The Great Secret
E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 4 out of 6
"I wonder," she said slowly, looking for the first time directly towards
me, "whether you have ever seriously considered the question of the
American woman--such as myself, for instance!"
I was a little puzzled, and no doubt I looked it. Mrs. Van Reinberg
proceeded calmly. It was made clear to me that, for the present, at any
rate, my rôle was to be simply that of listener.
"My own case," she said, "is typical. At least I suppose so! I speak for
myself; and there are others in the house, at the present moment, who
profess to feel as I do, and suffer--as I have done. In this country, we
are taught that wealth is power. We, or rather our husbands, acquire or
inherit it; afterwards we set ourselves to test the truth of that little
maxim. We begin at home. In about three years, more or less, we reach our
limitations. Then it begins to dawn upon us that, whatever else America
is good for, it's no place for a woman with ambitions. We're on the top
too soon, and when we're there it doesn't amount to anything."
"Which accounts," I remarked, "for the invasion of Europe!"
Mrs. Van Reinberg leaned her fair, little head upon her white
be-ringed fingers, and looked steadily at me. I had never for a moment
under-estimated her, but she had probably never so much impressed me.
There was something Napoleonic about this slow unfolding of her carefully
"Naturally," she answered. "What, however, so few of us are able to
realize is our utter and miserable failure in what you are pleased to
call that invasion."
"Failure!" I repeated incredulously. "I do not understand that. One hears
everywhere of the social triumphs of the American woman."
Mrs. Van Reinberg's eyes shone straight into mine. Her face expressed the
most unmitigated contempt.
"Social triumphs!" she repeated scornfully. "What clap-trap! I tell you
that a season in London or Paris, much more Vienna, is enough to drive a
real American woman crazy. Success, indeed! What does it amount to?"
She paused for a moment to take breath. I realized then that the woman
whom I had known was something of a fraud, a puppet hung out with the
rags of a European manner, according to the study and observation of the
shrewd, little lady who pulled the strings. It was Mrs. Van Reinberg of
London and Paris whom I had met upon the steamer; it was Mrs. Van
Reinberg of New York who was talking to me now, and she was speaking in
her own language.
"Look here, Mr. Courage," she said, leaning towards me with her elbows
upon her knees, and nothing left of that elegant pose which she had at
first assumed. "I suppose I've got my full share of the American spirit,
and I tell you I'm a bad hand at taking a back seat anywhere, or even a
front one on sufferance. And yet, wherever we go in Europe, that's what
we've got to put up with! You think we're mad on titles over here! We
aren't, but we are keen on what a title brings over your side. Take your
Debrett--there are I don't know how many baronets and lords and marquises
and earls, and all the rest of it. Do you realize that whatever public
place I'm in, or even at a friend's dinner-party, the homely, stupid
wives of those men have got to go in before me, and if they don't--why I
know all the time it's a matter of courtesy? That's what makes me mad!
Don't you dare to smile at me now. I'm in deadly earnest. In this
country, so far as society goes, I'm at the top. You may say it doesn't
amount to much, and you're right. But it makes it all the worse when I'm
in Europe, and see the sort of women I have to give place to. Say, don't
you sit there, Mr. Courage, and look at me as though I were a woman with
some cranky grievance to talk about. It's got beyond that, let me tell
"I can assure you, Mrs. Van Reinberg--" I began.
"Now listen here, Mr. Courage," she interrupted. "I'm not the sort of
woman to complain at what I don't try to alter. What's the good of having
a husband whose nod is supposed to shake the money markets of the world,
if you don't make use of him?"
I nodded sagely.
"You are quite right," I said. "Money, after all, is the greatest power
in the world to-day. Money will buy anything!"
"I guess so, if it's properly spent," Mrs. Van Reinberg agreed. "Only
very few of my country-people have any idea how to use it to get what
they want. They go over the other side and hire great houses, and bribe
your great ladies to call themselves their friends, and bribe your young
men with wonderful entertainments to come to their houses. They spend,
spend, spend, and think they are getting value for their money. Idiots!
The great lady whom they are proud to entertain one night is as likely as
not to cut them the next. Half the people who go to their parties go out
of curiosity, and half to meet their own friends. Not one to see them!
Not one because it does them the slightest good to be seen there. They
are there in the midst of it all, and that is all you can say. Their
motto should be 'on sufferance.' That's what I call going to work the
"You have," I suggested, "some other scheme?"
She drew her chair a little closer to mine, and looked around cautiously.
"I have," she admitted. "That is what we are all here for--to discuss it
and make our final plans."
"And Prince Victor?" I murmured.
"Precisely! He is in it, of course. I may as well tell you that he's
dead against my making a confidant of you; but I've a sort of fancy to
hear what you might have to say about it. You see I'm a practical woman,
and though I've thought this scheme out myself, and I believe in it,
there are times when it seems to me a trifle airy. Now you're a kind of
level-headed person, and living over there, your point of view would be
"I should be glad to hear anything you might have to tell me, Mrs. Van
Reinberg," I said slowly; "but you must please remember that I am an
"Oh! we don't want to hurt your old country," she declared. "I consider
that for all the talk about kinship, and all that sort of thing, she
treats us--I mean women like myself--disgracefully. But that's neither
here nor there. I've finished with England for the present. We're going
to play a greater game than that!"
Mrs. Van Reinberg had dropped her voice a little. There was a somewhat
uncomfortable pause. I could see that, even at the last moment, she
realized that, in telling me these things, she was guilty of what might
well turn out to be a colossal indiscretion. I myself was almost in a
worse dilemma. If I accepted her confidence, I was almost, if not quite,
bound in honor to respect it. If, as I suspected, it fitted in with the
great scheme, if it indeed formed ever so small a part of these impending
happenings in which Guest so firmly believed, what measure of respect
were we likely to pay to it? None at all! If I stopped her, I should be
guilty, from Guest's point of view, of incredible folly; if I let her go
on, it must be with the consciousness that I was accepting her
confidences under wholly false pretences. It was a big problem for a man
like myself, new to the complexities of life. I could only think of
Guest's words: "Conscience! For Heaven's sake, man, lock it up until we
have done our duty."
I leaned against the wooden rail of the piazza, looking across the
grounds. Within a dozen yards or so of us, several of Mrs. Van Reinberg's
guests, with a collection of golf sticks, were clambering into a huge
automobile. Beyond the pleasure gardens was a range of forest-covered
hills, yellow and gold now with the glory of the changing foliage. In the
valley was a small steeplechase course, towards which several people were
riding. The horse which had been saddled for me was still being led about
a little way down the avenue. With the exception that there was no
shooting party, it was very much like the usual sort of gathering at an
English country house. And yet it all seemed wholly unreal to me! I felt
a strong inclination--perhaps a little hysterical--to burst out laughing.
This was surely a gigantic joke, planned against the proverbial lack of
humor of my countrymen! I was not expected to take it seriously! And yet,
in a moment, I remembered certain established facts, of which these
things were but the natural sequel. I remembered, too, a certain air of
seriousness, and a disposition towards confidential talk, manifested
among the older members of the party. Mrs. Van Reinberg's suppressed but
earnest voice again broke the silence. She called me back to her side.
"Mr. Courage," she said, "you are going to marry Adèle?"
"I hope so," I answered confidently, glancing away to where she stood
talking to Mr. de Valentin on the piazza steps.
"I shall treat you then," she declared, "as one of the family. To-night,
after dinner, we are going to hold the meeting for which this houseful
of people was really brought together. I invite you to come to it.
Afterwards you will understand everything! Now I must hurry off, and so
must you! Your horse is getting the fidgets."
She swept off down the piazza. Mr. de Valentin came forward eagerly to
meet her. I saw his face darken as she whispered in his ear.
A CABLE FROM EUROPE
Dinner that night was a somewhat oppressive meal. Several new guests had
arrived, some of whom bore names which were well known to me. There was a
sense of some hidden excitement, which formed an uneasy background to the
spasmodic general conversation. The men especially seemed uncomfortable
and ill at ease.
"Poor father," Adèle whispered to me, "he would give a good many of his
dollars not to be in this."
I glanced across at our host, who had come down from New York specially
in his magnificent private car, which was now awaiting his return on a
siding of the little station. He was a hard-faced, elderly man, with a
shrewd mouth and keen eyes, sparely built, yet a man you would be
inclined to glance at twice in any assemblage. He wore a most
unconventional evening suit, the waistcoat cut very high, and a plain
black tie. Two footmen stood behind his chair, and a large florid lady,
wearing a crown of diamonds, and with a European reputation for opulence,
sat on his right hand. Neither seemed to embarrass him in the least, for
the simple reason that he took no notice of them. He drank water, ate
sparingly, and talked Wall Street with a man a few places down the table
on the left. His speech was crisp and correct, but his intonation more
distinctly American than any of his guests'. On the whole, I think he
interested me more than any one else there.
