It came to Henry suddenly that these were not the voices of Charles Wilbraham, of Sir John Levis, of M. Kratzky, or, presumably then, of the little pastor. These were voices more human, less deadly.
The footsteps reached the main passage, and then halted.
"Here's a puzzle," said a voice. "Which way, then? Will we divide, or take the one road?"
And then Henry, though he loved not Ulster, thanked God and came forward.
At the sound of his advance a flashlight was swung upon him, and the Ulster voice said, "Put them up!"
Henry put them up.
"It's all right, man. It's only Beechtree," said another voice, after a moment's inspection, and Henry, though he loved not the Morning Post, blessed its correspondent.
"Good Lord, you're right.... What are you doing here, Beechtree? Is your paper in this damned Republican plot, as well as Sinn Fein, Bolsheviks, Germans, and the Pope? I wouldn't put it past the British Bolshevist to have a finger in it——"
"Indeed, no," said Henry. "You are quite mistaken, Macdermott. This plot is being run by armament profiteers, White Russia, and Protestant ministers. They're all down here doing it now. I am tracking them. And His Holiness, you remember, sent an encouraging message to the Assembly——"
"The sort of flummery he would encourage.... I beg your pardon, Beechtree. We will not discuss religion: not to-night. Time is short. How did you get into this rat-trap? And whom, precisely, are you tracking?"
"Through a trappon in an archway off the Passage de Monnetier. And I am tracking Wilbraham, Sir John Levis, M. Kratzky, and a Protestant clergyman, who all preceded me through it. But I don't know in the least where they have got to. There are so many ramifications in this affair. I took it for a single tunnel, but it seems to be a regular system."
"It is," said Garth. "It extends on the other side of the water too. We got into it this evening through that house in the Place Cornavin where Macdermott was bilked by a Sinn Feiner."
"We had our suspicions of that house ever since," Macdermott went on; "so we went exploring this evening, and by the luck of God they'd gone out and left the door on the latch, so we slipped in and searched around, and found a trap-door in a cupboard—where they'd have shoved me down if they hadn't given up the idea half-way. It lets you down into a passage just like this, that runs down to the water and comes out in the courtyard of one of those tumble-down old pigeon-cotes by the Quai du Seujet. We came out there, and then tried over this side, through a trap by the Molard jetty I'd noticed before, and it led us here. There are dozens of these trappons on both sides. Lots of them are inside houses. I always thought they led only to cellars.... As to your four chaps, wherever they've got to, no doubt they're exploring too. Wilbraham in a plot! Likely."
"It is," said Henry. "Very likely indeed. There are plenty of facts about Wilbraham you don't know. I've been finding them out for several years. I shall lay them before Committee 9 to-morrow."
The other two looked at him with the good-natured pity due to the correspondent of the British Bolshevist.
"Your lunatic paper has turned your brain, my son," Garth said.
"Well, let's be getting on," Macdermott impatiently urged. "Which way did your plotters take, Beechtree? We may as well be getting after them, anyhow."
"I don't know. I've lost them. I didn't follow at once, you see; I waited, thinking they would come out presently. When they didn't, I came down too. But by that time they'd got a long start. And, as there are other exits, they may have got out anywhere."
"Well, let's come along and look. We'll each take a different passage; we'll explore every avenue, like Cabinet Ministers. I'll go straight ahead; one of you two take that right-hand road, and the other the next turning, whenever it comes. We'll each get out where and how we can. Come on."
Garth turned up to the right. Henry went on with Macdermott for some way, till another turning branched off, running left.
"Ah, there's yours," said the Ulster delegate. "I shall keep straight on, whatever alluring avenues open on either side to tempt me. To-morrow (if we get out of this) we'll bring a gang of police down and do the thing thoroughly. Good luck, Beechtree. Don't scrag honest civil servants or good clergymen on sight. And don't let old Kratzky scrag you. Politically he's on the right side (that's why he'd want to scrag you, and quite right, too), but personally he's what you might call a trifle unprincipled, and that's why he'd do it as soon as look at you."
Henry walked alone again. The passage oozed water. The silence was chilly and deep. Against it and far above it, occasional sounds beat, as the world's sounds beat downwards into graves.
Geneva was amazing. How many people knew that it was under-run by this so intricate tunnel system? Did the town authorities know? Surely yes. And, knowing, had they not thought, when the recent troubles began, to explore these avenues? (How that horrid phrase always stuck in one's mind; one could not get away from it, as many a statesman, many an orator daily proved.) But possibly they had explored them with no result. Possibly Sub-section 4 (Organisation of Search) of Committee 9 knew all about them. What that sub-section did not yet know was that Charles Wilbraham, hand in glove with autocrat Russia, armament kings, and the Calvinist church, lurked and plotted in the avenues by night, like the spider in her web waiting for flies.
There were turnings here and there, to one side or the other, but Henry kept a straight course.
At last he was brought up sharp, nearly running his face into a rough clay wall, and above him he saw a trap-door. Here, then, was his exit. The door was only just above his head; he pushed at it with his hands; it gave not at all.
After all, one would expect a trap-door to be bolted. He wondered if it would be of any use to knock. Did it give on to a street, a courtyard, or a house?
He rapped on it with the end of his electric torch, softly and then loudly. He went on rapping, and knew the fear that assails the assaulter of impregnable, unyielding silence, the panic of him who calls aloud in an empty house and is answered only by the tiny sounds of creaking, scuffling, and whispering that cause the skin to creep, the blood to curdle, the marrow to freeze, the heart to stop, and the spirit to be poured out like water. Strange and horrid symptoms! Curdled blood, frozen marrow, unbeating heart ... who first discovered that this is what occurs to these organs when fear assaults the brain? Have physiologists said so, or is it a mere amateur guess at truth, another of the foolish things "they" say?
In these speculations Henry's mind engaged while he stood in the black bowels of the earth and beat for entry at the world's closed door.
At last he heard sounds as of advancing steps. Bolts were drawn heavily back; the trap-door was raised, and a face peered down; a brownish face with a small black moustache and a smooth skin stretched tightly over fat. A glimmer of light struggled with the darkness. "Chi c'?" said a harsh voice, whispering.
"Sst! son'io." Henry thought this the best answer. His nerves had relaxed on hearing the Italian language, a tongue not spoken habitually by Wilbraham, M. Kratzky, Sir John Levis, or Calvinist pastors. It is a reassuring tongue; one feels, but how erroneously, that those speaking it cannot be very far out of the path of human goodness. And to Henry it was partly native. The very sight of the plump, smooth, Italian face made him feel at ease.
The face peered down into the darkness, and a stump of candle burning in a saucer threw a wavering beam on to Henry's face looking up.
"Gi," the voice assented to Henry's rather obvious statement. "Voul scendere, forse?"
Henry said he did, and a stool was handed down to him. In another minute he stood on the stone floor of a largish cellar, almost completely blocked with casks and wood stacks. From it steps ran up to another floor.
The owner of the plump Italian face had a small plump figure clad in shirt, trousers, and slippers. His bright dark eyes stared at his visitor, heavy with sleep. He had obviously been roused from bed. Surprise, however, he did not show; probably he was used to it.
He talked to Henry in Italian.
"You roused me from sleep. You have a message, perhaps? You wish something done?"
Henry, not knowing whether this Italian Swiss knew more than he ought to know, or whether he was merely assisting the police investigations, answered warily, "No message. But I have been down there on the business, and had to return this way. I must now go as quickly as possible in to the town."
He added, at a venture, glancing sideways at the other, "Signor Wilbraham was down there with his colleagues."
The man started, and the saucer wavered in his hand. Signor Wilbraham was obviously either to him a suspect name, or else his master and leader in intrigue. He was frightened of Wilbraham.
"Where is he now?" he asked. "Will he come here?"
"I think not. Be at ease. He has disappeared in another direction. Have the kindness to show me the way out."
The man led the way to the steps and up them, into a tiny ground-floor bedroom, and through that into a passage. As he unbolted a side door, Henry said to him, "You know something about Signor Wilbraham, then?"
The plump little figure shrugged.
"A good deal too much, certainly."
"Good," said Henry. "Later you shall tell what you know. Don't be afraid. He can't hurt you."
As to that the raised eyebrows showed doubt. Wilbraham, it was apparent, inspired a deep mistrust. The fat little man was shivering, either from fear or cold or thwarted sleep, as he opened the door for Henry to pass out.
"The will of God will be done," was what he regretfully said, "unless his dear Mother can by any means avert it. For me, I escape, if necessary, where they cannot find me. Good-night, Signore."
He shut the door softly behind Henry, who found himself outside a block of old houses at the lake end of the Rue Muzy, under a setting moon, as the city clocks struck two. The night, which had seemed to Henry already so long, was yet, as nights of action go, young.
Henry, as he walked homewards by the lake's edge, wondered where and in what manner Macdermott and Garth had emerged, or would emerge, to the earth's face.
