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Title: Judgment Reserved
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100221h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Aug 2014
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Judgment Reserved

by

Fred M. White

Published in The Western Mail, Perth, Australia, 19 Sep 1913

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2014



"NOW perhaps you had better explain," Mostyn Carr said to his companion. "I came down to Dinard for a change of air. I can ill afford it, but it had to be. Now you come to me, a perfect stranger, and feed me en prince. Why, Mr. Barrington?"

"You can feed en prince every night, if you like," Barrington said. He was a man of forty, and he would have passed anywhere as a soldier. A resolute wiry figure, with a keen eye and a strong determined face. "You like this kind of thing, eh?"

"All novelists do," Carr laughed bitterly. "It's like a plot of one of my stories. What do you want?"

"One of those very same plots," Barrington said, evenly. "You are ready to do anything for money. I am a passingly clever adventurer—racecourse, cards, city. I have a nerve of steel, an audacity of brass, I know every capital in Europe, and I speak five languages fluently. Give me a plot, and I can carry it out with fidelity and cunning. I have been absolutely candid with you. If you cannot consent to come in with me—"

"My dear fellow, I couldn't. No nerve. Still I can plot all right. There was a little thing I sketched out the other day, for instance, after France broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Unless you are in a position to command at least two thousand pounds—"

"There is no trouble about the money," Barrington said. "Oh, the money is all right enough, all I want is the scheme. Give me the outline of it."

"Well, what do you say to looting the Vatican?"

Barrington leant forward with a gleam in his grey eyes.

"Go on," he said quietly. "That is something after my own heart. A la bonne heure!"

"You will go to Rome," Carr continued, "and I shall write instructions there—tell me, can you put your hands upon some young man who is ready for anything in the way of an intrigue if he is paid for it? He must have the address of a gentleman, and he must be safely out of the way afterwards. One you betray to the police for choice?"

Barrington intimated that there would be no difficulty in that respect.

"Very good. I find that these bread disturbances in Rome and Florence are merely sleeping. Could you undertake to start them again in a mild form? The loot of the Vatican is impossible you may argue, which is why that is going to happen. You have the nerve?"

"Yes," Barrington said quietly. "I have the nerve."


* * * * *

In a small, well appointed house in the Rue de petit Bois dwelt one Count de Rivi, an elegant and accomplished young gentleman who had more than once come under the eye of the police on suspicion of having been concerned in some of the numberless Legitimist plots that the French police are constantly discovering. Anyway, De Rivi was known to be a great friend or the Duke of Morleans, and in Legitimist organs he wrote his opinions freely. The Duke of Morleans was in America now, so that the vigilant eye of justice was more or less relaxed so far as the Rue de petit Bois was concerned.

It is needless to say that Carl de Rivi viewed with anxiety and alarm the breaking off of diplomatic relations between the Republic and the Vatican. Something must be done to restore the lamentable breach, and De Rivi felt that he was the man to do it. One morning—it was a fortnight later than the interview between Carr and Barrington—De Rivi was gratified by the receipt of a long cablegram in the cypher of the brotherhood in New York. It was from the Duke of Morleans, alluding to the Vatican split, and commanding De Rivi to repair immediately to Rome, and there to hold a consultation with Cardinal Ravinni, who was known to have a strong leaning in the direction of the Bourbon dynasty. Cardinal Ravinni was expecting this visit from the Count and there was some suggestion that the Pope would be likely to grant an audience. It was all very vague, essentially diplomatic, and absolutely after De Rivi's own heart.

De Rivi immediately wrote to some length to the Cardinal, appointing two days later for the important interview. This thing must be kept as dark as the grave, he told himself. All the same, he was a little disturbed to read in the next morning's 'Matin' that the Vatican was moving in the matter of the recent deplorable dispute, and that rumour had it that a certain prominent Bourbon supporter had been approached with a view to engaging his services as a mediator. De Rivi wondered how it was done. An old journalistic hand like Mostyn Carr could have told him. The Count also noticed in the same journal that the Rome bread riots had broken out again, but this time in only a mild form.

As he had arranged, De Rivi departed for Rome two days later. His rooms were modest and unassuming, and he flattered himself that nobody in the Italian capital would know of his arrival. He had dined, and was taking his modest glass of Chianti after dinner, when a stranger was announced, who declined to give his name.

"You had better ask the gentleman in," De Rivi said as coolly as possible. He had little doubt as to the identity of his visitor. "And see that I am not disturbed."

A typical Italian in a long cloak and a heavy slouch hat entered, and carefully closed the door behind him.

Then he proceeded to disrobe and show the dark, clean-shaven face of Cardinal Ravinni. There was nothing distinguished looking about the man, his features were quite of the ordinary type. Two of his upper front teeth were missing.

