Peter Ruff and the Double Four
E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 6 out of 8
of men came stealing out from the hidden places. The clerk who
had been working so hard at his desk calmly divested himself of a
false mustache and wig, and, assuming a more familiar appearance,
strolled out into the warehouse. De Grost looked around him with
absolutely unruffled composure. He was the centre of a little
circle of men, respectably dressed, but every one of them
hard-featured, with something in their faces which suggested not
the ordinary toiler, but the fighting animal - the man who lives
by his wits and knows something of danger. On the outskirts of
the circle stood Bernadine.
"Really," De Grost declared, "this is most unexpected. In the
matter of dramatic surprises, my friend Bernadine, you are certainly
in a class by yourself."
"You will understand, of course," he said, "that this little
entertainment is entirely for your amusement - well stage-managed,
perhaps, but my supers are not to be taken seriously. Since you
are here, Baron, might I ask you to precede me a few steps to the
"By all means," De Grost answered cheerfully. "It is this way, I
He walked with unconcerned footsteps down the warehouse, on either
side of which were great bins and a wilderness of racking, until he
came to a small, glass-enclosed office, built out from the wall.
Without hesitation he entered it, and removing his hat, selected
the more comfortable of the two chairs. Bernadine alone of the
others followed him inside, closing the door behind. De Grost,
who appeared exceedingly comfortable, stretched out his hand and
took a small black bottle from a tiny mahogany racking fixed
against the wall by his side.
"You will excuse me, my dear Bernadine," he said, "but I see my
friend Greening has been tasting a few wines. The 'XX' upon the
label here signifies approval. With your permission."
He half filled a glass and pushed the bottle toward Bernadine.
"Greening's taste is unimpeachable," De Grost declared, setting down
his glass empty. "No use being a director of a city business, you
know, unless one interests oneself personally in it. Greening's
judgment is simply marvelous. I have never tasted a more beautiful
wine. If the boom in sherry does come," he continued complacently,
we shall be in an excellent position to deal with it."
Bernadine laughed softly.
"Oh, my friend - Peter Ruff, or Baron de Grost, or whatever you may
choose to call yourself," he said, "I am indeed wise to have come
to the conclusion that you and I are too big to occupy the same
little spot on earth!"
De Grost nodded approvingly.
"I was beginning to wonder," he remarked, "whether you would not
soon arrive at that decision."
"Having arrived at it," Bernadine continued, looking intently at
his companion, "the logical sequence naturally occurs to you."
"Precisely, my dear Bernadine," De Grost asserted. "You say to
yourself, no doubt, 'One of us two must go!' Being yourself, you
would naturally conclude that it must be I. To tell you the truth,
I have been expecting some sort of enterprise of this description
for a considerable time."
Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.
"Your expectations," he said, "seem scarcely to have provided you
with a safe conduct."
De Grost gazed reflectively into his empty glass.
"You see," he explained, "I am such a lucky person. Your
arrangements to-night, however, are, I perceive, unusually
"I am glad you appreciate them," Bernadine remarked dryly.
"I would not for a moment," De Grost continued, "ask an impertinent
or an unnecessary question, but I must confess that I am rather
concerned to know the fate of my manager - the gentleman whom you
yourself with the aid, I presume, of Mr. Clarkson, so ably
"Alas!" he said, "your manager was a very obstinate person."
"And my clerk?"
"Incorruptible, absolutely incorruptible. I congratulate you, De
Grost. Your society is one of the most wonderful upon the face of
this earth. I know little about it, but my admiration is very
sincere. Their attention to details, and the personnel of their
staff, is almost perfect. I may tell you at once that no sum that
could be offered, tempted either of these men."
"I am delighted to hear .it," De Grost replied, "but I must plead
guilty to a little temporary anxiety as to their present
"At this moment," Bernadine remarked, "they are within a few feet
of us, but, as you are doubtless aware, access to your delightful
river is obtainable from these premises. To be frank with you, my
dear Baron, we are waiting for the tide to rise."
"So thoughtful about these trifles," De Grost murmured. "But their
present position? They are, I trust, not uncomfortable?"
Bernadine stood up and moved to the further end of the office. He
beckoned his companion to his side and, drawing an electric torch
from his pocket, flashed the light into a dark corner behind an
immense bin. The forms of a man and a youth, bound with ropes and
gagged, lay stretched upon the floor. De Grost sighed.
"I am afraid," he said, "that Mr. Greening, at any rate, is most
Bernadine turned off the light.
"At least, Baron," he declared, "if such extreme measures should
become necessary, I can promise you one thing - you shall have a
quicker passage into Eternity than they."
De Grost resumed his seat.
"Has it really come to that?" he asked. "Will nothing but so crude
a proceeding as my absolute removal satisfy you?"
"Nothing else is, I fear, practicable," Bernadine replied, "unless
you decide to listen to reason. Believe me, my dear friend, I shall
miss you and our small encounters exceedingly, but, unfortunately,
you stand in the way of my career. You are the only man who has
persistently balked me. You have driven me to use against you means
which I had grown to look upon as absolutely extinct in the upper
circles of our profession."
De Grost peered through the glass walls of the office.
"Eight men, not counting yourself," he remarked, "and my poor
manager and his faithful clerk lying bound and helpless. It is
heavy odds, Bernadine."
"There is no question of odds, I think," Bernadine answered smoothly.
"You are much too clever a person to refuse to admit that you are
entirely in my power."
"And as regards terms? I really don't feel in the least anxious to
make my final bow with so little notice," De Grost said. "To tell
you the truth, I have been finding life quite interesting lately."
Bernadine eyed his prisoner keenly. Such absolute composure was in
itself disturbing. He was, for the moment, aware of a slight
sensation of uneasiness, which his common sense, however, speedily
"There are two ways," he announced, "of dealing with an opponent.
There is the old-fashioned one - crude, but in a sense eminently
satisfactory - which sends him finally to adorn some other sphere."
"I don't like that one," De Grost interrupted. "Get on with the
"The alternative," Bernadine declared, "is when his capacity for
harm can be destroyed."
"That needs a little explanation," De Grost murmured.
"Precisely. For instance, if you were to become absolutely
discredited, I think that you would be effectually out of my way.
Your people do not forgive."
"Then discredit me, by all means," De Grost begged. "It sounds
unpleasant, but I do not like your callous reference to the river."
Bernadine gazed at his ancient opponent for several moments. After
all, what was this but the splendid bravado of a beaten man, who is
too clever not to recognize defeat?
"I shall require," he said, "your code, the keys of your safe,
which contains a great many documents of interest to me, and a
free entry into your house."
De Grost drew a bunch of keys reluctantly from his pocket and
laid them upon the desk.
"You will find the code bound in green morocco leather," he
announced, "on the left-hand side, underneath the duplicate of a
proposed Treaty between Italy and some other Power. Between
ourselves, Bernadine, I really expect that that is what you are
Bernadine's eyes glistened.
"What about the safe conduct into your house?" he asked.
De Grost drew his case from his pocket and wrote few lines on the
back of one of his cards.
"This will insure you entrance there," he said, "and access to my
study. If you see my wife, please reassure her as to my absence."
"I shall certainly do so," Bernadine agreed, with a faint smile.
"If I may be pardoned for alluding to a purely personal matter," De
Grost continued, "what is to become of me?"
"You will be bound and gagged in the same manner as your manager
and his clerk," Bernadine replied, smoothly. "I regret the necessity,
but you see, I can afford to run no risks. At four o'clock in the
morning, you will be released. It must be part of our agreement that
you allow the man who stays behind the others for the purpose of
setting you free, to depart unmolested. I think I know you better
than to imagine you would be guilty of such gaucherie as an appeal
to the police."
"That, unfortunately," De Grost declared, with a little sigh, "is,
as you well know, out of the question. You are too clever for me,
Bernadine. After all, I shall have to go back to my farm."
Bernadine opened the door and called softly to one of his men. In
less than five minutes De Grost was bound hand and foot. Bernadine
stepped back and eyed his adversary with an air of ill-disguised
"I trust, Baron," he said, "that you will be as comfortable as
possible, under the circumstances."
De Grost lay quite still. He was powerless to move or speak.
"Immediately," Bernadine continued, "I have presented myself at
your house, verified your safe conduct, and helped myself to
certain papers which I am exceedingly anxious to obtain," he went
on, "I shall telephone here to the man whom I leave in charge and
you will be set at liberty in due course. If, for any reason, I
meet with treachery and I do not telephone, you will join Mr.
Greening and his young companion in a little - shall we call it
aquatic recreation? I wish you a pleasant hour and success in
the future, Baron - as a farmer."
Bernadine withdrew and whispered his orders to his men. Soon the
electric light was turned out and the place was in darkness. The
front door was opened and closed; the group of confederates upon
the pavement lit cigarettes and wished one another good night with
the brisk air of tired employees, released at last from long labors.
Then there was silence.
It was barely eleven when Bernadine reached the west end of London.
His clothes had become a trifle disarranged and he called for a
few minutes at his rooms in St. James's Street. Afterwards, he
walked to Porchester House and rang the bell. To the servant who
answered it, he handed his master's card.
