They cursed him lavishly; the Signor raved in a hot frenzy; but they dared not lose him. The dog led them at an easy pace and they labored after him furiously, while a great pale moon mounted in the sky and the soft night deepened over the fields.
He let them down at last at an end of grass where a few of last year's straw ricks afforded lodging for the night. Both the men were tired enough to be glad of the respite and they sank down in the shadow of a rick with little talk.
"It gets me," Trotter said. "The dog's a danger. 'E ought to be drownded."
The Signor snarled. "An' us?" he demanded. "We go to work, eh? You pick da grass-a to make-a da hay and me I drive-a da cart, eh? Oh, Trottair, you fool!"
"'Ere, let's 'ave some grub and stow the jaw for a bit," said Trotter.
He had bread and meat, bought in a hurry at the tail of the village while Bill receded down the road.
As soon as he laid it bare, Bill growled.
"T'row heem some, queeck," cried the Signor.
Bill caught the loaf and settled down to it with an appetite. Trotter stared at him with a gape.
"Well, blow me!" he said. "'Ave we come to feedin' the bloomin' dog before we feeds ourselves? 'As the beggar struck for that? I s'pose 'e'll be wantin' wages next."
"Oh, shutta da gab!" snapped the Signor.
"That's all very well," retorted Trotter. "But I'm an Englishman, I am. You're only a furriner; you're used to bein' put upon. But I'm—."
Bill growled again and rose to his feet. Trotter tossed him a piece of meat.
All that was long ago. Now if you stray through the South of England during the months between May and October, you may yet meet Bill and his companions. Trotter still wears tights, but he is thinner and much more wholesome to see; but the Signor has added a kind of shiny servility to his courtly Italian manner.
Bill is sleek and fat.
And now, when they come to rest at noonday, you will see, if you watch them, that before Trotter takes his boots off he feeds the dog. And the Signor fetches him water.
Beyond the arcaded side-walks, whose square-pillared arches stand before the house-fronts like cloisters, the streets of Thun were channels 'of standing sunlight, radiating heat from every cobblestone. Herr Haase, black-coated and white-waistcoated as for a festival, his large blond face damp and distressful, came panting into the hotel with the manner of an exhausted swimmer climbing ashore. In one tightly-gloved hand he bore a large and bulging linen envelope.
"Pfui!" He puffed, and tucked the envelope under one arm in order to take off his green felt hat and mop himself. "Aber what a heat, what a heat!"
The brass-buttoned hotel porter, a-sprawl in a wicker chair in the hall, lowered his newspaper and looked up over his silver spectacles. He was comfortably unbuttoned here and there, and had omitted to shave that morning, for this was July, 1916, and since the war had turned Switzerland's tourists into Europe's cannon-fodder, he had run somewhat to seed.
"Yes, it is warm," he agreed, without interest, and yawned. "You have come to see" he jerked his head towards the white staircase and its strip of red carpet "to see him not? He is up there. But what do you think of the news this morning?"
Herr Haase was running, his handkerchief round the inside of his collar. "To see him! I have come to see the Herr Baron von Steinlach," he retorted, crossly. "And what news are you talking about now?" He continued to pant and wipe while the porter read from his copy of the Bund, the German official communique of the previous day's fighting on the Somme.
"I don't like it," said the porter, when he had finished. "It looks as if we were losing ground. Those English."
Herr Haase pocketed his handkerchief and took the large envelope in his hand again. He was a bulky, middle-aged man, one of whose professional qualifications it was that he looked and sounded commonplace, the type of citizen who is the patron of beer-gardens, wars of aggression, and the easily remembered catchwords which are the whole political creed of his kind. His appearance was the bushel under which his secret light burned profitably; it had indicated him for his employment as a naturalized citizen of Switzerland and the tenant of the pretty villa on the hill above Thun, whence he drove his discreet and complicated traffic in those intangible wares whose market is the Foreign Office in Berlin.
He interrupted curtly. "Don't talk to me about the English!" he puffed. "Gott strafe England!" He stopped. The porter was paid by the same hand as himself. The hall was empty save for themselves, and there was no need to waste good acting on a mere stage-hand in the piece.
"The English," he said, "are going to have a surprise."
"Eh?" The slovenly man in the chair gaped up at him stupidly. Herr Haase added to his words the emphasis of a nod and walked on to the stairs.
In the corridor above, a row of white-painted bedroom doors had each its number. Beside one of them a tall young man was sunk spinelessly in a chair, relaxed to the still warmth of the day. He made to rise as Herr Haase approached, swelling for an instant to a drilled and soldierly stature, but, recognizing him, sank back again.
"He's in there," he said languidly. "Knock for yourself."
"Schlapschwanz!" remarked Herr Haase indignantly, and rapped upon the door. A voice within answered indistinctly. Herr Haase, removing his hat, opened the door and entered.
The room was a large one, an hotel bedroom converted into a sitting-room, with tall French windows opening to a little veranda, and a view across the lime-trees of the garden to the blinding silver of the lake of Thun and the eternal snow-fields of the Bernese Oberland. Beside the window and before a little spindle-legged writing-table a man sat. He turned his head as Herr Haase entered.
"Ach, der gute Haase," he exclaimed.
Herr Haase brought his patent leather heels together with a click and bowed like a T-square.
"Excellenz!" he said, in a strange, loud voice, rather like a man in a trance. "Your Excellency's papers, received by the train arriving from Bern at eleven-thirty-five."
The other smiled, raising to him a pink and elderly face, with a clipped white moustache and heavy tufted brows under which the faint blue eyes were steady and ironic. He was a large man, great in the frame and massive; his movements had a sure, unhurried deliberation; and authority, the custom and habit of power, clad him like a garment. Years and the moving forces of life had polished him as running water polishes a stone. The Baron von Steinlach showed to Herr Haase a countenance supple as a hand and formidable as a fist.
"Thank you, my good Haase," he said, in his strong deliberate German. "You look hot. This sun, eh? Poor fellow!"
But he did not bid him sit down. Instead, he turned to the linen envelope, opened it, and shook out upon the table its freight of lesser envelopes, typed papers, and newspaper-clippings. Deliberately, but yet with a certain discrimination and efficiency, he began to read them. Herr Haase, whose new patent leather boots felt red-hot to his feet, whose shirt was sticking to his back, whose collar was melting, watched him expressionlessly.
"There is a cloud of dust coming along the lake road," said the Baron presently, glancing through the window. "That should be Captain von Wetten in his automobile. We will see what he has to tell us, Haase."
"At your orders, Excellency," deferred Herr Haase.
"Because" he touched one of the papers before him "this news, Haase, is not good. It is not good. And this discovery here, if it be all that is claimed for it, should work miracles."
He glanced up at Herr Haase and smiled again. "Not that I think miracles can ever be worked by machinery," he added.
It was ten minutes after this that the column of dust on the lake road delivered its core and cause in the shape of a tall man, who knocked once at the door and strode in without waiting for an answer.
"Ah, my dear Von Wetten," said the Baron pleasantly. "It is hot, eh?"
"An oven," replied Von Wetten curtly. "This place is an oven. And the dust, ach!"
The elder man made a gesture of sympathy. "Poor fellow!" he said. "Sit down; sit down. Haase, that chair!"
And Herr Haase, who controlled a hundred and twelve subordinates, who was a Swiss citizen and a trusted secret agent, brought the chair and placed it civilly, neither expecting nor receiving thanks.
The new-comer was perhaps twenty-eight years of age, tall, large in the chest and little in the loins, with a narrow, neatly-chiseled face which fell naturally to a chill and glassy composure. "Officer" was written on him as clear as a brand; his very quiet clothes sat on his drilled and ingrained formality of posture and bearing as noticeably as a mask and domino; he needed a uniform to make him inconspicuous. He picked up his dangling monocle, screwed it into his eye, and sat back.
"And now?" inquired the Baron agreeably, "and now, my dear Von Wetten, what have you to tell us?"
"Well, Excellenz" Captain von Wetten hesitated. "As a matter of fact, I've arranged for you to see the thing yourself this afternoon."
The Baron said nothing merely waited, large and still against the light of the window which shone on the faces of the other two.
Captain von Wetten shifted in his chair awkwardly. "At five, Excellenz," he added; "it'll be cooler then. You see, Herr Baron, it's not the matter of the machine I've seen that all right; it's the man."
"So!" The explanation, which explained nothing to Herr Haase, seemed to satisfy the Baron. "The man, eh? But you say you have seen the machine. It works?"
"It worked all right this morning," replied Von Wetten. "I took my own explosives with me, as you know some French and English rifle-cartridges and an assortment of samples from gun charges and marine mines. I planted some in the garden; the place was all pitted already with little craters from his experiments; and some, especially the mine stuff, I threw into the lake. The garden's on the edge of the lake, you know. Well, he got out his machine thing like a photographic camera, rather, on a tripod turned it this way and that until it pointed to my explosives, and pop! off they went like a lot of fireworks. Pretty neat, I thought."
"Ah!" The Baron's elbow was on his desk and his head rested in his hand. "Then it is what that Italian fellow said he had discovered in 1914. 'Ultra-red rays,' he called them. What was his name, now?"
"Never heard of him," said Von Wetten.
From the background where Herr Haase stood among the other furniture came a cough. "Oliver," suggested Herr Haase mildly.
The Baron jerked a look at him. "No, not Oliver," he said. "Ulivi that was it; Ulivi! I remember at the time we were interested, because, if the fellow could do what he claimed." He broke off. "Tell me," he demanded of Von Wetten. "You are a soldier; I am only a diplomat. What would this machine mean in war in this war, for instance? Supposing you were in command upon a sector of the front; that in the trenches opposite you were the English; and you had this machine? What would be the result?"
"Well!" Von Wetten deliberated. "Pretty bad for the English, I should think," he decided.
"But how, man how?" persisted the Baron. "In what way would it be bad for them?"
Von Wetten made an effort; he was not employed for his imagination. "Why," he hesitated, "because I suppose the cartridges would blow up in the men's pouches and in the machine-gun belts; and then the trench-mortar ammunition and the hand grenades; well, everything explosive would simply explode! And then we'd go over to what was left of them, and it would be finished."