The earth's face! Never, on any of the lovely nights in that most lovely place, had it seemed to Henry fairer than it seemed this night, as he walked along the Quai des Eaux Vives, the clean, cool air filling his lungs and gently fanning his damp forehead, the dark and shining water lapping softly against its stone bounds. How far better was the earth's face than its inside!
Henry, tired and chilled, had now no thought but sleep. To-morrow early he would go to the President of Committee 9 with his report. Also he would wire the story early to his paper. As he lay in bed, too much excited, after all, to sleep (for Henry suffered from nervous excitement in excess) he composed his press story. Anti-disarmament, anti-peace fiends, plotting with Russian Monarchists to wreck the League ... all this had the British Bolshevist many a time suggested, but now it could speak with no uncertain voice. Names might even be given.... Then, in the evening, when the police had explored the avenues, investigated the mystery, and proved the facts, a second telegram, more detailed, could be despatched. What a scoop! After all, thought Henry, tossing wakeful and wide-eyed in the warm dawn, after all he was proving himself a good journalist. No one could say after this that he was not a good journalist.
M. Fernandez Croza, delegate from Paraguay, and President of the Committee on the Disappearance of Delegates, sat after breakfast with his private secretary and his stenographer in his sitting-room at the Hotel des Bergues, dictating a speech he meant to deliver at that morning's session of the Assembly on the beauties of a world peace. It was a very creditable and noble speech, and he meant to deliver it in Spanish, as a protest, though his English and French were faultless.
M. Croza was a graceful person, young for a delegate, slightly built, aquiline, brown skinned, black haired, shaved clean in the English and American manner, which Latins seldom use, and which he had picked up, among other things, in the course of an Oxford education. The private secretary and the stenographer were a swarthy young man and woman with full lips and small moustaches.
M. Croza was clever, determined, and patriotic; he believed firmly in the future of the Latin American republics, and particularly in that of Paraguay; in the necessity of imbuing into the staff of the League of Nations more Latin American blood, and in the desirability of making Spanish a third official language in the Assembly. He disliked the Secretariat as at present constituted, thinking it European, narrow, and conceited, and he could, when orating on topics less noble and more imminent than a world peace, make a very relevant and acute speech.
To him, already thus busy at ten o'clock in the morning, entered a hotel messenger with a card bearing the name of the correspondent of the British Bolshevist, and the words "Urgent and private business."
"I suppose he wants a statement on the Paraguay attitude towards Argentine meat," M. Croza commented. "I had better see him."
He turned to his stenographer, and said (in Spanish, in which tongue, it may be observed, it sounded even better than in the English rendering): "And so the gentle doves of peace comma pursued down stormy skies by the hawks of war comma shall find at length ... shall find at length.... Alvarez, please finish that sentence later on. That will do for the present, seorita.... Admit Mr. Beechtree, messenger."
Mr. Beechtree was admitted. The slim, pale, shabby and yet somehow elegant young man, with his monocle, so useless, so foppish, dangling on its black ribbon, pleased, on the whole, M. Croza's fastidious taste.
After introductions, courtesies, apologies, and seatings, Mr. Beechtree got to business.
"I have," he began, in his soft, light, tired voice, "a curious story to tell. I am in a position, after much search, to throw a good deal of light on the recent mysterious disappearances. I have evidence of a very serious nature indeed...."
M. Croza, in his capacity of President of Committee 9, had become used to such evidence of late. But he always welcomed it, and did so now, with an encouraging nod.
Perhaps the nod, though encouraging, had an air of habit, for Mr. Beechtree added quickly, "What I have to tell you is most unusual. It implicates persons not usually implicated. Indeed, never before. I am not here to hurl random accusations against persons for whom I happen to feel a distaste. I am here with solid, documentary evidence. I have it in this case." He opened his shabby dispatch case, and showed it full of papers.
"It implicates," he continued, "an individual who holds a distinguished position on the staff of the Secretariat."
M. Croza leant forward, interested, stimulated, not displeased.
"You amaze me," he said. "Take a note, Alvarez, if you please."
"Some years ago," said Henry, gratified by the delegate's attention and the secretary's poised pencil, "before the League of Nations, so-called——"
"It is the League of Nations," said the delegate, with a little frown.
"To be sure it is," Henry recollected himself. He had merely used "so-called" as a term indicative of contempt, like "sic," forgetting that he was not addressing the readers of the British Bolshevist. "Well, before the League of Nations existed—to be exact, in the year 1919—I had occasion, by chance, to discover some things about this individual. I learnt that his wife was the daughter of an armaments knight, and that he himself had a great deal of money in the business. There was no great harm in this, from his point of view; he never, in those days, professed to be a pacifist, for, though he wielded throughout the war a pen in preference to a sword, he truly believed it to be mightier; he was, in fact, in the Ministry of Information. He was not inconsistent in those days, though he was, I imagine, never easy in his mind about this money he had, and held his shares under his wife's name only. But when the League Secretariat was formed, he was one of the first to receive an appointment on it. It was not generally known where he got his income from, and he found himself in a prominent position on the staff of a League, one of whose objects, if only one among many, is to end war. So there he was, his fortune dependent on the continuation of the very thing he was officially working to suppress. It wasn't to be expected that he should be pleased at the prospect of the disarmament question coming up before the Assembly; or at the prospect of the various disputes going on now in the world being discussed in the Assembly and referred to judicial arbitration. Much better for him if the rumours and threats of war should continue."
"Continue," stated the delegate, "they always will. That, Mr. Beechtree, we may take as certain, in this imperfect world. Yes.... He's an Englishman, I assume, this friend of yours?"
"An Englishman, yes. Intensely an Englishman." Henry paused a moment. "I had better tell you at once; he is Charles Wilbraham."
"Wilbraham!" M. Croza was startled. He felt no love for Wilbraham, who, for his part, felt and showed little for the Latin American republics. M. Croza bitterly remembered various sneers which had been repeated to him.... Besides, it was Wilbraham who had cast suspicion on Paraguay. Further, he had been at Oxford with Wilbraham, and had disliked him there.
"Go on, sir," he said gravely and yet ardently.
"So," said Henry, "Wilbraham hatches a scheme. Or, possibly it is hatched by his father-in-law, Sir John Levis (he's one of the directors of Pottle & Kett's, the great armament firm), and Wilbraham is persuaded to carry it out; it doesn't matter which. Levis has been in Geneva now for some days. He has lain rather low and has not been staying at Wilbraham's house, but I've evidence from his secretary that they have been constantly together. They cast around to find convenient colleagues, unscrupulous enough to do desperate things, and with their own reasons for wishing to nullify the work of the League and to hold up discussion of international affairs while disturbances come to a head."
"Such colleagues," mused M. Croza, "would not be hard to find."
"Whom do they pitch on? There are a number of possibly suitable helpers, and I can't say how many of them are involved. But what I have evidence of is that they brought in the Russian delegate to their councils—Kratzky, who is a byword even among Russians for sticking at nothing. If Kratzky could stave off discussion of European politics and paralyse the Assembly until Russia should be ready and able to pounce on and hold by force the new Russian republics—well, naturally monarchist Russia would be pleased. I have evidence that Wilbraham and Levis have been continually meeting and conferring with Kratzky since the Assembly began. Kratzky, that bloody butcher...."
M. Croza, whose sympathy was all with small republics against major powers, agreed about Kratzky.
"You haven't," he suggested, "notes of what has actually passed between Wilbraham and Kratzky on the subject?"
"I regret that I have not. I could never get near enough.... But I have evidence of continual meetings, continual lunches and conferences. This I have obtained from Wilbraham's secretary. She has to keep his engagements for him. I have obtained possession of the little pocket-book in which she notes them. I have it here. See: 'Saturday, Lunch, Caf du Nord, Kratzky and Sir John. Sunday, Up Salve, with Kratzky. Monday, 8 a.m., Bathe, Kra——' No, that can't be Kratzky; he wouldn't bathe; that must be some one else. And so on, and so on. Now, I ask you, what would one talk about to Kratzky all that time except some iniquitous intrigue? It's all Kratzky knows about. So, you see, when I began to suspect all this, I took to tracking Wilbraham, following him about. It's been, I can tell you, a most tiring job. Wilbraham is such a very tedious man. A most frightful bore. His very voice makes me sick.... But I followed him. I tracked him. All over the shop I tracked him. And last night he trapesed round the town with Levis and Kratzky and a horrid little Calvinist clergyman who must be in it too. I hate Calvinists, don't you?"
"Intolerable persons," agreed the delegate from Paraguay.
"Well, at last they hared down a trap-door in an archway into the bowels of the earth. I saw them into it. After some time I went down too. I couldn't find them, but I found an extraordinary system of tunnelling—a regular catacomb. You get in and out of it all over the town, through trappons, mostly in old houses, I think. I didn't discover where half the tunnels ended. But obviously Wilbraham and his friends know all about it. And that's what they've done with the delegates. Either hidden them somewhere alive down there, or killed them. When Kratzky's in an affair, the people up against him don't, as a rule, come out alive.... I don't know how much the police know about this tunnel business, but they must make a complete investigation, of course."
"Obviously, without delay.... A singular story, Mr. Beechtree; very singular."
