Chapter 13




A NEWSPAPER SENSATION


Spencer, whose recovery during the last few days had been as rapid as the first development of his indisposition, had just changed for dinner, and was lighting a cigarette d'appertit when, without waiting to be announced, the Vicomte de Bergillac entered the room. Spencer, with lightning-like intuition, knew that his time was come.

"Off with your coat, man, and get your code books out. I am going to give you the most sensational story which has ever appeared in your paper!" he exclaimed. "Only, remember this! It must appear to-morrow morning. I am arranging for the French papers to have it. Yours shall be the only English journal. Glance through these sheets. They contain the story of l'affaire Poynton!"

Spencer was master of the gist of the thing in a very few moments. His eyes were bright with excitement.

"Who guarantees this?" he asked quickly.

"My uncle has signed it," Henri de Bergillac answered, "and at the bottom of the page there you will see a still more distinguished signature. You understand l'affaire Poynton now? It is very simple. That English boy actually witnessed a meeting between the Czar and the Emperor, and turns up in Paris with a loose sheet of a treaty between the two, relative to an attack upon England. Our people got hold of him at the Café Montmartre, and we have hidden him away ever since. Our friends, the Germans, who seem to have had some suspicions about him, have filled the city with spies, but from the first we have kept them off the scent. We had a little difficulty in convincing our friends your country-people, but we managed to borrow a few papers from the German Ambassador whilst he was staying at a country-house in England, which were sufficient."

Spencer was already writing. His coat lay on the floor where he had thrown it.

"Don't go for a moment, De Bergillac," he said. "I want to ask you a few things. I can talk and code at the same time. What about Miss Poynton?"

"Well, we had to take care of her too," De Bergillac said. "Of course all her inquiries over here would have led to nothing, but they knew her at the English Embassy, so we walked her off from the Café Montmartre one night and took her to a friend of mine, the Marquise de St. Ethol. We told her a little of the truth, and a little, I'm afraid, which was an exaggeration. Anyhow, we kept her quiet, and we got her to go to England for us with Toquet. They had a very narrow shave down at Runton, by the by."

"After this," Spencer said with a smile, "the secret service people proper will have to look to their laurels. It is a triumph for the amateurs."

The Vicomte twirled his tiny black moustache.

"Yes," he said, "we have justified ourselves. It has cost us something, though!"

"You mean?"

"Louis!"

Spencer stopped writing.

"It was an affair of a million francs," the Vicomte said. "I hope he has got the money."

Spencer resumed his work.

"The Baron a traitor!" he exclaimed. "Where is he?"

"In England! We are not vindictive. If the Germans paid him a million francs they got nothing for it. He has been watched from the first. We knew of it the moment he came to terms with them. He only knows bare facts. Nothing beyond. He is going to Brazil, I think. We shall not interfere."

"Tell me why," Spencer said, "you were so down on all of us who joined in the search for the Poyntons."

"We could not afford to run any risks of your discovering a clue," De Bergillac answered, "because you in your turn were closely watched by German spies, hoping to discover them through you. That is why we had to strike hard at all of you who interfered. I was sorry for little Flossie--but she knew the risk she ran. We had to stop you, induce Duncombe to leave Paris, and knock on the head a fool of an English detective for fear he might discover something. Monsieur Pelham was getting into danger, but, of course, it is all over now. To-morrow we are bringing Guy into Paris."

Spencer nodded.

"Where is Duncombe?" he asked.

"Back in Paris," De Bergillac answered. "Arrived here with me to-day. He is much in love with the beautiful sister. Alas! It was to him that she entrusted the missing page of that treaty which she found in her brother's luggage. Some day I must tell you of my adventures in England last night, when I went over to get it and found Louis a little ahead of me."

"Some day," Spencer murmured, writing for dear life, with the perspiration streaming down his forehead. "My dear Vicomte, do you mind ringing the bell? I want my servant. I must telegraph my paper to warn them of this. They must clear two columns of type for me."

The Vicomte did as he was asked. Then he turned towards the door.

"I will leave you," he said. "The dust of England is still in my throat. Absinthe, a bath and dinner! Au revoir, mon ami! Confess that I have kept the promise which Louis made you. It is what you call a coup this, eh?"

Out on the boulevards the papers were selling like wildfire. The Vicomte bought one, and sitting down outside a café ordered absinthe. The great headlines attracted him at once. He sipped his absinthe and smiled to himself.

"The play commences!" he murmured. "I must return to Monsieur Spencer."

Spencer was still working like a madman.

"I must interrupt you for a moment," De Bergillac said. "I have brought you an evening paper. The Baltic Fleet has sunk half a dozen English fishing-boats and the whole country is in a frenzy. It is the beginning."

Spencer nodded.

"Leave the paper, there's a good fellow," he said. "I will look it through presently. If there is time--if there is only time this will be the greatest night of my life. No other paper has a hint, you say?"

"Not one!"

"If I could put back the clock a single hour," Spencer muttered. "Never mind! Williams, more sheets!"

