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Title: Of Royal Blood
       A Story Of The Secret Service
Author: William Le Queux
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: March 2012
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Of Royal Blood
       A Story Of The Secret Service
Author: William Le Queux

*

Author of "Whoso findeth a Wife," "Scribes and Pharisees," " Zoraida,"
"The Day of Temptation," &c., &c.

*

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, in serial format, commencing
Saturday 9 December, 1899.

*



CHAPTER I.--UNDER ORDERS.


"You understand?"

"Perfectly," I answered.

"And you entirely follow my argument?"

"Entirely."

"It is imperative that active steps must be taken to preserve England's
supremacy, and at the same time frustrate this aggressive policy towards
us which is undoubtedly growing. I need not tell you that the outlook is
far from reassuring. As a diplomatist you know that as well as I do. The
war-cloud which rose over Europe at the end of the last Administration
is still darkening. It therefore behoves us to avoid a repetition of the
recent fiasco at St. Petersburg with regard to Port Arthur, and strive
to prevent foreign diplomacy from again getting the better of us. You
quite follow me?"

"I have always striven to do my utmost towards that end," I answered.

"I know, Crawford. I'm perfectly conscious of that, otherwise I should
not have spoken so plainly as I have now done. Recollect that I've taken
you into my confidence in this matter. You did well--exceedingly
well--in Vienna, and showed most creditable tact and forethought.
Because of that I have recalled you and selected you for this particular
duty." And the speaker, the Most Honourable the Marquess of
Macclesfield, K.G., her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for
Foreign Affairs, paused with his dark expressive eyes fixed upon me.
Under those eyes many a foreign diplomatist had quivered, for so keen
was he of perception that he could divine one's inmost thoughts. This
calm, thin, gray-faced, rather shabbily attired man, the great statesman
upon whose actions and decisions the prosperity and integrity of the
British Empire depended, had, from the earliest moment when I had
entered the Foreign Office, treated me with friendly consideration and
kindly regard, and now as, late on that dull afternoon in February, I
sat in his private room in Downing street, whither I had been summoned
from the Embassy at Constantinople, he spoke to me not as my master, but
as my friend and counsellor.

As an attache at Vienna, at Rome, and at the Porte I had worked under
Ambassadors of various moods, but by this feeling of friendliness which
the Marquess had extended towards me, I had, in my duties, always felt
that I was serving the great statesman personally, and not merely the
particular chief which for the time I chanced to be under. Undoubtedly
the secret of the success of the Macclesfield Ministry in the management
of foreign affairs was in great measure due to the amicability of his
lordship towards the staff.

"I cannot disguise from myself that this duty is extremely difficult,"
he went on, leaning back in his chair after a pause, and glancing around
the fine room, with its life-sized portrait of her Majesty upon the
green painted wall. "Nevertheless, secret services must sometimes be
performed, and I have sufficient confidence in your diplomatic instinct
to know that you will never act rashly, nor display any ill-advised
zeal. The secret of England's greatness is her smart diplomacy, and in
this affair you have, Crawford, every chance of distinction."

"You may rely upon me to do my very best to fulfil this important
appointment to your satisfaction," I replied. "I shall act with care and
discretion."

"And to you is due our peace with honour," I remarked.

"Act with that caution combined with dignity, as though you were
directly serving her Majesty herself. Remember, I am only her servant."

"No, no," he laughed deprecatingly. "True, I am the figure-head, but it
is men such as you who man the ship. No Secretary has been more
fortunate in his staff than I am to-day, for I am vain enough to think
that although they are scattered in all quarters of the globe, yet a
cordiality exists among them which is quite as strong as their
patriotism. I am proud to think that in all our Embassies and Ministries
we have no traitor."

"The esprit de corps has been engendered by your lordship's personal
interest in us, one and all," I remarked. "It was not so during the late
Ministry."

He merely raised his grey eyebrows, and tapped the edge of the table
with the quill in his thin bony hand. I know that I had made a mistake
in uttering that sentence, for he did not like ill things said of his
political opponents.

"Ten years ago, Crawford," he exclaimed, after a few moments'
reflection, "it is just ten years ago this month if my memory serves me
aright, when, in this very room I first made your acquaintance--you, the
son of one of our most trusted and valued man who had ever served his
Queen at a foreign Court, followed your father's footsteps, and entered
the Foreign Office. You remember the advice and maxims I then gave you.
That you have remembered them is evidenced by the discretion and
ingenuity you have displayed in the various posts you have occupied. I
only ask you still to recollect them while performing the difficult and
important duties before you; duties in which I wish you every success
and good fortune."

Then his lordship rose, as a sign that our conference was at an end. He
shook my hand warmly, with that cordiality which endeared him to every
member of the Foreign Office staff, and simultaneous with the re-entry
of Menton, his private secretary, who had been dismissed while we had
talked, I went out and down the great staircase, that magnificent flight
of stairs up which representatives of every country in the world climb
to have audience of the grey-haired, refined statesman, whom Bismarck
once referred to as "the ruler of Europe." The most tactful, alert,
far-seeing Foreign Minister that England had had during the present
century, to him was due the extension of the British Empire in all parts
of the world during recent years, notably the acquisition of new
countries in Africa with their untold mineral wealth, the occupation of
Egypt, the firm policy in the Soudan, and the clever checkmating of
Russia in the Far East. To his intimates he was mild-mannered,
soft-voiced, and essentially a pleasant man, but to those highly
ingenious and unscrupulous diplomats of the Powers who were ever
striving to undermine England's prestige he was so dry, hard, and
matter-of-fact that they feared him, and dreaded entering his presence,
because in any argument they were invariably worsted, while if they
attempted diplomacy they were very quickly confounded.

Upon the Marquess of Macclesfield's tact and farsightedness depended the
prosperity of England, the lives of her millions, and the peace of
Europe. A single stroke of the pen, a hasty or ill-advised action, and a
war might result which would cost our Empire millions in money and
millions of valuable lives; an ill-worded Note might, he know, cause
England's prestige to be wrecked, and thus precipitate her from her
present proud position of first among the great nations of the world.
Truly his position was no enviable one, and his salary of five thousand
a year inadequate for the eternal anxiety ever upon him day and night
for the preservation of his country's greatness and the honour of his
Sovereign. Restless, whether at his country seat down in Hampshire, or
at his town house in Grosvenor-square, he lived ever at the end of a
telegraph wire, which brought him hour by hour information or inquiries
from the various Embassies abroad, all of which demanded his personal
attention and reply.

In the dead of night Paterson, his faithful valet, would awaken him and
hand him one of those red despatch-boxes with which a Foreign Service
messenger had posted across Europe from Vienna, Constantinople, Berlin,
or Petersburg, with orders to deliver it with all possible speed.
Indeed, in such a life of terrible brain-tear, it was not surprising
that the years of statesmanship had aged him prematurely, that his eyes
were sunken, that he had developed a restless nervous habit of pacing
the room while talking, or that insomnia would frequently seize him, and
at such times he would go forth in the dead of night into the deserted
streets of London, and walk miles and miles for recreation. For the
faithful discharge of his difficult duties he had received many times
the personal thanks of her Majesty, but, truth to tell, it was the
applause and cries of "Good Old Macclesfield!" which fell spontaneously
from the lips of those monster audiences he at rare intervals addressed
in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and other provincial centres, which
pleased him most of all. He had been heard to say that those hearty
ringing cheers which greeted him when he rose to speak, and again when
he re-seated himself, were in themselves sufficient repayment for the
constant and terrible strain ever upon him.

At the foot of the great staircase, just as I was passing out into the
courtyard wherein the lamps were already lit, as the short day had ended
and the yellow twilight was fast fading into night, a cheery voice
behind me exclaimed:--

"What, Crawford? Is that you old chap, back from Constant?"

I turned quickly and saw before me a tall slim figure in overcoat and
silk hat, whom I recognised as my old whilom colleague Gordon Clunes, of
the Treaty Department; a dark-haired, spruce, easy-going fellow with
whom I had lived in chambers in the Albany eight years ago, before being
nominated attache.

"By Jove! Gordon!" I cried, grasping his hand, "I thought you always
went at three, so I meant to look in and see you to-morrrow."

"Busy, old chap," he laughed, in explanation. "But why are you home?
What's occurred?"

"I was recalled by the Chief," I answered.

"Recalled? Nothing wrong, I hope?"

"Not at all. I'm appointed to Brussels," I laughed.

"To Brussels!" he echoed in a strange tone of surprise, I thought. Then
for a few moments he was silent in contemplation.

"Yes, but why are you surprised?" I inquired, puzzled. It seemed as
though he begrudged me my advancement.

"It will be a pleasant change to you," he responded, with that air of
irresponsibility I had known so well in the old days. "Brussels is a
much better post than Constantinople, and only a few hours from London.
Why, Henky, when he was attache there, used to keep on his rooms in
London and run over about once a fortnight--sometimes oftener."

"Poor Henky wasn't very remarkable for his attention to duty," I
laughed, remembering how when he was attache with me at Vienna he used
often to receive a mild reprimand from the Ambassador. But the
Honourable Alfred Henniker was a merry Guardsman, and such a renowned
lady-killer that we at the Embassy nicknamed him the Fly-paper because
all the girls stuck to him.

Brussels was, as my friend Clunes had pointed out, a much more desirable
diplomatic post than Constantinople, where society is so mixed, and
where leave is almost unobtainable.

"When do you go?" my friend inquired.

I told him that it was uncertain, and that having only arrived from
Turkey the night before, after an absence of eighteen months, I hoped to
get a few weeks' leave in England. I was staying with a maiden aunt--a
very prim and proper old lady who lived in Warwick Gardens, Kensington,
and who had long ago given me to understand that in the event of her
decease I should fall in for a very fair share of this world's goods.
Therefore, as diplomacy is an expensive profession, and further, as my
income was a decidedly limited one, I felt in duty bound to pay the old
lady a visit whenever I came to town, while on her part she seemed to be
proud of talking to her friends of the advancement and success of her
'nephew in the Diplomatic Service.'

As we walked together along Downing-street, gloomy and deserted save for
the solitary detective on guard against anarchist outrages who wished us
"Good evening, gentlemen," as we passed, we spoke of mutual friends, and
I referred to his own recent marriage which I had seen announced in the
papers.

"Yes," he laughed. "Couldn't stand bachelor life any longer, my dear
fellow, so having let our old chambers, I took a wife, and am now
settled down as a respectable citizen. I live at Richmond. Come down and
dine to-morrow night. My wife will be delighted to meet you. I've told
her long ago of our menage, and of the five years we spent together.
Those were merry days, weren't they--eh?"

"Yes," I replied, smiling at some amusing remembrances which at that
moment crossed my mind. "They were. Thank you for your invitation. I'll
be pleased to come."

"Then, here's a card," he said. "You'll easily find the house. It's one
of those new ones on the way up to the Terrace Gardens. But I must take
this cab to Waterloo, or I shan't catch my tram. Good-bye till
to-morrrow, old fellow," and with a cordial hand-grip, he sprang into a
hansom, while I, full of thoughts of my new appointment, turned and
strolled on towards that centre whither all diplomats drift, the St.
James's Club, in Piccadilly.

Glad of an opportunity to escape from the terrible formality of dining
at my aunt's, where old Bateson waited upon one with the air of a
funeral mute, I dressed next evening and took train to Richmond, where I
had no difficulty in finding Gordon's place, a large new house about
halfway up Richmond Hill. It was a decidedly pleasant place, built in
artistic early English style, the interior being mostly decorated in
dead white, with a square hall and oak staircase, and rooms with high
oak wainscoting and wrought iron electric light brackets. In the hall
where he welcomed me a fire burnt brightly, and in his little den
beyond, with its high-backed antique chairs, everything was decidedly
cosy. Indeed I envied him, and remarked upon the perfectly artistic
arrangement of his abode.

"Yes," he laughed. "It's my wife's fancy to have a house like this. She
is fond of having things different to other people--a woman's weakness
for the distinct, I suppose."

My train had brought me there about a quarter of an hour too early;
therefore, when I had removed my coat, we sat chatting in my old
friend's little study, lounging lazily before the fire and enjoying a
quiet few minutes.

"By Jove!" Gordon exclaimed, after a pause. "It's really a stroke of
good fortune, old fellow, to be appointed to Brussels. The Chief has
indeed been generous. I only wish I could get a post abroad, but somehow
I'm always passed over."

"Why, surely you don't want to give this up?" I said. "How long have you
been here?"

"About a year."

"And yet you want to go abroad!" said I. "I tell you, Gordon, you
wouldn't be half so happy, living in a foreign town, with your wife
snubbed by some of the women with whom you have, for diplomatic
purposes, to be nice to. It's all very well to be an attache while
you're a bachelor, but afterwards--well, the thing's impossible."

"And you've had a rattling good time of it--eh?" he asked, smiling.

"Well, on the whole, yes," I responded.

"At any rate you've earned distinction, and I congratulate you," he said
earnestly. He was a good fellow, one of my best friends and I had always
kept up a weekly or fortnightly correspondence with him ever since I had
been appointed abroad. The post he held was one of greatest trust.
Indeed, perhaps no one in the whole Department of Foreign Affairs,
excepting the Minister himself, knew so many secrets of State as did
Gordon Clunes. He was a free, merry, open-hearted fellow, but was
discretion itself. With regard to those secret drafts which daily passed
through his hands, and were seen by no other eyes than those of Lord
Macclesfield, he was a veritable sphinx. There are a good many drones in
the Foreign Office hive, but Gordon was by no means an idler. I had
often regretted that he had not been appointed to one of the Embassies,
but it seemed as though the Marques reposed such perfect confidence in
him that his presence at headquarters was much more valuable.

"I know I have your best wishes old chap," I remarked, "and I believe
that Brussels is a very pleasant Embassy. Lots of life, and within easy
distance of London."

"My dear fellow, Dick Crouch, who was nominated there three years ago,
once told me that it was gayer than Vienna. Old Drummond is a brick, and
you can get leave almost at any time. When Crouch couldn't get it he
used to bring over despatches, and save the messenger a journey."

"Perhaps I can do the same," I said.

"No doubt you will," he replied. "The Chief was talking with the
Permanent Secretary in my room to day, and mentioned that you had been
appointed on secret service. You didn't tell me so."

"I really didn't think it necessary," I said, slightly annoyed. "I
understood from the Chief that this fact was entirely between ourselves.
Truth to tell, I don't like the expression secret service."

"Savours too much of spy, doesn't it, old fellow?" he laughed. "But," he
added, "that's the very essence of diplomacy. The successful Diplomat is
the man who keeps his weather-eye constantly upon his opponent's doings,
and presents elaborate reports to headquarters. Isn't every Ambassador a
spy, more or less?"

"Certainly," I responded, "But I'm not an Ambassador yet."

"But you're a deal more shrewd than some of the old fossils, who potter
over trifles and send along screeds to the Chief over every
vice-consul's worry."

"Then you think I'll make a good spy?" I asked, laughing.

"My dear, old fellow," he said, slapping me on the hack as he rose,
"there are few of those blanked foreigners who'll be able to get the
better of you. The way in which you got at that secret in Vienna is
sufficient proof of that."

"How did you know?" I inquired, starting in surprise that he should be
aware of a matter which I fully believed was private between Lord
Macclesfield and myself.

"By the alteration in the treaty," my friend responded promptly. "The
alteration was in your handwriting, and not in the Ambassador's. Your
tact and shrewdness in that affair avoided a very ugly difficulty. Of
course," he added, confidentially, "I'm not such a fool as to breathe a
single word of it. Not a soul in the office knows that you are on secret
service besides myself."

There was a pause, broken only by the low ticking of the clock.

"And you will preserve my secret?" I said, looking him straight in the
face. "Remember that there are secret agents around us even here; and if
the truth of my real position leaked out I should no doubt find all my
efforts thwarted. Upon secrecy alone my success depends."

"I know, Philip," he replied, in deep earnestness. "You have trusted me
before--you can trust me now--can't you?"

"Of course, I know I can," I answered, reassured, and the strange sense
of misgiving which had suddenly crept upon me a few moments before was
at once succeeded by a feeling of reassurance in my old friend's
fidelity.

Just at that moment the door opened and my hostess entered, a dainty
figure in pale coral, sweet-faced, fair-haired, and wearing a beautiful
collar of amethysts and pearls around her white slender throat. She was
not more than twenty-three, graceful, with large expressive eyes of deep
blue, and a figure almost perfect in its symmetry. Gordon introduced me
as his "old friend and fellow bachelor, Phil," and as I took the slim
white hand she extended our eyes met in a quick glance of recognition.

I held a suspicion that I felt her hand tremble in mine.

Her face was certainly familiar to me; too familiar it somehow seemed.
Yet try how I would I could not recollect under what conditions or when
or where we had met. That she, too, had recognised me was also evident,
yet her quick and strenuous effort to cover her surprise and confusion
was in itself suspicious.

In an instant I divined her intention. She had recovered herself with a
swiftness that was marvellous; so quickly, indeed that her husband had
not noticed it, and I saw that if I claimed acquaintance with her she
intended to deny it.

We had met somewhere under extraordinary conditions, I knew, yet with
tantalising perversity my memory in this direction was an utter blank.

She smiled upon me, yet there was a hardness about the corners of her
mouth which I did not fail to notice, and standing in the centre of that
cosy little room with her necklet of amethysts glistening in the
electric glow she greeted me with an amiable effusiveness which, by some
strange intuition, I knew disguised an intense and bitter hatred.




CHAPTER II.--JUDITH.


Dinner was a pleasant affair in the panelled room through the long
windows of which I could see the valley of the Thames, with its
riverside lights twinkling afar. Two elderly men and a couple of pretty
girls had been invited to meet me, and the gossip was light and
amusing. My hostess was the life and soul of the party, bright,
vivacious, and full of mirth, yet I could not disguise the fact that she
regarded me with some suspicion. During the meal I tried hard to
recollect where we had met before, but failed utterly. Her conversation
was that of a well-educated, clever woman. Her face was familiar; her
lips, a trifle thick and full, had once before struck me as unusual in
one of her beauty and grace. But where I had seen her I could not
remember.

"Gordon tells me that you've just had the good fortune to be appointed
to Brussels," exclaimed a pretty, dark-haired girl in blue who sat next
to me, but whose name I had not caught when introduced to her.

"Yes," I laughed. "Do you know Brussels?"

"I was at school there four years," she answered, toying with her hock
glass. "But I didn't see very much of it. Our excursions were mainly
confined to Sunday walks in the Bois."

"You'll return, perhaps, when you are married," I said, smiling. "It's a
very pleasant city for a honeymoon."

"We spent part of our honeymoon there, on our way to the Rhine,"
interrupted Mrs. Clunes. "It was quite as bright as Paris, without all
that rush and turmoil. And the Bois de la Cambre--isn't it charming?"

"Yes," I said, for as part of my training for a diplomatic career I had
spent a year in the Belgian capital, and practically knew every inch of
it, from the Quartier where the English reside, away to Laeken, and from
St. Giles to Schaerbeck.

"I only wish we could live there, instead of here," she continued, with
a slight pout. "I do hope that some day Gordon will get nominated
abroad. I should love a cosmopolitan life."

"Life at an embassy would be awfully jolly," observed my neighbour in
blue. "One must meet so many interesting people, from kings and queens
downwards."

"Kings and queens are not as a rule interesting people," I said. "The
monarchs I have met have not impressed me very much. They look much more
regal in the illustrated papers than they are in real life. The most
interesting persons as a rule are those foreign secret agents who are
always seeking to pry into our affairs and learn what we don't desire
that they should know."

"I've heard a lot of strange stories about those spying individuals,"
said my hostess, at once interested. "What are they like? Do tell me."

"Well," I said, "every one of the Governments of Europe, with the
possible exception of Switzerland, finds it necessary to maintain a
corps of secret agents for confidential duty. Their remuneration being
defrayed from the Secret Service Fund at the disposal of every Prime
Minister, the national treasury takes no cognisance of their expenses or
of their names. These latter are only known to the Premier and to the
Minister of Foreign Affairs. They are ignored at the regular police
headquarters, while the general public very often has no knowledge of
the existence of such a force. Their duty is to learn all that
transpires in the various Embassies and report to the Chancellerie. They
number people in every class of life, and almost every nationality."

"And does not our British Government take steps to combat the efforts of
these spies?" asked the old gentlemen opposite.

"In a measure it does," I responded carelessly. "It, of course, behoves
us to be wary with this horde of secret agents about us, for their
ingenuity is simply marvellous."

"Of course there are lots of books which reveal the elaborate system of
espionage in Russia," observed the girl in blue.

"Ah! that's quite a different affair," I replied. "The Russian agents
are mostly employed for the purpose of keeping watch upon the doings of
those of the Czar's subjects who live beyond the frontiers of Russia;
and when it is borne in mind that those number close upon a million, and
that every Russian has in his blood the characteristic Asiatic taste for
conspiracy and intrigue against his Government, it can be readily
understood that the secret agents of the Chancellerie of the Emperor
have their hands pretty full. It is not the agents of the Ministry of
the Interior that troubles us, but the system of spies established in
every country in Europe with a view to learning the secrets of British
diplomacy. We hold the balance of power you see; and because of this
every effort is being made to reduce our prestige and undermine our
supremacy."

"It certainly behoves you all to be as secret as the grave," my hostess
said. "I don't think I should like to be in possession of a State secret
which a hundred unscrupulous persons were seeking to discover. One must
feel awfully uncomfortable."

"But you are a woman, my dear," laughed her husband. "They say that your
sex can't keep a secret," a remark whereat everyone laughed.

"Ah! perhaps not," answered the merry, light-hearted little woman. "But
it seems so horrible if you can't tell who is your friend and who's your
enemy," and she fixed her eyes upon me with a strange look of misgiving.

"Exactly," I said. "This secret service, being beyond the pale of the
law, is contrary to all notions of what is straightforward and
honourable. The methods of action these agents employ are often most
questionable and unsavoury. Indeed, for example at Vienna, where perhaps
the secret service is permitted to play the greatest role, his Majesty
has been compelled by the stress of public opinion to consent to the
imprisonment and suspension from office of the chief of the service for
making use of dishonourable manoeuvres. Again, in Germany, in response to
the memorable speech by the Liberal leader Richter in the Reichstag,
exposing the unscrupulousness of secret agent von Rumpf, his role as a
provoker and instigator of crime, and his employment, not only of
criminal methods, but even of criminals, in order to succeed in the
intrigues in which he was engaged, the Minister of the Interior
proclaimed the doctrine that the Executive and his Government have a
right to use the extra-legal, or to put it plainly, unlawful, methods
for attaining its aims when the ordinary legal methods are inadequate
and unavailing. This declaration is in itself sufficient to show to what
an extent espionage is carried at a foreign Court."

"If such is the case, then each of our Embassies is surrounded by
enemies," observed young Mrs. Clunes.

"Of course it is," exclaimed her husband. "Don't you recollect that I
told you once how cleverly they work the 'cabinet noir' in France, in
Germany, and in Russia--so ingeniously, indeed, that our representatives
at those Courts dare not send a single despatch through the post,
otherwise it is opened and copied."

"Then they open official letters?" exclaimed the girl in blue at my
side.

"To the cabinet noir nothing is sacred," I said.

"It is established for the purpose of dealing with both official and
private correspondence, and the manner in which letters are opened and
resealed is in itself a marvel of ingenuity. So well is it done that
letters sealed with wax are opened and again secured, leaving the
original seal intact, without a trace remaining that it has been
tampered with."

"We've had one or two experiences of that sort of thing of late,
Crawford, haven't we?" remarked my friend with a meaning look.

"Yes," I answered. "At Constantinople lately one or two matters which we
believed secret, while we were trying to adjust affairs between Turkey
and Greece after the war, leaked out in a very mysterious way. Active
inquiries were made, and it was found that the Russian cabinet noir was
at work, and, further, that at Petersburg they were fully informed of
all our secret instructions received from Lord Macclesfield."

My hostess sighed. As her white chest heaved her necklet of amethysts
glistened, and her lips became compressed. I noticed this latter
involuntary movement of the muscles of her face, and saw that she was
anxious to change the subject. I admit that at that moment I entertained
a growing suspicion of her.

That she was eminently graceful and charming there could be no two
opinions. Gordon, however, had never told me who she was. When I had
been a month at Constantinople I received a letter suddenly announcing
his marriage, to which I had responded by sending a cheque to a London
silversmith with instructions to forward a wedding-present, and by
writing him a letter of congratulation. Then I had seen the announcement
in the 'Standard' a week later that he had married, at the village of
Rockingham, 'Judith, daughter of the late William Carter-Harrison,' and
had wondered whether or not she were pretty.

Gordon had not much changed in the years I had been absent. Ten years
ago we were both second division clerks, and we had certainly enjoyed
London life and had a very large circle of friends. He was always gay
and light-hearted, fond of practical joking and eternally declaring that
he should never marry. Yet he had now taken to himself a wife, and had
become just a trifle graver than before, as of course befitted a
responsible householder whose name was on the jury-list.

At last, when dessert was finished, the ladies left, and presently after
a brief gossip we rejoined them in the drawing-room. The size and
tasteful decoration of the place surprised me. The walls were entirely
in white, with a ceiling of that type for which Adams was noted a
century ago; blazing logs burned upon old-fashioned fire-dogs, and there
was a capacious chimney-corner with its settle and old oak arm-chair. It
needed not a second glance to ascertain that the furniture, every bit of
it, was genuine old oak, and as we entered I could not refrain from
repeating to Gordon my admiration of his tasteful home.

"It is Judith's fancy," he repeated, happily. "I was for a house in
Kensington; but she loves Richmond because in summer we can get on the
river, or go for pleasant drives. She's always been used to the country,
and declares that London suffocates her."

"Can you wonder at it?" his wife asked me, overhearing our conversation.
"To me London is dreadful. I go up once or twice a week to do shopping,
or to a theatre, but really I'm always glad to get back here to the
quietness of my home. And besides, the view from these windows is the
best within a hundred miles of London."

"Of course," I replied, for although I could see nothing in the darkness
I knew well the picturesque scene from the windows of the Star and
Garter, where I had so often dined in the days before I went abroad.
Below lay a broad green valley, with the Thames winding away like a
silver ribbon between trees and meadows past Twickenham Ferry to
Teddington Lock, a magnificent picture at any time but doubly so when
the silent highway reflected back the golden blaze of summer sunset.
"But your decorations here are in such excellent taste, yet so extremely
simple. I envy Gordon his home. Only one room have I seen before similar
to this."

"Where?" my friend inquired.

"In Vienna. It belonged to a lady I knew."

"Vienna!" exclaimed his wife, with sudden interest. "Were you at the
Embassy there?"

"Yes," I replied. "I was there about two years."

"Then you may perhaps have known of an officer named Krauss--Oswald
Krauss?"

In an instant the truth came upon me as a lightning flash. Perhaps I
started at mention of that name--a name which to me carried with it
recollections of a hideous but hidden page in my history--at any rate,
even though I felt myself standing immovable, glaring at her, I managed
to recover myself sufficiently to answer:

"The name Krauss is exceeding common in Vienna. I have no recollection
of any man whose Christian name was Oswald. What was he?"

"His father was Baron Krauss, of Budapesth," she answered, simply, her
blue eyes fixed upon me, with a curious look of severity.

"No," I answered with affected carelessness, "I have no recollection of
ever meeting him."

That calm inquiry she had uttered held me breathless. No. I had not been
mistaken when suspicion had seized me that we were not altogether
strangers. This woman in coral had, by mention of that name, a hated
name graven for ever upon my memory because of the burden of evil which
had fallen upon me, brought back to me in all their hideous reality
those circumstances which I had so long striven to forget. Our eyes
again met, and in the blue depths of hers there was a smile of mocking
triumph.

This woman who was Gordon's wife held the secret of my sin.




CHAPTER III.--THE SHADOW.


Next morning, determined to learn something further regarding the
mystery of Gordon's wife, and either to confirm or to dispel my
apprehensiveness, I devised an excuse, and going down to the Foreign
Office, found him in his room, poring over some long formal document,
which he instinctively covered with his blotting pad as the messenger
ushered me in.

His greeting was cordial as usual, and presently when he had chatted a
little time, he asked suddenly, "Well, Phil, and how do you like
Judith?"

"She's altogether charming," I answered. "By Jove, old chap, I envy you.
A menage like yours is a distinct improvement on the Albany, even though
our Sunday evening concerts with little chorus-girls as performers were
pleasant gathering--weren't they?"

"They were," he laughed. "Good Heavens! what a life we led in those
days! But after you went, and I was alone, I fancy I must have settled
down a bit."

"You have indeed settled down," I said. "For you have a wife to be proud
of. She came from the Midlands somewhere, if I remember the announcement
in the papers?"

"Yes. From a little place called Rockingham."

"She surely wasn't a village belle? She's far too refined for that."

"Hardly, old follow. She was born in London; but she lived a good deal
on the Continent and afterwards with an aunt at Rockingham, for several
years."

"And how did you come to know her?" I inquired, trying to conceal my
anxiety and inquisitiveness.

"I was staying with some people at Ketton, in the vicinity, and we were
introduced at a local flower-show held in the Castle grounds."

"And you fell in love with her?"

He nodded.

"Well," I said, "I don't wonder that you did. I'm sure I wish you both
every happiness. Has she any brothers?"

"No," he answered. "She was left an orphan at ten, and her aunt, quite a
cosmopolitan old lady, has ever since looked after her. Her father was a
wealthy man, and when she came of age, three years before I married her,
she inherited a very respectable fortune."

"Oh!" I exclaimed, surprised. "Then she had money?"

"Of course, my dear follow. You don't think that I could build and
furnish a house like Holmwood on my salary? Heaven knows we who work at
home get a paltry pittance enough. If the Government doubled our
remuneration it wouldn't be adequate for the work we do. We are
ill-paid, everyone of us--from the chief downwards. People think there
are fat emoluments in our department, but we could very soon undeceive
them."

"You're quite right," I sighed, for with us in the diplomatic service,
as with those at home in Downing-street, there is always a perpetual
grumbling regarding the cheeseparing policy of the Government. Many of
the chief positions of trust are absurdly ill-paid. "However," I added,
"you ought not to grumble, now that you are comfortably off. Look at me!
The old governor left me twenty-five thousand when he died six years
ago, and I'm nearly at an end of it already."

"Vienna cost you a lot, I suppose?"

"Dearest place in Europe," I answered. "I had to keep horses, and go the
pace thoroughly. A fellow with only his salary can't live in Vienna.
He'd be snubbed by everybody, and in three months life would be
intolerable."

"And how about your new appointment?"

"Gay, but not quite so expensive," I responded. "I must lie low for a
time, then things will be brighter with me. I can't go on at the pace
I've been going."

"No," he said, a trifle coldly. "Take my tip, old man, and live a bit
more economically. Your extravagance in Vienna was noticed."

I smiled. Had not Lord Macclesfield himself commended me for my work in
Vienna? And had I not, in order to perform that mission--a secret
one--been compelled to spend my own money recklessly to gain success?
His lordship alone knew the reason of my extravagance, and had
congratulated me upon my vigorous action.

We gossiped on for perhaps half an hour, then strolled along to the
Ship, that small restaurant a few doors from Charing Cross, where so
many Foreign Office men take their lunch. There we ate our mid-day chop
together, and then, having satisfied myself upon one or two points
regarding his wife, we parted.

What he had told me did not allay my fears. The facts that she was an
orphan, that she had lived with an aunt in an unknown country village,
and that she had inherited money were all suspicious. No, I could not
rid myself of a most uncomfortable feeling, a kind of presage of some
coming evil. That look of triumph and hatred in her blue eyes was ever
before me, haunting me night and day. She meant mischief.

Yes, now more than ever was I confident that she possessed the secret
which I had foolishly thought none knew beside myself.

Next day I left London on a round of dutiful visits to various friends
in the north, and as it was a particularly dry spring, I managed to get
a good deal of enjoyment and plenty of outdoor exercise. To me, tired of
the hot, dusty, evil-smelling streets of Constantinople, English rural
life was an exceedingly pleasant change, and for nearly three weeks I
made one of a particularly gay house party at Dedisham, Sir Henry
Halsford's place beside the Arun, in Sussex. There were about fifteen
guests, besides myself, and as many of them were young there was an
unvarifying round of gaiety.

Among the men staying there one was a quiet fellow of middle age named
Poynter--a relative of Lady Halsford's, to whom I took a particular
fancy. We often walked or rode out together, and in the evening we would
play billiards, or smoke and chat about the Continental capitals I knew.
He was a man of leisure who had travelled constantly in Europe, as so
many men do, for the purpose of obtaining a decent climate, spending
each winter in Nice, spring at Florence, Aix or Biarritz, summer in
Switzerland, and autumn in Scotland, until he had become, like myself, a
thorough cosmopolitan.

One dry bright afternoon we had together walked over the hill to
Dewestryde to make a call on some people, and were returning along the
Slinfold road, past the quaint old windmill, which is a landmark in that
part of rural Sussex, when, having passed through the quaint little
hamlet of Rowhook, our conversation chanced to turn upon the political
outlook in Europe.

"Things appear black," he said, as he strode on by my side, both of us
heedless of the rain which had commenced to fall. "In every part of the
world nations seem to show unfriendliness towards England."

"Quite so," I said, with a sigh. "A European war would surprise nobody."

"It is you diplomatic people whose duty it is to prevent war," he said
with a smile.

"A good many very acute difficulties are yearly adjusted by our
ambassadors and the public remain in ignorance. The papers, for
instance, have never been able to show the public how active we have
been of late at Constantinople. A dozen times within the last three
months we've been on the verge of war with Russia over the eternal
Eastern question."

"On the verge of war!" he exclaimed, surprised.

"Yes," I answered. "And had it not been for the tact and clever
diplomacy of my chief, backed by Lord Macclesfield's firm policy at
home, we might by this time have had Cossack sentries outside Buckingham
Palace."

"Is it possible? Do you think that such a disaster might ever occur?" he
inquired.

"Quite," I responded. "With others of my profession I share certain
misgivings regarding our naval and military strength. France, Russia,
and Germany are all three our possible enemies, and with such Powers
against her England would have to strain every effort to preserve her
own. How near we often are to hostilities with the Powers jealous of our
position as rulers of the world, only we at the Embassies know. Our
country may thank itself that at this moment its Ambassadors are,
without exception, calm, level-headed men who carry out to the letter
the instructions of their Chief. The Opposition press, and those
irresponsible journalistic curs whose bark is more furious than their
bite, may rail at us whenever one of the other Powers has seemingly got
the better of us, but they never pause to consider whether discretion is
not oft-times the better part of valour; or whether to conciliate is not
better than to provoke a costly and bloody war."

"Quite true," Poynter said. "The papers are far too fond of making
political capital out of our complications abroad. They no doubt form
easy subjects for what are journalistically known, I believe, as 'second
leaders.' I remember," he went on, "when I was in Vienna a couple of
years ago how strained were our political relations with Russia."

"Two years ago?" I said. "Why, I was there at that time."

"Then you remember, of course, how the machinations of Russia against
Austria were suddenly exposed by the publication in the press of reports
made by a secret agent. It was said that this exposure was brought about
by someone in the British Embassy, who, at the risk of his life, tracked
down the spy, and succeeded in getting from him certain plans of the
frontier fortresses which he had prepared, together with some documents
stolen from the archives of the Embassy. Was that true?"

I held my breath, glancing at him furtively. We were skirting Furnace
Wood, a dark, gloomy place, and the rain was now falling so heavily that
I was nearly wet through.

"I do not know the exact truth," I stammered, after a moment's
hesitation.

"Well," he said, "if the exposure was due to anybody in the Embassy he
ought to have been well rewarded, for it threw a side-light on the
byways of Russian diplomacy which not only aroused indignation all over
Europe, but thwarted a plan which would have undoubtedly resulted in
war, if it had been successful.

"Yes," I answered. "I remember the published facts quite well. We were
then actually on the verge of hostilities. As we say at the Embassies,
the Chief always sits on the edge of a volcano. He never knows when the
eruption is to take place, but must always be on the alert and in
readiness to combat any conspiracy against British prestige and power."

"We ought to be thankful, indeed," my companion said, "that we have so
many excellent and talented men looking after our interests abroad, for
it would, indeed, be a sorry day for England if war ever broke out."

"Yes," I said, "the jingoes would certainly receive a heavy blow," and
then in silence we both plodded on along the wet road, the mud splashing
with each stop until, in the growing gloom, we saw the old ivy-covered
house through the budding trees.

How strange it was, I reflected, that this stroke of diplomacy I had
myself effected unaided was remembered, even in this later rush of
exciting events. Until that evening at Richmond when I had dined with
Gordon and his wife, I had confidently hoped that it was all forgotten.
Yet this man with whom I had come in contact quite by accident
remembered every detail of that action which I was always aiming to
forget.

He had said that I deserved a rich reward for laying bare a base
conspiracy against England's honour. What, I wondered, would he say if
he knew the ghastly truth? My reward had been promotion to
Constantinople, and now nearer home to a secret and responsible mission
in the Belgian capital. True, I had strained every nerve in that
long-past affair, and had been successful where all others had failed.
Yet at what terrible cost had that vile plot been unmasked.

I had saved the honour of England at the cost of my own! That woman who
was my friend's wife alone know the truth.

But I had little time then for reflection, for we were soon indoors, and
after changing I was compelled to join the ladies for tea in the
old-fashioned low-ceilinged drawing-room, where the wood fire burned
brightly, throwing out a welcome flickering light which danced upon the
teacups and the service of shining silver, and where the gossip was light
and the laughter merry. Lady Halsford was a brilliant and tactful
hostess, and was always able to gather about her a happy party in
winter. When I had first been appointed abroad I at first missed the
shooting and fishing which I had so much enjoyed at country houses, but
now after a few years I fear I had grown to be so much of a foreigner
that I preferred a warm drawing-room and feminine chatter to tramping
over fields after game. The elegant foreigner looks askance at the
Englishman's zeal for sport, and is quite content to cycle on public
roads attired in wonderful suits and sweaters, for the admiration of his
fellows. Beyond that he has no further desire to distinguish himself. If
he hunts or shoots it is not because he likes it, but because he
considers it correct form. The educated foreigner always apes the
Englishman.