"Life is singular," said Henry.
"There you are very right." ... But M. Croza, used to the political life of South American republics, found no stories of plots and intrigues really singular. "You have reason," he added, "to think badly of Mr. Wilbraham, I infer?"
"Grave reasons. I know him for a very ugly character. It is high time he was exposed."
M. Croza thought so too. As has been said, he did not care for Charles Wilbraham. And what a counter-charge to Wilbraham's accusations again the residents at the Hotel des Bergues!
"One of these Catholic converts," he reflectively commented. "I do not like them. To be born a Catholic, that is one thing, and who can help it? After all, it is the true faith. To become a Catholic—that is quite another thing, and seems to us in Paraguay to denote either feebleness of intellect or a dishonest mind. In a man, that is. Women, of course, are different, not having intellect, and being naturally dvotes. So, anyhow, we believe in Paraguay. But perhaps one is unfair."
"It is difficult not to be unfair to these," Henry agreed. "But it is more than difficult, it is impossible, to be unfair to Wilbraham. Nothing we think or say of him can be in excess of the truth. Such is Wilbraham. He always has been.... Now, if you will, sir, I will show you the documents I have with me which corroborate my story."
The delegate beckoned to his secretary.
"Go through Mr. Beechtree's papers, Alvarez. I must be getting to the Assembly. It is past the hour.... At this afternoon's meeting of Committee 9, Mr. Beechtree, I will lay these suggestions of yours before my colleagues, and we will consider what action shall be taken. You will be present. Meanwhile, Alvarez, have orders taken to the police to explore the subterranean passages. Mr. Beechtree, you will be able to direct them to the means of entry, will you not."
"I shouldn't wonder," said Henry, "if they are being explored. Macdermott, from Ulster, and Garth of the Morning Post, were down there last night. I don't know if they ever got out or not, but if they did they'll be doing something about it this morning. They take a different view from mine, I may say. Macdermott suspects Sinn Feiners (Ulster has only one idea, you know), and Garth agrees with him, but adds Bolsheviks and Germans. Neither of them would suspect either Wilbraham or Kratzky without absolute proof. They do not like Wilbraham. No one does. But they are obsessed with their pet ideas."
"To every man his own scapegoat; it's the law of life. Now, Mr. Beechtree, I must leave you. We meet again at three o'clock. Here is a card of entry to the committee meeting. Till then I shall say nothing to any one. I will lay your story before the committee for what it is worth, but I do not, you must remember, commit myself to it. It is merely a basis for inquiry, and the committee shall undoubtedly have the facts before them. But care and discretion are advisable.... Your paper, I think, is not celebrated for its love either for the League of Nations and its Secretariat, or of monarchist Russia, or of armament princes? We must be prepared for the imputation to you of prejudice."
"It would be," Henry admitted, "not unjustified. My paper is prejudiced. So am I. To be prejudiced is the privilege of the thinking human being. After all, we are not animals, to judge everything by its smell and taste as it comes before us, irrespective of preconceived theories. The open mind is the empty mind. The pre-judgment is often the deliberate and considered judgment, based on reason, whereas the post-judgment is a hasty makeshift affair, based on the impressions of the moment. Fortunately, however, the two are apt, in the same mind, to concur——"
"Quite so, quite so." M. Croza, who was in a hurry, nodded affably but decidedly, and Henry, who was apt, in the interests of discussion, to forget himself, left him.
Henry despatched straightway a long message to the British Bolshevist, guarded in language but sinister in implication, and hinting that further developments and more definite revelations were imminent. In the journalists' lobby he encountered Garth, who had also been sending a message.
"Oh, hallo," said Garth, "so you got out all right. So did Macdermott. I had the devil of a time. I tried one exit that didn't work; must have been bolted on the outside, I suppose. Anyhow, I hammered away and nothing happened. Then I struck another avenue and came to another trap which gave after mighty efforts on my part, and I came up into that book-shop which Burnley disappeared into, and which told the police so firmly that he left again in a few minutes. The trap was hidden away under the counter. I didn't stop; I thought it probably wasn't healthy, so I unbolted the front door and crept off home to bed. First thing this morning I put the police on the track, and they're getting busy now asking the bookseller questions and sending gangs to work the catacombs. One thing I've discovered; that book-shop is a meeting-place for Bolshie refugees and German anarchists. They meet in the old chap's back parlour and do their plotting there and send gold to the trade-unions."
"How do you know?" Henry asked, interested.
"Well, it's quite obvious. Too busy to go into the evidence now. I must look in at the Assembly and see what's doing...."
Henry perceived that the correspondent of the Morning Post was actuated, in the matter of Bolshevists, Germans, trade-unions, and gold, rather by a deliberate and considered pre-judgment than by the hasty and makeshift impressions of the moment, or, anyhow, that the two had in his mind concurred. He asked after Macdermott.
"Oh, Macdermott found Sinn Fein plots all over the place. He had a hair-raising time. He went miles and miles, he says, and came up at last against a wall. There was no trap-door: it was merely a cul-de-sac. So he retraced his steps and took a by-path, and emerged finally in a brothel close to the cathedral. Of course, the advantage of a brothel is that it's alive and humming even at dead of night; anyhow it was morning by that time, so he had no difficulty in making himself heard. He couldn't get anything out of the people; they were German Swiss, and pretended to be merely stupid. But they're being sorted by the police this morning."
"And where do the Sinn Feiners come in?"
"Oh, I don't know. They meet there to plot, Macdermott said. Together with Germans. Probably they've a bomb-cache in the tunnels too. He told O'Shane about it, and O'Shane said republicans would never make use of a disorderly house, not even for the best patriotic purposes. He's rather sick that he wasn't on to this catacombs business too; he'd have found Orange plots down there. I left them at it.... What's going on within, Jefferson?"
"That damned little Greek holding forth on the importance of disarming Turkey. We've just had Paraguay on the beauties of a world peace and the peaceful influence of the South American republics."
"Well," said Garth, "I shall go in and hear the Greek. He always makes things hum."
Henry, too, went in and heard the Greek, whose manner of oratory he enjoyed.
Committee 9 met at three o'clock in the spacious and sunny saloon known as Committee Room C. The only portion of the public admitted was the correspondent of the British Bolshevist, who sat behind the President's chair with a portfolio full of papers, looking pale, shabby, and tired, but exalted, like one whose great moment is at hand.
After the minutes of the last meeting had been read, the President rose to address the committee, in French. He had, he said, some fresh and important facts to communicate. A quite new line of inquiry had that day been suggested to him by one who had for some time been secretly pursuing investigations. The facts revealed were so startling, so amazing, that very substantial evidence would be necessary to persuade committee members of their truth. It could at present be only a tentative theory that was set before the committee; but let the committee remember that magna est veritas et prevalebit; that they were there to fulfil a great duty, and not to be deterred by any fears, any reluctances, any personal friendships, any dread of scandal, from seeking to draw out truth from her well. He asked his colleagues to listen while he told them a strange story.
The story, as he told it, gained from his more important presence, his more eloquent and yet more impartial manner, a plausibility which Henry's had lacked. His very air, of one making a painful and tentative revelation, was better than Henry's rather shrill eagerness. Every now and then he paused and waved his hand at Henry sitting behind him, and said, "My friend Mr. Beechtree here has documentary evidence of this, which I will lay before the committee shortly." When, after long working up to it, he gave the suspected member of the Secretariat the name of Wilbraham, it fell on the tense attention of the whole table. Henry, looking up to watch its reception, saw surprise on many faces, incredulity on several, pleasure on more, amusement on a few. He met also the blue eyes of Mr. Macdermott fixed on him with a smile of cynical admiration. Macdermott would doubtless have something to say when the President had done. But what he was now thinking was that the correspondent of the British Bolshevist had more journalistic gifts than one would have given him credit for.
"Where, you may demand of me," proceeded the President, "is M. Wilbraham now? That I cannot tell you. He entered this system of secret passages last night in company with those who are suspected by Mr. Beechtree of being his fellow conspirators, and he has not been seen since. Have they, possibly, escaped, their evil work done? Whither have they gone? Who was that Protestant pastor? What doings, gentlemen, engage the attentions of M. Kratzky of Russia, that enemy of small republics, Sir John Levis of Pottle and Kett, that enemy of peace, a soi-disant Protestant pastor, the presumed enemy of true religion, and M. Wilbraham of the Secretariat? Mind, gentlemen, I impute nothing. I merely inquire."
A murmur of applause broke from the Latin Americans. As it died down, Henry, looking up, saw standing by the door Charles Wilbraham, cool, immaculate, attentive, and unperturbed, and the soi-disant Protestant pastor at his elbow.
Henry allowed himself a smile. Here, then, arrived after all the years of waiting, was the hour. The hour of reckoning; the hour in which he, brought face to face with Charles Wilbraham, should expose him before men for what he was. The hour when Charles Wilbraham should face him, reduced at last to impotent silence, deflated to limp nothingness like a gas balloon, and find no word of defence. Shamed and dishonoured, he would slink away, at long last in the wrong. In the wrong himself, after all these years of putting others there. Truly, Henry's hour had arrived.
