duncombe to leave Paris, and knock on the head a fool of an English detective for fear he might discover something. Monsieur Pelham was getting into danger, but, of course, it is all over now. To-morrow we are bringing Guy into Paris."
"Where is Duncombe?" he asked.
"Back in Paris," De Bergillac answered. "Arrived here with me to-day. He is much in love with the beautiful sister. Alas! It was to him that she entrusted the missing page of that treaty which she found in her brother's luggage. Some day I must tell you of my adventures in England last night, when I went over to get it and found Louis a little ahead of me."
"Some day," Spencer murmured, writing for dear life, with the perspiration streaming down his forehead. "My dear Vicomte, do you mind ringing the bell? I want my servant. I must telegraph my paper to warn them of this. They must clear two columns of type for me."
The Vicomte did as he was asked. Then he turned towards the door.
"I will leave you," he said. "The dust of England is still in my throat. Absinthe, a bath and dinner! Au revoir, mon ami! Confess that I have kept the promise which Louis made you. It is what you call a coup this, eh?"
Out on the boulevards the papers were selling like wildfire. The Vicomte bought one, and sitting down outside a cafe ordered absinthe. The great headlines attracted him at once. He sipped his absinthe and smiled to himself.
"The play commences!" he murmured. "I must return to Monsieur Spencer."
Spencer was still working like a madman.
"I must interrupt you for a moment," De Bergillac said. "I have brought you an evening paper. The Baltic Fleet has sunk half a dozen English fishing-boats and the whole country is in a frenzy. It is the beginning."
"Leave the paper, there's a good fellow," he said. "I will look it through presently. If there is time—if there is only time this will be the greatest night of my life. No other paper has a hint, you say?"
"If I could put back the clock a single hour," Spencer muttered. "Never mind! Williams, more sheets!"
De Bergillac took his leave. He had telephoned for his motor, which was waiting outside. He gave the order to drive to his rooms. On the way he passed the great pile of buildings in the Louvre. In a room at the extreme end of the pile a light was burning. De Bergillac looked at it curiously. A small brougham, which he recognized, stood outside.
"If one could see inside," he muttered. "It should be interesting!"
* * * * *
In a sense it was interesting. Monsieur Grisson sat there in front of his open table. His secretary's place by his side was vacant. Opposite sat a tall man with gray hair and dark moustache. He was dressed for the evening, and his breast glittered with stars and orders.
"It is exceedingly kind of you, Monsieur," he said, "to grant me this interview at so short notice. I was most anxious to apprise you of news, which as yet I believe has not found its way into your papers. You have read accounts of a Russian attack upon an English fishing-fleet, but you have not yet been informed of the presence—the undoubted presence—of Japanese torpedo-boats concealed amongst them."
Monsieur Grisson raised his eyebrows.
"Indeed no!" he answered. "We have not even heard a rumor of anything of the sort."
"Nevertheless, their presence was indubitable," the Prince declared. "In those circumstances, Monsieur, you can doubtless understand that our reply to any protests on the part of England will be of an unpacific nature. We should not for a moment allow ourselves to be dictated to by the allies of our enemy."
"Naturally!" Monsieur Grisson answered. "On the other hand, you surely do not wish to embroil yourself in a quarrel with England at the present moment?"
"We wish to quarrel with no one," the Prince answered haughtily. "At the same time, we are not afraid of England. We recognize the fact that if war should come it is an independent affair, and does not come under the obligations of our alliance. We ask, therefore, for your neutrality alone."
Monsieur Grisson bowed.
"But, Prince," he said gravely, "you speak lightly enough of the possibilities of war, but surely you must know that the English fleet in the Channel and at Gibraltar altogether outmatches the Baltic Fleet?"
"A Russian," the Prince answered grandly, "is not afraid of great odds!"
Monsieur Grisson bowed.
"For the sake of humanity," he said, "I trust most sincerely that the affair may be peaceably arranged. If the contrary should turn out to be the case, I can only say that in a quarrel which concerns Russia and England alone, France would remain benevolently neutral. As you have remarked, the obligations of our treaty do not apply to such a case."
The Prince played nervously with the star at his chest. Both men were well aware that up to now they had been merely playing with words.
"There is another contingency," the Russian remarked, "which, now we are upon the subject, it would perhaps be as well to allude to. The relations between Germany and England, as you know, just now are very sorely strained. If Germany should take advantage of the present situation to make a demonstration against England, that, of course, would not, from your point of view, affect the situation?"
Monsieur Grisson looked like a man who sees before him amazing things.