Many pleasant chats I had with Poynter during the week I still remained
at Dedisham, and as he announced his intention of coming to Brussells
for a month or so in spring I expressed a hope to meet him there. On
leaving Sussex I first returned for a few days to Warwick Gardens, then
went north to grey old Lancaster, and afterwards spent a few days with
my brother Frank, whose regiment, the 7th Hussars, was stationed at
York, my leave, however, being cut short by the receipt of a formal
letter from the Chief's private secretary asking me to call at the
Foreign Office on the following day. Therefore I left, and the next day
at noon once more ascended the grand staircase which led to the great
statesman's private room.




CHAPTER IV.--THE FACE AND THE MASK.


A Cabinet Council had been summoned to decide some important affair of
State, therefore my interview with Lord Macclesfield was a brief one. As
usual he was grave and courteous, sitting in his large padded
writing-chair, his thin white hands clasped upon the table before him,
his keen dark eyes fixed upon me.

"I wish to see you once more before you leave, Crawford, in order to
give a word of final advice in the matter you are about to undertake.
The affair, from later despatches appears to be much more serious than I
had at first believed. It will require the greatest care and judgment.
We have enemies in Brussels--secret enemies you understand--and if
report be true they are the most daring and unscrupulous set with whom
we have yet had to deal. Have you thought over the matter well?"

"Yes," I answered. "I have recollected every word you spoke to me when
you entrusted the secret in my keeping."

"And you now feel yourself quite competent to undertake the task?"

"Entirely so," I said. "You may rely upon me doing my best."

"You are not married, I presume?" he asked suddenly, with a quick
penetrating glance.

"No," I laughed.

"Are you likely to be?"

"Well," I responded with a smile, "truth to tell, I have not yet found a
woman for whom I should care as wife."

"Quite right. Quite right," he answered testily. "It's a mistake for any
young diplomatist to marry--a grave mistake. He should be free--entirely
free. You are free, therefore you have every chance of succeeding."

"I shall strive my utmost."

"Both Russia and France have clever representatives at the Belgian
Court, therefore you will be compelled to act with considerable tact.
But I rely on you. Matters have become so serious that it is better for
you to leave at once for Brussels and take up your position at the
Embassy. I have instructed Sir John Drummond to allow you to have an
absolutely free hand, both as regards time and expense, and from time to
time you will report direct to me by special messenger. Trust nothing to
the post, for we have already had evidence that the cabinet noir is
active."

I nodded acquiescence.

"And before you leave," the Premier added, "you had better see Clunes,
of the Treaty Department. Yesterday, in conversation with me upon
another matter, he made a statement which is very extraordinary, and
appears to have some connection with the mystery you are about to
fathom."

"Clunes!" I ejaculated in surprise. "What has he discovered?"

"You had better hear his statement; for the information may or may not
be of use to you. At any rate the story is an astounding one, and if
true, shows the extraordinary ingenuity of our enemies."

"You have doubts as to its veracity?" I suggested.

His eyes fell upon the blotting pad before him, and for a few seconds he
appeared deep in thought.

"Truth to tell, Crawford," he said at last, in a tone of confidence, "I
am wondering whether the strange allegation was not made to me with some
ulterior motive."

"But you don't suspect that Clunes, a trusted servant in that department
where secrecy is so imperative, would willingly mislead you?" I asked.

His lordship shook his head doubtfully.

"Recollect," he added quickly, "this matter is entirely between us. I
do not know whether or not you are a friend of Clunes's, but if you are,
then recollect that you are before everything the servant of your Queen
and country, just as I am, and that private friendships or prejudices
must never be allowed to interfere with duty."

"Then what do you wish me to do?" I asked.

"See Clunes this evening, obtain his statement, and on arrival in
Brussels report to me your opinion regarding its truth."

"Very well," I answered, not, however, pleased at the prospect. His
lordship's suspicion of Gordon unsettled me, for I had always found him
a true and faithful friend. What, I wondered, had he discovered? and
what could be the nature of this extraordinary statement, which might
throw some light upon the matter I was about to investigate? If anything
of importance had come to his knowledge it was strange, knowing that I
had been appointed on a secret mission, that friends as we were he had
not given me the benefit of his knowledge. I scarcely suspected him of
endeavouring to curry favour with his lordship, except that on account
of his wife's eagerness that he should obtain a post abroad he might
have been induced by her to make a bold bid for fortune. I recollected
that this woman he had married was my secret and most bitter enemy.
Perhaps she was endeavouring to use her husband as a tool for my
downfall.

My teeth closed tightly as I recollected that look of triumph in her
eyes.

Then, with a final adieu to his lordship, who had already risen and put
on his hat to attend the meeting of the Cabinet, I went out and
downstairs to Gordon's room.

On entering I found him absent, and one of the clerks informed me that a
telegram had been received that morning saying that he was indisposed,
and would not attend that day. I was annoyed at this, as it meant that I
should be compelled to travel down to Richmond and there again meet the
hateful woman who held my future in her unscrupulous hands.

As I left my friend's room I ran up against one of my whilom colleagues,
Jack Carmichael, and with him walked round to the St. James's Club to
lunch. He was an easy-going bachelor of thirty-five, who never took life
very seriously, and as we sat over our coffee in the smoking-room he
gossiped on, telling me all the news of the personnel of the Foreign
Office during the past couple of years; how young Carew had gone the
pace, got into the hands of the Jews and been compelled to resign; how
Bramford, the younger son of a well-known peer, had died of alcoholic
poisoning; how old Black, the passport-clerk, had retired on a pension,
and how kind Lady Macclesfield had been to the family of old Saddington,
the messenger and hall-porter, who had died of bronchitis after forty
years of service. These and other things he related, all of them
interesting to me, for in the days before my nomination as attache
abroad I had, I believe, been rather popular among my colleagues. At
least they had made me a very handsome presentation when I had left them
for more important duties.

"And Clunes has taken to himself a wife," I remarked, when he had
finished.

My companion shrugged his shoulders expressively.

"Why?" I asked.

"A wife!" and he smiled again.

"But surely she is his wife," I exclaimed. I knew Gordon to be the soul
of honour.

"Certainly," answered Carmichael, "but she's not the sort of woman I'd
care to marry, old chap."

"Why?" I inquired instantly interested.

"Least said soonest mended, you know," he answered vaguely.

"But tell me," I urged.

"No," he responded. "It isn't fair to gossip about a pal's wife. He's
your friend and mine, remember."

"Of course," I said. "Nevertheless I've met her, and I also have
suspicions that they are not quite so happy as people imagine."

"Oh! yes, they're happy enough," he answered. "Gordon's far happier than
most men who forge the matrimonial fetters. Thank Heaven that although
I've had my periods of sentimental silliness I've never so far played
the giddy ass as to marry."

"Nor I," I observed. "But neither of us is an old man yet. We both might
fall in love."

Jack Carmichael pulled a wry face, as though such a prospect was
nauseous. But he was always joking, and one never knew whether or not to
take him quite seriously.

"If I married," he said after a pause, "I'd rather marry a washerwoman
than an unknown foreigner, as Gordon did."

"A foreigner! Surely she's not a foreigner, is she?"

"Yes. But Heaven alone knows what her nationality really is. She speaks
English well, and passes as an Englishwoman," he replied. "I stood as
Gordon's best man at the wedding, and it was at the wedding luncheon
that I first detected that she wasn't English."

"How?"

"She was excited, having drunk an unusual quantity of fizz, and once or
twice she dropped into a foreign accentuation of certain words. Gordon
never seemed to have noticed it, strangely enough."

"Then perhaps her maiden name was a false one?" I suggested, all these
facts only serving to verify the suspicion I had from the first moment
entertained of her.

"Her name was Judith Carter-Harrison, but Heaven knows whether it was an
assumed name, or not," he answered. "Since their marriage I've been a
frequent visitor at Richmond, and once, when I was alone with her, I
carefully led up to the subject of foreign birth and education. She,
however, strenuously evaded giving me direct answers to my questions,
and seemed extremely annoyed that I should entertain any suspicion that
she was other than she had represented herself to be."

"Strange," I remarked. "Very strange. She's, of course, extremely
good-looking."

"I should rather think so. When Gordon takes her to the theatre she's
always the centre of attraction. Her face is almost flawless in its
beauty."

"And poor old Gordon is so blindly infatuated that he has not yet
discovered that she has deceived him," I said with a sigh. "Some day, I
fear, he will suddenly awake to the truth, and then the blow will fall
heavily upon him."

"Yes," my friend replied. "He's such an excellent fellow that I can't
help feeling sorry for him. Truth to tell, I believe the Chief does not
give him his promotion solely because of this foolish marriage."

"Does Lord Macclesfield know her?" I gasped.

"I'm not certain," he responded. "But I have a vague suspicion that he
does."

I held my breath in alarm. If that were so, then I knew not from one
moment to another when she might go to him and relate the ghastly story
which I had ever striven to hide, a secret which, if exposed, would ruin
me irretrievably. His lordship's remarkable words regarding the fidelity
of Clunes himself recurred to me, and I became pensive, plunged in
gloomy apprehension.

That being my last day in London, I made several calls during the
afternoon, and it was about five o'clock, and already dark, when I
entered the train at Waterloo for Richmond.

What Carmichael had told me caused me considerable uneasiness. That my
old chum Gordon should marry an adventuress seemed extremely improbable,
yet I could not forget that her face was quite familiar to me. There was
but one way to silence her, I reflected. That I feared her I willingly
admit; still when I thought calmly and weighed each fact carefully, I
saw that the look of terror I had noticed in her eyes was not altogether
without reason. Her attitude when I visited her on the last occasion had
been one of watchfulness. She apparently desired to see whether I
recognised her, or whether I intended to speak to her husband upon her
striking resemblance to that woman I had once known. Yet I had made no
sign, therefore she had smiled in confidence and triumph when she had
uttered the one name most hateful to me.

In that journey to Richmond, stifled in a compartment overcrowded by city
men eagerly returning to their homes at Barnes, Mortlake, and
Teddington, and that new suburb, Fulwell, I reflected deeply. If ever
man was desperate, I was at that moment. Before me I had a secret
mission which, if successfully accomplished, would no doubt result in my
further advancement. For a young man I had made rapid strides; but this
woman stood as a menace between myself and success. Well I knew her
ingenuity, her craftiness, the calm cunning and the relentless revenge
of which she was capable. She was, indeed, a formidable enemy.

Nevertheless, it likewise tardily occurred to me that although she held
my secret, yet I also held the key to her disreputable past. Could I
not, if she uttered a single word, expose her in her true light as an
adventuress, a woman 'declasse' and beyond the pale of society, an
infamous schemer whose real name stank in the nostrils of everyone in
two European capitals? This I saw was my only safeguard. She was now
awaiting her chance to expose my true office and to bring not only me,
but British diplomacy into derision, and render it ignominious;
therefore I realised that it was incumbent upon me to strike the first
blow. I sat in the railway carriage pretending to read the evening
paper, but really trying to decide how to act. The best and wisest
course appeared to be to recognise her at once, pretend to hold her in
abhorrence, and threaten to explain all to her husband. Then she in turn
would threaten me, whereupon I could proceed to make advantageous terms
with her. This seemed the only course, therefore after due consideration
I decided to adopt it.

A neat maid answered my summons when I rang, and I was at once ushered
into the white drawing-room which I had so admired on my first visit.
Then, after a few minutes, she entered, rather flurried, I thought. She
was confused at my unexpected call, and this gave me courage.

"I've come down to see Gordon on business," I explained, when we had
exchanged greetings and she had taken a seat opposite me.

"He was not at all well this morning, poor boy, so I persuaded him not
to go to town," she explained.

"What's the matter with him?" I asked, concerned.

"Nothing," she answered quickly. "A slight headache, that's all. He's
very subject to headaches, occasioned, I suppose, by overwork. Lord
Macclesfield ought to give him an assistant. It's really too bad."

She spoke the truth. The duties in the Treaty Department were always
very onerous and heavy. He had several times complained to me in his
letters that further assistance was absolutely necessary.

"Are you very devoted to him?" I said suddenly, my gaze fixed severely
upon her.

She started quickly. I saw a look of terror in her blue eyes. Her brows
contracted.

"Devoted to him? Of course I am. What do you mean?" she asked with
affected hauteur.

"It is useless to feign ignorance," I said, quickly. "Recollect that we
are not strangers, Judith."

"No," she answered, in a hoarse voice. "Would to God we were!"

"Well," I went on ruthlessly, "and why do I find you masquerading here
as wife of my best friend? Surely you were not so confiding as to
believe that you, of all women, could remain long undiscovered?"

"Not if you were in the vicinity," she replied in a tone of hatred, her
teeth set hard, her eyes flashing an angry fire.

"No, no," I laughed. "To struggle against the inevitable is useless. You
were ill-advised to marry Gordon Clunes. It is not often that you make
such a grave error as this, but it is a step you cannot retrace. That
you married him with some set purpose is quite apparent. I won't ask you
what it is, because I know you well enough to be aware that I should
never obtain the truth from your lips. But," I added in a stern, meaning
tone, "if you suppose that I will allow my friend to be longer imposed
upon by a woman so unscrupulous and worthless, then you are mistaken."

"You dare!" she cried, rising quickly to her feet, pale, with alarm.
"You--you intend to expose me!"

"Do you recollect your words on the last occasion we met?" I asked, also
rising and regarding her fixedly. She was, I know, a woman who would
hesitate at nothing in order to gain her ends.

"I forget nothing," she answered in a low harsh tone.

"Neither do I," I replied. "Once, you played me false."

"Ah, no Philip!" she cried, her manner in an instant changing from
defiance to penitence. "I tell you that was not my fault. You have
misjudged me."

"But you have nevertheless inveigled Gordon into marriage," I said
bitterly. "And I am his friend."

She paused, her eyes fixed for a moment on the burning logs. I saw that
she held me in fear.

"But I am his wife," she said.

"Exactly. And for that very reason I intend to tell him the truth."

"You dare not," she said, her face white and resolute. "Listen! If you
utter one word to him I will explain all that I know. You are fully
aware of what I mean."

I smiled. It was just what I had expected. From her manner I had divined
her secret intention to expose me, but victory generally lies with him
who strikes the first blow, and I saw that she was now in deadly fear of
me.

"And if you spoke who would believe you?" I said, in order to taunt her,
for by doing so I thought I might perhaps gather something further of
her plans.

"Once you measured your strength with mine and proved victor," she said
in a voice of intense hatred. "My life was wrecked because of you. I
staked high and lost--ignominiously. You were too clever and outwitted
me. I shall take care to repay the debt."

"After Gordon has cast you from his house," I said, preserving a perfect
calm.

"If you dare to tell him, the result will be fatal to your own
interest--to all your prospects. You go now to Brussels. Good!
Forewarned is forearmed."

"If your husband overhears this interesting conversation he'll no doubt
be edified," I said.

"He cannot overhear," she answered in a strained voice. Then she added
quickly, "Do not imagine that I fear any statement that you may care to
make about me. You have no evidence."

"Except one little piece, which is, I think you'll admit, quite
sufficient."

"And what is that, pray?" she inquired with indignation.

"Something which you have apparently forgotten," I answered. "Your
photograph taken when you left your enforced confinement in that place
where they didn't trouble to air the beds, and where the drawing-room
was not exactly in Early English style."

My words held her dumb. She stood before me open-mouthed, her
countenance blanched to the lips.

Suddenly her hands clenched, her cold blue eyes darted at me a look of
evil, a murderous glance that I had only once seen before, and with an
imprecation she cried with a strained, hollow laugh.

"Then tell him!--tell him! But recollect that if you do, I will make a
statement to the press which will considerably alter the political
situation in Europe. You have to choose between silence and exposure."

And without further word she swept past me out of the room.

I laughed to myself, for this scene had been enacted exactly as I had
intended it should be, and I saw by her manner that my threat to expose
her had sealed her lips. She had become Gordon's wife for some
mysterious purpose or other, and it was evident that she did not mean to
relinquish her position. This fact gave me confidence; for I saw that as
long as she remained with him she dared utter no word of the past.

I remained there alone for a few minutes, then, hearing no sound, I
opened the door and crossed the hall to the dining-room in search of
Gordon. The room was, however, empty; therefore recollecting that the
door at the end of that room led to my friend's cosy little study where
we had smoked when I had first visited him I walked across and opened
it.

On the couch on the opposite side of the writing table Gordon was lying,
and on seeing him I cried:

"Wake up, old chap! Not too seedy to see me, are you?"

His face was turned to the wall, and he was apparently sleeping soundly.

For a moment I hesitated whether I should rouse him, but suddenly the
paleness of his neck against the cushion of dark red velvet struck me as
peculiar, and I bent over and looked into his face.

His eyes, those merry, laughing eyes I knew so well, were wide open.

I touched his cheek lightly with my finger tips. It was pale, waxen, and
as cold as ice.

In an instant the ghastly truth flashed upon me, and involuntarily I
uttered a cry of horror and dismay.

Gordon Clunes, the husband of this scheming, evil woman who held my
secret, was dead!




CHAPTER V.--THE STATEMENT OF ANN PRIMROSE.


For a few seconds I stood inactive, horrified, gazing upon the white
face whence the light of life had faded.

So suddenly had I made this ghastly discovery that at first I was unable
to realise that the man who had been so full of activity and good-humour
was now a corpse. Even while I had been in conversation with this woman,
who was his wife, he had been lying there dead, and then, as I
reflected, the truth, a vivid and disconcerting one, was suddenly
revealed to me.

By Gordon's death my power over this woman had vanished. My future was
in her hands, and too well I knew that she would be merciless.

Again I placed my fingers upon the chill face, and then chafed the thin
stiffening hands. But those wide-open glaring eyes, in which the film of
death had already gathered, told me that life had fled. The honest
true-hearted man with whom I had shared chambers through my early years
of wild-oat sowing had been snatched away with a suddenness that was
appalling.

Then, the suggestion occurring to me that after all he might be only in
a state of unconsciousness, and that medical aid might succeed in
resuscitating him, I rushed through into the dining-room and touched the
electric button. Opening the door I listened for the approach of
someone, but all seemed strangely silent.

The great square hall with its black oak stair-case and balcony above
was but dimly lit, and there was an ominous stillness everywhere. I
rushed across to the drawing-room under the impression that the dead
man's wife might still be there, but that chamber was in darkness. The
electric light had been switched off.

Again I rang the bell violently; then, standing in the hall, shouted
loudly for help. My voice echoed through the house, but no one stirred.

Why, I wondered, had everyone deserted the place like that? Surely this
woman who was my enemy must have known all along that my threats were
unavailing, now that the man who had made her his wife was lying cold
and dead.

Having failed to obtain assistance I went back to the little study and
tried myself to arouse him. But from the first moment of the discovery I
knew that all efforts were futile. He had lain down there calmly, and
passed away in peaceful silence, for his face was in no way distorted.
Only the fact that his hands were clenched showed that the last sting of
death had caused him pain. The room seemed chill and draughty, and on
examination I was surprised to find, behind the drawn curtains, that the
long window leading out upon the small sloping lawn was open--a fact in
itself suspicious.

Could it be possible that Gordon had been the victim of foul play?

Such suggestion, however, was quickly put aside by the recollection that
a telegram had been received at the Foreign Office announcing his
indisposition. He had no doubt been taken ill suddenly, and died from
some unknown natural cause.

I had closed the window when, on glancing round the room, my attention
was attracted by a smell of tobacco-smoke, and I saw on the table an
ash-tray wherein were ashes and the end of a freshly-smoked cigar. Had
Gordon smoked before his death, or had he received some male visitor?

Yet another curious fact greatly perplexed me. In the fireplace was a
quantity of tinder--the remains of some voluminous document which had
recently been destroyed. One tiny portion of the paper remained charred,
but not consumed. I picked it out carefully, and on examining it was
amazed to discover that the paper was of that peculiar tint and texture
used in the French Foreign Office. Surely Gordon could not have
destroyed some compromising papers in his possession, and then
afterwards deliberately committed suicide?

Whatever the explanation, there was no doubt that some secret papers had
been burnt there, and further, that these papers were not English. The
window leading to the garden being open lent colour to the theory that
some one had passed out of the house by that means. Again, the flight of
Judith, and the absence of the servants, were all circumstances of the
gravest suspicion.

The room wherein my friend was lying was more of a smoking-room than
study. True, there was a large writing-table at the end and a couple of
well-filled bookcases, but the cane rocking-chairs, the long deck-chair
with its holders in the arms for the big glass of whisky and soda, and
the two smoking-tables, showed that its owner was more fond of ease than
of study.

On glancing around the writing-table I saw something unusual on the
blotting-pad, and bent to examine it. The paper was white, but
discoloured by a great stain of bright yellow. This was still damp, and
on smelling it I found it to be some acid; but what it was I could not
determine.

Just, however, at the moment when I held the pad in my hand I heard a
movement behind me, and turning quickly with a start perceived a young
woman fully dressed in neat black. She seemed equally surprised to
discover me there, but without a moment's hesitation I demanded--

"Who are you?"

"I'm Ann, sir," she answered, drawing back as if in fear of me.

"Are you one of the servants here?" I said, recognising her.

"Yes, sir."

"Then why are you going out?"

"I've only just come in, sir," she replied. "There's nobody in the
house, so I came here to see if either master or mistress were here."

"Your master is there," I answered, pointing to the couch.

"What!" she cried in alarm. "Is he unwell?"

"Were you not aware of his illness?" I inquired.

"No, sir," she answered. "He went out at the usual hour this morning,
and had not returned when I left at three o'clock."

"Why did you go out?"

"It was my afternoon out, sir. Mistress gave me an extra two hours."

In this latter statement I scented suspicion.

"Why did she give you extra leave?" I demanded.

"I don't know, sir," the girl responded. "But is master very ill--can I
do anything?" she asked anxiously.

"No," I replied. "You can do nothing, except to tell me all you know of
this affair. Where's your mistress?"

"Gone out, I suppose, sir--I've been through all the bedrooms, but
there's no one in the house at all; no dinner ready, or anything. But is
master sleeping?" she added with increasing anxiety.

"No," I said, fearing to tell her the truth lest she should go off into
hysterics or do something equally annoying. In this matter calmness was
essential, and I was determined to learn from her all I could. "How long
have you been in Mrs. Clune's service?"

"Ever since they were married, sir."

"And you have a good place here?" I asked.

"I can't grumble. I don't get many Sundays out, but mistress is very
kind and thoughtful of us."

"How many are you?"

"Three, sir; cook, another housemaid, and myself."

"And you have no knowledge of where your two fellow servants have gone?"

"None whatever. They were here when I went out."

"And your mistress?"

"She went out immediately after luncheon."

"Then your master was not at home ill today?" I exclaimed in surprise.

"No, sir. He went out about ten, as he usually does, to catch his train
to London; but I noticed that he was dressed differently than is usual."

"How?" I asked quickly.

"He wore a low felt hat instead of his tall silk one, and had on an old
tweed suit that's quite shabby. When I saw him go out I wondered at him
dressing so badly. He's always so very smart--neat as a new pin, as the
sayin' is."

This was certainly a remarkable fact. At the Foreign Office a telegram
had been received announcing his indisposition, while at the same time
he had gone forth in what was apparently a disguise. It was not like
Gordon to go to London in an old tweed suit.

"And after your master had left, what occurred?" I inquired, determined
to sift this matter to the bottom.

"Nothing," she responded. "There was only one caller, a gentleman."

"A gentleman!" I cried. "Who was he?"

"I don't know, sir," she replied.

"Now, my girl," I said earnestly, "in this matter you must be perfectly
frank. It is most important in your master's interests that I should
know all that has transpired here to-day. You, of course, recollect that
I dined here a little time ago. I remember now that you waited at
table--although at first in your hat and veil I failed to recognise
you."

"Certainly, sir; I'm quite ready to tell you, or master, all I know."

"Well, with regard to this gentleman, was he merely an ordinary-looking
man, or was there anything about him which struck you as peculiar?"

"There was nothing extraordinary," she answered with a puzzled look. No
doubt she thought my words strange ones. Her name was Primrose she had
informed me. "He merely asked for mistress, and when I inquired his name
he said it was Christian. I asked him into this room, and mistress, when
I told her he had called, seemed just a trifle excited. Her face went
red, and she seemed at first annoyed that he should call so early, for
she hadn't quite finished dressing her hair."

"And what then?"

"She finished hastily with my assistance, and went down to him. He
remained there fully half-an-hour, and then went away laughing."

"Did you overhear any of their conversation?"

"No. I think he was a foreigner, for they spoke French, or some foreign
language, and they spoke it so quickly and loudly that it seemed once or
twice as though they were quarrelling. Mistress is an excellent
linguist, you know."

"Yes, I know she is," I answered smiling grimly. "But this man was an
entire stranger, wasn't he?"

"I'd never seen him before."

"Young or old?"

"About thirty-five, or perhaps forty; rather tall and fair."

"With a moustache pointing upwards?"

"No, his moustache was short and bristly; and he had a light beard," the
maid replied. "He was rather thin and wore a light drab overcoat tightly
buttoned."

"Did he speak English well?"

"Yes, quite well. Indeed, I thought he was English until the bell rang
and I went to the dining-room, when I heard mistress speaking to him in
a foreign tongue. She was standing near the fireplace while he was
seated in the arm-chair over there--the one master always sits in. He
seemed quite at home, and mistress ordered me to bring him some brandy
and soda."

"Then you left the room and heard no more?"

"Not until the bell rang again and I showed him out."

"And then?" I asked.

"When he'd gone mistress flew into a great rage. She said it was
abominable that people should call so early."

"But she treated him very courteously when he was present?"

"Very. I, however, didn't like him. He seemed to treat mistress just a
trifle too familiarly. Perhaps, however, it was only his foreign way.
Foreigners hold different views from us I've heard it said."

"Well," I exclaimed, "continue your story. What happened after that?"

"Mistress spent some little time in the study, writing letters, I think.
Then she lunched alone, and afterwards went out."

"Was she dressed as though she intended making visits?"

"Not at all. I assisted her to dress, and remarked that although the day
was fine she seemed, like master, to have a leaning towards an old
dress. She put on an old blue serge and a sailor hat--a thing which
she'd put away since last summer--and she seemed in a hurry either to
catch a train or to keep some appointment."

"Has she many friends here in Richmond?" I inquired.

"Oh, yes, lots. We're generally crowded on her 'At home' days."

"And you went out soon after she did?"

"Yes. I went over to Kingston to see my mother, and then on to Surbiton.
When I returned I went round to the back door, found it open, and came
in, but to my surprise everybody had gone. The place was deserted. To
tell you the truth, sir, when I first saw you peering about master's
writing-table, which we are forbidden to touch, I thought you were a
burglar."

"That's not surprising," I answered with a smile. "But this affair, I
may as well tell you at once, is a most serious one."

"Serious? What do you mean, sir?" she asked, starting at my words and
looking at me in surprise.

"During your absence something mysterious has occurred. I don't know any
more of it than you do. I only know the terrible truth."

"And what's that?" she demanded breathlessly.

"That your poor master is lying there dead!"

"Dead!" she gasped, growing pale. "Dead! It can't be true."

"It is true," I responded. "I found him there not long ago. Look for
yourself."

The trembling girl crossed the room on tiptoe, and gazed into the face
of her master. It needed no second glance to convince her that she was
in the presence of the dead.

"It's terrible, sir--terrible!" she gasped, drawing back pale in horror.
"Surely he can't really be dead?"

"Yes," I answered. "There's no doubt about it; absolutely no doubt. But
whether it is the result of natural causes or of foul play it is
impossible at present to tell."

"Do you suspect, then, that he's been murdered, sir?" she inquired in a
low, terrified voice.

"I suspect nothing," I said. "I entered here and found him exactly as
you see him now. The window, too, was open. Someone might have escaped
by it."

"Ah, the window!" she said. "I recollect opening it this morning at
mistress's orders. She declared that the room smelt stuffy."

"Was it often open?"

"It hadn't been opened all the winter until to-day, when I picked out
the strips of cloth with which the cracks had been plugged up. Master
always declared that there was an unbearable draught from it; so one day
last October I helped mistress seal up the door altogether."

"There was no other reason why it should be opened, except because the
place was stuffy, was there?"

"None whatever. It was a fine day, of course, and I suppose mistress
thought well to freshen up the room. I must say that the tobacco smoke
is very thick here sometimes, when master has two or three friends. But
poor master! I really can't believe it," she added, looking at him
kindly again. "He was always so considerate towards us. I can't think
what's become of cook and Mary."

"Rather think of your mistress," I said. "What a blow this will be to
her."

The girl glanced at me curiously, as if trying to discern how much I
knew.

"Yes," she sighed, but refrained from further comment, a fact which went
to confirm my opinion that this neat domestic knew much more than she
had already told me.

"Were your master and mistress always on good terms?" I asked.

"Always," the girl promptly replied. "They were devoted to each other."

I smiled. The idea of that woman whom I had half-an-hour before
threatened with exposure being devoted to anybody was, to me, amusing.
That she knew of her husband's death was certain; yet after her ominous
words to me she had left the house, leaving me alone with the corpse of
my friend.

I recollected now how my appearance had caused her confusion, and how
she had greeted me with a hollow courtesy. Undoubtedly I had arrived at
a very inopportune moment, and it seemed equally certain that the two
other servants were fully aware that their master had passed away.

Gordon's wife had fled, and that in itself was sufficient to arouse
suspicion, while on the other hand my friend's own actions in sending
the telegram of excuse to the Foreign Office, and in going out in
unusual attire, complicated the puzzle to an extraordinary degree.

Lord Macclesfield had sent me there to hear some strange statement, yet
the lips that had uttered those words which had startled and interested
the great statesman were now silent for ever.

I stood gazing upon that white face, so calm and tranquil in death, and
pondered deeply.

Yes, that some grave, extraordinary mystery surrounded my friend's
decease I felt convinced.




CHAPTER VI.--IN CYPHER.


Half an hour passed.

Accompanied by the girl Primrose I made a tour of the house, but it was
evident that the dead man's wife had fled, therefore after full
deliberation I despatched the servant with a note to the police station,
asking that an inspector might be sent, but not stating any reason. I
instructed the girl to remain silent for the present, and waited
patiently until the officer arrived.

Then I took him into the drawing-room, and when we were alone said:

"An extraordinary affair has occurred in this house, but there are
reasons why the matter should for the present remain absolutely secret;
reasons which will become obvious when I explain the position of the
parties concerned."

He was a smart, youngish, rather pleasant faced man, who listened
gravely while I related the whole of the facts. His brows contracted
when I told him how Lord Macclesfield had instructed me to travel down
to Richmond and hear the statement of the man whom I had discovered
dead, and he gave vent to an exclamation of suspicion when I told him
the story related by the girl Primrose.

"I'll see him," the inspector exclaimed when I had finished; therefore I
led the way across the hall into the small room where poor Gordon was
stretched out upon the red velvet couch.

The officer, to whom a mystery of this description and magnitude was not
of everyday occurrence, glanced quickly around the room, turned the body
slightly upon its side, and then, noticing no sign of a struggle,
exclaimed:

"I see no evidence of foul play, do you?"

"No," I answered, "none whatever. But this window was unfastened, and
there in that tray is a freshly smoked cigar."

"Strange," he said, examining the ashes closely.

"That points to the fact that he had a visitor," I said.

"Why?"

"Because he never smoked cigars, but always cigarettes."

"Ah!" observed the officer, "That may serve as a very valuable clue."
Then passing into the dining-room, where the girl Primrose was standing,
he submitted her to a searching cross-examination regarding her
statement to me, and especially with reference to the tall fair man who
had called upon her mistress in the earlier part of the day. From the
girl's reply it was quite evident that she was concealing nothing, and
that she had been much more observant than one would have supposed a
servant to be. It was also clear that she entertained some ill-defined
suspicion of her mistress, though of what neither of us could exactly
make out.

At length the inspector, whose name was Glass, sent for the divisional
surgeon, who lived on the hill a little lower down, and also for the
plain clothes officer attached to that station.

Without delay the doctor, a stout red faced man, arrived, and after the
officer had given him a brief explanation he made a cursory examination
of the body.

"He must died about an hour ago," he observed, rising from his knees and
puffing after the exertion.

"There are no signs of violence?" suggested the officer.

"None whatever. From all outward appearance death was due to sudden
failure of the heart's action."

"Natural causes!"

"I expect so. Of course I must make a post-mortem later, and then I
shall be able to speak with greater confidence," the doctor answered.
"At present there seem no grounds to suspect that death was due to
violence. But his wife and the servants have left, you say. Strange, is
it not."

"Very curious--very," answered Glass. "I'm confident there's some
mystery or other, but what it is there's certainly, as yet, nothing to
show."

"Have you noticed this, doctor?" I asked, taking up the blotting pad,
and handing it to him.

He touched the yellow stain with his finger, sniffed it, and, after
holding the pad to the light and examining it carefully, said in the
uncertain tone of one puzzled:

"I wonder what was spilt here?"

"Isn't it acid of some sort?" I inquired.

"Perhaps." Then turning to the inspector he added: "It will be better to
preserve that. We may want to analyse it."

I divined by the doctor's manner that he was undecided in his opinion.
It appeared as though poor Gordon, having been sitting at his writing
table, became suddenly unwell and while resting upon the couch had
expired before he could summon aid. Yet if such theory were true, why
had that voluminous document been burned? And why had Judith, his wife,
fled after my arrival? Was it because, ignorant of Gordon's death, she
feared the exposure which I had threatened, or was it because she knew
of his decease and had escaped before I could discover the truth?

About this time the detective was ushered in by the girl Primrose, and
after hearing a brief explanation of the facts he looked at the body and
then wandered from room to room, discovering nothing. He expressed an
opinion which to me was certainly an absurd one, namely, that my
friend's wife, discovering that he had died, had sent out the remaining
two servants, and then herself gone forth to seek some intimate friend.
It was quite feasible, he declared, that a woman should do this, for her
mutual instinct is to seek someone to console her in distress.

He, however, had no knowledge of the woman's character, and, of course,
I did not enter into unnecessary detail. The one thought possessing me
at that moment was a recollection of Lord Macclesfield's doubt
consequent upon the mysterious statement which my friend had made. So
startling and so utterly confusing had it been that his lordship deemed
it best that I should be aware of all the facts ere I set forth on my
secret mission to Brussels. The terribly sudden death of this man who
had made the amazing revelations, whatever they were, was certainly an
extraordinary development, and it was, I saw, imperative that his
lordship should learn the truth at the earliest possible moment.

I waited an hour in that silent house where lay the body of my friend,
but Judith did not return. There was, of course, no direct evidence that
he had died from any but natural causes, yet her absence increased our
suspicion.

Both servants returned in due course, and were dumb with amazement on
finding the house in possession of the police. We heard their story,
which was plain and straightforward enough. Their mistress, after my
arrival, had given them leave to go out, adding that Ann would return
shortly, therefore they could remain out till nine. They had gone out
together, and walked along as far as Kew Bridge and back.

"And you know nothing of your master being in the house when you went
out?" the detective asked of the cook, a responsible middle-aged woman.

"No," she replied. "Master went out as usual this morning, and mistress
told me that he would not be back to dinner."

"Neither of you took a telegram to the post office this morning about
ten o'clock?" I asked.

"No, sir," was the response.

It was therefore evident that Gordon had sent the telegraphic excuse to
Downing-street himself, on his way out. Likewise, it was more than
curious that his wife should have kept his return secret from the
servants. The deeper we probed the mystery the more inexplicable it
became.

"Had you any idea that your mistress intended to go out?" the inspector
inquired of the cook.

"None whatever. If she went out Ann could not get in. She told me that
she would remain at home, as she had been out the greater part of the
day and was very tired."

Many were the questions we put to the three domestics, but their
knowledge threw no further light upon the mystery; therefore, having
given my name and address to the police, I left and returned at once to
London, arriving at Waterloo a little after ten o'clock.

Without delay I took a hansom, and twenty minutes later was admitted to
the great gloomy hall of the Premier's fine mansion in Grosvenor-square.

"Is Lord Macclesfield in, Budd?" I inquired of the aged retainer who had
spent all his life in the service of the family.

"Yes, sir. But he's engaged. Is the business pressing?"

"Yes, it's official," I said. "Send in my card," and I handed him one.

"Count Cusani, the secretary of the Italian Embassy is with him, and his
lordship said that I was not to disturb him. I'm very sorry, sir."

"Then I'll wait," I said; and without further word walked on into the
small cosy room opposite, wherein representatives of every nation in the
world, have, at one time or another, sat waiting the pleasure of the
ruler of Europe. I knew the house well, having many times had occasion
to call there to see his lordship. Indeed, night and day he was always
visible on matters of pressing importance. His capacity for work was
enormous, and his attention to duty a model for those junior clerks in
the Foreign Office, who preferred to read the 'Times' and smoke
cigarettes to performing the work for which the country paid them. Old
Budd, too--known to every foreign diplomatist in London, from the
Russian Ambassador down to the Liberian Minister--was a sharp-witted
amusing old fellow of courtly manner and impressive voice, and while I
sat there I chatted with him.

"I haven't seen you lately, sir," the old man said presently.

"No," I answered. "Of late I've been at Constantinople."

"Pooh!" he exclaimed. "Sir Richard Davis was there once, and Colonel
Poole was once military attache. Both gentlemen told me it was a horrid
place. You're better in London than there, they said."

"They were right, Budd," I laughed. "But when you get a post abroad you
have to put up with the uncomfortable as well as enjoy the comfortable.
I really believe you'd have made a good ambassador."

"No, sir," laughed the old man, heartily, for he loved a joke. "I
shouldn't be able to take things so calmly as those gentlemen do. I'm
afraid I should be for fighting, rather than for diplomacy."

"Then, Budd, you'd be a dangerous man," I said; while at the same
instant an electric bell sounded, and begging me to excuse him he went
forth into the hall.

The door being ajar I heard the frou-frou of silken skirts as a lady
passed, and the stately old man opened the door and showed her out. Then
I heard his lordship's voice telling his man that he would see me in a
few moments.

"Who was the lady?" I asked Budd when he returned to me.

"A stranger, sir."

"Young?"

"Yes. Rather good-looking," and the old man winked knowingly.

"Ah, Budd," I said, "then though they call you an old fossil you're as
keen as a knife, and you've got a good eye for a pretty woman."

"When I was a youngster, sir, I was reckoned a bit of a don. But now--"
and the old fellow sighed without finishing his sentence.

I laughed.

In the diplomatic world of London, especially among the feminine section
of it, old Budd's courtesy and the manner in which he tucked up the
pretty women in their carriages had long been a subject of comment. He
was ugly and wizened, but he had the manners of a prince, and was as
attentive to the ladies as their lovers.