"By the bye," I remarked, "I ought to be having a little private
conversation with your father this time, oughtn't I?"
She smiled at me faintly.
"It is usual," she assented. "I don't think you will find that he will
have much to say. I am my own mistress, and he is too wise to interfere
in such a matter. But--"
"You are a very confident person," she murmured.
"I am confident of one thing, at any rate," I answered, "and that is that
you are going to be my wife!"
She rebuked me with a glance, which was also wonderfully sweet.
"Some one will hear you," she whispered.
I shook my head.
"Every one is too busy talking about the mysteries to come," I declared.
She shrugged her dazzlingly white shoulders.
"Perhaps even you," she murmured, "may take them more seriously some
A few minutes later Mrs. Van Reinberg rose.
"We shall all meet," she remarked, looking round the table, "at eleven
o'clock in the library."
In common with most of the younger men, I left the table at the same
time, the usual custom, I had discovered, here, where cigarettes were
smoked indiscriminately. There was baccarat in the hall; billiards and
bridge for those who care for them. Mrs. Van Reinberg waited for me in
the first of the long suite of reception-rooms. Mr. de Valentin, who had
been talking earnestly to her most of the time during the service of
dinner, remained only a few paces off. It struck me that Mrs. Van
Reinberg was not in the best of humors.
"Mr. Courage," she said, "I think it only right that I should let you
know that Mr. de Valentin strongly objects to your presence at our
"I am very sorry to hear it," I answered. "May I ask upon what grounds?"
"He seems to imagine," she declared, "that you are not trustworthy."
Mr. de Valentin hastily intervened.
"My dear Mrs. Van Reinberg!" he exclaimed.
"I hope you will believe, Mr. Courage," he continued, turning towards me,
"that nothing was further from my thoughts. I simply say that as you are
not interested in the matter which we are going to discuss, your presence
is quite unnecessary, and might become a source of mutual embarrassment."
"On the contrary," I assured him, "I am very much interested. Perhaps Mr.
de Valentin does not know," I added, turning towards Mrs. Van Reinberg,
"that your stepdaughter has done me the honor of promising to be my
There was a moment's breathless pause. I saw Mrs. Van Reinberg falter,
and I saw something which I did not understand flash across Mr. de
"Even in that case," he said in a very low tone, "Miss Van Hoyt will
herself be present. It is not necessary that you should accompany her."
"I regret to say that I think differently," I answered. "Unless Mrs. Van
Reinberg withdraws her invitation, I shall certainly be present."
"That," Mrs. Van Reinberg declared, "I shall not do. Mr. Courage must do
as he thinks best."
Mr. de Valentin bowed slightly, and turned away. His lips were parted in
a very unpleasant and most peculiar smile.
"I am very sorry," I said to Mrs. Van Reinberg, "to be the cause of any
"The Prince," she answered, departing for the first time from the use of
his incognito, "is very nervous. He is used to advisers and friends, and,
for almost the first time in his life, he is entirely alone. I sometimes
wonder whether he has really sufficient nerve to take up a great part in
"Circumstances," I remarked, "often create the man!"
"I hope," she said a little grimly, "that they will make a man of Mr. de
She took a cigarette from the little gold case which hung from her
chatelaine, and lit it.
"I will tell you, Mr. Courage," she said, "why I am rather anxious for
you to be present at the meeting to-night. You are altogether
disinterested, and you should be able to form a sane opinion of Mr. de
Valentin's proposals. I should like to hear how they appeal to you."
"I will tell you exactly what I think," I answered.
She dismissed me with a little nod.
I went in search of Adèle, but could find no trace of her in any of the
rooms. At last, in one of the corridors, I heard Nagaski barking, and
found him sitting outside the closed door of a small reading-room.
Directly I moved towards him, however, he flew at me, and seized my
trousers between his teeth. His eyes were fierce with anger, his whole
skin seemed to be quivering with excitement. At the sound of his angry
growls, the door was opened, and Adèle appeared.
"Nagaski, you naughty dog!" she exclaimed.
Nagaski let go of my trousers, but continued to growl. Adèle stooped to
pick him up, and he immediately attempted to lick her face. I saw then,
to my surprise, that she was very pale, and had all the appearance of
having received a shock.
"What has happened?" I asked.
She motioned me to enter the room, and closed the door behind us.
"I have just received a cable from Europe," she said in a low tone. "It
I looked at her keenly.
"Something has been found out. A friend of Mr. Stanley's left Havre
yesterday for New York. You will not be safe for a moment after he
arrives. And in the meantime, I have a message for Mr. de Valentin. I
wonder," she added, with a faint smile, "what chance you would have of
being at the meeting to-night, if I should deliver it now?"
"Then please don't deliver it," I begged. "I am really getting curious
about this affair. You can hold it back for an hour or so, can't you?"
"Yes!" she answered quietly, "I can do that."
She was a changed being during the last hour. Her eyes were full of fear,
she seemed to have lost alike her brilliancy and her splendid courage.
She did not resist me when I took her into my arms, but her very
passiveness was ominous.
"Come," I said cheerfully, "this really isn't so serious as it seems. I
shall be away from here before Mr. Stanley's friend arrives, I may even
be out of the country. Why shouldn't you come with me, Adèle?"
She disengaged herself gently from my arms.
"You are a very thoughtless person," she said quietly. "Not only would it
be impossible for me to do that, but there must not be a word about our
engagement. Remember that I have given false information about you. It is
not the risk for myself that I mind so much, but--there are other things!
To-morrow you or I must leave here!"
"It shall be I, of course," I answered. "I was going anyhow. Don't lose
heart, Adèle. If we are to be separated, it shall not be for long!"
She shook her head, but she smiled at me, although it was a little sadly.
"We may not have the power to decide that for ourselves," she answered.
The great clock in the tower over the stables was striking eleven. We
listened until it had finished.
"Now kiss me, dear," she said, leaning towards me.
I stooped down, and her arms were suddenly around me like a vise. She
clung to me with her whole body, and held me so that I could scarcely
"I will not let you go," she cried. "It is death for you if you learn
their plans. Fate has given you to me, and no one shall take you away.
Oh! stay with me, Jim--my sweetheart--my dear! dear! dear!"
Her lips were upon mine before I could speak. She was drawing me away
from the door. Her eyes, her arms, her whole body seemed to be pleading
with me. Then suddenly there came a low knocking at the door. I stood
away--no longer a prisoner. It was a wonderful intervention this! How
else could I have escaped?
The door opened slowly. It was the French maid who stood there. She
looked around the room and beckoned to the dog.
"I beg mademoiselle's pardon," she said. "I came for Nagaski. I heard him
whine, and I thought that he was alone."
She stood there motionless, her pale, expressionless face turned towards
us, her full black eyes turned hurriedly away. I think that she knew what
she had done. Adèle sank down upon the sofa, and Nagaski, with a low
growl at me, sprang into her lap. I left the room ungracefully enough,
with only a muttered word of farewell. As I passed along the corridor, I
heard Nagaski's bark of joy!
FOR VALUE RECEIVED
There were exactly twelve people present when I entered the room and took
my place at the long table--six men and six women, Mr. de Valentin sat at
the extreme end, and as I entered his face grew dark with sudden anger.
He glanced quickly at Mrs. Van Reinberg, who, however, was whispering to
her husband, and declined to look. Then he half rose to his feet and
"Mr. Courage," he said, "this is a little private gathering between these
friends of mine and myself, to discuss a private matter in which we are
all much interested. Under these circumstances, I trust that you will not
think it discourteous if I ask you to withdraw. Your presence might very
possibly tend to check free discussion, and, I might add, would be a
source of embarrassment to myself."
I glanced towards Mrs. Van Reinberg.
"I am here," I said, "by the invitation of our hostess. If Mrs. Van
Reinberg asks me to withdraw, I should, of course, have no alternative
but to do so. I should like to say, however, that it would give me very
much pleasure to be admitted to your conference, and any advice I might
be able to offer as an impartial person would be entirely at your
Mrs. Van Reinberg whispered for a moment with her husband, who then
leaned over towards me.
"Mr. Courage," he said, "I believe you to be a person of common sense. I
am not sure that I can say the same for the rest of us here. Seems to me
I'd like to have you stop; but there is one thing I think should be
understood. This is a private meeting of friends. Are you prepared, as a
man of honor, to give your word to keep secret whatever passes here?"
I was afraid that some condition of this sort would be imposed, but I was
ready with my answer.