He stopped abruptly as the vision grew clearer. "Aber," he began excitedly.
The old Baron lifted a hand and quelled him.
"The machine you saw this morning, which you tested, will do all this?" he insisted.
Von Wetten was staring at the Baron. Upon the question he let his monocle fall and seemed to consider. "I, I don't see why not," he replied.
The Baron nodded thrice, very slowly. Then he glanced up at Herr Haase. "Then miracles are worked by machinery, after all," he said. Then he turned again to Von Wetten.
"Well?" he said. "And the man? We are forgetting the man; I think we generally do, we Germans. What is the difficulty about the man?"
Von Wetten shrugged. "The difficulty is that he won't name his price," he answered. "Don't understand him! Queer, shambling sort of fellow, all hair and eyes, with the scar of an old cut, or something, across one side of his face. Keeps looking at you as if he hated you! Showed me the machine readily enough; consented to every test even offered to let me take my stuff to the other side of the lake, three miles away, and explode it at that distance. But when it came to terms, all he'd do was to look the other way and mumble."
"What did you offer him?" demanded the Baron.
"My orders, Your Excellency," answered Captain von Wetten formally, "were to agree to his price, but not to attempt negotiations in the event of difficulty over the terms. That was reserved for Your Excellency."
"H'm!" The Baron nodded. "Quite right," he approved. "Quite right; there is something in this. Men have their price, but sometimes they have to be paid in a curious currency. By the way, how much money have we?"
Herr Haase, a mere living ache inhabiting the background, replied.
"I am instructed, Excellency, that my cheque will be honored at sight here for a million marks," he answered, in the loud hypnotized voice of the drill-ground. "But there is, of course, no limit."
The Baron gave him an approving nod. "No limit," he said. "That is the only way to do things no limit, in money or anything else! Well, Haase can bring the car round at what time, Von Wetten?"
"Twenty minutes to five!" Von Wetten threw the words over his shoulder.
"And I shall lunch up here; it's cooler. You'd better lunch with me, and we can talk. Send up a waiter as you go, my good Haase."
Herr Haase bowed, but clicked only faintly. "Zu Befehl, Excellenz," he replied, and withdrew.
In the hall below he sank into a chair, groaned and fumbled at the buttons of his boots. He was wearing them for the first time, and they fitted him as though they had been shrunk on to him. The porter, his waistcoat gaping, came shambling over to him.
"You were saying," began the porter, "that the English."
Herr Haase boiled over. "Zum Teufel mit den Englandern und mit Dir, Schafskopf!" he roared, tearing at the buttons. "Send up a waiter to the Herr Baron and call me a cab to go home in!"
It was in a sunlight tempered as by a foreboding of sunset, when the surface of the lake was ribbed like sea sand with the first breathings of the evening breeze, that Herr Haase, riding proudly in the back seat of honor, brought the motor-car to the hotel. He had changed his garb of ceremony and servitude; he wore grey now, one of those stomach-exposing, large-tailed coats which lend even to the straightest man the appearance of being bandy-legged; and upon his feet were a pair of tried and proven cloth boots.
The porter, his waistcoat buttoned for the occasion, carried out a leather suit-case and placed it in the car, then stood aside, holding open the door, as the Baron and Von Wetten appeared from the hall. Von Wetten, true to his manner, saw neither Herr Haase's bow nor the porter's lifted cap; to him, salutations and civilities came like the air he breathed, and were as little acknowledged. The Baron gave to Herr Haase the compliment of a glance that took in the grey coat and the cloth boots, and the ghost of an ironic, not unkindly smile.
"Der gute Haase," he murmured, and then, as though in absence of mind, "Poor fellow, poor fellow!"
His foot was upon the step of the car when he saw the leather suit-case within. He paused in the act of entering.
"What is this baggage?" he inquired.
Von Wetten craned forward to look. "Oh, that! I wanted you to see the machine at work, Excellenz, so I'm bringing a few cartridges and things."
His Excellency withdrew his foot and stepped back. "Explosives, eh?" He made a half-humorous grimace of distaste. "Haase, lift that bag out carefully, man! and carry it in front with you. And tell the chauffeur to drive cautiously!"
Their destination was to the eastward of the little town, where the gardens of the villas trail their willow-fringes in the water. Among them, a varnished yellow chalet lifted its tiers of glassed-in galleries among the heavy green of fir-trees; its door, close beside the road, was guarded by a gate of iron bars. The big car slid to a standstill beside it with a scrape of tires in the dust.
"A moment," said the old baron, as Herr Haase lifted his hand to the iron bell-pull that hung beside the gate. "Who are we? What names have you given, Von Wetten? Schmidt and Meyer or something more fanciful?"
"Much more fanciful, Excellenz." Von Wetten allowed himself a smile. "I am Herr Wetten; Your Excellency is Herr Steinlach. It could not be simpler."
The Baron laughed quietly. "Very good, indeed," he agreed. "And Haase? You did not think of him? Well, the good Haase, for the time being, shall be the Herr von Haase. Eh, Haase?"
"Zu Befehl, Excellenz," deferred Herr Haase.
The iron bell-pull squealed in its dry guides; somewhere within the recesses of the house a sleeping bell woke and jangled. Silence followed. The three of them waited upon the road in the slant of the sunshine, aware of the odor of hot dust, trees, and water. Herr Haase stood, in the contented torpor of service and obedience, holding the heavy suit-case to one side of the gate; to the other, the Baron and Von Wetten stood together. Von Wetten, with something of rigidity even in his ease and insouciance, stared idly at the windows through which, as through stagnant eyes, the silent house seemed to be inspecting them; the Baron, with his hands joined behind him, was gazing through the gate at the unresponsive yellow door. His pink, strong face had fallen vague and mild; he seemed to dream in the sunlight upon the threshold of his enterprise. All of him that was formidable and potent was withdrawn from the surface, sucked in, and concentrated in the inner centers of his mind and spirit.
There sounded within the door the noise of footsteps; a bolt clashed, and there came out to the gate a young woman with a key in her hand. The Baron lifted his head and looked at her, and she stopped, as though brought up short by the impact of his gaze. She was a small creature, not more than twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, as fresh and pretty as apple-blossom. But it was more than shyness that narrowed her German-blue eyes as she stood behind the bars, looking at the three men.
Von Wetten, tall, comely, stepped forward.
"Good afternoon, gnadige Frau. We have an appointment with your husband for this hour. Let me present Herr Steinlach Herr von Haase."
The two bowed at her; she inspected each in turn, still with that narrow-eyed reserve.
"Yes," she said then, in a small tinkle of a voice. "My husband is expecting you."
She unlocked the gate; the key resisted her, and she had to take both hands to it, flushing with the effort of wrenching it over. They followed her into the house, along an echoing corridor, to a front room whose windows framed a dazzling great panorama of wide water, steep blue mountain, and shining snow-slopes. Herr Haase, coming last with the suitcase, saw around the Baron's large shoulders how she flitted across and called into the balcony: "Egon, the Herren are here!" Then, without glancing at them again, she passed them and disappeared.
Herr Haase's wrist was aching with his burden. Gently, and with precaution against noise, he stooped, and let the suit-case down upon the floor. So that he did not see the entry at that moment of the man who came from the balcony, walking noiselessly upon rubber-soled tennis-shoes. He heard Von Wetten's "Good afternoon, Herr Bettermann," and straightened up quickly to be introduced.
He found himself taking the hand it lay in his an instant as lifelessly as a glove of a young man whose eyes, over-large in a tragically thin face and under a chrysanthemum shock of hair, were at once timid and angry. He was coatless, as though he had come fresh from some work, and under his blue shirt his shoulders showed angular. But what was most noticeable about him, when he lifted his face to the light, was the scar of which Von Wetten had spoken a red and jagged trace of some ugly wound, running from the inner corner of the right eye to the edge of the jaw. He murmured some inaudible acknowledgment of Herr Haase's scrupulously correct greeting.
Then, as actually as though an arm of flesh and blood had thrust him back. Herr Haase was brushed aside. It was as if the Baron von Steinlach, choosing his moment, released his power of personality upon the scene as a man lets go his held breath. "A wonderful view you have here, Herr Bettermann," was all he said. The young man turned to him to reply; it was as though their opposite purposes and wills crossed and clashed like engaged swords. Herr Haase, and even the salient and insistent presence of Von Wetten, thinned and became vague ghostly, ineffectual natives of the background in the stark light of the reality of that encounter.
There were some sentences, mere feigning, upon that radiant perspective which the wide windows framed.
Then: "My friend and associate, Herr Wetten here, has asked me to look into this matter," said the Baron. His voice was silk, the silk "that holds fast where a steel chain snaps."
"First, to confirm his impressions of the the apparatus; second" the subtle faint-blue eyes of the old man and the dark suspicious eyes of the young man met and held each other "and second, the question, the minor question, of the price. However" his lips, under the clipped, white moustache, widened in a smile without mirth "that need not take us long, since the price, you see, is not really a question at all."
The haggard young man heard him with no change in that painful intensity of his.
"Isn't it?" he said shortly. "We'll see! But first, I suppose, you want to see the thing at work. I have here cordite, gelignite, trinitrotoluol," but his hare's eyes fell on the suit-case, "perhaps you have brought your own stuff?"
"Yes," said the Baron; "I have brought my own stuff."
The garden of the villa was a plot of land reaching down to a parapet lapped by the still stone-blue waters of the lake. Wooden steps led down to it from the balcony; Herr Haase, descending them last with the suit-case, paused an instant to shift his burden from one hand to the other, and had time to survey the place the ruins of a lawn, pitted like the face of a small-pox patient with small holes, where the raw clay showed through the unkempt grass the "craters" of which Captain von Wetten had spoken. Tall fir-trees, the weed of Switzerland, bounded the garden on either hand, shutting it in as effectually as a wall. Out upon the blue-and-silver floor of the lake a male human being rowed a female of his species in a skiff; and near the parapet something was hooded under a black cloth, such as photographers use, beneath whose skirts there showed the feet of a tripod.