"Will you show me the way to the library?" he asked. "I have some
papers to collect for the Baron de Grost."
The man hesitated. Even with the card in his hand, it seemed a
somewhat unusual proceeding.
"Will you step inside, sir?" he begged. "I should like to show
this to the Baroness. The master is exceedingly particular about
any one entering his study."
"Do what you like so long as you do not keep me waiting," Bernadine
replied. "Your master's instructions are clear enough."
Violet came down the great staircase a few moments later, still in
her dinner gown, her face a little pale, her eyes luminous.
Bernadine smiled as he accepted her eagerly offered hand. She was
evidently anxious. A thrill of triumph warmed his blood. Once she
had been less kind to him than she seemed now.
"My husband gave you this!" she exclaimed.
"A few minutes ago," Bernadine answered. "He tried to make his
instructions as clear as possible. We are jointly interested in a
small matter which needs immediate action."
She led the way to the study.
"It seems strange," she remarked, "that you and he should be working
together. I always thought that you were on opposite sides."
"It is a matter of chance," Bernadine told her. "Your husband is
a wise man, Baroness. He knows when to listen to reason."
She threw open the door of the study, which was in darkness;
"'If you will wait a moment," she said, closing the door, "I will
turn on the electric light."
She touched the knobs in the wall and the room was suddenly flooded
with illumination. At the further end of the apartment was the
great safe. Close to it, in an easychair, his evening coat changed
for a smoking jacket, with a neatly tied black tie replacing his
crumpled white cravat, the Baron de Grost sat awaiting his guest.
A fierce oath broke from Bernadine's lips. He turned toward the
door only in time to hear the key turn. Violet tossed it lightly
in the air across to her husband.
"My dear Bernadine," the latter remarked, "on the whole, I do not
think that this has been one of your successes. My keys, if you
Bernadine stood for a moment, his face dark with passion. He bit
his lip till the blood came, and the veins at the back of his
clenched hands were swollen and thick. Nevertheless, when he
spoke he had recovered in great measure his self-control.
"Your keys are here, Baron de Grost," he said, placing them upon
the table. "If a bungling amateur may make such a request of a
professor, may I inquire how you escaped from your bonds, passed
through the door of a locked warehouse and reached here before me?"
The Baron de Grost smiled as he pushed the cigarettes across to
"Really," he said, "you have only to think for yourself for a
moment, my dear Bernadine, and you will understand. In the first
place, the letter you sent me signed 'Greening' was clearly a
forgery. There was no one else anxious to get me into their power,
hence I associated it at once with you. Naturally, I telephoned
to the chief of my staff - I, too, am obliged to employ some of
these un-uniformed policemen, my dear Bernadine, as you may be
aware. It may interest you to know, further, that there are seven
entrances to the warehouse in Tooley Street. Through one of these
something like twenty of my men passed and were already concealed
in the place when I entered. At another of the doors a motor-car
waited for me. If I had chosen to lift my finger at any time,
your men would have been overpowered and I might have had the
pleasure of dictating terms to you in my own office. Such a course
did not appeal to me. You and I, as you know, dear Count von Hern,
conduct our peculiar business under very delicate conditions, and
the least thing we either of us desire is notoriety. I managed
things, as I thought, for the best. The moment you left the place
my men swarmed in. We kindly, but gently, ejected your guard,
released Greening and my clerk, and I passed you myself in Fleet
Street, a little more comfortable, I think, in my forty-horsepower
motor-car than you in that very disreputable hansom. As to my
presence here, I have an entrance from the street there which makes
me independent of my servants. The other details are too absurdly
simple; one need not enlarge upon them."
Bernadine turned slowly to Violet.
"You knew?" he muttered. "You knew when you brought me here?"
"Naturally," she answered. "We have telephones in every room in
"I am at your service," Bernadine declared, calmly.
De Grost laughed.
"My dear fellow," he said, "need I say that you are free to come
or go, to take a whiskey and soda with me, or to depart at once,
exactly as you feel inclined? The door was locked only until you
restored to me my keys."
He crossed the room, fitted the key in the lock and turned it.
"We do not make war as those others," he remarked, smiling.
Bernadine drew himself up.
"I will not drink with you," he said, "I will not smoke with you.
But some day this reckoning shall come."
He turned to the door. De Grost laid his finger upon the bell.
"Show Count von Hern out," he directed the astonished servant who
appeared a moment or two later.
THE SEVEN SUPPERS OF ANDREA KORUST
Peter, Baron de Grost, was enjoying what he had confidently looked
forward to as an evening's relaxation, pure and simple. He sat in
one of the front rows of the stalls of the Alhambra, his wife by
his side and an excellent cigar in his mouth. An hour or so ago he
had been in telephonic communication with Paris, had spoken with
Sogrange himself, and received his assurance of a calm in political
and criminal affairs amounting almost to stagnation. It was out
of season, and, though his popularity was as great as ever, neither
he nor his wife had any social engagements; hence this evening at
a music hall, which Peter, for his part, was finding thoroughly
The place was packed - some said owing to the engagement of Andrea
Korust and his brother, others to the presence of Mademoiselle
Sophie Celaire in her wonderful danse des apaches. The violinist
that night had a great reception. Three times he was called before
the curtain; three times he was obliged to reiterate his grateful
but immutable resolve never to yield to the nightly storm which
demanded more from a man who has given of his best. Slim, with the
worn face and hollow eyes of a genius, he stood and bowed his thanks,
but when he thought the time had arrived, he disappeared, and though
the house shook for minutes afterwards, nothing could persuade him
Afterwards came the turn which, notwithstanding the furore caused
by Andrea Korust's appearance, was generally considered to be
equally responsible for the packed house - the apache dance of
Mademoiselle Sophie Celaire. Peter sat slightly forward in his
chair as the curtain went up. For a time he seemed utterly
absorbed by the performance. Violet glanced at him once or twice
curiously. It began to occur to her that it was not so much the
dance as the dancer in whom her husband was interested.
"You have seen her before - this Mademoiselle Celaire?" she
"Yes," said Peter, nodding, "I have seen her before."
The dance proceeded. It was like many others of its sort, only a
little more daring, a little more finished. Mademoiselle Celaire,
in her tight-fitting, shabby black frock, with her wild mass of
hair, her flashing eyes, her seductive gestures, was, without doubt,
a marvelous person. Peter, Baron de Grost, watched her every
movement with absorbed attention. When the curtain went down he
forgot to clap. His eyes followed her off the stage. Violet
shrugged her shoulders. She was looking very handsome herself in
a black velvet dinner gown, and a hat so exceedingly Parisian that
no one had had the heart to ask her to remove it.
"My dear Peter," she remarked, reprovingly, "a moderate amount of
admiration for that very agile young lady I might, perhaps, be
inclined to tolerate; but, having watched you for the last quarter
of an hour, I am bound to confess that I am becoming jealous."
"Of Mademoiselle Celaire?" he asked.
"Of Mademoiselle Sophie Celaire."
He leaned a little towards her. His lips were parted; he was about
to make a statement or a confession. Just then a tall commissionaire
leaned over from behind and touched him on the shoulder.
"For Monsieur le Baron de Grost," he announced, handing Peter a note.
Peter glanced towards his wife.
"You permit me?" he murmured, breaking the seal.
Violet shrugged her shoulders, ever so slightly. Her husband was
already absorbed in the few lines hastily scrawled across the sheet
of notepaper which he held in his hand.
MONSIEUR LE BARON DE GHOST.
Dear Monsieur le Baron,
4 Come to my dressing-room, without 4
fail, as soon as you receive this.
Violet looked over his shoulder.
"The hussy!" she exclaimed, indignantly. Her husband raised his
eyebrows. With his forefinger he merely tapped the two numerals.
"The Double-Four!" she gasped.
He looked around and nodded. The commissionaire was waiting. Peter
took up his silk hat from under the seat.
"If I am detained, dear," he whispered, "you'll make the best of it,
won't you? The car will be here and Frederick will be looking out
"Of course," she answered, cheerfully. "I shall be quite all right."
She nodded brightly and Peter took his departure. He passed through
a door on which was painted "Private," and through a maze of scenery
and stage hands and ballet ladies by a devious route to the region of
the dressing-rooms. His guide conducted him to the door of one of
these and knocked.
"Entrez, monsieur," a shrill feminine voice replied.
Peter entered and closed the door behind him. The commissionaire
remained outside. Mademoiselle Celaire turned to greet her visitor.
"It is a few words I desire with you as quickly as possible, if you
please, Monsieur le Baron," she said, advancing towards him.
She had brushed out her hair and it hung from her head straight and
a little stiff, almost like the hair of an Indian woman. She had
washed her face, too, free of all cosmetics and her pallor was almost
waxen. She wore a dressing gown of green silk. Her discarded black
frock lay upon the floor.
"I am entirely at your service, mademoiselle," Peter answered,
bowing. "Continue, if you please."
"You sup with me to-night - you are my guest."
"I am very much honored," he murmured. "It is an affair of urgency,
then? Mademoiselle will remember that I am not alone here."