"Most certainly I am, Mr. Van Reinberg," I declared, "with one
reservation, and that is that nothing is proposed which is inimical to my
country. I presume that I may take that for granted?"
"You may," Mr. Van Reinberg answered shortly. "We are not such fools as
to run up against the old country. On the contrary, Mr. de Valentin has
assured us that his scheme has a little more than the moral support of
Mr. de Valentin intervened with a little gesture of excitement.
"No!" he exclaimed, "I do not. I must not go so far as that. I do not
mention any government by name."
"Quite right," Mr. Van Reinberg assented, "but the fact's there all the
same. I guess you can stay where you are, Mr. Courage!"
Mr. de Valentin shot an evil glance at me, but he leaned back in his
chair with the air of a man who has no more to say. Mr. Van Reinberg, on
the other hand, cleared his throat and stood up.
"Well," he said, "we'll get to business. I've a word or two to say first
to you, Hickson, and my other friends. We've none of us been idlers in
the world. We started out to make money, and we've made it. We're
probably worth more than any other five men in the world. We can control
the finance of every nation, we can rule the money markets of every
capital in Europe. Personally I'm satisfied. I guess you are. It seems,
however, that our wives aren't. I'm sorry for it, but it can't be helped.
They want something that dollars in the ordinary way can't buy. This
scheme is to meet that case. It's my wife's idea--my wife's and Mr. de
Valentin's between them. I take it that if you go into it you'll go into
it for the same reason that I do--for your wives' sakes. I want to make
this clear, for I tell you frankly I think it's the biggest fool's game
I've ever taken a hand in. I'm proud of my name, if my wife isn't. If any
one got calling me Monsieur le Duc of anything, I guess my fingers 'd
itch to knock him down. If our wives, however, won't be happy till they
hear themselves called Madame la Duchesse, I suppose we've got to take a
back seat. Mr. de Valentin here says that he's the rightful King of
France. I know nothing about history, but no doubt he's right. He says,
too, that in their hearts the French people want him on the throne, and,
with money, he says he could find his way there. The bargain is, I
understand, that we find the money, and he establishes our wives well
amongst the aristocracy of France. He asks for twelve million dollars,
that is two millions each. If my wife asks me to, I shall put my lot
down, much as I should buy her the Czar of Russia's crown if it came on
the market, and she wanted it. It's for you to say whether you want to
come in. If you want to ask any questions, there's Mr. de Valentin. He's
come over to fix the thing up, and I guess he's prepared to give you all
There was a little murmur of conversation. Mr. de Valentin rose to his
"My friends," he said, "Mr. Van Reinberg in his very plain words has put
before you the outline of my plans. It is not very much more that I can
tell you beyond this. The army and the navy are loyalists. I have friends
everywhere. They wait only for an opportunity. When it comes, all will be
easily arranged. Those who are indifferent I bribe. There is already a
great secret society in both services. One whole army corps is pledged to
me. Look, then, this is what happens. A great Power"--Mr. de Valentin
looked steadfastly at me--"a great Power one day makes a demonstration
against France. It is a bolt from a clear blue sky; for my country, alas,
is always preparing but never ready for war. The Press--I bribe the
Press, those who are not already my friends--is hysterical. It strikes
the note of fear, it attacks vehemently the government. The moment of war
arrives. All is confusion. I appear! I address the people of France; I
appeal to my fellow-countrymen. 'Put your trust in me,' I cry, 'and I
will save you.' The Power of whom I have spoken stays its hand. Its Press
declares for me. The government resigns. I march boldly into Paris at the
head of the army, and behold--it is finished. The people are at my feet,
the crown is on my head. Not a drop of blood has been spilt; but war is
averted, and a great, new alliance is formed. France takes once more her
place amongst the great nations of the world."
The man was in earnest beyond a doubt. The perspiration stood out in
little beads upon his forehead, his dark eyes were on fire, his tone and
manner tremulous with the eloquence of conviction. There was a little
murmur from the women--a soft whisper of applause.
"Monsieur," I said quietly, "you have spoken well and convincingly.
Pardon my presumption, if I venture to ask you one question. The Power of
whom you have spoken--is it England?"
He faced me bravely enough.
"Sir," he said, "you ask a question which you know well it is impossible
that I should answer. It is not for me to betray a confidence such as
this. But to those who are curious, I would say this. Which is the Power,
think you, most likely to play such a magnificent, such a generous part
in the history of the nations? Answer your own question, Mr. Courage! It
should not be an impossible task."
Six ladies leaned forward in their places, and looked at me with flashing
eyes. It was a suitable triumph for Mr. de Valentin. And yet I knew now
all that I desired. Dimly I began to understand the great plot, and all
that it meant.
Mr. Van Reinberg looked across the table.
"Well, Stern?" he asked.
"My husband's cheque is ready," the lady at his side answered quickly. "I
guess the Prince can have it right now, if he chooses."
"And mine!" five other ladies declared almost in a breath.
Mr. Van Reinberg smiled.
"Then I guess the deal is fixed," he remarked.
A dark-haired, little woman, sitting at my right hand, leaned forward
towards Mr. de Valentin. She wore a magnificent crown of diamonds and
sapphires, which had once graced a Royal head, and a collar of diamonds
which was famous throughout the world.
"I'd like to know," she said, "are we to choose our own titles? I've
fixed on one I want."
Mr. de Valentin rose in his place.
"My dear lady," he said, "that would not be possible. To Mrs. Van
Reinberg alone I have been able to offer the name she desired. That, I
think, you will none of you object to, for it is through Mrs. Van
Reinberg that you are all here to-night. For the rest, I have taken five
of the great names of France, of whom to-day there are no direct
descendants. It is for you yourselves to say how these shall be
Five ladies looked at one another a little doubtfully. Mr. Van Reinberg
glanced at me, and there was a shrewd twinkle in his keen eyes.
"I should think you had better draw for them," he suggested. "Mr. de
Valentin can write the names down on pieces of paper, and Mr. Courage, as
a disinterested party, can hold the hat."
Mr. de Valentin shrugged his shoulders. His composure was not in the
least disturbed. Whatever he may have felt, he treated the suggestion
with perfect seriousness.
"If the ladies are agreeable," he declared, "I myself am quite
indifferent how it is arranged. As regards the money, I shall give to
each an undertaking to repay the amount in treasury notes within a year
of my ascending the throne of my country."
My neighbor in the diamonds was still a little disturbed.
"Say," she inquired, "what do these titles amount to anyway? What shall
we be able to call ourselves?"
"Either Madame la Comtesse or Madame la Marquise," Mr. de Valentin
"Madame la Marquise!" she repeated, "that's the one I should like."
"So should I!" nearly all the ladies declared in unison.
Mr. Van Reinberg laughed softly to himself. For the first time, he seemed
to be enjoying the situation.
"There's nothing for it but the hat, Mr. de Valentin," he declared.
Mr. de Valentin bowed.
"If every one is agreeable," he said stiffly, drawing a sheet of note
paper towards him and beginning to write.
No one seemed quite satisfied; but, on the other hand, no one had any
other suggestion to make. Mr. Van Reinberg leaned forward in his chair.
He was beginning, apparently, to take a keen interest in the proceedings.
"Of course," he said softly, "the names could be read out, and if any of
you took a special fancy to any of the titles, we could have a sort of
auction, the proceeds to go to the fund."
Mr. de Valentin turned towards him with a stony look. Only his eyes
expressed his anger.
"I presume that you are not in earnest, Mr. Van Reinberg," he said in a
low tone. "Such a course is utterly out of the question."
Mr. Van Reinberg scratched his chin thoughtfully. Mr. de Valentin
completed his task, and handed the slips of paper over to me.
"I shall ask Mr. Courage," he said, rising, "to distribute these through
the agency of chance. For myself, I will, with your permission, retire. I
will only say this to you, ladies, and to my friends. I hope and believe
that it will not be long before I shall have the pleasure of meeting you
under very different circumstances. You will be very welcome to the Court
of France. I trust that together we may be able to revive some of her
former glories, and I do believe that your presence amongst our ancient
aristocracy will be for her lasting good."
So Mr. de Valentin left the room a little abruptly, and I thought it the
most graceful thing he had done. I shook up the slips of paper, which he
had given me in a hat, and handed them round.
There was an intense silence, and then a perfect babel of exclamations.
"Marquise de Lafoudrè! My, isn't that fine!"
"Comtesse de St. Estien! Well, I declare!"
"Comtesse de Vinoy. Say, Richard, are you listening? Madame la Comtesse
de Vinoy. Great, isn't it!"
Mrs. Van Reinberg smiled upon them all the well-satisfied smile of one
whose guerdon is deservedly greater than these. The little dark woman
turned towards her abruptly.