Herr Bettermann, the young man with the scar, walked across to it. At first glimpse, it had drawn all their eyes; each felt that here, properly and decently screened, was the core of the affair. It was right that it should be covered up and revealed only at the due moment; yet Bettermann went to it and jerked the black cloth off, raping the mystery of the thing as crudely as a Prussian in Belgium.
"Here it is," he said curtly. "Put your stuff where you like."
The cloth removed disclosed a contrivance like two roughly cubical boxes, fitted one above the other, the upper projecting a little beyond the lower, and mounted on the apex of the tripod. A third box, evidently, by the terminals which projected from its cover, the container of a storage battery, lay between the feet of the tripod, and wires linked it with the apparatus above. Beside the tripod lay a small black bag such as doctors are wont to carry.
Von Wetten took a key from his pocket and threw it on the ground. "Unlock that bag," he said to Herr Haase, and turned towards the Baron and his host.
Herr Haase picked up the key, unlocked the suitcase, and stood ready for further orders. The Baron was standing with Bettermann by the tripod; the latter was talking and detaching some piece of mechanism within the apparatus. His voice came clearly across to Herr Haase.
"Two blades," he was saying, "and one varies their angle with this. The sharper the angle, the greater the range of the ray and the shorter the effective arc. But, of course, this machine is only a model."
"Quite so," acquiesced the Baron.
"These" his hand emerged from the upper box "are the blades."
He withdrew from the apparatus a contrivance like a pair of brief tongs, of which the shanks were stout wires and the spatulates were oblongs of thin, whitish metal like aluminum, some three inches long by two wide.
"The essence of the whole thing," he said. "You see, they are hinged; one sets them wider or closer according to the range and the arc one requires. These plates they are removable. I paint the compound on them, and switch the current on through this battery."
"Ah, yes," agreed the Baron dreamily. "The compound that has to be painted on."
The thin face of the inventor turned upon him; the great eyes smoldered. "Yes," was the answer; "yes. I, I paint it on enough for three or four demonstrations, and then I throw the rest into the lake. So my secret is safe, you see."
The Baron met his eyes with the profound ironic calm of his own. "Safe, I am sure," he replied. "The safer the better. And now, where would you prefer us to arrange our explosives?"
The other shrugged his shoulders. "Where you like," he said, bending to the little black hand-bag. "Lay them on the ground or bury them, or throw them into the lake, if they're waterproof. Only don't put them too near the house. I don't want any more of my windows broken."
There was a tone of aggression in his voice, and his eyes seemed to affront them, then strayed in a moment's glance towards the house. Herr Haase, following his look, had a glimpse of the little wife upon the upper balcony looking down upon the scene. The young man with the scar it glowed at whiles, red and angry seemed to make her some sign, for she drew back out of sight at once.
Herr Haase would have liked to watch the further intercourse of the Baron and the lean young man; but Von Wetten, indicating to him a small iron spade, such as children dig with on the sea-beach, and a pointed iron rod, set him to work at making graves for the little paper-wrapped packages which he took from the suit-case. The captain stood over him while he did it, directing him with orders curt as oaths and wounding as blows, looking down upon his sweating, unremonstrant obedience as from a very mountain-top of superiority. The clay was dry as flour, and puffed into dust under the spade; the slanting sun had yet a vigor of heat; and Herr Haase, in his tail-coat and his cloth boots, floundered among the little craters and earth-heaps, and dug and perspired submissively.
As he completed each hole to Von Wetten's satisfaction, that demigod dropped one or more of his small packages into it, and arranged them snugly with the iron rod. While he did so, Herr Haase eased himself upright, wiped the sweat from his brow, and gazed across at the other two. He saw the young man dipping a brush in a bottle, which he had taken from the black bag, and painting with it upon the metal plates, intent and careful; while beside him the old baron, with his hands clasped behind his back, watched him with just that air of blended patronage and admiration with which a connoisseur, visiting a studio, watches an artist at work.
Von Wetten spoke at his elbow. "Fill this in!" he said, in those tones of his that would have roused rebellion in a beast of burden. "And tread the earth down on it firmly!"
"Zu Befehl, Herr Hauptmann," answered Herr Haase hastily. But he was slow enough in obeying to see the young man, his painting finished, take the bottle in his hand, and toss it over the parapet into the lake and turn, the great jagged scar suddenly red and vivid on the pallor of his thin face, to challenge the Baron with his angry eyes.
The Baron met them with his small indomitable smile. "The machine is ready now?" he inquired smoothly.
"Ready when you are," snapped the other.
Herr Haase had to return to his labors then and lose the rest of that battle of purposes, of offence offered and refused, which went on over the head of the waiting machine. Von Wetten left him for a while and was busy throwing things that looked like glass jars into the lake. When at last the fifth and final hole was filled and trodden down under the sore heels in the cloth boots, the others were standing around the apparatus. They looked up at him as he cast down the spade and clapped a hand to the main stiffness in the small of his back.
"All finished?" called the Baron. "Then come over here, my good friend, or you will be blown up. Eh, Herr Bettermann?"
Herr Bettermann shrugged those sharp shoulders of his; he was shifting the tripod legs of his machine. "Blow him up if you like," he said. "He's your man."
Von Wetten and the Baron laughed at that, the Baron civilly and perfunctorily, as one laughs at the minor jests of one's host, and Von Wetten as though the joke were a good one. Herr Haase smiled deferentially, and eased himself into the background by the parapet.
"And now," said the Baron, "to our fireworks!"
Herr Bettermann answered with the scowl-like contraction of the brows which he used in place of a nod.
"All right," he said. "Stand away from the front of the thing, will you? You know yourselves the kind of stuff you've buried yes? Also, los!"
The old baron had stepped back to Herr Haase's side; as the young man put his hands to the apparatus, he crisped himself with a sharp intake of breath for the explosion. A switch clicked under the young man's thumb, and he began to move the machine upon its pivot mounting, traversing it like a telescope on a stand. It came round towards the fresh yellow mounds of earth which marked Herr Haase's excavations; they had an instant in which to note, faint as the whirring of a fly upon a pane, the buzz of some small mechanism within the thing. Then, not louder than a heavy stroke upon a drum, came the detonation of the buried cartridges in the first hole, and the earth above them suddenly ballooned and burst like an over-inflated paper-bag and let through a spit of brief fire and a jet of smoke.
"Ach, du lieber" began the Baron, and had the words chopped off short by the second explosion. A stone the size of a tennis-ball soared slowly over them and plopped into the water a score of yards away. The Baron raised an arm as if to guard his face, and kept it raised; Von Wetten let his eyeglass fall, lifted it in his hand and held it there; only Herr Haase, preserving his formal attitude of obedient waiting, his large bland face inert, stood unmoved, passively watching this incident of his trade.
The rest of the holes blew up nobly; the last was applauded by a crash of glass as one of the upper windows of the house broke and came raining down in splinters. The lean young man swore tersely. "Another window!" he snarled. The Baron lowered his arm and let his breath go in a sigh of relief. "That is all, is it not?" he demanded. "Gott sei Dank I hate things that explode. But I am glad that I saw it, now that it is over, very glad indeed!"
There was a touch of added color in the even pink of his face, and something of restlessness, a shine of excitement, in his eyes. Even his voice had a new tone of unfamiliar urgency. He glanced to and fro from Herr Wetten to Herr Haase as though seeking someone to share his emotion.
Bettermann's thin voice broke in curtly. "It isn't over," he said. "There's the stuff he" with a glance like a stab at Von Wetten "threw into the lake. Ready?"
"Ach!" The Baron stepped hastily aside. "Yes; I had forgotten that. Quite ready, my dear sir quite ready. Haase, my good friend, I think I'll stand behind you this time."
"Zu Befehl, Excellenz," acquiesced Herr Haase, and made of his solidity and stolidity a screen and a shield for the master-mind in its master-body. Herr Bettermann, bending behind his machine, took in the grouping with an eye that sneered and exulted, jerked his angular blue-clad shoulders contemptuously, and turned again to his business.
The eye of the machine roamed over the face of the water, seeming to peer searchingly into the depths of shining blue; the small interior whir started again upon the click of the switch, and forthwith three explosions, following upon each other rapidly, tore that tranquil water-mirror, spouting three geyser-jets into the sun-soaked evening air. The waves they raised slapped loudly at the wall below the parapet, and there were suddenly dead fish floating pale-bellied on the surface.
"Mines!" It was a whisper behind Herr Haase's large shoulder. "English mines!"
Herr Bettermann straightened himself upright behind the tripod. "There's a fine for killing fish like that," he remarked bitterly. "And the window besides, curse it!"
The Baron looked round at him absently. "Too bad!" he agreed. "Too bad!" He moved Herr Haase out of his way with a touch of his hand and walked to the parapet. He stood there, seeming for some moments to be absorbed in watching the dead fish as they rocked in the diminishing eddies. Herr Bettermann picked up the black cloth and draped it again over his apparatus. There was a space of silence.
Presently, with a shrug as though he withdrew himself unwillingly from some train of thought, the Baron turned. "Yes," he said, slowly, half to himself. "Y-es!" He lifted his eyes to the inventor.
"Well, we have only three things to do," he said. "They should not take us long. But it is pleasant here in your garden, Herr Bettermann, and we might sit down while we do them."
He sat as he spoke, letting himself down upon the low parapet with an elderly deliberation; at his gesture Von Wetten sat likewise, a few yards away; Herr Haase moved a pace, hesitated, and remained standing.
"I'll stand," said Bettermann shortly. "And what are the three things that you have got to do?"
"Why," replied the Baron, evenly, "the obvious three, surely to pay for your broken window nicht wahr? to pay the fine for killing the fish, and to pay your price for the machine. There is nothing else to pay for, is there?"
"Oh!" The young man stared at him.
"So, if you will tell us the figure that will content you, we can dispatch the matter," continued the Baron. "That is your part to name a figure. Supposing always" his voice slowed; the words dropped one by one "supposing always that there is a figure!"
The other continued to stare, gaunt as a naked tree in the evening flush, his face white under his tumbled hair, the jagged scar showing, upon it like a new wound.