"Did that lady who has just gone out give any card?" I inquired.

"Yes. But I was in a hurry and didn't read the name," he replied. Then
he added: "I fancy his lordship didn't want to see her, for she was only
in his room about two minutes, and was then dismissed rather abruptly."

"How do you know?"

"I can always tell by the manner his lordship shuts the door whether
he's in a good humour or not."

"And he's in a bad humour to-night, eh?"

"Yes, rather," he answered confidentially. "Sir Thomas Ridley, the
Permanent Undersecretary, has been here all the evening, and I fancy the
outlook is serious."

Just then the electric bell again rang, and old Budd led the way to the
large roomy chamber which I knew so well, the private thickly carpeted
room of the trusted Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of her Majesty
the Queen.

The three long windows were heavily curtained, and upon the two large
writing-tables, littered with State documents and despatches, four green
shaded lamps shed a zone of light, the remainder of the room being in
semi-darkness.

Within the circle of light was a leather armchair, and in response to
his lordship's invitation, I seated myself in it. It was not the first
time I had sat there, and I knew how cunningly that chair was placed, so
that the visitor had the light upon him while the great statesman's face
remained in the shadow. As I looked across the table, I only saw the
pale serious countenance, shadowy and indistinct in the gloom. He had a
quill in his thin hand, and had been signing some papers as I entered.
On the farther side of the old-fashioned room, wherein so much of the
business of the Empire was transacted, hung a large portrait of her
Majesty, just visible where the fitful glow of the fire fell upon it,
and on a small table opposite was fixed the private telegraph instrument
which enabled the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office to
communicate with his Chief at any hour, night or day.

"Well, Crawford, this visit is a rather late one," he exclaimed in a
voice which betrayed impatience. He usually worked alone at night,
without even a secretary; and I knew he hated to be disturbed.

"I have to apologise," I answered, "but the matter is one which appears
to be of pressing importance, in view of the confidence you have already
reposed in me."

"And what is it?" he inquired in a dry, calm tone.

"It is with regard to your instructions to see Gordon Clunes before I
leave for Brussels."

"Well, you have seen him," he said, glancing at me quickly with his
keen, penetrating eyes. "What is your opinion regarding his statement?"

"I have not been able to get any statement from him," I answered. "I
regret to say that he is dead."

"Dead," gasped his lordship, starting from his chair. "Is this the
truth, Crawford?" he cried.

"Yes, unfortunately," I answered. "I found him in his house alone, dead;
and from certain appearances a mystery appears to surround the cause of
his decease."

"Clunes dead!" the great statesman echoed. "Impossible!"

"He had been dead nearly an hour before I found him," I said.

His lordship's hand clenched as it lay upon the table before him.

"And that--that woman? What of her?" he asked, with a look of firm
determination upon his blanched face, and laying stress upon the word
'woman.' "Where is she?"

"She has fled," I answered briefly.

"Fled!" he cried, standing glaring at me as one dumbfounded. "Do you
mean that she has disappeared?"

I nodded.

"Then not an instant must be lost," exclaimed the controller of
England's destinies, touching the electric button upon the table. "The
coup of our enemies has been effected with an ingenuity and swiftness
absolutely incredible. England's honour is involved in this affair, how
deeply only myself and another are aware; but at all costs our dignity
and prestige must be preserved. This complication is most serious, and
creates a crisis the most acute of the many which have occurred during
the period of my Administration. Our enemies must be outwitted and
crushed, or this will indeed be a sorry day in the history of our
Government and our country."

At that instant his private secretary entered, and addressing him he
said:

"Get the Paris telephone switched on. I must speak with the Embassy at
once."

Matters were indeed serious, for while the secretary was 'ringing up,'
his lordship took from a locked drawer a small volume containing the
secret cypher code for despatches, and after consulting it carefully
wrote a long string of figures upon a sheet of paper.

Presently, after the lapse of some ten minutes, and while I still sat
there watching, the secretary announced that they were 'on' to the
Embassy in Paris, and that the First Secretary was awaiting his
lordship.

At once Lord Macclesfield handed his secretary the slip, whereupon the
latter went to the transmitter, and in a clear mechanical voice spoke
the usual formal preface:

"From the Marquis of Macclesfield to Lord Lydhurst, Paris," and
afterwards carefully read out figure after figure with clearness and
distinctness, repeating the message, so that there could be no
possibility of error.

"End," the secretary exclaimed after concluding the unintelligible array
of numerals, and as he hung up the receiver the tiny bell 'rang off.'

Thus, in those few brief seconds had a secret despatch been sent beneath
the sea, and her Majesty's Ambassador in the French capital apprised of
the latest turn of events.

Who could say what were his instructions, or what was contained in that
cypher communication.




CHAPTER VII.--HER MAJESTY'S AMBASSADOR.


A few minutes after the telephonic despatch had been transmitted, his
lordship, still greatly agitated, with his own hand wrote a note to
Scotland Yard, and sent it by one of the messengers who were always in
attendance. Then, when we were alone again, he turned to me, saying:

"The fact that Clunes is dead must remain an entire secret, remember.
Nobody must know. I have given instructions to the police to allow no
word of it to leak out, and if an inquest is necessary it must be held
in such a manner that the press will not know the official position of
the deceased. It is useless to mince matters, therefore I tell you that
this death of poor Clunes is a very grave affair indeed. No effort must
be spared to find that woman," he added.

"His wife, you mean."

"Yes," he said with a heavy look upon his face. He was pacing the room
with fevered steps, and whenever he came within the zone of lamp light I
saw how deadly pale he was.

"Have you any suspicion of her?" I inquired, for I was hesitating
whether I should tell him all I know regarding her. Yet if I did I
should undoubtedly reveal my own ghastly secret. No, I decided to act
with discretion.

"Suspicion!" he echoed, starting involuntarily. "Why?" he asked, quickly
recovering himself. "What cause have I for suspicion? I only saw her
once, at one of the receptions. She seemed a very refined and rather
pretty woman, I thought."

I saw he knew more of her secret history than he intended to reveal,
therefore did not pursue the subject further.

However, in response to his inquiry I related all that had occurred at
Richmond, omitting, of course, all mention of the scene between Judith
and myself.

"Extraordinary!" he ejaculated, when I had finished. "And the doctor has
found no trace of foul play?"

"None."

"Very curious," his lordship repeated thoughtfully. "The incident of the
telegram of excuse is most mysterious. There seems no doubt that he went
out this morning with a fixed purpose. He must have visited somebody,
and with his wife's knowledge, too, for she would no doubt remark his
shabbiness of dress. Again, he must have returned to the house secretly,
for the servants did not know that he had come back."

"He might, of course, have let himself in with his latch-key," I
suggested.

"Ah, yes," he said. "I didn't think of that. Still, the fact remains
that poor Clunes has died in most mysterious circumstances, which,
combined with the statement he made to me, certainly point to foul
play."

"Was there a motive for his assassination, then?" I cried, in quick
surprise.

"Yes," he answered, gravely. "There was."

"Then your theory is that he has been murdered?"

"I have no theories," the quick-witted old statesman responded. "In this
matter we can only deal with facts--and briefly they were these. Gordon
Clunes, as servant of his Queen and his country, was in possession of
certain secret information of a grave and most startling character,
involving the peace of Europe and the discredit of one of the
Powers--which of them I shall not say--so there was every reason why he
should be silenced. You yourself as a diplomatist and a member of the
Secret Service have more than once gained information which, had it been
known to be in your possession, might have cost you your life. Of that
you are quite well aware--eh?"

I nodded. What the world-renowned Minister said was quite correct.

"Well, then," he went on, "our enemies, determined that their secret
should be preserved, have no doubt silenced him--by death."

This argument seemed conclusive enough. I had suspected the dead man's
wife; but his lordship, while desiring to see Judith, apparently
entertained a suspicion that the guilt lay in another quarter.

"But they struck their blow too late--too late," he went on, as if
speaking to himself. "They thought to preserve their secret, but their
unfortunate victim forestalled them, and we are now forearmed. Poor
Clunes," sighed the Premier, "he has died having done his duty
honourably. He is one of the many silent heroes, and will always be
remembered by me as a man who, knowing the risks he ran and the dangers
that surrounded him, acted with manful courage and saved England a war."

"Saved a war?" I echoed. "Was his statement of such value as that?"

"Yes. When he told it to me yesterday I thought it too wildly improbable
to be true, but in the light of to-day's events all is borne out, every
word of it, and I regret having misjudged him. It seems now apparent
that he feared attempts would be made to silence him, yet he acted
promptly and courageously in making that statement to me which has
placed in our hands a weapon against a certain combination of the
Powers.

"But you wished me to hear his statement," I observed. "Had it any
connection with the work before me in Brussels?"

"Yes," he replied, "but in view of this later startling event I have
decided that his story shall remain secret. After all, it is unnecessary
for you to know what is merely a key to certain other matters of which
you have no knowledge."

"Then I am to remain in ignorance of his revelations?" I said,
disappointed, for the mystery has fascinated me.

"Yes," he replied, unhesitatingly. "I have already given you
instructions how to act in Brussels. Follow them, and report to me from
time to time."

Then, with his keen grave eyes fixed upon me, he added earnestly
"Remember, Crawford, that I have every confidence in you, and that your
past services lead me to the hope that in this your efforts will be
crowned with success."

"Then my work in Belgium has a connection with this secret which my poor
friend Clunes learnt so opportunely."

"Yes," he answered, simply. "It has. Beyond that I can tell you
nothing--absolutely nothing."

I had anticipated that his lordship would at least repeat to me the
story he was so anxious that I should hear from my friend's own lips,
and this decision caused me the keenest dissatisfaction. Gordon was my
friend, and I felt myself in duty bound to assist in the elucidation of
the cause of his tragic end. That statement he had made appeared to be
the key to the situation, and without knowledge of it the solution of
the enigma seemed impossible.

I inquired when, under the circumstances, I should leave for Brussels.

"To-morrow," he answered promptly. "Go over and take up your duties at
once. Drummond expects you. I shall see the Director of Criminal
Investigations in the morning, and will explain that you were compelled
to leave London. Therefore you will not be called as witness."

His grey face, looking ghost-like in the shadow where he sat, was
unusually grave, his eyes were fixed thoughtfully upon the table between
us, and I noticed that his hand holding the quill trembled nervously.

"Then I can be of no service in seeking to clear up the mystery of poor
Clunes' death?" I said in a disappointed voice.

"No," he responded promptly. "It must be left to the police. Your duties
lie in another direction. Act with courage and tact, and remember that
your first duty is towards your country and Queen."

"I am not likely to forget that," I answered.

Then, after some further conversation, he rose and dismissed me
courteously. The electric bell rang in the hall, and old Budd opened the
door and bowed me out, while the Minister returned to his work among
that miscellaneous collection of papers and despatches with which his
desk was piled. He was the most methodical of men, and I well knew that
ere he retired to rest that night every single paper would have his
attention and bear his familiar initial.

Next day, according to my orders, I left Charing Cross and arrived in
the Belgian capital the same evening. On awaking on the following
morning I found that here the spring days had come earlier than in
London, the chestnuts and beeches in the long avenues wore their
freshest green, the Boulevards were spick and span, and the streets,
always models of extreme cleanliness, were full of life and movement.
Brussels is a gay, airy, careless counterpart of its sister Paris; for
in it are centered all the gaiety, all the life, all the outdoor freedom
for which the French capital is so notable, yet without that constant
turmoil of the streets which yearly renders the Paris thoroughfares more
and more like those of London.

No city in the whole of Europe is brighter, gayer, or more pleasant than
Brussels in May from the windows of my room in the Place Louise, at the
corner of that magnificent thoroughfare, the Avenue de la Toison d'Or. I
watched the constant procession of fine equipages, chic cyclists,
fours-in-hand, automobiles, and electric trams, as they converged into
the long shady Avenue Louise, on their way to the Bois de la Cambre, one
of the most picturesque woods on the whole Continent. Light and life
were everywhere, for sunshine had come, and the gay-hearted Bruxellois
always welcome the spring time right gladly. Already the weather was
warm and bright, and the foliage of the spreading trees so thick that in
some of the avenues near my abode there were spots where the sunlight
did not penetrate, and it remained gloomy, even at mid-day. In Brussels,
the lively little city where the women are so neat-ankled and chic, and
the men so smart, where the carriages are as well-ordered as those in
the Row at home, and the blackbirds sing in the great trees opposite
one's house, they have indeed brought enjoyment to a fine art. In May it
is undoubtedly a City of Pleasure, with its columns, its fountains, its
leafy, breezy boulevards, its countless cafes, and its gay outdoor life,
while Monsieur le brave Belge, the gay debonnaire of the capital, has
almost forgotten his native Flemish in his tireless pains to acquire a
Parisian accent, pure and undefiled. The city on the Senne has, with
truth, been modeled after the city on the Seine, and with a happy
result.

Indeed, I was not sorry to return to this cheerful, careless city,
pleasant indeed after a wearying life beside the Bosphorus, for I knew
it well, from the venerable Grande Palace where rises the brocaded Hotel
de Ville with its impossible embroidered spire and ancient Guild Houses
opposite, and where the old market-women gossip beneath their big white
umbrellas covering their stalls even to the gilded salon of the pretty
youthful and skittish Baroness de Melreux, of whose escapades Brussels
society is always so fond of whispering, and whose elderly and portly
husband is one of the leading men in the Chamber.

Day after day I bought the London newspapers at the kiosque of the Grand
Hotel and scanned them, eager to see some report of the inquest upon the
body of poor Gordon. Nothing, however, transpired. It was possible, of
course, that the inquiry had been held, and that some false name had
been be stowed upon my unfortunate friend in order to avoid the
attraction of the press. Thousands of inquests are held in London
annually which are never reported in the papers. The list of coroners'
inquiries is bound to be exhibited publicly at the coroner's office
before they are held, but when secrecy is desired the name is very
frequently altered. For example, a nobleman who dies mysteriously is
usually designated by his family name only, his title being omitted; and
the family name being generally a rather common one the vigilant
reporter is almost certain, in journalistic parlance, to 'let it slide.'

In the case of Gordon Clunes, however, Lord Macclesfield had distinctly
told me that he intended to take steps to keep the truth from the
public. Therefore I presumed that the inquest had been held, my
unfortunate friend had been buried, and that Scotland Yard were making
secret inquiries.

What, I wondered, had been the result of the post-mortem? Had death
actually been due to natural causes, or were there signs of foul play?

I longed to write to Inspector Glass at Richmond, but in the
circumstances saw that such communication would be ill-advised. The
police were undoubtedly under strict orders from the Commissioner,
therefore I could learn nothing.

And of Judith, the woman who had fled? What of her?

So the pleasant spring days passed in Brussels, and I remained in entire
ignorance of all that had occurred. Truth to tell, my duties were at
first of a very light character, and after an attendance of an hour or
so each day at the Embassy I usually spent the afternoons in the Bois,
and the evenings at one or other of the gay, brightly-lit cafes down in
the city--the Grand, the Metropole, or the Coronne--where I could sit
out on the pavement, take my after-dinner coffee, smoke, and watch the
passers-by. The theatre possessed but little attraction for me; I
preferred al fresco enjoyment in the evening.

The staff at the British Embassy, that great grey mansion in the Rue de
Spa, was a particularly pleasant one; Giffard, the military attache,
having been an old colleague of mine at Madrid, and Frank Hamilton, the
first secretary, also a friend of long ago. My first interview with my
Chief, Sir John Drummond, had been entirely cordial.

I found him one morning in his bright sunny private room, a tall
well-built man of fifty, with greyish hair, full grey beard, and a face
gentle and kindly. Before him lay the letter Lord Macclesfield had
written regarding my duties, and he welcomed me with pleasant
affability, expressing pleasure at my appointment.

"Here, of course, we have not such heavy duties as they have at Vienna
or Constantinople," he said, "but it appears from this letter of the
Marquess that you are appointed for a special purpose. I presume that
before you left London the whole facts were laid before you?"

"Yes," I replied. "His lordship gave me a full explanation."

"Good," he said. "Of course the utmost discretion and secrecy are
necessary. Here, although actual duties are not so heavy as in the
larger capitals, nevertheless the undercurrents at work are legion, and
diplomacy must be conducted with the utmost finesse. There is war in the
air; and from Brussels, rather than from anywhere else, might emanate
the single spark required to fire the mine. In the case of war we must
preserve the Belgians as our friends. If British soldiers are ever
landed on the continent they must land at Antwerp. Therefore, in view of
all the facts, you see that although you are nominally attached to this
Embassy as a secretary, you have an extremely delicate task to
accomplish. You must solve the mystery in silence, without awakening the
least suspicion of the thousand and one spies who surround us. You are
to have perfect liberty of action, according to this private despatch,
and I trust that you will bring your efforts to a successful issue."

"I hope I shall," I answered. "But has anything further transpired of
late to arouse suspicion or alarm?"

"Russia, France, and Germany have all three sought to combat my efforts
during the past week," he answered, gravely, "and I have suspicion that
a cypher despatch containing the draft of a secret convention has
recently fallen in some inexplicable manner into the hands of those
unknown agents with whom you will have to deal. The situation here is, I
honestly confess, alarming."

"And you will keep me advised of any facts which may come to your
knowledge?" I asked.

"Of course," the Minister replied. He had not mentioned anything of the
strange affair which had taken place in London, and I had hesitated to
broach the subject, for was it not a secret between the Chief and
myself?

The remainder of our conversation was devoted to various technicalities
regarding my secretarial duties, for it had been arranged, in order that
our enemies should not suspect the true reason of my appointment, I
should assume the position of third secretary of Legation.

As I went out I found Giffard, a tall, handsome, dark-eyed Guardsman,
smoking a cigarette on the steps which led down into the courtyard,
beyond which lay the stables and the servants' quarters.

"Well!" he exclaimed. "Seen the Chief?"

"Yes," I responded.

"Good fellow, isn't he? Everybody here gets on famously. No jealousies
or any of that confounded humbug, and as much gaiety as you like. You'll
like Brussels, old chap."

"Yes," I said, "I think I shall." And then at my invitation we went down
to the Boulevard Anspach to lunch.

Giffard was an exceedingly good follow, a thorough type of the merry,
easy-going British cavalry officer, and a great favourite with the
ladies. I had known him for years, and of the whole staff of the
Legation he alone knew the real reason why I had been appointed there.




CHAPTER VIII.--A MASTER STROKE.


To the British public, who are strangely ignorant of the work of our
Embassies and Legations beyond the seas, that of Brussels is usually
considered quite an unimportant one; but if the truth were told the
position of British Minister there is an exceedingly difficult post to
fill, there being quite as many conflicting interests at work as at
Berlin, Paris, or Petersburg.

The Diplomatic Body worked silently, and without seeking to attract any
public attention. Only now and then, at the request of some inquisitive
Member of the Opposition in the House, are despatches on certain matters
published to the world, and then those able to read between the lines
can discern how delicate have been the negotiations, and with what
consummate tact and finesse have they been transacted.

Early one bright sunny morning, after I had been in Brussels some three
weeks, I had taken my cup of black coffee which alone served me as
breakfast, a habit contracted in the East, and strolled out along the
Avenue Louise to the Bois de la Cambre.

It was not much after eight o'clock, nevertheless there were many people
riding and cycling along the broad well-kept roads and shady byways.
When I had formerly lived in Brussels I used to delight in an hour in
the Bois about eight, for the fresh smell of the woods was invigorating,
and the bright green always refreshing. I had not yet started a hack,
but meant to before long. Many smart Belgians were in the saddle,
including a fair sprinkling of officers of higher grade and a few
English residents. Sometimes the King himself takes morning exercise
there on his magnificent roan, but on this occasion he was absent.

I had passed along the end of the lake on the main road, and was
enjoying a cigarette on a seat at a spot where the morning sunshine
shone through the greenery, when suddenly I heard a noise around the
bend of the road, simultaneous with a woman's scream.

A moment later I was in view of the scene, and there saw a young girl
lying in the road with a cycle beside her. An accident had occurred, but
of what nature I knew not. She was alone and helpless. At once I
assisted her to rise, and with difficulty she struggled gasping to her
feet.

"I trust you are not hurt, mademoiselle," I exclaimed concernedly, in
French.

"I--I think not, thank you, m'seur, only shaken--that is all," and she
endeavoured to laugh, but the attempt was a very poor one.

I noticed, however, that her hand was badly grazed and bleeding. In
falling she had put out her hand and slid along upon it.

"But your hand!" I exclaimed, noticing that she was extremely handsome,
a perfect incarnation of grace and beauty, even though her cycling dress
was severely simple--a plain costume of black serge, and a sailor hat
with black band such as English girls affect.

"Yes," she said in fairly good English, holding it up to me. "I've
scratched it. Most annoying, isn't it?"

"You must allow me to bandage it," I urged. "I once went through some
medical courses, so I can fix it up temporarily," and so saying I took
out my handkerchief and folded it.

"Thanks, you are extremely kind," she said as I staunched the blood and
afterwards carefully bandaged the slim, white hand she held forth. "I'm
so much obliged," she exclaimed when, having finished it, I secured it
with a pin she took from her bodice and handed to me. "I was riding
carelessly, and I think my dress must have caught."

"I'm inclined to think," I said, glancing at the road, over which a
water-cart had recently passed, "that your wheel skidded, and thus
caused a side-slip."

Then picking up the cycle I saw that one of the cranks was bent and that
the handles had been knocked awry by the force of the concussion. In
that condition it was impossible for her to ride the machine; therefore
seeing that she had been badly shaken, for she was rather pale and her
hands were trembling, I advised her to rest upon one of the seats;
first, however, brushing the dust from her skirt.

"How kind it is of you to groom me!" she laughed. Then, sinking upon a
seat panting, she examined her bandaged hand with an expression of
dismay.

"Every cyclist must be prepared for falls," I said. "Side-slips like
that cannot be avoided, even by the most expert riders. You might have
been hurt much more badly--broken your arm or leg perhaps. Does your
hand pain you very much?"

"A little, but it is really nothing. I shall bathe it when I get home,
and then it will soon be all right, I hope."

"I hope so," I observed. "In a few days you will be quite ready to ride
again--only don't ride carelessly."

"No," she laughed. "This will certainly be a lesson."

She was a delightful companion, and I was inwardly thankful for the
accident which had resulted in our friendship.

Only one or two stray cyclists passed the spot where we were seated, for
it was an unfrequented part of the Bois. Her dark hair had be come
disarranged by her fall, her straw hat, discoloured by the sun as hats
will become, was dusty, her dress torn at the hem, and with her looked
in sorry plight. I judged her to be about twenty-two. Her face was of
that type of beauty handsome rather than really pretty, with well-cut
features regular and sharply defined, a pair of black eyes in which
shone the sparkling light of buoyant youth, a small well formed mouth,
and a pointed, dimpled chin protruding and giving a piquancy to her
whole face.

She was either a lady--or else a governess. The latter seemed most
probable, judging from her dress. The excellent accent of her English,
had evidently been acquired at some school in England, her French
likewise being Parisian, and not that imitation as spoken by Belgians.
Her dress, extremely simple, seemed well made, and her tiny russet
cycling boots were of fine quality, even though well worn and slightly
down at heel. All these details I noticed as I sat at her side chatting,
while she, on her part, appeared to accept my assistance with an air of
puzzled confusion, which had its culmination in her sudden exclamation
of "What a horrid fright I must look!"

"No, no," I laughed, "it's only the dust. It will all brush off. After a
wash you'll be quite yourself again."

"A wash!" she echoed, laughing. "I feel as if I really ought to have a
bath. I'm horribly dirty. An accident like this is sufficient to cause
one to vow never to mount a cycle again."

"Don't say that," I smiled. "In a week I shall meet you careening along
again. I'm sure I shall."

"Yes," she answered frankly, "perhaps you will, for I'm awfully fond of
cycling. To tell the truth I don't think anything would induce me to
give it up."

"Ah!" I laughed. "I was quite right, you see. Well, the best course is
to take a cab from the gate, and allow me to wheel your cycle home."

"No, I couldn't hear of such a thing, m'sieur," she protested with
graceful dignity. "The cab can carry the cycle. Let us go," and rising
in obedience I wheeled the injured machine to the entrance, while she
walked at my side, now quite calm and recovered from the shock of her
fall.

At the gate we placed the machine upon a cab, and entering the vehicle
she thanked me warmly, gave the cabman an address in the Rue de la
Regence, and then, bowing gracefully and waving her tiny hand in
farewell, drove away, leaving me in wonder as to who she was.

As we proceeded towards the gate I had noticed one well-dressed
middle-aged man riding a chestnut mare raise his hat to her, which she
acknowledged with a bow. The greeting thus exchanged caused me to think
she was an ardent cyclist well known by sight to those in the habit of
taking morning exercise in the Bois.

When her cab had passed out into the Avenue towards the city she turned
back and waved her hand again, then an instant later she became hidden
behind the trees and I saw her no more.

During the remainder of that day I was much puzzled as to whether she
were a governess or a lady. I had that day a report to write upon
certain inquiries I had made in a quarter where it was suspected that
our diplomatic secrets had leaked out to the Embassies of our enemies. I
had already been in Brussels a month, but had discovered absolutely
nothing. The fact of being appointed on secret service is to the
uninitiated synonymous with being appointed a spy, but in the world of
diplomacy a man loses no dignity by seeking to serve his country by
secret means.

As in love and war, so also in diplomacy all means are fair to secure
one's end. War is always within the bounds of possibility, and it is
only by careful and diligent diplomacy that the colossal armies and
navies of Europe are prevented from coming into collision. English men
and women at home little realise this, and are too fond of relying for
their safety upon their insular impregnability without taking into
consideration the fact that in case of successful invasion our islands
might be starved out within a week. Never in the history of the world
has the outlook in Europe been so black as it now is; never has the
position of the Powers been so absolutely desperate. Surely the recent
Fashoda incident has shown this even to the most sceptical.

As I sat writing in the secretary's room of the Embassy the hall-porter
brought me the letters which had just been delivered by the postman, for
every letter, either private or official, now passed through my hands
before being opened. I placed down my pen, and when the man had gone
took from a drawer a microscope, beneath which I placed the ends of each
envelope one after another.

To the naked eye there was nothing to show that they and been tampered
with, but when beneath the lens it was apparent how from each a tiny
slip of a sixteenth of an inch wide had been cut off the end of the
envelope by a guillotine for that purpose, thus opening it and after the
contents had been examined they had been replaced and the open end
re-secured by paper-pulp of exactly the same shade as the envelope
operated upon. Thus the seals and gum remained intact.

Every one of those letters had been through the cabinet noir.

Just then Hamilton entered, rather hot and hurried. He was a
fair-moustached, open-faced man of about forty, who had made his mark in
the diplomatic service, and expected to be appointed shortly to St
Petersburg. I passed over the letters to him, observing that they had
all been opened.

"Scoundrels," he cried in savage wrath. "Nothing is sacred from them.
Not content with tampering with the official correspondence, they must
even pry into one's family affairs. It's simply disgraceful."

"No doubt our friends in Paris and Petersburg are at the bottom of it
all," I observed. "As you well know, there's a conspiracy to isolate
England."

"By heaven. And they are doing it too," he said. "Have you seen the
private despatch which came by special messenger from the Marquess this
morning?"

"No," I answered, "I haven't seen Sir John to-day. What's it about?"

"It's tone is extremely serious," he answered "It's briefly this. The
whole of the secret correspondence between the King and Sir John
regarding the secret agreement between England and Belgium, which we
transmitted to London for the Marquess's instructions, is missing."

"Missing," I echoed, rising from my chair. "Impossible."

"But it's unfortunately the truth, and we are in a deucedly awkward fix.
Sir John is at his wits' end. The despatch only arrived at noon, and
Hammerton, the messenger, is awaiting a reply."

"How can it be missing?" I asked. "I remember seeing you take up all the
letters into a packet and seal them the day before yesterday. The
messenger Graves came from Paris expressly, and took them to London."

"Certainly," he said. "I placed them in the despatch-box myself and Sir
John locked it with his key after having placed several other private
papers along with them."

"And afterwards?"

"Graves went away to the station in Sir John's brougham, as there was no
cab in the vicinity, and he travelled straight to London. It appears that
he arrived at six and drove first to Downing street and then to
Grosvenor-square, but when the Marquess opened the despatch-box it was
empty."

"Empty," I gasped. "Then they've actually got possession of the original
letters written by King Leopold, as well as Sir John's suggestions.
There's no denying them. Why," I cried in alarm, "the tone of that
correspondence is sufficient to cause an immediate declaration of war
against us by France and Russia. Certainly this coup is the master
stroke of our enemies."

"It is, my dear fellow, and a very serious business for us. Sir John
goes to London to-night to consult the chief."

"And the King?" I said. "Does he know?"

"Sir John has already sent to inform him. I fear to think how angry he
will be, for it has placed him in a false position with the Powers. The
whole thing is exposed. England's policy is entirely checkmated, and her
prestige absolutely ruined in the eyes of Europe."

"But if we only could recover that packet?" I suggested.

"Ah, if we only could," exclaimed Hamilton. "By Jove it would be the
nation's salvation! But the letters are in Paris by this time, no doubt,
and a copy of the correspondence on its way to Petersburg. Our enemies
never do anything by halves."

"How the papers could be extracted from the despatch-box is an absolute
marvel," I said. "Does any suspicion rest upon Graves?"

"None, as far as is known," he responded. "Why, my dear fellow, he's one
of the most trusted of the whole staff of messengers, and as sharp as
the proverbial needle. He's been nearly twenty years travelling with
despatches and has never before lost a single one. According to the
letter from the Marquess, who has personally investigated the affair, he
finds that no suspicion whatever attaches to Graves. He believes that
the papers must have been stolen somewhere on this side of the Channel."

"Well, I saw you with my own eyes seal them and put them into the box,"
I remarked, amazed.

"Oh, there's no doubt whatever that they left us, but how they
disappeared afterwards is a complete mystery."

"A mystery which we shall have to solve," I added, thoughtfully. "This
theft is about the most daring in the annals of diplomacy. It could not
have been committed at a more inopportune moment."

As, however, I uttered these words the door of the room was suddenly
flung open wide by Salmon, the blue-uniformed English porter, who, in a
loud clear voice, announced--

"His Majesty the King!"

We both rose instinctively, and there entered a tall, thin,
sharp-featured man with long grey heard. He was attired in close-fitting
black frock-coat and grey suede gloves, and walked erect, carrying his
silk hat and cane in his hand.

We bowed in the Royal presence, and although his pale face was unusually
wrinkled and care-worn he returned our greeting with a courtly
affability, motioning us to be reseated.

"I have an appointment with Sir John," he said in English, briefly "I
will wait," and then, with a sigh which showed how troubled were his
thoughts, he sank into the armchair I placed for him.

True it was that this monarch's life was not, as was popularly supposed,
an unvarying round of pleasure. As he sat there silent and a trifle
thoughtful, gazing out into the sunny courtyard where his fine horses
were champing their bits and pawing, impatient to be gone, he retained a
truly regal self-possession. Few, indeed, would have guessed the truth.
But it was a hideous one.

His crown and kingdom were at stake.




CHAPTER IX.--AT THE STATE BALL.


There was no disguising the fact that the British Empire, the pride of
the world, was in deadly peril.

Day by day went by, yet to our surprise the situation in Europe remained
undisturbed. I paid a flying visit to London to make further inquiries
regarding the theft, but soon returned. At the Royal Palace, as at the
Embassy and at Downing Street, the few who knew of the theft awaited the
dawn of each succeeding day with trembling anxiety, fearing lest the
explosion so long threatened should occur. To the last button upon the
gaiter Europe was armed, not with the arms of twenty-six years ago when
France measured strength with Germany, but with quick-firing guns,
Maxims, rifles of astounding length of range, and all kinds of
inventions for causing widespread desolation and loss of human life. War
was terrible enough in the days of Sedan and Plevna, but all know that
its horrors would now be far greater.

Yet in that period of suspense, although King Leopold and his Ministers
knew themselves to be on the edge of a volcano, the festivities of the
Belgian Court never slackened. Only perhaps a dozen people were aware of
the theft of that file of secret correspondence, and any countermanding
of previous fetes would have given rise to comment.

Every inquiry I had made produced only negative results. I had
questioned Graves, the messenger, closely, and he had asserted that the
despatch-box had never left his hand after it had been given him by
Hamilton. The file of papers had disappeared as if by magic. In every
effort I was baffled by the fact that no suspicion could possibly rest
upon Graves, a man who for years had carried the nation's secrets in his
safe keeping.

In an anxious, despondent frame of mind, I one night, accompanied by
Giffard, attended the State Ball at the Palace, a function at which all
of us were expected to be present. Our party, headed by Sir John and
Lady Drummond, the former wearing his star of St. Michael and St.
George, were received by the Royal pair at the head of the grand
staircase with its magnificent marbles and statuary, and as we passed
in, the great ballroom with its thousand electric lamps presented a
particularly brilliant scene. The various uniforms, sparkling orders,
and multi-coloured decorations contrasted well with the toilettes of the
ladies, and the show of diamonds, for which the Belgian Court functions
have long been notable, was unusually profuse, British diplomatic
uniforms are, however, the reverse of showy, and a Portuguese
vice-consul is always a more bejewelled, decorated, and imposing-looking
person than a British Ambassador.

Among them all, however, few men looked so smart as did my companion
Giffard in his Guards uniform, wearing the violet ribbon and cross which
the Emperor Francis Joseph had conferred upon him, a duplicate of which
I also wore. Around us were many people we knew, the Russian Minister in
his imposing white tunic, and glittering with orders, the French and
German attaches, to whom we were always courteous but never very
friendly, and the Turkish Minister, a little squat brown-faced man in
black embroidered coat and dingy fez.

The magnificent band of the Guides, one of the finest in Europe, were
playing Strauss's 'Morgenblatter' valse, and many dancers were gliding
around the great chamber in centre of the brilliant crowd. There was
gaiety, brightness, and laughter everywhere. On every side was a
ceaseless chatter in French, with now and then an expression in English
or German, for those assembled were nothing if not thoroughly
cosmopolitan, and it may safely be said that there are few in the Court
circle in Brussels who cannot speak English. Together, Giffard and I
passed on towards the top of the room, bowing here and there to ladies
in decollete leaning on the arms of their cavaliers, or nodding and
exchanging words with men we knew.

Suddenly there was a pause in the music as the valse ended, then a
slight stir among the crowd.

"The Royal circle have entered," Giffard remarked, and as I turned I saw
at some distance from me the tall imposing figure of the King, his face
smiling and bearing no trace of the terrible anxiety which I knew must
be consuming him within. These men, the ambassadors of the Powers, whose
hands he had shaken in welcome that night were his most bitter and
deadly enemies. To-night they laughed gaily with him, and partook of his
boundless hospitality, yet he well knew that they were conspiring to
take from him his crown, and wreck the kingdom he loved so well.

I gave word to my thoughts in a whisper to Giffard, but in response he
said:

"Hush, old fellow! Keep silent. It wouldn't do for you to be overheard."

"Of course not," I said, then I fell to thinking as I gazed around upon
that brilliant assembly, where the women blazed with gems, and the men
wore their full decorations upon their breasts.

I had attended many an Imperial function in Vienna, and many a reception
at the Palace at Madrid; but never had I been present at a ball where
was displayed such a wealth of jewels, or where the women were on the
whole so good-looking.

Some of the ladies were well known to me, for a Secretary of Embassy is
very quickly in society, and to many of them I chatted after Giffard had
left me to dance with the pretty daughter of the Minister of
Agriculture, a fair-haired young lady whom I had detected on more than
one occasion flirting desperately with him.

I was seated with the pink and white, fluffy-haired Baroness de Meireux,
whose historic pearl necklet was being admired, perhaps coveted, by most
women in the room, gossiping and watching the dancers, when suddenly on
the opposite side of the polished space where the Lancers were in
progress my eyes encountered a striking figure in turquoise blue. She
was standing in conversation with a couple of elderly ladies when, as
she suddenly turned her face towards me, I was amazed to recognise her.

She had not noticed me, and was slowly waving her large ostrich feather
fan to and fro, chatting with the elder of her two companions. Her
toilette was certainly one of the most beautiful and striking in the
room, its tints suiting her dark complexion admirably, and its facture
of the latest mode garnished with silver passementerie and tiny ruches
of chiffon. Across her white open brow was a magnificent tiara of
diamonds, and around her throat a beautiful necklet of the same gems
sparkled beneath the electric rays with a thousand iridescent fires. Her
dark well-coiled hair had been arranged by a maid of the first order;
there were diamonds on her wrists, and everyone about me was remarking
her beauty.

For a long time my eyes were riveted upon her, to make certain that I
was not mistaken, and to reassure myself that it was more than a mere
striking resemblance. Then, when at last I became satisfied, I sat
gazing upon her in blank amazement.

"Do you know who that is, over there, in blue?" I asked of my friend the
skittish Baroness, for in Brussels society she knew everybody.

"Of course," she answered, in English. "She's awfully smart and
good-looking, isn't she. Don't you know her? Oh, but of course you were
not in Brussels last season," she added. "She's Melanie, daughter of the
Princess Charlotte of Hapsbourg. That's her mother, the rather stout
woman talking to her now."

"Then she's a Princess of blood royal!" I exclaimed, absolutely
dumbfounded.

"Certainly," answered the Baroness. "Her mother is a Hohenzollern, you
know; and they are here on a visit to the Queen. The Princess Melanie is
certainly very handsome, but she has all the pride of the Hapsbourgs,
and makes very few friends. As for the men, she gives them all their
conge--all, save one," she added, dropping her voice to a whisper, and
smiling significantly.

"And who's he?" I asked quickly; for in her I took more than a passing
interest.

"Oh! a mere nobody," she answered. "Last season when they were here
there were lots of funny stories about. They say she is fond of escaping
from the royal circle of an evening, and going out for walks with her
cavalier; and then there have been a good many scenes created in the
family because of her penchant for this fellow."

I looked up again at the striking figure in turquoise, whom everyone was
admiring, and wondered whether she remembered that morning in the Bois,
when I had brushed the dust from her skirt and bandaged up her hand.

How different was her appearance now--the centre and admired of all that
throng, one of the most dazzlingly brilliant in the whole of Europe. I
recollected her rather shabby cycling skirt, her straw hat, which had
been discoloured by the suns of the previous season, and her boots worn
until they had gone out of shape, and contrasted them with the erect,
rather haughty figure before me; the costly Paris-made gown, with its
smart decollete, and the flashing tiara against her dark hair.