She threw out her hands scornfully.
"They told me in Paris that you were a genius!" she exclaimed.
"Cannot you feel, then, when a thing is urgent? Do you not know it
without being told? You must meet me with a carriage at the stage
door in forty minutes. We sup in Hamilton Place with Andrea Korust
and his brother."
"With whom?" Peter asked, surprised.
"With the Korust Brothers," she repeated. "I have just been talking
to Andrea. He calls himself a Hungarian. Bah! They are as much
Hungarian, those young men, as I am!"
Peter leaned slightly against the table and looked thoughtfully at
his companion. He was trying to remember whether he had ever heard
anything of these young men.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "the prospect of partaking of any meal in
your company is in itself enchanting, but I do not know your friends,
the Korust Brothers. Apart from their wonderful music, I do not
recollect ever having heard of them before in my life. What excuse
have I, then, for accepting their hospitality? Pardon me, too, if I
add that you have not as yet spoken as to the urgency of this affair."
She turned from him impatiently and, throwing herself back into the
chair from which she had risen at his entrance, she began to exchange
the thick woolen stockings which she had been wearing upon the stage
for others of fine silk.
"Oh, la, la!" she exclaimed. "You are very slow, Monsieur le Baron.
It is, perhaps, my stage name which has misled you. I am Marie
Lapouse. Does that convey anything to you?"
"A great deal," Peter admitted, quickly. "You stand very high upon
the list of my agents whom I may trust."
"Then stay here no longer," she begged, "for my maid waits outside
and I need her services. Go back and make your excuses to your wife.
In forty minutes I shall expect you at the stage door."
"An affair of diplomacy, this, or brute force?" he inquired.
"Heaven knows what may happen!" she replied. "To tell you the truth,
I do not know myself. Be prepared for anything, but, for Heaven's
sake, go now! I can dress no further without my maid, and Andrea
Korust may come in at any moment. I do not wish him to find you here."
Peter made his way thoughtfully back to his seat. He explained the
situation to his wife so far as he could, and sent her home. Then
he waited about until the car returned, smoking a cigarette and
trying once more to remember if he had ever heard anything from
Sogrange of Andrea Korust or his brother. Punctually at the time
stated he was outside the stage door of the music-hall, and a few
minutes later Mademoiselle Celaire appeared, a dazzling vision of
fur and smiles and jewelry imperfectly concealed. A small crowd
pressed around to see the famous Frenchwoman. Peter handed her
gravely across the pavement into his waiting car. One or two of
the loungers gave vent to a groan of envy at the sight of the
diamonds which blazed from her neck and bosom. Peter smiled as he
gave the address to his servant and took his place by the side of
"They see only the externals, this mob," he remarked. "They picture
to themselves, perhaps, a little supper for two. Alas!"
Mademoiselle Celaire laughed at him softly.
"You need not trouble to assume that most disconsolate of expressions,
my dear Baron," she assured him. "Your reputation as a man of
gallantry is beyond question; but remember that I know you also for
the most devoted and loyal of husbands. We waste no time in folly,
you and I. It is the business of the Double-Four."
Peter was relieved, but his innate politeness forbade his showing it.
"Proceed," he said.
"The Brothers Korust," she went on, leaning towards him, "have a
week's engagement at the Alhambra. Their salary is six hundred
pounds. They play very beautifully, of course, but I think that
it is as much as they are worth."
Peter agreed with her fervently. He had no soul for music.
"They have taken the furnished house belonging to one of your dukes,
in Hamilton Place, for which we are now bound; taken it, too, at a
fabulous rent," Mademoiselle Celaire continued. "They, have
installed there a chef and a whole retinue of servants. They are
here for seven nights; they have issued invitations for seven supper
"Hospitable young men they seem to be," Peter murmured. "I read in
one of the stage papers that Andrea is a Count in his own country,
and that they perform in public only for the love of their music and
for the sake of the excitement and travel."
"A paragraph wholly inspired and utterly false," Mademoiselle Celaire
declared, firmly, sitting a little forward in the car, and laying her
hand, ablaze with jewels, upon his coat sleeve. "Listen. They call
themselves Hungarians. Bah! I know that they are in touch with a
great European court, both of them, the court of the country to which
they belong. They have plans, plans and schemes connected with their
visit here, which I do not understand. I have done my best with
Andrea Korust, but he is not a man to be trusted. I know that there
is something more in these seven supper parties than idle hospitality.
I and others like me, artistes and musicians, are invited, to give
the assembly a properly Bohemian tone; but there are to be other
guests, attracted there, no doubt, because the papers have spoken of
"You have some idea of what it all means, in your mind?" Peter
"It is too vague to put into words," she declared, shaking her
head. "We must both watch. Afterwards, we will, if you like,
The car drew up before the doors of a handsome house in Hamilton
Place. A footman received Peter and relieved him of his hat and
overcoat. A trim maid performed the same office for Mademoiselle
Celaire. They met, a moment or two later, and were ushered into a
large drawing-room in which a dozen or two of men and women were
already assembled, and from which came a pleasant murmur of voices
and laughter. The apartment was hung with pale green satin; the
furniture was mostly Chippendale, upholstered in the same shade.
A magnificent grand piano stood open in a smaller room, just
visible beyond. Only one thing seemed strange to the two newly
arrived guests. The room was entirely lit with shaded candles,
giving a certain mysterious but not unpleasant air of obscurity to
the whole suite of apartments. Through the gloom, the jewels and
eyes of the women seemed to shine with a new brilliance. Slight
eccentricities of toilette, for a part of the gathering was
distinctly Bohemian, were softened and subdued. The whole effect
was somewhat weird, but also picturesque.
Andrea Korust advanced from a little group to meet his guests. Off
the stage he seemed at first sight frailer and slighter than ever.
His dress coat had been exchanged for a velvet dinner jacket, and
his white tie for a drooping black bow. He had a habit of blinking
nearly all the time, as though his large brown eyes, which he seldom
wholly opened, were weaker than they appeared to be. Nevertheless,
when he came to within a few paces of his newly arrived visitors,
they shone with plenty of expression. Without any change of
countenance, however, he held out his hand.
"Dear Andrea," Mademoiselle Celaire exclaimed, "you permit me that
I present to you my dear friend, well known in Paris - alas! many
years ago - Monsieur le Baron de Grost. Monsieur le Baron was kind
enough to pay his respects to me this evening, and I have induced
him to become my escort here."
"It was my good fortune," Peter remarked, smiling, "that I saw
Mademoiselle Celaire's name upon the bills this evening - my good
fortune, since it has procured for me the honor of an acquaintance
with a musician so distinguished."
"You are very kind, Monsieur le Baron," Korust replied.
"You stay here, I regret to hear, a very short time?"
"Alas!" Andrea Korust admitted, "it is so. For myself I would that
it were longer. I find your London so attractive, the people so
friendly. They fall in with my whims so charmingly. I have a
hatred, you know, of solitude. I like to make acquaintances wherever
I go, to have delightful women and interesting men around, to forget
that life is not always gay. If I am too much alone, I am miserable,
and when I am miserable I am in a very bad way indeed. I cannot then
Peter smiled gravely and sympathetically.
"And your brother? Does he, too, share your gregarious instincts?"
Korust paused for a moment before replying. His eyes were quite
wide open now. If one could judge from his expression, one would
certainly have said that the Baron de Grost's attempts to ingratiate
himself with his host were distinctly unsuccessful.
"My brother has exactly opposite instincts," he said slowly. "He
finds no pleasure in society. At the sound of a woman's voice, he
"He is not here, then?" Peter asked, glancing around.
Andrea Korust shook his head.
"It is doubtful whether he joins us this evening at all," he
declared. "My sister, however, is wholly of my disposition. =20
Monsieur le Baron will permit that I present him."
Peter bowed low before a very handsome young woman with flashing
black eyes, and a type of features undoubtedly belonging to one
of the countries of eastern Europe. She was picturesquely dressed
in a gown of flaming red silk, made as though in one piece, without
trimming or flounces, and she seemed inclined to bestow upon her
new acquaintance all the attention that he might desire. She took
him at once into a corner and seated herself by his side. It was
impossible for Peter not to associate the empressement of her manner
with the few words which Andrea Korust had whispered into her ear
at the moment of their introduction.
"So you," she murmured, "are the wonderful Baron de Grost. I have
heard of you so often."
"Wonderful!" Peter repeated, with twinkling eyes. "I have never
been called that before. I feel that I have no claims whatever to
distinction, especially in a gathering like this."
She shrugged her shoulders and glanced carelessly across the room.
"They are well enough," she admitted, "but one wearies of genius on
every side of one. Genius is not the best thing in the world to
live with, you know. It has whims and fancies. For instance, look
at these rooms - the gloom, the obscurity - and I love so much the
"It is the privilege of genius," he remarked, "to have whims and
to indulge in them."
"To do Andrea justice," she said, "it is, perhaps, scarcely a whim
that he chooses to receive his guests in semi-darkness. He has weak
eyes and he is much too vain to wear spectacles. Tell me, you know
every one here?"