"Tell us yours, Edith!" she exclaimed. "Don't say you're a Princess."
Mrs. Van Reinberg shook her head, unconsciously her manner was already a
little changed. She was, after all, a swan amongst these geese!
"We are to have the Duchy of Annonay," she answered. "I suppose I shall
be Madame la Duchesse."
Monsieur le Duc touched me on the shoulder.
"Here," he exclaimed in my ear, "let's get out of this!"
Mr. Van Reinberg led the way silently into the smoking-room, and ordered
Scotch whisky. "Mr. Courage," he said from the depths of his easy-chair,
"I've got to ask you a question. What do you think of us?"
I laughed outright.
"I think," I answered, "that you are a very good husband."
He lit a cigar and pushed the box towards me.
"I'm glad you put it like that," he said earnestly. "And yet I guess
we're to blame. We've let our wives slip away from us. Only natural, I
suppose. We have our battlefields and they must have theirs. We rule the
money markets, and they aspire to rule in society. I don't know how to
blame my wife, Mr. Courage, but I hope you'll believe me when I tell you
this: I'd sooner chuck ten or twenty millions into the Atlantic than be
mixed up with this affair."
"I believe you, Mr. Van Reinberg," I answered.
He drew a sigh of relief. I think that my assurance pleased him.
"Tell me now," he said; "you are a man of common sense. Is that fellow a
crank, or is he going to pull this thing off?"
"His scheme is ingenious enough," I said, "and I believe it is quite true
that there are a great many people in France who would be glad to see the
Monarchy revived. They are a people, too, whom it is easy to catch on the
top of a wave of sentiment. But, so far as I can see, there are at least
two things against him."
"I trust," Mr. Van Reinberg murmured, "that they are big enough."
"In the first place," I continued, "I doubt whether Mr. de Valentin is a
sufficiently heroic figure to fire the imagination of the people. He does
not seem to me to have the daring to carry a mob with him, and he will
need that. And in the second place--"
I glanced around the room. We were absolutely alone, but I dropped my
"Is this in confidence, Mr. Van Reinberg?" I asked.
"I do not believe that the Power whose intervention he relies so much
upon is England. I do not believe that my country would risk so much to
gain so little. We are on excellent terms with France as it is. Secret
negotiations with Mr. de Valentin would be unpardonable chicanery on our
part, and I do not think that our ministers would lend themselves to it."
Mr. Van Reinberg nodded.
"Whom do you believe he referred to then?" he asked.
"Germany," I told him. "That is where I believe that he has made a fatal
mistake. He will never make a successful bid for the sympathies of the
French people, if he presents himself before them backed by their
historic enemy. Of course, you must understand," I added, "that this is
pure speculation on my part. I may be altogether wrong. One can only
"On the whole, then," Mr. Van Reinberg asked anxiously, "you would not
back his chances?"
"I should not," I admitted.
For a man who had just invested two million dollars in those chances, Mr.
Van Reinberg looked remarkably cheerful.
"I'm right down glad to hear you say that," he admitted. "I know nothing
about things over in Europe myself, and my wife seemed so confident.
It'll be a blow to her, I'm afraid, if it doesn't come off; but I fancy
it'll be a bigger one to me if it does!"
"You do not fancy yourself, then, as Monsieur le Duc," I remarked
He looked at me in speechless scorn.
"Do I look like a duke?" he asked indignantly. "Besides, I'm an American
citizen, an American born and bred, and I love my country," he added with
a note of pride in his tone. "Paris, to me, means the Grand Hotel, the
American bar, the telephone and an interpreter. Mrs. Van Reinberg will
stay at the Ritz. I guess I sleep there and that's all. No! sir! When I'm
through with business, I'm meaning to spend what I can of my dollars in
the country where I made them, and not go capering about amongst a lot of
people whose language I don't understand, and who wouldn't care ten cents
about me anyway. Some people have a fancy to end their days up in the
mountains, where they can hear the winds blow and the birds sing, and
nothing else. I'm not quite that way myself. I hope I'll die with my
window wide open, so that I can hear the ferry-boats in the river, and
the Broadway cars, and the rattle of the elevated trains. That's the
music that beats in my blood, Mr. Courage! and I guess I'll never be able
to change the tune. Say, will you pass that bottle, sir? We'll drink once
more, sir, and I'll give you a toast. May that last investment of mine go
to smash! I drink to the French Republic!"
I pledged him and we set down our glasses hastily. We heard voices and
the trailing of dresses in the corridor. In a moment they all came
Mrs. Stern looked round the room eagerly.
"If he's gone to bed I'll never forgive him," she declared. "I'm just
crazy to know whether there isn't some sort of old chateau belonging to
the family, that Richard can buy and fix up. Have you seen Mr. de
Valentin?" she asked us.
"He's gone upstairs, sure enough," Mr. Van Reinberg answered. "Give the
poor man a rest till the morning. Where's the Marquis? Come and have a
"Quit fooling," Mr. Stern declared testily. "Here's Esther saying I'll
have to wear black satin knickerbockers and a sword!"
"Wear them in Wall Street," Mr. Van Reinberg declared, "and I'll stand
you terrapin at the Waldorf. Come on, Count, and the rest of you
noblemen. Let's toast one another."
Mrs. Van Reinberg motioned me to follow her into the billiard-room.
"Well!" she exclaimed, looking at me searchingly,
I could scarcely keep from smiling, but she was terribly in earnest.
"I want to know exactly," she said, "what you think of it all. I know my
husband has been making fun of it. He does not understand. He never
"Mr. de Valentin's scheme is a good one," I said slowly, "but he has not
told us everything. If you want my opinion--"
"Of course I do," she declared.
"Then I think," I continued, "that his success depends a good deal upon
something which he did not tell us."
"What is it?" she asked, eagerly.
"It depends, I think," I said, "upon the Power which has agreed to back
his claims. If that Power is England, as he tried to make us believe, he
has a great chance. If it is Germany, I think that he will fail."
She frowned impatiently.
"You are prejudiced," she declared.
"Perhaps," I answered. "Still, I may be right, you know."
"Germany is infinitely more powerful," she objected. "If she mobilized an
army on the frontier, and France found half her soldiers disaffected--"
"You forget," I interposed, "that there would be England to be reckoned
with. England is bound to help France in the event of a German invasion."
She smiled confidently.
"I don't fancy," she remarked, "that England could help much."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Perhaps not," I admitted; "yet I do not believe that German intervention
will ever win for Mr. de Valentin the throne of France."
She changed the subject abruptly.
"Apart from this, let me ask you something else, Mr. Courage. Supposing
the plot should succeed. How do you think it will be with us at the
French Court? You know more about these things than we do. Shall we be
accepted as the original holders of these titles would have been? Do you
think that we shall have trouble with the French aristocrats?"
"I am afraid, Mrs. Van Reinberg," I answered, "that I am scarcely
competent to answer such questions. Still, you must remember that your
country-people have secured a firm footing in France, and it will be the
King himself who will be your sponsor."
She raised her head. Her self-confidence seemed suddenly to have become
"You are right, Mr. Courage," she said. "It was absurd of me to have any
doubts at all. And now let me ask you--if I may--a more personal
"By all means," I answered.
"What have you and Adèle been quarrelling about?"
I looked at her in some astonishment.
"I can assure you," I said, "that there has been nothing in the nature of
a quarrel between Miss Van Hoyt and myself."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Then why," she asked, "has Adèle gone away at a moment's notice?"
"Gone away!" I repeated incredulously.
"Is it really possible that you did not know?" Mrs. Van Reinberg asked.
"She left just as we went in to the meeting. Mr. Stern's automobile is
taking her to the depot."
"I had not the slightest idea of it," I declared. "Do you mean that she
is not coming back?"
"Not at present, at any rate," Mrs. Van Reinberg declared. "You mean to
tell me, Mr. Courage, that you have not quarrelled, and you did not know
that she was going?"
"I had no idea of it," I said, "and I am quite certain that we have not
Mrs. Van Reinberg looked as though she found my statement hard to
"You had better go to your room," she suggested, "and see if there is not
a note for you! She must have a reason for going. She would tell me
nothing; but I took it for granted that you were connected with it."
"Not to my knowledge," I assured her. "If you will excuse me, I will go
and see if she has left any message."
I hurried up to my room. There was a note upon my dressing-table. I tore
it hastily open. A few lines only, hastily scribbled in pencil:--
"Everything is changed since the news I told you of this evening. We must
separate at once, and keep apart. Remember you have only five days. If
you remain in America longer than that, your life is not safe.