I recollected how so unaffected had she seemed when we had met after her
accident that I actually set her down as a governess, whereas she was
none other than a Princess of the great and powerful House of
Hapsbourg--the proudest house in Europe.

Her beauty fascinated me. I sat there gazing at her as one held beneath
a spell.

As a rule, I fear I am not very impressionable where women are
concerned. My profession as diplomatist has brought me in contact with
many women of dazzling beauty, but at the Embassies it is part of our
creed never to fall victim to a woman's loveliness; never to become the
slave of any of those capricious butterflies of fashion who are so fond
of angling after the foreign diplomat. All this was impressed upon me by
the kindly Marquess prior to my first appointment abroad. It was part of
his wise counsel how to conduct diplomacy successfully.

Of course, just as it is part of a diplomat's creed not to love, it is
also part of his creed to flirt desperately should occasion require.
There are times when the young attache can gain valuable information
withheld from his chief through the brainless woman whom he flatters,
and with whom he affects to be desperately in love. Indeed, in all the
Embassies abroad love plays a greater part in international negotiations
than is ever dreamed of by the public.

I think that I, like certain of my colleagues, had succeeded in bringing
flirtation near to the perfection of an art, and when I recollected
certain escapades in Vienna, where by an affectation of affection I had
been successful in gaining some exceedingly valuable information
regarding the political undercurrent, and remembered how near a duel I
had been on more than one occasion I smiled within myself.

But at this moment I confess to a very serious affair of the heart. That
dark-haired, neatly dressed girl who had had such a nasty spill from her
cycle, had captivated me by her grace, her beauty, and her natural
outspokenness. I saw now why she would not allow me to wheel her cycle
home. She did not wish the world to know that she had had a fall in the
Bois, being aware how fond the papers are of giving publicity to all
sorts of alarming reports. It was her natural discretion which led her
to refuse my further aid. Yet had she not turned in the cab, and with
laughing, mischievous eyes waved her hand to me in farewell.

The Baroness at my side was chattering away, now and then whimpering
behind her fan some scandal or other about those who passed by, but I
only replied mechanically. I was too much occupied with my own
reflections to heed the chatter of this, one of the giddiest and
smartest leaders of fashion.

I wondered whether I should salute this woman who had so fascinated me,
or whether I should preserve strict etiquette, and wait until she
recognised me. This was the question which sorely puzzled me. If she saw
me and desired to renew the acquaintance, she would surely speak, I
argued. If not, then she would cut me dead, and I should know that she
wished the secret of her accident preserved.

At length, a mutual acquaintance, Count Corrigani, of the Italian
Legation, came up and commenced to chat with the Baroness, whereupon I
seized the opportunity and strolled away in the direction of where my
friend of the Bois was standing, now in conversation with the Queen of
the Belgians and her unmarried daughter, the Princess Clementine, a
pretty dark-haired girl of 19 who had only lately been admitted to such
functions, and who, truth to tell, was more at home on her pony in the
leafy glades at Spa than among that bejewelled throng with its ceaseless
chatter and combined odour of a thousand intoxicating perfumes.

For some time I lounged about, exchanging words with those I knew and
dancing a couple of waltzes with a smart woman to whom I had been
introduced by Hamilton, and who I understood was to be the wife of the
ex-Governor General of the Congo. Through all that time, however, I kept
surreptitious observation upon that tall figure in turquoise with the
diamond tiara which flashed back every colour of the spectrum. She was
surrounded by admirers, but refused all invitations to dance. The King
and the Archduchess Stephanie had led the cotillon, and according to
strict etiquette that was sufficient. At no Court, save that of Spain
perhaps, is etiquette so rigorously preserved as at Brussels, and
perhaps, alas! no reigning family is more unfortunate in its matrimonial
alliances than that of Belgium.

At length, when I saw my divinity with only a single lady at her side,
the wife of the German Minister, I hastened across and leisurely passed
her, hoping that she might recognise me and bow. I had resolved not to
commit such a flagrant breach of etiquette as to claim acquaintance with
her. Idly and with affected carelessness I therefore strode past, when
just as I got level with her she raised her dark eyes from those of her
companion and looked me straight in the face. I expected each second
that she would bow; but in her gaze was no glance of recognition, only a
cold haughty stare of askance, as though she had noticed I had watched
her, and was annoyed that I should approach her in that manner.

No, she evidently did not intend to recognise me. There was no excuse
whatever, because she looked full into my face with her great dark eyes,
a glance firm, cold, unwavering. She had cut me dead. My heart sank with
me, for she was my idol, and her perfect beauty, enhanced by those
dazzling jewels, held me captive. Thus I passed on, and it was a long
while before I summoned courage to again look in her direction, fearing
lest she might consider me an uncouth boor. When, however, I did, I saw
her still chatting with the buxom lady who presided over the German
Legation, and smiling at some words the latter had uttered.

Then I passed into the lounge set apart for men, swallowed a glass of
champagne, smoked a cigarette--the cigarettes King Leopold gives to his
guests are, as every diplomatist knows, the best in Europe--and joined
in the cosmopolitan chatter of a dozen or so of the diplomatic body more
or less known to me.

For a long time I lingered in the galleries, and it was nearly an hour
before I returned to the ballroom, where I found the function at its
height. An old minuet had been performed, and everybody was discussing
it, when, ere I became aware of the fact, I came face to face with my
dark-haired divinity in blue, who seated alone on a settee suddenly
recognised me, smiled graciously, and bowed.

My heart leapt for joy. She had by this action given me permission to
speak.




CHAPTER X.--HER HIGHNESS'S CONFIDENCE.


In an instant I halted, and bowing, said,--

"I trust that your Highness's hand has given you no further trouble."

"Oh, dear, no," she answered in perfect English, smiling, at the same
time drawing her rich skirts towards her to make room for me on the
settee at her side. Then she added "Thanks to the professional manner in
which you bandaged it. The doctor was quite interested when I showed it
to him. Won't you be seated?"

I accepted her invitation, and told her of my surprise on recognising
her an hour before.

"I was also surprised to meet you here. I had no idea that you were
attached to the British Legation before I inquired. Therefore, please
forgive me for not recognising you at first."

"There is nothing to forgive," I laughed.

"Sometimes one has to be wary in recognising strangers," she said in
further explanation. "Immediately I discovered who you were I was
annoyed that I had treated you so coldly."

"A princess has many privileges not extended to others," I remarked.

"And alas! m'sieur, she is also under very many disadvantages of which
the world knows nothing," she added, in a voice of pouting discontent,
raising her fine eyes to mine. "There is nothing I love so much as
perfect freedom; yet unfortunately I obtain so very, very little of it,
hedged in as I am by Court etiquette, and a constant fear that those
gossiping journalists, ever ready to exaggerate, may make a lot of
tittle-tattle to fill up their personal columns."

"You are fond of cycling?" I asked smiling. Her confession was so
perfectly frank that I at once discredited the Baroness's estimate of
her.

"Yes, awfully. I love it," she declared. "It is because I am so fond of
it that I rise every morning at five, put on my old dress, and go for a
spin in the Bois. One of the keepers who is in the secret has charge of
my cycle. Unnoticed by anybody I take the first tram from the Place
Royale at half-past five, and with work-people as fellow travellers,
arrive at the Bois just before six. And then--well, I am free to ride
about just as I like, and I can tell you I really enjoy myself. It is
such fun. Between six and eight, before the merchants and others come to
take their morning ride, the sun is beautiful, and all is so quiet and
and fresh with the birds singing gladly, so different to when we go
driving there at four among the dust, and the carriages, and the gaping
crowd. The drive at four is regulated by Society--ugh!" and she shrugged
her shoulders, causing the brilliants of the beautiful star of some
Imperial decoration fixed on the broad crimson ribbon across the edge of
her bodice to glitter and gleam.

The splendour of those jewels bewildered me; but far more beautiful was
that face which had so relaxed in its haughty expression now that we
were together. She was entirely ingenuous and inexpressibly charming.

"Yes," I said, reflectively, "the trammels must sometimes be galling."

"They are especially so when one's family is bent upon preserving the
old rigour of past exclusiveness. Why, the heads of my family would
expire with horror were they to know that I rode a cycle and went alone
and unattended into a public park. It was because I did not know you,
and feared that you might gossip about my accident, that I preserved my
incognita, and declined to allow you to further assist me, or to know
where I resided."

"Your Highness must exercise the greatest care," I remarked warningly.
"Others may recognise you."

"How can they," she asked. "Why--I've gone there every morning for the
past month, and the secret has never leaked out. My mother does not even
know I possess such an abomination as a cycle," and she laughed that
same merry, mischievous laugh which I remembered had escaped her when on
that morning she bade me adieu and drove away.

"But I noticed that as we were leaving the Bois together more than one
man bowed to you," I said.

"Oh yes," she laughed. "They are of the liver brigade--who take horse
exercise every morning. We have met each morning passing and repassing,
and now we salute, although we have never spoken. But tell me," she
added, "who told you my name?"

"The Baroness de Melreux," I answered.

"Ah! yes, I know her," she observed, after a second's reflection, and I
thought her lips compressed ever so little, yet quite sufficient to tell
me that they were not friends. Indeed, it would have been strange to
find a princess of the proud House of Hapsbourg friendly with the gay,
skittish little Baroness of whom all Brussels was so fond of talking.

"And has m'sieur been in Brussels long?" she asked, as if determined to
ascertain something more about me.

"Only a couple of months," I replied. "Previously I was at
Constantinople, and before that at Vienna."

"At Vienna?" she echoed. "Strange that we have never met there. I do not
remember ever having seen you at the Palace."

"Nor I," I answered. "Yet I went to many of the receptions."

"And you like Brussels?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied. "I'm fond of it because it is always so bright, gay,
and careless, without any bustle and turmoil. Here one can be gay or
tranquil just as one likes. It is not so in Paris, in Berlin, or in
Vienna."

"And I, too, am extremely fond of Brussels," she answered. "Next to our
home on the Moselle I like Brussels best of all. Do you know the
Moselle?"

"Yes. I travelled up there once. It is delightful--very."

At that instant I recollected how at sunset one evening I had passed on
the snorting little steamer close to the great frowning cliff whereon
was perched the magnificent many-turreted, time-worn old pile the
Sohloss Brandenberg, the historic home of the Hapsbourgs, the windows of
which had flashed back the crimson rays of the sun. Of all the castles
on the Rhine or Moselle none was so magnificent in its proportions, so
well preserved, or so full of romance of those bygone days when the
Archbishop of Treves and his legions terrorised the district, when
castles were invested and sacked, and men and women put to the torture
or exhibited in iron cages upon the now crumbling turrets.

"Yes," she said, "the Moselle valley, and, indeed, all the district
surrounding it, is very charming. I love it partly because it is my
home, but more because there alone can I obtain perfect freedom. I can
drive about, go boating, or take rambles over the hills without meeting
a soul save perhaps a stray English tourist from Cochem or Treves, and
by them I am not recognised. Indeed, my maid always says that a serge
dress and a sailor hat make me look quite English. Do you think so?"

"Certainly," I responded, laughing. "To tell you the truth I believed
you were English when we first met the other day."

"Lots of people have said so," she answered, smiling. "One day at
Brandenberg I had been out walking alone all the morning, for I was
doing some amateur photography, and became terribly thirsty. So on coming
to a little village I entered the inn for some milk and there found two
young Englishmen, who, speaking German rather indifferently, were
endeavouring to make the good woman understand their needs. At last I
was obliged to assist them, and after thanking me they went out. Then
when they got outside I heard one say to the other. 'No, I tell you
she's English governess to some German family here.' I was awfully
amused."

I laughed, recollecting that my own opinion had also coincided with that
of the unknown Englishmen.

"I've heard much of the wonders of Brandenberg--its dungeons,
subterranean passages, and strange galleries hewn out of the solid
rock," I said. "It must be a marvellous old place."

"Yes, it is beautiful. No happier life does one wish to lead in summer
than there, free from all the formalities of Court, and the worries of
constant dressing, receiving visitors, dining, and never having an hour
to one's self. On the Moselle all is so quiet, so tranquil, so bright
and healthy, that it comes as a pleasant relaxation to us, worn out by a
season in London, Berlin, or Vienna.

"Other people go to the Baths or the sea side, but we can't, for freedom
of life at a popular resort is impossible. Only in the quiet country can
we obtain it, and then I for one enjoy it to its full." And her dark
brilliant eyes, so full of enthusiasm, sparkled gleefully as she spoke.

Who, I wondered, was this mysterious lover of hers of whom the Baroness
had spoken? Could it be possible that the real motive of her going each
morning so early to those leafy glades was in order to meet him?

"And you don't cycle at Brandenberg?" I asked.

"Dear me, no!" she answered, holding up her hand with a look of horror.
"I dare not let anyone know that I have a cycle. On the morning of my
accident I took it at once to a repairer's, and it's still there. You
know my secret. I rely on you not to mention it to anyone."

"Of course not," I replied, flattered by her highness's confidence. "I
promise not to utter a single word."

"Ah, I knew you would be chivalrous," she exclaimed, gaily.

"I would like very much indeed to exhibit a further chivalry, if I
might?" I said, emboldened by her freedom of manner.

She glanced sharply at me with a puzzled expression.

"I don't quite understand," she exclaimed.

"Permission to cycle in the Bois on the next morning your highness goes
there would delight me," I explained.

"Certainly," she answered, slightly inclining her head with an infinite
grace. "I have no objection whatever. Of course, if any of your friends
notice you you'll not tell them who I am."

Her answer filled me with enthusiasm. It showed that she, a princess of
the blood royal, was not averse to my companionship. Cautious lest she
should commit an error of etiquette and give offence to her proud
family, she was nevertheless plain, honest, outspoken, and charming,
modest and unassuming like any ordinary woman, and fond of throwing off
the constant exclusiveness with which every member of a royal family
must of necessity be enveloped. That she could be cold, haughty, and
disdainful I had already witnessed; so also had I seen that she could be
communicative and confidential. Yes, she was a princess, and unique.

The whirl of the dance passed before us, the perfumed skirts of the
dancers whisking now and then into our faces, yet I heeded them not. I
sat beside her, spellbound by her beauty. In that brief half-hour while
we had talked I had cast aside my creed as a diplomatist; I had cast to
the winds all my foolish vows regarding women.

I loved her. Yes, I confess openly that I loved her.

Yet when I reflected, even while she chatted on unconcernedly, I saw how
absurd it all was, how utterly foolish was my infatuation. Had I been a
youthful sprig of the aristocracy fresh from the Foreign Office, and
pitchforked into diplomacy by family influence, it might have been
understood; but of me, well seasoned by 10 years of Court life, and a
member of the Secret Service of her Majesty to boot, such a thing was
utterly ridiculous.

I told myself all this. I argued with myself that while she was a
princess of royal blood, I was merely a diplomatist, not very high up in
the service, and a little matter of 10,000 in my bank in London was all
I possessed in the world. Nevertheless, love over-rode all my
misgivings. The magnetic influence of those bright dark eyes, the
brilliance of which outmatched even the glittering tiara on her brow,
held me to her. Yes, I was irretrievably her slave.

Again the recollection of those words of the Baroness arose within me.
They implied that she had a secret lover--one who, like myself, she
dared not acknowledge before the world. Was that, I wondered, the actual
truth? Did this man, whoever he might be, possess her heart? One thing
at least was certain, that she did not meet him in the mornings in the
Bois, or she would not have so readily granted me permission to cycle
with her.

She might, however, meet him at night. That was, I thought, more
probable. She could pass unrecognised along those dimly-lit leafy
boulevards down which the electric trams flash so quickly, and where, in
the centre walk, an ideal promenade for lovers, but little light
penetrates after nightfall. I glanced again at her face, flawless in its
beauty. It was impossible for a woman of her loveliness to have no
accepted admirer.

And then a strange, half-dreamy thought crossed my mind. Could I some
day in the future induce her to transfer her affections to me instead?
That was the height of my ambition. In future I would live only for her,
for I honestly and truly loved her.

Suddenly looking into my eyes with that same open frank expression that
was so charming, she said with a smile:

"You have not invited me to dance, m'sieur. Why?"

"I--well, I did not think you would care to dance with me," I stammered.

"Why?" she laughed, rising at the same moment. "I shall be delighted. As
you did not invite me I have invited myself. Will you forgive me?"

"Certainly," I replied, amused at her frankness of manner, and a few
moments later we were gliding together down the room. She was a
magnificent dancer, but I fear I cut a horrible figure, for I felt that
every eye of that brilliant crowd was fixed upon us, and I thought I
detected comments as we passed. With my hand upon her waist, slim in its
well made corset, I saw beneath my eyes her delicate white chest heaving
and falling as she breathed. Her face flushed slightly with the
exertion, but by its expression I saw how thorough was her enjoyment.
From her chiffons there exhaled a subtle perfume of jasmine which filled
my nostrils and held me in a kind of delightful half-delirium. Indeed, I
have little remembrance of the details of that dance with the lovely
woman who had entranced me. All I recollect is that after two turns
round the great ballroom she declared that the heat had made her
thirsty, and suggested that we should go together to the buffet.

She took my arm, and I was about to lead her to the place wherein I had
entered an hour before; but she suggested another buffet on the opposite
side of the ballroom, the existence of which I had been unaware. On our
way we encountered Giffard, who stood staring at me transfixed in
wonder, amazed no doubt at witnessing who was my companion. I knew that
when we met later he would put me through a pretty stiff
cross-examination regarding my acquaintance with her, and I wondered
what I should say.

The buffet proved to be a kind of Moorish lounge, a great place, rather
dimly lit, with hanging lamps of beaten brass, carpeted with thick
Eastern rugs, decorated with heavy crimson and gold, and full of tiny
inviting-looking alcoves, in one of which we ensconced ourselves,
whereupon a livered servant at once approached, asking--

"What may I get your Royal Highness? Champagne-cup?"

"Ah, no!" she exclaimed. "Get me a little anisette and ice-water."

I ordered something, I forget what, and then we resumed our pleasant
chat. There were but few people in our vicinity, and sitting there in
the dim half-light it suddenly occurred to me that anyone discovering us
would at once accuse us of flirtation. In the tiny alcove she lolled
lazily among the soft silken cushions, laughing low as she sipped her
anisette. Her tiny foot with its satin shoe was stretched forth upon the
dark rug, and one white-gloved hand she had placed behind her head in an
attitude of langour.

Here, she seemed to have thrown off that stiffness and restraint which
she had been forced to preserve in the ballroom, and once I thought I
detected just the slightest suspicion of a sigh. Our gossip was mainly
about people in Brussels whom we both knew, until of a sudden she
asked--

"Have you known the Baroness de Melreux long?"

"About four years, I think."

"Ah! before her marriage," she said quickly. "And you are her friend?"
She uttered that query with a hardness of tone which sounded very
strange. She seemed to lay undue stress upon the word 'friend.'

"Well, not exactly," I said. "We are not very intimate friends. I knew
her in Vienna. She used very often to be there with her mother."

"Yes, yes, I know," she said, with a strange note of impatience in her
voice. "I fear, however, she's not my friend."

"Well, no one takes her seriously," I observed. "Her character is rather
too well known."

"But people are apt to regard idle gossip as containing some substratum
of truth," she answered, and then there flashed upon my recollection the
allegation of the Baroness that she had a secret lover. Was she now
trying to warn me against giving credence to any libellous utterances?

"To the chatter of such a woman no one gives heed," I assured her.

But she only shook her head doubtfully, observing--

"There are some women whose tongues are full of venom."

"Yet those who are invulnerable need have no fear," I added.

She sighed, and a deep shadow of pain crossed her brow. Only, however,
for an instant. Then in the dim light I saw those brilliant dark eyes
fixed upon mine with a strange earnestness that puzzled me.

"We have not yet fixed our meeting for cycling," I said at last, for
want of something else to say.

"To-morrow morning, if you will," she answered, quickly interested.
"Shall we say at six, just at the entrance to the Bois where the trams
stop?"

"Yes," I responded. "I shall be extremely delighted." At that instant,
however, the tall figure of a man in plain evening dress came suddenly
into view. He walked along slowly, with his hands behind his back and
his head slightly bent as if in thought. He trod the thick rugs
noiselessly, but so dim was the light that above the white of his
shirt-front I could not clearly distinguish his features. That he was
beyond the average height was plain, and he was rather slim; while from
the squareness of his shoulders I guessed that he had not yet attained
middle age.

Slowly he approached, a dark silent figure displaying a wide expanse of
starched shirt-front, and as he drew near to us I was suddenly amazed to
notice a look of unspeakable fear in my companion's fathomless eyes. Her
white-gloved hand instinctively sought mine, and trembled as it grasped
my wrist. Her face was pale as death.

She shrank back into the deeper shadow of the alcove beside me as if to
hide herself, breathless, trembling, terrified.




CHAPTER XI.--WILES AND WISDOM.


I sat next morning on one of the chairs just inside the entrance to the
Bois, awaiting the dark-eyed woman who held me beneath her invincible
charm. In the bright sunshine the birds sang joyously, the air was still
fresh with that sweet odour of the woods, and as yet none of the morning
riders had arrived. From where I sat I could see far down the leafy
avenue leading to the city, and as yet there was no sign of the first
electric tram which would bear her to me. I had ridden up on my cycle,
which now stood on the roadside, and as I sat there I reflected deeply
upon the strange events of the previous night. A few brief hours ago,
and I had been unaware of my dainty little friend's name and station;
while now I was there awaiting her, having received her permission to
act as her escort. I recollected how truly regal was her figure with
that magnificent tiara flashing in the light, how every woman and man in
the room had looked admiringly upon her and commented in undertones upon
her great beauty as she passed, and I remembered, too, how utterly
unassuming she had been towards me, treating me, a struggling
diplomatist, exactly as she would have done her equal. She had even
confided in me. Indeed, was I not in possession of one of her secrets?
She had allowed me to become her friend.

The one fact, however, which had puzzled me, and caused me much
speculation as I lay in bed during the couple of hours or so I had spent
at home, was the reason of her strange fear on the approach of that tall
man who had passed us in the lounge so noiselessly, and disappeared as
quickly as though he were a shadow. Times without number I strove to
form within myself some idea of his personal appearance, but without
avail. It had been so dark in there, where only those Moorish oil-lights
in their long globes illuminated the place dimly, that his face had been
merely a dark blotch in the silhouette as he went by. His white
shirt-front had been conspicuous--nothing else. Again, while all were in
uniform or court dress, this man was dressed quite plainly, without a
single decoration save some cross or other suspended by a ribbon beneath
his cravat. It was a dark ribbon, I had noticed, but what the order was
I could form no idea.

From her sudden fear it was evident that this stranger's appearance had
been utterly unexpected. She had been unnerved in an instant, and as he
passed she had sat with her hand on mine involuntarily, as though
seeking my protection from some evil which she dreaded.

Yet he had passed us by. Whether he had recognised her I know not. If he
did he made no sign, but passed on in the same serious pensive attitude,
as one who was trying to form some plan or scheme some terrible revenge.
Curious it was, too, that I had not noticed him in the ballroom, for a
man attired so plainly must have been conspicuous. Nevertheless, when he
had gone, she seemed to breathe more freely, and we rose at her
instigation and followed him to where the dance was still in progress.
But he vanished instantly, as though he had become in a moment
invisible, a fact which in itself seemed to increase rather than
diminish her apprehensions.

I saw in the full glare of electricity how pale and agitated was her
beautiful face. That look of supreme contentment had given place to a
hard, haggard expression, as though she were haunted by some terrible
terror, and then after one turn round the room, her eyes ever searching
for this man who had appeared and disappeared so suddenly, she had
bidden me farewell and left.

This ending to our pleasant hour of confidences and light gossip was
indeed a curiously abrupt one. Her fear seemed to arise more from the
fact that I was with her as companion than anything else, and as I drove
to my rooms in the higher part of the town I became immersed in a
veritable ocean of doubts and fears.

We were but friends of an hour, therefore I had no right to question her
about this man. Nevertheless I had spontaneously loved her at first
sight in the Bois with a strength of passion of which I had never
believed myself capable, and now as she was anxious and in fear I felt
it my duty to stand as her champion. At the instant when she had given
me her hand and wished me 'goodnight,' I had asked whether our
appointment for later that morning had not better be postponed till next
day, but she only opened those great, brilliant eyes of hers wider, and
asked--

"Why?"

"Because it is already three," I answered. "You will get no rest."

"I want none," she answered, with just a touch of sadness. "I shall not
sleep to-night. Good-bye till six."

Then smiling, and with a swish of her silken skirts, she had drawn
herself up and passed on across the great hall of marble and gold, where
the servants in the royal livery bowed before her.

Thus I had kept the appointment, and after waiting a quarter of an hour
or so the first tram came swiftly up the long Avenue, and from it there
alighted the neat figure in white cotton blouse and black skirt with the
plain straw hat, the lithe slim figure I knew so well.

I rose, walking quickly towards her, with hand outstretched gladly. She
looked so bright and fresh as she greeted me that none would believe
that she had been up the greater part of the night. All trace, too, of
the strange mysterious dread had disappeared. Her dark hair dressed so
elaborately on the previous night was now coiled simply, and both skirt
and boots, I noticed, were a trifle shabby; indeed, they were such as
would have been discarded by the majority of 'young ladies' who disport
themselves awheel later in the morning because it is considered chic so
to do.

Still, even in those well-worn clothes, she possessed a charm and grace
which held her exalted and distinguished above other women. In her gait
alone, walking erect, upright, easy, there was a stamp of royal hauteur;
while in her eyes, those soft dark eyes which seemed to smile so
bewitchingly and sweetly upon me, there was often a swift resentful
glance which told me how proud and cold she could be to those who were
not her intimates.

"The keeper, in the lodge over there, has my cycle," she explained in
breathless eagerness when she had told me how, being late, she had
dressed hurriedly and left the Palace by the servants' entrance, just in
time to scramble into the tram. Then we went together to the old man,
who, wishing us good morning, wheeled out her machine, which had been
repaired since her accident, and after some slight adjustment of the
saddle we both mounted and spun away along that well-kept road which all
in Brussels know is a perfect paradise for the cyclist.

That she was a practised rider I at once recognised by the manner in
which she mounted; and very soon her hat becoming loose she raised both
hands to her head to readjust it, steering only by the balance of her
body.

"Come! come!" I laughed. "Don't ride recklessly again. Recollect the
last time, and its result."

"Oh, I'm going to be very careful in future, I assure you," she
answered, turning to me with a merry laugh. "I promise you that I won't
run any unnecessary risks. Besides, my hand is not altogether well yet."

Her assertion, however, was not borne out by her riding, for she paced
along at a rate extremely swift for a woman, shooting down the short
inclines even more quickly than I did. But there were no other cyclists
or carriages there at that hour, and swift riding in the bright morning
hour was very exhilarating. That she enjoyed it was shown by her face,
gleeful and flushed with exertion, while the wind had slightly
disarranged her hair and a wisp of it strayed across her curved cheek,
pure and rounded as a child's. Her machine was a light one of the best
English make, with every improvement, carrying one of those large French
horns instead of a bell, an instrument which, blown by squeezing an
indiarubber ball, emitted a loud, terrible trumpeting which could be
heard a mile away.

The manner in which she rode was proof of what keen delight she took in
cycling. Perhaps it was because she participated in the popular
recreation surreptitiously that gave this increased zest to her
pleasure. At any rate, our first spin was a most enjoyable one, a ride
beneath those wide spreading trees, fresh in their young green, and
bright in the morning sunshine, that I shall recollect for ever among my
most cherished memories of days that have gone.

At length we slowed down near the picturesque lake with its tiny island
and chalet in the distance, and then, as we rode easily side by side,
she commenced to chat about the people on cycles and on horseback which
were now beginning to pass and repass us, for the early morning ride had
already commenced.

One rider who went by was a captain of cavalry, in his smart olive green
and cherry-coloured uniform, and as he passed he saluted her.

"Does he recognise you?" I inquired quickly.

"Oh, dear no," she laughed. "He's only one of my morning friends.
Perhaps he thinks I bear a striking resemblance to myself, but none
would dream that I came cycling here alone at this hour. Therefore I am
quite safe."

"And your Highness has no fear of being recognised?"

"None," she responded. "The very people who pass me unheeded now salute
me when at four o'clock I drive here in the carriage with my mother.
One's dress makes all the difference. Fine feathers make fine birds;"
and she laughed merrily as she thought how ingeniously she preserved her
morning incognita.

In that bright fresh air and brilliant sunshine, spinning along the wide
avenue, and now and then taking narrow side ways where the trees met
overhead, our ride was most delightful. Her happy laughter rang out
always when I expressed fear at whatever seemed to be a reckless action.
Indeed, it seemed as though she took an intense delight in causing me
alarm. Yet was she not in my charge--and did I not love her with all the
strength of my being? I longed to tell her so; I longed to get her to
sit for a moment upon one of those inviting seats in the quiet beneath
the trees and there pour out to her the secret of my heart.

But I could never do that--never. I was her friend, not her lover. She
was the Princess Melanie, of Hapsbourg, who some day might become a
queen. And what was I?

No; for the thousandth time I strove to stifle this burning affection
which, fatal to my happiness, had arisen so suddenly within me. I told
myself that I had foolishly gone back upon the vow I had made years ago.
I was casting to the winds all the tenets of my religion as a
diplomatist; I was acting just as the fledgling attache would act, and
had fallen a victim to a woman's gaze. It was all airy, romantic,
impossible. If I told her of my love she would merely laugh in my face.
No, she, a princess, could never be mine--never.

Yet, had I not been told that she had somewhere a secret lover, a man
unknown, unacknowledged, unpresentable, to whom she clung in secret? No
doubt she met him clandestinely; and he, some cold, cunning scoundrel
perhaps, profited in a pecuniary sense from their acquaintance.

In wonder I again looked at her. If such were really the case it did not
seem feasible that she should cycle with me. Why did he not ride at her
side?

Then still another thought occurred to me. Her lover might be married,
and might, by cycling with her, compromise himself. Such suggestion
seemed so like the truth that I felt inclined to believe it.

Again, could that mysterious figure which had passed us by in silence
and in shadow have been the man she loved? Was it because he had
discovered me there with her that she had betrayed that intense fear and
anxiety which had so puzzled me? I strove yet again to form some theory,
but all in vain. She had come into my life, and held me spellbound by
her beauty and charm of manner. There was a fascination in those eyes
absolutely irresistible, a frankness in her conversation which held me
to her as to an intimate friend.

In brief, I had become entranced, and was hers unwittingly, body and
soul.

At last, at a shady restful point, where the foliage grew thickly and
the fresh smell of the woods was refreshing, we dismounted, placed our
machines against a tree trunk, and sat down.

There was a summer warmth in the air; the little forest birds hopped
from bough to bough chirping and pluming themselves, and the low rustle
of the leaves was as the sighing of the sea.

I asked whether she was not fatigued, but she answered in the negative,
laughing lightly.

"But you really must be tired," she said. "As a rule you men don't rise
so early. Was it because you wished to appear amiable towards me?"

"I--well, I like cycling," I stammered, rather confounded by the
directness of her question.

"But you haven't cycled here before, have you?" she asked. "I remember
one morning you were riding with your friend Colonel Giffard. Your mount
was a dark bay."

"Yes," I answered, surprised that she should have noticed me. I had not
seen her. "Then you knew me by sight before your accident--eh?"

"I had noticed you once or twice," she responded. "I always think that
you diplomatic people must have an awfully jolly time. You are entirely
free; you have always a good set of friends, plenty of gaiety, and
nothing to do except to lie to one another artistically."

"Well, your description of diplomatic life is certainly flavoured with
sarcasm," I said, laughing heartily. "You are, however, quite correct
when you say that we tell untruths artistically. The greater the liar,
the more successful the diplomatist."

"Of course," she agreed. "If an ambassador always told the truth he'd
have to present his letters of recall within a week. From my own
observation I've come to the conclusion that a diplomatist must possess
absolutely no conscience, and be unscrupulous alike towards both friends
and enemies."

"No, no," I protested, "we are really not all like that. Compelled as we
are to protect the interests of the country we represent, we endeavour
always to do so by fair means. But when we have in active opposition to
us enemies who will not hesitate at the meanest action in order to
attain their own ends, we are then compelled to act smartly, even if it
savours of dishonesty, for the purpose of outwitting them."

"The crowd of Ambassadors at the Court of Berlin always amuse me," she
said. "Each one is trying to get the better of his friend, and the
Emperor treats the whole assembly as so many toys. He once told me that
the Court would be very dull if it were not for their eternal scrambling
over one another."

"He was quite right," I laughed. "Nevertheless I suppose we are among
the necessary evils in the world. If there was no diplomacy we should
have war to-morrow."

"Certainly," she answered, growing in an instant serious. "I was, of
course, only chaffing. Sometimes the bickering in diplomatic circles
presents a very undignified spectacle to a monarch, although in these
unsettled days when you English have to cope with France and Russia
combined together, with considerable ill-will in Berlin, it behoves you
to have your wits ever ready. I often think we are within measurable
distance of war."

"Why?" I inquired quickly.

She sat pensive, her tiny feet in shabby shoes stretched forth beneath
the rather short skirt sadly frayed at the hem. She had apparently
allowed the remark to slip unwisely from her lips, and was hesitating,
her face now grave, now sensitive, now touched with that mysterious
exultation that glows through the histories of the saints, that shines
from dusty tapestries, that hides in the dim faces carved on shrines.

"I hear ominous predictions," she answered in a low tone, and I thought
I detected that she shuddered. "If there is war, it will be with
England. The Powers will unite to crush her."

I turned my eyes upon hers seriously. Was it not strange that she should
tell me this; that she should thus refer to the terrible dread which was
at that moment consuming us at the Legation; that she should utter the
prophecy which I knew, alas! to be too true.

She gazed at me steadily, her dark luminous eyes unwavering. Could it be
that she knew of the inexplicable theft of the document from the
despatch box, and that she, like myself, was dreading its dire result?

The theft was, of course, known to King Leopold, but he had vowed
solemnly to Sir John Drummond to say no word of it, even to his
intimates. None knew of it outside the Legation, yet throughout her
whole conversation there was a note of warning.

Had she, a princess, received secret information that war with England
was imminent, and as my friend, found a means of warning me?

"Do you really think that England is so isolated as is generally
believed?" I inquired.

"Yes," she answered, with a strange hard look. "All your clever
diplomacy has been frustrated by the machinations of your ingenious
enemies, and at this moment England is in gravest peril."




CHAPTER XII.--A DESPATCH FROM DOWNING-STREET.


At noon that same day I was standing at the window of Sir John's private
room at the Legation, looking moodily out upon the wide handsome Rue de
la Loi, that long straight thoroughfare which runs up to the park
wherein the recent International Exhibition was held, and where its
imposing buildings still stand. It was a big brown room, well carpeted
and lined with books; a room wherein many a consultation had taken place
regarding England's policy towards the Powers. The Legation is a corner
building, its front facing upon a courtyard in the Rue de Spa, its rear
overlooking the main thoroughfare up which the electric trams
continually pass.

Graves, the foreign service messenger, had arrived from London, and the
despatch-box he had brought stood unopened upon Sir John's table. I had
given the formal receipt for it, and Graves was lunching after his
journey. The Ambassador alone held the key, and he was down at the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The messenger had announced that the
despatches were of importance, therefore I had sent word to the Chief by
telephone of their arrival.

As I stood at the window reflecting upon the pleasant morning I had
spent in the Bois, Sir John suddenly entered in hot haste, wishing me
good morning, and at once breaking the seals and unlocking the box.

Inside were two envelopes. One a pale blue one, rather bulky, and the
other white, with a conspicuous blue cross upon it. Sir John tore the
latter open, and eagerly read its contents. I knew by its appearance
that it was one of those private notes written by the hand of the
Marquess of Macclesfield himself, which direct the policy of the
greatest empire in the world.

The Ambassador read it through, and as he did so sunk heavily into his
chair, his face set, his grey brows knit, his hand clenched.

"Nothing serious, I hope," I ventured to remark.

"Serious!" he echoed. "The outlook grows blacker every moment. Yesterday
intelligence was received through our Secret Service in Paris that a
great sensation has been caused in the French Ministry of Foreign
Affairs by some discovery, of what nature it could not be accurately
ascertained." Then after a pause, the Ambassador added: "We, however,
know too well, Crawford. The stolen correspondence has, as I feared,
reached Paris. If so, we are powerless. War must ensue."

"Accursed thieves!" I ejaculated, recollecting how ingeniously the file
of papers had been extracted from the locked box. "The mystery is
utterly without solution. I've tried to form some theory day by day, but
have failed. In all quarters where I have made secret inquiries my
efforts have been entirely futile. We have absolutely no clue on which
to base a suspicion."

"But at either the French or Russian Embassies they know something of
it," the Ambassador said, resting his troubled brow upon his hand in
thought. "If the correspondence has reached Paris, then it passed
through the French Embassy. Have you kept your ears open in that
quarter?"

"I have done all that can be done," I answered. "My work, however, is
not yet finished."

"Strive on," he urged impatiently. "Strive on, night and day. Remember
in this affair not only is my personal honour at stake, but the honour
of Belgium, and, what is greater to all of us, the honour of the Queen's
Empire. The mystery must be solved."

I nodded without replying.

"When you were in London the other day, in consultation with the Chief,
did he make any further explanation of the reason which first prompted
him to send me here?" I asked, after a long pause.

"No, why?"

"Because," I said, "because he alone knows more than we are aware. There
is some reason why he preserves silence upon a fact which is of greatest
importance to us. Indeed, it is more than likely that were he to relate
all he knows we might conclude this inquiry in a few hours."

"What do you mean?" cried Sir John, quickly, in a resentful tone. "You
surely do not charge the Marquess of Macclesfield with concealing some
fact to the detriment of his country? This is not like you, Crawford."

I remembered that the mysterious death of poor Gordon was a secret
between the Marquess and myself, and saw that if I pursued the topic
further I should be obliged to make some explanation. Therefore I
remained silent.

"I can't understand your reason for speaking in this manner," continued
the Ambassador, puzzled. "All that is known at the Foreign Office is
known to us. Are we not in hourly communication with Downing Street?"