"My dear Prince," he said, "do not let us misunderstand one another. You cannot by any possibility be suggesting that Germany might associate herself with you in your resistance to possible English demands?"
The Russian leaned back in his chair.
"Germany is on the spot," he remarked, "and knows the fact of the case. She has proofs of the presence of Japanese torpedo-boats amongst the English fishing-fleet. Her natural love of fair play might possibly lead her to espouse our cause in this particular instance. This, of course, would make for peace. If Germany commands, England will obey. She could not do otherwise."
"You have introduced, my dear Prince," Monsieur Grisson said, "an altogether new phase of this question, and one which merits the most grave consideration. Am I to understand that there is any arrangement between Germany and yourself with respect to this question?"
"Scarcely anything so definite as an arrangement," the Prince answered. "Merely an understanding!"
Monsieur Grisson had the air of a man who had just received grave tidings of his dearest friend.
"Is this, Monsieur le Prince," he said, "entirely in accord with our own treaty obligations?"
"We do not consider it to be in contravention to them," the Prince answered.
The gravity of Monsieur Grisson's manner grew even more pronounced.
"My dear Prince," he said, "you are doubtless aware that during the last few weeks there have been some very strange rumors about as to a meeting between your master and the Emperor of Germany, and an agreement which was forthwith signed between them. I need not remark that all such rumors were entirely discredited here. Such a meeting kept secret from us would of course be very seriously considered here."
The Prince smiled. He remained admirably self-possessed, though the very veins in his forehead were swollen with anger.
"A canard of the sort has reached my ears," he remarked. "Some English boy, I believe, imagined or dreamed that he saw some such meeting. We scarcely need, I think, to discuss this seriously."
"Personally I agree with you," Monsieur Grisson said smoothly. "My ministry, however, seem to have been a little impressed by the boy's story. An autograph letter from the Czar, denying it, would perhaps make our negotiations more easy."
"It shall be forthcoming," the Prince remarked, rising. "By the by, I hear reports of great activity from Cherbourg. More manoeuvres, eh?"
Monsieur Grisson shrugged his shoulders.
"Our new naval chief," he remarked, "is a marvel of industry. You know the English proverb about the new broom, eh?"
The Prince bowed.
"During the next few hours," he remarked, "many things may happen. You will be always accessible?"
"I shall not leave my post, Prince!" Monsieur Grisson answered. "You will find me here at any time!"
THE MAN WHO SAVED HIS COUNTRY
On the following morning the inhabitants of London, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg for a sum varying from a halfpenny to a penny were treated to sensationalism as thrilling as any six-shilling shocker hot from the press and assured of its half-million circulation. One English and one French newspaper outdid their competitors by publishing side by side with their account of the exploits of the Russian fleet a marvellous but circumstantial story of a meeting and alliance between the rulers of Germany and Russia. The eyes of the whole world were turned towards Kiel, and more wonderful rumors still flashed backwards and forwards along the wires throughout Europe. A great mobilization can be kept secret up to a certain point, but when men and ships are collected and ready the truth must out.
At an unusually early hour Monsieur Grisson, supported now by two members of his ministry, received a visit from the Russian and German Ambassadors, Prince Korndoff and Count von Munchen. The usual compliments were quickly exchanged.
"I have asked my friend Count von Munchen to accompany me," Prince Korndoff explained, "because we are here to speak with you on a matter concerning which our interests are identical. You have read the demands which England has dared to lay before my master with reference to the encounter in the North Sea."
Monsieur Grisson bowed.
"I have studied them with great interest," he admitted.
"I do not need tell you then that they are scouted with indignation by my master and his advisers," the Prince answered. "Neither shall we permit for a single moment the detention of our fleet upon its mission."
"That means, then, war with England," Monsieur Grisson remarked quietly.
"Unless they instantly withdraw their insolent demands—undoubtedly," the Prince answered.
Monsieur Grisson turned to the German.
"And you, Count," he asked, "how does this concern you?"
"We also," the Count answered, "consider the demands of England unwarrantable. We believe that there were undoubtedly Japanese torpedo boats concealed amongst the English fishing fleet, and we consider that the action of the Admiral in command of the Russian fleet was fully justified."
"You are prepared, then, to give Russia your moral support?" the President asked.
"We are prepared to do more," the Count answered boldly. "If England persists in her demands we are prepared to demonstrate against her."
Monsieur Grisson assumed a very grave expression.