"For my sake, go home! For my sake, also, burn this directly you have
"What sort of a place is this, anyhow, Guest?" I asked him, looking round
me with some curiosity. We were a long way from Fifth Avenue, and what I
had always understood to be the centre of New York; but the bar in which
we sat was quite equal to anything I had seen at the Waldorf-Astoria. The
walls were panelled with dark oak, and hung with oil paintings. The bar
itself was of polished walnut wood. All the appurtenances of the place,
from the white linen clothes of the two servitors to the glass and silver
upon the polished counter, were spotless and immaculate. In addition to
the inevitable high stools, there were several little compartments
screened off, after the fashion of the old-fashioned English coffee-room
of the seventeenth century, and furnished with easy-chairs and lounges of
the most luxurious description. In one of these we were now sitting.
"Better not ask me that," Guest answered dryly. "There are some places in
New York of strange reputation, and this is one of them. Now go ahead!"
I told him everything. He was a good listener. He asked no questions, he
understood everything. When I had finished, he smoked a cigarette through
before he said a word. Then he stood up and gave me my hat.
"Come," he said, "we have a busy morning before us, and we must catch the
German steamer for Hamburg this afternoon."
"Back to Europe?" I asked, as we left the place.
"But won't that rather give us away?" I asked. "I came to go out West,
"We must try and arrange that," Guest answered. "I'll explain as we go
We climbed an iron staircase, which came down to the pavement within a
few yards of the bar, and took the elevated railway up town. We descended
at 47th Street and, after a short walk, entered a tall building, from the
hall of which several lifts were running. We took one of them and stopped
at the eleventh floor. Exactly opposite to us was a door, on the frosted
glass of which was painted in black letters:
"PHILIP H. MAGG,
We opened the door and entered. A middle-aged man, dark and with Jewish
features, was sitting writing at a desk. There was no one else in the
room, which was quite a small one. He glanced at us both carelessly
enough, and leaned back in his chair.
"Good morning, Mr. Magg!" Guest said.
"Good morning, gentlemen!" Mr. Magg answered.
"You do not by chance remember me, I suppose?" Guest said.
A faint smile parted the lips of the gentleman in the chair. He rather
avoided looking at us, but seemed to be glancing through the letter which
he had just been writing.
"I never forget a face--and I never remember one--unnecessarily," he
answered. "It is the A B C of my profession. To-day I believe that it is
Mr. Guest, and his friend Mr. Courage, whom I have the pleasure of
For once Guest's face lost its immovability of expression. Even his tone
betrayed his admiration.
"Wonderful as ever, my dear sir!" he exclaimed.
"Not in the least," Mr. Magg replied. "I know of your presence here very
simply. Yesterday I cabled my refusal to accept a commission on the other
"They sent to you?" Guest exclaimed in a low tone.
Mr. Magg nodded.
"A very unimportant affair," he answered. "Just a record of your
movements, and to keep you shadowed until the French steamer is in next
week. Unfortunately they forgot one of my unvarying rules--never to
accept a commission against a quondam client."
"You are a great man, Magg!" my companion exclaimed.
"I guess not," the other answered simply. "What do you want with me?"
"Look at my friend," Guest said.
Mr. Magg looked at me, and though his inspection was brief enough, I felt
that, for the rest of my life, I was a person known to Mr. Magg.
"He is going to Europe with me this afternoon--and he is also going West,
a long way west, to shoot anything he can find on four legs."
Mr. Magg nodded.
"He has to be duplicated then!" he remarked.
"Precisely," Guest assented.
"I understand," Mr. Magg said. "Which Mr. Courage am I to provide?"
"The one who stays," Guest answered.
"It can be done, of course," Mr. Magg said. "Pardon me one instant."
He stooped down and fished up a kodak.
"A little more in the light, if you please, Mr. Courage. Thank you! That
will do! Now side-face."
I was snap-shotted twice before I knew where I was. Then Mr. Magg drew a
sheet of paper towards him, and began to make notes.
"You are staying?" he asked.
"Waldorf-Astoria," I answered.
"You will be prepared to leave practically the whole of your effects
there, and take your chance of ever seeing them again."
"Certainly," I answered.
Mr. Magg nodded and turned towards my companion.
"The other parties," he remarked, "do not stick at trifles. What do they
want from Mr. Courage?"
Guest was serious.
"Well," he said, "they probably give him credit for knowing more than is
good for him."
Mr. Magg was thoughtful for a moment.
"It will cost you five thousand dollars," he said, "and another five for
"Agreed!" Guest declared.
Mr. Magg made another note upon the sheet of paper in front of him. Then
he turned to me.
"You must bring me," he said, "before you leave, the key of your room,
the clothes you are now wearing, the keys of your trunks, and any
information you deem it necessary for your successor to have. The French
boat is due here on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Mr. Courage shall leave the
Waldorf for the Rockies. You will excuse me now! I have another
We were out in the street again in a few moments. I was feeling a little
"These things," I said, "are arranged pretty quickly over here."
"Mr. Magg," he said, "is known as well in Europe as in New York. There is
no one else like him. He has been offered retainers from the Secret
Service of every country in Europe, but he prefers to work on his own. He
has over a hundred assistants, and yet you never meet a soul in his
When we returned there in a couple of hours' time, I thought, for a
moment, that I was looking into a mirror.
A man of my own height, complexion and general appearance was standing by
the side of Magg's desk. The latter looked backwards and forwards rapidly
from me to my double.
"Very fair," he remarked. "Eyebrows a little deeper, and you must note
the walk, George. Now please step into the next room and change clothes
with this gentleman, Mr. Courage."
I did as I was told. The next room I found was a most delightfully
furnished sitting-room, with a chair-bedstead in the corner, and a
dressing-room and bathroom opening out from it.
"You don't wear an eyeglass, Mr. Courage?" my companion asked.
I shook my head.
"No glasses of any sort."
"You have no peculiarity of speech? I have noticed your walk. I suppose
you are right-handed? Have you any friends over here whom I should be
likely to come across?"
"I should think it very improbable," I answered. "I have made out a list
of all the people I have met in America, and the house in Lenox where I
have been staying."
My companion nodded.
"At the Waldorf," he said, "your room, I understand, is 584? You haven't
made any friends there?"
"I have scarcely spoken to a soul," I answered.
"And you have made no arrangements out West?"
"None whatever," I answered.
"It seems easy enough," he declared. "Go on talking, if you don't mind.
Your voice needs a little study."
When we reappeared in the outer room, Mr. Magg eyed us for a moment
sharply, and then nodded.
"Good-day, gentlemen!" he said. "Pleasant voyage!"
We found ourselves outside with exactly an hour to catch the boat.
"I must buy some things for the steamer," I declared.
"I have everything that you will want," Guest declared. "I have sent my
luggage down to the boat myself. No need for a man who doesn't exist, you
see, to take any special precautions. Besides, we are quite four miles
away from the docks."
We drove down to the steamer.
"Where are our state-rooms?" I asked.
"I haven't engaged any yet," he answered. "Don't look so startled. I can
arrange it directly we're off. I expect the sailing lists will be looked
through pretty carefully."
On the stroke of the hour the captain's whistle sounded, and the gangways
were drawn up. The engines began to throb, in a few minutes we were on
our way down the harbor. I stayed on deck, watching the wonderful stream
of shipping and the great statue of Liberty until dusk. Soon the lights
began to flash out all around us, and our pace increased. America lay
behind us, and with it all the wonderful tissue of strange happenings and
emotions, which made my few days there seem like a grotesque dream.
I CHANGE MY NATIONALITY
Guest had never lost his sense of humor. As we left the agent's office
and walked down Wellington Street into the Strand, he studied for a few
moments my personal appearance, and began to laugh softly.
"My friend," he said, "you are wonderful! After all, beauty is but skin
deep! Hardross Courage, if I remember rightly, was rather a good-looking
fellow. Who would have believed that ready-made clothes from Hamburg,
glasses and a beard could work such a change?"
I looked down a little disconsolately at my baggy trousers and thick
"It's all very well," I replied; "but you're not exactly a distinguished
looking object yourself!"
"I admit it," he answered; "but you must remember that for ten years,
since I was kicked out of the diplomatic service in fact, I have studied
the art of disguising myself. You, on the contrary, when I first had the
pleasure of meeting you, were a somewhat obvious person. Who would have
thought that a fortnight on a German steamer and six weeks in Hamburg
would have turned you out such a finished article?"
"It's these d----d clothes," I answered a little irritably.
"They are helpful, certainly," Guest admitted. "Come, let us go and have
luncheon _chez nous_."
We turned northwards again towards Soho, and entered presently a small
restaurant of foreign appearance. The outside, which had once been
painted white, was now more than a little dingy. Greyish-colored muslin
blinds were stretched across the front windows. Within, the smell of
cooking was all-pervading. A short dark man, with black moustache and
urbane smile, greeted us at the door, and led us to a table.