"No one," Peter declared. "Please enlighten me, if you think it
necessary. For myself," he added, dropping his voice a little, "I
feel that the happiness of my evening is assured, without making
any further acquaintances."
"But you came as the guest of Mademoiselle Celaire," she reminded
him, doubtfully, with a faint regretful sigh and a provocative
gleam in her eyes.
"I saw Mademoiselle Celaire to-night for the first time for years,"
Peter replied. "I called to see her in her dressing-room and she
claimed me for an escort this evening. I am, alas! a very occasional
wanderer in the pleasant paths of Bohemia."
"If that is really true," she murmured, "I suppose I must tell you
something about the people, or you will feel that you have wasted
"Mademoiselle," Peter whispered.
She held out her hand and laughed into his face.
"No!" she interrupted. "I shall do my duty. Opposite you is
Mademoiselle Trezani, the famous singer at Covent Garden. Do I
need to tell you that, I wonder? Rudolf Maesterling, the
dramatist, stands behind her there in the corner. He is talking
to the wonderful Cleo, whom all the world knows. Monsieur Guyer
there, he is manager, I believe, of the Alhambra; and talking to
him is Marborg, the great pianist. One of the ladies talking to
my brother is Esther Braithwaite, whom, of course, you know by
sight; she is leading lady, is she not, at the Hilarity? The
other is Miss Ransome; they tell me that she is your only really
great English actress."
Peter nodded appreciatively.
"It is all most interesting," he declared. "Now tell me, please,
who is the military person with the stiff figure and sallow
complexion, standing by the door? He seems quite alone."
The girl made a little grimace.
"I suppose I ought to be looking after him," she admitted, rising
reluctantly to her feet. "He is a soldier just back from India - a
General Noseworthy, with all sorts of letters after his name. If
Mademoiselle Celaire is generous, perhaps we may have a few minutes'
conversation later on," she added, with a parting smile.
"Say, rather, if Mademoiselle Korust is kind," De Grost replied,
bowing. "It depends upon that only."
He strolled across the room and rejoined Mademoiselle Celaire a few
moments later. They stood apart in a corner.
"I should like my supper," Peter declared.
"They wait for one more guest," Mademoiselle Celaire announced.
"One more guest! Do you know who it is?"
"No idea," she answered. "One would imagine that it was some one
of importance. Are you any wiser than when you came, dear master?"
she added, under her breath.
"Not a whit," he replied, promptly.
She took out her fan and waved it slowly in front of her face.
"Yet you must discover what it all means to-night or not at all,"
she whispered. "The dear Andrea has intimated to me most
delicately that another escort would be more acceptable if I should
honor him again."
"That helps," he murmured. "See, our last guest arrives.
A tall, - spare-looking man was just being announced. They heard
his name as Andrea presented him to a companion -
Mademoiselle Celaire saw a gleam in her companion's eyes.
"It is coming - the idea?" she whispered.
"Very vaguely," he admitted.
"Who is this Colonel Mayson?"
"Our only military aeronaut," Peter replied.
She raised her eyebrows.
"Aeronaut!" she repeated, doubtfully. "I see nothing in that.
Both my own country and Germany are years ahead of poor England
in the air. Is it not so?"
Peter smiled and held out his arm.
"See," he said, "supper has been announced. Afterwards, Andrea
Korust will play to us, and I think that Colonel Mayson and his
distinguished brother officer from India will talk. We shall see."
They passed into a room whose existence had suddenly been
revealed by the drawing back of some beautiful brocaded curtains.
Supper was a delightful meal, charmingly served. Peter, putting
everything else out of his head for the moment, thoroughly enjoyed
himself, and, remembering his duty as a guest, contributed in no
small degree towards the success of the entertainment. He sat
between Mademoiselle Celaire and his hostess, both of whom demanded
much from him in the way of attention. But he still found time to
tell stories which were listened to by every one, and exchanged
sallies with the gayest. Only Andrea Korust, from his place at the
head of the table, glanced occasionally towards his popular guest
with a curious, half-hidden expression of distaste and suspicion.
The more the Baron de Grost shone, the more uneasy he became. The
signal to rise from the meal was given almost abruptly. Mademoiselle
Korust hung on to Peter's arm. Her own wishes and her brother's
orders seemed absolutely to coincide. She led him towards a retiring
corner of the music room. On the way, however, Peter overheard the
introduction which he had expected.
"General Noseworthy is just returned from India, Colonel Mayson,"
Korust said, in his usual quiet, tired tone. "You will, perhaps,
find it interesting to talk together a little. As for me, I play
because all are polite enough to wish it, but conversation disturbs
me not in the least."
Peter passed, smiling, on to the corner pointed out by his companion,
which was the darkest and most secluded in the room. He took her
fan and gloves, lit her cigarette, and leaned back by her side.
"How does your brother, a stranger to London, find time to make the
acquaintance of so many interesting people?" he asked.
"He brought many letters," she replied. "He has friends everywhere."
"I have an idea," Peter remarked, "that an acquaintance of my own,
the Count von Hern, spoke to me once about him."
She took her cigarette from her lips and turned her head slightly.
Peter's expression was one of amiable reminiscence. His cheeks
were a trifle flushed, his appearance was entirely reassuring. She
laughed at her brother's caution. She found her companion delightful.
"Yes, the Count von Hern is a friend of my brother's," she admitted,
"And of yours?" he whispered, his arm slightly pressed against hers.
She laughed at him silently and their eyes met. Decidedly Peter,
Baron de Grost, found it hard to break away from his old weakness!
Andrea Korust, from his place near the piano, breathed a sigh of
relief as he watched. A moment or two later, however, Mademoiselle
Korust was obliged to leave her companion to receive a late but
unimportant guest, and almost simultaneously Colonel Mayson passed
by on his way to the farther end of the apartment. Andrea Korust
was bending over the piano to give some instructions to his
accompanist. Peter leaned forward and his face and tone were
"You will find General Noseworthy of the Indian Army a little
inquisitive, Colonel," he remarked.
The latter turned sharply round. There was meaning in those few
words, without doubt! There was meaning, too, in the still, cold
face which seemed to repel his question. He passed on thoughtfully.
Mademoiselle Korust, with a gesture of relief, came back and threw
herself once more upon the couch.
"We must talk in whispers," she said, gayly. "Andrea always
declares that he does not mind conversation, but too much noise is,
of course, impossible. Besides, Mademoiselle Celaire will not spare
you to me for long."
"There is a whole language," he replied, "which was made for
whispers. And as for Mademoiselle Celaire -"
He laughed softly.
"Mademoiselle Celaire is, I think, more your brother's friend than
mine," he murmured. "At least, I will be generous. He has given me
a delightful evening. I resign my claims upon Mademoiselle Celaire."
"It would break your heart," she declared.
His voice sank even below a whisper. Decidedly, Peter, Baron de Grost,
did not improve!
He rose to leave precisely at the right time, neither too early nor
too late. He had spent altogether a most amusing evening. There
were one or two little comedies which bad diverted him extremely.
At the moment of parting, the beautiful eyes of Mademoiselle Korust
had been raised to his very earnestly.
"You will come again very soon - to-morrow night?" she had whispered.
"Is it necessary that you bring Mademoiselle Celaire?"
"It is altogether unnecessary," Peter replied.
"Let me try and entertain you instead, then!"
It was precisely at that instant that Andrea had sent for his sister.
Peter watched their brief conversation with much interest and intense
amusement. She was being told not to invite him there again and she
was rebelling! Without a doubt, he had made a conquest! She returned
to him flushed and with a dangerous glitter in her eyes.
"Monsieur le Baron," she said, leading him on one side, "I am ashamed
"Your brother is annoyed because you have asked me here to-morrow
night?" he asked, quickly.
"It is so," she confessed. "Indeed, I thank you that you have spared
me the task of putting my brother's discourtesy into words. Andrea
takes violent fancies like that sometimes. I am ashamed, but what
can I do?"
"Nothing, mademoiselle," be admitted, with a sigh. "I obey, of
course. Did your brother mention the source of his aversion to me?"
"He is too absurd sometimes," she declared. "One must treat him
like a great baby."
"Nevertheless, there must be a reason," Peter persisted, gently.
"He has heard some foolish thing from Count von Hern," she admitted,
reluctantly. "Do not let us think anything more about it. In a
few days it will have passed. And meanwhile - "
She paused. He leaned a little towards her. She was looking
intently at a ring upon her finger.
"If you would really like to see me," she whispered, and if you are
sure that Mademoiselle Celaire would not object, could you not ask
me to tea to-morrow - or the next day?"
"To-morrow," Peter insisted, with a becoming show of eagerness.
"Shall we say at the Canton at five?"
"Isn't that rather a public place?" she objected.
"Anywhere else you like."
She was silent for a moment. She seemed to be waiting for some
suggestion from him. None came, however.
"The Carlton at five," she murmured. "I am angry with Andrea. I
feel, even, that I could break his wonderful violin in two!"
Peter sighed once more.
"I should like to twist von Hern's neck," he declared. "Lucky for
him that he's in St. Petersburg! Let us forget this unpleasant
matter, mademoiselle. The evening has been too delightful for such
Mademoiselle Celaire turned to her escort eagerly as soon as they
were alone together in the car.
