Peter Ruff and the Double Four
E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 7 out of 8
"You are doing nothing of the sort," the American answered,
standing before him, grim and threatening.
The Turk showed no sign of terror. He gripped his silver-headed
"I think," he said, "that there is no one here who will prevent me."
Peter, who saw a fracas imminent, hastily intervened. "If you will
permit me for a moment," he said, "there is a little explanation I
should perhaps make to Major Kosuth."
The Turk took a step towards the door.
"I have no time to listen to explanations from you or any one,"
he replied. "My cab is waiting. I depart. If Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge
is not satisfied with our transaction, I am sorry, but it is too
late to alter anything."
For a moment it seemed as though a struggle between the two men was
inevitable. Already people were glancing at them curiously, for Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge came of a primitive school, and he had no intention
whatever of letting his man escape. Fortunately, at that moment
Count von Hern came up and Peter at once appealed to him.
"Count," he said, "may I beg for your good offices? My friend, Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge here, is determined to have a few words with Major
Kosuth before he leaves. Surely this is not an unreasonable request
when you consider the magnitude of the transaction which has taken
place between them! Let me beg of you to persuade Major Kosuth to
give us ten minutes. There is plenty of time for the train, and
this is not the place for a brawl."
"It will not take us long, Kosuth, to hear what our friend has to
say," he remarked. "We shall be quite quiet in the smoking-room.
Let us go in there and dispose of the affair."
The Turk turned unwillingly in the direction indicated. All four
men passed through the caf=82, up some stairs, and into the small
smoking-room. The room was deserted. Peter led the way to the far
corner, and standing with his elbow leaning upon the mantelpiece,
"The position is this," he said. "Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge has parted
with a million and a half of his own money, a loan to the Turkish
Government, on security which is not worth a snap of the fingers."
"It is a lie!" Major Kosuth exclaimed.
"My dear Baron, you are woefully misinformed," the Count declared.
Peter shook his head slowly.
"No," he said, "I am not misinformed. My friend here has parted
with the money on the security of two battleships and a cruiser,
now building in Shepherd & Hargreaves' yard at Belfast. The two
battleships and cruiser in question belong to me. I have paid
two hundred thousand pounds on account of them, and hold the
"You are mad!" Bernadine cried, contemptuously.
Peter shook his head and continued.
"The battleships were laid down for the Turkish Government, and
the money with which to start them was supplied by the Secret
Service of Germany. The second installment was due ten months ago
and has not been paid. The time of grace provided for has expired.
The shipbuilders, in accordance with their charter, were consequently
at liberty to dispose of the vessels as they thought fit. On the
statement of the whole of the facts to the head of the firm, he has
parted with these ships to me. I need not say that I have a
purchaser within a mile from here. It is a fancy of mine, Count von
Hern, that those ships will sail better under the British flag."
There was a moment's tense silence, The face of the Turk was black
with anger. Bernadine was trembling with rage.
"This is a tissue of lies!" he exclaimed.
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"The facts are easy enough for you to prove," he said, "and I have
here," he added, producing a roll of papers, "copies of the various
documents for your inspection. Your scheme, of course, was simple
enough. It fell through for this one reason only. A final notice,
pressing for the second installment and stating the days of grace,
was forwarded to Constantinople about the time of the recent
political troubles. The late government ignored it. In fairness
to Major Kosuth, we will believe that the present government was
ignorant of it. But the fact remains that Messrs. Shepherd &
Hargreaves became at liberty to sell those vessels, and that I
have bought them. You will have to give up that money, Major Kosuth."
"By God, he shall!" the American muttered.
Bernadine leaned a little towards his enemy.
"You must give us a minute or two," he insisted. "We shall not go
away, I promise you. Within five minutes you shall hear our decision."
Peter sat down at the writing-table and commenced a letter. Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge mounted guard over the door and stood there, a grim
figure of impatience. Before the five minutes was up, Bernadine
crossed the room.
"I congratulate you, Baron," he said, dryly. "You are either an
exceedingly lucky person or you are more of a genius than I believe.
Kosuth is even now returning his letters of credit to your friend.
You are quite right. The loan cannot stand."
"I was sure," Peter answered, "that you would see the matter
"You and I," Bernadine continued, "know very well that I don't care
a fig about Turkey, new or old. The ships I will admit that I
intended to have for my own country. As it is, I wish you joy of
them. Before they are completed, we may be fighting in the air.
Peter smiled, and, side by side with Bernadine, strolled across to
Heseltine-Wrigge, who was buttoning up a pocket-book with trembling
"Personally," Peter said, "I believe that the days of wars are over."
"That may or may not be," Bernadine answered. "One thing is very
certain. Even if the nations remain at peace, there are enmities
which strike only deeper as the years pass. I am going to take a
drink now with my disappointed friend Kosuth. If I raise my glass
'To the Day!' you will understand."
"My friend Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge and I are for the same destination,"
he replied, pushing open the swing door which led to the bar. "I
return your good wishes, Count. I, too, drink 'To the Day!'"
Bernadine and Kosuth left, a few minutes afterwards. Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge, who was feeling himself again, watched them
depart with ill-concealed triumph.
"Say, you had those fellows on toast, Baron," he declared,
admiringly. "I couldn't follow the whole affair, but I can see
that you're in for big things sometimes. Remember this. If money
counts at any time, I'm with you."
Peter clasped his hand.
"Money always counts," he said, "and friends!"
THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Peter, Baron de Grost, glanced at the card which his butler had
brought in to him, carelessly at first, afterwards with that curious
rigidity of attention which usually denotes the setting free of a
flood of memories.
"The gentleman would like to see you, sir," the man announced.
"You can show him in at once," Peter replied. The servant withdrew.
Peter, during those few minutes of waiting, stood with his back to
the room and his face to the window, looking out across the square,
in reality seeing nothing, completely immersed in this strange
flood of memories. John Dory - Sir John Dory now - his quondam
enemy, and he, had met but seldom during these years of their
prosperity. The figure of this man, who had once loomed so largely
in his life, had gradually shrunk away into the background. Their
avoidance of each other arose, perhaps, from a sort of instinct
which was certainly no matter of ill-will. Still, the fact remained
that they had scarcely exchanged a word for years, and Peter turned
to receive his unexpected guest with a curiosity which he did not
trouble wholly to conceal.
Sir John Dory - Chief Commissioner now of Scotland Yard, a person
of weight and importance - had changed a great deal during the last
few years. His hair had become gray, his walk more dignified.
There was the briskness, however, of his best days in his carriage
and in the flash of his brown eyes. He held out his hand to his
ancient foe with a smile.
"My dear Baron," he said, "I hope you are going to say that you are
glad to see me."
"Unless," Peter replied, with a good-humored grimace, "your visit
is official, I am more than glad - I am charmed. Sit down. I was
just going to take my morning cigar. You will join me? Good! Now
I am ready for the worst that can happen."
The two men seated themselves. John Dory pulled at his cigar
appreciatively, sniffed its flavor for a moment, and then leaned
forward in his chair.
"My visit, Baron," he announced, "is semi-official. I am here to
ask you a favor."
"An official favor?" Peter demanded quickly.
His visitor hesitated as though he found the question hard to answer.
"To tell you the truth," he declared, "this call of mine is wholly
an inspiration. It does not in any way concern you personally, or
your position in this country. What that may be I do not know,
except that I am sure it is above any suspicion."
"Quite so," Peter murmured. "How diplomatic you have become, my
John Dory smiled.
"Perhaps I am fencing about too much," he said. "I know, of course,
that you are a member of a very powerful and wealthy French Society,
whose object and aims, so far as I know, are entirely harmless."
"I am delighted to be assured that you recognize that fact," Peter
"I might add," John Dory continued, "that this harmlessness - is of
"Really, you do seem to know a good deal," Peter confessed.
"I find myself still fencing," Dory declared. "A matter of habit,
I suppose. I didn't mean to when I came. I made up my mind to tell
you simply that Guillot was in London, and to ask you if you could
help me to get rid of him."
Peter looked thoughtfully into his companion's face, but he did not
speak. He understood at such moments the value of silence.
"We speak together," Dory continued softly, "as men who understand
one another. Guillot is the one criminal in Europe whom we all fear;
not I alone, mind you - it is the same in Berlin, in Petersburg, in
Vienna. He has never been caught. It is my honest belief that he
never will be caught. At the same time, wherever he arrives the
thunder-clouds gather. He leaves behind him always a trail of evil
"Very well put," Peter murmured. "Quite picturesque."
"Can you help me to get rid of him?" Dory inquired. "I have my
hands full just now, as you can imagine, what with the political
crisis and these constant mass meetings. I want Guillot out of the
country. If you can manage this for me, I shall be your eternal
"Why do you imagine," Peter asked, "that I can help you in this
There was a brief silence. John Dory knocked the ash from his cigar.
"Times have changed," he said. "The harmlessness of your great
Society, my dear Baron, is at present admitted. But there were
days - "
"Exactly," Peter interrupted. "As shrewd as ever, I perceive. Do
you know anything of the object of his coming?"
"Anything of his plans?"
"You know where he is staying?"
"Naturally," Dory answered. "He has taken a second-floor flat in
Crayshaw Mansions, Shaftesbury Avenue. As usual, he is above all
petty artifices., He has taken it under the name of Monsieur Guillot."