"Very good luncheon to-day, sirs," he declared in German. "Hans, _hors
d'oeuvres_ to the gentlemen."
We seated ourselves, arranged our napkins as Teutons, and ordered beer.
Then Guest assumed a mysterious manner.
"Business good, eh?" he inquired.
"Always good," the head-waiter declared. "We have our regular customers.
Always they come!"
Guest nodded two or three times.
"Heard anything about your new proprietor?" he asked.
"Not yet," the man answered. "The nephew of Mr. Muller, who died, lives
in Switzerland. A friend of mine has gone over to see him. He will buy
the good-will--all the place. It will go on as before."
Guest smiled meaningly at me, a smile which was meant to puzzle the
"But," he said, "supposing some one should step in before your friend?
Supposing Mr. Muller's nephew should have put this place into the hands
of an agent in London, and he should have sold it to some one else! Eh?"
For the first time, the man showed signs of genuine uneasiness. His smile
suddenly disappeared. He looked at us anxiously.
"Mr. Muller's nephew would not do that," he declared. "It was always
promised to my friend, if anything should happen to Mr. Muller."
Guest smiled cheerfully.
"Ah!" he said, "it is unfortunate for your friend, but he will be too
"Too late!" the man exclaimed.
"Too late!" Guest declared. "I will tell you some news. I have taken over
the lease of this restaurant! I have bought the good-will and effects. I
have the papers in my pocket."
The man was struggling with a more than ordinary discomposure.
"You make a joke, sir!" he exclaimed. "The place does not pay well. It is
a poor investment. No one would be in such a hurry to take it."
Guest was much concerned.
"A poor investment!" he exclaimed. "We shall see. I have been in America
for many years, my nephew and I here, and I have made a little money. I
have bought the place and it must pay!"
The expression on the man's face was indescribable. He seemed stricken
dumb, as though by some unforeseen calamity. With a half-muttered
apology, he left us, and a few moments later we saw him leave the place.
Guest looked at me meaningly.
"We are right then," he murmured. "I felt sure that I could not be
mistaken. This is the place they have made their headquarters. That
fellow has gone out to fetch somebody. Soon we shall have some
In less than five minutes the waiter returned, and there followed him
through the swing doors a man to whom he turned and pointed us out. This
newcomer was of almost aggressively foreign appearance. He wore dark
clothes, a soft slouch hat; his black moustaches were waxed and upturned.
His complexion was very sallow, and he was in a perspiration, as though
with hurrying. He came straight up to us, and bowed politely.
"Is it permitted," he asked in German, "that I seat myself at your table?
There is a little conversation which I should much like to have with
Both Guest and myself rose and returned his bow, and Guest pointed to a
"With much pleasure, sir," he answered. "My name is Mayer, and this is my
nephew Schmidt. We have just returned from America."
More bows. The newcomer was exceedingly polite.
"My name," he announced, "is Kauffman. I am resident in London."
"My nephew," Guest continued, "has lived in America since he was a boy,
and he speaks more readily English!"
Mr. Kauffman nodded.
"To me," he replied in English, "it is of no consequence. I speak English
most. I presume, from what Karl there has told me, that it is your
intention to go into the restaurant business in this country."
"Exactly," Guest answered. "I have a little money, and my nephew there
knows something of the business. The head-waiter told you, perhaps, that
I have taken this place."
"He did," Mr. Kauffman answered. "It is for that reason that I hurried
here. I want to give you good advice. I want you not to lose your money."
"Lose my money," Guest repeated anxiously. "No! no! I shall take good
care of that. If the books spoke the truth, one does not lose money here!
No! indeed. I want to make a little, and then put in my nephew as
manager. Myself I should like to go home in a year or two."
Mr. Kauffman leaned across the table. He spread out his hands, with their
tobacco-stained fingers. He was very much in earnest, and he wished us to
"Mr. Mayer, you will have no money to take back from this place," he
declared slowly and emphatically. "On the contrary, you will lose what
you have put in. What you saw in the books is all very well, but it
proves nothing. Amongst a certain community this place has become a
meeting-house. It was to see and talk with old Muller that they came. A
social club used to meet here--there is a room out behind, as you know.
If a stranger comes here, it will be broken up, his friends will all eat
and drink elsewhere!"
"But the good-will," Guest declared, "I bought it! I have the receipt
here! I have paid good money for it."
Mr. Kauffman struck the table with his open hand.
"Not worth the paper it is written on, sir!" he exclaimed. "You cannot
force the old customers to come. A stranger will lose them all!"
"But what am I to do?" Guest asked uneasily. "If what you say is true, I
am a ruined man."
"I will swear by the Kaiser that it is true," Mr. Kauffman declared.
"Now, listen. I will tell you a way not to lose your money. I myself had
meant to take over this place. It would have been mine before now, but I
never dreamed that any one else would step in. I know all the customers,
they are all my friends. I will take it over from you at what you paid
for it. No! I will be generous. I will give you a small profit to make up
for the time you have wasted."
Guest's expression changed. He beamed on the other and adopted a knowing
"Aha!" he said, "I begin to understand. It is a matter of business this.
So you were thinking of taking this restaurant, eh?"
"For me it would be a different affair altogether," he said hastily. "I
have explained that."
Guest still smiled.
"I think, Mr. Kauffman," he said, "that I have made a good bargain. I am
very much obliged to you, but I think that I shall stick to it!"
Mr. Kauffman was silent for several moments. The expression upon his face
was not amiable.
"I understand," he said at last. "You do not believe me. Yet every word
that I have spoken to you is truth. If a stranger becomes proprietor of
this restaurant, its business will be ruined."
"No! no!" Guest protested. "They will come once to see, and they will
remain. The chef, the waiters, I keep them all. There will be no
alterations. The social club of which you spoke--they can have their
room! I am not inquisitive. I shall never interfere."
"Mr. Mayer," Kauffman said, "I will give you fifty pounds for your
Guest shook his head.
"I shall not sell" he answered. "I want my nephew to learn the business,
and I want to go home myself soon. I have no time to look out for
"I shall not sell," Guest repeated obstinately. "I am sorry if you are
Mr. Kauffman rose slowly to his feet.
"You will be sorry before very long that you refused my offer," he
Guest shook his head.
"No!" he said, "I think not. The people will come where they can eat well
and eat cheaply. They shall do both here."
Kauffman remained for a few more minutes at our table, but he did not
return to the subject. After he had left us with a somewhat stiff bow, he
went and talked earnestly with Karl, the little head-waiter. Then he
"Mr. Mayer," he said, "I'm going to make you a very rash offer. I will
give you £200 profit on your bargain."
"I am not inclined to sell," Guest said. "One hundred, or two hundred, or
five hundred won't tempt me now that my mind is made up."
Kauffman left the restaurant without a word. Guest called the waiter to
"Karl," he said, "do you wish to stay here as head-waiter?"
"Certainly, sir," the man answered, a little nervously. "I know most of
the customers. But I fear they will not stay."
"We shall see," Guest answered. "I am not in a great hurry to make money.
I want them to be satisfied, and I want my nephew to be learning the
business. You shall do what you can to keep them, Karl, and it will mean
money to you. Now about this club! They spend money these members, eh?"
"Not much," Karl answered dubiously.
"That is bad," Guest declared; "but they must spend more. We will give
them good things cheap. What nights do they meet?"
"No one knows," Karl answered. "The room is always ready. They pay a
small sum for it, and they come when they choose."
"H'm!" Guest remarked. "Doesn't sound very profitable. What do they
do--sing, talk, or is it business?"
"I think," Karl answered slowly, "that it is business."
"Well, well!" Guest said, "we are not inquisitive--my nephew and I. Can
one see the room?"
Karl shook his head.
"Not at present," he answered. "Mr. Kauffman has a key, but he is gone."
"Ah, well!" Guest remarked, "another time. The bill, Karl! For this
morning I shall call myself a guest. This afternoon we will take
possession--my nephew and I!"
THE "WAITERS' UNION"
Guest and I had taken small rooms not a hundred yards from the Café
Suisse, as the restaurant was called. We made our way there immediately
after we had settled with our friend Karl, and Guest locked the door of
our tiny sitting-room behind us. He first of all walked round the room
and felt the wall carefully. Then he seated himself in front of the table
and motioned me to draw my chair up almost to his side.
"My young friend," he said, "we have now reached the most difficult part
of our enterprise. For several days we have not spoken together
confidentially. I have not even told you the little I was able to
discover in Hamburg. Shall I go on?"
"Of course," I answered.