"I too," he said, "have lost no time in endeavoring to solve the mystery of this North Sea incident. I have been in communication with the English Ambassador, and I have collected all the evidence possible. There is absolutely no proof obtainable of the presence of any Japanese craft amongst the English fishing fleet. I submit, therefore, that this is a case for arbitration. I consider that up to the present our friends on the other side of the Channel have displayed commendable moderation in a time of great excitement, and I am happy to say that I have the authority of Lord Fothergill himself for saying that they will consent to submitting the affair to a commission of arbitration."
The President's words were received with chilling silence. It was the Prince, who, after a short silence, replied.
"Arbitration," he said coldly, "does not commend itself to us. We have been insulted. Our country and our gallant fleet have been held up to ridicule throughout the whole English Press. We are tired of being dictated to and bullied by a weaker Power—the openly declared ally of our enemy. England has long been seeking for a casus belli with us. At last she has found it."
Monsieur Grisson whispered for a moment to one of his colleagues. Then he turned once more to the Prince.
"Let us understand one another, Monsieur le Prince!" he said, "and you, Count von Munchen! You have come to announce to me your intention to jointly make war upon England. St. Petersburg is to refuse her demands, England will naturally strike at the Baltic Fleet, and Germany will send her fleet to the rescue, and at the same time land troops somewhere in the North of England. Russia, I presume, will withdraw her troops from Manchuria and strike at India!"
"No, no!" Count von Munchen protested. "I can assure you, Monsieur, it is not our intention to land a single German soldier in England. We are interested only to see fair play to Russia. We require that the Baltic Fleet shall be allowed to go on its way without molestation."
The President faced the last speaker. His gray bushy eyebrows met in a frown.
"Then what, Count," he asked, "is the meaning of the mobilization of two hundred thousand men at Kiel? What is the meaning of your State railroads running west being closed last night to all public traffic? Why have you cabled huge orders for Government supplies? Why were you running trains all last night to the coast? Do you suppose that our secret service slumbers—that we are a nation of babies?"
The Count made an effort to retain his composure.
"Monsieur le President," he said, "the reports which have reached you have been much exaggerated. It is necessary for us to back up our protests to England by a show of force!"
Monsieur Grisson smiled.
"Enough of this, gentlemen!" he said. "We will now talk to one another as men who have weighty affairs to deal with simply and directly. The story of the meeting between your two rulers which you, Prince Korndoff, have alluded to as a fairy tale, was a perfectly true one. I have known of that meeting some time, and I have certain proof of what transpired at it. The North Sea incident was no chance affair. It was a deliberately and skilfully arranged casus belli, although your admiral, Prince Korndoff, had to go one hundred miles out of his way to find the Dogger Bank fishing-fleet. You spoke to me last night of Cherbourg, Prince. I think that after all your secret service is scarcely so successful as mine, for I can assure you that you will find there all that is to be found to-day at Kiel."
The Prince was amazed.
"But, Monsieur le President," he exclaimed, "you cannot mean—you, our ally——"
The President extended a forefinger.
"It was no part of our alliance," he said sternly, "that you should make a secret treaty with another Power and keep hidden from us no less a scheme than the invasion of England. My Cabinet have dealt with this matter on its own merits. I have the honor to tell you, gentlemen, that I have concluded an alliance with England to come into effect in the case of your carrying out your present intention. For every army corps you succeed in landing in England I too shall land one, only, I think, with less difficulty, and for every German ship which clears for action in the North Sea two French ones will be prepared to meet her."
"I think, Monsieur le President," he said stiffly, "that this discussion had better be postponed until after I have had an opportunity of communicating with my Imperial master. I must confess, sir, that your attitude is a complete surprise to me."
"As you will, sir," the President answered. "I am perhaps more a man of affairs than a diplomatist, and I have spoken to you with less reserve than is altogether customary. But I shall never believe that diplomacy which chooses the dark and tortuous ways of intrigue and misrepresentation is best calculated to uphold and strengthen the destinies of a great nation. I wish you good morning, gentlemen!"
* * * * *
For forty-eight hours the war fever raged, and the pendulum swung backwards and forwards. The cables between Berlin and St. Petersburg were never idle. There was a rumor, amongst those behind the scenes, of an enormous bribe offered to France in return for her neutrality alone. Its instantaneous and scornful refusal practically brought the crisis to an end. The German hosts melted away, and the Baltic Fleet passed on. St. Petersburg accepted the British demands, and a commission of arbitration was appointed. Henri de Bergillac read out the news from the morning paper, and yawned.