"I really don't know whether there is anything I can do," Peter
decided, "but I will look into the matter for you, with pleasure.
Perhaps I may be able to bring a little influence to bear -=20
indirectly, of course. If so, it is at your service. Lady Dory
is well, I trust?"
"In the best of health," Sir John replied, accepting the hint and
rising to his feet. "I shall hear from you soon?"
"Without a doubt," Peter answered. "I must certainly call upon
Peter certainly wasted no time in paying his promised visit. That
same afternoon he rang the bell at the flat in Crayshaw Mansions.
A typical French butler showed him into the room where the great
man sat. Monsieur Guillot, slight, elegant, pre-eminently a dandy,
was lounging upon a sofa, being manicured by a young lady. He
threw down his Petit Journal and rose to his feet, however, at his
"My dear Baron," he exclaimed, "but this is charming of you!
Mademoiselle," he added, turning to the manicurist, "you will do me
the favor of retiring for a short time. Permit me."
He opened the door and showed her out. Then he came back to Peter.
"A visit of courtesy, Monsieur le Baron ?" he asked.
"Without a doubt," Peter replied.
"It is beyond all measure charming of you," Guillot declared, "but
let me ask you a little question. Is it peace or war?"
"It is what you choose to make it," Peter answered.
The man threw out his hands. There was the shadow of a frown upon
his pale forehead. It was a matter for protest, this.
"Why do you come?" he demanded. "What have we in common? The
Society has expelled me. Very well, I go my own way. Why not? I
am free of your control to-day. You have no more right to interfere
with my schemes than I with yours."
"We have the ancient right of power," Peter said, grimly. "You
were once a prominent member of our organization, the spoilt protege
of Madame, a splendid maker, if you will, of criminal history.
Those days have passed. We offered you a pension which you have
refused. It is now our turn to speak. We require you to leave
this city in twenty-four hours."
The face was livid with anger. He was of the fair type of Frenchman,
with deep-set eyes, and a straight, cruel mouth only partly concealed
by his golden mustache. Just now, notwithstanding the veneer of his
too perfect clothes and civilized air, the beast had leaped out. His
face was like the face of a snarling animal.
"I refuse!" he cried. "It is I who refuse! I am here on my own
affairs. What they may be is no business of yours or of any one
else's. That is my answer to you, Baron de Grost, whether you come
to me for yourself or on behalf of the Society to which I no longer
belong. That is my answer - that and the door," he added, pressing
the bell. "If you will, we fight. If you are wise, forget this
visit as quickly as you can."
Peter took up his hat. The man-servant was already in the room.
"We shall probably meet again before your return, Monsieur Guillot,"
Guillot had recovered himself. His smile was wicked, but his bow
"To the fortunate hour, Monsieur le Baron!" he replied.
Peter drove hack to Berkeley Square, and without a moment's
hesitation pressed the levers which set to work the whole
underground machinery of the great power which he controlled.
Thenceforward, Monsieur Guillot was surrounded with a vague army
of silent watchers. They passed in and out of his fiat, their
motor cars were as fast as his in the streets, their fancy in
restaurants identical with his. Guillot moved through it all
like a man wholly unconscious of espionage, showing nothing of
the murderous anger which burned in his blood. The reports came
to Peter every hour, although there was, indeed, nothing worth
chronicling. Monsieur Guillot's visit to London would seem,
indeed, to be a visit of gallantry. He spent most of his time
with Mademoiselle Louise, the famous dancer. He was prominent
at the Empire, to watch her nightly performance, they were a
noticeable couple supping together at the Milan afterwards.
Monsieur Guillot was indeed a man of gallantry, but he had the
reputation of using these affairs to cloak his real purposes.
Those who watched him, watched only the more closely. Monsieur
Guillot, who stood it very well at first, unfortunately lost
his temper. He drove in the great motor car which he had brought
with him from Paris, to Berkeley Square, and confronted Peter.
"My friend," he exclaimed, though indeed the glitter in his eyes
knew nothing of friendship, "it is intolerable, this! Do you think
that I do not see through these dummy waiters, these obsequious
shopmen, these ladies who drop their eyes when I pass, these
commissionaires, these would-be acquaintances? I tell you that
they irritate me, this incompetent, futile crowd. You pit them
against me! Bah! You should know better. When I choose to
disappear, I shall disappear, and no one will follow me. When I
strike, I shall strike, and no one will discover what my will may
be. You are out of date, dear Baron, with your third-rate army of
stupid spies. You succeed in one thing only - you succeed in
making me angry."
"It is at least an achievement, that," Peter declared.
"Perhaps," Monsieur Guillot admitted, fiercely. "Yet mark now
the result. I defy you, you and all of them. Look at your clock.
It is five minutes to seven. It goes well, that clock, eh?"
"It is the correct time," Peter said.
"Then by midnight," Guillot continued, shaking his fist in the
other's face, "I shall have done that thing which brought me to
England and I shall have disappeared. I shall have done it in
spite of your watchers, in spite of your spies, in spite, even,
of you, Monsieur le Baron de Grost. There is my challenge.
Voila. Take it up if you will. At midnight you shall hear me
laugh. I have the honor to wish you good-night!"
Peter opened the door with his own hands.
"This is excellent," he declared. "You are now, indeed, the
Monsieur Guillot of old. Almost you persuade me to take up your
Guillot laughed derisively.
"As you please!" he exclaimed. "By midnight tonight!"
The challenge of Monsieur Guillot was issued precisely at four
minutes before seven. On his departure, Peter spent the next
half-hour studying certain notes and sending various telephone
messages. Afterwards, he changed his clothes at the usual time
and sat down to a tete - tete dinner with his wife. Three times
during the course of the meal he was summoned to the telephone,
and from each call he returned more perplexed. Finally, when the
servants had left the room, he took his chair around to his
"Violet," he said, "you were asking me just now about the telephone.
You were quite right. These were not ordinary messages which I have
been receiving. I am engaged in a little matter which, I must
confess, perplexes me. I want your advice, perhaps your help."
"I am quite ready," she answered, smiling. "It is a long time since
you gave me anything to do."
"You have heard of Guillot?"
She reflected for a moment.
"You mean the wonderful Frenchman," she asked, "the head of the
criminal department of the Double-Four?"
"The man who was at its head when it existed. The criminal
department, as you know, has all been done away with. The
Double-Four has now no more concern with those who break the law,
save in those few instances where great issues demand it."
"But Monsieur Guillot still exists?"
"He not only exists," answered Peter, "but he is here in London, a
rebel and a defiant one. Do you know who came to see me the other
She shook her head.
"Sir John Dory," Peter continued. "He came here with a request.
He begged for my help. Guillot is here, committed to some
enterprise which no one can wholly fathom. Dory has enough to do
with other things, as you can imagine, just now. Besides, I
think he recognizes that Monsieur Guillot is rather a hard nut
for the ordinary English detective to crack."
"And you?" she demanded, breathlessly.
"I join forces with Dory," Peter admitted. "Sogrange agrees with
me. Guillot was associated with the Double-Four too long for us
to have him make scandalous history either here or in Paris."
"You have seen him?"
"I have not only seen him, but declared war against him."
"Guillot is defiant," Peter replied. "He has been here only this
evening. He mocks at me. He swears that he will bring off this
enterprise, whatever it may be, before midnight to-night, and he
has defied me to stop him."
"But you will," she murmured, softly.
Peter smiled. The conviction in his wife's tone was a subtle
compliment which he did not fail to appreciate.
"I have hopes," he confessed, "and yet, let me tell you this, Violet.
I have never been more puzzled. Ask yourself, now. What enterprise
is there worthy of a man like Guillot, in which he could engage
himself here in London between now and midnight? Any ordinary theft
is beneath him. The purloining of the crown jewels, perhaps, he
might consider, but I don't think that anything less in the way of
robbery would bring him here. He has his code and he is as vain as
a peacock. Yet money is at the root of everything he does."
"How does he spend his time here?" Violet asked.
"He has a handsome flat in Shaftesbury Avenue," Peter answered,
"where he lives, to all appearance, the life of an idle man of
fashion. The whole of his spare time is spent with Mademoiselle
Louise, the danseuse at the Empire. You see, it is half-past eight
now. I have eleven men altogether at work, and according to my
last report he was dining with her in the grill-room at the Milan.
They have just ordered their coffee ten minutes ago, and the car
is waiting outside to take Mademoiselle to the Empire. Guillot's
box is engaged there, as usual. If he proposes to occupy it, he
is leaving himself a very narrow margin of time to carry out any
enterprise worth speaking of."
Violet was thoughtful for several moments. Then she crossed the
room, took up a copy of an illustrated paper, and brought it across
to Peter. He smiled as he glanced at the picture to which she
pointed, and the few lines
"It has struck you, too, then!" he exclaimed. "Good! You have
answered me exactly as I hoped. Somehow, I scarcely trusted myself.
I have both cars waiting outside. We may need them. You won't
mind coming to the Empire with me?"
"Mind!" she laughed. "I only hope I may be in at the finish."
"If the finish," Peter remarked, "is of the nature which I
anticipate, I shall take particularly good care that you are not."
The curtain was rising upon the first act of the ballet as they
entered the most popular music-hall in London and were shown to
the box which Peter had engaged. The house was full - crowded, in
fact, almost to excess. They had scarcely taken their seats when
a roar of applause announced the coming of Mademoiselle Louise.