"As an escort, let me tell you, my dear Baron," she exclaimed, with
some pique, "that you are a miserable failure! For the rest - "
"For the rest, I will admit that I am puzzled," Peter said. "I need
to think. I have the glimmerings of an idea - no more."
"You will act? It is an affair for us - for the Double-Four?"
"Without a doubt - an affair and a serious one," Peter assured her.
"I shall act; exactly how I cannot say until after to-morrow."
"To-morrow?" she repeated, inquiringly.
"Mademoiselle Korust takes tea with me," he explained.
In a quiet sort of way, the series of supper parties given by Andrea
Korust became the talk of London. The most famous dancer in the
world broke through her unvarying rule and night after night thrilled
the distinguished little gathering. An opera singer, the "star" of
the season, sang, a great genius recited, and Andrea himself gave
always of his best. Apart from this wonderful outpouring of talent,
Andrea Korust himself seemed to possess the peculiar art of bringing
into touch with one another people naturally interested in the same
subjects. On the night after the visit of Peter, Baron de Grost,
His Grace the Duke of Rosshire was present, the man in whose hands
lay the destinies of the British Navy; and, curiously enough, on
the same night, a great French writer on naval subjects was present,
whom the Duke had never met, and with whom he was delighted to talk
for some time apart. On another occasion, the Military Secretary
to the French Embassy was able to have a long and instructive chat
with a distinguished English general on the subject of the recent
maneuvers, and the latter received, in the strictest confidence, some
very interesting information concerning the new type of French guns.
On the following evening, the greatest of our Colonial statesmen, a
red-hot Imperialist, was able to chat about the resources of the
Empire with an English politician of similar views whom he chanced
never to have previously met. Altogether, these parties seemed to be
the means of bringing together a series of most interesting people,
interesting not only in themselves, but in their relations to one
another. It was noticeable, however, that from this side of his
little gatherings Andrea Korust remained wholly apart. He frankly
admitted that music and cheerful companionship were the only two
things in life he cared for. Politics or matters of world import
seemed to leave him unmoved. If a serious subject of conversation
were started at supper time, he was frankly bored, and took no
particular pains to hide the fact. It is certain that whatever
interesting topics were alluded to in his presence, he remained
entirely outside any understanding of them. Mademoiselle Celaire,
who was present most evenings, although with other escorts, was
entirely puzzled. She could see nothing whatever to account for
the warning which she had received, and which she had passed on,
as was her duty, to the Baron de Grost. She failed, also, to
understand the faint but perceptible enlightenment to which Peter
himself had admittedly attained after that first evening. Take
that important conversation, for instance, between the French
military attach, and the English general. Without a doubt it was
of interest, and especially so to the country which she was sure
claimed his allegiance, but it was equally without doubt that
Andrea Korust neither overheard a word of that conversation nor
betrayed the slightest curiosity concerning it. Mademoiselle
Celaire was a clever woman and she had never felt so hopelessly
The seventh and last of these famous supper parties was in full
swing. Notwithstanding the shaded candles, which left the faces
of the guests a little indistinct, the scene was a brilliant one.
Mademoiselle Celaire was wearing her famous diamonds, which shone
through the gloom like pin-pricks of fire. Garda Desmaines, the
wonderful Garda, sat next to her host, her bosom and hair on fire
with jewels, yet with the most wonderful light of all glowing
in her eyes. A famous actor, who had thrown his proverbial
reticence to the winds, kept his immediate neighbors in a state
of semi-hysterical mirth. The clink of wine glasses, the laughter
of beautiful women, the murmur of cultivated voices, rising and
swelling through the faint, mysterious gloom, made a picturesque,
a wonderful scene. Pale as a marble statue, with the covert smile
of the gracious host, Andrea Korust sat at the head of his table,
well pleased with his company, as indeed he had the right to be.
By his side was a great American statesman, who was traveling
around the world and yet had refused all other invitations of this
sort. He had come for the pleasure of meeting the famous Dutch
writer and politician, Mr. Van Jool. The two were already talking
intimately. It was at this point that tragedy, or something like
it, intervened. A impatient voice was heard in the hall outside,
a voice which grew louder and louder, more impatient, finally
more passionate. People raised their heads to listen. The
American statesman, who was, perhaps, the only one to realize
exactly what was coming, slipped his hand into his pocket and
gripped something cold and hard. Then the door was flung open.
An apologetic and much disturbed butler made the announcement
which had evidently been demanded of him.
"Mr. Von Tassen!"
A silence followed - breathless - the silence before the bursting
of the storm. Mr. Von Tassen was the name of the American
statesman, and the man who rose slowly from his place by his host's
side was the exact double of the man who stood now upon the
threshold, gazing in upon the room. The expression of the two
alone was different. The newcomer was furiously angry, and looked
it. The sham Mr. Von Tassen was very much at his ease. It was he
who broke the silence, and his voice was curiously free from all
trace of emotion. He was looking his double over with an air of
"On the whole," he said, calmly, "very good. A little stouter, I
perceive, and the eyebrows a trifle too regular. Of course, when
you make faces at me like that, it is hard to judge of the expression.
I can only say that I did the best I could."
"Who the devil are you, masquerading in my name?" the newcomer
demanded, with emphasis. "This man is an impostor!" he added,
turning to Andrea Korust. "What is he doing at your table?"
Andrea leaned forward and his face was an evil thing to look upon.
"Who are you?" he hissed out.
The sham Mr. Von Tassen turned away for a moment and stooped down.
The trick has been done often enough upon the stage, often in less
time, but seldom with more effect. The wonderful wig disappeared,
the spectacles, the lines in the face, the make-up of diabolical
cleverness. With his back to the wall and his fingers playing with
something in his pocket, Peter, Baron de Grost, smiled upon his host.
"Since you insist upon knowing - the Baron de Grost, at your
service!" he announced.
Andrea Korust was, for the moment, speechless. One of the women
shrieked. The real Mr. Von Tassen looked around him helplessly.
"Will some one be good enough to enlighten me as to the meaning of
this?" he begged. "Is it a roast? If so, I only want to catch on.
Let me get to the joke, if there is one. If not, I should like a
few words of explanation from you, sir," he added, addressing Peter.
"Presently," the latter replied. "In the meantime, let me persuade
you that I am not the only impostor here."
He seized a glass of water and dashed it in the face of Mr. Van
Jool. There was a moment's scuffle, and no more of Mr. Van Jool.
What emerged was a good deal like the shy Maurice Korust, who
accompanied his brother at the music hall, but whose distaste for
these gatherings had been Andrea's continual lament. The Baron de
Grost stepped back once more against the wall. His host was
certainly looking dangerous. Mademoiselle Celaire was leaning
forward, staring through the gloom with distended eyes. Around the
table every head was turned towards the centre of the disturbance.
It was Peter again who spoke.
"Let me suggest, Andrea Korust," he said, "that you send your guests
- those who are not immediately interested in this affair - into
the next room. I will offer Mr. Von Tassen then the explanation to
which he is entitled."
Andrea Korust staggered to his feet. The nerve had failed. He
was shaking all over. He pointed to the music room.
"If you would be so good, ladies and gentlemen?" he begged. "We
will follow you immediately."
They went with obvious reluctance. All their eyes seemed focussed
upon Peter. He bore their scrutiny with calm cheerfulness. For a
moment he had feared Korust, but that moment had passed. A servant,
obeying his master's gesture, pulled back the curtains after the
departing crowd. The four men were alone.
"Mr. Von Tassen," Peter said, easily, "you are a man who loves
adventures. To-night you experience a new sort of one. Over in
your great country, such methods are laughed at as the cheap
device of sensation mongers. Nevertheless, they exist. To-night
is a proof that they exist."
"Get on to facts, sir," the American admonished. "You've got to
explain to me what you mean by passing yourself off as Thomas Von
Tassen, before you leave this room."
"With much pleasure, Mr. Von Tassen," he declared. "For your
information, I might tell you that you are not the only person in
whose guise I have figured. In fact, I have had quite a busy week.
I have been - let me see - I have been Monsieur le Marquis de Beau
Kunel on the night when our shy friend, Maurice Korust, was
playing the part of General Henderson. I have also been His Grace
the Duke of Rosshire when my friend Maurice here was introduced to
me as Francois Defayal, known by name to me as one of the greatest
writers on naval matters. A little awkward about the figure I
found His Grace, but otherwise I think that I should have passed
muster wherever he was known. I have also passed as Sir William
Laureston, on the evening when my rival artist here sang the
praises of Imperial England."
Andrea Korust leaned forward with venomous eyes.
"You mean that it was you who was here last night in Sir William
Laureston's place?" he almost shrieked.
"Most certainly," Peter admitted, "but you must remember that, after
all, my performances have been no more difficult than those of your
shy but accomplished brother. Whenever I took to myself a strange
personality I found him there, equally good as to detail, and with
his subject always at his finger tips. We settled that little matter
of the canal, didn't we?" Peter remarked, cheerfully, laying his
hand upon the shoulder of the young man.