I admitted that we were, but pointed out that no assistance had been
given us in the prosecution of the inquiry. The despatch-box from which
the file of papers had been stolen had been returned, and was in a
cupboard opposite to where I stood.

"They rely entirely upon us, Crawford," the Minister replied. "I am not
satisfied. We are not sufficiently active in the matter."

This observation angered me. Since the theft had become known I had left
no stone unturned to fathom the mystery. I had, by constantly seeking
the society of the French and Russian attaches, personal friends of
mine, and rather good fellows, learnt a good deal of the undercurrents
in progress, yet no word had been dropped to cause me to suspect that
they were in the secret of the theft.

In a Continental capital there are many mysterious ways by which the
shrewd diplomatist can ascertain what is in the wind, and as that had
been part of my duty for the past five years I was pretty well versed in
the art of learning our opponents' business.

"I own myself baffled," I answered quietly. "Nevertheless, the course of
my inquiries must be patient and diligent. I shall not fail through
inactivity, I can assure you."

"Ah! no, Crawford," he exclaimed quickly. "Do not misunderstand me. I
am, perhaps, too impatient. Work on, and remember that you are working
to clear your country's honour."

And glancing at the other bulky packet he tossed it into a drawer. Its
envelope showed that the papers were unimportant ones, and the second
secretary of Legation would deal later with them. Again he re-read those
uneven lines of writing, scribbled by the hand that controlled England's
destiny, then striking a vesta he lit the despatch at the corner and
held it until it was consumed. The secret correspondence from the
Marquess to the various Ambassadors of the Queen is always destroyed
immediately, as some of it might prove extremely compromising.

I lunched at home at my rooms, and at 4 that afternoon strolled to the
Cafe Metropole, the fine, handsomely decorated place on the Boulevard
Anspach, for there I was almost certain to meet somebody or other I
knew. A good many of the diplomatic circle lounge there in the
afternoon, for of late it had become the cosmopolitan rendesvous of
Brussels, even more so than the cafe of the Grand Hotel opposite. I was
not disappointed, for as I entered I was hailed by Paul Yermoloff, the
second secretary of the Russian Legation, a dark-moustached,
good-looking man of 40, who was sitting at one of the little tables
smoking with his colleague Gregorovitch, the honorary attache.

"Ah, my dear Crawford," the firstnamed cried, extending his hand, "late
to-day. Do the difficulties of England require so much adjustment that
you cannot get down to the Boulevards at the usual hour?"'

"No," I laughed, seating myself in the third chair, and taking a
cigarette he offered. "Truth to tell I've had a siesta."

"The British lion has been napping," laughed Gregorovitch.

"It isn't often he has a nap," I said, "but today, with this overcast
weather--phew!"

"And after late hours last night, and the pretty Princess Melanie,"
Yermoloff added.

At mention of her name I felt my face suffusing. Then their lynx eyes
had not failed to notice me with her. I had no wish to be chaffed about
her, but to resent it would be, I knew, to show my hand.

"Why, what about the Princess?" I asked with affected innocence.

"Nothing. Only she's very beautiful," responded Yermoloff. "We've just
been speaking of her, and congratulating you upon your taste."

"Yes," I said. "There can be no two opinions regarding her beauty. Does
she often come to Brussels?"

"Twice a year," he answered. "But take my advice, my dear follow, and
don't have very much to do with her."

"Why?"

"Serge will tell you. He knows her best," answered, the Russian, who was
at one and the same time my personal friend and my diplomatic enemy.

"Well," exclaimed Gregorovitch, stroking his blonde moustache with a
rather foppish air, "I do happen to know something of her Highness, and
what I know of her isn't very creditable."

"Tell me," I exclaimed, intensely interested.

The two men exchanged glances, the meaning of which remained to me a
mystery, although I did not fail to notice it.

"Well," the other answered, "she's rather fond of taking up a man for a
week or so and then giving him the cut direct, or else bringing him into
public derision. She is lovely, but a Royalty as she is she is aware of
the exact estimate of her beauty. By the Virgin! Why, there isn't a
prouder woman in the whole of the Courts of Europe than Melanie of
Hapsburg."

What he alleged might be true, but I certainly had found her the very
reverse of proud.

"I don't think there's much fear that she'll take me up," I laughed
lightly. "Men in the diplomatic circle are too small a fry."

"Ah, no. You're mistaken," Gregorovitch said. "There was an incident in
Berlin when I was there which didn't altogether enhance her worth in the
eyes of those who knew the truth. She flirted outrageously with young
Prince Ostrowsky, one of the honorary attaches of our Embassy, and when
one day at a garden-party given by the Empress he grew affectionate and
spoke to her of love she flew into a sudden passion and denounced poor
Ostrowsky before about a dozen people, including the Empress herself. So
overwhelmed with shame and chargrin was the unfortunate attache that he
resigned at once, and went back to Petersburg."

"I have heard," I said, "that she has a secret lover somewhere."

"Of course," answered Yermoloff. "That's well known. According to common
gossip she meets him at night somewhere along the Boulevard Waterloo. It
is said that she's been seen with him lately, and that he's a
shabby-genteel, hulking, ruffianly-looking fellow."

"Quite romantic," I laughed.

"Romantic!" ejaculated Gregorovitch, who seemed somehow to hold her in
abhorrence. "Two or three men I know are laying their heads together to
watch for the mysterious lover, and find out who he really is. It would
be interesting to know."

I pricked up my ears at this statement. If this were so, then I must
warn her.

"Rather good fun," I said, smiling. "Is he supposed to be a German, or
Belgian?"

"Nobody knows," replied my companion. "That's just what we want to find
out."

"But has she actually been seen with him?" I inquired.

"Most certainly. When she was here six months ago, the same story was
about. The Baroness de Melreux has actually seen them together."

"And you believe her?" I asked, deprecatingly.

I remembered the Princess' words regarding that irresponsible butterfly
of fashion.

"My dear fellow," said Gregorovitch, raising his shoulders slightly,
"the Baroness is always good fun, even if she's given to slight
exaggerations of the truth."

"You put it politely," I laughed. "No, my dear Gregorovitch, one should
always take the statements of the merry little Baroness in homeopathic
doses and with the proverbial grain of salt. She's always full of some
scandal or the other."

"Scandal which generally turns out to have some foundation in fact,"
Yermoloff remarked.

"Then you really believe in this story of a secret lover?" I observed.

"There seems little doubt about it," my friend replied. "But why are you
so anxious, my dear Crawford? Surely you haven't fallen a victim to her
charms. She looked lovely last night in blue, dazzling enough to bewitch
any man."

"No fear. I'm too old a diplomat," I assured him. I saw that in order to
disarm the suspicion of these men I must act with extreme caution and
finesse. It was to my interest to retain their friendship, for from them
I often gathered very valuable facts. They were a pair of
self-conceited, foppish gallants who, in their boastful moments,
frequently told me things which were of greatest use to us at our
Legation. Times without number had I carefully led the conversation up
to the political crisis, but had each time become convinced that they
knew nothing of the theft of that file of correspondence, otherwise they
must have uttered some boast or other and thus betrayed their knowledge.
Their belief in the supremacy of Russia was sublime. But why, I
wondered, did they both speak of the Princess with such ill-will?

I smoked on, chatting still upon the same subject. They took a keen
delight in chaffing me about my long talk with her and our dance
together, declaring that I, like all the rest, had fallen deeply in love
with her. Against this allegation I, of course, protested strongly. She
had treated me with common courtesy, I said, and I had merely returned
it. I laughed heartily at their suggestion that I was in love with her,
and in return declared that they were both jealous that she should have
singled me out for notice.

"No, don't think that, my dear Crawford," Yermoloff answered in his
soft, easy way, smiling through the cigarette smoke. "On the contrary, I
should regret very much if she were to endeavour to patronise me, for I
really fear I should be rude to her."

"Why?"

But he shrugged his shoulders with that expressive air of mystery which
all Russians can assume at will, and his mouth remained closed. Neither
would he explain the cause of their extreme antagonism. But the fact was
plain. For some inexplicable reason they hated her.

At 6 o'clock we rose and went forth on to the Boulevard again. It was
pleasant there in the sunset hour. Men were crying the 'Soir' and the
'Independance,' and the hand-barrows advertising the cafe concerts were
being trundled slowly by. My companions hailed a cab, and were driven
away to the Gare du Nord, where they were to meet a friend, while I
strolled along to the Bourse, where I could obtain a tram that would set
me down outside my own rooms in the Place Louise, for the open trams in
Brussels are in summer even more pleasant than the fiacres.

Outside the Bourse, at the street corner, I halted to buy a paper at the
kiosque, when a man passed me whose figure in an instant struck me as
familiar. I looked after him. He was well dressed, above the average
height, and wore a silk hat and frock coat which gave him the stamp of a
business man. The face was rather a full one, with a fair pointed beard,
ruddy cheeks and eyes a trifle strange in their expression. He wore, I
thought, a curious, inquisitive look as he passed me.

Then suddenly I recollected. That man had been sitting alone near us in
the cafe, and possibly, if he understood English, had overheard some
part of our conversation.

But at the same moment that this fact became impressed upon me another,
still stranger, caused me to hold my breath in wonder.

The silhouette was identical. He was the man, who so silent and plainly
clad, had passed through the Moorish lounge at the Palace on the
previous night. He was the unexpected stranger whom the Princess Melanie
held in such mortal dread.




CHAPTER XIII.--THE ROSE OF LOVE.


As usual I cycled next morning to our appointed rendezvous, seated
myself, and patiently smoked, my eyes eager for the approach of the
first tram-car. At last it came, its alarm bell ringing violently; the
passengers alighted and one by one dispersed, but to my disappointment
my divinity was not among them.

Perhaps she had risen late, and would come by the next car, therefore I
returned to my seat, and possessed my soul in patience, full of
reflections upon the events of the past few days. That man who had sat
in the Metropole on the previous afternoon was most probably her
mysterious lover about whom gossip talked, and it seemed very possible
that, having detected me with her on the night of the State ball, he was
now keeping a strict observation upon me in order to ascertain whether
we met. I held this man in instinctive dislike. Why, I could not tell.
There was nothing really evil about the expression on his face. On the
contrary he was a rubicund, rather merry-looking man of perhaps forty,
whose appearance gave me the impression that his sleekness was due to a
fondness of good living. So far from being a hulking, low-born
hanger-on, as I had pictured him, he seemed a rather gentle manly fellow
of the superior commercial class.

I sat endeavouring to analyse my feelings towards him, and at length
came to the conclusion that my antagonism was due solely and entirely to
jealousy. Had I met that man in the ordinary way I should have
undoubtedly become friendly with him. There are men one meets who become
instantly one's friends. He was one of those.

Presently the second tram drew up at the entrance to the Bois, but she
came not, and although I waited fully an hour until the liver brigade
began to assemble--Belgians in riding breeches cut in imitation of the
English, and hats of antiquated type, a few of the gayer youth of the
city, and a sprinkling of stolid Flemish merchants--I remained in vain.
The morning was, as is usual in June, bright and beautiful; therefore,
feeling reassured that she had been prevented from keeping her
appointment by unforeseen circumstances, I mounted my machine, and rode
the whole circuit of the Bois, my eyes ever on the alert for her.

That she would not willingly disappoint me I felt certain; therefore her
absence puzzled me, and caused me to wonder whether instead of keeping
her appointment she had met that man who was her lover. Twice I made a
complete tour of the pretty wood, but saw nothing of her, and at last in
deep disappointment turned, and was on my way out when, of a sudden, I
discerned a man mounted on a fine bay trotting along the leafy ride
running parallel with the road, and half-hidden from it by the bushes
and trees. He wore a straw hat and black coat, and rode exceedingly well
in military style. His height attracted me, and I noticed that he had a
light pointed beard. Our eyes met, and then in a moment I recognised in
him the man whom the Princess held in mortal dread--the man who was her
lover.

He looked fixedly at me for a few seconds, and I thought I detected a
smile of triumph on his lips. But in a moment he had trotted past, and
without turning I rode forward down the Avenue towards my own rooms. The
thought struck me that he had come there to watch my movements, and to
ascertain whether I met the woman who held me spellbound. It seemed
suspiciously as though he had.

I spent the morning at the Legation attending to some correspondence,
and not having finished it, returned there after luncheon.

About 4, having completed the work I had in hand, I descended the stairs
to go, when standing in the court-yard outside was one of the royal
carriages, the footman waiting motionless and statuesque upon the steps.
On passing the door of the drawing-room female voices and light laughter
sounded, and peering within I saw that Lady Drummond had a caller. The
latter, sitting near the window, wore a smart costume of prune with a
large black hat, and as I looked in her gaze suddenly met mine. It was
the Princess Melanie.

"Ah!" she cried, raising her hand to me gladly. "There is M'sieur
Crawford! Good afternoon."

"Good afternoon, Princess!" I exclaimed, advancing towards her and
taking her proffered hand with a feigned formality. She was purely
formal towards me, therefore I saw that she had some motive. As far as I
was aware this was her first call upon Lady Drummond, and the latter,
honoured by the attention, seemed greatly surprised that we should be
acquainted.

"Oh, yes," the Princes said, in response to an observation by her
ladyship. "M'sieur Crawford is my very good friend." Then, glancing at
me with a meaning look, she added, "He was in Vienna, you know."

"Ah! of course," answered Lady Drummond, who, truth to tell, had been
extremely kind to me. She was an ideal Ambassador's wife, and was held
in highest esteem by all the staff. More than once, at the various
capitals where her husband had been Charge d'Affaires for her Majesty,
Envoy Extraordinary, she had been confidante and adviser of an attache
or a secretary who had got into feminine entanglement. As we chatted she
glanced from her visitor to myself, and knowing her shrewdness I feared
that she guessed the truth. Our gossip was, however, on trivialities.
Melanie, it appeared, had called, on her mother's behalf, to invite the
Ambassador and his wife to dine with them at the Palace on the following
Sunday, and in the invitation Giffard and myself were included.

I thanked her in terms of distant formality, addressing her as
'Highness,' which is unusual according to German etiquette. Tea was
brought, and as I handed her her cup she raised her eyes to mine with an
amused expression. I longed to ask her why she had not met me that
morning, but to speak familiarly was, in these circumstances,
impossible. The Hapsbourgs were the proudest family in Europe, and Lady
Drummond, a polished diplomatist herself, treated her with the same
etiquette as she would the Queen of the Belgians.




CHAPTER XIII.--THE ROSE OF LOVE.


At length, after quite a long gossip, during which time we had been
joined by Sir John, who, however, had been again called away to keep an
appointment, she rose to go. When she did so I saw how beautiful was her
costume. It was of dark prune cloth, braided with black upon a
groundwork of cream satin; a strikingly handsome dress which only a
princess could wear, a dress which fitted without a wrinkle, and was the
latest triumph of one or other of the man-dressmakers in the Rue de la
Paix.

"If you will remain one moment I will obtain for your Highness the
address of that shop in Bond-street," Lady Drummond said, as she passed
out hastily into the adjoining room.

The instant she had gone my companion turned to me quickly and
whispered--

"Forgive me. I could not come to the Bois this morning. To-morrow, too,
I am prevented. You'll excuse me, will you not?"

"But I must see you," I said earnestly. "I have something of importance
to say."

She glanced at me in quick surprise.

"Cannot you tell me now?" she asked.

"No. I must meet you. Whatever appointment you can make I am at your
disposal."

She reflected for an instant.

"Then to-night," she answered. "Meet me in the Wauxhall Gardens, close
to the band-stand, at 9. I will wear a white blouse, and you will
discover me by that. Till then good-bye."

At that instant her ladyship returned with a card, and a few moments
later I took formal leave of the woman I loved standing on the steps
with the wife of my chief and bowing to her as her fine equipage swept
out of the gate.

Yes, the more I reflected, the plainer it became that she was not averse
to this mild flirtation going on between us. That she did flirt with me
was without doubt; and of course with that quick instinct possessed by
every woman from peasant to princess she was fully aware of my
overwhelming passion for her.

"I had no idea you were so friendly with the Princess Melanie," her
ladyship remarked, as we went inside together. "She is most beautiful.
But of course the House of Hapsbourg has always been famous for the
loveliness of its women."

"Yes," I said, recollecting the well-known legend of the Castle of
Brandenburg, how when the great old fortress-home of the Hapsbourgs was
besieged by the bloody Duc de Nevers in 1554, Ann, Princess of
Hapsbourg, is said to have entered with her husband the high round tower
that watches over the Moselle, resolved to participate in its defence,
and to animate the defenders by her presence. Her beauty was renowned
throughout Europe, and for months the castle withstood the siege. At
last, however, outnumbered by the Franks, the garrison, including the
Prince, after a most heroic and desperate resistance, perished to a man,
the unhappy widowed Princess being left as solo survivor. Determined not
to fall into the hands of the enraged and brutal soldiery, she threw
herself from the summit of the tower in full sight of the besiegers, and
was dashed to pieces on the rocks below.

"She has a charming manner," went on her ladyship. "So ingenuous and
unassuming. I'm perfectly delighted with her."

"This is her first call, is it not?" I inquired.

"Yes. She has been in Brussels with her mother many times, but they are
very exclusive, and scarcely call on anyone--except, of course, at the
German Embassy. She's a most sociable girl, and I'm charmed to know
her."

I smiled within myself. What would her ladyship have thought had she
known that we were in the habit of cycling together at an hour when the
majority of people were not yet awake. What would she have thought if
she had known of the appointment we had made in that instant when she
was in the adjoining room; or of the fact that she was to wear a white
blouse that evening in order that I might the more readily recognise her
in the shadow of the trees. I was compelled to remain silent in order to
avoid compromising her, for she was princess of an imperial house while
I was a humble member of her Majesty's Diplomatic Service. I had
promised to remain loyal to her.

The night was brilliant and starlit when I entered that enclosed part of
the Royal Park known as Wauxhall--where on summer evenings the orchestra
of the opera plays on the al fresco stage, and the 'haut monde' of
Brussels sit beneath the trees at the hundreds of little tables taking
their after-dinner coffee and liqueurs. Of all the many diversions in
the Belgian capital it is perhaps the most chic and the most enjoyable,
for the music is invariably excellent, and the crowd always a
well-dressed one. The tourist who spends his week in Brussels does not
patronise a mere orchestral concert; he prefers the cafes where variety
entertainments are provided, and where 'entrance free' is written up in
bold capitals. Hence Wauxhall is purely Belgian.

I found a table unoccupied at the further end, beyond the stage and
somewhat in the shadow, therefore I took it and ordered some coffee,
hoping that I should meet no friends and be compelled to join them. It
was delightfully cool and fresh there after the heat of the day, and I
sat drinking in the air, enjoying my cigar to the full. I had had a
heavy day, and that relaxation was doubly gratifying. The whole of the
white facade of the Theatre du Parc opposite was outlined by light in
white globes and everywhere in the vicinity of the orchestra was
brilliant illumination, but where I sat was beyond the zone of light,
for I had chosen that spot in order that none should observe me. Among
that after-dinner crowd of women in evening toilettes and well-dressed
men there were many with whom I was acquainted, and if, for example, one
man fastened himself upon me I might lose my opportunity of speaking
with her.

At length, after straining my eyes long and vainly into the stream of
constant arrivals, I saw a female figure in black hat, wearing a dead
white blouse of soft silk, and at once rose to meet her. She wore a
thick veil, and at first I hesitated to speak, not being quite certain
as to her identity. She noticed this, and laughing at the completeness
of her disguise greeted me and seated herself at my table.

"That veil is excellent," I said, joining in her laughter. "I should
never have recognised you."

"I borrowed one of my maid's blouses," she explained. "There are many
women here I know, and some are very sharp to detect any bodice they
have seen before."

"Will anyone be likely to recognise you here?" I asked.

"Ah! Perhaps they might," she said, glancing round in apprehension.
"There's the Countess Lunssens over there," she added, indicating an old
lady in gay bonnet of steel spangles and roses, chatting to an officer.
"Yes it will be better to get away from here."

Therefore we rose again and strolled away into the dark shadows beneath
the trees. It was strange and exciting, this clandestine meeting, but
she was veiled, and we both congratulated ourselves that she was beyond
recognition. Into that dark avenue only one or two couples had strayed,
and we were practically alone. The band was playing Saint-Saens' 'Danse
Macabre,' and through the trees, where the lights twinkled, came the
distant roar of the city and the rattle of cabs in the Rue Royale.

The palace was close by. Indeed she had only to cross the road and
traverse the park to meet me. She had, she explained, escaped
immediately after dinner, her maid alone being in the secret of her
absence; and then she chatted to me with that light vivacity which was
in itself plain proof of how delighted she was to walk there. I had been
egotistical enough to flatter myself that she was not averse to my
company, and now it seemed as though she remained in rapturous
contentment.

In the gloom we found a seat and sat down.

She was discussing her visit to Lady Drummond, and expressing herself
surprised to find her so pleasant.

"I had been told," she said, "that your Ambassador's wife was rather
masculine, and I abominate masculine women. But I found her the exact
opposite. She was extremely agreeable."

"It was your first call?" I suggested.

"Yes," she answered. Then, after a pause she faltered, "I did not go
exactly to visit her, you know. I thought perhaps I might possibly meet
you, and I wanted to see you."

"Why?" I inquired, rather abruptly I am afraid.

"Well," she responded in a voice of hesitation, "first I feel convinced
that we are friends--is that not so?"

"If I may be your true friend, Princess," I said. "I shall esteem your
trust the greatest honour you can bestow upon me."

"Thank you," she said quietly. "I believe entirely that you are a man of
honour. Do not think I speak to you thus without having made inquiries.
Your past has shown that I, a woman who is in a dire dilemma, may trust
you."

"You can implicitly," I answered fervently. "I assure you of that. You
say you are in a dilemma," I went on, puzzled. "How can I assist you?"

"Ah, no. Not now," she replied in a rather strained voice. "No, not yet.
What I wanted to ask you was whether, if I desired your help, you would
give it to me; whether you would act in blind obedience to my wishes?"

"Princess," I said, in deep earnestness, "I am a diplomatist--one who to
your eyes must be but a spy and a liar by profession. Well, my oath to
my Queen entails the combating of the machinations of unscrupulous
enemies, and when fair means fail we are compelled to resort to those
unfair. Towards you, however, I assure you that if ever I can render you
a service you have only to command me."

"And if that service were a difficult one--a very difficult one?" she
asked, almost in a whisper, as she bent towards me, peering eagerly into
my face. "What then?"

"That makes no difference," I answered, firmly. "To serve you is the
greatest desire of my life."

She sighed heavily, and seemed strangely uneasy.

"In what dilemma do you find yourself?" I went on. "Tell me. Perhaps I
can assist you now."

"Impossible," she responded. "Some day, however, I shall call upon you
to redeem your promise."

"Put me to the test," I cried passionately. "You will not find me fail."

"Ah!" she said, again sighing. "It is strange that we should meet like
this, you and I; strange that having only known you for so short a time
I should speak thus to you. I fear you must think me very capricious."

"Our talks are most delightful to me," I declared. "I only fear that my
companionship may bore you."

She laughed a little musical laugh.

"If so, then why did you ask me to see you tonight?" she inquired.

"Because I have something to say to you," I replied, in a moment
serious. "Do not think me inquisitive, for I admit that I have no right
whatever to obtrude in your private affairs."

"Are we not friends?" she interrupted quickly.

"Certainly," I said. "But this matter is of so delicate a nature that
were it not imperative I should hesitate to speak of it."

"No," she said, interested. "Tell me. What is it?"

"You will remember the night of the ball. Before we parted we
encountered a tall, fair-bearded man, who looked at you with a curious
glance and passed on."

She started perceptibly.

"Yes, yes. And what of him?" she gasped.

"That man, whoever he is, has been following me of late," I said,
simply.

"Following you!" she cried. "Has he, then, dared to----"

But she stopped short without finishing her sentence. In her anger she
had almost given me an explanation, and only drew herself up just in
time.

"I thought it wise to tell you of this, and to ask your advice," I went
on, as calmly as I could, adding: "And again, there is one other matter,
for mentioning which I hope you will forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive between friends," she responded.

"Well, briefly it is this," I said. "In certain circles, where gossip
circulates and names are bandied about freely, there is a report current
that you meet clandestinely some male acquaintance on certain nights in
the Boulevard Waterloo, and elsewhere. I do not demand to know whether
this is truth or not," I added, hoarsely. "I have no right to make such
inquiry."

"And supposing it to be actually the truth?" she asked quickly, in a
rather resentful tone. "What then?"

"There is a secret conspiracy on foot against you," I said in a very
quiet tone. "It is intended one night to follow you to the place of
assignation, and there discover you with your----"

"With my lover," she said, finishing my sentence. "Yes, I know full well
your thoughts, m'sieur."

"It is suggested that you love this man," I declared quite plainly.

"So my enemies are plotting to create a scandal about me!" she
exclaimed, with quick warmth. "There is, I suppose, not sufficient
scandal in Brussels, therefore they must needs invent more. They would
blast the reputation of every honest woman. When did you learn this?"

"Only yesterday," I answered. "It was the duty of a friend to warn you,
even though it be a painful task."

She was pensive for a long time. There was an interval in the music, and
all was calm and peaceful in the half-darkness where we sat.

Then, turning to me, she suddenly grasped my hand warmly in hers,
saying:

"In giving me this warning you have rendered me a great service--how
great you cannot dream. Believe me, I shall never forget it--never."

And there was a strange catch in her voice which I knew to be due to
emotion which she had striven in vain to repress.




CHAPTER XIV.--THE EVIL OF THE HAPSBOURGS.


We remained silent, both too full of thoughts for utterance. The
orchestra had struck up again, and was playing a bright air from the
'Coupe du Roi de Thule' of Diaz, and the shadowy figures that had
wandered past us during the interval were now returning to that gay
circle of light where the fashionable chatterers were sitting lazily
beneath the trees.

"I am glad that I have been able to render you my first service,
Princess," I exclaimed at length in a low voice.

She was sitting beside me immovable, gazing straight before her, her
breast now and then heaving and falling beneath the thin white blouse.
Once I thought she had involuntarily murmured some incoherent words, but
next instant I doubted whether it had not been the rustling of the
treetops. She was greatly agitated at the discovery of this conspiracy
to unmask her, and had sat rigid and silent as if trying to devise some
plan of action.

"I can only thank you, m'sieur," she answered at last, in a voice which
sounded sweet and musical. "The world is very ungenerous towards a
woman, be she a work-girl or a princess. I have often thought that the
women of the people have a far happier time than we who are ever in the
lurid glare of publicity. Indeed, perhaps you would not believe it, but
when driving out on Sundays I have often envied the young shopgirl
contentedly walking on her lover's arm, for she is free to love or to
hate, and she can enjoy the pleasures of life untrammelled and
unfettered. She has no fear of scandal, or of the idle, envenomed gossip
of jealous women. The world is hers, and she enjoys it to the full, even
though she works for her bread and her happiness may not be unmixed with
tears."

I expressed myself fully in accord with her views. Never had the
rigidity of life in the royal circle been so vividly brought before me
as at that moment, for were not her words in themselves an admission
that this man she met clandestinely was actually her lover? Her voice,
too, was the voice of a woman overwhelmed by grief, distressed, rendered
desperate.

"You are upset to-night," I said, bending to her in a half-whisper.
"Will you not allow me to assist you?"

"No," she answered, despairingly. "I fear you cannot at present. In you
I have, I know, a friend--one in whom I can trust, and one with whom my
secret is safe."

"The secret of your love?" I suggested.

"My love!" she echoed. "No, no. Not my love--my hatred."

"Your hatred?" I exclaimed. "I do not understand."

"Of course not. How should you when you are still in ignorance."

"But every woman must love once in her life," I said.

"And love very frequently brings to her unhappiness," she observed
philosophically.

"I trust that is not your experience," I responded.

Her breast beneath the thin silken blouse again rose and fell slowly. I
could not distinguish her face behind the thick veil in that deep shadow
of the trees, but I had an instinctive feeling that tears were in her
eyes.

"I sometimes think," she said in a strained tremulous voice, "that every
woman has a birthright of woe."

"You speak as though you were oppressed by some burden of unhappiness,"
I said softly. "May I know the truth now that I am your friend? May I
not help you?"

"No," she answered firmly, sighing as she shook her head. "It is utterly
impossible--utterly. The complications are so bewildering and the
circumstances so strange that you could never believe the truth. It
would appear to you far too romantic--too unreal."

"But tell me one thing," I urged. "That man who was present at the
ball--who is he?"

"That man!" she gasped, trembling. "That man is my----" But she stopped
short, and held her breath. "No! No!" she cried a moment later. "You
promised blind obedience to my wish, therefore remain patient at
present. Ask me no question."

I saw how agitated she was, how strangely despairing, how utterly
desperate. She was just as an ordinary woman haunted by some terrible
ever-present dread, fearing every moment that some long-expected blow
should fall and crush her. Loving her so fondly as I did, my heart went
forth to her. I could not bear to see her thus anxious and consumed by
fear, and longed to be able to pour forth my declaration of devotion.
Yet I hesitated. The difference in our stations formed a gulf which
could never be bridged. Even if I were a millionaire I could never
aspire to the hand of a princess of the House of Hapsbourg.

"I ask the question," I said, "because I, humble man that I am, have
your welfare at heart."

"Ah, I am confident that you have," she answered with an air of gracious
acknowledgment of my tribute. "Our acquaintanceship has not been of long
duration, but I know you sufficiently well to be aware that we are,
shall be, the firmest of friends. At present my future is but a black
out-look, but some day I trust its aspect will change."

"A black outlook! What do you mean?" I asked quickly, much puzzled. The
idea of the future of the smart and beautiful Princess Melanie being
other than happy seemed impossible. Throughout Europe she was noted for
the smartness of her toilettes and the sweetness of her face. At Court
every one believed her to be merry, irresponsible, and utterly heartless
where man's affections were concerned. People had talked, and the papers
had gossiped about a projected alliance between the Hapsbourgs and the
royal family of Italy; but those who knew said that Melanie had treated
the young prince--who was a prig at best--with scant favour, and that
after a month at Brandenberg he had gone back to Rome very much
disconcerted, while she had openly declared herself glad to get rid of
him.

"It is impossible for you to understand my position," she declared.
"That it is a grave one--a very grave one--is all that I dare tell you.
Someday you may perhaps know the truth. Then you will recognise what I
feel to-night in thus gaining your friendship."

"If it is gratifying to you it is the more gratifying to me," I blurted
forth. "All that I fear is that I am unworthy to be your Highness's
friend and confidant."

"Ah, no," she protested. "I do not extend friendship to all and sundry.
People say, I think, that I am proud and exclusive, and that I retain
the ancient hauteur of my House. That is what I have been always taught
to do. I have been told from my earliest girlhood that, as a royal
princess, I am of different blood to the people, and that the latter are
of no account in our world. I used, in my girlish ignorance, to think so
until a couple of years ago."

"And you have now formed a different opinion," I observed.

"Certainly."

I was puzzled to know whether this tall, fair-bearded man who had
crossed the Moorish room in the Palace noiseless as a shadow, and who
had taken such intense interests in my movements, was actually the man
she met so often at night. Surely it could not be, for she had declared
that she hated him. Why, I wondered.

"The man whose presence at the ball caused you so much anxiety was in
the Bois this morning," I said. "Perhaps it was as well that you did not
cycle with me there."

"It was for that very reason I did not come," she answered. "I had
obtained previous knowledge of his intention."

"I cannot stifle a suspicion that he has some sinister design upon me," I
said.

"Sinister design? What do you suspect?"

"That he might be consumed by jealousy if, for example, he saw us as we
are now, sitting here, like lovers," I answered abruptly.

"But you surely do not think that he is my lover, do you?" she cried,
dismayed.

I admitted that I had believed him to be.

"No," she assured me with a harsh laugh. "There has never been love
between us--only hatred--a bitter, deadly hatred which was once near
culminating in a tragedy."

Her words increased my curiosity. There was here some remarkable mystery
of the undercurrent of the highest circle of society in Europe. Who, I
wondered, could this man be?

"From your words, Princess, one would almost imagine that love had never
entered your heart," I said.

"It is legendary that the love of the Hapsbourgs is always ill-fated. In
the annals of our House are many love-romances--some with very sad
denouements. It is a saying, too, that a dark Hapsbourg brings
ill-fortune."

"You are a dark Hapsbourg," I said gravely.

"Unfortunately, yes," she answered, in a rather strained, unnatural
tone.

"But those who have beauty never bring ill luck is an old saying of the
peasantry down in Tuscany," I said cheerfully. "It nevertheless pains me
to know that you are troubled by this mysterious dilemma in which you
find yourself to-night. I only wish you would allow me to render you
some help. Do," I urged.

"Why?" she inquired, after a moment's pause, as she turned towards me.

"Because--because----" But I hesitated in confusion. I feared to speak
those words which rose so readily to my lips, although I had striven so
hard to repress them.

She was sitting beside me erect, motionless, her head turned towards me
in an attitude of surprise. She had raised her veil because she declared
that it stifled her, and was looking at me with those soft dark eyes, so
brilliant and beautiful. There was an element of romance in that
meeting, and I had scented danger in the secret of our friendship being
known to that silent stranger who had sat unnoticed in the Cafe
Metropole, and had followed me as far as the Bourse. I felt assured that
he harboured some evil intention.

"Why are you so anxious to take upon yourself a burden that you might
find insupportable?" she asked, in a sweet half-reproachful tone.

"Because, Princess," I stammered, unable longer to suppress the burning
passion within me, "forgive me for uttering the truth, but I cannot
longer conceal it. It is because I love you!"

In an instant she drew away with a little frightened cry, as though in
fear of me.

"Love!" she gasped in a tone of blank surprise? "Ah! I have been
foolish--very foolish! Why have I allowed you to mistake a purely
platonic friendship for flirtation? It is all my fault."

"It is not flirtation," I assured her passionately, catching her soft
white hand, and holding it tenderly within mine. "I know that I am
foolish, that these words of mine are sheer madness, and that you, in
your position, can never be wife of an humble man like myself. Still,
since the first moment that we met I have been drawn towards you
irresistibly, and, sleeping or waking, one face has been ever in my
dreams, one name ever ringing in my ears--Melanie--Melanie--always
Melanie."

"No, no," she faltered in a broken voice. "You must not speak like that.
We may be friends, firm, true friends, but love is utterly impossible."

"But hear me!" I implored, in a low earnest voice. "I cannot be
ceremonious with you now that you know the secret which, through so many
days, has been wearing out my heart. Do not say that love is impossible.
Only give me leave to love you, to think of you as one who in some
slight degree reciprocates my passion; give me leave to drop
formalities, and call you by your Christian name when we are alone, and
I will be satisfied. I will ask no more."

The tiny hand I held trembled. She sighed, and a shudder ran through her
slight frame.

"Such permission, were I to give it, could only result disastrously,"
she answered sadly, with a calm philosophy.

"But do not withhold it," I cried in an outburst of desperate
recklessness. "I love you, Melanie, with all my soul. I swear I do. I am
yours irrevocably, and for always."

She drew away her hand firmly, and seemed to hold herself up with that
proud hauteur which she assumed towards all others save myself.

"No," she answered, in a tone of soft tenderness. "It is impossible. I
regret this very, very deeply," she added, after a moment's reflection.
"The more so because I have looked upon you as my friend--one in whom I
had every confidence."

"I trust I have given you no offence," I said, apologetically. "My words
were spontaneous. I tried to suppress them, but the truth of my
affection rose involuntarily to my lips."

"It is no offence to love," she answered, in a low voice full of
emotion. "But if you would be my friend, and if you would assist me, do
not speak again of affection. Such discussions as this can only be
painful to both of us."

"Then you do love me a little," I cried, joyously. "If you did not it
could not pain you. Come, Melanie," I added, again taking her hand,
"give me permission to love you."

"No, no," she cried, hoarsely, suddenly rising to her feet, and again
snatching away the hand I had caught. "A thousand times, no! Your love
for me can only bring disaster to both of us. God knows my life is dark
enough, one long interminable tragedy, and I will never sacrifice you as
victim. You ask me to encompass you with fatality and evil. But I
refuse. We must part. You shall not--you must not love me. I am a dark
Hapsburg, and my love is fatal--fatal!"




CHAPTER XV.--AN AFFINITY OF SOULS.


"Ah, no, Princess!" I said, in deepest anxiety and earnestness. "Surely
your goodwill cannot bring evil upon me? Rather would it render me a
better and happier man."

"You already have my goodwill," she answered, scarcely above her breath,
in a voice which showed how moved she was. I could not disguise from
myself that she, although a princess, was nevertheless a woman after
all, a woman who yearned for love and tenderness, although oppressed by
some mysterious secret of which I was in ignorance. Even in the gloom of
night her wondrous beauty, a beauty renowned throughout Europe, shone
upon me. Her face was inexpressibly sweet in its sadness. Was there,
notwithstanding her refusal, a love-look in those dark, luminous eyes:
It was too dark for me to see plainly, but I vaguely believed that there
was. Her voice, low and tender, gave proof of it, and I was thereby
encouraged.

"But it is more than goodwill that I desire," I continued in quick
passionate earnestness, utterly reckless of what I said. Indeed, I held
both her hands at that moment, and her head was bowed in silence. "I
love you, Melanie! I love you with all my heart, with all my soul, with
all the strength of my being I----"

"No!" she cried, protestingly. "Do not make my burden harder by such
words. You do not know--you never will know, I hope," she added, sadly.
"Mine is a cruel story, and I am glad there is no necessity to speak of
it--I only ask your charity, your sympathy. Love between us is
impossible."

"Yes," I said, in a hoarse voice of disappointment. "I know that now I
ought to have been self-possessed, and not have pained you thus. I see
the immeasurable inferiority of my position and my nature to your own.
But, Melanie, I only wanted one hope, one legitimate ambition."

"Ah, do not utter such words of reproach," she whispered in an intense
whisper. "This is as painful to me as to you. If you knew all the truth
you would not speak like that. A woman of my birth may love with equal
affection to any other."

She lifted her head. Her eyes, dry and calm, rested upon my face. Her
countenance was pale, her mouth set with a grave, steady sweetness.

Light rushed in upon my mind in a radiant flood-light and knowledge. I
knew she was right. I had looked deep into her sad eyes, read her
innermost soul, and found it pure.