She stood for a moment to receive her nightly ovation, a slim,
beautiful creature, looking out upon the great house with that
faint, bewitching smile at the corners of her lips, which every
photographer in Europe bad striven to reproduce. Then she moved
away to the music, an exquisite figure, the personification of all
that was alluring in her sex. Violet leaned forward to watch her
movements as she plunged into the first dance. Peter was occupied
looking around the house. Monsieur Guillot was there, sitting
insolently forward in his box, sleek and immaculate. He even waved
his hand and bowed as he met Peter's eye. Somehow or other, his
confidence had its effect. Peter began to feel vaguely troubled.
After all, his plans were built upon a surmise. It was so easy for
him to be wrong. No man would show his hand so openly, unless he
were sure of the game. Then his face cleared a little. In the box
adjoining Guillot's, the figure of a solitary man was just visible,
a man who had leaned over to applaud Louise, but who was now
sitting back in the shadows. Peter recognized him at once,
notwithstanding the obscurity. This was so much to the good, at
any rate. He took up his hat.
"For a quarter of an hour you will excuse me, Violet," he said.
"Watch Guillot. If he leaves his place, knock at the door of your
own box, and one of my men, who is outside, will come to you at
once. He will know where to find me."
Peter hurried away, pausing for a moment in the promenade, to
scribble a line or two at the back of one of his own cards.
Presently he knocked at the door of the box adjoining Guillot's
and was instantly admitted. Violet continued her watch. She
remained alone until the curtain fell upon the first act of the
ballet. A few minutes later, Peter returned. She knew at once
that things were going well. He sank into a chair by her side.
"I have messages every five minutes," he whispered in her ear,
"and I am venturing upon a bold stroke. There is still something
about the affair, though, which I cannot understand. You are
absolutely sure that Guillot has not moved?"
Violet pointed with her program across the house. "There he sits,"
she remarked. "He left his chair as the curtain went down, but he
could scarcely have gone out of the box, for he was back within
Peter looked steadily across at the opposite box. Guillot was
sitting a little further back now, as though he no longer courted
observation. Something about his attitude puzzled the man who
watched him. With a sudden quick movement he caught up the
glasses which stood by his wife's side. The curtain was going up
for the second act, and Guillot had turned his head. Peter held
the glasses only for a moment to his eyes, and then glanced
down at the stage.
"My God!" he muttered. "The man's a genius! Violet, the small
motor is coming for you."
He was out of the box in a single step. Violet looked after him,
looked down upon the stage and across at Guillot's box. It was
hard to understand.
The curtain had scarcely rung up upon the second act of the ballet
when a young lady who met from all the loungers, and even from the
doorkeeper himself, the most respectful attention, issued from the
stage-door at the Empire and stepped into the large motor car which
was waiting, drawn up against the curb. The door was opened from
inside and closed at once. She held out her hands, as yet ungloved,
to the man who sat back in the corner.
"At last!" she murmured. "And I thought, indeed, that you had
He took her hands and held them tightly, but he answered only in a
whisper. He wore a sombre black cloak and a broad-brimmed black hat.
A muffler concealed the lower part of his face. She put her finger
upon the electric light, but he stopped her.
"I must not be recognized," he said thickly. "Forgive me, Louise,
if I seem strange at first, but there is more in it than I can tell
you. No one must know that I am in London to-night. When we reach
this place to which you are taking me, and we are really alone, then
we can talk. I have so much to say."
She looked at him doubtfully. It was indeed a moment of indecision
with her. Then she began to laugh softly.
"Dear one, but you have changed! "she exclaimed, compassionately.
"After all, why not? I must not forget that things have gone so
hardly with you. It seems odd, indeed, to see you sitting there,
muffled up like an old man, afraid to show yourself. You know how
foolish you are? With your black cape and that queer hat, you are
so different from all the others. If you seek to remain unrecognized,
why do you not dress as all the men do? Any one who was suspicious
would recognize you from your clothes."
"It is true," he muttered. "I did not think of it."
She leaned towards him.
"You will not even kiss me?" she murmured.
"Not yet," he answered.
She made a little grimace.
"But you are cold!"
"You do not understand," he answered. "They are watching me - even
to-night they are watching me. Oh, if you only knew, Louise, how I
have longed for this hour that is to come!"
Her vanity was assuaged. She patted his hand but came no nearer.
"You are a foolish man," she said, "very foolish."
"It is not for you to say that," he replied. "If I have been
foolish, were not you often the cause of my folly?" Again she
"Oh, la, la! It is always the same! It is always you men who
accuse! For that presently I shall reprove you. But now - as
for now, behold, we have arrived!"
"It is a crowded thoroughfare," the man remarked, nervously, looking
up and down Shaftesbury Avenue.
"Stupid! " she cried, stepping out. "I do not recognize you
to-night, little one. Even your voice is different. Follow me
quickly across the pavement and up the stairs. There is only one
flight. The flat I have borrowed is on the second floor. I do
not care very much that people should recognize me either, under
the circumstances. There is nothing they love so much," she added,
with a toss of the head, "as finding an excuse to have my picture
in the paper."
He followed her down the dim hall and up the broad, flat stairs,
keeping always some distance behind. On the first landing she drew
a key from her pocket and opened a door. It was the door of
Monsieur Guillot's sitting-room. A round table in the middle was
laid for supper. One light alone, and that heavily shaded, was burning.
"Oh, la, la!" she exclaimed. "How I hate this darkness! Wait till I
can turn on the lights, dear friend, and then you must embrace me.
It is from outside, I believe. No, do not follow. I can find the
switch for myself. Remain where you are. I return instantly."
She left him alone in the room, closing the door softly. In the
passage she reeled for a moment and caught at her side. She was
very pale. Guillot, coming swiftly up the steps, frowned as he
"He is there?" he demanded, harshly.
"He is there," Louise replied, "but, indeed, I am angry with myself.
See, I am faint. It is a terrible thing, this, which I have done.
He did me no harm, that young man, except that he was stupid and
heavy, and that I never loved him. Who could love him, indeed!
But, Guillot - "
He passed on, scarcely heeding her words, but she clung to his arm.
"Dear one," she begged, "promise that you will not really hurt him.
Promise me that, or I will shriek out and call the people from the
streets here. You would not make an assassin of me? Promise!"
Guillot turned suddenly towards her and there were strange things
in his face. He pointed down the stairs.
"Go back, Louise," he ordered, "back to your rooms, for your own
sake. Remember that you have left the theatre too ill to finish
your performance. You have had plenty of time already to get home.
Quick! Leave me to deal with this young man. I tell you to go."
She retreated down the stairs, dumb, her knees shaking with fear.
Guillot entered the room, closing the door behind him. Even as he
bowed to that dark figure standing in the corner, his left hand
shot forward the bolt.
"Monsieur," he said -
"What is the meaning of this?" the visitor interrupted, haughtily.
"I am expecting Mademoiselle Louise. I did not understand that
strangers had the right of entry into this room."
Guillot bowed low.
"Monsieur," he said once more, "it is a matter for my eternal
regret that I am forced to intrude even for a moment upon an
assignation so romantic. But there is a little matter which
must first be settled. I have some friends here who have a
thing to say to you."
He walked softly, with catlike tread, along by the wall to where
the thick curtains shut out the inner apartment. He caught at
the thick velvet, dragged it back, and the two rooms were suddenly
flooded with light. In the recently discovered one, two
stalwart-looking men in plain clothes, but of very unmistakable
appearance, were standing waiting. Guillot staggered back. They
were strangers to him. He was like a man who looks upon a nightmare.
His eyes protruded. The words which he tried to utter, failed him.
Then, with a swift, nervous presentiment, he turned quickly around
towards the man who had been standing in the shadows. Here, too,
the unexpected had happened. It was Peter, Baron de Grost, who
threw his muffler and broad-brimmed hat upon the table.
"Five minutes to eleven, I believe, Monsieur Guillot," Peter declared.
"I win by an hour and five minutes."
Guillot said nothing for several seconds. After all, though, he
had great gifts. He recovered alike his power of speech and his
"These gentlemen," he said, pointing with his left hand towards the
inner room - "I do not understand their presence in my apartments."
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"They represent, I am afraid, the obvious end of things," he
explained. "You have given me a run for my money, I confess. A
Monsieur Guillot who is remarkably like you, still occupies your
box at the Empire, and Mademoiselle Jeanne Lemere, the accomplished
understudy of the lady who has just left us, is sufficiently like
the incomparable Louise to escape, perhaps, detection for the
first few minutes. But you gave the game away a little, my dear
Guillot, when you allowed your quarry to come and gaze even from
the shadows of his box at the woman he adored."
"Where is - he?" Guillot faltered.
"He is on his way back to his country home," Peter replied. "I
think that he will be cured of his infatuation for Mademoiselle.
The assassins whom you planted in that room are by this time in
Bow Street. The price which others beside you knew, my dear
Guillot, was placed upon that unfortunate young head, will not
pass this time into your pocket. For the rest - "
"The rest is of no consequence," Guillot interrupted, bowing. "I
admit that I am vanquished. As for those gentlemen there," he
added, waving his hand towards the two men who had taken a step
forward, "I have a little oath which is sacred to me concerning
them. I take the liberty, therefore, to admit myself defeated,
Monsieur le Baron, and to take my leave."