"I am delighted to see your eminence," the Count said. "Pray be seated. It would have been more fitting if I had paid my compliments to you at the Vatican; but really, one cannot be too cautious. Already one of our Parisian papers has an inkling of my mission."

"It were far best to proceed slowly," the Cardinal said. "As for me, you know exactly where my sympathies lie. It would be a great day for the Holy See that saw the end of your accursed republic and France in the fold again. But festina lente," he murmured. "It is not yet. The Pope is ailing, though for reasons we have not made the matter public. As for me, I make myself greatly unpopular in my advocacy for peace. I have many enemies amongst the advanced Catholic party in Corsica. I have been threatened with assassination. And Rome is greatly disturbed since some agitator has started those bread riots again. When I walk the streets as I am doing tonight it is with a positive danger to myself."

The Count was exceedingly sorry to hear it. Surely the extreme party must see the folly of keeping up this miserable quarrel with the Government of France. Had the Pope expressed any opinion on the matter, had the mission from Paris been mentioned to him?

"Well, I have hinted at it," the Cardinal confessed. "As I said before, festina lente is our motto. It is easily possible for me to gain you an interview with his Holiness. There can be no harm in his granting audience. Beforehand, I will let you know how far to go. Meanwhile, you had best remain here quietly, and not seek to see me. Be prepared at any time if I send for you to come to my lodgings at the Vatican. It is a little gate in the lane that runs by the side of the gardens. No; I need not detain you longer."

The Cardinal donned his hat and cloak and departed. The streets were fairly quiet save for a few dissolute fellows making a noise—the outcome of a recent renewed bread riot which the police claimed to have broken up. All the same, the Cardinal prudently turned down the dark lane by the side of the Vatican gardens, and sought entrance that way. It was very dark at one spot, with overhanging trees. Something lurked in the shadow. As the Cardinal passed a detaining hand was laid on his shoulder. Before he could turn a pair of powerful arms were about his neck, something sweet and subtle and stupefying was clapped to his mouth and nostrils. There was a faint struggle that a child might have made, and Cardinal Ravinni lay on his back breathing peacefully. A door opened close at hand with a sharp click, a satisfied chuckle from the darkness, and all was still save the pattering of rain as it fell on the umbrella pines.

It was nearly an hour later when Cardinal Ravinni staggered into the hall of the Guards, and looked vaguely around him. Under his slouched hat his face looked deadly pale, there was blood on his forehead, and his lips were swollen and disfigured. He stood there a moment as if he were trying to realise his surroundings. A sergeant of the Swiss Guard hurried forward, prepared to raise an alarm. Ravinni seemed to feel this by a kind of instinct. He laid a detaining hand upon the sergeant's arm. For an old man badly maimed, his grip was a powerful one.

"Say nothing," he whispered. "Make no disturbance. It is vital that there should be no fuss. I have met with an accident. Take me to my apartments at once. There is something the matter with my eyes—"

"But your eminence—" the sergeant stammered. "It is impossible to recognise. I have the honour to speak to one of the Cardinals. As to the rest—"

The speaker made a significant gesture. By the dress alone he knew that he was in the presence of one of the College of Cardinals, but the slouch hat, the swollen and bloody face rendered recognition out of the question.

"Ravinni," the dignitary whispered. "I have met with an injury that could not by any stretch of imagination be called an accident. The Mafiosi—"

The speaker appeared to grow misty and confused again. He was so dazed that it was impossible for him to find the way to his apartments. The proper thing would have been to raise an alarm, but the Cardinal had strictly forbidden that. And the longer the delay the greater the responsibility of the sergeant.

"If your eminence will take my arm," he suggested. "Your secretary passed this way just now in the direction of your apartments. Doubtless he awaits your eminence."

He did, a little, dark, earnest looking man, who exclaimed with dismay at the sight of the Cardinal. Ravinni sank in his chair and passed a handkerchief to his face. By a gesture he indicated that the light was too strong for him. The sergeant had discreetly retired. The secretary stood waiting for his chief to speak.

"It is nothing," Ravinni said in a hoarse tone. Something seemed to impede his speech. "It is no more than the fulfilment of a threat. I was lucky to escape with my life."

"Your eminence is too fearless, too outspoken," the secretary said suavely. "But surely that will keep. It is necessary to summon a doctor—"

"It is necessary to do nothing of the sort. I am getting better already. It is a late hour, and everybody has retired. I will wash my bruises presently when my face has become less tender, meanwhile, there is work to be done. My keys, Father Ravogli."

A bunch of keys was produced, one a pass key that Ravinni fumbled in his hand. He asked a few questions rapidly—evidently his brain was not affected.

"Late as it is, I have an errand for you Ravogli," he said. "I suppose you have guessed where I went to-night?"