The President, too, had seen the new-comers now. He paused in his speaking; he was for a moment at a loss. Then, "Gentlemen, excuse me, but this is a strictly private session," he said clearly across the large room, in his faultless Oxford English.
Charles Wilbraham bowed slightly and advanced.
"Forgive me, sir, but I have a card of admittance. Also for my friend here, Signor Angelo Cristofero."
"Angelo Cristofero"—the name seemed to ripple over a section of the committee like a wind on waters.
"Who is he?" asked Henry, of an Italian Swiss, and the answer came pat.
"The greatest detective at present alive. An Italian, but at home in all countries, all languages, and all disguises. Really a marvellous genius. Nothing balks him."
"We have, you see," continued Wilbraham, in his disagreeable, sneering voice, "some rather important information to communicate to the committee, if you will pardon the interruption. Presently I will ask Signor Cristofero to communicate it. But for the moment might I be allowed to ask for a little personal explanation? Since I entered the room I heard a remark or two relating to myself and various friends of mine which struck me as somewhat strange...."
M. Croza courteously bowed to him, with hostile eyes.
"You have a right to an explanation, sir. As you have entered at what I can but call such a very inopportune moment, you heard what I was saying—words uttered, need I say, in no malicious spirit, but in a sincere and public-spirited desire to discover the truth. I was accusing and do accuse, no one; I was merely laying before the committee information communicated to me this morning by Mr. Henry Beechtree."
"Mr. Henry Beechtree?"
Charles Wilbraham turned on this gentleman the indifferent and contemptuous regard with which one might look at and dismiss some small and irrelevant insect.
"And who, if I may ask, is Mr. Henry Beechtree?"
"The correspondent, sir, of one of the newspapers of your country—the British Bolshevist."
Charles laughed. "Indeed? Hardly, perhaps, an organ which commands much influence. However, by all means let me hear Mr. Beechtree's information. I am, I infer, from what I overheard, engaged in some kind of conspiracy, together with my friends M. Kratzky, Sir John Levis, and this gentleman here. May I know further details, or are they for the private edification of the committee only?"
Charles heavily sarcastic, ponderously ironic—how well Henry remembered it.
"Are we," he went on, "supposed to have spirited away, or even murdered, the missing delegates, may I ask?"
"That," said M. Croza politely, "was Mr. Beechtree's suggestion—only, of course, a suggestion, based on various facts which had come to his knowledge. You can, doubtless, disprove these facts, sir, or account for them in some other way. No one will be more delighted than the committee over which I preside."
"Might I hear these sinister facts?" Charles was getting smoother, more unctuous, more happy, all the time. It was the little curl of his lip, so hateful, so familiar, with which he said these words, which seemed to snap something in Henry's brain. He pushed back his chair and sprang to his feet, breathless and dizzy and hot. He regarded not the cries of "Order," from the chair and the table; order or not, he must speak now to Charles.
"You shall hear them, sir," he said, and his voice rang shrilly up and up to a high and quivering note. "There is one, at least which you will not be able to deny. That is that you have shares, large and numerous, in the armaments firm of Pottle and Kett, of which Sir John Levis, your father-in-law, is chief director."
Charles fixed on him a surprised stare. He put on his pince-nez, the better to look.
"I do not think," he said, in his calm, smooth voice, "that I am called upon to discuss with you the sources of my income. In fact, I'm afraid I don't quite see how you come into this affair at all—er—Mr. Beechtree. But, since your statement has been made in public, perhaps I may inform the committee that it is wholly erroneous. I had once such shares as this—er—gentleman mentioned. It ought to be unnecessary to inform this committee that I sold them all on my appointment to the Secretariat of the League, since to hold them would, I thought, be obviously inconsistent with League principles. If it interests the committee to know, such money that I possess is now mostly in beer. Mr.—er—Beechtree's information, Mr. President, is just a little behind the times. Such a stirring organ as the British Bolshevist should, perhaps, have a more up-to-date correspondent. Will you, Mr. President, request Mr. Beechtree to be seated? I fear I find myself unable to discuss my affairs with—er—him personally."
Charles's eyes, staring at Henry through his pince-nez, became like blue glass. For a moment silence held the room. Henry flushed, paled, wilted, wavered as he stood. Thrusting desperately his monocle into his eye, he strove to return stare for stare. After a moment Charles's high complacent laugh sounded disagreeably. He had made quite sure.
"How do you do, Miss Montana? We haven't, I think, met since January, 1919." He turned to the puzzled committee. "Miss Montana, a former lady secretary of mine in the Ministry of Information, Mr. President. Dismissed by me for incompetence. What she is doing here in this disguise I do not know; that is between her and the newspaper which, so she says, employs her. May Signor Cristofero now be permitted to lay his rather important information before the committee? We waste time, and time is precious at this juncture."
The situation was of an unprecedented unusualness. The President of Committee 9 hardly knew how to deal with it. All eyes gazed at Henry, who said quietly, "That is a damned lie," felt giddy, and sat down, leaning back in his chair and turning paler. The monocle dropped from his eye and hung limply from its ribbon. Henry literally could not, after his tiring night, his exhausting day, the emotional strain of the last hour, stand up to Charles Wilbraham any more. If he could have a dose of sal volatile—a cocktail—anything ... as it was, he wilted, all but crumpled up; all he was able for was to sit, as composed as might be, under a deadly fire of eyes.
The pause was ended by Fergus Macdermott, who heaved largely from his chair and remarked, "I would like to second Mr. Wilbraham's suggestion that we will hear Mr. Cristofero's communication. May I also suggest that the income of Mr. Wilbraham is between himself and his bankers, and the sex of Mr. Beechtree between him and his God, and that both are irrelevant to the business before this committee and need not be discussed." The committee applauded this, though they felt a keen interest in both the irrelevant topics. The President called on Signor Cristofero to address the committee, and beckoned Mr. Wilbraham to a chair.
The little soi-disant pastor stepped forward. He was a spare, small, elderly man, with a white face and gentian-blue eyes and a mouth that could make up as anything. During the last few days it had been a prim and rather smug button. Now it had relaxed in shrewder, wider lines. He showed to Committee 9 the face not of the Calvinist pastor but of the great detective. He spoke the Italian of the Lombardy Alps, the French of Marseilles, the English of New York, the German of Alsace, the Russian of Odessa, the Yiddish of the Roman Ghetto, the Serbian of Dalmatia, the Turkish of the Levant, the Greek of the Dodacenese, and many other of the world's useful tongues. He addressed the committee in French, speaking rapidly and clearly, illustrating his story with those gestures of the hands which in reality (though it is not commonly admitted) make nothing clearer, but are merely a luxury indulged in by speakers, who thus elucidate and emphasise their meaning to themselves and to no one else. However, Signor Cristofero's words were so admirably clear that his confusing gestures did not matter.
He had, so he said, been sent for three weeks ago from New York, where he had been engaged on a piece of work which he had just concluded, by Mr. Charles Wilbraham, who had requested him to come immediately to Geneva and investigate this strange matter of the disappearing delegates. He had not known Mr. Wilbraham, but he had recognised the importance of this matter. He had arrived incognito, assumed the costume in which they now saw him, which is one the least calculated to arouse suspicion in Geneva, and set to work. After careful secret inquiries and investigations, he had found that the suspicions he had had from the outset were confirmed. He had long known of a secret society which was at work to wreck the League of Nations. Its activities were so multifarious, so skilful, so obscure, and often so entirely legitimate, that it was impossible to check them. The society had its agents all over the world, in all countries. Some were paid, others worked out of good will. This society objected to the League partly because it was afraid of the decrease of armaments, and ultimately of wars. Unlikely as this prospect sounded, the society was taking no chances. Among its members were the directors of armament firms, inventors, professional soldiers of high rank, War Office officials, those who hoped to get some advantage for themselves or their countries out of wars, and those who genuinely thought the League a dangerous and foolish thing calculated to upset the peace of the world. Many of its members also objected to the League on all kinds of other grounds, disliking its humanitarian enterprises, its interference with nefarious traffickings, such as those in women, opium, and cocaine. Powerful patent medicine manufacturers were exasperated by its anti-epidemic efforts; many great financiers objected to the way it spent its money; some great powers thought they would be freer in their dealings with smaller powers without it. And so on and so forth. All over the world, in every department of life, there were to be found those who, for one reason or another, rightly or wrongly, reasonably or unreasonably, objected to the League. And so this society had been formed. It collected its agents as it could, and employed them as occasion served. It was considered by the society specially important to prevent the success of this present session of the Assembly, which had a large and varied agenda before it, including the renewed discussion of the reduction of armaments, which was, it was believed, to be pressed with great earnestness by certain delegates, so that some issue could scarcely be evaded. Besides which, the society had come to the conclusion that to make, once, a complete fool of the League Assembly and Council before the world, so that its constitution would be disintegrated and its achievements would be as dust before the wind, would deal the prestige of the League such a heavy blow as permanently to discredit it. To this end, after much cogitation, the society had got hold of a very brilliant and accomplished agent indeed; an agent who cared not what he did nor for what side he fought, so long as he was largely enough paid. To him, to this unscrupulous and able man, the society had said, "Hold up and discredit the coming Assembly somehow. The method we leave to you. You have carte blanche in the matter of money, and you shall be paid an immense sum for success."