They stared at him, those two white-faced brothers, like tiger-cats
about to spring. Mr. Von Tassen was getting impatient.
"Look here," he protested, "you may be clearing matters up so far
as regards Mr. Andrea Korust and his brother, but I'm as much in
the fog as ever. Where do I come in?"
"Your pardon, sir," Peter replied. "I am getting nearer things
now. These two young men - we will not call them hard names - are
suffering from an excess of patriotic zeal. They didn't come and
sit down on a camp stool and sketch obsolete forts, as those others
of their countrymen do when they want to pose as the bland and
really exceedingly ignorant foreigner. They went about the matter
with some skill. It occurred to them that it might be interesting
to their country to know what Sir William Laureston thought about
the strength of the Imperial Navy, and to what extent his country
was willing to go in maintaining their allegiance to Great Britain.
Then there was the Duke of Rosshire. They thought they'd like to
know his views as to the development of the Navy during the next
ten years. There was that little matter, too, of the French guns.
It would certainly be interesting to them to know what Monsieur le
Marquis de Beau Kunel had to say about them. These people were all
invited to sit at the hospitable board of our host here. I, however,
had an inkling on the first night of what was going on, and I was
easily able to persuade those in authority to let me play their
several parts. You, sir, Peter added, turning to Mr. Von Tassen,
"you, sir, floored me. You were not an Englishman, and there was
no appeal which I could make. I simply had to risk you. I counted
upon your not turning up. Unfortunately, you did. Fortunately,
you are the last guest. This is the seventh supper."
Mr. Von Tassen glanced around at the three men and made up his mind.
"What do you call yourself?" he asked Peter.
"The Baron de Grost," Peter replied.
"Then, my friend the Baron de Grost," Von Tassen said, "I think
that you and I had better get out of this. So I was to talk about
Germany with Mr. Van Jool, eh?"
"I have already explained your views," Peter declared, with
twinkling eyes. "Mr. Van Jool was delighted."
Mr. Von Tassen shook with laughter.
"Say," he exclaimed, "this is a great story! If you're ready,
Baron de Grost, lead the way to where we can get a whiskey and
soda and a chat."
Mademoiselle Celaire came gliding out to them.
"I am not going to be left here," she whispered, taking Peter's arm.
Peter looked back from the door.
"At any rate, Mr. Andrea Korust," he said, "your first supper was
a success. Colonel Mayson was genuine. Our real English military
aeronaut was here, and he has disclosed to you, Maurice Korust, all
that he ever knew. Henceforth, I presume your great country will
dispute with us for the mastery of the air.
"Queer country, this!" Mr. Von Tassen remarked, pausing on the step
to light a cigar. "Seems kind of humdrum after New York, but there's
no use talking. Things do happen over here, anyway!"
MAJOR KOSUTH '5 MISSION
His host, very fussy as he always was on the morning of his big
shoot, came bustling towards Peter, Baron de Grost, with a piece
of paper in his hand. The party of men had just descended from a
large brake and were standing about on the edge of the common,
examining cartridges, smoking a last cigarette before the business
of the morning, and chatting together over the prospects of the
day's sport. In the distance, a cloud of dust indicated the
approach of a fast traveling motor-car.
"My dear Baron," Sir William Bounderby said, "I want you to change
your stand to-day. I must have a good man at the far corner as
the birds go off my hand from there, and Addington was missing them
shockingly yesterday. Besides, there is a new man coming on your
left and I know nothing of his shooting - nothing at all!"
"Anywhere you choose to put me, Sir William," he assented. "They
came badly for Addington yesterday, and well for me. However,
I'll do my best."
"I wish people wouldn't bring strangers, especially to the one
shoot where I'm keen about the bag. I told Portal he could bring
his brother-in-law, and he 's bringing this foreign fellow instead.
Don't suppose he can shoot for nuts! Did you ever hear of him, I
wonder? The Count von Hern, he calls himself."
The motor-car had come to a standstill by this time. From it
descended Mr. Portal himself, a large neighboring land owner, a
man of culture and travel. With him was Bernadine, in a very
correct shooting suit and Tyrolese hat. On the other side of Mr.
Portal was a short, thick set man, with olive complexion, keen
black eyes, black mustache and imperial, who was dressed in city
clothes. Sir William's eyebrows were slightly raised as he
advanced to greet the party. Peter was at once profoundly
Mr. Portal introduced his guests.
"You will forgive me, I am sure, for bringing a spectator, Bounderby,"
he said. "Major Kosuth, whom I have the honor to present - Major
Kosuth, Sir William Bounderby - is high up in the diplomatic service
of a country with whom we must feel every sympathy - the young Turks.
The Count von Hern, who takes my brother-in-law's place, is probably
known to you by name."
Sir William welcomed his visitors cordially.
"You do not shoot, Major Kosuth?"he asked.
"Very seldom," the Turk answered. "I come to-day with my good
friend, Count von Hern, as a spectator, if you permit."
"Delighted," Sir William replied. "We will find you
a safe place near your friend."
The little party began to move toward the wood. It was just at this
moment that Bernadine felt a touch upon his shoulder, and, turning
around, found Peter by his side.
"An unexpected pleasure, my dear Count," the latter declared, suavely.
"I had no idea that you took interest in such simple sports."
The manners of Count von Hern were universally quoted as being almost
too perfect. It is a regrettable fact, however, that at that moment
he swore - softly, perhaps, but with distinct vehemence. A moment
later he was exchanging the most cordial of greetings with his old
"You have the knack, my dear De Grost," he remarked, "of turning up
in the most surprising places. I certainly did not know that among
your many accomplishments was included a love for field sports."
Peter smiled quietly. He was a very fine shot, and knew it.
"One must amuse oneself these days," he said. "There is little else
Bernadine bit his lip.
"My absence from this country, I fear, has robbed you of an
"It has certainly deprived life of some of its savor," Peter
admitted, blandly. "By the bye, will you not present me to your
friend? I have the utmost sympathy with the intrepid political
party of which he is a member."
Von Hern performed the introduction with a reluctance which he
wholly failed to conceal. The Turk, however, had been walking on
his other side, and his hat was already lifted. Peter had purposely
raised his voice.
"It gives me the greatest pleasure, Major Kosuth," Peter said, "to
welcome you to this country. In common, I believe, with the majority
of my country people, I have the utmost respect and admiration for
the movement which you represent."
Maj or Kosuth smiled slowly. His features were heavy and
unexpressive. There was something of gloom, however, in the manner
of his response.
"You are very kind, Baron," he replied, "and I welcome very much
this expression of your interest in my party. I believe that the
hearts of your country people are turned towards us in the same
manner. I could wish that your country's political sympathies were
as easily aroused."
Bernadine intervened promptly.
"Major Kosuth has been here only one day," he remarked, lightly. "I
tell him that he is a little too impatient. See, we are approaching
the wood. It is as well here to refrain from conversation."
"We will resume it later," Peter said, softly. "I have interests in
Turkey, and it would give me great pleasure to have a talk with Major
"Financial interests?" the latter inquired, with some eagerness.
"I will explain after the first drive," he said, turning away.
Peter walked rather quickly until he reached a bend in the wood, and
overtaking his host, paused for a moment.
"Lend me a loader for half an hour, Sir William," he begged. "I
have to send my servant to the village with a telegram."
"With pleasure!" Sir William answered. "There are several to spare.
I'll send one to your stand. There's Von Hern going the wrong way!"
he exclaimed, in a tone of annoyance.
Peter was just in time to stop the whistle from going to his mouth.
"Do me another favor, Sir William," he pleaded. "Give me time to
send off my telegram before the Count sees what I'm doing. He's such
an inquisitive person," he went on, noticing his host's look of blank
surprise. "Thank you ever so much."
Peter hurried on to his place. It was round the corner of the wood
and for the moment out of sight of the rest of the party. He tore
a sheet from his pocket-book and scribbled out a telegram. His man
had disappeared and a substitute taken his place by the time von
Hern arrived. The latter was now all amiability. It was hard to
believe, from his smiling salutation, that he and the man to whom
he waved his hand in so airy a fashion had ever declared war to the
The shooting began a few minutes later. Major Kosuth, from a
campstool a few yards behind his friend, watched with somewhat
languid interest. He gave one, indeed, the impression that his
thoughts were far removed from this simple country party, the main
object of whose existence for the present seemed to be the slaying
of a certain number of inoffensive birds. He watched the indifferent
performance of his friend and the remarkably fine shooting of his
neighbor on the left, with the same lack-luster eye and want of
enthusiasm. The beat was scarcely over before Peter, resigning his
smoking guns, lit a cigarette and strolled across to the next stand.
He plunged at once into a conversation with Kosuth, notwithstanding
Bernadine's ill-concealed annoyance.
"Major Kosuth," he began, "I sympathize with you. It is a hard
task for a man whose mind is centered upon great events, to sit
still and watch a performance of this sort. Be kind to us all
and remember that this represents to us merely a few hours of
relaxation. We, too, have our more serious moments."