"Seeing that your eminence was so good as to tell me. It was to see Count de Rivi. It was a dangerous mission under the circumstances."

"Why? Nobody could possibly know that the Count had come here, or what his mission was."

"There your eminence is quite mistaken. The papers nowadays learn everything. It was stated in the Paris 'Matin,' for instance, this morning that the Count was coming here to try and patch up the dispute that we deplore so much. It was known, too, that he came to see you. The extreme party here were aware of that. They wanted no settlement. If the Mafiosi leaders took in their heads to interfere—"

"My dear Ravogli, they have already done so. Such a chance of mischief was not to be neglected. The Mafiosi are at work in this matter. The most powerful secret society and the oldest in Europe, have sworn to kill me if I do not hold my hand. They have started the bread riots again to cover their movements. But for a lucky chance I should have been killed to-night."

The Cardinal appeared to be overcome with a sudden faintness. He mumbled some questions about his keys, he seemed to have forgotten the use of some of them.

"But it is idle to sit here talking," he said as if struggling with his feelings. "There is much to be done. Take me to my bedroom and give me the pass key to the library. When I have washed and lain down for a spell I shall be better. Meanwhile I have something for you to do. The errand is not without a suggestion of danger."

Ravogli pulled himself up proudly. The call of the Holy Church was sufficient. He was ready to meet any danger for her sake. His eyes gleamed in the feeble light. With a shaking hand the Cardinal produced a letter from his robes.

"You are to take this," he commanded. "You are to go as far as the foothills beyond the Coliseum. You will see a broken gateway there set amongst a clump of umbrella pines. Sit down there and wait till a man accosts you. He will ask whether you have seen anything of a brown dog, and you will reply that the dog is found. Then you will give him this letter, and receive a small parcel in exchange. Bring it back to me at once. You may succeed in your mission, or you may have to wait for hours, it all depends on the other man. In any case you must not wait till after daybreak, but you must return by the small gate in the lane behind the garden. Have I made myself quite explicit?"

"I understand what your eminence requires to the very letter," Ravogli said, "If there is anything—"

"Yes. You can give me your arm as far as the library. Every now and again I feel as if I am going to faint. There are certain things I want to do before I retire to rest. It may be that to-morrow I shall be ill and forbidden to rise by the doctor. In that case all the good work will be undone. Come along!"

The magnificent library of the Vatican was reached at length. There were other treasures here beyond books and priceless manuscripts, cases of precious coins, jewels, the thousand odds and ends small in bulk, but representing a fortune each in itself. Give a thief a free hand here and in a few minutes he would have been rich beyond expectation. The lights burned low, but still they flashed on the treasure here and there. But Cardinal Ravinni saw nothing of this. He seemed to be fighting for the mastery of himself.

"The weakness is passing," he said, "at least, for the present. Give me pen and paper. Thanks. And of your errand, and of my misfortune, you are to say nothing to a soul."

Ravogli bowed and departed. For a little time the Cardinal sat waiting there, then he seemed to grow restless and he rose to his feet. He wandered aimlessly about the magnificent apartment, a clock in the distance struck the hour of one. As if the clang of the bell were something like a warning he turned rapidly from the room in the direction of his own apartments. He had tied up his bleeding face with a soft handkerchief; he seemed very old and feeble to the guard as be passed through the hall again. The sergeant went so far as to speak.

"Your eminence is not going out again?" he asked. "The extent of your injuries it is perhaps presumption on my part, to say so, but your eminence—"

"You are a kind and thoughtful man," Ravinni said. "It is not far that I go, something of importance that I dropped outside. Then I will go to bed. Be discreet and silent, and it will go well with you."

This with the air of a benefactor. But the sergeant had seen many strange things there, and this was not the strangest of them all.

He stood aside as the Cardinal passed and pulled the heavy door softly behind him.

It was dark in the grounds so that Ravinni hesitated for a moment. Then as if bracing himself for an effort, he walked rapidly along the road with his face turned in the direction of the glowing lights of the city.


* * * * *

The tragedy of Cardinal Ravinni's death thrilled Europe for a day or two. The well-known leader of the Moderate party had been found dead just outside the Vatican gardens, his head and face mutilated beyond all recognition. It was a startling mystery altogether and nobody could make anything of it. There was no inquest or anything of that kind, so that the matter was likely to rest where it was.

But one man could have thrown a brilliant light on the dark places, and that one man was sitting coughing in a snug little restaurant on the Boulevard des Hermes.

In the doorway presently stood the trim neat military figure of Trevor Barrington. He strolled over and took his place by Mostyn Carr's side, as if they had been casual acquaintances.

"You've ordered dinner, I see," he said. "A little potage, trout in champagne, an ortolan, and a pawn curry. Old Cliquot, too. Come, we are getting on. This money—"

"I have four francs left," Carr said. "But I trusted to you to do the business side of the affair. I suppose you managed it all right."