"This man," said Signor Cristofero, "undertook the mission. With unparalleled skill, scheming and ingenuity, he decoyed and entrapped member after member of the Assembly, luring each one by some suitable bait to some spot where there was a trap-door giving on to the system of underground passages which runs, as is well known to the authorities, beneath part of Geneva. What the authorities did not know, is the number of trap-door entries to these passages, and where they ultimately lead. I have been exploring them now for some days. Last night I conducted Mr. Wilbraham through them, together with his friends M. Kratzky and Sir John Levis. At a certain point in one of the tunnels one appears to come up against an earth wall; it seems to be a cul-de-sac. I made the discovery that it is not a cul-de-sac. The earth wall is a skilful disguise; it swings back, and the passage continues. It continues, gentlemen, on and on, far outside the city, running beside the lake, till it ends at last in a cellar. What cellar, you demand? Gentlemen, it is the cellar of a chteau two miles up the lake. A large and ancient chteau, inhabited by a former cardinal of the church. He was retired from this office some years ago; he said and says it was for heretical opinions expressed in books. In reality it was less for this (though this too had its influence in the decision of the Church) than for a plethora of wives. The wives without the heresies might have been winked at, for the Church has a wise blind side and knows that its children are but dust; even (though this is less probable) the heresies without the wives might have been ignored; but the combination was excessive. The cardinal had to go. Since then he has been living in this chteau, writing vast and abstruse works on theology and enjoying the loveliness of the scenery, the beauty of his house and garden, the amenities of such witty and scholarly society as he could collect around him, and the companionship of a lady whom he inaccurately calls his niece. His name—gentlemen, many of you know it and him—is Franchi, Dr. Silvio Franchi. Here, indeed, was a sharp tool ready to the hands of our society. They send for him; he accepts the commission; he conceives the ingenious scheme of secretly extending the underground tunnels to his chteau and adding trap-door entries to them in houses and courtyards where he could command the services of the owners, who were generously paid. One by one he lures the delegates into these houses, these alleys. Lord Burnley he decoys with the display of a book of his own, strangely inscribed; that we know. The baits offered to the other gentlemen and ladies we do not yet know fully of, though a few have come to my knowledge. We shall doubtless eventually have the story of each. Anyhow, one after another, and each in his appropriate manner, the delegates disappear underground. They are then conveyed by Dr. Franchi's employees either underground all the way to the chteau or to an exit close to the lake, whence they can be secretly embarked by covered boat. By whatever means, they arrive at the chteau, and are there accommodated in what is known as the Keep Wing, which has the appearance of a large, commodious and many-roomed guest house, but which is as strongly guarded as a prison. They are not ill-treated; they are made comfortable; often they dine in company with Dr. Franchi, who enjoys their society and keeps them well amused. I learnt this yesterday from Dr. Franchi's trusted servant, a scoundrel of a Roumanian Baptist, who was moved at last by the persecution of his co-religionists and relatives in Roumania, touchingly set before him by Mademoiselle the Roumanian delegate, to give the League a chance. After many years' faithful service this ruffian betrayed his master and is assisting me to arrest him. The human heart is truly a strange mixture.
"I have myself, last night, together with the three gentlemen I mentioned, been along the tunnel as far as the chteau cellar. We could not, of course, then enter it, and we returned the way we came. Dr. Franchi does not know that his secret has been discovered. I have arranged to call on him, with a detachment of police, to-day, in order to inform him of it, arrest him, and release the prisoners. That is all I have to tell you, gentlemen."
Murmurs indicative of the utmost interest broke out round the table directly Signor Cristofero stopped speaking. Interest mingled here and there with a little disappointment, for many a cherished theory had to be abandoned or modified. Mr. Macdermott, for instance, had not yet found a place for Sinn Fein in the plot as at present revealed, nor Mr. O'Shane for Ulster. The Lithuanian delegate was, to say the least of it, surprised that the affair was not more largely due to disbanded Polish soldiers of Zeligowski's army, and the delegates of more than one nation found it strange that the Germans appeared to be out of this thing. But, after all, Dr. Franchi had been only the agent; he might be backed by any one in the world, and doubtless was. Also, he must have had many ruffians in his employ to do the executive work. So no doubt really and in the main things were pretty much as each member of the committee had suspected. The members who looked most gratified were the Latin Americans, from whom suspicion was now honourably lifted (though they regretted that Charles Wilbraham was no longer a suspect), and the Serb-Croat-Slovene delegate, who stared at his Italian colleague with a rather malicious smile. Had he not always said that Italians (unless it were Albanians) had done this thing?
The President, after thanking Signor Cristofero much for his highly interesting and important information, asked if any other gentleman would like to say anything. The delegate from Bolivia begged to propose that the committee should accompany Signor Cristofero and the police on the visit to the chteau, as they certainly ought to be present on the occasion. This suggestion was received with universal acclamation, and it was decided that a steamer should take them all up to Monet at six-thirty.
A subdued voice from beside the President's chair inquired whether the press would also be permitted on the expedition. In the excitement, astonishment, and disappointment of Signor Cristofero's story and the prospect of such a stimulating lake trip, the correspondent of the British Bolshevist had temporarily forgotten his (or her, as the case might be) own troubles.
The inquiry focused the attention of the committee again on Mr. Beechtree, that dubious, if irrelevant, problem. A smile ran round the room.
The President said that undoubtedly correspondents would be permitted to accompany the expedition, for reports of the day's discoveries and events must as soon as possible be communicated to the press.
Mr. Beechtree, feeling uncomfortable under the general interest and in the intolerable presence of Mr. Wilbraham, slipped away. He wanted privacy to think, to hide from the fire of eyes. More, he wanted coffee. And perhaps a raspberry ice-cream soda with it. There was one place he knew of.... Dashing down to the Paquis, he just caught a mouette for the Eaux Vives jetty. From there to the ice-cream caf was but a short way. He hurried to it, and soon was enjoying the comfort of coffee, a raspberry ice-cream soda, and meringues. After all, there was always that, however bitter a defeat one might suffer at the hands of life. He also had a cocktail.
He drank, ate, and imbibed through straw, to give himself a little courage and cheerfulness in the black bitterness of defeat. Black bitterness it was, for his long-laid scheme of revenge had toppled, crashing on the top of him, and Charles Wilbraham, eyeing the ruins, hatefully and superciliously smiled, for ever and always in the right....
Charles Wilbraham towered, with his hateful rightness, before Henry's drowsy eyes (how long it was since he had slept!), and he slipped for a moment into a dream, the straw falling from his mouth.
He woke with a start, hastily ate a meringue, called for his bill, and looked at his watch. It was nearly six o'clock. In half an hour the steamer would start for Monet. Well, that at least would be interesting. Henry was all for getting what joy he could out of this uneven life.
He walked across the Jardin Anglais, and saw at the pier the party of pleasure crowding on to a pleasant-looking white steamer called Jean Jacques. Pulling his soft hat over his eyes, Henry slipped in among the throng, and embarked on what might well prove to be his last official lake trip. He felt rather shy, for he had become, though in a minor way, News. Women were News; and women disguised as men were doubly and trebly News (and Henry felt sure that Charles Wilbraham would be believed on this point rather than he, who had said it was a damned lie).
He slipped through the crowd and took up a nonchalant attitude in the bows, smoking cigarettes and looking at the view.
They were a happy and expectant party. The decks hummed with happy and excited talk. All feuds seemed to be healed by the common interest. The committee seemed truly a League of Brothers. This is the value of parties of pleasure. The only people who looked sullen were the group of policemen, for Swiss policemen habitually wear this air.
From group to group, with M. Kratzky at his elbow, moved Charles Wilbraham, complacent, proud, triumphant, like a conjurer who has done a successful trick. "Here is the rabbit, gentlemen," he seemed to be saying. His colleagues on the Secretariat watched him cynically. Wilbraham had put this job through very well, but how bad it had been for him! Emphatically they did not like Wilbraham.
"And the man who really did the trick has forgotten all about it, and is talking to every one in their own language about the affairs of their own countries," as Vaga the Spaniard remarked. He had a peculiar distaste for Charles.
Grattan came up grinning to Henry.
"Hallo, Beechtree. You seem to have provided one of the sensations of the day. I didn't know you had it in you. I'm sorry your sporting effort to upset our friend Wilbraham failed."
"So am I," Henry gloomily returned. "He deserves to be upset. And I'm not even now sure he hadn't a hand in it all.... But of course it's no use saying so. No one will ever believe it of him now that I've mucked it so. They'll believe nothing I say.... Did you hear what he said about me at the committee meeting? I suppose every one has."
"Well, I imagine it's got about more or less. Is it true, by the way?"
"On the contrary, a complete and idiotic lie."