"You read my thoughts well," Maj or Kosuth declared. "I do not
seek to excuse them. For half a life-time we Turks have toiled
and striven, always in danger of our lives, to help forward those
things which have now come to pass. I think that our lives have
become tinged with somberness and apprehension. Now that the
first step is achieved, we go forward, still with trepidation.
We need friends, Baron de Grost."
"You cannot seriously doubt but that you will find them in this
country," Peter remarked. "There has never been a time when the
English nation has not sympathized with the cause of liberty."
"It is not the hearts of your people," Major Kosuth said, "which I
fear. It is the antics of your politicians. Sympathy is a great
thing, and good to have, but Turkey to-day needs more. The heart of
a nation is big, but the number of those in whose hands it remains
to give practical expression to its promptings, is few."
Bernadine, who had stood as much as he could, seized forcibly upon
"You must remember our bargain, Kosuth," he insisted no politics
to-day. Until to-morrow evening we rest. Now I want to introduce
you to a very old friend of mine - the Lord-Lieutenant of the county."
No man was better informed in current political affairs, but Peter,
instead of joining the cheerful afternoon tea party at the close of
the day, raked out a file of the Times from the library, and studied
it carefully in his room. There were one or two items of news
concerning which he made pencil notes. He had scarcely finished his
task before a servant brought in a dispatch. He opened it with
interest and drew pencil and paper towards him. It was from Paris,
and in the code which he had learned by heart, no written key of
which existed. Carefully he transposed it on to paper and read it
through. It was dated from Paris a few hours back.
Kosuth left for England yesterday. Envoy from new Turkish Government.
Requiring loan one million pounds. Asked for guarantee that it was
not for warlike movement against Bulgaria, declined to give same.
Communicated with English Ambassador and informed Kosuth yesterday
that neither government would sanction loan unless undertaking were
given that the same was not to be applied for war against Bulgaria.
Turkey is under covenant to enter into no financial obligations with
any other Power while the interest of former loans remains in
abeyance. Kosuth has made two efforts to obtain loan privately,
from prominent English financier and French Syndicate. Both have
declined to treat on representations from government. Kosuth was
expected return direct to Turkey. If, as you say, he is in England
with Bernadine, we commend the affair to your utmost vigilance.
Germany exceedingly anxious enter into close relations with new=20
government of Turkey. Fear Kosuth's association with Bernadine
proof of bad faith. Have had interview with Minister for foreign=20
affairs, who relies upon our help. French Secret Service at your
disposal, if necessary.
Peter read the message three times with the greatest care. He was
on the point of destroying it when Violet came into the room. She
was wearing a long tea jacket of sheeny silk. Her beautiful hair
was most becomingly arranged, her figure as light and girlish as
ever. She came into the room humming gayly and swinging a gold
purse upon her finger.
"Won three rubbers out of four, Peter," she declared, "and a
compliment from the Duchess. Am I a pupil to be proud of?"
She stopped short. Her lips formed themselves into the shape of a
whistle. She knew very well the signs. Her husband's eyes were
kindling, there was a firm set about his lips, the palm of his hand
lay flat upon that sheet of paper.
"It was true?" she murmured. "It was Bernadine who was shooting
"He was on the next stand," he replied.
"Then there is something doing, of course," Violet continued. "My
dear Peter, you may be an enigma to other people. To me you have
the most expressive countenance I ever saw. You have had a cable
which you have just transcribed. If I had been a few minutes later,
I think you would have torn up the result. As it is, I think I have
come just in time to hear all about it."
Peter smiled, grimly but fondly. He uncovered the sheet of paper
and placed it in her hands.
"So far," he said, "there isn't much to tell you. Von Hern turned
up this morning with a Major Kosuth, who was one of the leaders of
the revolution in Turkey. I wired Paris and this is the reply."=20
She read the message through thoughtfully and handed it back. Peter
lit a match, and standing over the fireplace calmly destroyed it.
"A million pounds is not a great sum of money," Violet remarked.
"Why could not Kosuth borrow it for his country from a private
"A million pounds is not a large sum to talk about," Peter
replied, "but it is an exceedingly large sum for any one, even
a multi-millionaire, to handle in cash. And Turkey, I gather,
wants it at once. Besides, considerations which might be a
security from a government, are no security at all as applied
to a private individual."
"Do you think that Kosuth means to go behind the existing treaty
and borrow from Germany?"
Peter shook his head.
"I can't quite believe that," he said. "It would mean the
straining of diplomatic relations with both countries. It is out
of the question."
"Then where does Bernadine come in?"
"I do not know," Peter answered.
"What is it that you are going to try and find out?" she asked.
"I am trying to discover who it is that Bernadine and Kosuth are
waiting to see," Peter replied. "The worst of it is, I daren't
leave here. I shall have to trust to the others."
She glanced at the clock.
"Well, go and dress," she said. "I'm afraid I've a little of your
blood in me, after all. Life seems more stirring when Bernadine
is on the scene."
The shooting party broke up two days later and Peter and his wife
returned at once to town. The former found the reports which were
awaiting his arrival disappointing. Bernadine and his guest were
not in London, or if they were they had carefully avoided all the
usual haunts. Peter read his reports over again, smoked a very
long cigar alone in his study, and finally drove down to the city
and called upon his stockbroker, who was also a personal friend.
Things were flat in the city, and the latter was glad enough to
welcome an important client. He began talking the usual market
shop until his visitor stopped him.
"I have come to you, Edwardes, more for information than anything,"
Peter declared, "although it may mean that I shall need to sell a lot
of stock. Can you tell me of any private financier who could raise
a loan of a million pounds in cash within the course of a week?"
The stockbroker looked dubious.
"In cash," he repeated. "Money isn't raised that way, you know.
I doubt whether there are many men in the whole city of London who
could put up such an amount with only a week's notice."
"But there must be some one," Peter persisted. "Think! It would
probably be a firm or a man not obtrusively English. I don't think
the Jews would touch it, and a German citizen would be impossible."
"It is rather that way," he admitted.
"Would your friend Count von Hern be likely to be concerned in it?"
"Why?"Peter asked, with immovable face.
"Nothing, only I saw him coming out of Heseltine-Wrigge's office the
other day," the stockbroker remarked, carelessly.
"And who is Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge?"
"A very wealthy American financier," the stockbroker replied, "not
at all an unlikely person for a loan of the sort you mention."
"American citizen?" Peter inquired.
"Without a doubt. Of German descent, I should say, but nothing
much left of it in his appearance. He settled over here in a huff
because New York society wouldn't receive his wife."
"I remember all about it," Peter declared. "She was a chorus girl,
wasn't she? Nothing particular against her, but the fellow had no
tact. Do you know him, Edwardes?"
"Slightly," the stockbroker answered.
"Give me a letter to him," Peter said. "Give my credit as good a
leg as you can. I shall probably go as a borrower."
Mr. Edwardes wrote a few lines and handed them to his client.
"Office is nearly opposite," he remarked. "Wish you luck, whatever
your scheme is."
Peter crossed the street and entered the building which his friend
had pointed out. He ascended in the lift to the third floor,
knocked at the door which bore Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's name, and
almost ran into the arms of a charmingly dressed little lady, who
was being shown out by a broad-shouldered, typical American. Peter
hastened to apologize.
"I beg your pardon," he said, raising his hat. "I was rather in a
hurry and I quite thought I heard some one say 'Come in.'"
The lady replied pleasantly. Her companion, who was carrying his
hat in his hand, paused reluctantly.
"Did you want to see me?" he asked.
"If you are Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, I did," Peter admitted. "I am the
Baron de Grost, and I have a letter of introduction to you from Mr.
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge tore open the envelope and glanced through the
contents of the note. Peter, meanwhile, looked at his wife with
genuine but respectfully cloaked admiration. The lady obviously
returned his interest.
"Why, if you're the Baron de Grost," she exclaimed, "didn't you
marry Vi Brown? She used to be at the Gaiety with me, years ago."
"I certainly did marry Violet Brown," Peter confessed, "and, if you
will allow me to say so, Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge, I should have
recognized you anywhere from your photographs."
"Say, isn't that queer?" the little lady remarked, turning to her
husband. "I should love to see Vi again."
"If you will give me your address," Peter declared, promptly, "my
wife will be delighted to call upon you."
The man looked up from the note.
"Do you want to talk business with me, Baron?" he asked.
"For a few moments only," Peter answered. "I am afraid I am a great
nuisance, and if you wish it I will come down to the city again."
"That's all right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Myra won't mind
waiting a minute or two. Come through here."
He turned and led the way into a quiet-looking suite of offices,
where one or two clerks were engaged writing at open desks. They all
three passed into an inner room.
"Any objections to my wife coming in?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge asked.
"there's scarcely any place for her out there."
"Delighted," Peter answered.
She glanced at the clock.
"Remember we have to meet the Count von Hern at half past one at
Prince's, Charles," she reminded him.
Her husband nodded. There was nothing in Peter's expression to
denote that he had already achieved the first object of his visit!
"I shall not detain you," he said. "Your name has been mentioned
to me, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, as a financier likely to have a large
sum of money at his disposal. I have a scheme which needs money.