Barrington tapped a bulging pocket complacently. He sniffed approvingly at the soup.

"That was child's play," he remarked. "Of course, one had to make sacrifices, especially where gems and cups and coins with a history were concerned. But I suppose that when we come to settle up there will be seventy thousand pounds to divide. If it had not been a single-handed business I should have cleared out the whole Vatican."

"But on the whole you have no reason to be dissatisfied. I told you that the thing was ridiculously easy. All you had to do was to follow out my instructions."

"Oh, I know. But you might have been more candid with me. You treated me a little bit as a general treats his men, you know. I did exactly as I was told, but all the same I was and am very much in the dark as to the way things were managed."

Carr poured himself out a glass of champagne. He picked daintily at his ortolan.

"All in good time," he said. "I have been lying low the last few days, having a fried fish done in oil and hard brown bread. The food in Rome was abominable."

"My dear Carr," Barrington cried. "What do you know about the food in Rome?"

"Because I was there all the time," Carr said coolly. "I had to be. I took no active part in the conspiracy, because I am such an abominable coward. I should have lost my nerve and spoilt the whole business. But I had to be on the spot all the time. By-the-bye, what became of that young man who played the part of our confederate? I particularly asked you to chose some fellow whose acquaintance with the police—"

"Oh, that's all right," Barrington said calmly. "A line to the authorities at Vienna soon settled the hash. We are not in the least likely to meet again."

Carr leaned back in his chair with the air of a man who is absolutely satisfied. He luxuriated over his cigarette and Benedictine. The flavour of both was exquisite.

"Then that removed the last element of danger," he said. "Now confess, my dear Barrington, you are exceedingly curious to know how the whole thing was done. Light your cigar, and I will tell you. For some little time I had been casting round for a plot of sufficient importance, a raid on a Royal scale. The Tower had been done, so had Windsor Castle—in fiction, I mean. Then why not the Vatican? As I told you before the split between the Pope and France gave me the first idea. The mere fact that I was a close student of European affairs rendered my task easier. From the very first I began to see my way. When I found that the Duke of Morleans had gone to America the thing was quite easy.

"Of course I had read a good deal about the views and the ambitions of Cardinal Ravinni. Also I was more or less acquainted with the same attributes regarding Count Rivi. By way of opening the ball, I instructed you to get those cablegrams sent from America to the Count De Rivi and the Cardinal respectively as if they had emanated from the Duke of Morleans. You managed that very well. As I expected, De Rivi went to Rome, and there saw the Cardinal. I saw the Cardinal call at the Count's lodgings, and then I knew we were safe. Meanwhile I had looked up some old journalistic acquaintances in Rome. You see my work is pretty well known, in fact I have had stories of mine translated for the Italian papers. I desired to see something of the ways and work of the Mafiosi, and that was easily managed. So was that bread riot business. One or two rioters were killed, and it was not very difficult to procure one of the bodies. That body your confederate hid in a ditch by the side of the Vatican garden according to my instructions. The procuring of the corpse in Rome is no difficult matter. Then came the only hazardous thing—the kidnapping of the Cardinal and the spiriting away of the great cleric during which time you assumed his clothes and made up your face as if you had been in some deadly conflict. This was where your courage and nerve came in, and where I should have failed. Thanks to books and guides, Baedeker and the like, you have a pretty fair knowledge of what to do and where to go. Made up as you were it was easy to deceive the secretary Ravogli and get him to guide you to the library. Having got Ravogli out of the way, you had only to fill your pockets and disappear. The next item on the programme was to place the Cardinal's clothes upon the body of that mutilated corpse so kindly produced by the Mafiosi and the problem was complete."

"Capital," Barrington cried, as Carr stopped and coughed. "But the real Cardinal?"

"Was released from the empty house to which we removed him yesterday," Carr explained. "I thought that out early in the scheme. By this time the real Cardinal is back again at the Vatican. It does not matter to us what explanation he makes, one thing you may be certain of—the Vatican will keep silence. If you had left only the bare walls behind you the policy of silence would still be maintained. Cardinal Ravinni will walk about Rome blandly and shake his head, saying he cannot be responsible for sensational reports. Europe has heard the last of that."

"Um," Barrington muttered. "Seems exceedingly simple when it comes to be explained. After all, anybody might have done it."

Carr's thin face flushed angrily. The vanity of the author was touched. He lighted a fresh cigarette with a hand that trembled a little.

"You should never explain problems to children and fools," he said. "If I had told you nothing, you would have regarded me as a prodigy of wisdom, and respected me all the more. Could you have planned out this campaign, man?"

Barrington did not think he could. The flush died out of Carr's thin face, his eyes smiled. He was satisfied.


THE END

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