The expressionless detachment of Henry's voice and face moved Grattan to mirth.
"That's all right, then; I'll put it about. You keep on smiling, old bean. No one's going to worry, even if it wasn't a lie, you know."
"Wilbraham will worry. He will, no doubt, take steps to have me excluded from the Press Gallery as a disreputable character. I don't particularly mind. What I do mind is that it isn't Wilbraham who's going to get run in for this business, but poor old Franchi. I like Franchi. He's delightful, however many delegates he's kidnapped."
"Oh, the more the better. A jolly old sportsman. My word, what a brain! Talk of master criminals, ... and to think that I once thought the Assembly scarcely worth coming for. Live and learn. I shall never miss another." He called to Garth, who was passing.
"I say, Garth, Beechtree says he's not a lady and that Wilbraham's a liar. Spread it about, there's a good chap."
Garth nodded. He, like Grattan, believed Wilbraham on this point and not Henry, but it was more comfortable to take Henry at his own valuation. After all, if the chap was a woman, whose concern was it but his own? Rather a caddish trick on Wilbraham's part to have publicly accused him. Though, to be sure, he had just been by him publicly accused, so perhaps they were quits. But, poor girl (if she was a girl), she must be feeling up a tree now. She seemed a nice enough person, too; a bit of a fool, of course, but then any one who'd write for the British Bolshevist, that pestilential rag, would need to be either a fool or a knave, or both.
So, on the whole, Henry was not acutely uncomfortable among his colleagues of the press.
Once Wilbraham passed close to him talking to the second British delegate, and fixed him with a glassy stare. Henry, refusing to be embarrassed, put up his monocle and stared back, as if surprised at the ill-breeding of this person.
So they came to the Monet pier, as the village church clock chimed seven.
The scheme of action had been carefully planned and organised by Signor Cristofero, with the help of the perfidious Roumanian Baptist at the chteau, who now, terrified at his own treachery, only longed for his master to be removed from the scene. The ex-cardinal, this Baptist had said, meant to dine that night, as he often did when he had not company, with his prisoners in the Keep Wing. He would be there when the detective, the police, the committee, and the press arrived at the chteau, and the party would be conducted there at once, to surprise the host and his guests at meat.
The delegate from Costa Rica had asked the detective if they should all bring weapons, but Signor Cristofero had said no.
"Quite unnecessary. Franchi does not go armed. He does not go in for bloodshed, except for some necessary purpose. When he sees he is trapped, he will throw down his hand with resignation. After all, the penalty for the abduction without injury, even of many delegates, is not very heavy. A term of imprisonment, then he will be free again. He intended, of course, to make his escape from the neighbourhood when he released his prisoners, and so be beyond reach of capture when the truth came out. He will be mortified at the failure of his plan—in so far as it has failed—but for himself he will not very greatly care. I know Dr. Franchi of old."
So revolvers were only taken by delegates and journalists of those nations which regard these weapons as a natural part of the human equipment for facing society.
As they trailed up from the Monet pier through the village, the party had the innocuous, cheerful, plebeian, only-man-is-vile air of all large parties of pleasure in beautiful country.
They approached the chteau by its public drive, which turned off the road beyond the village. Signor Cristofero knocked on the front door, which was opened by a villainous looking young man whom the party presumed to be the repentant Roumanian Baptist, and whom Signor Cristofero addressed fluently in a tongue even stranger than are most tongues. The young man replied in the same.
"Dr. Franchi is in the Keep Wing, dining with the delegates," Signor Cristofero informed his companions. "This man will conduct us there and admit us. He has the pass keys."
The party, led by the scowling Baptist, trooped into the chteau like a party of eager tourists ciceroned by a sulky guide.
They passed through the hall, through the company of dogs who seemed to like everybody except Henry and the delegate from Haiti, and thence along a sunny, airy corridor which led up to a nail-studded, triple-locked oak door, behind an ecclesiastical leather curtain. The Roumanian produced three keys, unlocked the door, and led the way along a further passage, this time only lighted by high, small windows. Here began the Keep Wing. At the farther end of this corridor was another oak door, this time only once locked. From beyond it came the sound of cheerful voices raised in talk and laughter. The Roumanian hung back. He obviously did not desire to lead the way any farther. After a short, low-toned conversation with Signor Cristofero, he went back through the triple-locked door.
"He fears his master," the detective remarked, with a shrug. "He is going to make his escape from the chteau, lest the other servants execute vengeance on him. No matter. We are now arrived."
Having with a gesture summoned round him the police, he opened the door and led the way into the room beyond.
It was a large refectory, with a long table down the middle. At the near end of it sat Dr. Franchi, with lifted glass; down the sides were ranged the lost delegates. One of them—perhaps Lord Burnley, who sat on his host's right—seemed to have been telling an amusing story, for all at the near end of the table were laughing. Or rather, nearly all: for, resolute in its gravity, its air of protest, the face of Lord John Lester, the mainstay of the League, was bent sadly over a dish of salted almonds.
The ex-cardinal had barely time to look round at the noise of entry before three policemen seized him firmly and snapped handcuffs on his wrists.
It was a scene the like of which, it is safe to say, had never before been seen among all the strange scenes which had been enacted along the shores of that most lovely lake. A strange scene, and a strange company.
The faces of some thirty delegates, interrupted in their meal, were turned, with varying expressions, upon the new-comers. Lord John Lester sprang to his feet, with an impatient cry of "At last!" which was, however, drowned by the ecstatic croon of Mademoiselle the delegate for Roumania, "Ah! mon Dieu! Nous sommes sauvs! Un jour de plus, et nous serions deportes," and a loud cry from Miss Gina Longfellow, who sprang from her seat at the other end of the table.
"Dio mio! We sure are copped!"
"Arrest the lady also, as an accomplice," remarked Signor Cristofero quietly.
Dr. Franchi suddenly began to struggle violently, thus engaging the attention of the police. As suddenly, he ceased to struggle, and said calmly, "Ebbene. E scappata," and it was apparent that Miss Longfellow had vanished.
"You will not find her now," said her uncle. "She knows where to hide. Besides, what has she done, the innocent?"
"The passages are guarded," Signor Cristofero remarked.
"Not, I think, my dear Angelo," said Dr. Franchi, looking at him for the first time, "the passage she will take.... So, Angelo, this is your work. I might have guessed. Gentlemen, my only and distinguished brother."
With a bow he introduced Signor Cristofero to his guests.
The detective smiled grimly at him, and addressed him in the Italian of the Lombardy Alps.
"This point is mine, I think, Silvio. It is a long war between us, in which you often score, but this point is mine."
"I grant it you, my dear Angelo, without rancour. Your abilities have always been so near the level of my own that I can take defeat at your hands without mortification. You will at least pay me the tribute of acknowledging the ingenuity and partial success of my scheme."
"That tribute I always pay you, Silvio. But, as has occasionally happened before, your ingenuity broke down at one point. You yielded to a whimsical impulse, and sent to the officials of the League a certain telegram couched in the words of the English version of a Hebrew psalm. When I heard this, I, remembering your addiction to the English translation of the psalms, identified you at once.... But this is no time for conversation. Later, a statement will be demanded of you. At present my business is to deliver you over to the law, and to give these gentlemen their liberty."
"You will find no difficulty in either, my dear brother.... This, then, gentlemen and ladies, is good-bye. I must apologise for any inconvenience that may have been caused by your detention, either to yourselves or to the society which you represent, and I must thank you for the great pleasure you have afforded me by your company. I think that, at least, you will be able to report that you have suffered no great discomforts while my guests."
"We have been most excellently entertained," Lord Burnley replied, and a murmur of assent ran round the table.
The Albanian Bishop rose to his feet, lifting his glass.
"Your health, sir," he said, and the other delegates drank the toast. (All except Lord John Lester, who impatiently muttered "Pshaw!")
"Indeed," said Mlle. Binesco, "Dr. Franchi has been more than kind. Another few days, and we might have fallen into the hands of the iniquitous traffickers behind him and been deported overseas—but he personally has been most good to us. All we could want...."
Fergus Macdermott had pushed to the front of the interested onlookers.
"I'd like to ask you one question, sir. Why didn't your people finish the job they began on myself—if it was your people, and not, as I suspect, some Sinn Fein scoundrels?"
The ex-cardinal gave his kindly smile.
"It was certainly my people, Mr. Macdermott. But, in attacking you, they made a mistake. When they perceived who you were, they desisted. They had, you see, orders not to remove certain delegates, of whom you and your colleague from South Ireland were two, from the scene. It was considered that the Irish delegates would serve the cause I have the honour to represent better by their presence at the Assembly than by their absence from it."
"Enough talk," Signor Cristofero put in. "It is time we went."
"Brief and to the point as ever, dear brother. Good-bye, then, gentlemen and ladies. I regret, Lord Burnley, not to have had time in which to finish the interesting conversation we began last night on the subject of my present book. It will have to keep for happier days. Meanwhile, I hope to have a quiet little time in which to meditate on and complete the book."
As he passed Henry Beechtree on his way to the door, he stopped.