"C'est fini—l'affaire Poynton!" he remarked. "You can get ready as soon as you like, Guy. I am going to take you into Paris to your sister!"
Guy looked up eagerly.
"My pardon?" he asked.
The Vicomte made a wry face.
"Heavens!" he exclaimed, "I forgot that there were still explanations to make. Fill your abominable pipe, mon ami, and think that to-morrow or the next day you may be in your beloved England. Think how well we have guarded you here when a dozen men were loose in Paris who would have killed you on sight. Remember that in the underground history of England you will be known always as the man who saved his country. I shouldn't wonder in the least if you weren't decorated when you get home. Think of all these things—hard!"
"All right!" Guy answered. "Go ahead!"
"You never killed any one. The duel was a fake. You were—not exactly sober. That was entirely our fault, and we had to invent some plan to induce you to come into hiding peacefully. Voila tout! It is forgiven?"
Guy laughed a great laugh of relief.
"Rather!" he exclaimed. "What an ass I must have seemed, asking that old Johnny for a pardon."
The Vicomte smiled.
"The old Johnny, Guy, was the President of France. He wanted to know afterwards what the devil you meant."
Guy rose to his feet.
"If you tell me anything else," he said, "I shall want to punch your head."
The Vicomte laughed.
"Come," he said, "I will return you to your adorable sister!"
A MERRY MEETING
Monsieur Albert was not often surprised, and still less often did he show it. The party, however, who trooped cheerily into his little restaurant at something after midnight on this particular morning, succeeded in placing him at a disadvantage.
First there was the Vicomte de Bergillac, one of his most important and influential patrons for many reasons, whose presence alone was more than sufficient guarantee for whoever might follow. Then there was the Marquise de St. Ethol, one of the haute noblesse, to welcome whom was a surpassing honor.
And then Monsieur Guy Poynton, the young English gentleman, whose single appearance here a few weeks back had started all the undercurrents of political intrigue, and who for the justification of French journalism should at that moment have been slowly dying at the Morgue.
And with him the beautiful young English lady who had come in search of him, and who, as she had left the place in the small hours of the morning with Monsieur Louis, should certainly not now have reappeared as charming and as brilliant as ever, her eyes soft with happiness, and her laugh making music more wonderful than the violins of his little orchestra.
And following her the broad-shouldered young Englishman, Sir George Duncombe, who had once entertained a very dangerous little party in his private room upstairs, and against whom the dictum had gone forth.
And following him the Englishman with the heavy glasses, whom l'affaire Poynton had also brought before to his cafe, and with whom Mademoiselle from Austria had talked long and earnestly.
And lastly Monsieur Spencer, the English journalist, also with a black cross after his name, but seemingly altogether unconscious of it.
Monsieur Albert was not altogether at his best. Such a mixture of sheep and goats confused him. It was the Vicomte who, together with the head waiter, arranged a redistribution of tables so that the whole party could sit together. It was the Vicomte who constituted himself host. He summoned Monsieur Albert to him.
"Albert," he said, with a little wave of the hand, "these ladies and gentlemen are my friends. To quote the words of my charming young companion here, Monsieur Guy Poynton, whom you may possibly remember"—Monsieur Albert bowed—"we are on the bust! I do not know the precise significance of the phrase any more than I suppose you do, but it means amongst other things a desire for the best you have to eat and to drink. Bring Pomeroy '92, Albert, and send word to your chef that we desire to eat without being hungry!"
Monsieur Albert hurried away, glad of the opportunity to escape. Guy leaned back in his chair and looked around with interest.
"Same old place," he remarked, "and by Jove, there's the young lady from Austria."
The young lady from Austria paid her bill and departed somewhat hastily. The Vicomte smiled.
"I think we shall frighten a few of them away to-night!" he remarked. "The wine! Good! We shall need magnums to drown our regrets, if indeed our English friends desert us to-morrow. Monsieur Guy Poynton, unconscious maker of history and savior of your country, I congratulate you upon your whole skin, and I drink your health."
Guy drank, and, laughing, refilled his glass.
"And to you, the best of amateur conspirators and most charming of hosts," he said. "Come soon to England and bring your automobile, and we will conspire against you with a policeman and a stopwatch."
The Vicomte sighed and glanced towards Phyllis.
"In happier circumstances!" he murmured, and then catching the Marquise's eye, he was silent.
The band played English music, and the chef sent them up a wonderful omelette. Mademoiselle Ermine, from the Folies Bergeres, danced in the small space between the tables, and the Vicomte, buying a cluster of pink roses from the flower-girl, sent them across to her with a diamond pin in the ribbon. The Marquise rebuked him half seriously, but he only laughed.