"In the sphere apart from mine you will meet one more fitting for you,"
I said in a voice of grief and blank despair. "You tell me that love is
impossible. If so, then it will be best, best for both of us, if we do
not meet again. I must part from you because I love you, and my love
might result disastrously for you. Yes, I see it all. If the world knew
that I, Philip Crawford, were your lover there would be scandal in the
papers, and in your circle you would be laughed to scorn. No, I cannot
bear to see you day by day and know that you are not for me. If I were
beautiful like you, perhaps I might rejoice in your beauty and your
grace without any selfish wish--but I cannot. If you are not to be mine
I cannot enjoy your presence. Every charm you have is an added injury,
if I am to be indifferent to you."

She covered her eyes with her hands, and her frame was shaken by a sob.

"Ah!" I went on regretfully, "I have made you angry, or wounded you
again. It would be so continually were I to stay. I should be giving you
offence every hour in the day. Yet I cannot help loving you any more
than I can help breathing. This, of course, can be nothing to you, a
princess, but it is all my life to me. You have filled every thought of
my mind, every vein of my body. How can I separate myself from you?"

As I poured out these mad words and much more, a flood of hot and
passionate sentences, she slowly recovered her composure. She allowed
her hands to remain inertly in mine, and sat listening to me with
half-shut eyes.

"Melanie," I said, "cannot you give me one word of hope to carry with
me? I cannot forget you. Surely you have seen my devotion? My mind
cannot change. Perhaps I have spoken too soon and too rashly, if so,
forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive," she answered once again in a voice blank
and melancholy. Her heart beat loudly, the lace ruffles on her bosom
trembled, as slowly she lifted her eyes to mine. I knew that her eyes
were dimmed by tears.

"Give me one single word of hope, Melanie," I implored in earnestness.
"My love for you is no light fancy of sentimental youth captivated by
every fresh face it sees, putting upon each one the colouring of its own
imagination, and adoring not what is, but what itself creates; no
sudden, selfish, sensuous passion, caring only to attain its object,
irrespective of reason, right or conscience; but the strong deep
affection of one who has tried to live honourably, and to carry down the
traditions of his race."

"Yes, yes, I know," she cried, quickly. "I am convinced that you are
brave, plain-spoken, single-hearted. Would that there were more such men
and more such love in the world. You ask for permission to love me, but
it is not just to you that I should give it, knowing full well that
marriage is not possible, that happiness is barred from us by the
difference of our stations."

"Then you do not look upon me with disfavour, Melanie?" I cried,
quickly, overjoyed. "Your words betray that your heart is really
softened towards me, and that my appeal is not in vain. Tell me that you
give me permission to think of you as one who is more than friend--as
one dear to me."

She looked again in my face with her honest eyes. Smiling as they were,
there was pathos in them--the sadness left by that secret which ever
oppressed her.

"I know that you are noble, faithful and generous," she answered
speaking solemnly, slowly. "Therefore if you really desire it I give you
that permission."

"Ah!" I cried in joyous rapture, raising her hand to my lips and kissing
it ferverently. "You have brought a great gladness to me to-night. I
will battle for your sake with all hard fortune, and the world shall
know nothing of this secret alliance between us. I love you, Melanie,
and I will be ever loyal, ever faithful, ever true."

Her breast slowly rose and fell, and her tiny hand gripped mine tightly
in a manner more expressive than words. That pressure upon my fingers
was her pledge of faith.

She was perfectly still and silent, looking into my eyes, and I thought
that, though it was the same street face, it was different from what it
had ever been before; no longer the face of my patrician friend, but the
face of one who held me in tender affection--a picture of a woman's
perfect love.

Again I bent and touched her soft hand with my lips.

"To kiss your hand as I do is unbounded joy to me, Melanie," I said,
intensely in earnest. "For now I feel that you are mine--mine!"

"Rather regard me as a dear and affectionate friend," she murmured. "Do
not let us speak of love, but of friendship."

"No," I protested, "when we are alone together let us speak of our
affection under its proper name: real and perfect love. When others are
present, however, you may trust me not to betray our secret."

"I do trust you," she answered. "I trust you implicitly, as one whose
prudence and good sense will not allow him to step outside the path of
perfectly conventional social intercourse. This secret of our--our----"

"Our love," I said.

"This secret of our love," she faltered, in a voice so low as to be
almost incoherent, "must be ours alone."

"I swear to you that none shall know, not even my own relatives," I
assured her.

"I rely upon your secrecy--Philip," she said.

It was the first time she had uttered my name, and it sounded so sweet
and soft from her lips.

An instant later, however, she added in a tone calm and serious, "There
is one other condition that I am forced to impose upon you, and that is
that although I give you this permission, which you have sought, I give
you no right to question my actions."

"I have no right to interfere with your liberty of action," I stammered
humbly. "Our lives lie apart in entirely different spheres. When,
however, you desire my help in any matter you have only to command me,
and I will redeem my promise of obedience."

"And so in future," she murmured, as if speaking to herself, "you are to
be my companion--my friend."

"More than friend," I said earnestly. "Lover. God manifests His will in
the flowers, in the light of dawn, in the spring; and love is of his
ordaining. There is a holy affinity between our souls, Melanie. In
future we cannot be placed apart."

There was a pause. No leaf among the trees stirred. In the midst of that
retirement, like a harmony making the silence more complete, rose the
low strains of distant music.

She remained with her handsome head bowed, as if, by shading her face,
she hoped to conceal her thoughts.

Again I spoke--

"You are silent."

"What would you have me say?"

"I wait for your response."

She hesitated, a deep sigh escaping her.

"You have spoken the truth," she answered in a low broken voice, full of
emotion. "Would that I could also tell you the truth regarding myself.
Then happiness would be mine."

"Cannot you tell me?" I urged.

"Alas! no," she answered in the same low voice, shaking her head sadly.
"It is a secret which even you may not know. Because of it, sorrow and
joy mingle within my heart."

"You are unhappy," I said, seriously. "I know you are terribly unhappy.
How can I help you? Surely I may render some assistance? I cannot bear
to think of you, the woman I love, weighed down by a burden of sorrow
which you are forced to conceal. Has it any connection with that man who
discovered us together on that eventful evening at the Palace?"

She paused in reflection. Then she answered, very slowly:

"Yes, it has."

"That man is your enemy," I said.

"My bitterest enemy," she admitted.

"Who is he?"

"No, no," she cried quickly, in a voice of alarm. "If you love me, then
do not endeavour to wring from me my secret. I ask you this one favour.
Only myself need suffer--not you."

"But you shall not suffer alone," I declared, firmly. "Your difficulties
are mine. I will share them with you."

But sighing heavily again she shook her head despairingly, and answered:

"Some day I may require your aid. Not now. At present no assistance you
can give would be availing. I am compelled to suffer alone, and in
silence."

"Suffer!" I cried. "I will discover who this man is, and acting
independently, free you from his influence."

"Ah, no," she cried in quick alarm. "He already knows you. If you sought
to come between us the consequences would fall upon me--a dire and
terrible disaster."

"But he is not your lover?" I said. "You have already denied that."

"He is certainly not."

"Then his jealousy cannot be aroused if I act as your friend," I pointed
out.

"The slightest action on your part would suffice to bring upon me a
catastrophe complete and terrible," she said hoarsely. "He would believe
that I had betrayed his secret, and he would not spare me, for he is
relentless."

"Then you actually live in fear of him?" I cried.

"I have already told you," she answered. "He is my enemy."

"And he possesses some power over you?"

"Yes, an influence which is irresistible."

"And you, a princess, are compelled to submit to the will or caprice of
this man?" I cried fiercely. "Surely, there must be some means or other
by which you may free yourself from his evil power?"

"If there were I should instantly avail myself of them," she answered
blankly. "Heaven knows how I have suffered these past two years. To the
world as Princess of Hapsbourg I am believed to be gay and happy,
possessed of all that makes life pleasant, and careless of everything;
yet beneath that smile of satisfaction, which I am compelled to wear
because it is expected of one of blood royal, I carry a heart laden with
sorrow and regret, a heart bowed down with grief, remorse, and woe; for
I am the most unhappy woman in all the world."

"Your life is overshadowed by this man," I said, surprised at this
sudden confession of hers. Her voice was low and trembling, showing her
dire distress.

"It is because I fear exposure," she said, in a strange mechanical
voice. "And before exposure I would prefer death. He knows that he holds
my life in his hands."

"Why?" I inquired eagerly.

"Because rather than bear the opprobrium which he could bring upon me I
would kill myself," she cried hoarsely.

"And that is the reason you fear him?" I suggested in a low voice.

She bowed her bead in acquiescence.

There was a long pause. Her hand was still in mine, and I felt it quiver
nervously.

"May I not know who and what this man is?" I asked earnestly at last.
"Cannot you trust me?"

"I trust you implicitly," she answered. "But in this matter my safety
depends entirely upon my silence. I must bear my sorrow alone. No power
can aid me."

"If I could render you the smallest assistance I would do so willingly,"
I assured her, once again raising her hand to my lips, and imprinting a
tender kiss upon it.

"I am confident of that," she answered with a sigh. "If some day I
require your aid--and I may do--I will ask you to redeem your promise."

"I will do so," I answered fervently. "At whatever cost I will do your
bidding."

"And you will keep the secret of our close acquaintanceship?" she urged.

"No, no," I protested quickly. "Not of our acquaintanceship--of our
love."

"Of our love," she faltered, in a voice so low as to be almost
inaudible.

"Then you actually do love me!" I cried, enraptured. "Tell me the truth,
Melanie," I implored. "Do not keep me longer in suspense."

Again her slim fingers gripped my hand, her breast rose and fell slowly,
and her head bowed as though she would hide her face in modesty.

"Yes," she whispered, so softly that I could scarce catch her words.
"Yes, Philip, I--I love you."




CHAPTER XVI.--SECRET SERVICE.


"My dear fellow," exclaimed Yermoloff between the whiffs of his eternal
cigarette, as I was sitting in his room at the Russian Legation next
morning, "the whole thing is considered an absurdity at Petersburg. An
Anglo-German alliance is quite out of the question. Your Mr. Chamberlain
is merely developing the ideas of the principle laid down formerly by
the Marquess of Macclesfield if he asks England to form an alliance with
Germany for the purpose of making war upon Russia."

"England will never declare war," I answered.

My companion's sphinx-like face relaxed into a dubious smile. I had had
some unimportant business to transact with him that morning regarding a
British subject who had been arrested in Liege upon demand from the
police in Moscow, where he was wanted for fraud, and had made this visit
an opportunity of learning the latest opinion upon the situation, and
endeavouring to ascertain whether anything was known of the theft of
King Leopold's letters.

"We are well aware," he said, "that your Government has lately made
advances to Germany, and that these overtures were not brought to a
successful conclusion because no agreement could be arrived at as to
certain terms. The policy of England is not only liable to change, but
it is also hazy, obscure, and never to be relied upon. This is the chief
reason that England is driven from one quarter to another in her
continual search for allies; no single English Government can
successfully offer itself as an ally so long as the other European
Powers prefer the victories of peace to those of war."

"But you don't believe that England is desirous of hostilities with your
country, do you?" I asked.

"Most certainly. If the German Alliance could have been arranged Russia
and England would have been at war at this moment. Indeed," he added,
looking at me rather strangely, "it isn't quite certain that there will
be no fighting even now."

"We have but little to fear in that direction," I answered him, taking a
fresh cigarette from his box and lighting it. He imported his own direct
from Moscow, so they were always excellent.

"But there is danger in this strange policy of yours," he said. "Only at
the last moment, when the smell of powder is in the air, does your
shrewd old Marquess come to the decision as to which party in the strife
it will be to its better advantage to form an alliance with. The latest
of your diplomatic evolutions, my dear Crawford, has, I assure you,
created much amusement in Petersburg."

"Why?" I asked. This survey of our policy from the Russian point of view
was very interesting.

"The traditional Russophobia which seems to have infected you English
has spread to a remarkable extent," he answered, blowing some rings of
smoke from his mouth. "But even the London 'Times,' which only lately
cast forth another of its thunderbolts at the Government at Petersburg,
has recognised that an Anglo-German Alliance would cost England far more
than the advantages are worth, or which the Triple Alliance can assure
to English statecraft."

"You mean that in order to conclude an alliance with Berlin, England
must satisfy some heavy demands?" I observed.

"Exactly. Germany will never accept England as an ally on any other
condition than conscription," he answered. "That, of course, your
country is unable to grant."

This was a fact which I particularly desired to know. I had purposely
led the conversation up to this point, in order to ascertain whether
Germany's secret reply to England, given only the day previous, was
known in the Russian Legations. It was, and it showed that the Russian
secret service had been so actively at work at Berlin that the result of
the Anglo-German negotiations had consequently been telegraphed in
cypher to every Russian Legation in Europe. Only at midnight had a
cypher telegram been received by Sir John from Downing-street, giving
the negative result of the suggested alliance with Germany, yet actually
within an hour or two, the Russians, whom it was extremely desirous to
keep in ignorance, were fully aware of all that had transpired. Truly
the secret service of the Colossus of the North is marvellously
organised, and absolutely complete. Daily, even hourly sometimes, every
Russian Legation abroad receives in cypher from the Ministry at
Petersburg the direction of the latest political wind, and the movements
or intentions of the Powers. The British Legations are always
well-informed in this respect, but Russia, crafty and unscrupulous, is
usually ahead.

"England can perfectly well afford to do without Germany," I said quite
unconcernedly, for our chat was an informal and friendly one. "The
foreign Press--and the diplomatic circle for the matter of that--are
fond of talking of England's isolation in the Far East, yet it is
curious they don't recognise that our occupation of Wei-hai-Wei was
effected in concert with Japan; our loan was effected in concert with
Germany; our railway scheme was financed in concert with Belgium; the
mineral wealth of Hunan is being exploited in concert with Italy; and
our policy of the 'open door' is admittedly in harmony with that of
America. An attempt, therefore, to upset our policy as a whole involves
Japan, Germany, Italy, and America. Such is isolation!"

"Ah, my dear Crawford," laughed my friend, flicking off his cigarette
ash, "the rivalry between your country and mine is not ended. In India,
for example, you trust for defence to a native army of Indian soldiers
with a stiffening of British troops, while we hold our Asiatic
possessions in strength, and deprive the population of all arms in order
to destroy their martial instinct altogether. Our ideal is that of a
subject population, blindly subservient to the military and civil
authority exercised by Russians in the name of our Czar; while the dream
of you English is to create loyal, self-governed and self-defending
citizens. The latter seems, of course, the nobler ideal, but where an
Oriental race is concerned the former is the wiser, you may depend upon
it."

"Ah!" I said. "You Russians always covet India. Some day you will attack
us there, I suppose."

He shrugged his shoulders significantly

"At your Downing-street your Ministry know well enough our intentions in
Asia. The English are not blind, neither are they fools," he said. "But
I tell you, Crawford, my dear fellow, that a reaction has set in, and
according to report which reaches us from London people are beginning to
talk of the senselessness of those views which aim at concluding an
alliance with Germany, England's chief competitor for the trade of the
world and in colonial expansion, while at the same time there is a
section of your statesmen who openly evince a preference for a
'rapprochement' with Russia."

"With Russia! Never, Yermoloff," I laughed. "The British lion and the
Russian bear could never pig together."

Again the dark-faced Secretary of Legation shrugged his shoulders
expressively.

"It would have been wiser," he said, "if your Government had approached
ours a couple of years ago, for it would have placed England on a far
safer basis than she is at present. At this very moment England is on
the very edge of a volcano."

I started. Could it be that at last a copy of that stolen correspondence
had found its way to Petersburg? Such ominous words plainly showed that
my friend held knowledge of some catastrophe imminent.

I, however, affected disregard for his prognostications, and only
smiled, answering:

"It is always so, now that you have your alliance with France."

"Ah!" he said. "You English are an unfortunate nation."

These words of his increased my fear that the blow, so long dreaded at
Downing-street, had fallen. The unusual activity in Paris, of which we
had received word, and these declarations by Paul Yermoloff went to show
that something had transpired to cause undue excitement in the French
and Russian Legations, and that the storm long brewing over Europe was
on the very point of bursting.

For some time longer we chatted, and while I betrayed no sign of anxiety
at his words, my friend sought with a Russian's self-assertion to
impress upon me the benefit to be derived from an Anglo-Russian
alliance. Then at last I left, and took a cab back to the Embassy,
having learnt one or two things which could not fail to be disconcerting
at Downing-street.

Whatever may be said about the diplomatic methods by which the Russian
Government accomplish their aggressive purposes, it is impossible not to
admire, perchance even to envy, their continuity of policy, and the
unswerving determination with which it is carried out. It is the same in
every capital. From time to time some check occurs, but as soon as it is
removed or surmounted, the work of aggrandisement is renewed with as
much vigour as if it had never come to a halt. The strong point in
Russian statecraft is that it knows how to wait, as well as when to
strike.

When an hour later I related to Sir John Drummond my conversation with
Yermoloff he stroked his short grey beard thoughtfully, and after a
moment's pause said:

"Let me have the cypher-book. We must wire to Downing-street. Spies have
again been at work somewhere. Our diplomacy of late seems always to be
undermined or rendered abortive by our friends at Petersburg."

I took from the great safe in the corner of the room the flat volume
containing the cyphers. Only a few weeks ago they had been changed
because there was a suspicion that the ciphers had leaked out somewhere.
Then, when Sir John had finished writing the telegram, I sat down, and
with the aid of the book reduced it to an amazing and puzzling array of
numerals.

The telegraphic despatch was a long, explanatory one, and I, myself, at
once went forth to the chief post-office to send it off, while Sir John
ordered the carriage and drove to the Royal Palace to acquaint King
Leopold of the latest development of affairs consequent upon the
mysterious theft.

The loss of the correspondence had placed Sir John, clever and
distinguished diplomatist that he was, in a very unenviable position,
for not only was England's honour at stake, but the honour of a friendly
sovereign and the good-will of a kingdom which, although small in
extent, is of considerable importance in the political situation. Sir
John Drummond, whose experience extended over thirty years in nearly
every capital in Europe, had admitted himself baffled. Of all her
Majesty's Ministers at the Foreign Courts he was one of the cleverest
and shrewdest, able to conduct the most delicate piece of diplomacy, and
aided by his affable and popular wife, had been the means of more than
once securing to his country concessions of the utmost worth. Indeed,
Queen Victoria had few more valued servants in her corps of Ambassadors
than Sir John Drummond, and the Marquess of Macclesfield had often
openly expressed his entire confidence in what he was fond of playfully
calling 'Drummond's sagacity.' Therefore, it was the more serious that
just at this crisis such a mysterious and marvellous theft should have
been committed, for undoubtedly King Leopold regarded him as personally
responsible for the safe keeping of those compromising letters.

The ways of French and Russian diplomacy were, however, a perfect
labyrinth of intrigue and mystery, and both countries nowadays depend
upon their spies, male and female, rather than on the legitimate efforts
of their Embassies. In the pay of the Foreign Ministers of Russia and
France are all sorts and conditions of men and women, who will hesitate
at nothing in order to get at the secrets of those in opposition to
them. Truly the life of a British ambassador is the reverse of tranquil,
surrounded as he is by this veritable army of secret agents intent upon
combating British diplomacy and rendering it abortive, ever striving and
struggling to serve their masters by prying into every secret in the
Embassy archives.

On my return to the Rue de Spa some half hour later Salmon, the English
concierge, in his funny cutaway coat and peaked cap, the man so well
known in the diplomatic circle in Brussels, told me that a telephonic
message had just arrived from the Palace stating that Sir John wished me
to proceed there. Therefore, I re-entered the cab, and in fifteen
minutes or so I was shown through those long handsome corridors of white
and gold, my eyes ever on the alert to catch a glimpse of Melanie, being
at length ushered into the salon where my chief was closeted with King
Leopold.

The room was by no means of large dimensions, and yet it presented a
serious and imposing appearance. The grey-green panels, the dark brown
embossed leather on the walls, the dark green curtains of the windows,
and the paintings by Dutch artists several of them in black frames, all
combined to breathe a spirit of earnestness. One felt that every article
in that room had its own history. For example, there stood an enormous
globe before the window on the left, and close by it a tall desk at
which his Majesty stood to work; near the window on the right was the
work-table of the King, covered with many personal souvenirs, including
an autographed portrait of her Majesty Queen Victoria, in a frame set
with brilliants. A glance through the windows showed the handsome square
and well-kept park beyond, while straight in front hung Fehrbellin's
painting of the great Elector, whose eagle eyes seemed to sparkle with
his favourite motto, 'Deus fortitudo mea.' A couple of well-filled
bookcases, the number of maps and plans upon the walls, and the littered
state of the work-table were ample evidence that to be a reigning
monarch was no sinecure.

I had bowed on entering, and King Leopold, with the courtesy which has
always distinguished him, rose from his chair, a tall, full-bearded,
imposing figure in grey frock-coat, and returned my bow.

"His Majesty wished to see you, Crawford," explained Sir John, turning
to me, and as he uttered the words I saw by the expression upon his
countenance that the discussion had been an extremely grave one.

"Yes," said the kindly-faced, elderly, plainly-dressed man, sinking back
into his chair and giving me permission to be seated. "Sir John has told
me of your conversation at the Russian Legation to-day, and as I
understand that you are engaged in the secret service of the British
Foreign Office anything that I may say to you will, of course, remain
secret."

"Your Majesty has my pledge of secrecy," I answered. He spoke English
perfectly, if with just a slight accent.

"The theft of those letters must, of course, have a most serious effect
upon your own diplomacy, and not only must it affect me personally, but
it may result in hostilities against England," observed his Majesty, his
dark eyes fixed upon me. "I happen to know something of the feeling in
Paris and in St. Petersburg, and undoubtedly it is the universal opinion
that this is the opportunity for a declaration of war. The differences
between England and France regarding Egypt and the Niger question, and
between England and Russia regarding the Far East, have served to
embitter both those Powers against England. Well, I am, as you probably
know, a stanch supporter of my friend, Sir John Drummond, and of the
British policy. To the Powers my kingdom is supposed to be neutral: but
in event of war British troops would no doubt find a safe landing in
Antwerp and be accorded every facility for reaching the Rhine."

"I thank your Majesty for such an expression of friendship towards
England, especially in these circumstances," observed Sir John cordially.

"My friendship for England is because the Marquess of Macclesfield is
always just, fair, and upright; and further, because the policy of
England is to protect the weak against the strong," answered the King,
leaning back in his chair. "This loss, of course, occasions me the
greatest anxiety; yet I cannot lay any blame upon either the British
Government or upon yourself. From what you explained the other day the
utmost care was taken of the file, and it was carried by special
messenger with other secret despatches. Nevertheless, we have to look
events resolutely in the face. The papers have been stolen by some
person unknown, their contents are evidently known to every French and
Russian Minister in Europe, and war is at this moment imminent."

"Do you suppose that to be so?" inquired Sir John quickly.

"I cannot see how we can convince ourselves of any other result," his
Majesty replied, his brow furrowed in thought. "France and Russia have
everything to gain by thus taking England by surprise." Then, turning to
me, the King said:

"I should like to hear from your own lips the words used by the Russian
Secretary of Legation. He is your friend, is he not?"

"Yes, your Majesty. We are personal friends. I have known him at other
Embassies for a number of years," and proceeding I gave a detailed
account of the conversation, almost as I have here written it, while
with his eyes fixed upon me, he listened with marked attention.

"And this Yermoloff is rather a smart man, is he not?" his Majesty
exclaimed.

"He has a reputation for shrewdness," I answered. "He was stationed at
Rome a year ago, and it is said to have been in a great measure due to
his astuteness that Russia gained the concessions she did over the
recent affair in Abyssinia."

"Ah! I remember," he said. "That was a piece of very clever diplomacy,
purely Russian in all its ingeniousness. Has he ever visited you at the
Embassy?" he inquired.

"Never. He comes to my rooms to smoke sometimes, and now and then on
business pretexts I go to the Russian Legation."

"Ah, I quite understand," he smiled. "And you make good use of your time
when you are there--eh? Well, this is certainly valuable information
which you've picked up this morning. Where are your rooms situated?"

"In the Place Louise," I answered.

"And you have never had occasion to take the file of correspondence now
missing home with you, I suppose?"

"Never," I answered. "The documents never left the safe at the Legation,
of which Sir John always holds the master-key, until they were placed in
the despatch box, sealed and taken to London."

"Extraordinary!" his Majesty ejaculated. "The thieves evidently
outwitted you in a manner that its truly amazing."

"We are very seriously handicapped," observed Sir John, "by not being
able to discover into whose hands the correspondence has actually
fallen."

"Of course," the King said. "If the robbery were committed for the
purposes of gain--and we must suppose that it was--then I, myself, would
have been prepared to pay almost any sum to recover them. It is most
fatal at this juncture that they should have been secured by our
enemies--absolutely the worst catastrophe that could have happened to
England or to Belgium.

"Unfortunately that is only too true," said the Ambassador, sitting
pensive and puzzled.

"And there is still another matter, M'sieur Crawford," continued the
King, rising and opening a drawer in his work-table, and then returning
in a moment with something in his hand. "You are a member of the secret
service, therefore, perhaps, you might assist me in a small matter. Do
you happen to know the original of this photograph?" And he handed me a
rather soiled and faded carte-de-visite.

One glance at it was sufficient for identification. I sat with it in my
hand, breathless, rigid, dumbfounded!




CHAPTER XVII.--THE KING'S MESSAGE.


The picture his Majesty held before my gaze was the counterfeit
presentment of that woman whom I feared--the widow of my dead friend
Gordon.

It was as though this hateful shadow of the past was thrust upon me in
order to render my position the more desperate; for as I looked I saw
upon her pictured lips that smile of defiance which I had known so well
long ago when she was Judith Kohn.

"You recognise her," observed the King with satisfaction. "Tell me who,
and what she is."

I hesitated, my eyes fixed upon his. In a moment, however, I succeeded
in recovering my self-possession and said:

"That woman is well-known to me. Her name was Judith Kohn before she
married a man named Clunes, who was my friend."

"Where did you know her?"

"In Vienna," I answered. "While making certain secret inquiries there I
first became acquainted with her."

"And her name is now Clunes? What is his profession?"

I hesitated. Should I relate the whole truth, or not? A second's
reflection, however, showed me that such a course would be unwise. Only
the Marquess of Macclesfield and myself were aware of the truth, and he
had imposed silence upon me.

"Her husband," I said, "was engaged in the Treaty Department of our
Foreign Office in London."

"Ah, Clunes-Gordon Clunes," exclaimed Sir John, quickly. "Of course I
know him quite well. He's the head of that Department."

"Yes," I answered, wondering how this photograph, a copy of which was in
my possession, could have fallen into the hands of King Leopold.

"And what is the character of this woman?" continued his Majesty. "You
can speak quite frankly to me."

"She's something of a mystery," I responded.

"A mystery," he echoed. "You appear to look upon her with suspicion."

"I do," I said.

"Then tell me the circumstances in which you first met her. Knowledge of
them may assist me."

"I think, your Majesty," I answered with politeness, "I think I must
request you to excuse me replying to that question. As a member of the
secret service I am under oath not to divulge the result of any inquiry
I make to any agent of a foreign state."

His Majesty looked at me quickly with that sharp glance rendered the
more acute by his aquiline features, perhaps, then replied with a
good-humoured smile:

"Of course, M'sieur Crawford, I perfectly understand. I would not wish
you for one moment to betray any official secret to me. Nevertheless,
remember that I am friendly to your Queen and country, and that whatever
information in this matter you can give me without betraying any
confidence will be of the greatest assistance in my investigations."

"I think there is no harm in explaining to his Majesty who and what this
woman is," Sir John remarked.

"Unfortunately I am unable," I answered, rather annoyed.

"Why?" inquired the Ambassador.

"Because," I answered, "because the principal fact connected with her
career is a secret known only to myself and the Marquess of
Macclesfield, who imposed upon me the strictest silence."

"The Marquess of Macclesfield!" echoed the King. "Then he knows her?"

I nodded.

"She is a political agent--eh?"

"I have reason to believe so," I responded.

"Then, if so, why not, in our mutual interests, tell me some minor facts
regarding her?" urged the King, again glancing at the photograph with a
puzzled air, and stroking his long beard pensively, a habit of his when
deep in thought.

Again, I reflected for a moment, then, in the hope that I might obtain
knowledge of how this picture had fallen into his hands, I answered:

"Well, she's a woman who has had, as far as I have been able to gather,
a very unusual history. She passes as English, but the slight
accentuation of certain of her words is evidence that she is not. In
Paris she was once very well known, passing there as the daughter of a
very wealthy American lady, and becoming engaged to be married to Count
Venosta, of the Italian Embassy. This, however, was suddenly broken off,
by what means remains unknown, and she afterwards turned up at Vienna,
where I first met her."

"Was she in society there?" inquired the King eagerly.

"No," I answered. "Only in the course of some certain inquiries
regarding the betrayal of certain secret negotiations between my Embassy
and the Austro-Hungarian Government did I become aware of her existence.
She was known then as Judith Kohn, and was the supposed wife if one
Oswald Krauss, a captain of artillery."

"Well, and what afterwards?" the King inquired.

"Krauss was convicted by court-martial of selling plans of three of the
frontier fortresses to Russian agents and sentenced to imprisonment for
life. The woman, however, escaped."

"And she married your friend?"

"Yes. The next I saw of her was several years afterwards when, on
visiting Gordon Clunes, who had married during my absence in
Constantinople, I found that she was his wife."

"Remarkable!" exclaimed his Majesty reflectively. "Very remarkable. It
would almost appear as though she had some object in marrying an
official of his grade. It was scarcely wisdom on his part."

"He was entirely ignorant of her previous adventures," I said. "She
passed herself off as an Englishwoman living in a remote country town,
whose education had been gained abroad--here, in Brussels, I believe she
said."

"And he believed her," observed the King, smiling. "A man in love will
believe anything."

"But this woman is really a secret agent, you say!" exclaimed Sir John.
"Surely Clunes knows that? If not, no time should be lost in informing
him. It is a position most dangerous. Already we have had so many
attempts to get at the secrets of our diplomacy that we ought to spare
no effort to combat them."

"Every precaution possible has already been taken," I answered vaguely.
Had I not given my promise to the Marquess I should undoubtedly have
explained all to them.

"And this man Krauss," the King continued. "Was his offence a very
serious one?"

"Extremely," I answered. "His betrayal of military secrets was proved
beyond doubt, but it was further made plain that the woman acted as the
agent between her lover and the Russian Government."

"Ah!" exclaimed his Majesty, as though a sudden thought had occurred to
him. "Then the woman is known to the Russian Legation?"

"Undoubtedly," I answered. "I have certain knowledge that De Volborth,
the Russian Ambassador at Vienna, supplied her with money and arranged
for her escape over the frontier into Russia after her lover's arrest."

"But this, you will notice, is a prison photograph," the King remarked,
turning it in his hand.

"She had previously fallen into the hands of the Vienna police for
victimising tradespeople. It was after that that her relations with
Krauss commenced."

"I don't remember hearing anything of the betrayal of the plans," he
said reflectively.

"The matter was kept a profound secret," I answered. "Only a few high
officials, and those composing the court-martial were aware of it."

Too well I remembered all the curious details of that ingenious
conspiracy, which not only affected the security of the Austrian Empire,
but also that of England. It was because of my efforts in that
sensational affair, efforts which cost me so much, and added ten years
to my age, that the Marquess of Macclesfield reposed confidence in me.
Yet it was that woman, Judith Kohn, the woman whose faded photograph was
now in the hands of King Leopold, who could, if she chose, expose and
ruin me.

How heartless she was, I well knew. I had seen more than one
illustration of it, and knew that at the moment of her revenge she would
not spare me.

"Then you consider her a dangerous political agent?" the King said.

"Must decidedly," I answered. "At this moment I am most anxious to know
her whereabouts. Our secret intelligence department in London have kept
a keen eye upon her for a considerable time, but of late she has evaded
us, and once more disappeared. Have you knowledge where she is?"

"No," he responded, glancing sharply at me. "This photograph has come
into my possession in a somewhat curious manner, and what you have just
told me increases the mystery considerably. Perhaps it will be as well
if I command inquiries to be made by our police."

"If I may presume to suggest to your Majesty," I said quickly, "the best
course would be to leave the matter entirely in my hands."

"Why?" he inquired quickly.

"Because police interference in such a matter must only hinder me in my
inquiries."

"But you surely have sufficient on hand just now," the King said.

"The discovery of Judith Kohn cannot be long delayed," I answered,
recollecting that sooner or later she must come to me of her own accord.

"Then, if you desire it, I will not invoke the aid of the police," his
Majesty said. "Try and find her, and when she is found tell her that I
wish her to call and see me."

"To see your Majesty?" I gasped, surprised.

"Yes. Surely it is not so strange a thing that I should desire to ask
this woman a question. And recollect, Crawford," he added with
considerable emphasis, "this matter is a pressing one, and of the
highest importance. If she fears arrest, tell her that the police here
shall not touch her as long as she obeys my command. At all cost I must
see her."

"Very well, your Majesty, I will endeavour to trace her."

"It is an entirely private matter," he added. "Not a soul must know of
my dealings with this woman. But, by the way," he went on, "do you think
that Yermoloff Gregorovitch, or any of the staff at the Russian Legation
here know her?"

"That's impossible to tell. She is probably known at the Russian Embassy
in Paris, and is certainly well-known to De Volborth in Vienna."

"But you say she is now the wife of one of your colleagues in the
Foreign Office in London."

I nodded. I had not told them that Gordon was dead.

"Then she's probably in London?"

"It is quite impossible to tell, because--well," I added, "because they
have parted."

"Ah!" cried the King. "She has possibly found that the profession of
Russian agent is more lucrative than being wife of a Downing-street
official, and has returned to the old game."

"No," I replied. "I don't think that, because by reason of a certain
circumstance within my knowledge the London police are very anxious to
find her."

"And may I not know the circumstance to which you refer?" he asked.

"I regret," I answered quietly, "that your Majesty may not know that."
The King drew a long breath, and again stroked his beard pensively.

"Your profession, of course, needs the most delicate tact, and the
greatest astuteness and forethought," he said. "A single slip, and
exposure and disgrace would of course ensue. Against the machinations of
England's enemies one must need a thousand eyes."

I smiled and answered--

"If by conveying your Majesty's message to Judith Kohn I can render a
service I shall do so willingly."

"Thank you, Crawford," the polished monarch answered, with a courtly
bow. "If you do this you will render me a very great service in a purely
private matter."

"I have little doubt that she will soon be found," I responded. "I only
wish I was as sanguine of discovering into whose hands the missing file
of correspondence has fallen. The enigma is bewildering."

"You do not yet appear to have discovered the existence of any secret
French or Russian agents in Brussels," his Majesty remarked.

"On the contrary," I replied, laughing, for I had not been idle, "four
of them are my intimate friends. Three are Russian agents, and the
fourth is employed by Gerard, the French Minister. They believe me to be
a cashier in the Old English Bank. Against neither of them, however,
rests suspicion of having tampered with our despatch-box."

"It's a mystery, a problem absolutely beyond solution," Sir John
remarked with a sigh.

"We can only wait," observed the King. "Some day ere long it is to be
hoped that Crawford will succeed in obtaining a clue, and thereby expose
the truth. Truly the devices of diplomacy are as ingenious as they are
astounding. If we could only recover those letters before their
existence became known, then we should succeed in baffling our enemies."

"Ah! that is too late, your Majesty," I said. "Already there are
evidences on every side that copies of the letters have reached the
Foreign Ministries in Paris and Petersburg."

"Well," said the King, "continue to do your utmost, and recollect, too,
that I have the greatest anxiety to see this woman whom you call Kohn. I
must see her, for I tell you frankly that facts have come to my
knowledge which have caused me great uneasiness, and I shall know no
rest until I get the truth from that woman's lips."

"The truth you will, I fear, never obtain from the lips of Judith Kohn,"
I observed.

"But money can buy most things," his Majesty said. "If she is, as you
say, a political agent, she is certainly open to bribery."

"Undoubtedly," I answered, adding in a perhaps rather bitter tone,
"Unscrupulous as she is, she could be no doubt bribed to commit any
crime from telling an untruth to the taking of a life."

"All I ask is that you should send her here," his Majesty said in the
strange hard voice of one desperate. "The rest may be left to me."

This latest development of the tangled chain of circumstances was most
extraordinary. It was amazing that King Leopold should desire to see and
question her, of all women. She hated me. Had she not at the
well-remembered moment, just before I discovered her husband dead,
threatened me with exposure and ruin, while I, confident in the
knowledge I held of her past, promised my silence only in return for
hers? Yet, although I had been ignorant of it, my power over her had
already vanished, for the man who had so foolishly married her had
already passed to that world which lies beyond the human ken. She did
not fear me now, for was she not a perfectly free agent? Aided by the
astute De Volborth, Russian Ambassador at Vienna, she had escaped the
Austrian police, and there being no extradition for a political offence
she was quite safe.

As I sat there in silence while his Majesty discussed the critical
situation with the Ambassador, I reflected how, having regard to all the
circumstances, her chief object would undoubtedly be to bring upon me
swiftly that vengeance which she had openly avowed.

Yet I had promised to seek her of my own accord and deliver this command
of the King's, to entrap her, and perhaps to further embitter her
against me for aught I knew.

Truly my position was unenviable and my mind full of gravest thoughts.
England's honour was at stake, the days were passing quickly, and I had,
alas! discovered nothing, absolutely nothing.

Each hour was bring us nearer and nearer a terrific and terrible
conflict with the Powers. War was in the air. In a few days the black
storm-cloud which for the past three years had hovered over Europe must
inevitably burst, then lands now fair and smiling would be swept by fire
and sword, and thousands, perhaps millions of lives would be sacrificed
before those frightful modern engines of destruction.

Both King and Ambassador were fully aware of the crisis at hand, but
were utterly helpless. We could only wait.




CHAPTER XVIII.--A VOICE IN THE NIGHT.


A fortnight of hot, weary, anxious days went by. The month of June was
now drawing to a close, and everyone was leaving the city for the
country or the seaside.