"Ah, my dear young man. Luck did not favour our little plan, did it?"
"That person," said the disagreeable voice of Charles Wilbraham, "is, if I may be allowed to mention it, a young woman, Dr. Franchi."
The ex-cardinal turned to him a cold face.
"I have known that, Mr. Wilbraham, a good deal longer than you have." He smiled sweetly at Henry.
"Yes, my young friend. There was an incident, you may recollect, of a goldfish.... I have several—er—nephews and nieces—and have watched them grow up. Never yet have I seen the boys disturbed by such episodes. Masculine nerves are, as a rule, more robust. You should remember this in future.... You will pardon my having noticed the incident. I would never have referred to it had not the subject been raised. Some day you shall dine with me again, if you will.... But my good brother grows impatient. Good-bye again, my friends. A rivederci."
He was led away. He would be taken to Geneva in a police launch, with the detective, the police, and the arrested servants. The delegates and press were to follow in the steamer.
The return journey of the rescuers and the rescued was a happy one indeed. If fraternity had prevailed on the outward voyage, now far more were all (or most) hearts knit together. What happy greetings were exchanged, what stories related, what mysteries made clear! The happy press were told the tale of each captured delegate; they learnt of the pursuit after vice of the two public-spirited ladies, and their consequent entrapment, of the decoy of Lord John Lester through his devotion to the Union of the League, of how Professor Inglis had been betrayed through his pity for the poor Greek woman, of how Dr. Chang, leaving the Bergues hotel at midnight, had taken a walk through the Saint Gervais quarter, and been led by the smell of opium to investigate a mysterious opium den whose floor had failed beneath his feet and dropped him into an underground passage, along which he had been conducted to an exit close to the Seujet Wharf, hustled into a covered boat, and carried up the lake. Many such strange tales the released captives told, and the journalists took down breathlessly on their writing-pads. Geneva, one perceived, must be full of the paid agents of the ex-cardinal and the society which employed him. Not that Dr. Franchi had told his captives anything of this society; he had merely said that he was anxious for good company, and had therefore taken the liberty of capturing the pick of the eminent persons present at Geneva and entertaining them as his guests.
"If you knew, gentlemen," he had said, "how one wearies for a little intelligence, a little wit, a little bonhomie, in this dour country!"
Naturally, they had not believed him, but some of them had been, all the same, a little flattered at their own selection.
They had had, it seemed, a delightful time. Books, newspapers, delicate food and wines, games, conversation, everything except liberty, had been provided for their delectation.
"One can't help, in some ways, being even a little sorry it is at an end," Lord Burnley murmured, as he watched the lights of the chteau recede, and thought of the dusty days of labour which were to follow.
"If only it's not too late—if only irretrievable damage has not been done," muttered Lord John Lester, frowning at the same lights, thinking of the vast agenda for the session, and of the growling nations of the world.
"I think," the voice of Charles Wilbraham came, high and conceited, to Henry Beechtree as he lurked disgraced in a corner and listened and watched, "I think we may say we have put a spoke in the wheel of these scoundrels this time. Yes; I think we may say that...."
Henry that night packed his things. He was leaving next day. He was not going to wait to be dismissed by his paper. He knew that, if he did not go, he would with ignominy be removed.
So he packed, in his small hot room after dinner, with the cats and dogs uttering their cries in the courtyard below, and beyond them the small whispering cry of water beating and shuffling against the wharf.
His adventure was over. In fact, Henry must now be called Miss Montana, for such was, in truth, her name, and such, as Charles Wilbraham had truly said, her sex.
How superciliously had he said it, how superciliously staring her down the while. As, long ago, he had superciliously stared her down when he had said to his secretary, "This cannot go on, Miss Montana. I must make another arrangement. Particularly in view of Paris...."
Particularly in view of Paris. Ah, yes, that was the sting. Who would have wanted to go on being Charles Wilbraham's secretary but for Paris? For to that heaven of secretaries, the Paris Peace Conference, Charles had been called, and was going that month, January, 1919. She had been going with him. What delight! What a world of joy had opened before her when she heard it! What a peace! It would make up for all the weary years of war, all the desolating months of servitude to Charles Wilbraham. And now, within a fortnight of starting, Charles said he must make another arrangement. For his secretary had shown gross carelessness, hopeless incompetence: she had done a frightful thing. She had put a Foreign Office letter into an envelope addressed to the Archbishop of Westminster, and vice versa, and so despatched them. It was the climax, so Charles told her, of a long series of misdeeds. Also, she was slow on the typewriter, spelt Parliament with a small p, and used the eraser too frequently, and you could, said Charles, see the smudge made by that a mile off. So—in fine, Charles must make another arrangement and must in fact, in point of fact, he unctuously told her, ask her forthwith to take a minute to the establishment, bidding them obtain for him another secretary. The bitterness of that moment swept back to Henry now across the years. She remembered how, wordless, sullen, and fighting that dizziness that attacked her in moments of stress, she had stood before him, loathing his smooth voice, his lofty choice of words, his whole arrogant, pompous presence. Then he had dictated the minute.
"From Mr. Wilbraham.
"To the Establishment Branch.
"I find I have to make other arrangements about a secretary. I shall be glad if you will transfer Miss Montana to other work, and send some one to me more thoroughly efficient. It would be well if I could have a selection up for interview and make a choice, preferably after a preliminary trial. The work will be responsible, as I am going out to the Peace Conference in a fortnight.
"Kindly see," Charles had ordered her, "that that is typed and goes down immediately. I shall be glad to have it for initialing in not more than five minutes from now."
That had been the way Charles had always addressed his secretaries; Charles was like that. Courtesy to a subordinate was, in his view, wholly wasted. He kept all he had of it for his superiors. "The only really rude man in the Ministry," Henry had heard him called by the typists, and typists always know.
Miss Montana had been subsequently transferred to the Establishment Branch, where she had spent her time typing chits about other people's salaries and appointments. Finally, when the staff was reduced, she was the first to be dismissed. She had never been to Paris; never seen the Peace Conference. Charles, with first one bullied secretary, now another, had moved on his triumphant way from conference to conference, a tour unbroken by his appointment to the staff of the League of Nations Secretariat. Miss Montana had never been to a conference in her life.
In her loafing, idle and poor, about London, with her idle and poor brother and her Irish journalist lover, bitterness had grown more bitter. No money, no prospects, no career. Only chance bits of freelance journalism, not enough to pay the rent of decent rooms. She had vowed to be revenged on Charles, but no way presented itself. She had prayed God to send her to some bright continental place with a sunny climate and if possible with some sort of conference going on, but no ladder thereto reared itself for her climbing. Her lover, a young man from Dublin, who wrote for, among other papers, the British Bolshevist, went out to represent this journal at the League Assembly at Geneva one year. He fell foul there of Charles Wilbraham, who objected to his messages, which, indeed, were not in the best of taste; but, as he said, if you write for vulgar papers you must send vulgar messages sometimes or they won't print you. Charles had him boycotted from public dinners, and otherwise annoyed. Hearing of it, Miss Montana consecrated afresh her vow to be revenged on Charles. The next year this journalist was to have gone to Geneva again, but instead he encountered an Orange bullet while reporting a riot in Belfast on August 15th, and was still laid up with the effects at the beginning of September. Then Miss Montana had conceived her brilliant idea. She would take his place. She would get back on Charles. She would disguise herself so that he would not know her if they met, and somehow she would be avenged. Incidentally, she would have a conference, in a bright continental climate, and earn some money.
Eventually she had persuaded the young man to write to the Bolshevist telling them that he had a journalist friend already in Geneva, one Henry Beechtree, who might safely be entrusted with the not onerous job of reporting the proceedings of the Assembly for them. The Bolshevist did not really much care who did this job, or how it was done, so they accepted the services of this Mr. Beechtree.
Thus, for Miss Montana, opened out at once an entertaining adventure, a temporary and scanty means of livelihood, and a chance of revenge. Surely now, knowing what she knew of Charles (for she had worked hard to collect injurious facts), she could somehow bring him to indignity and disgrace. How she had worked for this end! How patiently she had schemed, waited, watched, prayed, made friends with a dull girl, followed Charles about.... Let him wait, she had said; only let Charles wait. And now had come her hour, and it had, after all, turned on her and proved to be, as always, the hour not of herself, but of Charles. Charles was in the right; she was in the wrong. Charles (she might have known it) had done nothing so unseemly as to retain armament shares while entering the staff of the League; Charles had transferred his money to beer. Charles had not conspired against the League. Rather had Charles conceived the clever idea of engaging a famous detective to solve the mystery, and triumphantly he had had it solved. Charles emerged from this business, as always from every business, with credit; Charles was triumphantly in the right.
It came to Miss Montana afresh, what she had really always known, that the Charleses of this world always are in the right. You cannot put them in the wrong. They put you in the wrong, for ever and ever. They may be all wrong, within and without, but they cannot be in the wrong. The wrong is in them, not they in it. However false, selfish, complacent, arrogant, and abominable a life Charles might have led, one would know that at the Judgment Day he would somehow be in the right.... Right with God, Charles would be, and contemptuously and without surprise he would watch his neighbours' condemnation. Had he not joined the True Church to make sure of this ultimate rightness, and because it was fashionable just now? Much Charles cared for religion! If Catholics were once more to be persecuted instead of admired, how soon would Charles leave them! Yes, Charles would always be in the right with the best people....