"To-night," he said, "is the end of a great adventure. We amateurs have justified our existence. To-night I give away all that I choose. Ah, Angele!" he murmured, in her dainty little ear, "if I had but a heart to give!"
She flashed a quick smile into his face, but her forehead was wrinkled.
"You have lost it to the young English miss. She is beautiful, but so cold!"
"Do you think so?" he whispered. "Look!"
Phyllis was seated next Duncombe, and he too was whispering something in her ear. The look with which she answered him, told all that there was to know. The Marquise, who had intercepted it, shrugged her shoulders.
"It is not worth while, my friend, that you break your heart," she murmured, "for that one can see is an affair arranged."
"After all," he said, "the true Frenchman loves only in his own country."
"Or in any other where he may chance to be," she answered drily. "Never mind, Henri! I shall not let you wander very far. Your supper-party has been delightful—but you see the time!"
They trooped down the narrow stairs laughing and talking. Duncombe and Phyllis came last, and their hands met for an instant behind the burly commissionaire.
"Until to-morrow," she echoed softly, as he handed her into the electric coupe.
Andrew and he drove down the hill together. Duncombe was a little ill at ease.
"There is one thing, Andrew," he said, "which I should like to say to you. I want you to remember the night in your garden, when you asked me to come to Paris for you."
"I warned you, didn't I? I knew that it would come, and it has!"
Andrew smiled in gentle scorn.
"My dear Duncombe," he said, "why do you think it necessary to tell me a thing so glaringly apparent? I have nothing to blame you for. It was a foolish dream of mine, which I shall easily outlive. For, George, this has been a great day for me. I believe that my time for dreams has gone by."
Duncombe turned towards him with interest.
"What do you mean, Andrew?"
"I have been to see Foudroye, the great oculist. He has examined my eyes carefully, and he assures me positively that my eyesight is completely sound. In two months' time I shall see as well as any one!"
Duncombe's voice shook with emotion. He grasped his friend's hand.
"That is good—magnificent, Andrew!" he declared.
Their carriage rattled over the cobbled stones as they crossed the Square. The white mysterious dawn was breaking over Paris. Andrew threw his head back with a laugh.
"Back into the world, George, where dreams are only the cobwebs of time, and a man's work grows beneath his hands like a living statue to the immortals. I feel my hands upon it, and the great winds blowing. Thank God!"
* * * * *
The following typographical error was corrected in the text:
Phillis Poynton changed to Phyllis Poynton
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ROSE OF THE WORLD. By Agnes and Egerton Castle.
ROSE OF OLD HARPETH, THE. By Maria Thompson Daviess.
ROUND THE CORNER IN GAY STREET. By Grace S. Richmond.
ROUTLEDGE RIDES ALONE. By Will L. Comfort.
ST. ELMO. (Ill. Ed.) By Augusta J. Evans.
SALAMANDER, THE. By Owen Johnson.
SCIENTIFIC SPRAGUE. By Francis Lynde.
SECOND VIOLIN, THE. By Grace S. Richmond.
SECRET OF THE REEF, THE. By Harold Bindloss.
SECRET HISTORY. By C. N. & A. M. Williamson.
SELF-RAISED. (Ill.) By Mrs. Southworth.
SEPTIMUS. By William J. Locke.
SET IN SILVER. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson.
SEVEN DARLINGS, THE. By Gouverneur Morris.
SHEA OF THE IRISH BRIGADE. By Randall Parrish.
SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, THE. By Harold Bell Wright.
SHERIFF OF DYKE HOLE, THE. By Ridgwell Cullum.
SIGN AT SIX, THE. By Stewart Edw. White.
SILVER HORDE, THE. By Rex Beach.
SIMON THE JESTER. By William J. Locke.
SIREN OF THE SNOWS, A. By Stanley Shaw.
SIR RICHARD CALMADY. By Lucas Malet.
SIXTY-FIRST SECOND, THE. By Owen Johnson.
SLIM PRINCESS, THE. By George Ade.
* * * * *
The following typographical errors were corrected in the text above:
1. A. N. Williamson changed to A. M. Williamson 2. Caroline Wells changed to Carolyn Wells 3. Marjorie Benton Cook changed to Marjorie Benton Cooke
The list of books presented at the bottom of this text ended at "The Slim Princess" in the original scans that were used, probably due to missing pages. Other copies that were obtained did not include this list of books at all.