I had met Melanie many times at social functions, and we greeted each
other with all formality, but only once had we gone cycling together in
the Bois. If, however, I confess the truth, I must say that we did not
then go very far on our machines, but spent the whole of the two happy
hours sitting together beneath the trees on that beautiful green
hillside overlooking the lake. It was delightful in that bright morning
sunlight, cool, fresh, and tranquil after the city's turmoil. Each time
I saw her her charm for me increased. She was so graceful, so
unaffected, so tender, so entirely happy that I felt assured,
notwithstanding all her modest hesitation, that she really and truly
loved me. She was beautiful, too for did I not see her portrait in all
sorts of English and foreign illustrated papers, large full-page
portraits by one of the well-known Paris firms of photographers? Even
her shabby cycling skirt and straw hat could not disguise the fact that
she was high-born, for about her face, when she was not actually in
conversation with me, was that calm oppression of hauteur which every
Hapsbourg bears, and her swinging gait denoted pride and fearlessness of
the world.

But all her words to me were words of happiness and calm affection.
True, she had only once allowed herself to confess her love to me, yet
her actions betrayed the truth of my surmise. She loved me, and to me
she spoke freely and without restraint of her daily life, of her
relations, of her visits to the Court of her uncle, the German Emperor,
to the Czarina at Petersburg, and to the popular Empress of Austria at
Vienna. Her chatter was always merry, sometimes witty, and very
frequently amusing. She had a keen sense of humour, and was altogether
most engaging and bewitching. It was not because of her royal birth that
I was held spellbound, for on that morning before I had known who she
was her loveliness and grace attracted me, and now, as each day passed,
I thought of nothing but her. She was my all, my hope, my very life.

Twice after our last meeting in the Bois I had passed her driving with
her mother in the fine carriage with servants in the royal livery. As
she sat back, clad in the latest fashionable fancy, sweet and dainty
beneath her white silk sunshade, she looked indeed far different from
the shabby dusty little figure who cycled at such early hours on that
broad, level, well kept road over which their carriage daily rolled at
four o'clock.

It was close to the Porte de Namur, as I was walking from the Legation
to my own rooms further up the leafy Boulevard, that the equipage with
its jingling harness passed me. I looked up quickly, and saw that she
had already recognised me. Then I raised my hat, and while her proud
mother glared at me in askance through her lorgnon she bowed stiffly as
though I were a comparative stranger. But I was not surprised. Her
mother was in ignorance of our clandestine meetings, and it was not to
be supposed that she would reveal our secret.

On the second occasion I met her driving in the Avenue de la Toison d'Or
accompanied by Princess Clementine, the daughter of King Leopold, and
then, free from all restraint, she smiled happily at me as she responded
to my salute. I saw them exchange some words, then both turned and
looked back, Melanie laughing again at me across her shoulder, an action
which etiquette rules to be extremely undignified.

At the Legation matters had assumed a most critical phase. The
intelligence which reached us from London was of a most disquieting
character. England's attempted alliance with Germany and its failure,
the secret of which had been instantly known to Russia and France, had,
as we expected, produced a very embittered feeling towards us in all the
Chancelleries of Europe. This, combined with the fact that we had
approached King Leopold in order that we might if occasion demanded pass
through Belgium and thus unite our military force with that of Germany,
must, we knew, inevitably cause war. It was only a matter of weeks, or
perhaps indeed days, and Europe would be shaken to her foundations by
the startling announcement that the crisis had actually arrived, and
that Russia and France had broken off diplomatic negotiations with the
British Empire.

From the actions of these two Powers, who were our most deadly enemies,
it was apparent that something unusual was taking place, yet all the
combined efforts of our secret service department in the various
capitals failed to obtain definite knowledge as to whether the stolen
file of the King's correspondence had actually fallen into our enemies'
hands.

Some of the intelligence which reached us in cypher from Downing-street
seemed to point undoubtedly to the fact that the tenor of those letters
was known, while at other times, from the actions of the Russian
Ministers in Paris and Berlin, it would seem that at Petersburg they
remained still in ignorance.

One afternoon, when Lady Drummond was receiving, I was standing in the
drawing-room chatting to a couple of ladies well known in Brussels
society, and one of the footmen whispered that a messenger from
Downing-street had arrived and required a receipt for his despatches.
Excusing myself, I went along to my own room and there found Graves in
his light dust-coat, his hair a trifle ruffled, and the thin blue ribbon
of his official badge as Queen's foreign service messenger escaping from
beneath his cravat. The ribbon with medallion bearing the Queen's arms
and the silver greyhound suspended is always kept concealed beneath the
messenger's cravat, and only exhibited when necessary to convince some
railway official or customs officer of the identity of its wearer, for
it is a passport more potent than the usual formal blue document signed
by the Marquess of Macclesfield, and bearing a sixpenny stamp.

"Well," I said, gripping his hand, "once more in Brussels--eh?"

"Yes," he responded, handing me the precious box while I signed his
receipt. "I haven't a moment to spare, for I've also got despatches for
Petersburg. I took the Vienna express from Ostend here, which gives me
just an hour in Brussels. I shan't catch the North express if I'm not
sharp," he added, glancing at his watch. "You've discovered nothing of
the theft, I suppose?"

"Nothing," I responded. "I can't imagine how it was done."

"Neither can I," he answered. "Day by day I try and form some theory,
but am utterly puzzled. Through all these years I've been carrying
despatches I've never before lost one, and now, just within two years of
gaining my pension, I have this misfortune. Somehow, I fear that the
Chief has lost confidence in me."

"Why?" I inquired, rather surprised.

"Because I have more than a suspicion that I'm being shadowed by
detectives. This makes me believe that the Marquess suspects me of
selling those papers."

"Selling them!" I echoed. "My dear Graves, there's not a man in the
Service who doesn't trust you implicitly. There's no ground for
suspicion against you whatever. If there were, I should know of them.
Those men who are shadowing you are not detectives, you may rely upon
it. They are more likely French or Russian agents who want to get at
your despatches again."

"If they try," he answered determinedly, his mouth set, "if they try, by
heaven I'll give them a taste of this," and he drew from his hip pocket
a good-sized serviceable-looking revolver.

"Where are your despatches for Petersburg?" I asked, noticing he had not
a second box with him.

"In my belt. I have permission from the Chief to carry them there. In
Russia they are safer next to my skin than in any sealed box," and
rising he re-buttoned his light overcoat and took up his soft felt hat.
He was muscular, athletic, rather short of stature, dark-bearded and
thickly built, a typical specimen of a tough Englishman.

"Well, keep on the alert," I said. "The outlook is growing desperate,
therefore exercise the greatest care on your journeys."

"Ah! it's my carelessness that has caused all those strained relations,"
he said in a dismal tone. "I only blame myself, Mr. Crawford. It is my
fault, yet how the theft was committed I'm utterly at a loss to know.
The box was in my possession the whole time."

"No fault, Graves, rather call it misfortune," I answered. "Some day we
shall solve the mystery; at least to that end I am daily working.
Good-bye, and a pleasant journey."

We shook hands, and as I stood at the window watching, I saw him in his
cab tearing down the Rue de la Loi to catch the Nord express for St.
Petersburg.

His life was, I reflected, one of constant unrest, all his days for
years having been spent upon the great trunk lines of Europe, until he
had become an animated Bradshaw, and was on friendly terms with every
Customs officer and sleeping car conductor. During the time I had been
in the Service abroad I had constantly met him, for he was the senior
messenger, and if remaining the night was always the guest of the
Ambassador. Dozens of times he had come to Constantinople while I had
been there, and in addition to his flying visits to the various
Embassies and Legations in Europe, it was he who very frequently made
the monthly journey from Downing-street to Teheran. In the messenger
service the trip to Persia is looked upon as a pleasant change to the
eternal journeys in Europe for in Teheran there is usually a week or so
of rest, while the long journey by road is welcome to one jaded by the
eternal roar and rattle of the rail. Therefore by a Queen's messenger a
journey to Persia is actually looked upon is a relaxation.

While standing at the window, however, Sir John, having learnt that
despatches had arrived, entered hurriedly and opened the box with his
key, while I obtained the decypher-book from the safe, and began at once
to transcribe the despatch he handed me.

He watched over me as I wrote letter after letter, and when I had
finished, and he learnt its purport, he sank into his chair with his
brows knit and his eyes fixed in thought.

The despatch when fully transcribed read as follows:--

"No 6A. 3472. Private. From Marquess of Macclesfield to Sir John
Drummond, Brussels.

"A telegraphic despatch dated midnight 9th instant from Berlin states
that secret information has been obtained by our Embassy that the
Russian Ambassador that day called upon the German Minister of Foreign
Affairs, and had an interview lasting two hours. The Emperor was also
present. The subject under discussion was the possibility of Russia
forming an offensive alliance with Germany against England. A Council
meeting is to be held on the 12th to discuss the matter. During the
evening of the 9th the Emperor received by special courier an autograph
letter from the Czar. You are at liberty to inform his Majesty King
Leopold of this latest and most critical turn of events, and assure him
of the continued friendliness and goodwill of her Majesty's Government.
Further information follows. Cyphers to be changed at midday on the 11th
instant from 222 to 186. End."

"We are now within an ace of war," the Ambassador observed gravely with
a sigh. "The knowledge of our failure at Berlin has precipitated events
in a most alarming manner. Never, Crawford, in the whole of my
diplomatic career has England been nearer war than she is at this
moment."

"And our lost despatches," I observed. "What of them?"

"I fear to think," he answered gloomily. "By the uncertainty of into
whose possession those letters have fallen my hands are tied. I can do
nothing--absolutely nothing. It is strange that the secret service has
failed to discover what is known of them, or into whose hands they have
passed."

"The theft was one of the most ingenious ever perpetrated by our
enemies," I remarked, "and no doubt those who could steal so cleverly
also took every precaution to baffle us in our effort to trace them. But
tell me," I added, "has the King mentioned to you the reason he desires
to have an interview with that woman Judith Kohn?"

"No," answered my chief. "I put to him a very pointed question, but he
merely remarked that the matter was a private one. It is fortunate that
we are upon such good terms with his Majesty, or the loss of his letters
might have placed us in a most invidious position."

"But he knows that notwithstanding the neutrality he is compelled to
preserve, the best friend and protector of his kingdom is ourselves," I
said.

"Quite right, quite right," Sir John replied. "But we never know,
Crawford, what advantages France, or even Russia, may hold out to him.
They can offer tempting baits to the unwary, remember. Recollect the
action of Russian diplomacy in Constantinople, and how Zouroff twists
the Sultan round his finger."

I nodded, for I well knew the marvellous astuteness and cunning of the
Russian Ambassador to the Porte.

"Then you consider our position here is not so safe as it really
appears?"

"Certainly not," he responded darkly. "If war were declared against
England to-morrow, Belgium would be forced on the side of Germany or
France, and our open door to Europe would be closed. The King would be
compelled to accede, in order to save his crown and kingdom."

"But the Treaty of Neutrality?" I suggested.

The Ambassador snapped his fingers impatiently.

"In case of a European war--and it means that and nothing else--treaties
such as those would be set at nought. A little skirmishing between
Uhlans and Chasseurs along the Meuse Valley, and the treaty would vanish
into air. The King is a clever politician himself, and he knows that
quite well. We should have no doubt secured on agreement with Belgium,
had it not been for the Minister de Boek's opposition. He is, as you
know, in favour of an alliance with France."

"But he has been succeeded now," I said.

"Yes, but unfortunately his successor holds exactly the same views.
Brussels is always modelling itself upon Parisian models and of course
the mind of Belgians naturally turns to thoughts of France as their
protector."

Then he rose wearily, and after filing the despatch we went together
back into the drawing-room, where Lady Drummond was entertaining her
well dressed crowd of chattering guests with that courtesy which
characterised her as a polished and popular hostess.

There is a strange fate that sometimes directs our actions and leads us
involuntarily to perform things we have no intention of doing. That same
evening I accompanied Giffard and a friend of his, a Belgian deputy, to
the theatre, and at the conclusion of the performance, it being a bright
star-lit night I set out to walk to my rooms alone, refusing their
invitation to go round to the English Club, as I felt a slight touch of
fever on me. My head ached violently, but the cool air revived me, and I
was walking along the wide dark avenue of trees which forms the
Boulevard du Regent, one of the best residential quarters of the city,
when suddenly in the obscurity before me I thought I distinguished
something white fluttering.

It was past midnight, most of the gas-lamps had been extinguished and
only a solitary light remained burning here and there; hence the
darkness, increased by the foliage of the trees, obscured everything.
All was still, no sound broke the quiet, save the rustling of the
tree-tops as a gust of cool night-wind swept across them.

Yet I felt confident that I had seen something before me, and that it
had instantly disappeared.

I had heard and read in the papers of belated foot-passengers being
waylaid there; hence I resolved to keep my wits about me, and in order to
watch, slipped quickly behind a tree-trunk and waited, my eyes fixed
upon the spot where that flash of white had been revealed.

There was still no sound. In that great wide thoroughfare, with its
thick avenue, the foot-passenger was entirely alone at night. Most
people, it was true, took the footpath along by the houses lining the
Boulevard and I knew that I had acted foolishly in walking where I did.
Footpads are plentiful in the Brussels boulevards, and at night the
police surveillance is not all that it might be.

Suddenly, however, I heard a quick, sharp cry--the cry of a woman in
pain--and there, sure enough, saw again the same flash of white. There
were sounds of scuffling, then silence again, broken only by a low groan
and a word of reproach.

I hesitated in wonder.

Of a sudden, a shriek rang out upon the night air, and a woman's voice
cried in French:

"Ah, no! Let me go! Spare my life, and you shall have what you ask.
You--you'll kill me, you coward! Let me go. Ah! you are hurting me!
You----" and there was a strange horrible sound, as though the woman was
trying to speak, but the terrible pressure upon her throat only reduced
her words to inarticulate sounds.

In an instant I dashed forward, reaching in a few paces two struggling
figures, a man and a woman. Without a moment's hesitation, and entirely
heedless of the consequences, I flung myself upon the man, a
well-dressed follow in silk hat and frock coat, and seizing his arms
dragged his sinewy murderous hands from the woman's throat, for he had
clutched her in a fierce grip, and was endeavouring to strangle her.

She shook herself free and drew back with a cry of relief; but in that
instant, almost before I was aware of it, her assailant had closed with
me with a low cry of suppressed rage. So suddenly, indeed, did he spring
upon me that I was nearly borne to earth; but in desperation I wrestled
with him, managing to keep my feet, and by strategy learnt in my college
days to gain a slight advantage.

Upon my cheek I could feel his hot breath as he panted with exertion,
and could hear the sound of his teeth grinding hard in his desperate
effort to cast me off, for I had now got him in my grasp. In swaying
from side to side in that dark avenue we, however, suddenly emerged into
a ray of faint light shed by one of the few street lamps which remained
alight, and then, for the first time I caught a glimpse of his features.
He was fair, with a blonde moustache, but his slightly pock-marked face
was distorted by a fierce unbridled anger.

To the woman at the same instant were my own features apparently
revealed, for with a wild exclamation she breathlessly ejaculated my
name. That voice sounded familiar in my ears and startled me. I drew
back amazed and peered at the white-robed figure before me.

The face of that man I had within my grasp was to me the most hateful
and detestable in all the world. This sudden encounter caused me to
start in amazement, and in an instant he had twisted himself free and
stood glaring at me, as though ready to tear me limb from limb.

The woman who had been thus cowardly attacked was none other than
Melanie, my beloved, and her assailant that degraded spy and traitor
whom I had once hunted down and brought to punishment, the ex-captain of
artillery, Oswald Krauss.




CHAPTER XIX.--MELANIE'S FEAR.


"You! Melanie!" I gasped bewildered, turning to her. "Tell me what has
happened. Why has this man attacked you?"

Ere, however, she could reply Krauss, with an imprecation escaping him,
had slunk away and was lost in the darkness among the trees. I started
forward to follow him and demand an explanation, for my blood was up now
that I recognised he had attacked the woman I loved, but she called me
back in an authoritative voice, and in a moment I was again at her side.

Breathless and panting she was greatly agitated, a terrible anxiety
apparently consuming her, therefore I suggested that she should walk
with me to my rooms only a short distance off, and there rest until she
had recovered sufficiently to return to the Palace. A little brandy
would revive her, for the man had evidently made a most desperate and
perhaps preconcerted attempt to take her life.

This midnight discovery was certainly a most remarkable and startling
one. Few in Brussels would have dreamed that the Princess Melanie of
Hapsbourg, the beautiful girl whom everyone admired, would be wandering
beneath the trees in the Boulevard after midnight, and certainly this
attempt to take her life was a most sensational incident entirely
unaccountable. Only one man on earth I hated and detested, and it was
this villainous spy whom I believed was still serving his well-deserved
life sentence in the State prison at Budapesth. The knowledge of his
liberty had caused me to stand before him dumbfounded.

On one occasion, on that grey morning when he stood in the
barrack-square with his hands manacled while his decorations and the
facings of his uniform were torn from his coat and his sword broken
before the assembled troops, he had vowed to take my life. That was the
last time I had seen him, for he had been marched away to prison an a
spy and a traitor, while the woman Judith Kohn, to whom his degradation
was in a great measure due, had, with the assistance of the Russian
Embassy, fled across the frontier and escaped. Yet I remembered well, as
though it were but yesterday, that evil look in his eyes as he swore to
kill me because I had brought about his exposure by intercepting certain
plans which he had offered for sale. Mine was, I confess, a delicate
piece of espionage, but it was in the interests of my own dear England,
and in order to further the success of the diplomacy of my chief.

Now, at this critical moment of the European outlook, we had met once
more, and our encounter had certainly been in most extraordinary
circumstances. In my ears the shrill cry of my beloved still sounded,
and I regretted that I had not detained him. True, he had escaped into
the darkness, but without doubt our recognition had been mutual.

"You are very kind, Philip," she managed to gasp. "It is fortunate you
were near, or--or he would, I believe, have strangled me. A little
brandy would do me good. I feel so weak and faint."

"Then come," I said. "Let's get away, for the police may have been
alarmed by your cry," and taking her arm tenderly I managed to lead her
as far as the Place Louise, where we ascended to my little flat, a
rather pleasant place in daytime, overlooking as it did the gayest and
liveliest spot in all Brussels.

Fortunately Barnes, my English manservant, had retired to bed, as he did
invariably at eleven if I were not in, therefore we were alone, and on
gaining the sitting-room she staggered back into my arm chair exhausted,
her beautiful face as pale as death, her lips trembling, her dark eyes
fixed before her with a strange haggard look I had never before seen in
them. Indeed she had walked with me as one dazed and in a dream, and not
until I had made her swallow a stiff glass of cognac did she revive and
become fully cognisant of things around her.

I saw that the white silk gown she wore, an extremely handsome dress cut
a trifle decollete and trimmed with pearls, was rent and torn, while her
dark hair had been sadly disarranged in the desperate struggle. There
were marks, too, upon her white throat, dark livid marks where the hands
of her assailant had gripped her in his dastardly effort to crush the
life from her.

I asked whether she had not a cape, or some covering for her shoulders,
thinking it strange that she should go forth into the night air without
protection, but she mechanically replied that she supposed it had fallen
off in the Boulevard.

"Tell me, Melanie, what occurred," I asked at last, standing behind her
chair, bending over her and holding her hand tenderly. Jewels, beautiful
rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, sparkled on her slim white fingers,
while upon her wrist was an antique bracelet, a broad band of gold with
an inscription in raised Roman characters, "Vita ludus et scena est." It
was a fine ornament which, as I afterwards learnt, had been discovered
during some excavations near the old town of Treves, once a Roman
stronghold.

To my question she remained dumb. Her half bare chest rose and fell in a
heavy sigh, and her eyes were turned to mine with a strange fixed look
which alarmed me. Her hand trembled, then a shudder ran through her.

"You are cold," I said, and obtaining a flannel tennis coat of my own I
placed it about her shoulders.

She thanked me in a low weak voice, then, resting her head upon the
cushion I placed for her, she closed her eyes. I saw that she was
exhausted, and further, that the dark marks upon her throat, where the
man's murderous fingers had grasped her, were gradually assuming a
deeper hue.

For some time I stood beside her, still holding her hand, but it seemed
as though she had dropped off to sleep, therefore I crept away and
obtained a whisky and soda myself, for truth to tell I had been unnerved
by this unexpected encounter.

Oswald Krauss, judging from his dress, was prospering. He was certainly
no common footpad. Melanie's words when he had seized her in his
terrible paroxysm of anger were very strange and sounded as though they
were both well known to each other.

She had promised to accede to his demands on condition that he spared
her. What, I wondered, did he seek of her? It was indeed an
extraordinary fact to discover the Princess Melanie of Hapsbourg walking
alone in the early hours of the morning with a man whose mean,
despicable crime had brought upon him a well-deserved life-sentence.
Again, how he had escaped was a mystery. The Austrian Government are not
given to releasing prisoners condemned for treason. That man had broken
his oath to his Emperor and betrayed his country in a manner so
ingenious as to be almost incredible, yet I found him here, in Brussels,
a free agent, endeavouring to obtain by threats something which my
beloved refused to grant.

What could it be, I wondered? Could he really be the mysterious lover
whom she was in the habit of meeting, the man spoken of by Paul
Yermoloff?

I sat opposite her, watching her as she slept, knowing that when she
awoke she would be calmer and more collected. Her absence from the
palace would, I feared, be noted, therefore, although anxious to learn
the truth of this mysterious attack, I was also eager that she should
return. Probably her maid was in the secret of these night excursions of
hers just as she knew of her early morning cycling.

At last, perhaps after about half-an-hour, she again opened her eyes,
and sitting up glanced around her wonderingly.

I was beside her, on my knees in an instant

"I hope you feel better, Melanie," I said eagerly.

"Yes," she answered weakly. "At first, do you know, I wondered what
place this was. But now I remember all. I--I am with you!" And she
smiled.

"Yes," I said, bending and kissing her hand. "It was extremely fortunate
that I chanced to be near. But tell me," I added. "What do you know of
that man? Was he a stranger to you?"

"No," she answered, sighing deeply. "He is, alas! no stranger."

"But why did he make such a desperate attempt upon you?" I inquired.

She hesitated. Her fingers closed tightly upon mine.

"Because I would not comply with his demand."

"Tell me," I demanded. "What is the nature of your relations with him?"

"I hate him," she cried in desperation. "I hate and detest him!"

"Am I correct in supposing that this man is your lover, and that you
have met him time after time in the Boulevard, or in the dark avenues of
the Park?"

"I have met him many times. I have met him because I have been forced to
do so," she answered in desperation.

"And he is your lover!" I said harshly.

"No, No, Philip," she cried protestingly. "I swear he is not. Lover? Why
I detest the sight of him."

"Why?"

She was silent. I saw by the twitching of the muscles of her face how
agitated she had become. This allegation of mine had brought a dark,
determined look upon her countenance, while on my part my discovery had
aroused within me a natural jealousy. The whisperings I had heard,
alleging that the Princess Melanie had a secret lover, were evidently
based upon fact, for a woman does not steal out and meet a man at night
at risk of detection and exposure unless there is some very strong
incentive.

"You do not answer my question," I said, in calmer tone.

"I hate him because of all the past," she responded at length, after
some further hesitation.

"Is its recollection so very bitter then?" I inquired.

"Alas, yes," she sighed; then fixing her dark, tearful eyes upon mine,
she added hoarsely: "It is so bitter and hateful, Philip, that sometimes
I regret that I did not die long ago."

"Come," I said. "You must not speak so gloomily. Tell me what has
occurred between you to-night?"

"Ah, no," she answered quickly. "I cannot."

"But I love you, Melanie," I protested earnestly. "You have told me,
too, that I have a place in your heart. Cannot you, therefore, trust me
with your secret?"

"It is impossible," she faltered.

"Why?"

"Because I dare not."

"Then you are in fear of him?" I said. "You told me that you were in
dread of that man who watched us on the night of the State Ball."

"It is the truth. Fear of them both holds me in silence," she replied.

"But is it wise to wander the Boulevards at night?" I queried.

"I have met that man only because he compelled me," she answered. "Ah,
you do not know, you can never know what I have suffered, Philip, or you
would not speak thus."

"Why, then, do you not place faith in me and explain? I might assist
you. Your position does not allow you the freedom which others have,
therefore why not let me be your confidant and friend? Did you not tell
me only the other day that you might perhaps require my help? Surely you
require some assistance when, with my own eyes, I have witnessed this
dastardly attempt upon you."

"Yes," she shuddered. "I believe that he would have killed me."

"But what reason has he in acting thus?" I inquired. "What does he want
of you?"

She hesitated. Her brows contracted for a moment in thought, then she
answered:--

"I am in possession of a secret which he is anxious to learn. I refused
to divulge it, and in order to wring it from me he attempted to strangle
me."

"A secret?" I repeated, puzzled. "Has it anything to do with that man's
past?"

"No," she answered. "But what do you know regarding his past? Are you
acquainted with him?"

"I know him too well," I replied, in a hard voice. "His name is Oswald
Krauss, a native of Vienna, and he is an ex-captain of artillery."

She bowed her head in the affirmative.

"And what else," she asked, in a low mechanical tone.

"For the rest," I said, "he was discovered in the act of selling to a
Russian agent in Budapesth detailed plans of three of the principal
frontier fortresses, arrested, and condemned by court-martial to
imprisonment for life as a spy and a traitor."

"And how are you aware of all this?" she inquired, her eyes turned upon
me in blank surprise.

"Because that man was first successful in obtaining knowledge of certain
of our diplomatic secrets which he endeavoured to sell to his employers,
the Russian Government, and was only prevented by a discovery which I
myself made. Then, fearing least he should make a second attempt, I kept
watch upon him, and found that not only did he seek to sell England's
secrets to her enemies, but was also offering the plans of his own
country's defences."

"It was you who discovered that?" she gasped, her face pale in an
instant.

"I placed my discovery before the Austrian Minister for War, with the
result that the spy was arrested and his papers seized. The latter
conclusively proved his guilt, and after the trial he was degraded in
the Barrack Square in Budapesth. The real reason of this degradation
was, however, never allowed to leak out to the public. Only the members
of the court-martial and a few high officials were aware of the truth.
The Russian Ambassador was too deeply implicated in the affair, and
Austria could not afford to give offence to her powerful neighbour."

"And you were actually the man who brought him to justice!" she cried in
a strange voice, as one utterly amazed.

"He is a man of marvellous ingenuity," I answered, "and he used a woman
named Kohn as his go-between in his dealings with Russia."

"Kohn!" she gasped, with wide-open eyes. "Surely you must be mistaken!"

"No," I answered. "I tell you the truth without any attempt at
concealment. Indeed, the woman was as crafty and ingenious as he
himself. She only escaped with the aid of the Russian Embassy, who knew
that had she been arrested she would make some very ugly and
compromising statements."

"I really can't believe it," she said in a tone of wonderment. "I was
acquainted with him before his arrest and imprisonment, but knew nothing
of her."

"It was scarcely likely that he would tell you," I observed, still
feeling convinced that this escaped spy was her lover.

"If what you say is true, then the mystery is increased," she said
reflectively, as though speaking to herself. "Still, it shows the depth
of his cunning, and the fierceness of the revenge he seeks to bring upon
you."

"Upon me?" I repeated. "What has he told you?"

"He has told me nothing," she answered. "He has never mentioned your
name, but he has vowed to me a vengeance terrible and complete against
the person who exposed him to the Minister of War. I now see how all his
demands were directed towards one object to gain that satisfaction
which, it seems, he is determined to gain--namely, to encompass your
ruin."

"He threatened me long ago, at the moment when the court-martial
pronounced sentence upon him; but I have no fear," I laughed.

"Ah! be cautious!" she cried concernedly. "Be cautious, for my sake,
Philip. Once, I now remember, he told me that if he could not affect
your downfall and disgrace he was acquainted with one who could. To whom
did he refer?"

The truth flashed through my mind in an instant. He referred to
Judith--that crafty blue-eyed woman who held my future in her hands.
Next moment, however, I recovered myself, and answered--

"More idle brag. I take no heed of swaggering talk such as this. He was
always a braggart."

"But now, Philip, he is absolutely desperate," she exclaimed. "If he
would attack me in the manner he has done to-night he will not hesitate
to take your life, if necessary."

"Why has he escaped from prison?" I inquired. "Tell me. You, of course,
know the truth."

"He was released nearly eight months ago, and conducted to the frontier
by order of the Emperor."

"By order of the Emperor?" I echoed, puzzled. "Why?"

"I interceded for him personally, and secured his release," she said
simply.

"You," I cried. "Why?"

"There was a reason," she answered, "a very strong reason, but I cannot
tell you. It is a secret."

"Strange," I said, utterly confounded. "Strange that the Emperor should
exert his prerogative over the finding of the court-martial and release
one detected in such a flagrant act of treason. Did you actually plead
personally for him?"

"I did."

"For what reason?" I demanded eagerly. "Tell me. There is more mystery
in this than I have dreamed."

"No, Philip," she answered in a low voice, shaking her head. "I can
never tell you, of all men--never."




CHAPTER XX.--AT THE BRITISH LEGATION.


Melanie's mysterious friendship for this unprincipled outcast was
extremely puzzling. Although she did not speak of him as though he were
her lover, yet it was extraordinary that she should have used her
influence with her uncle, the Emperor Francis Joseph, to secure his
release.

As she sat there talking to me, a wan figure in her dead-white dress,
with my tennis coat about her shoulders, she presented the appearance of
one oppressed by some knowledge which she dared not to divulge. In her
pale, agitated face was a strange look as if, although haunted by some
inexpressible fear, she was nevertheless seeking to preserve her
self-control.

She was now as calm as she had ever been, for her outward agitation had
passed, and her brief sleep had refreshed her. I became more and more
impressed, however, that the real reason of her solicitude for this man
Krauss was because she loved him. Nevertheless, I could not fail to
notice that in her eyes as she gazed upon me was that genuine love-look
which can never be feigned, that glance which is only seen in the faces
of those in whose hearts burns the unquenchable fire of true love.

Yet here was a strange character, and the more I sought to analyse it
the more complex it appeared. That she was honest, open-hearted and
unassuming I well knew. Never once during our friendship had she ever
sought to impress me with a sense of her superior birth, but rather to
place herself upon even a lower level than myself. How strange it was, I
often thought, that while the world unanimously declared her to be
possessed of that unbending dignity and pride characteristic of the
Hapsbourgs, she was towards me sweet, affable, and purely womanly.

Only when I approached the subject of her secret did she shrink from me,
and her attitude was--I could not disguise it--an attitude of guilt. My
curiosity had been whetted by this strange incident, and I strove by
every means to ascertain from her the reason why Krauss had attacked
her.

"Was it money he sought of you?" I asked, presently.

But she shook her head, saying--

"No. It was not money he wanted." Then she added quickly, "Philip,
refrain from questioning me further. I can never give you explanation."

"Not although you love me?" I asked, looking full into her great dark
eyes, so full of affection and tenderness.

Her gaze met mine boldly, unflinchingly, but she responded in a low firm
voice--

"No. Although I do love you, Philip, I nevertheless can tell you
nothing--absolutely nothing!"

I sighed in disappointment. It was apparently useless to cross-question
her further, and I feared to annoy her.

I urged her to confide in me, and for the thousandth time repeated my
declarations of affection. She heard me, with a sweet smile of
contentment upon her lips. It was a strange wooing in the silence of the
night, and so affected she became that I felt more than ever confident
that ours was not a mere flirtation, but a genuinely reciprocated
affection.

At last she rose to go, and as we stood together I placed my arm about
her neck slowly and tenderly until her head gently rested upon my
shoulder. She did not resist. The look supreme of contentment and
happiness upon her fair face told me that she was mine, therefore I bent
and for the first time tenderly kissed her lips.

"Ah!" she murmured. "I do love you, Philip. I, alas! love you. Why, I
cannot tell. It is fate that has thus cast us together, and I shall love
you always--always!"

"Your words bring joy and gladness to my heart, dearest," I answered,
again kissing her, and then for the first time she raised her head until
her lips met mine in a passionate caress which made my head reel, so
enraptured I became.

"Philip," she whispered softly, in a calm voice, looking at me gravely
though tears stood in her eyes, "take this and wear it always as a
souvenir of the great service you have rendered me to-night. You saved
my life!"

And she drew from her finger a beautiful ring set with a single ruby,
and taking my hand gently placed it upon my little finger, then raising
it to her lips imprinted a kiss upon it.

"I will wear it always," I answered fervently. "It will serve to remind
me of you when we are apart--not that I shall require any aid to
memory--but you have kissed it, you have given it your benediction, and
it shall never leave my finger."

"When you look upon it remember, Philip, that whatever may occur there
is but one man on earth that I have ever loved, and that man is
yourself."

I clasped her to my breast, and her hot tears of joy rained fast as she
buried her head again upon my shoulder, while I in that ecstatic
enchantment which knowledge of a reciprocated love can alone impart,
kissed her hair and soothed her with those fervent passionate phrases
which rose to my lips. What I said I know not, nor have I any knowledge
of how long we stood there locked in each other's arms; all I remember
is that the grey dawn stealing through the drawn curtains caused us both
to suddenly recollect that it was time that she returned.

Then, after many final words, both of us equally loth to part, we went
down into the Boulevard again, she with my tennis coat still about her
shoulders. At that hour, just as dawn was breaking, the wind swept
chilly down the great leafy avenue, but fearless of footpads, for it was
now light, we walked together along the leafy allee until we reached the
Place du Trone, where the great stone lions guard the entrance to the
gardens of the Royal Palace, then skirting the walls for a long distance
we turned at length into the Place des Palais, where the great grey
facade of the royal residence faces the Park. Together we proceeded to
the opposite end of that building, when she suddenly halted at a
side-door before which a sentinel in bearskin shako and overcoat was
pacing.

The instant the man recognised her he started and stood at attention,
exclaiming: "Pass, your Royal Highness."

She turned and shook my hand, saying in English in a half-whisper--

"Good-bye, Philip. Think of me always, as I think always of you."

"Good-bye," I whispered, bending low over her hand. "Good-bye,
Melanie--my love, my life."

And in an instant her rustling skirts swept past me, and she had passed
through the door which closed after her.

On my return to my rooms I sat alone for a long time pondering deeply,
and calmly viewing the situation. Try how I could to conceal the fact,
it nevertheless remained glaringly plain that I had by loving Melanie,
departed from the first tenets of my religion as a diplomatist, besides
having neglected to a great degree the special duty for which I had been
nominated to Brussels.

Had not the Marquess of Macclesfield, the greatest diplomatist of his
age, told me plainly the folly of allowing myself to be drawn into any
serious affair of the heart. The more I reflected, the more impossible
seemed our happiness.

Yet upon my finger was that magnificent ruby, her pledge of affection,
which I examined and admired in the bright light of early morn, while
still in my ears rang those impassioned words of hers: "Philip, I shall
love you always."

That same day, at noon, I went as usual down to the Legation, and was
occupied with some clerical work until nearly three, when Sir John came
in hurriedly, having had a long interview with the Minister for Foreign
affairs regarding a question relative to the Congo boundary.

"I must send a special despatch to London," he said, placing down his
hat, and seating himself at once at his table to write.

Then, when he had finished, I took from the safe the cypher book and
reduced what he had written to an amazing array of figures upon the
fresh combination of numbers as announced in the despatch Graves had
brought. There was nothing startling in it, but it was imperative that
the British Cabinet should give its decision at once, in order to
forestall German encroachments.

Having concluded, I suddenly recollected that we had no despatch box,
save the one from which the King's correspondence had been stolen, a
fact which I announced to the Ambassador.

"Then we must use that," he answered. "Giffard wants to go for three
days' leave in London, so he will take it."

I took the box from the locked cupboard wherein I had put it on its
return to us, and placed it on the table, a small case covered with
crimson leather which bore the chipped wax of many previous seals. Well
worn and much battered by continual journeys between Downing-street and
the various capitals of Europe, it had in its time contained many
remarkable secrets of State. It was locked, therefore Sir John took out
his key and inserted it. But it would not turn. Again he tried, but with
no better result. The wards of the lock seemed jammed.

I took the key and endeavoured to open it, but on examination detected
for the first time something unusual in the appearance of the key-hole.
It was larger, and of different shape to the small curved slit in the
Foreign Office despatch-boxes. This key-hole was, however, the key-hole
of an ordinary lock, and although the key held at Downing-street had
once opened it, our key now refused to perform a similar work.

At once I pointed out my discovery to Sir John, and then a few moments
later when we got the box open, we both made a very startling discovery.

The box was only an ingenious imitation of those well-known caskets
which are sent out from Downing-street. It was of the same size, the
leather was of the same shade, a soiled and discoloured red, but on
closer examination we saw that all the seals had been carefully made and
chipped away in order to give it an appearance of being well-worn, and
even the sunk brass handle had been discoloured by acids, so as to give
an appearance of long usage. By the lock, which proved to be quite a
common one, and the fact that it was lined inside with imitation leather
instead of real morocco, it was proved conclusively that it was only a
cleverly contrived duplicate.

Instantly the truth was plain. The box containing King Leopold's secret
correspondence had been changed for this, and so cleverly had the
exchange been made, and the bogus box prepared, that neither Graves nor
ourselves had, until that moment, discovered the ingenious fraud.

"This only shows how determined were the thieves to obtain possession of
the papers," observed Sir John, thoughtfully. "The manner in which this
despatch-box has been prepared is proof positive that the theft had long
been premeditated. It was done by no ordinary thief--of that we may rest
assured."

"The facsimile of the despatch box is marvellous!" I said. "Look at the
seals. They bear every resemblance to those on a genuine box. All is
genuine save the lock and the lining."

"The lock," observed the Ambassador, "must have been of so ordinary a
character that the key at the Foreign Office shot back the bolt when
they opened it. The ingenuity of those scoundrelly spies is simply
amazing."

And then he stood regarding the box in deep thoughtful silence.

This was certainly a curious discovery, but it at least cleared up the
mystery of how the file of correspondence had been stolen. The seals
upon that bogus box were, curiously enough, impressed by the private
seal which had apparently been manufactured in exact imitation of the
one actually in use, every care being taken to render the exterior
identical with the one carried by the Queen's Messenger. We certainly
were now aware of the means adopted by the thief or thieves, but the
crucial question was as to who had so carefully planned and committed
the theft which had placed England in such jeopardy.