The heart and soul of Miss Montana went out passionately across land and sea to her wild journalist lover in Dublin, that poor and reckless failure, with whom nothing went right, who had scarcely a shilling to his name nor an ounce of health in his body. He was more than all the Charles Wilbrahams of the world together; infinitely more brilliant, more valuable, more alive; but never did he succeed, for life was not on his side. And now he would lose his job on the British Bolshevist (not that that mattered much), and be further discredited, for perpetrating this fraud which had been so unfortunately exposed. He would go under, deeper and deeper under, and so would she. The underworld, that vague and fearful place, would receive them. His generous and trusting love for her had joined with his love of a joke to sink him. Together they would sink, and over their bodies Charles Wilbraham would climb, as on stepping-stones, to higher things. Higher and higher, plumping with prosperity like a filbert in the sun, while his eyes dropped fatness, and his corn and wine and oil increased....
Thus bitterly mused Miss Montana, sitting in her grimy room by her shabby gladstone bag, throwing therein her pyjamas, her socks, her collars, her safety razor, her passport (the passport was about Denis O'Neill, but it had served Henry Beechtree well enough; there is one advantage about passports: the nonsensical story on them is seldom read, nor the foolish portrait glanced at).
To-morrow she would walk once more about the romantic, clean, and noble city, look her last on the most lovely lake, visit the ice-cream caf and perhaps go up Salve, which she had not yet had time to do. Or up the lake to Nyons. She would not visit the Assembly Hall or the Secretariat, for by those she encountered there she would be looked at askance. She had made a fool of herself and been made a fool of, and she had, it would be supposed, tried to make a fool of Committee 9 in order to spite Charles Wilbraham. She would be thought no gentleman, even no lady. And yet, did they but know it, she had accused Charles in good faith, though with such rancour as they would be amazed to know of, such rancour as Serb-Croat-Slovenes scarce feel against Albanians, or Bolsheviks against Bourgeoisie.
Miss Montana, past laughter, past tears, past sleep, and even now past hate, considered for a while where comfort could best be sought, then crept down the crazy winding staircase of her lodgings and so to the lake's edge. She would take a boat and have a last moonlight row.
The September days went by, and once again, on the shores of that most lovely lake, the nations assembled and talked.
* * * * *
GLASGOW: W. COLLINS SONS AND CO. LTD.
Messrs. COLLINS will always be glad to send their book lists regularly to readers who will send name and address.
This is the story of Ivor Pelham Marlay between the ages of 18 and 32, and the period is London, 1910-1922. It is the history of England, two loves, and an ideal. Mr. Arlen deals with all the types of London Society, and he likes to bring out the queer and unexpected sides of his characters. No one who read Mr. Arlen's first book, A London Venture, or his delightful short stories, A Romantic Lady, needs to be told that he writes wittily and well.
TYLER OF BARNET
Author of Old England
This long, powerful novel shows the dilemma of a middle-aged man with an invalid wife and grown-up children, who falls passionately in love for the first time. As he is a man of iron self-control he represses his passion till it bursts all bounds, with a tragic result. No one now writing knows so well or describes so vividly life in the English countryside as does Bernard Gilbert.
THE PIT-PROP SYNDICATE
Freeman Wills Crofts
Another brilliantly ingenious detective story by the author of The Ponson Case. The mystery of the real business of the syndicate utterly baffled the clever young "amateurs" who tried to solve it, and it took all the experience and perseverance of the "professionals" to break up the dangerous and murderous gang.
THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
F. Scott Fitzgerald
This book has caused an even greater sensation in America than This Side of Paradise. It is a long, searching, and absolutely convincing study of degeneration, that degeneration which ruins so many of the rich, young, idle people. The "smart set" of New York is hurled into the limelight and mercilessly revealed. A witty, pungent, and entirely original book.
This is the tale of a boy's last terms at a public school, a very sensitive, unusual boy, and it is in a sense a sequel to The Beautiful Years. It is the work of a very clever young writer whose nature essays have attracted the widest attention here and in America, and is utterly unlike the usual "school story." It is a subtle and beautifully written study of character.
Mrs. Henry Dudeney
A charmingly told novel of Sussex. The theme is Motherhood, and all the emotional subtleties of the desire for children.
PENDER AMONG THE RESIDENTS
This is an episode in the life of Rex Pender, who inherited and came to live at Ballycastle. It is the story of the curious spiritual experience which came to him there. It is in a sense a "ghost story," but it is told by an artist and a stylist. "The Residents," moreover, are admirably contrasted, and in some cases deliciously humorously drawn. A charming, enigmatic, "different" book.
THE DEAVES AFFAIR
This is a story of Evan Weir's wooing, and a very strenuous and original pursuit it proved. In fact the lady of his choice so far dissembled her love, as frequently to threaten his further existence. At the time, Evan was acting as secretary to old Simeon Deaves, famed as the possessor of the "tightest wad" in New York.
Now certain individuals had designs upon old Simeon and his hoard, and amongst them was the forcible and beautiful object of Evan's affections.
Like The Owl Taxi, it goes with a splendid snap, and is packed with exciting and humorous incidents.
The author calls this an "old-fashioned story." It does not concern itself with sex or any other problems, but is just a lively, well-told life of a very fascinating heroine who has plenty of adventures sentimental and otherwise.
Collins' 'First Novel' Library
This charming chronicle has no "plot." It is an attempt to present a happy, witty, simple-minded woman who attracted love because she gave it out. This is a very difficult type of book to write. The attention of the reader must be aroused and held by the sheer merit of the writing, and the publishers believe they have found in Catherine Cotton a writer with just the right gifts of wit, sympathy, and understanding.
H. M. Anderson
This is the story of a Cardinal of Rome, a member of one of the great noble families. In his youth something had happened which had thrown a shadow over his life. There are three great crises in his life, one of them due to this shadow, one to the contrast between his conscience and his ambition, and the third when, an exile in England, he falls in love. Miss Anderson shows much skill in drawing the character of this great and tragic figure.
[Transcriber's Notes and Amendments:
In addition to the listed inconsistencies in hyphenation or spelling, nationalities in general are inconsistently hyphenated and were left as printed.
Hotel / Htel lake-side / lakeside world-platform / world platform Costa Rica / Costa-Rica Spanish American / Spanish-American(s) deputy-President / Deputy President / Deputy-President bookshop / book-shop / book shop motor launch / motor-launch gold-fish / goldfish Zeligowski / Zeligowsky Jugo-Slav / Yugo-Slav master criminals / master-criminals
The following is a list of corrections made to the original.
Ch. 4, p. 29, 'tlgramme l' to 'tlgramme-l'. ("Ce tlgramme-l, celui qui dit 'j'ai travers par l,)
Ch. 9, p. 44, added close double quote after 'ten-thirty'. (ten-thirty.")
Ch. 11, p. 56, 'If' to 'if'. ("if we're both going out to)
Ch. 11, p. 56, 'Wembly' to 'Wembley'. (Miss Doris Wembley looked at Beechtree)
Ch. 14, p. 65, added close double quote after 'everything'. (scarf—that is everything.")
Ch. 15, p. 75, added period after 'moment'. (moment. He was not fit)
Ch. 15, p. 78, 'Beech-tree' to 'Beechtree'. ("You don't drink this toast, Mr. Beechtree?")
Ch. 17, p. 94, changed nested double quotes to single quotes. ('those damned Red Indians.')
Ch. 22, p. 118, changed 'hwy' to 'why'. ("And why not?" inquired the Belfast voice)
Ch. 22, p. 121, added open double quote before 'There'. ("There were always elements of)
Ch. 23, p. 124, added close single quote after 'live!'. (would live!' Now, do I ask too much)
Ch. 23, p. 124, added open double quote before 'is'. (she added as she rose, "is)
Ch. 35, p. 168, changed 'news' to 'News'. (For men are not News.)
Ch. 39, p. 199, changed double quote to single quote. (Monday, 8 a.m., Bathe, Kra——')
Ch. 42, p. 214, added period after 'Mr'. ("And who, if I may ask, is Mr. Henry Beechtree?")
Ch. 43, p. 225, removed extra 'you' in 'you many of you'. (many of you know it and him)
Ch. 45, p. 231, changed 'Jaques' to 'Jacques'. (Jacques_. Pulling his soft hat over his eyes)
Ch. 46, p. 234, changed 'if' to 'it'. (What I do mind is that it isn't Wilbraham)
The following Italian errors have been retained:
Ch. 15, p. 78, retained 'Nel zuppo'. (In the soup, sure thing. Nel zuppo!)
Ch. 17, p. 97, retained 'chretiani'. (non son chretiani loro!")
Ch. 38, p. 187, retained 'Voul'. ("Voul scendere, forse?") ]