"Take off your gloves," Guest said. "You cannot wear them in the
restaurant. Good! Now, first of all, have you seen the morning papers?"
"No!" I answered.
He produced one from his pocket, and, placing it before me, pointed to a
"Read," he said, "your obituary notice."
This is what I read:
"TRAGIC DEATH OF AN ENGLISH GENTLEMAN IN THE ROCKIES
"Yesterday, whilst Mr. Charles Urnans and a party of friends from New
York were returning to their camp near Mount Phoenix, they came across
the body of a man in a deserted gorge half-way down the mountain. He had
apparently been shot through the heart by a rifle bullet, and must have
been dead for some weeks. From papers and other belongings found in his
possesion, the deceased gentleman appears to have been a Mr. Hardross
Courage of England."
"The body found this morning by Mr. Charles Urnans of New York has been
identified as that of Mr. Hardross Courage, the famous English cricketer
and well-known sportsman. Mr. Courage is known to have left New York some
months ago, for a hunting trip in the Rockies, and nothing has been heard
of him for some time. No trace has been discovered of his guides,
although his camp and outfit were found close at hand. As no money or
valuables were discovered on the body of the deceased, it is feared that
he has met with foul play."
I think that no man can read his own obituary notice without a shiver.
For a moment I lost my nerve. I cursed the moment when I had met Guest, I
felt an intense, sick hatred of my present occupation and everything
connected with it. I felt myself guilty of this man's death. Guest
listened to my incoherent words gravely. When I had finished he laid his
hand upon nine.
"Gently, Courage," he said. "I knew that this must be a shock to you, but
you must not lose your sense of proportion. Think of the men who have
sacrificed their lives for just causes, remember that you and I to-day,
and from to-day onward, can never be sure that each moment is not our
last. Remember that we are working to save our country from ruin, to save
Europe from a war in which not one life, but a hundred thousand might
perish. Remember that you and I alone are struggling to frustrate the
greatest, the most subtle, the most far-reaching plot which the mind of
man ever conceived. That poor fellow who lies out on the Rockies with a
bullet in his heart, is only a tiny link in the great chain: you or I may
share his fate at any moment. Be a man, Courage. We have no time for
"You are right," I answered. "Go on."
"We are now," Guest declared, "in this position. In Hamburg I discovered
the meeting-place of the No. 1 Branch of the Waiters' Union, and the
place itself is now under our control. In that room at the Café Suisse
will be woven the final threads of the great scheme. How are we to get
there? How are we to penetrate its secrets?"
"We must see the room first," I remarked.
"And then there is the question of ourselves," Guest continued. "We are
both nominally dead men. But none the less, our friends leave little to
chance. You may not have noticed it, but I knew very well that we were
followed home to-day from the café. Every moment of ours will be spied
upon. Is the change in our appearance sufficient?"
I looked at myself in the little gilt mirror over the mantel-piece.
Perhaps because I looked, thinking of myself as I had been in the days
before these strange happenings had come into my life, I answered his
"I cannot believe," I said, "that any one would know me for Hardross
Courage. I am perfectly certain, too, that I should not recognize in you
to-day the Leslie Guest who--died at Saxby."
"I believe that you are right," Guest admitted. "At any rate, it is one
of those matters which we must leave no chance. Only keep your identity
always before you. At the Café Suisse we shall be watched every moment of
the day. Remember that you are a German-American of humble birth.
Remember that always."
"I am not an impulsive person," I answered. "I am used to think before I
speak. I shall remember. But there is one thing I am afraid of, Guest. It
must also have occurred to you. Now that the Café Suisse is in the hands
of strangers, will not your friends change their meeting-place?"
"I think not," Guest answered slowly. "I know a little already about that
room. It has a hidden exit, by way of the cellar, into a court, every
house of which is occupied by foreigners. A surprise on either side would
be exceedingly difficult. I do not think that our friends will be anxious
to give up the place, unless their suspicions are aroused concerning us.
You see their time is very close at hand now. This, at any rate, is
another of the risks which we must run."
"Very well," I answered, "You see the time?"
"I am going to explain to you exactly," he said, "what you have to do."
"Right," I answered.
"The parcel on the sofa there," he said, "contains a second-hand suit of
dress clothes. You will put them on, over them your old black overcoat
which we bought at Hamburg, and your bowler hat. At four o'clock
precisely you will call at the offices of the German Waiters' Union, at
No. 13, Old Compton Street, and ask for Mr. Hirsch. Your name is Paul
Schmidt. You were born in Offenbach, but went to America at the age of
four. You were back in Germany for two years at the age of nineteen,
and you have served your time at Mayence. You have come to England
with an uncle, who has taken a small restaurant in Soho, and who
proposes to engage you as head-waiter. You will be enrolled as a member
of the Waiters' Union, as a matter of course; but when that has been
arranged you write on a slip of paper these words, and pass them to Mr.
Hirsch--'I, too, have a rifle'!"
I was beginning to get interested.
"'I, too, have a rifle,'" I repeated. "Yes! I can remember that; but I
shall be talking like a poll-parrot for I shan't have the least idea what
"You need not know much," Guest answered. "Those words are your passport
into the No. 1 Branch of the Waiters' Union, whose committee, by the bye
meet at the Café Suisse. If you are asked why you wish to join, you need
only say because you are a German!"
"Right," I answered. "I'll get into the clothes."
Guest gave me a few more instructions while I was changing, and by four
o'clock punctually I opened the swing door of No. 13, Old Compton Street.
The place consisted of a waiting-room, very bare and very dirty; a
counter, behind which two or three clerks were very busy writing in
ponderous, well-worn ledgers, and an inner door. I made my way towards
one of the clerks, and inquired in my best German if I could see Mr.
The clerk--he was as weedy a looking youth as ever I had seen--pointed
with ink-stained finger to the benches which lined the room.
"You wait your turn," he said, and waved me away.
I took my place behind at least a dozen boys and young men, whose
avocation was unmistakable. Most of them were smoking either cigarettes
or a pipe, and most of them were untidy and unhealthy looking. They took
no notice of me, but sat watching the door to the inner room, which
opened and shut with wonderful rapidity. Every time one of their number
came out, another took his place. It came to my turn sooner than I could
have believed possible.
I found myself in a small office, untidy, barely furnished, and thick
with tobacco smoke. Its only occupant was a stout man, with flaxen hair
and beard, and mild blue eyes. He was sitting in his shirt-sleeves, and
smoking a very black cigar.
"Well?" he exclaimed, almost before I had crossed the threshold.
"My name is Paul Schmidt," I said, "and I should like to join the
He tossed me a small handbook.
"Half-a-crown," he said; holding out his hand.
I gave it him. I was beginning to understand why I had not been kept very
"Clear out!" he said. "No questions, please. The book tells you
I looked him in the face.
"I, too, have a rifle," I said boldly.
I found, then, that those blue eyes were not so mild as they seemed. His
glance seemed to cut me through and through.
"You understand what you are saying?" he asked.
"Yes!" I answered. "I want to join the No. 1 Branch."
"Because I am a German," I answered.
"Who told you about it?"
"A waiter named Hans in the Manhattan Hotel, New York."
I lied with commendable promptitude.
"Have you served?" he asked.
"At Mayence, eleven years ago," I answered.
"Where did you say that you were working?" he asked.
"Café Suisse!" I said.
It seemed to me that he had been on the point of entering my name in a
small ledger, which he had produced from one of the drawers by his side,
but my answer apparently electrified him. His eyes literally held mine.
He stared at me steadily for several moments.
"How long have you been there?" he asked. "I do not recognize you."
"I commence to-day," I said. "My uncle has just taken the café. He will
make me his head-waiter."
"Has your uncle been in the business before?" he asked.
"He kept a saloon in Brooklyn," I answered.
"Made money at it?"
"Were you with him?"
"No! I was at the Manhattan Hotel."
"Your uncle will not make a fortune at the Café Suisse," he remarked.
"I do not think," I answered, "that he will lose one."
"Does he know what you propose?"
I shook my head.
"The fatherland means little to him," I answered. "He has lived in
America too long."
"You are willing to buy your own rifle?" he asked.
"I would rather not," I answered.
"We sell them for a trifle," he continued. "You would not mind ten
"I would rather pay nothing," I answered, "but I will pay ten shillings
if I must."
"I cannot accept you myself," he said. "We know too little about you. You
must attend before the committee to-night."
"Where?" I asked.
"At the Café Suisse," he answered. "We shall send for you! Till then!"
"Till then," I echoed, backing out of the room.
IN THE ENEMY'S CAMP
That night I gravely perambulated the little café in my waiter's clothes,
and endeavored to learn from Karl my new duties. There were a good many
people dining there, but towards ten o'clock the place was almost empty.