"You don't suppose you'll get the thing for nothing, do you?" he broke out suddenly.
The Baron shook his head. "No," he said, "I don't think that. But it has struck me I may not need my cheque-book. You see, for all I can tell, Herr Bettermann, the window may be insured; and the police may not hear of the fish; and as for the machine well, the machine may be for sale; but you have less the manner of a salesman, Herr Bettermann, than any man I have ever seen."
The gaunt youth glowered uncertainly. "I'm not a salesman," he retorted resentfully.
The Baron nodded. "I was sure of it," he said. "Well, if you will let me, I'll be your salesman for you; I have sold things in my time, and for great prices too. Now, I can see that you are in a difficulty. You are a patriotic Swiss citizen and you have scruples about letting your invention go out of your own country; is that it? Because, if so, it can be arranged."
He stopped; the lean youth had uttered a spurt of laughter, bitter and contemptuous.
"Swiss!" he cried. "No more Swiss than yourself, Herr Baron!"
"Eh?" To Herr Haase, watching through his mask of respectful aloofness, it was as though the Baron's mind and countenance together snapped almost audibly into a narrowed and intensified alertness. The deep, white-fringed brows gathered over the shrewd pale eyes. "Not a Swiss?" he queried. "What are you, then?"
"Huh!" the other jeered, openly. "I knew you the moment I saw you. Old Herr Steinlach, eh? Why, man, I've been expecting you and getting ready for you ever since your blundering, swaggering spy there" with a jerk of a rigid thumb towards Von Wetten "and this fat slave" Herr Haase was indicated here "first came sniffing round my premises. I knew they'd be sending you along, with your blank cheques and your tongue; and here you are!"
He mouthed his words in an extravagance of offence and ridicule; his gaunt body and his thin arms jerked in a violence of gesticulation, and the jagged scar that striped his face pulsed from red to white. The old baron, solid and unmoving on his seat, watched him with still attention.
"Not a Swiss?" he persisted, when the young man had ceased to shout and shrug.
For answer, suddenly as an attacker, the young man strode across to him and bent, thrusting his feverish and passion-eaten face close to the other man's. His forefinger, long, large-knuckled, jerked up; he traced with it upon his face the course of the great disfiguring scar that flamed diagonally from the inner corner of the right eye to the rim of the sharp jaw.
"Did you ever see a Swiss that carried a mark like that?" he cried, his voice breaking to a screech. "Or an Englishman, or a Frenchman? Or anybody but but" he choked breathlessly on his words "or anybody but a German? Man, it's my passport!"
He remained yet an instant, bent forward, rigid finger to face, then rose and stepped back, breathing hard. The three of them stuck, staring at him.
Von Wetten broke the silence. "German?" he said, in that infuriating tone of peremptory incredulity which his kind in all countries commands. "You, a German?"
The lean youth turned on him with a movement like a swoop. "Yes me!" he spat. "And a deserter from my military service, too! Make the best of that, you Prussian Schweinhund!"
"Was!" Von Wetten started as though under a blow; his monocle fell; he made a curious gesture, bringing his right hand across to his left hip as though in search of something; and gathered himself as though about to spring to his feet. The Baron lifted a quiet hand and subdued him.
"Yes," he said, in his even, compelling tones. "Make the best of that, Von Wetten."
Von Wetten stared, arrested in the very act of rising. "Zu Befehl, Herr Baron," he said, in a strained voice, and continued staring. The Baron watched him frowningly an instant, to make sure of his submission, and turned again to Herr Bettermann where he stood, lean and glowering, before them.
"Now," he said, "I am beginning to see my way dimly, dimly. A deserter a German and that scar is your passport! Ye-es! Well, will you tell me, Herr Bettermann, in plain German, how you came by that scar?"
"Yes," said Bettermann, fiercely, "I will!"
Behind him, where the house windows shone rosy in the sunset, Herr Haase could see upon the lower balcony the shimmer of a white frock and a face that peeped and drew back. The little wife was listening.
"It was the captain of my company," said Bettermann, with a glare at Von Wetten. "Another Prussian swine-dog like this brute here." He waited. Von Wetten regarded him with stony calm and did not move. Bettermann flushed. "He sent me for his whip, and when I brought it, he called me to attention and cut me over the face with it."
"Eh?" The old baron sat up. "Aber-"
"Just one cut across the face, me with my heels glued together and my hands nailed to my sides," went on Bettermann. "Then 'Dismiss!' he ordered, and I saluted and turned about and marched away with my smashed face. And then you ask me if I am a Swiss!" He laughed again.
"But," demanded the Baron, "what had you done? Why did he do that to you?"
"Didn't I tell you he was a Prussian swine?" cried Bettermann. "Isn't that reason enough? But, if you will know, he'd seen me speak to a lady in the street. Afterwards me standing to attention, of course! he made a foul comment on her, and asked me for her name and address."
"And you wouldn't tell him?"
"Tell him!" cried Bettermann. "No!"
Herr Haase saw the girl on the balcony lean forward as though to hear the word, its pride and its bitterness, and draw back again as though to hear it had been all that she desired.
"Von Wetten!" The Baron spoke briskly. "You hear what Herr Bettermann tells me? Such things happen in the army do they?"
Von Wetten shrugged. "They are strictly illegal, sir," he replied, formally. "There are severe penalties prescribed for such actions. But, in the army, in the daily give-and-take of the life of a regiment, of course, they do happen. Herr Bettermann," very stiffly, "was unfortunate."
Betterman was staring at him, but said nothing. The Baron glanced from Von Wetten to the lean young man and shook his head.
"I am beginning I think I am beginning to see," he said. "And it seems to me that I shall not need that cheque-book. Herr Bettermann, I am very sure you have not forgotten the name of that officer."
"Forgotten!" said the other. "No, I've not forgotten. And, so that you shan't forget, I've got it written down for you!"
He fished a card from the breast-pocket of his blue shirt. The Baron received it, and held it up to the light.
"Captain Graf von Specht, the Kaiserjaeger," he read aloud. "Ever hear of him, Von Wetten?"
Von Wetten nodded. "Neighbor of mine in the country, Excellenz," he replied. "We were at the cadet-school together. Colonel now; promoted during the war. He would regret, I am sure."
"He will regret, I am sure," interrupted the Baron, pocketing the card. "And he will have good cause. Well, Herr Bettermann, I think I know your terms now. You want to see the Graf von Specht again here? I am right, am I not?"
Bettermann's eyes narrowed at him. "Yes," he said. "You're right. Only this time it is he that must bring the whip!"
Herr Haase's intelligence, following like a shorthand-writer's pencil, ten words behind the speaker, gave a leap at this. Till now, the matter had been for him a play without a plot; suddenly understanding, he cast a startled glance at Von Wetten.
The captain sat up alert.
"Certainly!" The old baron was replying to young Bettermann. "And stand to attention! And salute! I told you that I would agree to your terms, and I agree accordingly. Captain that is, Colonel von Specht shall be here, with the whip, as soon as the telegraph and the train can bring him. And then, I assume, the machine."
"Pardon!" Captain von Wetten had risen. "I have not understood." He came forward between the two, very erect and military, and rather splendid with his high-held head and drilled comeliness of body. "There has been much elegance of talk and I am stupid, no doubt; but, in plain German, what is it that Colonel von Specht is to do?"
Bettermann swooped at him again, choking with words; the captain stood like a monument callous to his white and stammering rage, the personification and symbol of his caste and its privilege.
It was the Baron who answered from his seat on the parapet, not varying his tone and measured delivery.
"Colonel von Specht," he said, "is to bring a whip here and stand to attention while Herr Bettermann cuts him over the face with it. That is all. Now sit down and be silent."
Captain von Wetten did not move. "This is impossible," he said. "There are limits. As a German officer, I resent the mere suggestion of this insult to the corps of officers. Your Excellency."
The Baron lifted that quiet hand of his. "I order you to sit down and be silent," he said.
Captain von Wetten hesitated. It seemed to Herr Haase, for a flattering instant, that the captain's eyes sought his own, as though in recognition of a familiar and favorable spirit. He tried to look respectfully sympathetic.
"Very good, your Excellency," said Von Wetten, at length. "The Emperor, of course, will be informed."
He turned and stalked away to his former place. The Baron, watching him, smiled briefly.
"Well, Herr Bettermann," said the Baron, rising stiffly, "it will not help us to have this arrangement of ours in writing. I think we'll have to trust one another. Our chemists, then, can come to you for the formula as soon as you have finished with Colonel von Specht? That is agreed yes? Good! And you see, I was right from the beginning; I did not need my cheque-book after all."
He began to move towards the house, beckoning Captain von Wetten and Herr Haase to follow him. Herr Haase picked up the empty suit-case, stood aside to let Von Wetten pass, and brought up the rear of the procession.
At the foot of the wooden steps that led up to the veranda, the Baron halted and turned to Bettermann.
"One thing makes me curious," he said. "Suppose we had not accepted your terms, what would you have done? Sold your machine to our enemies?"
Bettermann was upon the second step, gauntly silhouetted against the yellow wood of the house. He looked down into the elder man's strong and subtle face.
"No," he answered. "I meant to at first, but I haven't purged the German out of me yet and I couldn't. But I'd let your army of slaves and slave-drivers be beaten by its own slavery as it would be and you know it. I wouldn't take a hand in it; only, if anything happened to me; if, for instance, I disappeared some night, well, you'd find the machine and the formula in the hands of the English, that's all!"
He turned and led the way up the wooden steps. It seemed to tired Herr Haase, lugging the suit-case, that Captain von Wetten was swearing under his breath.
He was not imaginative, our Herr Haase; facts were his livelihood and the nurture of his mind. But in the starved wastes of his fancy something had struck a root, and as he rode Thun-wards in the front seat of the car, with the suit-case in his lap and the setting sun in his eyes, he brooded upon it. It was the glimpse of the little wife in the balcony the girl who had lived with the scar upon her husband's face and in his soul, and had leaned forward to eavesdrop upon his cruel triumph. Behind him, the two demi-gods talked together; snatches of their conversation tempted him to listen; but Herr Haase was engrossed with another matter. When the Prussian colonel, one living agony of crucified pride, stood for the blow, and the whip whistled through the air to thud on the flesh of his upturned face would she be watching then?