No one was quick enough to interfere. They had only a glimpse of
him as he stood there with the revolver pressed to his temple, an
impression of a sharp report, of Guillot staggering back as the
revolver slipped from his fingers on to the floor. Even his death
cry was stifled. They carried him away without any fuss, and Peter
was just in time, after all, to see the finish of the second act of
the ballet. The sham Monsieur Guillot still smirked at the sham
Louise, but the box by his side was empty.
"It is over?" Violet asked, breathlessly.
"It is over," Peter answered.
It was, after all, an unrecorded tragedy. In an obscure corner of
the morning papers one learned the next day that a Frenchman, who
had apparently come to the end of his means, had committed suicide
in a furnished flat of Shaftesbury Avenue. Two foreigners were
deported without having been brought up for trial, for being
suspected persons. A little languid interest was aroused at the
inquest when one of the witnesses deposed to the deceased's having
been a famous French criminal. Nothing further transpired, however,
and the readers of the halfpenny press for once were deprived of
their sensation. For the rest, Peter received, with much
satisfaction, a remarkably handsome signet ring, bearing some
famous arms, and a telegram from Sogrange: "Well done, Baron! May
the successful termination of your enterprise nerve you for the
greater undertaking which is close at hand. I leave for London by
the night train. Sogrange."
THE GHOSTS OF HAVANA HARBOR
"We may now," Sogrange remarked, buttoning up his ulster, and
stretching himself out to the full extent of his steamer chair,
"consider ourselves at sea. I trust, my friend, that you are
feeling quite comfortable."
Peter, lying at his ease upon a neighboring chair, with a pillow
behind his head, a huge fur coat around his body, and a rug over
his feet, had all the appearance of being very comfortable indeed.
His reply, however, was a little short - almost peevish.
"I am comfortable enough for the present, thank you. Heaven knows
how long it will last!"
Sogrange waved his arms towards the great uneasy plain of blue sea,
the showers of foam leaping into the sunlight, away beyond the
disappearing coast of France.
"Last!" he repeated. "For eight days, I hope. Consider, my dear
Baron! What could be more refreshing, more stimulating to our
jaded nerves than this? Think of the December fogs you have left
behind, the cold, driving rain, the puddles in the street, the
gray skies - London, in short, at her ugliest and worst."
"That is all very well," Peter protested, "but I have left several
other things behind, too."
"As, for instance?" Sogrange inquired, genially.
"My wife," Peter informed him. "Violet objects very much to these
abrupt separations. This week, too, I was shooting at Saxthorpe,
and I had also several other engagements of a pleasant nature.
Besides, I have reached that age when I find it disconcerting to
be called out of bed in the middle of the night to answer a long
distance telephone call, and told to embark on a White Star liner
leaving Liverpool early the next morning. It may be your idea of
a pleasure trip. It isn't mine."
Sogrange was amused. His smile, however, was hidden. Only the tip
of his cigarette was visible.
"Nothing much, except that I am always seasick," Peter replied
deliberately. "I can feel it coming on now. I wish that fellow
would keep away with his beastly mutton broth. The whole ship
seems to smell of it."
Sogrange laughed, softly but without disguise.
"Who said anything about a pleasure trip?" he demanded.
Peter turned his head.
"You did. You told me when you came on at Cherbourg that you had
to go to New York to look after some property there, that things
were very quiet in London, and that you hated traveling alone.
Therefore, you sent for me at a few hours' notice."
"Is that what I told you?" Sogrange murmured.
"Yes! Wasn't it true?" Peter asked, suddenly alert.
"Not a word of it," Sogrange admitted. "It is quite amazing that
you should have believed it for a moment."
"I was a fool," Peter confessed. "You see, I was tired and a
little cross. Besides, somehow or other, I never associated a
trip to America with - "
Sogrange interrupted him quietly, but ruthlessly.
"Lift up the label attached to the chair next to yours. Read it
out to me."
Peter took it into his hand and turned it over. A quick
exclamation escaped him.
"Great Heavens! The Count von Hern - Bernadine!"
"Just so," Sogrange assented. "Nice clear writing, isn't it?"
Peter sat bolt upright in his chair.
"Do you mean to say that Bernadine is on board?" Sogrange shook
"By the exercise, my dear Baron," he said, "of a superlative
amount of ingenuity, I was able to prevent that misfortune. Now
lean over and read the label on the next chair."
Peter obeyed. His manner had acquired a new briskness. "La
Duchesse della Nermino," he announced.
"Everything just as it should be," he declared. "Change those
labels, my friend, as quickly as you can."
Peter's fingers were nimble and the thing was done in a few
"So I am to sit next the Spanish lady," he remarked, feeling for
"Not only that, but you are to make friends with her," Sogrange
replied. "You are to be your captivating self, Baron. The Duchesse
is to forget her weakness for hot rooms. She is to develop a taste
for sea air and your society."
"Is she," Peter asked, anxiously, "old or young?"
Sogrange showed a disposition to fence with the question. "Not
old," he answered; "certainly not old. Fifteen years ago she was
considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world."
"The ladies of Spain," Peter remarked, with a sigh, "are inclined
to mature early."
"In some cases," Sogrange assured him, "there are no women in the
world who preserve their good looks longer. You shall judge, my
friend. Madame comes! How about that sea-sickness now?"
"Gone," Peter declared, briskly. "Absolutely a fancy of mine.
Never felt better in my life."
An imposing little procession approached along the deck. There was
the deck steward leading the way; a very smart French maid carrying
a wonderful collection of wraps, cushions and books; a black-browed,
pallid man-servant, holding a hot water bottle in his hand, and
leading a tiny Pekinese spaniel, wrapped in a sealskin coat; and
finally Madame la Duchesse. It was so obviously a procession
intended to impress, that neither Peter nor Sogrange thought it
worth while to conceal their interest.
The Duchesse, save that she was tall and wrapped in magnificent furs,
presented a somewhat mysterious appearance. Her features were
entirely obscured by an unusually thick veil of black lace, and the
voluminous nature of her outer garments only permitted a suspicion
as to her figure, which was, at that time, at once the despair and
the triumph of her corsetiere. With both hands she was holding her
fur-lined skirts from contact with the deck, disclosing at the same
time remarkably shapely feet encased in trim patent shoes with plain
silver buckles, and a little more black silk stocking than seemed
absolutely necessary. The deck steward, after a half-puzzled
scrutiny of the labels, let down the chair next to the two men. The
Duchesse contemplated her prospective neighbors with some curiosity,
mingled with a certain amount of hesitation. It was at that moment
that Sogrange, shaking away his rug, rose to his feet.
"Madame la Duchesse permits me to remind her of my existence?" he
said, bowing low. "It is some years since we met, but I had the
honor of a dance at the Palace in Madrid."
She held out her hand at once, yet somehow Peter felt sure that she
was thankful for her veil. Her voice was pleasant, and her air the
air of a great lady. She spoke French with the soft, sibilant
intonation of the Spaniard.
"I remember the occasion perfectly, Marquis," she admitted. "Your
sister and I once shared a villa in Mentone."
"I am flattered by your recollection, Duchesse," Sogrange murmured.
"It is a great surprise to meet with you here, though," she
continued. "I did not see you at Cherbourg or on the train."
"I motored from Paris," Sogrange explained, "and arrived, contrary
to my custom, I must confess, somewhat early. Will you permit that
I introduce an acquaintance, whom I have been fortunate enough to
find on board - Monsieur le Baron de Grost - Madame la Duchesse
Peter was graciously received and the conversation dealt, for a few
moments, with the usual banalities of the voyage. Then followed
the business of settling the Duchesse in her place. When she was
really installed, and surrounded with all the paraphernalia of a
great and fanciful lady, including a handful of long cigarettes,
she raised for the first time her veil. Peter, who was at the
moment engaged in conversation with her, was a little shocked by
the result. Her features were worn, her face dead-white, with
many signs of the ravages wrought by the constant use of cosmetics.
Only her eyes had retained something of their former splendor. These
latter were almost violet in color, deep-set, with dark rims, and
were sufficient almost in themselves to make one forget for a moment
the less prepossessing details of her appearance. A small library
of books was by her side, but after a while she no longer pretended
any interest in them. She was a born conversationalist, a creature
of her country entirely and absolutely feminine, to whom the subtle
and flattering deference of the other sex was the breath of life
itself. Peter burned his homage upon her altar with a craft which
amounted to genius. In less than half an hour, Madame la Duchesse
was looking many years younger. The vague look of apprehension
had passed from her face. Their voices had sunk to a confidential
undertone, punctuated often by the music of her laughter. Sogrange,
with a murmured word of apology, had slipped away long ago.
Decidedly, for an Englishman, Peter was something of a marvel!
Madame la Duchesse moved her head towards the empty chair.
"He is a great friend of yours - the Marquis de Sogrange?" she asked,
with a certain inflection in her tone which Peter was not slow to
"Indeed no!" he answered. "A few years ago I was frequently in
Paris. I made his acquaintance then, but we have met very seldom
"You are not traveling together, then?"
"By no means. I recognized him only as he boarded the steamer at
"He is not a popular man in our world," she remarked. "One speaks
of him as a schemer."
"Is there anything left to scheme for in France?" Peter asked,
carelessly. "He is, perhaps, a monarchist?"