Just as the hour was striking, Mr. Kauffman, who had been dining with Mr.
Hirsch, rose from his place, and with a key in his hand made his way
towards the closed door.
He was followed by Mr. Hirsch and seven other men, all of whom had been
dining at the long central table, which easily accommodated a dozen or
more visitors. There was nothing at all remarkable about the nine men who
shambled their way through the room. They did not in the least resemble
conspirators. Hirsch, who was already smoking a huge pipe, touched me on
the shoulder as he passed.
"We shall send for you presently," he declared. "Your case is coming
before the committee."
I rushed towards the front door, and stood there for a few moments to get
some fresh air, for the atmosphere of the room was heavy with the odors
of countless dinners, and thick with tobacco smoke. I smoked half a
cigarette hurriedly, and then returned. There were scarcely half a dozen
guests now in the place. One of them, a stout middle-aged woman, who had
been sitting at the long table, beckoned me to her. She had very dark
eyes and a not unpleasant face; but she wore a hideous black sailor hat,
and her clothes were clumsily designed, and flamboyant.
"Is it true," she asked, "that this restaurant has changed hands?"
"Quite true, madam," I answered.
"Are you the new proprietor?" she asked.
"I am his nephew," I told her. "He is not here this evening."
"Are you going to keep on the eighteen-penny dinner?" she asked.
"We are going to alter nothing," I assured her, "so long as our customers
She nodded, and eyed me more critically.
"You don't seem cut out for this sort of thing," she remarked.
"I hope I shall learn," I answered.
"Where is the proprietor?" she asked.
"He is not very well this evening," I told her. "He may be round later
"You do not talk like a German," she said, dropping into her own
"I have been in America nearly all my life," I answered in German. "I
speak English more readily, perhaps, but the other soon returns."
"Get me the German papers, please," she said. "I expect my man will keep
me waiting to-night."
I bowed and took the opportunity to escape. I sent the papers by one of
the waiters. Madame was a little too anxious to cross-examine me. I began
checking some counterfoils at the desk, but before I had been there five
minutes the door of the inner room was opened, and Mr. Hirsch appeared
upon the threshold. He caught my eye and beckoned to me solemnly. I
crossed the room, ascended the steps, and found myself in what the
waiters called the club-room. Mr. Hirsch carefully closed the door behind
The first thing that surprised me was, that although I had seen nine men
ascend the three stairs and enter the room, there was now, besides myself
and Hirsch, only one other person present. That other person was sitting
at the head of the table, and he was of distinctly a different class from
Hirsch and his friends. He was a young man, fair and well built, and as
obviously a soldier as though he were wearing his uniform. His clothes
were well cut, his hands shapely and white. Some instinct told me what to
do. I stood to the salute, and I saw a glance of satisfaction pass
between the two men.
"Your name is Paul Schmidt?" the man at the table asked me.
"Yes, sir!" I answered.
"You served at Mayence?"
"Colonel Hausman, sir, thirteenth regiment."
"You have your papers?"
I passed over the little packet which Guest had given me. My questioner
studied them carefully, glancing up every now and then at me. Then he
folded them up and laid them upon the table.
"You speak German with an English accent," he remarked, looking at me
"I have lived nearly all my life in America," I reminded him.
"You are sure," he said, "that you understand the significance of your
request to join the No. 1 Branch of the Waiters' Union?"
"Quite sure, sir," I told him.
"Stand over there for a few minutes," he directed, pointing to the
farthest corner of the room.
I obeyed, and he talked with Hirsch for several moments in an undertone.
Then he turned once more to me.
"We shall accept you, Paul Schmidt," he said gravely. "You will come
before the committee with us now."
I saluted, but said nothing. Hirsch pushed away the table, and, stooping
down, touched what seemed to be a spring in the floor. A slight crack was
instantly disclosed, which gradually widened until it disclosed a ladder.
We descended, and found ourselves in a dry cellar, lit with electric
lights. Seven men were sitting round a small table, in the farthest
corner of the place. Their conversation was suspended as we appeared, and
my interlocutor, leaving Hirsch and myself in the background, at once
plunged into a discussion with them. I, too, should have followed him,
but Hirsch laid his hand upon my arm.
"Wait a little," he whispered. "They will call us up."
"Who is he?" I asked, pointing to the tall military figure bending
stiffly down at the table.
"Call him Captain X," Hirsch answered softly. "He does not care to be
"But how did he get into the room upstairs?" I asked. "I never saw him in
Hirsch smiled placidly.
"It is well," he said, "my young friend, that you do not ask too many
The man whom I was to call Captain X turned now and beckoned to me. I
approached and stood at attention.
"I have accepted this man, Paul Schmidt, as a member of the No. 1 Branch
of the Waiters' Union," he announced. "Paul Schmidt, listen attentively,
and you will understand in outline what the responsibilities are that you
There was a short silence. The men at the table looked at me, and I
looked at them. I was not in any way ill at ease, but I felt a
terrible inclination to laugh. The whole affair seemed to me a little
ludicrous. There was nothing in the appearance of these men or the
surroundings in the least impressive. They had the air of being
unintelligent middle-class tradesmen of peaceable disposition, who had
just dined to their fullest capacity, and were enjoying a comfortable
smoke together. They eyed me amicably, and several of them nodded in a
friendly way. I was forced to say something, or I must have laughed
"I should like to know," I said, "what is expected of me."
An exceedingly fat man, whom I had noticed as the companion of the lady
upstairs in the sailor hat, beckoned me to stand before him.
"Paul Schmidt," he said, "listen to me! You are a German born?"
"Without doubt," I answered.
"The love of your fatherland is still in your heart?"
"Always!" I answered fervently.
"Also with all of us," he answered. "You have lived in America so long,
that a few words of explanation may be necessary. So!"
Now this man's voice, unimpressive though his appearance was, seemed
somehow to create a new atmosphere in the place. He spoke very slowly,
and he spoke as a man speaks of the things which are sacred to him.
"It is within the last few years," he said, "that all true patriots have
been forced to realize one great and very ugly truth. Our country is
menaced by an unceasing and untiring enmity. Wherever we have turned, we
have met with its influence; whatever schemes for legitimate expansion
our Kaiser and his great counsellors may have framed have been checked,
if not thwarted, by our sleepless and relentless foe. No longer can we,
the great peace-loving nation of the world, conceal from ourselves the
coming peril. England has declared herself our sworn enemy!"
A little murmur of assent came from the other men. I neither spoke nor
"There is but one end possible," he continued slowly. "It is war! It must
come soon! Its shadow is all the time darkening the land. So we, who have
understood the signs, remind one another that the Power who strikes the
first blow is the one who assures for herself the final success!"
Again he was forced to pause, for his breath was coming quickly. He
lifted his long glass, and solemnly drained its contents. All the time,
over its rim, his eyes held mine.
"So!" he exclaimed, setting it down with a little grunt of satisfaction.
"It must be, then, Germany who strikes, Germany who strikes in
self-defence. My young friend, there are in this country to-day 290,000
young countrymen of yours and mine who have served their time, and who
can shoot. Shall these remain idle at such a time? No! We then have been
at work. Clerks, tradesmen, waiters, and hairdressers each have their
society, each have their work assigned to them. The forts which guard
this great city may be impregnable from without, but from within--well,
that is another matter. Listen! The exact spot where we shall attack is
arranged, and plans of every fort which guard the Thames are in our
hands. The signal will be--the visit of the British fleet to Kiel! Three
days before, you will have your company assigned to you, and every
possible particular. Yours it will be, and those of your comrades, to
take a glorious part in the coming struggle! I drink with you, Paul
Schmidt, and you, my friends, to that day!"
He took a drink, which he seemed sorely to need. If any enthusiasm was
aroused by his speech to me, if that was really what it had been, it was
manifested solely by the unanimity and thoroughness with which all
glasses were drained. A tumbler of hock was passed to me, and I also
emptied it. Captain X then addressed me.
"Paul Schmidt," he said, "you know now to what you are committed. You are
"Absolutely," I answered. "Is it permitted, though, to ask a question?"
"Certainly, as long as it does not concern the details of our plans.
These do not concern you. You have only to obey."
"I was wondering," I remarked, "about France!"
Captain X twirled his fair moustache.
"It is not for you," he said, "to concern yourself with politics. But
since you have asked the question, I will answer it. The far-reaching
wisdom of our minters has been exerted to secure the neutrality of
England's new ally."
My ponderous friend handed a paper to me across the table.
"See," he said, "it is the order for your rifle, and your ticket of
Hirsch nodded and took me by the arm. A moment later I descended the
three steps into the restaurant, which was now almost deserted.
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