He was still thinking of it when the car drew up at the hotel door.
"Upstairs at once," directed the Baron, as he stepped hastily to the sidewalk. "You too, my good Haase; we shall want you."
In the Baron's upper room, where that morning he had suffered the torture of the boot, Herr Haase was given a seat at the little writing-table. The Baron himself cleared it for him, wiping its piles of papers to the floor with a single sweep of his hand.
"Get ready to write the telegrams which we shall dictate," he commanded. "But first will you be able to get them through in code?"
"Code is forbidden, your Excellency," replied Herr Haase, in his parade voice. "But we have also a phrase-code, a short phrase for every word of the message which passes. It makes the telegram very long."
"Also gut!" approved the Baron. "Now, Von Wetten, first we will wire the Staff. You know how to talk to them; so dictate a clear message to Haase here."
Von Wetten was standing by the door, hat and cane in hand. His face, with its vacant comeliness, wore a formality that was almost austere.
"Zu Befehl, Excellenz," he replied. "But has your Excellency considered that, after all, there may be other means? I beg your Excellency's pardon, but it occurs to me that we have not tried alternative offers. For instance, we are not limited as to money."
The Baron made a little gesture of impatience, indulgent and paternal. He leaned a hand on the table and looked over Herr Haase's head to the tall young officer.
"We are not limited as to colonels, either," he answered. "We must think ourselves lucky, I suppose, that he went no higher than a colonel. There was a moment when I thought he was going very much higher to the very top, Von Wetten. For, make no mistake, that young man knows his value."
Von Wetten frowned undecidedly. "The top," he repeated. "There is only one top. You can't mean?"
The Baron took the word from his mouth. "Yes," he said, "the Emperor. I thought for a while he was going to demand that. And do you know what I should have answered?"
Von Wetten threw up his head and his face cleared. "Of course I know," he said. "You'd have cut the dirty traitor down where he stood!"
The Baron did not move. "No," he said. "I should have accepted those terms also, Von Wetten."
The Baron's hand rested on the edge of the table in front of Herr Haase; he sat, staring at it, a piece of human furniture on the stage of a tragedy. The other two confronted each other above his patient and useful head. He would have liked to look from one to the other, to watch their faces, but he was too deeply drilled for that. He heard Von Wetten's voice with a quaver in it.
"Then things are going as badly as all that?"
"Yes," answered the Baron. "Badly! It is not just this battle that is going on now in France; it strikes deeper than that. The plan that was to give us victory has failed us; we find ourselves, with a strength which must diminish, fighting an enemy whose strength increases. We must not stop at anything now; what is at stake is too tremendous."
The Baron hushed him. "Listen, Von Wetten," he said. "I will be patient with you. I do not speak to you of of the Idea of which Germany and Prussia are the body and the weapon. No; but have you ever realized that you, yes, you! belong to the most ridiculed, most despised nation on earth? That your countrywomen furnish about eighty per cent. of the world's prostitutes; that a German almost anywhere is a waiter, or a sausage-manufacturer, or a beer-seller, the butt of comic papers in a score of languages? All that has not occurred to you, eh?
"Well, think of it, and think, too, of what this machine may do for us. Think of a Germany armed in a weaponless world, and, if empire and mastery convey nothing to you, think of oh! American women walking the streets in Berlin, comic English waiters in German cafe's, slavish French laborers in German sweat-shops. And all this boxed into a machine on a tripod by a monomaniac whose price we can pay!"
He paused and walked towards the window. "Dictate the telegram to the Staff, Von Wetten," he said, over his shoulder.
Von Wetten laid his hat and cane on a chair and crossed the room. "I feel as if I were stabbing a fellow-officer in the back," he said, drearily. Then, to Herr Haase: "Take this, you!"
"Zu Befehl, Herr Hauptmann," said Herr Haase, and picked up his pen.
There were twelve long telegrams in all, of which many had to be amended, pruned, sub-edited, and rewritten; each was directed to a plain private address in Berlin, and each was to be answered to the address of Herr Haase. One, which gave more trouble than any of the others, was to Siegfried Meyer, Number One, Unter den Linden; it was long before the Baron and Von Wetten could smooth its phrases to a suavity and deference which satisfied them. Coffee was brought them to lubricate their labors, but none to Herr Haase; his part was to write down, scratch out, rewrite, while beyond the windows the night marched up from the east and the lake grew bleak and vague.
"Now, my good Haase," said the Baron, when the last word-fabric was decided upon and confirmed, "you will take those home with you, put them into code, and dispatch them. You should have the last of them off by midnight. And to-morrow, when the answers begin to come, you will report here as quickly as possible."
"Zu befehl, Excellenz," said Herr Haase, his hands full of papers.
"Then good night, my good Haase," said the Baron.
"Good night to your Excellency," returned Herr Haase, from the doorway. "Good night, Herr Hauptmann!" to Von Wetten's back.
"Shut the door," replied Von Wetten.
There was a moon at midnight, a great dull disc of soft light touching the antique gables and cloistered streets of the little city to glamour, blackening the shadows under the arches, and streaking the many channels of the swift river with long reflections. Herr Haase, returning from the telegraph office, walked noiseless as a ghost through those ancient streets, for he had soft bedroom slippers on his feet. His work was done for the day; he had put off business as one lays aside a garment. From his lips ascended the mild incense of one of those moist yellow cigars they make at Vevey. He paused upon the first bridge to gaze down upon the smooth, hurrying water, and his soul that soul which served the general purpose of a monkey-wrench in adjusting the machine of history spoke aloud.
"A rum-punch," it confided to the night and the moon. "Yes, two glasses; and a belegtes Brodchen; and a warm foot-bath. And then, bed!"
Not for him, at any rate, were the doubts and hopes that tangled in the Baron von Steinlach's massive head. A man with sore feet is prone to feel that the ground he stands on is at least solid. In his pleasant veranda next morning, with his coffee fragrant before him on the chequered tablecloth, he read in the Bund: the British communique of the battle of the Somme, new villages taken, fortified woods stormed, prisoners multiplying, the whole monstrous structure of the German war-machine cracking and failing. While he read he ate and drank tranquilly; no thoughts of yesterday's business intruded upon his breakfast peace. He finished the communique.
Then: "Liars!" he commented, comfortably, reaching for his cup. "Those English are always liars!"
It was a good and easy day that thus opened. The answers to his telegrams did not begin to arrive till noon, and then they were only formulae acknowledging receipt, which he did not need his code-book to decipher. With his black umbrella opened against the drive of the sun, he carried them at his leisure to the Baron, where he sat alone in his cool upper chamber working deliberately among his papers, received the customary ghost of a smile and the murmur, "Der gute Haase," and got away. The slovenly porter, always with his look of having slept in his clothes, tried to engage him in talk upon the day's news. "You," said Herr Haase, stepping round him, "are one of those who believe anything; schamen Sie sich!" And so back to the comfortable villa on the hillside with its flaming geraniums and its atmosphere of that comfort and enduring respectability which stood to Herr Haase for the very inwardness of Germany. Yes, a good day!
It lasted as long as the daylight; the end of it found Herr Haase, his lamp alight, his back turned to the Alpine-glow on the mountains, largely at ease in his chair, awaiting the arrival of his Dienstmadchen with the culminating coffee of the day. His yellow cigar was alight; he was fed and torpid; digestion and civilization were doing their best for him. As from an ambush there arrived the fat, yellow telegraph envelope.
"Ach, was!" protested Herr Haase. "And I thought it was the coffee you were bringing."
"'S Kaffee kommt gleich," the stout, tow-haired girl assured him; but already he had torn open the envelope and was surveying its half-dozen sheets of code. Two hours of work with the key, at least; he groaned, and hoisted himself from his chair.
"Bring the coffee to the office," he bade, and went to telephone a warning to the Baron.
The code was a cumbersome one; its single good quality was that it passed unsuspected at a time when nervous telegraph departments were refusing all ciphers. It consisted of brief phrases and single words alternately; the single words the codebook offered a selection of a couple of hundred of them were meaningless, and employed solely to separate the phrases; and for half an hour Herr Haase's task was to separate this ballast from the cargo of the message and jettison it. There lay before him then a string of honest-looking mercantile phrases "market unsettled," "collections difficult," and the like which each signified a particular word. He sat back in his chair and took a preliminary glance at the thing.
It was a code he used frequently himself, and there were phrases in the message, two or three, which he knew by heart. As he scanned it it struck him that all of these were of the same character; they were words of deprecation or demur. "Existing rate of exchange" meant "regret"; "active selling" meant "impossible"; and "usual discount" was the code-form of "unfortunate." Herr Haase frowned and reached for his key.
Midnight was close at hand when he reached the Baron's room, with the telegram and his neatly-written interpretation in an envelope. He had changed his coat and shoes for the visit; it was the usual Herr Haase, softish of substance, solemn of attire, official of demeanor, who clicked and bowed to the Baron and Von Wetten in turn.
"Our good Haase," said the Baron. "At last!"
He wore a brown cloth dressing-gown with a cord about the middle; and somehow the garment, with its long skirts and its tied-in waist, looked like a woman's frock? With the white hair and the contained benevolence and power of his face it gave him the aspect of a distorted femininity, a womanhood unnatural and dire. Even Herr Haase perceived it, for he stared a moment open-mouthed before he recovered himself. Von Wetten, smoking, in an easy chair, was in evening dress.
Herr Haase, with customary clockwork-like military motions, produced his envelope and held it forth.
"The code-telegram of which I telephoned your Excellency and a transcription of it," he announced.
Von Wetten took his cigar from his lips and held it between his fingers. The Baron waved the proffered envelope from him.
"Read it to us, my good Haase," he said.