"His ancestry alone would compel a devoted allegiance to royalism,"
the Duchesse declared, "but I do not think that he is interested
in any of these futile plots to reinstate the House of Orleans.
I, Monsieur le Baron, am Spanish."
"I have scarcely lived so far out of the world as to have heard
nothing of the Duchesse della Nermino," Peter replied with
empressement. "The last time I saw you, Duchesse, you were in the
suite of the Infanta."
"Like all Englishmen, I see you possess a memory," she said, smiling.
"Duchesse," Peter answered, lowering his voice, "without the memories
which one is fortunate enough to collect as one passes along, life
would be a dreary place. The most beautiful things in the world
cannot remain always with us. It is well, then, that the shadow of
them can be recalled to us in the shape of dreams."
Her eyes rewarded him for his gallantry. Peter felt that he was
doing very well indeed. He indulged himself in a brief silence.
Presently she returned to the subject of Sogrange.
"I think," she remarked, "that of all the men in the world I expected
least to see the Marquis de Sogrange on board a steamer bound for New
York. What can a man of his type find to amuse him in the New World?"
"One wonders, indeed," Peter assented. "As a matter of fact, I did
read in a newspaper a few days ago that he was going to Mexico in
connection with some excavations there. He spoke to me of it just
now. They seem to have discovered a ruined temple of the Incas, or
something of the sort."
The Duchesse breathed what sounded very much like a sigh of relief.
"I had forgotten," she admitted, "that New York itself need not
necessarily be his destination."
"For my own part," Peter continued, "it is quite amazing, the
interest which the evening papers always take in the movements of
one connected ever so slightly with their world. I think that a
dozen newspapers have told their readers the exact amount of money
I am going to lend or borrow in New York, the stocks I am going
to bull or bear, the mines I am going to purchase. My presence on
an American steamer is accounted for by the journalists a dozen
times over. Yours, Duchesse, if one might say so without appearing
over curious, seems the most inexplicable. What attraction can
America possibly have for you?"
She glanced at him covertly from under her sleepy eyelids. Peter's
face was like the face of a child.
"You do not, perhaps, know," she said, "that I was born in Cuba.
I lived there, in fact, for many years. I still have estates in
"Indeed?" he answered. "Are you interested, then, in this reported
salvage of the Maine?"
There was a short silence. Peter, who had not been looking at her
when he had asked his question, turned his head, surprised at her
lack of response. His heart gave a little jump. The Duchesse had
all the appearance of a woman on the point of fainting. One hand
was holding a scent bottle to her nose; the other, thin and white,
ablaze with emeralds and diamonds, was gripping the side of her
chair. Her expression was one of blank terror. Peter felt a shiver
chill his own blood at the things he saw in her face. He himself
was confused, apologetic, yet absolutely without understanding. His
thoughts reverted at first to his own commonplace malady.
"You are ill, Duchesse!" he exclaimed. "You will allow me to call
the deck steward? Or perhaps you would prefer your own maid? I
have some brandy in this flask."
He had thrown off his rug, but her imperious gesture kept him seated.
She was looking at him with an intentness which was almost tragical.
"What made you ask me that question?" she demanded.
His innocence was entirely apparent. Not even Peter could have
dissembled so naturally.
"That question?" he repeated, vaguely. "You mean about the Maine?
It was the idlest chance, Duchesse, I assure you. I saw something
about it in the paper yesterday and it seemed interesting. But if
I had had the slightest idea that the subject was distasteful to
you, I would not have dreamed of mentioning it. Even now - I do not
understand - "
She interrupted him. All the time he had been speaking she had
shown signs of recovery. She was smiling now, faintly and with
obvious effort, but still smiling.
"It is altogether my own fault, Baron," she admitted, graciously.
"Please forgive my little fit of emotion. The subject is a very
sore one among my countrypeople, and your sudden mention of it
upset me. It was very foolish."
"Duchesse, I was a clumsy idiot!" Peter declared, penitently. "I
deserve that you should be unkind to me for the rest of the voyage."
"I could not afford that," she answered, forcing another smile. "I
am relying too much upon you for companionship. Ah! could I trouble
you?" she added. "For the moment I need my maid. She passes there."
Peter sprang up and called the young woman, who was slowly pacing
the deck. He himself did not at once return to his place. He went
instead in search of Sogrange, and found him in his stateroom.
Sogrange was lying upon a couch, in a silk smoking suit, with a
French novel in his hand and an air of contentment which was almost
fatuous. He laid down the volume at Peter's entrance.
"Dear Baron," he murmured, "why this haste! No one is ever in a
hurry upon a steamer. Remember that we can't possibly get anywhere
in less than eight days, and there is no task in the world, nowadays,
which cannot be accomplished in that time. To hurry is a needless
waste of tissue, and, to a person of my nervous temperament,
Peter sat down on the edge of the bunk.
"I presume you have quite finished?" he said. "If so, listen to me.
I am moving in the dark. Is it my fault that I blunder? By the
merest accident I have already committed a hideous faux pas. You
ought to have warned me."
"What do you mean?"
"I have spoken to the Duchesse of the Maine disaster."
The eyes of Sogrange gleamed for a moment, but he lay perfectly
"Why not?" he asked. "A good many people are talking about it.
It is one of the strangest things I have ever heard of, that after
all these years they should be trying to salve the wreck."
"It seems worse than strange," Peter declared. "What can be the
use of trying to stir up bitter feelings between two nations who
have fought their battles and buried the hatchet? I call it an
act of insanity."
A bugle rang. Sogrange yawned and sat up.
"Would you mind touching the bell for my servant, Baron," he asked.
"Dinner will be served in half an hour. Afterwards, we will talk,
you and I."
Peter turned away, not wholly pleased.
"The sooner, the better," he grumbled, "or I shall be putting my
foot into it again." . . .
After dinner, the two men walked on deck together. The night was
dark but fine, with a strong wind blowing from the northwest. The
deck steward called their attention to a long line of lights,
stealing up from the horizon on their starboard side.
"That's the Lusitania, sir. She'll be up to us in half an hour."
They leaned over the rail. Soon the blue fires began to play about
their mast head. Sogrange watched them thoughtfully.
"If one could only read those messages," he remarked, with a sigh,
"it might help us."
Peter knocked the ash from his cigar and was silent for a time.
He was beginning to understand the situation.
"My friend," he said at last, "I have been doing you an injustice.
I have come to the conclusion that you are not keeping me in
ignorance of the vital facts connected with our visit to America,
willfully. At the present moment you know just a little more, but
a very little more
than I do."
"What perception!" Sogrange murmured. "My dear Baron, sometimes
you amaze me. You are absolutely right. I have some pieces and I
am convinced that they would form a puzzle the solution of which
would be interesting to us, but how or where they fit in, I frankly
don't know. You have the facts so far."
"Certainly," Peter replied.
"You have heard of Sirdeller?"
"You mean the Sirdeller?" Peter asked.
"Naturally. I mean the man whose very movements sway the money
markets of the world, the man who could, if he chose, ruin any
nation, make war impossible; who could if he had ten more years
of life and was allowed to live, draw to himself and his own
following the entire wealth of the universe."
"Very eloquent," Peter remarked. "We 'll take the rest for granted."
"Then," Sogrange continued, "you have probably also heard of Don
Pedro, Prince of Marsine, one time Pretender to the Throne of Spain?"
"Quite a striking figure in European politics," Peter assented,
quickly. "He is suspected of radical proclivities, and is still,
it is rumored, an active plotter against the existing monarchy."
"Very well," Sogrange said. "Now listen carefully. Four months ago,
Sirdeller was living at the Golden Villa, near Nice. He was visited
more than once by Marsine, introduced by the Count von Hern. The
result of those visits was a long series of cablegrams to certain
great engineering firms in America. Almost immediately, the salvage
of the Maine was started. It is a matter of common report that the
entire cost of these works is being undertaken by Sirdeller."
"Now," Peter murmured, "you are really beginning to interest me."
"This week," Sogrange went on, "it is expected that the result of the
salvage works will be made known. That is to say, it is highly
possible that the question of whether the Maine was blown up from
outside or inside, will be settled once and for all. This week, mind,
Baron. Now see what happens. Sirdeller returns to America, The
Count von Hern and Prince Marsine come to America. The Duchesse
della Nermino comes to America, The Duchesse, Sirdeller and Marsine
are upon this steamer. The Count von Hern travels by the Lusitania
only because it was reported that Sirdeller at the last minute
changed his mind and was traveling by that boat. Mix these things
up in your brain - the conjurer's hat, let us call it," Sogrange
concluded, laying his hand upon Peter's arm, "Sirdeller, the Duchesse,
Von Hern, Marsine, the raising of the Maine - mix them up and what
sort of an omelette appears?"
Peter whistled softly.
"No wonder," he said, "that you couldn't make the pieces of the
puzzle fit. Tell me more about the Duchesse?"
Sogrange considered for a moment.
"The principal thing about her which links her with the present
situation," he explained, "is that she was living in Cuba at the
time of the Maine disaster, married to a rich Cuban."
The affair was suddenly illuminated by the searchlight of romance.
Peter, for the first time, saw not the light, but the possibility
"Marsine has been living in Germany, has he not?" he asked.
"He is a personal friend of the Kaiser," Sogrange replied.