Providing the security is unexceptionable, are you in a position to
do a deal?"
"How much do you want?" Mr Heseltine-Wrigge asked.
"A million to a million and a half," Peter answered.
It was not Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's pose to appear surprised.
Nevertheless, his eyebrows were slightly raised.
"Say, what is this scheme?" he inquired.
"First of all," Peter replied, "I should like to know whether there's
any chance of business if I disclose it."
"Not an atom," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge declared. "I have just
committed myself to the biggest financial transaction of my
life and it will clean me out."
"Then I won't waste your time," Peter announced, rising.
"Sit down for a moment," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited, biting the
end off a cigar and passing the box toward Peter. "that's all
right. My wife doesn't mind. Say, it strikes me as rather a
curious thing that you should come in here and talk about a
million and a half, when that's just the amount concerned in my
other little deal."
"As a matter of fact, it isn't at all queer," he answered. "I don't
want the money. I came to see whether you were really interested in
the other affair - the Turkish loan, you know."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge withdrew his cigar from his mouth and looked
steadily at his visitor.
"Say, Baron," he declared, "you've got a nerve!"
"Not at all," Peter replied. "I'm here as much in your interests
as my own."
"Whom do you represent, anyway?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge inquired.
"A company you have never heard of," Peter replied. "Our offices
are in the underground places of the world, and we don't run to
brass plates. I am here because I am curious about that loan.
Turkey hasn't a shadow of security to offer you. Everything which
she can pledge is pledged, to guarantee the interest on existing
loans to France and England. She is prevented by treaty from
borrowing in Germany. If you make a loan without security, Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge, I suppose you understand your position. The
loan may be repudiated at any moment."
"Kind of a philanthropist, aren't you, Baron?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge
"Not in the least," Peter assured him. "I know there is some tricky
work going on and I haven't brains enough to get to the bottom of
it. That's why I've come blundering in to you, and why I suppose
you'll be telling the whole story to the Count von Hern at luncheon
in an hour's time."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge smoked in silence for a moment or two,
"This transaction of mine," he said at last, "Isn't one I can talk
about. I guess I'm on to what you want to know, but I simply can't
tell you. The security is unusual, but it's good enough for me."
"It seems so to you, beyond a doubt," Peter replied. "Still, you
have to do with a remarkably clever young man in the Count von Hern.
I don't want to ask you any questions you feel I ought not to, but
I do wish you'd tell me one thing."
"Go right ahead," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited. "Don't be shy."
"What day are you concluding this affair?"
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge scratched his chin for a moment thoughtfully
and glanced at his diary. "Well, I'll risk that," he decided.
"A week to-day I hand over the coin."
Peter drew a little breath of relief. A week was an immense time!
He rose to his feet.
"That ends our business, then, for the present," he said. "Now I
am going to ask both of you a favor. Perhaps I have no right to,
but as a man of honor, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, you can take it from
me that I ask it in your interests as well as my own. Don't tell
the Count von Hern of my visit to you."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge held out his hand.
"That's all right," he declared. "You hear, Myra?"
"I'll be dumb, Baron," she promised. "Say, when do you think Vi
can come and see me?"
Peter was guilty of snobbery. He considered it quite a justifiable
"She is at Windsor this afternoon," he remarked.
"What, at the Garden-Party?" Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge almost shrieked.
"I believe there's some fete or other to-morrow," he said, "but
we're alone this evening. Why won't you dine with us, say at the
"We'd love to," the lady assented, promptly.
"At eight o'clock," Peter said, taking his leave.
The dinner party was a great success. Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge found
herself among the class of people with whom it was her earnest
desire to become acquainted, and her husband was well satisfied to
see her keen longing for society likely to be gratified. The
subject of Peter's call at the office in the city was studiously
ignored. It was not until the very end of the evening, indeed, that
the host of this very agreeable party was rewarded by a single hint.
It all came about in the most natural manner. They were speaking
of foreign capitals."
"I love Paris," Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge told her host. "Just adore
it. Charles is often there on business and I always go along."
Peter smiled. There was just a chance here.
"Your husband does not often have to leave London though," he
"Not often enough," she declared. "I just love getting about. Last
week we had a perfectly horrible trip, though. We started off for
Belfast quite unexpectedly, and I hated every minute of it."
Peter smiled inwardly, but he said never a word. His companion was
already chattering on about something else. Peter crossed the hall
a few minutes later, to speak to an acquaintance, slipped out to the
telephone booth and spoke to his servant.
"A bag and a change," he ordered, "at Euston Station at twelve
o'clock, in time for the Irish mail. Your mistress will be home
An hour later the dinner party broke up. Early the next morning,
Peter crossed the Irish Channel. He returned the following day
and crossed again within a few hours. In five days the affair was
finished, except for the denouement.
Peter ascended in the lift to Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's office the
following Thursday, calm and unruffled as usual, but nevertheless a
little exultant. It was barely half an hour since he had become
finally prepared for this interview. He was looking forward to it
now with feelings of undiluted satisfaction. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge
was in, he was told, and he was at once admitted to his presence.
The financier greeted him with a somewhat curious smile.
"Say, this is very nice of you to look me up again!" he exclaimed.
"Still worrying about that loan, eh?"
Peter shook his head.
"No, I'm not worrying about that any more," he answered, accepting
one of his host's cigars. "The fact of it is that if it were not
for me, you would be the one who would have to do the worrying."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge stopped short in the act of lighting his cigar.
"I'm not quite on," he remarked. "What's the trouble?"
"There is no trouble, fortunately" Peter replied. "Only a little
disappointment for our friends the Count von Hern and Major Kosuth.
I have brought you some information which I think will put an end
to that affair
of the loan."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge sat quite still for a moment. He brows were
knitted, he showed no signs of nervousness.
"Go right on," he said.
"The security upon which you were going to advance a million and
a half to the Turkish Government," Peter continued, "consisted of
two Dreadnoughts and a cruiser, being built to the order of that
country by Messrs. Shepherd & Hargreaves at Belfast."
"Quite right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge admitted, quietly. "I have
been up and seen the boats. I have seen the shipbuilders, too."
"Did you happen to mention to the latter," Peter inquired, "that
you were advancing money upon those vessels?"
"Certainly not," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Kosuth wouldn't
hear of such a thing. If the papers got wind of it, there'd be
the devil to pay. All the same, I have got an assignment from
the Turkish Government."
"Not worth the paper it's written on," Peter declared, blandly.
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge rose unsteadily to his feet. He was a strong,
silent man, but there was a queer look about his mouth.
"What the devil do you mean?" he demanded.
"Briefly, this," Peter explained. "The first payment, when these
ships were laid down, was made not by Turkey but by an emissary
of the German Government, who arranged the whole affair in
Constantinople. The second payment was due ten months ago, and
not a penny has been paid. Notice was given to the late government
twice and absolutely ignored. According to the charter, therefore,
these ships reverted to the shipbuilding companies who retained
possession of the first payment as indemnity against loss. The
Count von Hern's position was this. He represents the German
Government. You were to find a million and a half of money with
the ships as security. You also have a contract from the Count
von Hern to take those ships off your hands provided the interest
on the loan became overdue, a state of affairs which I can assure
you would have happened within the next twelve months. Practically,
therefore, you were made use of as an independent financier to
provide the money with which the Turkish Government, broadly
speaking, have sold the ships to Germany. You see, according to
the charter of the shipbuilding company, these vessels cannot be
sold to any foreign government without the consent of Downing
Street. That is the reason why the affair had to be conducted in
such a roundabout manner."
"All this is beyond me," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge said, hoarsely.
"I don't care a d-n who has the ships in the end so long as I
get my money!"
"But you would not get your money," Peter pointed out, "because
there will be no ships. I have had the shrewdest lawyers in the
world at work upon the charter, and there is not the slightest
doubt that these vessels are, or rather were, the entire property
of Messrs. Shepherd & Hargreaves. To-day they belong to me. I
have bought them and paid two hundred thousand pounds deposit.
I can show you the receipt and all the papers."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, said only one word, but that word was profane.
"I am sorry, of course, that you have lost the business," Peter
concluded, "but surely it's better than losing your money?"
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge struck the table fiercely with his fist. There
was a gray and unfamiliar look about his face.
"D-n it, the money's gone!" he declared, hoarsely. "They changed
the day. Kosuth had to go back. I paid it twenty-four hours ago."
Peter whistled softly.
"If only you had trusted me a little more!" he murmured. "I tried
to warn you."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge snatched up his hat.
"They don't leave till the two-twenty," he shouted. "We'll catch
them at the Milan. If we don't, I'm ruined! By God, I'm ruined!"
They found Major Kosuth in the hall of the hotel. He was wearing
a fur coat and was otherwise attired for traveling. His luggage
was already being piled upon a cab. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge wasted
no words upon him.
"You and I have got to have a talk, right here and now," he declared.
"Where's the Count?"
Major Kosuth frowned gloomily.
"I do not understand you," he said, shortly. "Our business is
concluded and I am leaving by the two-twenty train."
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