"Zu befehl, Excellenz!" Herr Haase produced from the envelope the crackling sheet of thin paper, held it up to the light, standing the while with heels together and chest outthrust, and read in the high barrack-square voice:
"Herr Sigismund Haase, Friedrichsruhe, Thunam-See, Switzerland. From Secret Service Administration, Berlin. July 21st, 1916. In reply to your code-message previously acknowledged, regret to report that officer you require was recently severely wounded. Hospital authorities report that it is impossible to move him. Trust this unfortunate event does not stultify your arrangements. Your further instructions awaited."
Herr Haase refolded the paper and returned it to the envelope and stood waiting.
It was Von Wetten who spoke first. "Thank God!" he said loudly.
The old baron, standing near him, hands joined behind his back, had listened to the reading with eyes on the floor. He shook his head now, gently, dissenting rather than contradicting.
"Oh, no," he said slowly. "Don't be in a hurry to do that, Von Wetten."
"But, Excellency," Von Wetten protested, "I meant, of course."
"I know," said the Baron. "I know what you thanked God for; and I tell you don't be in too great a hurry."
He began to walk to and fro in the room. He let his hands fall to his sides; he was more than ever distortedly womanlike, almost visibly possessed and driven by his single purpose. Von Wetten, the extinct cigar still poised in his hand, watched him frowningly.
"Sometimes" the Baron seemed to speak as often a man deep in thought will hum a tune "sometimes I have felt before what I feel now a current in the universe that sets against me, against us. Something pulls the other way. It has all but daunted me once or twice."
He continued to pace to and fro, staring at the varnished floor.
"But, Excellency," urged Von Wetten, "there are still ways and means. If we can decoy this inventor-fellow across the frontier and then, there is his wife! Pressure could be brought to bear through the woman. If we got hold of her, now!"
The Baron paused in his walk to hear him.
"And find an English army blasting its way through Belgium with that machine to come to her rescue? No," he said; and then, starting from his moody quiet to a sudden loudness: "No! We know his price to lash this Von Specht across the face with a whip and we have agreed to it. Let him lash him as he lies on a stretcher, if he likes! I know that type of scorched brain, simmering on the brink of madness. He'll do it, and he'll keep faith; and it'll be cheap at the price. Haase!"
He wheeled on Herr Haase suddenly.
"Zu befehl, Excellenz," replied Herr Haase.
The Baron stared at him for some moments, at the solid, capable, biddable creature he was, stable and passive in the jar of the overturned world. He pointed to the table.
"Sit there, my good Haase," he ordered. "I will dictate you a telegram. Not code this time, plain German!"
He resumed his to-and-fro walk while Herr Haase established himself.
"Direct it to our private address in the Wilhelmstrasse," he ordered. "Then write: 'You are to carry out orders previously communicated. Send Von Specht forthwith, avoiding all delay. Telegraph hour of his departure and keep me informed of his progress. No objections to this order are to be entertained.'"
"'Entertained,'" murmured Herr Haase, as he wrote the last word.
"Sign it as before," directed the Baron. "You see, Von Wetten, it was too soon!"
Von Wetten had not moved; he sat staring at the Baron. His hand twitched and the dead cigar fell to the floor.
"I don't care," he burst out, "it's wrong; it's not worth it nothing could be. I'd be willing to go a long way, but a Prussian officer! It's, it's sacrilege. And a wounded man at that!"
The Baron did not smile but mirth was in his face. "That was an afterthought, Von Wetten," he said "the wounded man part of it." He turned to Herr Haase impatiently.
"Off with you!" he commanded. "Away, man, and get that message sent! Let me have the replies as they arrive. No, don't wait to bow and say good night; run, will you!"
His long arm, in the wide sleeve of the gown, leaped up, pointing to the door. Herr Haase ran.
Obediently as a machine, trotting flat-footed over the cobbles of the midnight streets, he ran, pulling up at moments to take his breath, then running on again. Panting, sweating, he lumbered up the steps of the telegraph office and thrust the message through the grille to the sleepy clerk.
"What is Von Specht?" grumbled the clerk. "Is this a cipher-message?"
"No," gasped Herr Haase. "Can't you read? This is plain German!"
Herr Haase, one has gathered, was not afflicted with that weakness of the sense which is called imagination. Not his to dream dreams and see visions; nor, while he tenderly undressed himself and put himself into his bed, to dwell in profitless fancy over the message he had sent, bursting like a shell among the departments and administrations which are the body of Germany's official soul. Nor later either, when the spate of replies kept him busy decoding and carrying them down to the Baron, did he read into them more than the bare import of their wording. "Von Specht transferred to hospital coach attached special train, accompanied military doctor and orderlies in civil clothes. Left Base Hospital No. 64 at 3:22 P.M. Condition weak, feverish," said the first of them. It did not suggest to him the hush of the white ward broken by the tread of the stalwart stretcher-bearers, the feeble groaning as they shifted the swathed and bandaged form from the bed to the stretcher, the face thin and haggard with yet remains of sunburn on its bloodlessness, the progress to the railway, the grunt and heave of the men as they hoisted their burden to the waiting hospital-carriage. None of all that for Herr Haase.
Later came another message: "Patient very feverish. Continually inquires whither going and why. Please telegraph some answer to meet train at Bengen with which may quiet him." To that Herr Haase was ordered to reply: "Tell Colonel von Specht that he is serving his Fatherland," and that elicited another message from the train at Colmar: "Gave patient your message, to which he replied, 'That is good enough for me.' Is now less feverish, but very weak."
And finally, from Basle, came the news that the train and its passengers had crossed the frontier; Colonel von Specht was in Switzerland.
"You, my good Haase, will meet the train," said the Baron von Steinlach. "The Embassy has arranged to have it shunted to a siding outside the station. You will, of course, tell them nothing of what is in contemplation. Just inform whoever is in charge that I will come later. And, Von Wetten, I think we will send the car with a note to bring Herr Bettermann here at the same time."
"Yes," said the Baron. "After all, we want to keep the thing as quiet as possible, and that fellow is capable of asking a party of friends to witness the ceremony." There was malicious amusement in the eye he turned on Von Wetten. "And we don't want that, do we?" he suggested.
Von Wetten shuddered.
The siding at which the special train finally came to rest was "outside the station" in the sense that it was a couple of miles short of it, to be reached by a track-side path complicated by piles of sleepers and cinder-heaps. Herr Haase, for the purpose of his mission, had attired himself sympathetically rather than conveniently; he was going to visit a colonel and, in addition to other splendors, he had even risked again the patent leather boots. He was nearly an hour behind time when he reached at length the two wagons-lits carriages standing by themselves in a wilderness of tracks.
Limping, perspiring, purple in the face, he came alongside of them, peering up at their windows. A face showed at one of them, spectacled and bearded, gazing motionlessly through the panes with the effect of a sea-creature in an aquarium. It vanished and reappeared at the end door of the car.
"Hi! You, what do you want here?" called the owner of the face to Herr Haase.
Herr Haase came shuffling towards the steps.
"Ich stelle Mich vor; I introduce myself," he said ceremoniously. "Haase sent by his Excellency, the Herr Baron von Steinlach."
The other gazed down on him, a youngish man, golden-blond as to beard and hair, with wide, friendly eyes magnified by his glasses. He was coatless in the heat, and smoked a china-bowled German pipe like a man whose work is done and whose ease is earned; yet in his face and manner there was a trace of perturbation, an irritation of nervousness.
"Oh!" he said, and spoke his own name. "Civil-doctor Fallwitz. I've been expecting somebody. You'd better come inside, hadn't you?"
Outside was light and heat; inside was shadow and heat. Dr. Fallwitz led the way along the corridor of the car, with its gold-outlined scrollwork and many brass-gadgeted doors, to his own tiny compartment, smelling of hot upholstery and tobacco. Herr Haase removed his hat and sank puffing upon the green velvet cushions.
"You are hot, nicht wahr?" inquired Dr. Fallwitz politely.
"Yes," said Herr Haase. "But, Herr Doktor, since you are so good it is not only that. If it is gross of me to ask it but if I might take off my boots for some moments. You see, they are new."
"Aber ich bitte," cried the doctor.
The doctor stood watching him while he struggled with the buttons, and while he watched he frowned and gnawed at the amber mouthpiece of his pipe.
He waited till Herr Haase, with a loud, luxurious grunt, had drawn off the second boot.
"There will be a row, of course," he remarked then. "These Excellencies and people are only good for making rows. But I told them he couldn't be moved."
Herr Haase shifted his toes inside his socks. "You mean Colonel von Specht? But isn't he here, then?"
The young doctor shook his head. "We obeyed orders," he said. "We had to. Those people think that life and death are subject to orders. I kept him going till we got here, but about an hour ago he had a hemorrhage."
He put his pipe back into his mouth, inhaled and exhaled a cloud of smoke, and spoke again.
"Died before we could do anything," he said. "You see, after all he had been through, he hadn't much blood to spare. What did they want him here for, do you know?"
"No," said Herr Haase. "But I know the Herr Baron was needing him particularly. Was fur eine Geschichte!"
"Want to see him?" asked the young doctor.
It had happened to Herr Haase never to see a dead man before. Therefore, among the incidents of his career, he will not fail to remember that the progress in his socks from the one car to the other, the atmosphere of the second car where the presence of death was heavy on the stagnant air, and the manner in which the thin white sheet outlined the shape beneath. A big young orderly in shabby civilian clothes was on guard; at the doctor's order he drew down the sheet and the dead man's face was bare. He who had slashed a helpless conscript across the face with a whip, for whom yet any service of his Fatherland was "good enough," showed to the shrinking Herr Haase only a thin, still countenance from whose features the eager passion and purpose had been wiped, leaving it resolute in peace alone.
"I I didn't know they looked like that," whispered Herr Haase.
The two homeward miles of cindery path were difficult; the sun was tyrannical; his boots were a torment; yet Herr Haase went as in a dream. He had seen reality; the veil of his daily preoccupations had been rent for him; and it needed the impertinence of the ticket-collector at the door of the station, who was unwilling to let him out without a ticket, to restore him. That battle won, he found himself a cab, and rattled over the stones of Thun to the hotel door. He prepared no phrases in which to clothe his news; facts are facts and are to be stated as facts. What he murmured to himself as he jolted over the cobbles was quite another matter.