They both looked up and listened to the crackling of the electricity
above their heads.
"I expect Bernadine is a little annoyed," Peter remarked.
"It isn't pleasant to be out of the party," Sogrange agreed.
"Nearly everybody, however, believed at the last moment that
Sirdeller had transferred his passage to the Lusitania."
"It's going to cost him an awful lot in marconigrams," Peter said.
"By the bye, wouldn't it have been better for us to have traveled
separately, and incognito?"
Sogrange shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Von Hern has at least one man on board," he replied. "I do not
think that we could possibly have escaped observation. Besides,
I rather imagine that any move we are able to make in this matter
must come before we reach Fire Island."
"Have you any theory at all?" Peter asked.
"Not the ghost of a one," Sogrange admitted. "One more fact, though,
I forgot to mention. You may find it important. The Duchesse comes
entirely against Von Hern's wishes. They have been on intimate terms
for years, but for some reason or other he was exceedingly anxious
that she should not take this voyage. She, on the other hand, seemed
to have some equally strong reason for coming. The most useful piece
of advice I could give you would be to cultivate her acquaintance."
"The Duchesse - "
Peter never finished his sentence. His companion drew him suddenly
back into the shadow of a lifeboat.
A door had opened from lower down the deck, and a curious little
procession was coming towards them. A man, burly and
broad-shouldered, who had the air of a professional bully, walked
by himself ahead. Two others of similar build walked a few steps
behind. And between them a thin, insignificant figure, wrapped in
an immense fur coat and using a strong walking stick, came slowly
along the deck. It was like a procession of prison warders guarding
a murderer, or perhaps a nerve-racked royal personage moving=20
the end of his days in the midst of enemies. With halting steps
the little old man came shambling along. He looked neither to the
left nor to the right. His eyes were fixed and yet unseeing, his
features were pale and bony. There was no gleam of life, not even
in the stone-cold eyes. Like some machine-made man of a new and
physically degenerate age, he took his exercise under the eye of his
doctor, a strange and miserable-looking object.
"There goes Sirdeller," Sogrange whispered. "Look at him - the man
whose might is greater than any emperor's. There is no haven in
the universe to which he does not hold the key. Look at him - master
of the world!"
Peter shivered. There was something depressing in the sight of that
"He neither smokes nor drinks," Sogrange continued. "Women, as a
sex, do not exist for him. His religion is a doubting Calvinism.
He has a doctor and a clergyman always by his side to inject life
and hope if they can. Look at him well, my friend. He represents
a great moral
"Thanks! "Peter replied. "I am going to take the taste of him out
of my mouth with a whiskey and soda. Afterwards, I'm for the
But the Duchesse, apparently, was not for Peter. He found her in the
music-room with several of the little Marconi missives spread out
before her, and she cut him dead. Peter, however, was a brave man,
and skilled at the game of bluff. So he stopped by her side and
without any preamble addressed her.
"Duchesse," he said, "you are a woman of perceptions. Which do you
believe, then, in your heart to be the more trustworthy - the Count
von Hern or I?"
She simply stared at him. He continued promptly.
"You have received your warning, I see."
"From the Count von Hern. Why believe what he says? He may be a
friend of yours - he may be a dear friend - but in your heart you
know that he is both unscrupulous and selfish. Why accept his
word and distrust me? I, at least, am honest."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Honest?" she repeated. "Whose word have I for that save your own?
And what concern is it of mine if you possess every one of the
bourgeois qualities in the world? You are presuming, sir."
"My friend Sogrange will tell you that I am to be trusted," Peter
"I see no reason why I should trouble myself about your personal
characteristics," she replied, coldly. "They do not interest me."
"On the contrary, Duchesse," Peter continued, fencing wildly, "you
have never in your life been more in need of any one's services than
you are of mine."
The conflict was uneven. The Duchesse was a nervous, highly strung
woman. The calm assurance of Peter's manner oppressed her with a
sense of his mastery. She sank back upon the couch from which she
"I wish you would tell me what you mean," she said. "You have no
right to talk to me in this fashion. What have you to do with my
"I have as much to do with them as the Count von Hem," Peter
"I have known the Count von Hern," she answered, "for very many
years. You have been a shipboard acquaintance of mine for a few
"If you have known the Count von Hern for many years," Peter
asserted, "you have found out by this time that he is an
absolutely untrustworthy person."
"Supposing he is," she said, "will you tell me what concern it is
of yours? Do you suppose for one moment that I am likely to
discuss my private affairs with a perfect stranger?"
"You have no private affairs," Peter declared, sternly. "They are
the affairs of a nation."
She glanced at him with a little shiver.
>From that moment he felt that he was gaining ground. She looked
around the room. It was still filled, but in their corner they
were almost unobserved.
"How much do you know?" she asked in a low tone which shook with
Peter smiled enigmatically.
"Perhaps more, even, than you, Duchesse," he replied. "I should
like to be your friend. You need one - you know that."
She rose abruptly to her feet.
"For to-night it is enough," she declared, wrapping her fur cloak
around her. "You may talk to me to-morrow, Baron. I must think.
If you desire really to be my friend, there is, perhaps, one
service which I may require of you. But to-night, no!"
Peter stood aside and allowed her to step past him. He was perfectly
content with the progress he had made. Her farewell salute was by
no means ungracious. As soon as she was out of sight, he returned
to the couch where she had been sitting. She had taken away the
marconigrams, but she had left upon the floor several copies of the
New York Herald. He took them up and read them carefully through.
The last one he found particularly interesting, so much so that he
folded it up, placed it in his coat pocket, and went off to look for
Sogrange, whom he found at last in the saloon, watching a noisy game
of "Up Jenkins!" Peter sank upon the cushioned seat by his side.
"You were right," he remarked. "Bernadine has been busy."
"I trust," he said, "that the Duchesse is not proving faithless?"
"So far," Peter replied, "I have kept my end up. Tomorrow will be
the test. Bernadine had filled her with caution. She thinks that I
know everything -- whatever everything may be. Unless I can discover
a little more than I do now, to-morrow is going to be an exceedingly
awkward day for me."
"There is every prospect of your acquiring a great deal of valuable
information before then," Sogrange declared. "Sit tight, my friend.
Something is going to happen."
On the threshold of the saloon, ushered in by one of the stewards,
a tall, powerful-looking man, with a square, well-trimmed black beard,
was standing looking around as though in search of some one. The
steward pointed out, with an unmistakable movement of his head, Peter
and Sogrange, The man approached and took the next table.
"Steward," he directed, "bring me a glass of Vermouth and some
Peter's eyes were suddenly bright. Sogrange touched his foot under
the table and whispered a word of warning. The dominoes were brought.
The newcomer arranged them as though for a game. Then he calmly
withdrew the double-four and laid it before Sogrange.
"It has been my misfortune, Marquis," he said, "never to have made
your acquaintance, although our mutual friends are many, and I think
I may say that I have the right to claim a certain amount of
consideration from you and your associates. You know me?"
"Certainly, Prince," Sogrange replied. "I am charmed. Permit me to
present my friend, the Baron de Grost."
The newcomer bowed and glanced a little nervously around.
"You will permit me," he begged. "I travel incognito. I have lived
so long in England that I have permitted myself the name of an
Englishman. I am traveling under the name of Mr. James Fanshawe."
"Mr. Fanshawe, by all means," Sogrange agreed. "In the meantime -"
"I claim my rights as a corresponding member of the Double-Four,"
the newcomer declared. "My friend the Count von Hern finds menace
to certain plans of ours in your presence upon this steamer.
Unknown to him, I come to you openly. I claim your aid, not your
"Let us understand one another clearly," Sogrange said. "You claim
our aid in what?"
Mr. Fanshawe glanced around the saloon and lowered his voice.
"I claim your aid towards the overthrowing of the usurping House of
Brangaza and the restoration to power in Spain of my own line."
Sogrange was silent for several moments. Peter was leaning forward
in his place, deeply interested. Decidedly, this American trip
seemed destined to lead towards events!
"Our active aid towards such an end," Sogrange said at last, "is
impossible. The Society of the Double-Four does not interfere in
the domestic policy of other nations for the sake of individual
"Then let me ask you why I find you upon this steamer?" Mr. Fanshawe
demanded, in a tone of suppressed excitement. "Is it for the sea
voyage that you and your friend the Baron de Grost cross the Atlantic
this particular week, on the same steamer as myself, as Mr. Sirdeller,
and - and the Duchesse? One does not believe in such coincidences!
One is driven to conclude that it is your intention to interfere."
"The affair almost demands our interference," Sogrange replied,
smoothly. "With every due respect to you, Prince, there are great
interests involved in this move of yours."
The Prince was a big man, but for all his large features and bearded
face his expression was the expression of a peevish and passionate
child. He controlled himself with an effort.
"Marquis," he said, "this is necessary - I say that it is necessary
that we conclude an alliance."
Sogrange nodded approvingly.
"It is well spoken," he said, "but remember - the Baron de Grost
represents England and the English interests of our Society."
The Prince of Marsine's face was not pleasant to look upon.
"Forgive me if you are an Englishman by birth, Baron," he said,
turning towards him, "but a more interfering nation in other people's
affairs than England has never existed in the pages of history. She
must have a finger in every pie. Bah!"
Peter leaned over from his place.