De Bergillac took his leave. He had telephoned for his motor, which was waiting outside. He gave the order to drive to his rooms. On the way he passed the great pile of buildings in the Louvre. In a room at the extreme end of the pile a light was burning. De Bergillac looked at it curiously. A small brougham, which he recognized, stood outside.

"If one could see inside," he muttered. "It should be interesting!"

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

In a sense it was interesting. Monsieur Grisson sat there in front of his open table. His secretary's place by his side was vacant. Opposite sat a tall man with gray hair and dark moustache. He was dressed for the evening, and his breast glittered with stars and orders.

"It is exceedingly kind of you, Monsieur," he said, "to grant me this interview at so short notice. I was most anxious to apprise you of news, which as yet I believe has not found its way into your papers. You have read accounts of a Russian attack upon an English fishing-fleet, but you have not yet been informed of the presence--the undoubted presence--of Japanese torpedo-boats concealed amongst them."

Monsieur Grisson raised his eyebrows.

"Indeed no!" he answered. "We have not even heard a rumor of anything of the sort."

"Nevertheless, their presence was indubitable," the Prince declared. "In those circumstances, Monsieur, you can doubtless understand that our reply to any protests on the part of England will be of an unpacific nature. We should not for a moment allow ourselves to be dictated to by the allies of our enemy."

"Naturally!" Monsieur Grisson answered. "On the other hand, you surely do not wish to embroil yourself in a quarrel with England at the present moment?"

"We wish to quarrel with no one," the Prince answered haughtily. "At the same time, we are not afraid of England. We recognize the fact that if war should come it is an independent affair, and does not come under the obligations of our alliance. We ask, therefore, for your neutrality alone."

Monsieur Grisson bowed.

"But, Prince," he said gravely, "you speak lightly enough of the possibilities of war, but surely you must know that the English fleet in the Channel and at Gibraltar altogether outmatches the Baltic Fleet?"

"A Russian," the Prince answered grandly, "is not afraid of great odds!"

Monsieur Grisson bowed.

"For the sake of humanity," he said, "I trust most sincerely that the affair may be peaceably arranged. If the contrary should turn out to be the case, I can only say that in a quarrel which concerns Russia and England alone, France would remain benevolently neutral. As you have remarked, the obligations of our treaty do not apply to such a case."

The Prince played nervously with the star at his chest. Both men were well aware that up to now they had been merely playing with words.

"There is another contingency," the Russian remarked, "which, now we are upon the subject, it would perhaps be as well to allude to. The relations between Germany and England, as you know, just now are very sorely strained. If Germany should take advantage of the present situation to make a demonstration against England, that, of course, would not, from your point of view, affect the situation?"

Monsieur Grisson looked like a man who sees before him amazing things.

"My dear Prince," he said, "do not let us misunderstand one another. You cannot by any possibility be suggesting that Germany might associate herself with you in your resistance to possible English demands?"

The Russian leaned back in his chair.

"Germany is on the spot," he remarked, "and knows the fact of the case. She has proofs of the presence of Japanese torpedo-boats amongst the English fishing-fleet. Her natural love of fair play might possibly lead her to espouse our cause in this particular instance. This, of course, would make for peace. If Germany commands, England will obey. She could not do otherwise."

"You have introduced, my dear Prince," Monsieur Grisson said, "an altogether new phase of this question, and one which merits the most grave consideration. Am I to understand that there is any arrangement between Germany and yourself with respect to this question?"

"Scarcely anything so definite as an arrangement," the Prince answered. "Merely an understanding!"

Monsieur Grisson had the air of a man who had just received grave tidings of his dearest friend.

"Is this, Monsieur le Prince," he said, "entirely in accord with our own treaty obligations?"

"We do not consider it to be in contravention to them," the Prince answered.

The gravity of Monsieur Grisson's manner grew even more pronounced.

"My dear Prince," he said, "you are doubtless aware that during the last few weeks there have been some very strange rumors about as to a meeting between your master and the Emperor of Germany, and an agreement which was forthwith signed between them. I need not remark that all such rumors were entirely discredited here. Such a meeting kept secret from us would of course be very seriously considered here."

The Prince smiled. He remained admirably self-possessed, though the very veins in his forehead were swollen with anger.

"A canard of the sort has reached my ears," he remarked. "Some English boy, I believe, imagined or dreamed that he saw some such meeting. We scarcely need, I think, to discuss this seriously."

"Personally I agree with you," Monsieur Grisson said smoothly. "My ministry, however, seem to have been a little impressed by the boy's story. An autograph letter from the Czar, denying it, would perhaps make our negotiations more easy."

"It shall be forthcoming," the Prince remarked, rising. "By the by, I hear reports of great activity from Cherbourg. More manoeuvres, eh?"

Monsieur Grisson shrugged his shoulders.

"Our new naval chief," he remarked, "is a marvel of industry. You know the English proverb about the new broom, eh?"

The Prince bowed.

"During the next few hours," he remarked, "many things may happen. You will be always accessible?"

"I shall not leave my post, Prince!" Monsieur Grisson answered. "You will find me here at any time!"




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