"Ticket, indeed!" he breathed rancorously. "And I tipped him two marks only last Christmas!"
The Baron's car was waiting at the hotel door; the cab drew up behind it. The cabman, of course, wanted more than his due, and didn't get it; but the debate helped to take Herr Haase's mind still further off his feet. He entered the cool hall of the hotel triumphantly and made for the staircase.
"O, mein Herr!"
He turned; he had not seen the lady in the deep basket-chair just within the door, but now, as she rose and came towards him, he recognized her. It was the wife of Bettermann, the inventor, the shape upon the balcony of the chalet who had overlooked their experiments and overheard the bargain they had made.
Herr Haase bowed. "Gnadige Frau?"
He remembered her as little and pleasantly pretty; her presence above them on the balcony had touched his German sentimentalism. She was pretty now, with her softness and blossom-like fragility, but with it was a tensity, a sort of frightened desperation.
She hesitated for words, facing him with lips that trembled, and large, painful eyes of nervousness. "He he is here," she said, at last. "My husband they sent a car to fetch him to them. He is up there now, with them!"
Herr Haase did not understand. "But yes, gracious lady," he answered. "Why not? The Herr Baron wished to speak to him."
She put out a small gloved hand uncertainly and touched his sleeve.
"No," she said. "Tell me! I, I am so afraid. That other, the officer who cut Egon's face my husband's I mean, he has arrived? Tell me, mein Herr! Oh, I thought you would tell me; I saw you the other day, and those others never spoke to you, and you were the only one who looked kind and honest." She gulped and recovered. "He has arrived?"
"Well, now," began Herr Haase paternally. In all his official life he had never "told" anything. Her small face, German to its very coloring, pretty and pleading, tore at him.
"Yes, he has arrived," he said shortly. "I have I have just seen him."
"Oh!" It was almost a cry. "Then then they will do it? Mein Herr, mein Herr, help me! Egon, he has been thinking only of this for years; and now, if he does it, he will think of nothing else all his life. And he mustn't he mustn't! It's it will be madness. I know him. Mein Herr, there is nobody else I can ask; help me!"
The small gloved hand was holding him now, holding by the sleeve of his superlative black coat of ceremony, plucking at it, striving to stir him to sympathy and understanding; the face, hopeful and afraid, strained up at him.
Gently he detached the gloved hand on his sleeve, holding it a second in his own before letting it go.
"Listen," he said. "That bargain is cancelled. Colonel von Specht died to-day."
He turned forthwith and walked to the stairs. He did not look back at her.
"Herein!" called somebody from within the white-painted door of the Baron's room, when he knocked.
Herr Haase, removing his hat, composing his face to a nullity of official expression, entered.
After the shadow of the hall and the staircase, the window blazed at him. The Baron was at his little table, seated sideways in his chair, toying with an ivory paper-knife, large against the light. Von Wetten stood beside him, tall and very stiff, withdrawn into himself behind his mask of Prussian officer and aristocrat; and in a low chair, back to the door and facing the other two, Bettermann sat.
He screwed round awkwardly to see who entered, showing his thin face and its scar, then turned again to the Baron, large and calm and sufficient before him.
"I tell you," he said, resuming some talk that had been going on before Herr Haase's arrival: "I tell you, the letter of the bargain or nothing!"
The Baron had given to Herr Haase his usual welcome of a half smile, satiric and not unkindly. He turned now to Bettermann.
"But certainly," he answered. He slapped the ivory paper-knife against his palm. "I was not withdrawing from the bargain. I was merely endeavoring to point out to you at the instance of my friend here" a jerk of the elbow towards Von Wetten "the advantages of a million marks, or several million marks, plus the cashiering of Colonel von Specht from the army, over the personal satisfaction which you have demanded for yourself. But since you insist."
Bettermann, doubled up in his low chair, broke in abruptly: "Yes, I insist!"
The Baron smiled his elderly, temperate smile. "So be it," he said. "Well, my good Haase, what have you to tell us?"
Herr Haase brought his heels together, dropped his thumbs to the seams of his best trousers, threw up his chin, and barked:
"Your Excellency, I have seen the Herr Colonel Graf von Specht. He died at ten minutes past eleven this morning."
His parade voice rang in the room; when it ceased the silence, for a space of moments, was absolute. What broke it was the voice of Von Wetten.
"Thank God!" it said, loudly and triumphantly.
The Baron swung round to him, but before he could speak Bettermann gathered up the slack of his long limbs and rose from his chair. He stood a moment, gaunt in his loose and worn clothes, impending over the seated baron.
"So that was it! Well" He paused, surveying the pair of them, the old man, the initiate and communicant of the inmost heart of the machine through which his soul had gone like grain through a mill, and the tall Prussian officer, at once the motor and millstone of that machine. And he smiled. "Well," he repeated, "there's the end of that!"
The door closed behind him; his retreating footsteps echoed in the corridor. The Baron spoke at last. He stared up at Von Wetten, his strong old face seamed with new lines.
"You thank God for that, do you?" he said.
Von Wetten returned his gaze. "Yes, Excellency," he replied.
He had screwed his monocle into his eye; it gave to his unconscious arrogance the barb of impertinence.
"You!" The Baron cried out at him. "You thank God, do you? and neither your thanks nor your God is worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier! Do you know what has happened, fool?"
Captain von Wetten bent towards him, smiling slightly.
"You are speaking to Haase, of course, Excellency?"
The Baron caught himself. His face went a trifle pinker, but his mouth was hard under the clipped white moustache and the heavy brows were level.
"I will tell you what has happened," he said deliberately. "I will try to make it intelligible to you."
He held up the ivory paper-knife, its slender yellow blade strained in his two hands.
"That is Germany to-day," he said, "bending." His strong hands tightened; the paper-knife broke with a snap. "And that is Germany to-morrow broken. We have failed."
He threw the two pieces from him to the floor and stared under the pent of his brows at Von Wetten.
Their eyes engaged. But one of the pieces slid across the floor to Herr Haase's feet. Orderly and serviceable always, Herr Haase bent and picked up the broken pieces and put them back upon the table.
ALMS AND THE MAN
While she was yet dressing, she had heard the soft pad of slippers on the narrow landing outside her room and the shuffle of papers; then, heralded by a single knock, the scrape and crackle of a paper being pushed under her door. It was in this fashion that the Maison Mardel presented its weekly bills to its guests.
"Merci!" she called aloud, leaving her dressing to go and pick up the paper. A pant from without answered her and the slippers thudded away.
Standing by the door, with arms and shoulders bare, she unfolded the document, a long sheet with a printed column of items and large inky figures in francs and centimes written against them, and down in the right hand corner the dramatic climax of the total. It was the total that interested Annette Kelly.
"H'm!" It was something between a gasp and a sigh. "They 're making the most of me while I last," said Annette aloud.
Her purse was under her pillow, an old and baggy affair of shagreen, whose torn lining had to be explored with a forefinger for the coins it swallowed. She emptied it now upon the bed. The light of a Paris summer morning, golden and serene, flowed in at the window, visiting the poverty of the little room with its barren benediction and shining upon the figure of Annette as she bent above her money and counted it She was a slender girl of some three-and-twenty years, with hair and eyes of a somber brown; six weeks of searching for employment in Paris and economizing in food, of spurring herself each morning to the tone of hope and resolution, of returning each evening footsore and dispirited, had a little blanched and touched with tenseness a face in which there yet lingered some of the soft contours of childhood.
She sat down beside the money on the bed, her ankles crossed below her petticoat; her accounts were made up. After paying the bill and bestowing one franc in the unavoidable tip, there would remain to her exactly eight francs for her whole resources. It was the edge of the precipice at last. It was that precipice, overhanging depths unseen and terrible, which she was contemplating as she sat, feet swinging gently in the rhythm of meditation, her face serious and quiet. For six weeks she had seen it afar off; now it was at hand and immediate.
"Well," said Annette slowly; she had already the habit of talking aloud to herself which comes to lonely people. She paused. "It just means that today I've got to get some work. I've got to."
She rose, forcing herself to be brisk and energetic. The Journal, with its advertisements of work to be had for the asking, had come to her door with the glass of milk and the roll which formed her breakfast, and she had already made a selection of its more humble possibilities. She ran them over in her mind as she finished dressing. Two offices required typists; she would go to both. A cashier in a shop and an English governess were wanted. "Why shouldn't I be a governess?" said Annette. And finally, somebody in the Rue St. Honore required a young lady of good figure and pleasant manner for "reception." There were others, too, but it was upon these five that Annette decided to concentrate.
She put on her hat, took her money and her Journal, and turned to the door. A curious impulse checked her there and she came back to the mirror that hung above her dressing-table.
"Let's have a look at you!" said Annette to the reflection that confronted her.
She stood, examining it seriously. It was, she thought, quite presentable, a trim, quiet figure of a girl who might reasonably ask work and a wage; she could not find anything in it to account for those six weeks of refusals. She perked her chin and forced her face to look assured and spirited, watching the result in the mirror.
"Ye-es," she said at last, and nodded to the reflection. "You'll have to do; but I wish I wish you hadn't got that sort of doomed look. Good-bye, old girl!"
At the foot of the stairs, in the open door of that room which was labeled "Bureau," where a bed and a birdcage and a smell of food kept company with the roll-top desk, stood the patronne, Madame Mardel. She moved a little forth into the passage as Annette approached.
"Good morning, mademoiselle. Again a charming day!"
She was a large woman, grossly fleshy, with clothes that strained to creaking point about her body and gaped at the fastenings. Her vast face, under her irreproachably neat hair the hair of a Parisienne was swarthy and plethoric, with the jowl of a bulldog and eyes tiny and bright. Annette knew her for an artist in "extras," a vampire that had sucked her purse lean with deft overcharges, a creature without mercy or morals. But the daily irony of her greeting had the grace, the cordial inflexion, of a piece of distinguished politeness.
"Charming," agreed Annette. She produced the bill. "I may as well pay this now," she suggested.