"What about Germany - Mr. Fanshawe?" he asked, with emphasis.
The Prince tugged at his beard. He was a little nonplussed.
"The Count von Hern," he confessed, "has been a good friend to me.
The rulers of his country have always been hospitable and favorably
inclined towards my family. The whole affair is of his design. I
myself could scarcely have moved in it alone. One must reward one's
helpers. There is no reason, however," he added, with a meaning
glance at Peter, "why other helpers should not be admitted."
"The reward which you offer to the Count von Hern," Peter remarked,
"is of itself absolutely inimical to the interests of my country."
"Listen! "the Prince demanded, tapping the table before him. "It
is true that within a year I am pledged to reward the Count von Hern
in certain fashion. It is not possible that you know the terms of
our compact, but from your words it is possible that you have
guessed. Very well. Accept this from me. Remain neutral now,
allow this matter to proceed to its natural conclusion, let your
government address representations to me when the time comes,
adopting a bold front, and I promise that I will obey them. It will
not be my fault that I am compelled to disappoint the Count von Hern.
My seaboard would be at the mercy of your fleet. Superior force
must be obeyed."
"It is a matter, this," Sogrange said, "for discussion between my
friend and me. I think that you will find that we are neither of
us unreasonable. In short, Prince, I see no insuperable reason why
we should not come to terms."
"You encourage me," the Prince declared, in a gratified tone. "Do
not believe, Marquis, that I am actuated in this matter wholly by
motives of personal ambition. No, it is not so. A great desire
has burned always in my heart, but it is not that alone which moves
me. I assure you that of my certain knowledge Spain is honeycombed
- is rotten with treason. A revolution is a certainty. How much
better that that revolution should be conducted in a dignified
manner; that I, with my reputation for democracy which I have
carefully kept before the eyes of my people, should be elected
President of the new Spanish Republic, even if it is the gold of
the American which places me there. In a year or two, what may
happen who can say? This craving for a republic is but a passing
dream. Spain, at heart, is monarchial. She will be led back to the
light. It is but a short step from the president's chair to the
Sogrange and his companion sat quite still. They avoided looking
at each other.
"There is one thing more," the Prince continued, dropping his voice,
as if, even at that distance, he feared the man of whom he spoke.
"I shall not inform the Count von Hern of our conversation. It is
not necessary, and, between ourselves, the Count is jealous. He
sends me message after message that I remain in my stateroom, that
I seek no interview with Sirdeller, that I watch only. He is too
much of the spy - the Count von Hern. He does not understand that
code of honor, relying upon which I open my heart to you."
"You have done your cause no harm," Sogrange assured him, with
subtle sarcasm. "We come now to the Duchesse."
The Prince leaned towards him. It was just at this moment that a
steward entered with a marconigram, which he presented to the Prince.
The latter tore it open, glanced it through, and gave vent to a
little exclamation. The fingers which held the missive trembled.
His eyes blazed with excitement. He was absolutely unable to
control his feelings.
"My two friends," he cried, in a tone broken with emotion, "it is
you first who shall hear the news! This message has just arrived.
Sirdeller will have received its duplicate. The final report of
the works in Havana Harbor will await us on our arrival in New York,
but the substance of it is this. The Maine was sunk by a torpedo,
discharged at close quarters underneath her magazine. Gentlemen,
the House of Brangaza is ruined!"
There was a breathless silence.
"Your information is genuine?" Sogrange asked, softly.
"Without a doubt," the Prince replied. "I have been expecting this
message. I shall cable to Von Hern. We are still in communication.
He may not have heard."
"We were about to speak of the Duchesse," Peter reminded him.
The Prince shook his head.
"Another time," he declared. "Another time."
He hurried away. It was already half past ten and the saloon was
almost empty. The steward came up to them.
"The saloon is being closed for the night, sir," he announced.
"Let us go on deck," Peter suggested.
They found their way up on to the windward side of the promenade,
which was absolutely deserted. Far away in front of them now were
the disappearing lights of the Lusitania. The wind roared by as
the great steamer rose and fell on the black stretch of waters.
Peter stood very near to his companion.
"Listen, Sogrange," he said, "the affair is clear now save for
"You mean Sirdeller's motives?"
"Not at all," Peter answered. "An hour ago, I came across the
explanation of these. The one thing I will tell you afterwards.
Now listen. Sirdeller came abroad last year for twelve months'
travel. He took a great house in San Sebastian."
"Where did you hear this?" Sogrange asked.
"I read the story in the New York Herald," Peter continued. "It
is grossly exaggerated, of course, but this is the substance of it.
Sirdeller and his suite were stopped upon the Spanish frontier and
treated in an abominable fashion by the customs officers. He was
forced to pay a very large sum, unjustly I should think. He paid
under protest, appealed to the authorities, with no result. At
San Sebastian he was robbed right and left, his privacy intruded
upon. In short, he took a violent dislike and hatred to the
country and every one concerned in it. He moved with his entire
suite to Nice, to the Golden Villa. There he expressed himself
freely concerning Spain and her Government. Count von Hern heard
of it and presented Marsine. The plot was, without doubt,
Bernadine's. Can't you imagine how he would put it?
'A revolution,' he would tell Sirdeller, 'is imminent in Spain.
Here is the new President of the Republic. Money is no more to
you than water. You are a patriotic American. Have you forgotten
that a warship of your country with six hundred of her devoted
citizens was sent to the bottom by the treachery of one of this
effete race? The war was an inefficient revenge. The country
still flourishes. It is for you to avenge America. With money
Marsine can establish a republic in Spain within twenty-four hours.'
Sirdeller hesitates. He would point out that it had never been
proved that the destruction of the Maine was really due to Spanish
treachery. It is the idea of a business man which followed. He,
at his own expense, would raise the Maine. If it were true that
the explosion occurred from outside, he would find the money. You
see, the message has arrived. After all these years the sea has
given up its secret. Marsine will return to Spain with an unlimited
credit behind him. The House of Brangaza will crumble up like a
pack of cards."
Sogrange looked out into the darkness. Perhaps he saw in that great
black gulf the pictures of these happenings which his companion had
prophesied. Perhaps, for a moment, he saw the panorama of a city
in flames, the passing of a great country under the thrall of these
new ideas. At any rate, he turned abruptly away from the side of the
vessel, and taking Peter's arm, walked slowly down the deck.
"You have solved the puzzle, Baron," he said, gravely. "Now tell me
the one thing. Your story seems to dovetail everywhere."
"The one thing," Peter said, "is connected with the Duchesse. It
was she, of her own will, who decided to come to America. I
believe that, but for her coming, Bernadine and the Prince would
have waited in their own country. Money can flash from America to
England over the wires. It does not need to be fetched. They have
still one fear. It is connected with the Duchesse. Let me think."
They walked up and down the deck. The lights were extinguished one
by one, except in the smoking-room. A strange breed of sailors
from the lower deck came up with mops and buckets. The wind changed
its quarter and the great ship began to roll. Peter stopped
"I find this motion most unpleasant," he said. "I am going to bed.
To-night I cannot think. To-morrow, I promise you, we will solve
He held out his hand and drew his companion back into the shadow of
a lifeboat. A tall figure was approaching them along the deck. As
he passed the little ray of light thrown out from the smoking-room,
the man's features were clearly visible. It was the Prince. He was
walking like one absorbed in thought. His eyes were set like a
sleep-walker's. With one hand he gesticulated. The fingers of the
other were twitching all the time. His head was lifted to the skies.
There was something in his face which redeemed it from its
"It is the man who dreams of power," Peter whispered. "It is one
of his best moments, this. He forgets the vulgar means by which
he intends to rise. He thinks only of himself, the dictator, king,
perhaps emperor. He is of the breed of egoists."
Again and again the Prince passed, manifestly unconscious even of
his whereabouts. Peter and Sogrange crept away unseen to their
In many respects the room resembled a miniature court of justice.
The principal sitting-room of the royal suite, which was the chief
glory of the Adriatic, had been stripped of every superfluous article
of furniture or embellishment. Curtains had been removed, all
evidences of luxury disposed of. Temporarily the apartment had been
transformed into a bare, cheerless place. Seated on a high chair,
with his back to the wall, was Sirdeller. At his right hand was a
small table, on which stood a glass of milk, a phial, a stethoscope.
Behind his doctor. At his left hand a smooth-faced, silent young
man - his secretary. Before him stood the Duchesse, Peter and
Sogrange. Guarding the door was one of the watchmen, who, from his
great physique, might well have been a policeman out of livery.
Sirdeller himself, in the clear light which streamed through the
large window, seemed more aged and shrunken than ever. His eyes
were deep set. No tinge of color was visible in his cheeks. His
chin protruded, his shaggy gray eyebrows gave him an unkempt
appearance. He wore a black velvet gown, a strangely cut black
morning coat and trousers, felt slippers, and his hands were clasped
upon a stout ash walking-stick. He eyed the newcomers keenly but
"The lady may sit," he said.
He spoke almost in an undertone, as though anxious to avoid the
fatigue of words. The guardian of the door placed a chair, into
which the Duchesse subsided. Sirdeller held his right hand towards
his doctor, who felt his pulse. All the time Sirdeller watched him,
his lips a little parted, a world of hungry excitement in his eyes.
The doctor closed his watch with a snap and whispered something in
Sirdeller's ear, apparently reassuring.