Madame's chill and lively eyes were watching her face, estimating her solvency in the light of Madame's long experience of misfortune and despair. She shrugged a huge shoulder deprecatingly.
"There is no hurry," she said. She always said that. "Still, since mademoiselle is here."
Annette followed her into the bureau, that dimlighted sanctuary of Madame's real life. Below the half-raised blind in the window the canaries in their cage rustled and bickered; unwashed plates were crowded on the table; the big unmade bed added a flavor of its own to the atmosphere. Madame eased herself, panting, into the chair before the desk, revealing the great rounded expanse of her back with its row of straining buttons and lozenge-shaped revelations of underwear. With the businesslike deliberation of a person who transacts a serious affair with due seriousness, she spread the bill before her, smoothing it out with a practiced wipe of the hand, took her rubber stamp from the saucer in which' it lay, inked it on the pad and waited. Annette had been watching her, fascinated by that great methodical rhythm of movement, but at the pause she started, fished the required coins from the old purse, and laid them at Madame's elbow. "Merci, mademoiselle," said Madame, and then, and not till then, the stamp descended upon the paper. A flick with a scratchy pen completed the receipt, and Madame turned awkwardly in the embrace of her chair to hand it to Annette with her weekly smile. The ritual was accomplished.
"Good morning, mademoiselle. Thank you; good luck."
The mirthless smile discounted the words; the cold, avid eyes were busy and suspicious. Annette let them stare their fill while she folded the paper and tucked it into the purse; she had had six weeks of training in the art of preserving a cheerful countenance.
Then: "Good morning, madame," she smiled, with her gay little nod and reached the door in good order.
There was still Aristide, the lame man-of-all-work, who absorbed a weekly franc and never concealed his contempt of the amount. He was waiting on the steps, leaning on a broom, and turned his rat's face on her, sourly and impatiently, without a word. She paused as she came to him and dipped two fingers into the poor old purse; Aristide's pale, red-edged eyes followed them, while his thin mouth twisted into contempt.
"This is for you, Aristide," she said, and held out the coin.
He took it in his open palm and surveyed it with lifted eyebrows. "This?" he inquired.
"Yes." The insult never failed to hurt her; this morning, in particular, she would have been glad to set forth upon the day's forlorn hope without that preface of hate and cruel greed. But Aristide still stood, with the coin in his open hand, staring from it to her and she flinched from him. "Good morning," she said timidly, and slipped past.
It needed the gladness of the day, its calm and colorful warmth, to take the taste of Aristide out of her mouth and uplift her again to her mood of resolution. Her way lay downhill; the first of her advertisements gave an address at the foot of the Rue Lafayette; and soon the stimulus of the thronged streets, the mere neighborhood of folk who moved briskly and with purpose, re-strung her slackened nerves and she was again ready for the battle. And as she went her lips moved.
"Mind, now!" she was telling herself. "Today's the end the very end. You've got to get work today!"
The address in the Rue Lafayette turned out to be that of a firm of house and estate agents; it was upon the first floor and showed to the landing four ground-glass doors, of which three were lettered "Private," while the fourth displayed an invitation to enter without knocking. Upon the landing, in the presence of those inexpressive doors, behind which salaries were earned and paid and life was all that was orderly and desirable, Annette paused for a space of moments to make sure of herself.
"Now!" she said, with a deep breath, and pushed open the fourth door.
Within was an office divided by a counter, and behind the counter desks and the various apparatus of business. The desks were unoccupied; the only person present was a thin pretty girl seated before a typewriter. She looked up at Annette across the counter; her face showed patches of too bright a red on the cheekbones.
"Good morning," began Annette, with determined briskness. "I've come."
The girl smiled. "Typist?" she interrupted.
"Yes," said Annette. "The advertisement"—she stopped; the girl was still smiling, but in a manner of deprecating and infinitely gentle regret.
Annette stared at her, feeling within again that rising chill of disappointment with which she was already so familiar. "You mean" she stammered awkwardly "you mean you've got the place?"
The thin girl spread her hands apart in a little French gesture of conciliation.
"Ten minutes ago," she answered. "There is no one here yet but the manager, and I was waiting at the door when he arrived."
"Thank you," said Annette faintly. The thin girl, still regarding her with big shadowy eyes, suddenly put a hand to her bosom and coughed. The neat big office beyond the bar of the polished counter was unbearably pleasant to look at; one could have been so happily busy at one's place between those tidy desks. A sharp bell rang from an inner office; the thin girl rose. The hectic on her cheeks burned brighter.
"I must go," she said hurriedly. "He wants me. I hope you will have good luck."
The sunlight without had lost some of its quality when Annette came forth to the street again; it no longer warmed her to optimism. She stood for some moments in the doorway of the building, letting her depression and discouragement have their way with her.
"If only I might cry a bit," she reflected. "That would help a little. But I mustn't even do that!"
She had to prod herself into fresh briskness with the sense of her need, that to-day was the end. She sighed, jerked her chin up, set her small face into the shape of resolute cheerfulness and started forth again in the direction of the second vacancy for a typist.
Here, for a while, hope burned high. The office was that of a firm of thriving wine exporters and the post had not yet been filled. The partner into whose office she penetrated by virtue of her sheer determination to see someone in authority, was a stout ruddy Marseillais, speaking French in the full-throated Southern fashion; he was kindly and cheery, with broad vermilion lips a-smile through his beard.
"Yes, we want a typist," he admitted; "but I'm afraid" his amiable brown eyes scrutinized her with manifest doubt. "You have references?" he inquired.
Yes, Annette had references. She had only lost her last situation when her employer went bankrupt; the testimonial she produced spoke well of her in every sense. She gave it him to read. But what what was it in her that had inspired that look of doubt, that look she had seen so often before in the eyes of possible employers?
"Yes, it is very good." He handed the paper back to her, still surveying her and hesitating. "And you are accustomed to the machine? H'm!"
It was then that hope flared up strongly. He could not get out of it; he must employ her now. Salary? She would take what the firm offered! And still he continued to look at her with a hint of embarrassment in his regard. She felt she was trembling.
"I'm afraid" he began again, but stopped at her involuntary little gasp and shifted uneasily in his chair. He was acutely uncomfortable. An idea came to him and he brightened. "Well, you can leave your address and we will write to you. Yes, we will write to you."
And to-day was the end! Annette stared at him. "When?" she asked shortly.
The burly man reddened dully; she had seen through his pretext for getting rid of her. "Oh, in a day or two," he answered uneasily.
Annette rose. She had turned pale but she was quite calm and self-possessed.
"I I hoped to get work today," she said. "In fact, I must find it today. But will you at least tell me why you won't give me the place?"
The big man's cheery face began to frown. He was being forced to fall back on his right to employ or not to employ whom he pleased without giving reasons. Annette watched him, and before he could speak she went on again.
"I'm not complaining," she said. Her voice was even and very low. "But there's something wrong with me, isn't there? I saw how you looked at me at first. Well, it wouldn't cost you anything, and it would help me a lot, if you'd just tell me what it is that's wrong. You see, nobody will have me, and it's getting rather rather desperate. So if you'd just tell me, perhaps I could alter something, and have a chance at last."
Her serious eyes, the pallor of her face, and the level tones of her voice held him like a hand on his throat. He was a man with the cordial nature of his race, prone to an easy kindliness, who would have suffered almost any ill rather than feel himself guilty of a cruelty. But how could he speak to her of the true reason for refusing her the son in the business, the avid young debauchee whose victims were girls in the firm's employ?
"If you'd just tell me what it is, I wouldn't bother you any more, and it might make all the difference to me," Annette was saying.
She saw him redden and shift sharply in his chair; an impulse of his ardent blood was spurring him to give her the work she needed, and then so to deal with his son that he would never dare lift his eyes to her. But the instinct of caution developed in business came to damp that dangerous warmth.
"Mademoiselle!" He returned her look gravely and honestly. "Upon my word, I can see nothing whatever wrong with you nothing whatever."
"Then," began Annette, "why won't you?"
He stopped her with an upraised hand. "I am going to tell you," he said. "There is a rule in this office, and behind the rule are good and sufficient reasons, that we do not take into our employ women who are still young and pretty."
She heard him with no change of her rigid countenance. She understood, of course; she had known in her time what it was to be persecuted. She would have liked to tell him that she was well able to take care of herself, but she recalled her promise not to bother him further.
She sighed, buttoning her glove. "It's a pity," she said unhappily, "because I really am a good typist."
"I am sure of it," he agreed. "I infinitely regret, but sa y est!"
She raised her head. "Well, thank you for telling me, at any rate," she said. "Good morning, monsieur."
"Good morning, mademoiselle," he replied, and held open the door for her to pass out.
Once more the street and the sunshine and the hurry of passing strangers, each pressing by about his or her concerns. Again she stood a little while in the doorway, regarding the thronged urgency that surged in spate between the high, handsome buildings, every unit of it wearing the air of being bound towards some place where it was needed, while she alone was unwanted.
"I think," considered Annette, "that I ought to have some coffee or something, since it's the last day."
She looked down along the street; not far away the awning of a cafe showed red and white above the sidewalk, sheltering its row of little tables, and she walked slowly towards it. How often in the last six weeks, footsore and leaden-hearted, had she passed such places, feeling the invitation of their ease and refreshment in every jarred and crying nerve of her body, yet resisting it for the sake of the centimes it would cost.
She took a chair in the back row of seats, behind a small iron table, slackening her muscles and leaning back, making the mere act of sitting down yield her her money's worth. The shadow of the awning turned the day to a benign coolness; there was a sense of privilege in being thus at rest in the very street, at the elbow of its passers-by. A crop-headed German waiter brought the cafe au lait which she ordered, and set it on the table before her two metal jugs, a cup and saucer, a little glass dish of sugar, and a folded napkin. The cost was half a franc; she gave him a franc, bade him keep the change, and was rewarded with half a smile, half a bow, and a "Merci beaucoup, madame!" which in themselves were a balm to her spirit, bruised by insult and failure. The coffee was hot; its fragrance gushed up from her cup; since her last situation had failed her she was tasting for the first time food that was appetizing and dainty.