"I will hear this story," Sirdeller announced. "In two minutes
every one must leave. If it takes longer, it must remain unfinished."
Peter spoke up briskly.
"The story is this," he began. "You have promised to assist the
Prince of Marsine to transform Spain into a republic, providing the
salvage operations on the Maine prove that that ship was destroyed
from outside. The salvage operations have been conducted at your
expense and finished. It has been proved that the Maine was
destroyed by a mine or torpedo from the outside. Therefore, on the
assumption that it was the treacherous deed of a Spaniard or Cuban
imagining himself to be a patriot, you are prepared to carry out
your undertaking and supply the Prince of Marsine with means to
overthrow the Kingdom of Spain."
Peter paused. The figure on the chair remained motionless. No
flicker of intelligence or interest disturbed the calm of his features.
It was a silence almost unnatural. "I have brought the Duchesse here,"
Peter continued, "to tell you the truth as to the Maine disaster."
Not even then was there the slightest alteration in those ashen gray
features. The Duchesse looked up. She had the air of one only too
eager to speak and finish.
"In those days," she said, "I was the wife of a rich Cuban gentleman,
whose name I withhold. The American officers on board the Maine used
to visit at our house. My husband was jealous; perhaps he had cause."
The Duchesse paused. Even though the light of tragedy and romance
side by side seemed suddenly to creep into the room, Sirdeller
listened as one come back from a dead world.
"One night," the Duchesse went on, "my husband's suspicions were=20
changed into knowledge. He came home unexpectedly. The American
- the officer - I loved him - he was there on the balcony with me.
My husband said nothing. The officer returned to the ship. That
night my husband came into my room. He bent over my bed. 'It is
not you,' he whispered, 'whom I shall destroy, for the pain of
death is short. Anguish of mind may live. To-night six hundred
ghosts may hang about your pillow!'"
Her voice broke. There was something grim and unnatural in that
curious stillness. Even the secretary was at last breathing a
little faster. The watchman at the door was leaning forward.=20
Sirdeller simply moved his hand to the doctor, who held up his
finger while he felt the pulse. The beat of his watch seemed to
sound through the unnatural silence. In a minute he spoke.
"The lady may proceed," he announced.
"My husband," the Duchesse continued, "was an officer in charge of
the Mines and Ordnance Department. He went out that night in a
small boat, after a visit to the strong house. No soul has ever
seen or heard of him since, or his boat. It is only I who know!"
Her voice died away. Sirdeller stretched out his hand and very
deliberately drank a tablespoonful or two of his milk.
"I believe the lady's story," he declared. "The Marsine affair is
finished. Let no one be admitted to have speech with me again upon
He had half turned towards his secretary. The young man bowed.
The doctor pointed towards the door. The Duchesse, Peter and
Sogrange filed slowly out. In the bright sunlight the Duchesse
burst into a peal of hysterical laughter. Even Peter felt, for
a moment, unnerved. Suddenly he, too, laughed.
"I think," he said, "that you and I had better get out of the way,
Sogrange, when the Count von Hern meets us at New York!"
THE AFFAIR or AN ALIEN SOCIETY
Sogrange and Peter, Baron de Grost, standing upon the threshold of
their hotel, gazed out upon New York and liked the look of it. They
had landed from the steamer a few hours before, had already enjoyed
the luxury of a bath, a visit to an American barber's, and a genuine
"I see no reason," Sogrange declared, "why we should not take a
Peter, glancing up into the blue sky and down into the faces of the
well-dressed and beautiful women who were streaming up Fifth Avenue,
was wholly of the same mind.
"If we return by this afternoon's steamer," he remarked, "we shall
have Bernadine for a fellow passenger. Bernadine is annoyed with us
just now. I must confess that I should feel more at my ease with a
few thousand miles of the Atlantic between us."
"Let it be so," Sogrange assented. "We will explore this marvelous
city. Never," he added, taking his companion's arm, "did I expect to
see such women save in my own, the mistress of all cities. So chic,
my dear Baron, and such a carriage! We will lunch at one of the=20
fashionable restaurants and drive in the Park afterwards. First of
all, however, we must take a stroll along this wonderful Fifth Avenue.
The two men spent a morning after their own hearts. They lunched
astonishingly well at Sherry's and drove afterwards in Central Park.
When they returned to the hotel, Sogrange was in excellent spirits.
"I feel, my friend," he announced, "that we are going to have a
very pleasant and, in some respects, a unique week. To meet friends
and acquaintances, everywhere, as one must do in every capital in
Europe, is, of course, pleasant, but there is a monotony about it
from which one is glad sometimes to escape. We lunch here and we
promenade in the places frequented by those of a similar station to
our own, and behold! we know no one. We are lookers on. Perhaps
for a long time it might gall. For a brief period there is a
restfulness about it which pleases me."
"I should have liked," Peter murmured, "an introduction to the lady
in the blue hat."
"You are a gregarious animal," Sogrange declared. "You do not
understand the pleasures of a little comparative isolation with an
intellectual companion such as myself . . . What the devil is the
meaning of this!"
They had reached their sitting-room and upon a small round table
stood a great collection of cards and notes. Sogrange took them up
helplessly, one after the other, reading the names aloud and letting
them fall through his fingers. Some were known to him, some were
not. He began to open the notes. In effect they were all the same
- what evening would the Marquis de Sogrange and his distinguished
friend care to dine, lunch, yacht, golf, shoot, go to the opera, join
a theatre party? Of what clubs would they care to become members?
What kind of hospitality would be most acceptable?
Sogrange sank into a chair.
"My friend," he exclaimed, "they all have to be answered - that
collection there! The visits have to be returned. It is magnificent,
this hospitality, but what can one do?"
Peter looked at the pile of correspondence upon which Sogrange's
inroad, indeed, seemed to have had but little effect.
"One could engage a secretary, of course," he suggested, doubtfully.
"But the visits! Our week's holiday is gone."
"Not at all," Sogrange replied. "I have an idea."
The telephone bell rang. Peter took up the receiver and listened
for a moment. He turned to Sogrange, still holding it in his hand.
"You will be pleased, also, to hear," he announced, "that there are
half a dozen reporters downstairs waiting to interview=20
Sogrange received the information with interest.
"Have them sent up at once," he directed, "every one of them."
"What, all at the same time?" Peter asked.
"All at the same time it must be," Sogrange answered. "Give them to
understand that it is an affair of five minutes only."
They came trooping in. Sogrange welcomed them cordially.
"My friend, the Baron de Grost," he explained, indicating Peter.
"I am the Marquis de Sogrange. Let us know what we can do to serve
One of the men stepped forward.
"Very glad to meet you, Marquis, and you, Baron," he said. "I
won't bother you with any introductions, but I and the company
here represent the Press of New York. We should like some
information for our papers as to the object of your visit here and
the probable length of your stay."
Sogrange extended his hands.
"My dear friend," he exclaimed, "the object of our visit was, I
thought, already well known. We are on our way to Mexico. We
leave to-night. My friend the Baron is, as you know, a financier.
I, too, have a little money to invest. We are going out to meet
some business acquaintances with a view to inspecting some mining
properties. That is absolutely all I can tell you. You can
understand, of course, that fuller information would be impossible."
"Why, that's quite natural, Marquis," the spokesman of the reporters
replied. "We don't like the idea of your hustling out of New York
like this, though?"
Sogrange glanced at the clock.
"It is unavoidable," he declared. "We are relying upon you,
gentlemen, to publish the fact, because you will see," he added,
pointing to the table, "that we have been the recipients of a
great many civilities, which it is impossible for us to acknowledge
properly. If it will give you any pleasure to see us upon our
return, you will be very welcome. In the meantime, you will
understand our haste."
There were a few more civilities and the representatives of the
Press took their departure. Peter looked at his companion
doubtfully, as Sogrange returned from showing them out.
"I suppose this means that we have to catch to-day's steamer, after
all?" he remarked.
"Not necessarily," Sogrange answered. "I have a plan. We will
leave for the Southern depot, wherever it may be. Afterwards, you
shall use that wonderful skill of yours, of which I have heard so
much, to effect some slight change in our appearance. We will then
go to another hotel, in another quarter of New York, and take our
week's holiday incognito. What do you think of that for an idea?"
"Not much," Peter replied. "It isn't so easy to dodge the newspapers
and the Press in this country. Besides, although I could manage
myself very well, you would be an exceedingly awkward subject. Your
tall and elegant figure, your aquiline nose, the shapeliness of your
hands and feet, give you a distinction which I should find it hard to
"You are a remarkably observant fellow, Baron. I quite appreciate
your difficulty. Still, with a club foot, eh, and spectacles instead
of my eyeglass - "
"Oh, no doubt, something could be managed," Peter interrupted.
"You're really in earnest about this, are you?"
"Absolutely," Sogrange declared. "Come here!"
He drew Peter to the window. They were on the twelfth story, and
to a European there was something magnificent in that tangled mass
of buildings threaded by the elevated railway, with its screaming
trains, the clearness of the atmosphere, and in the white streets
below, like polished belts through which the swarms of people
streamed like insects.
"Imagine it all lit up!" Sogrange exclaimed. "The sky-signs all
ablaze, the flashing of fire from those cable wires, the lights
glittering from those tall buildings! This is a wonderful place,
Baron. We must see it. Ring for the bill. Order one of those
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