On the following night I accompanied Sir John, Lady Drummond, and Frank
Hamilton to a reception by the Count of Flanders at his Palace in the
Rue de la Regence. It was a very brilliant affair, a veritable
phantasmagoria of striking uniforms and tasteful toilettes, and I
strolled through the heavily-gilded rooms eager, of course, to catch a
glance of Melanie. Their Majesties were coming, and it was certain that
she would accompany her friend the young Princess Clementine. Therefore
I waited anxiously, for hedged in by royal divinity as she was I had not
been able to catch a single glimpse of her since that grey hour of dawn
when she had given me that whispered assurance of her love as she
disappeared into the Palace. Hourly I had thought of her. Upon my
mantel-shelf was a fine panel photograph of her which I had bought in
the Montaigne de la Cour, and often when I looked at it her beautiful
face seemed to shine down upon me with an expression of purity,
tenderness and love. More than once, when one or other of my diplomatic
friends looked in for a whisky and soda, a beverage unobtainable at the
average cafe, I had been compelled to remove it to hide my idol lest
suspicion might be roused of the true state of affairs. Attaches and
secretaries are particularly sharp to detect any affairs of the heart,
for they are usually gallants themselves, and their knowledge of the
prettiest women in the city is generally encyclopaedic. Therefore I was
compelled to act with the greatest discretion keeping my secret locked
within my heart lest I might betray myself and afford food for gossips.
She had impressed upon me the virtue of silence, and her every wish I
held as law.

I had been chatting with the ubiquitious Yermoloff and his
grey-whiskered chief, brilliant in his white Russian tunic and his
breast glittering with stars, ranging from that of the coveted St.
Andrew down to the last cheap decoration of the Sultan. They had been
speaking of that subject ever upon the lips of diplomatists, the
European situation, but I held a discreet silence, detecting in the
trend of their gossip a desire to learn something from me. Experience
had taught me that towards the representative of the Czar, wherever he
might be found, silence was always golden.

At last I espied an elderly English lady who was resident in
Brussels--the Dowager Countess of Bessington--and seizing this
opportunity of leaving my friends, I walked across to pay my respects to
her. She was a rather stiff old lady of the ancient school, unbending to
any but her equals, but being a particular friend of Lady Drummond's I
always endeavoured to be polite to her. Truth to tell, however, she was
a sour-tongued, mischief-making old woman, who if not continually
grumbling at the British chaplain's broad Church notions, amused herself
by inventing some startling scandal or other regarding women in Brussels
society. Lord Bessington, her son, was in the Guards at home, a very
popular fellow and a great friend of Giffard's. As I sat talking to her
there strolled past us dozens of people I knew, nearly all of them with
high sounding titles, except we poor diplomats, whose position in
society is always twice as high as the depth of our pockets.

Suddenly, amid the gay laughing crowd there appeared King Leopold
himself, looking a trifle pale and worn, I thought, notwithstanding his
striking uniform and the glittering star at his throat. With a word of
excuse to her ladyship I rose and saluted him.

The instant he saw me he crossed and exclaimed in a low voice, so that
none around should hear--

"Crawford, you have not yet sent that woman to me. Recollect, I must see
her--I must--you understand."

"I have not yet been able to discover her whereabouts, your Majesty," I
answered. "I am exerting every endeavour to do so."

"Find her. Send her to me," he cried in impatience. "Every moment that I
lose is of consequence. You know her, I do not. In this matter you can
render me, if you will, the very greatest service."

"It is my earnest desire to serve your Majesty," I answered, with a bow,
puzzled at his eagerness, for he had evidently come in search of me.

"Then spare no effort to find that woman Kohn," he said in a low tone,
and then turned quickly with that pleasant smile which he could assume
at will to greet a high-born stately woman who had advanced and loyally
bowed before him.

Behind me, as I turned, I saw the Archduchess Stephanie, a tall dark
figure in primrose blazing with diamonds, standing in conversation with
Lady Drummond and a little beyond stood the King's youngest daughter,
the Princess Clementine, chatting to the young Count de Montaigle in the
uniform of that smart corps the Guides. The royalties had arrived,
therefore I passed on eagerly searching everywhere for the woman I
loved. Through room after room I went, those huge dark-panelled salons
with their wonderful ceilings and polished floors, but saw nothing of
her. The Count and Countess of Flanders had finished the formal
reception of their guests, and had returned to join them, but the
function, brilliant as it was, possessed no attraction for me owing to
the absence of Melanie.

At length, after wandering aimlessly, I came across Baron Vandervoorde,
the Controller of the Royal Household, and to him observed--

"The Hapsbourgs are not here; how is that?"

The short, stout full-faced man glanced at me and answered--

"They have left Brussels, m'sieur. The Princess and her daughter
departed suddenly at mid-day."

"Gone!" I exclaimed, dismayed.

"Yes To Brandenberg," answered the Baron. "Their visit to Brussels has
been much longer than usual this year, although their departure was very
sudden."

I turned away disappointed and dejected. Melanie, although she declared
that she loved me, had left for Germany without a single word of
farewell. By her departure the light of my life had been suddenly
extinguished, and I strode out from that gay assembly, plunged in
deepest melancholy.

To remain there longer was impossible, now that I knew she would not be
present. I had come there solely for the purpose of speaking with her,
but alas! she had gone, and perhaps I should never again see her.

Wearily I wandered home to my rooms, my mind full of grave
apprehensions, for I loved her madly, with that true, ardent affection
which comes to a man only once in his lifetime. As I entered, however,
my gaze fell upon a letter which, my man explained, had been delivered
by hand.

I turned over the envelope eagerly. There was upon it the embossed
cypher of the Hapsbourgs surrounded by the coronet. It was from her. I
tore it open quickly and read the hurriedly written words penned in
English in a fine German hand:

"My Dear Philip,--I send you this because I am forced by adverse events
to leave Brussels at once. In all the circumstances it is, perhaps, best
that we should part now, rather than later, when our mutual love might
ripen into a stronger affection. There are, unfortunately many reasons,
some of which are well-known to you, which render it impossible that our
acquaintance should be carried further. I regret that this is so, but
alas! it is my fate that I am what I am. In addition, certain unforeseen
occurrences have transpired to-day which, while forcing me to leave
Brussels hurriedly, also utterly prevent us ever meeting again in the
future. Nevertheless, I rest content in the knowledge that I am truly
loved by one who is brave, honest, and upright. But beyond, all is
blank. All is finished. A weight of bitterness and melancholy is upon
me. We have met for the last time, Philip, but I hope we shall never
fail to hold one another in fond remembrance. Adieu. May prosperity and
happiness ever be yours is the prayer of--Yours affectionately,
Melanie."

I read the letter through twice, then stood staring rigidly at the
rather uneven lines of writing, dejected, inert, crushed.




CHAPTER XXI.--WHAT JUDITH KNEW.


Melanie had left me. The bitterness of my reflections, through the long
dull days which followed, was increased by the truth that this result
was only what I might have expected. Ours had been a foolish
infatuation; a dream of an Elysium that could never be obtained. I loved
her with all my heart, and with all my soul, with all the fondness of a
lover in his teens, even though I were a hardened, blase man of the
world. Did she really love me? A thousand times as I contemplated the
ruby ring upon my finger, the ring she had kissed, I asked myself that
question, and each time when I recollected that love-look in her dark
fathomless eyes my conviction of the genuineness of her affection became
more than ever confirmed.

Nevertheless, she had left me with that strangely worded letter, to sigh
over the ashes of a dead past. While repeating her declaration of love
she asserted in the puzzling missive, which I re-read so often, that our
acquaintanceship must end, a conclusion at which she had arrived owing
to some adverse circumstances, mysterious and unexplained. Why she had
been forced to leave Brussels so hurriedly was entirely an enigma. I
reasoned with myself, but could arrive at no definite solution of the
problem.

The days passed, hot stifling summer days when even the shaded
boulevards were sultry, and the dead-white houses reflected back the
sun-glare until it became dazzling, sickening. I longed for a change,
for a breath of country air in fresh green England, for only when one
lives abroad can one appreciate the rural beauties, the calm freshness
of his native land. In all the world there is no spot so truly peaceful,
so happy, so quiet and restful as the old world English village, with
its rows of homely thatched cottages, its uneven 'street,' and the
sweet, all pervading scent of the wood-fires lit at evening to cook the
labourer's meal. Those whose fate it is, or has been, to be temporarily
exiled know full well with what zest and pleasure a visit to 'home' is
looked forward to; how the beauties of all other countries pale before
those of our own England, and how dearly cherished are the memories or
our native town, our public school, or our college. In this frame of
mind I longed for home.

The critical outlook consequent upon the theft of King Leopold's private
correspondence kept me, however, in Brussels. The mission to which I had
been appointed by the Marquess of Macclesfield remained unfulfilled. To
put it plainly, I had entirely failed, and in addition had become
enmeshed by that high-born woman, the daughter of a royal house. I had,
by allowing myself to love, disregarded the wise maxim of the Chief that
to be successful the diplomatist must never allow a woman to bewitch
him. The fair sex are themselves the cleverest of diplomatists, and can
worm out a secret when all the wiles of the male political agent have
failed.

So I remained in Brussels, gasping in the heat--that year of a
semi-tropical character--striving to fulfil my secret mission by making
inquiries in various quarters, but ever failing, until I began to
despair. The ingenuity with which the correspondence had been stolen was
truly marvellous. Day by day, week by week, the Cabinet in London
remained in breathless expectation that the storm which had for years
been culminating would burst over Europe, and England would find herself
at war. The Sirdar had captured Khartoum and broken the Kalifa's power,
and serious complications had arisen with France regarding the
occupation of Fashoda. Day by day at Downing-street Lord Macclesfield
received intelligence from the various embassies of the latest political
wind. The heads of the War Office and Admiralty had been taken into the
Cabinet's confidence, and measures had been rapidly taken for placing
our defences on the alert against sudden surprise, the greatest care,
however, being taken to prevent the suspicions of the press and public
from being aroused. The country was in ignorance of the alarming crisis.

The delay in declaring war could only be due to one reason, namely that
the Powers desired time--a few weeks at most--to make their final
preparations for a combined dash upon our shores. From Petersburg, by
way of Downing-street, grave news reached us of unusual activity in
Russian dockyards and arsenals, while orders had been issued for some
grand military manoeuvres, which meant that the giant Muscovite army was
to be mobilised without arousing our suspicion. There could be no doubt
whatever that in Russia active preparations were being pushed forward
swiftly and secretly. The Franco-Russian alliance so often denied by
both Governments, was now to be carried into effect, and to England its
results must be inevitably disastrous.

In such circumstances it was scarcely surprising that I should be
harassed by the knowledge that the prime object of the mission entrusted
to me by the Marquess of Macclesfield had not only failed, but that we
had been outwitted by a very clever thief, and that the file of
correspondence had been spirited away in a manner utterly bewildering.
Many were the consultations I had with Sir John Drummond and with
Graves, the messenger, and twice I was summoned to Downing-street, where
I related to the Chief all that had transpired.

He looked grave, his ashen face twitching with excitement, as it was
wont to do on but few occasions.

"We can only wait, Crawford," he answered. "Our enemies, whoever they
are, have got the better of us in this affair. King Leopold was here
yesterday in incognito. He mentioned your strenuous efforts to penetrate
the mystery."

"I have done my best," I answered rather lamely, "even if I have
failed."

"Return to Brussels and continue your efforts. We must find out into
whose hands the stolen papers have fallen. That is now of more
importance than the discovery of the actual thief."

So that night I returned to my post by way of Dover and Ostend, arriving
at my rooms at early morning, and sitting out upon the balcony in the
first rays of sunshine. But how to act I knew not. By every device I had
sought for sign at the other Legations of their knowledge of England's
peril, but could discover absolutely none. The King continued to give
his entertainments, the Legations to hold receptions and diplomatic
relations continued calmly and undisturbed.

I thought ever of Melanie. The newspapers said she had arrived with her
mother at Brandenberg, the ancient stronghold of the Hapsbourgs, where
they would pass the remainder of the summer. I pictured her, free from
the trammels of Court life, wandering about those picturesque valleys
around her home, gossiping with the visitors, and being taken by English
tourists as an English girl, so well did she speak our tongue. And as
the anxious weeks passed and the days grew increasingly stifling in
Brussels the desire grew upon me to see her once again, if for the last
time, to learn from her own lips the cause of her sudden resolution to
end our acquaintanceship. Yet what excuse had I for going boldly to the
Castle and demanding an interview with her? She had impressed upon me
the absolute necessity of keeping our intimate friendship a secret, and
I had promised long ago to respect her wish. She was a Princess, and
gossips were ever eager to seize upon any circumstance as ground for
tittle-tattle.

Times without number I had pondered over the matter, until at length the
desire to once again see her became irresistible, and, obtaining a few
days leave, I left Brussels, and, travelling by way of Luxembourg, put
up at the Rathhaus in Treves, the old mediaeval hotel in the peaceful
Place, beneath the shadow of the ancient Cathedral wherein the revered
Holy Coat is kept, only being exhibited once every 50 years. Then, next
day, I set forth on the snorting little river steamer down the Moselle
winding through its romantic valley where ruined castles frowned from
the crests of vine-clad heights, and quiet little villages nestled
between road and river, mirrored in the water, villages whose names are
known the world over by reason of their famous white wines.

The journey was delightful. The steamer, little larger than a pleasure
launch, started at daybreak, and for several hours we wound in and
out--past Berneadel, famous for its 'Doctor,' Alf, Beilstein, and other
quaint villages, through some of the most picturesque scenery in Europe,
until at length, after many stoppages we reached a mere hamlet from
which a boat came out bearing a mail-bag. The place, only a handful of
houses, was called Brodenbach; and I went ashore in the boat, for
Brandenberg was distant about a mile up a dark narrow gorge, where the
pine trees cast a romantic gloom and the high bare grey crags overhung
until they seemed threatening to fall as I wound my way beneath them.
Passing up this gorge until I came to a sudden turn, there suddenly
broke upon my view, towering upon a great, seemingly inaccessible cliff,
the enormous turreted stronghold of the Hapsbourgs. The walls which had
withstood so many sieges in the long-past days when the Archbishop of
Treves was the terror of the neighbourhood were blackened by age, and at
a glance one could well imagine the superior position of the garrison,
for, perched up there, and impregnable on three sides, it commanded an
extensive view over the hills and valleys from the Moselle away to the
Rhine.

Such was the romantic beauty of the scene that I stood gazing up at it
in silent wonder. I had only before seen it from the river when coming
up from Cochem. It was indeed a wonderful relic of a bygone age of
barbarism, for had I not read grim and terrible stories of the fiendish
tortures committed in its deep dungeons, and of hapless prisoners kept
there by the powerful Hapsbourgs until death had relieved them of the
monotony of existence? Indeed, as I looked, I could distinguish,
attached high up to one of the many turrets, the historical iron cage
wherein many a prisoner had been placed and tortured in full view of the
besieging party.

I followed the road, winding and well kept, once no doubt only a
footpath, but now accessible to carriages, and after half an hour's
stiff climb passed through the main entrance, handed my card to the
liveried janitor, followed him across the huge paved courtyard with
its long cool arcades and ancient draw-well, and waited in a small
old-fashioned chamber furnished in medieval style with great carved
table of black oak and chairs of similar design, a severe-looking place
strangely comfortless but striking as an example of the princely home of
four centuries ago. As I stood looking through the deep mullioned window
upon the courtyard the turret-clock chimed slowly and solemnly. For a
long time I remained there alone--fully half an hour, I think--until I
began to wonder whether my card had reached the Princess. At length,
however, another manservant appeared, saying in German:

"Her Highness will see you, if you will please step this way."

I followed him across a great banqueting hall, high-roofed and vaulted,
from which were suspended the tattered, faded banners of the dead
princes of Hapsbourg, while all around were stands of armour worn by
those valiant warriors who were once the terror of all the Rhine-land
from Cologne down to Mayence, and upon the stone walls great heavy
German broadswords, many of which bore the rust of human blood.

Down one long corridor after another we passed until we entered what was
apparently a modern wing of the great stronghold, for the long passage
was so thickly carpeted that our footsteps fell noiselessly, and a few
moments later the man ushered me into a pleasant well-lighted room, the
walls of which were pannelled in brown and covered with silken tapestry
in mignonette green, the ceiling richly gilded, and in the corners were
allegories of the female virtues. On the walls hung several of the great
and famous pictures by Watteau, which stand alone and unapproachable in
their style and form. In one, a party of ladies and gentlemen were
embarking for a voyage to the 'Fortunate Isles,' and two others
represented the interior of a picture-shop. These, I knew, were some of
the pearls of the art treasures of the Hapsbourgs. There were also other
pictures by Lancret and Pater, of the school of Watteau, and as I
advanced to the window to gaze out upon the magnificent panorama of
valley and mountain the door was opened. I turned with quick heart
beating to greet the woman I so fondly loved.

Next instant, however, I drew back in blank astonishment. In the doorway
there stood a female figure in severe black, gazing at me as though I
were some hideous apparition. Perhaps, indeed, I was as a ghost of the
past to her. Our encounter was equally startling to both of us. She had
on no outdoor garments, and was evidently a guest at the Castle who had
entered the room for some purpose, believing it to be unoccupied.

She was the woman who held my secret in her keeping--Judith Kohn, the
widow of Gordon Clunes.

"You?" I gasped, dumbfounded. Of all women she was the last I should
have dreamed to meet in the princely home of the Hapsbourgs.

She stood before me, pale as death. Her lips trembled, and I saw that
the encounter caused her much apprehension.

"Yes," she answered in a hoarse voice, and with a painful effort to
smile. "It is very strange that we should thus meet, is it not?"

"I presume you are a guest here?" I said in a hard voice.

She nodded in the affirmative, and slowly closing the door behind her
advanced a few steps towards me.

"Listen!" she said quickly in a hushed voice. "Time does not admit of
argument. I know that you love Princess Melanie, and you have called
upon her. In a moment she will be here to greet you, therefore our
conversation must be brief and pointed. I am going to leave you; and
recollect that before her you and I are total strangers."

"No," I said at once. "Melanie and her family shall not be tricked by a
woman of your character. Remember that you and I are old friends--or
enemies--which is it?"

She hesitated, but only for a single instant. She was a remarkable
woman, for she never lost her self-control.

"Friends, if you will preserve silence," she answered in deep
earnestness.

"Now, Judith," I said severely, "I know full well that your presence
here is for some evil purpose. You are no doubt passing as some wealthy
well-known woman, and have, as you have so often done before, succeeded
in entering the charmed circle of Society. What are you now? Countess,
Baroness, or is it Duchess?"

She smiled. This woman, whom I knew well to be a political agent, and
whose ingenuity in that respect was simply marvellous, had undoubtedly
some sinister purpose in obtaining admission to the family circle of the
Hapsbourgs. I had known her in Vienna, and to me had been due her
exposure and the committal of her lover Krauss as a spy and traitor. Her
smile told me that she still cherished a fierce revenge; that when
occasion arose she would make that exposure which I dreaded because it
would ruin my good name.

To act boldly was, I saw, my only course. I recollected how on the night
of Gordon's death at Richmond I had threatened her, and how she had
laughed me to scorn because she knew at that moment her husband was
lying dead. That mystery had never been cleared up, nor had the
character of the statement which Gordon had made to the chief ever
transpired.

She was extremely handsome, this fair-haired, blue-eyed woman who had so
often used her personal charms to worm out a secret or to entice a man
to betray a confidence, and as she stood before me, a slim figure in
black, she seemed to have come like an evil shadow between myself and my
well-beloved.

"You no doubt regard it as strange that I should be a guest here," she
said, in a calm voice. "On my part, too, I regard it as curious that
Melanie should love a man in whose past is a black spot, one which, if
revealed, would cause the world to hound him down as a coward and a
criminal."

She referred to my secret. I bit my lip.

"Once," she continued, "on a certain night in Richmond, you declared
that you would tell my husband my true name and station; and you would
have done so but for reasons to which it is now unnecessary to refer.
Since then we have not troubled one another. Now, when we meet thus
unexpectedly, secrecy is surely in our mutual interests."

"No," I cried quickly. "I will not allow you to remain here with
Melanie. You are a spy; and your presence here is with evil design."

"If it pleases you to use hard words," she answered, "then I may return
the compliment, m'sieur, and recall the fact that the Chevalier de
Jedina was foully done to death by you. You, Philip Crawford, diplomatic
representative of your Queen, are a murderer."

"I tell you it was entirely unintentional," I cried. "I was perfectly
innocent, and had no knowledge that a blank cartridge had been placed in
his revolver. I shot him, it is true. But the duel was fair, as far as I
was concerned. I had no knowledge that the man I killed was actually the
victim of foul treachery."

"Ah! you cannot prove it," she said, her face white with a fierce
determination. "Your two seconds have both declared that they saw you
handling your opponent's weapon."

"And who were those seconds?" I exclaimed, as every detail of that
horrible tragedy arose again before my eyes. "They were unprincipled
spies, like yourself. It was they who introduced the blank cartridge, so
that the Chevalier should be killed by my hand!"

That duel, the only one I had fought in my life, had been the outcome of
a quarrel consequent upon a lady whom I had escorted to dine in the
restaurant of the Grand Hotel in Vienna, being insulted by a well-known
politician, the Chevalier de Jedina. The insult was a most gross one,
committed in presence of my friends; therefore, to vindicate my own
honour, I had been compelled to send my card to him. We fought next day
in a wood ten miles outside Vienna, and at my first shot the Chevalier
had fallen with my bullet through his heart. It was only when his
seconds came to examine the dead man's weapon that they discovered that
the exploded cartridge differed from the others, being actually a blank
one.

Then, beneath those trees in the grey light of the well-remembered
morning, as I stood bending over the body of the dead man, I was
denounced as a murderer. Ere that day was out, however, I saw that I had
been the victim of a foul conspiracy, arranged for the purpose of
combating my efforts as an agent in the British secret service. I had
always held suspicion that the whole plot had been arranged by this
woman Judith in connection with Krauss, and I still held that
conviction.

Such imputation against the honour of any man was grave
indeed--especially when my own seconds had been bought to denounce me.
Although innocent I had no means whatever of proving that I had not
placed the blank cartridge in my adversary's weapon. Hence this woman,
who had afterwards so cleverly tricked her lover Krauss, had also held
me in her power.

"I think when you reflect," she exclaimed a few moments later, "when you
consider all the circumstances, you will be inclined to agree with me
that secrecy is best."

"I will not allow her to entertain you without knowledge of your true
character," I said with firmness. "It was you who sold the plans of the
frontier forts for Oswald Krauss--you, the protege of the Russian
Government. With some sinister motive you later induced Gordon Clunes to
marry you. Do you think that I'm blind? You have now wormed yourself
into the confidence of the woman I love--in order to betray her."

"And you actually mean to expose me?" she cried hoarsely, advancing
towards me, her eyes flashing with a dangerous fire.

"I do," I answered. "I care nothing for the charges you may make against
my honour. But I tell you I am determined to save her from you. Your
vile espionage shall not----"

But the words died from my lips in an instant as there was a sudden
frou-frou of silk outside, the door opened, and Melanie stood in
hesitation and surprise upon the threshold.

By the expression of her face I felt assured that she had overheard the
opening words of my interrupted sentence.




CHAPTER XXII.--THE PRINCESS ASKS A FAVOUR.


"Melanie!" I cried joyously, dashing towards her with outstretched
hands. Our eyes met. In hers I saw that same sweet, well-remembered love
look which had given me courage to confess the truth.

Only one word she uttered in response.

"Philip!" she exclaimed in low earnest tone, and then as her tiny
trembling hand touched mine, and thrilled me with a fond pressing, her
puzzled gaze wandered again to the woman in black who stood by,
statuesque and motionless. In an instant the truth flashed across my
mind. Melanie was annoyed at finding her guest in conversation with me.
Perhaps, too, a slight jealousy had arisen within her. As she stood
there my eyes were held to her in fascination, her cool morning dress of
white muslin, girdled narrow but distinctive with pale mauve, gave her
an indescribably dainty appearance, her complexion, fresh and natural,
bearing no traces of that artificial softness which even girls in their
teens nowadays affect by means of glycerine and rice-powder. How
different were those two women? The one ingenuous, pure, honest, and as
healthy in mind as in body; the other a painted, powdered woman of the
world, steeped in the cardinal sins, crafty, unscrupulous, designing and
unmerciful; a woman whose history had been more remarkable than any
romance.

By what means, I wondered, had Judith Kohn managed to obtain an
invitation to Brandenberg? Few, indeed, were accorded that honour
outside the immediate family circle, with the exception of course, of
the usual annual visit of the German Empress and her children. Once or
twice in autumn the Emperor William himself always came there to hunt in
the great forests which stretch eastwards across the Rhineland, but by
the Hapsbourgs the stronghold of their ancestors was always regarded as
a place sacred to summer repose 'en famille.' Guests were invited in
large numbers to the great white palace in Vienna, or to the fine villa
at Beaulieu, near Nice, where the winter was always spent, but never to
Brandenberg.

At a motion from Melanie the woman Judith reluctantly turned, and with
threatening glance at me moved out, closing the door after her. I was
scarcely prepared for such obedience on the part of one so defiant, and
the instant she had gone I asked:

"Who is that woman?"

"Julie, my maid. She has not been with me long. But you apparently know
her," she said. "You were talking when I entered."

She had overheard my denunciation. Should I show open defiance and
speak, or was it wiser to hold my peace? An instant's reflection decided
me.

"Yes," I answered. "I do know her. But she is scarcely the kind of
person to be your maid."

"Why?" she asked in quick surprise. "Impertinence seems to be her only
really bad quality. She's a splendid linguist, a good pianist, and
rather more fitted for companion than maid. From her chance remarks I
know full well that she has once moved in quite a good circle herself."

"Who recommended her to you?" I inquired anxiously, wondering with what
design she could have entered Melanie's service.

"Lady Thirlmere--one of my friends in London."

"Then her ladyship must have been ignorant of who she really is."

"Who is she?" asked the Princess, puzzled.

"Her name is Judith Kohn--the political agent in the employ of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Petersburg," I answered.

"A spy!" she gasped.

I nodded, adding: "And further, she it was who acted with that man
Krauss and induced him to prepare the plans of the Austrian frontier
forts."

"Ah!" she cried quickly, "I recollect. You told me that she was even
worse than he, but that she escaped from Austria with the assistance of
the Russian Embassy. And I have actually taken her into my service," she
said, astounded at my revelation.

"Undoubtedly her presence here is part of some well-laid plan," I said.
"With a woman of her character it behoves one to be ever on the alert.
Why has she taken the trouble to enter your service?"

"It is extraordinary. How can I tell?"

"Reflect. Is there any secret of prime importance which is in your
keeping? You, a member of a royal house, may be in possession of
something which it is the object of your enemies to obtain."

She was silent. In an instant her face was blanched to the lips.

"Ah!" she cried suddenly, as though some hideous truth had at that
instant dawned upon her. "Yes! I see it all now! There is a deep and
cunningly-devised plot. The coup would have been made quickly--perhaps
even to-day, had you not thus given me timely warning."

"A plot against you?" I suggested.

"Yes," she faltered hoarsely. "Against me."

Then she stood silent, deep in thought. Her mouth was hard set, and in
her eyes a look of desperation strangely out of keeping with the calm
beauty of her countenance.

"This woman," I went on, "is possessed of a devilish ingenuity. Not a
year ago I discovered her as wife of an official in our Foreign Office
in London. She was leading a life of strict gentility at Richmond, the
adored of her husband and the admiration of her suburban neighbours."

"You think she had actually married him in order to obtain some secret
at the bidding of her masters in St. Petersburg?"

"Undoubtedly," I responded. "Gordon Clunes, her husband, died
mysteriously, poor fellow, and she afterwards disappeared--to Russia, I
believe. From that moment until a few minutes ago I have neither seen
nor heard of her. But has not the man Krauss--the spy whose release you
obtained from the Emperor Francis Joseph--has not he ever mentioned
her?'

"Yes. After your statement I demanded of him the whole story, and he
related it to me. He told me of this mysterious woman who enjoys the
patronage of all the Embassies of the Czar throughout Europe, of her
artfulness, her daring, and her unscrupulousness; yet I never for one
moment dreamed that this very woman whose name is synonymous with all
that is crafty and evil was actually the one who waited upon me daily,
and whose gossip was so bright and interesting."

"Strange enough," I said, "King Leopold is extremely anxious to meet
her. For some months I have been in search of her, in order to induce
her to obey the royal command to go to the Palace."

"King Leopold!" she gasped. Then, after a second's pause, added: "No,
no! Philip. They must never meet."

"Why?" I inquired, surprised.

"Philip," she said earnestly, stretching forth her hand and grasping
mine, "you love me, do you not?"

"Yes, dearest. It is because I love you, because I could no longer bear
your absence, that I have come here to-day, even at the risk of your
displeasure."

"Then I may trust you?" she said, in a deep tone of earnestness.

"Of course you may," I replied.

"Ah! for my sake, for love of me, Philip, do not take this woman to the
King."

"But why?" I argued. "I have reason to believe that from her certain
information could be gained that might change the present critical
outlook in Europe. You, of course, have heard sinister rumours of
antagonistic alliances and of war."

"Listen, Philip," she said, in a low voice, breathless in the intensity
of her anxiety. "If the King and Judith Kohn meet, the outcome of the
interview would be disastrous to me to my family--to my house. I am in
grave peril. You love me. Once you declared that if you could ever
render me assistance you would do so. Will you not help me, now that I
am in sore need of your protection?"

I had made a promise to the King. Whatever the object his Majesty had in
seeking an interview with this mysterious female agent, it was
undoubtedly of prime importance. Yet with this appeal of my beloved in
my ears, how could I turn aside and disregard her? From the very fact
that Judith was acting as her maid, it was apparent that she harboured
some evil design, therefore it was but my duty to stand by and assist
her. I had exposed this woman whose marvellous cunning had shaken
empires to their foundations, and well I knew that ere long she would
launch her charges against me mercilessly. The storm of her indignation
and vengeance would be terrible.

"The King's command should be obeyed," I said. "Remember that I am a
diplomatist, and that my own country and his are in complete accord."

"No, no!" she cried, with a passionate outburst. "No, you will not,
Philip," she implored, earnestly.

"I do not see how this meeting could affect you personally, while it is
just possible that the revelations which are within this woman's power
to make may change the whole aspect of international relations."

"No, I beg of you, Philip," she pleaded, holding both my hands in her
convulsive grasp, and sinking suddenly upon her knees. "See!" she cried.
"I beg of you to spare me--to spare me."

"Spare you!" I exclaimed in wonder. "I don't understand. Why have you
given me no explanation of your sudden flight from Brussels--or of your
relations with that spy and traitor Krauss?"

"Because it is absolutely impossible," she faltered. "I am bound to
secrecy."

"Then you wish me to neglect my duty, and say nothing to the King of the
reappearance of this woman?"

She was bowed before me, and I was holding her trembling hands. From her
attitude I saw that she was terribly in earnest, as though all her
future depended upon my decision.

"It is the first favour I have asked of you, Philip," she said, in a low
voice, panting as she spoke. "I know that your duty to your country is
to inform the King, but upon your decision all depends. Ah! you do not
know how much I have suffered, or what I am suffering now. You cannot
tell the dire result which might accrue if the King and the spy
exchanged confidences."

She shuddered. Her face was blanched, and as her head bowed her white
lips moved. It seemed as though there, upon her knees, she was praying
for deliverance from her mysterious thraldom, and I stood in silence,
motionless, hesitating whether to serve my country or the woman I loved
so dearly.

The maxim of the philosophical controller of England's destiny, the
Marquess of Macclesfield, was indeed one full of truth. To be a
successful diplomatist a man must needs steel his heart against all
feminine blandishments. But there comes a time in the life of every man
when he loves honestly and well, and when the happiness of the object of
his affections is his primary consideration. My love for the Princess
Melanie had been one full of a strange romance, our meetings had been
clandestine, and none knew our secret but ourselves. To be loved by one
of the most beautiful and high-born women in Europe, and placed on
equality with her, poor that I was, had awakened my very soul, and had
aroused within me a new zest for life. Could I disregard her appeal made
before me upon her knees? I glanced down at her, and saw upon that pale
troubled face, the face of a woman haunted by some secret dread, a look
of intense anxiety such as I had never before witnessed. Tears, too,
stood in her dark luminous eyes as she once again raised her face
imploringly to mine. Those tears decided me. I never could bear a
woman's emotion.

"If you wish me to neglect my duty, Melanie, then I will do so," I said
at last. "You know how dearly I love you, how every day, every hour, my
thought is always of you. Brussels is but a desert now that you have
left it."

She rose unsteadily, assisted by me, and then without a word threw her
arms passionately about my neck, and gave way to a flood of tears. Her
pent-up emotion found vent as she buried her handsome head upon my
shoulder, while I, with my arm about her slim waist, kissed her hair and
endeavoured to comfort her.

"I am miserable--wretched," she sobbed. "I was compelled to fly from
Brussels without wishing you farewell, Philip, because--well, because
every hour I remained there placed me in greater jeopardy. Forgive me."

"You were in fear of that man Krauss," I exclaimed rather severely.
"Tell me the truth. If I neglect my duty to serve you, then surely you
will at least be frank with me."

"Yes," she faltered. "I left in order to escape him."

"Why," I asked. "What power does he hold over you--he a traitor and a
spy, and you a princess? Why should you hold him in fear?"

She shook her head mournfully, and a deep sigh escaped her.

"Surely," I continued, "whatever may be your relations you might openly
defy him if you wished."

"Ah! would to heaven that I dared!" she cried. "Alas! it is
impossible--impossible."

"He is your lover," I said in a deep tone. "You cannot deny it,
Melanie."

"I have already denied it," she answered with a slight indignation.
"True, I obtained his release, but it was imperative I did it to save
myself--little dreaming that by so doing I was preparing for myself an
everlasting torment."

"Save yourself!" I echoed. "You speak in enigmas. Why not be more
explicit, now that I have promised to assist you with all the power at
my command?"

"Because, even now, I dare not tell you everything," she replied. "All I
can say is that I am in gravest peril, and that if you will you can save
my honour--my reputation--nay, Philip," she added, in the voice of one
driven to desperation, "you alone can save me from death!"

"From death! Why?"

"Because exposure is imminent," she said hoarsely, standing rigid and
pale, her hands clasped to her white open brow in a sudden wild paroxysm
of despair. "This woman Kohn has scented out the truth! She knows my
secret, and will betray me! I confess I am unworthy of your love, even
of your esteem. I have sinned, and only my death can make full
atonement. Alas! that the love of the Hapsbourgs is fatal--always
fatal!"




CHAPTER XXIII.--EVEN MORE CURIOUS.


Slowly I retraced my steps towards the winding sun-lit river, stumbling
on utterly heedless of where I went. Through a full hour I had remained
with my love, holding her hand and trying to comfort her, but
overwhelmed with a weight of secret sorrow she only sobbed upon my
breast. The world, she said, was against her, and her dream of happiness
with me could never be realised. I strove to induce her to look only
upon the bright side of life, but she had only mournfully shaken her
head, saying: "For me, it is all finished--finished."

I went along dull and dispirited, until loving her with my whole soul I
turned and glanced back at the frowning pile standing out black and
forbidding against the mellow sunlight. From one of those narrow high-up
windows she was undoubtedly watching me, and as I stood there at the
last bend of the road whence I could see the castle, I tried to decide
which was the window of the room wherein our interview had taken place.
Upon my lips was the impress of her fond passionate final kiss, and in
my ears rang her parting words of love and despair. As I had followed
the servant out across the old courtyard Judith was standing at the
window watching my departure. In her eyes I discerned a dastardly evil
glint, by which I knew that she suspected that I had told the truth. Yet
I cared not now for her vengeance or her allegations. Never until that
hour of parting had I known how deeply I loved Melanie, and as with a
sigh I took farewell of the ancient fortress of the Hapsbourgs and
dragged myself wearily forward her sweet face, the sweetest God ever
gave to woman, rose before me full of sympathy and a charm irresistible.

I had at last given her timely warning of Judith's identity, but the
result of my visit had only been to increase the mystery which seemed to
surround her actions, and to add to our mutual unhappiness.

Nearly a week afterwards, when I was in Brussels again, my man one day
brought in a letter, the envelope, of which bore the Hapsbourg coronet
and cypher. My heart gave a bound, for Melanie wrote but seldom. I tore
it open and eagerly read it. Full of expressions of trust and tenderness
it also contained a strange request, namely, that in order to fulfil my
promised offer of assistance I should proceed to London on the following
day and call at nine o'clock in the evening at a certain house in
Porchester-terrace, Bayswater, but for what purpose was not stated.

"If you love me, Philip, you will not hesitate to serve me in this," the
letter concluded. "I rely on you to redeem your promise to assist a
helpless, friendless woman, who is in gravest peril. Adieu."

I pondered over the strange letter long and earnestly, then finding that
it had been apparently delayed a day in the post, and that I had only
half-an-hour in which to catch the morning mail to England by way of
Ostend, I scribbled a note to Sir John Drummond explaining my absence,
and then set forth upon my journey.

I arrived in London about five o'clock, dined at the Club, and later
took a hansom up to Bayswater. The house before which I alighted was a
large, rather comfortable-looking one, which bore on its exterior
evidence of prosperity in the shape of sun-blind, and a small, well-kept
garden. A few stunted smoke-blackened trees overhung the wall, which
shut the place out from the gaze of passers-by, and as in the evening
light I passed up the gravelled walk I fancied I detected a dark figure
disappear from one of the ground-floor windows.

The moment I ascended the steps and rang the bell the ludicrousness of
my position flashed upon me. I did not know for whom to ask, therefore
when the elderly-man servant opened the door I lamely said--

"I believe I am expected here," and handed him a card.

"Yes, sir," answered the man, smart, and evidently well trained. "Kindly
step this way," and he led me to an elegant little room which looked out
upon a small flower-garden in the rear. The place was extremely well
furnished. Why, I wondered, had I been sent there?

I was, however, not kept long in suspense, for a few seconds later the
door was opened and Melanie herself, in a dark green travelling-dress
and neat toque, stood before me.

"Ah! dearest," I said in joyous surprise, springing forward and seizing
her hand, "I had no idea that you were in London."

"No," she smiled. "But how am I to thank you sufficiently for keeping
this appointment?"

"Thanks are unnecessary between lovers," I answered.

"Then you do still love me, Philip?" she asked in a strange tone of
doubt and anxiety.

"Love you! Of course I do, darling. Why do you doubt me?" I asked
quickly.

She sighed, and I thought I detected in the corners of her pretty mouth
an almost imperceptible expression of bitterness.

"Because," she answered in a low, nervous voice, "because when you know
the truth your love will turn to hatred."

"Never!" I cried. "Never! How strangely you speak. Tell me why you have
come here, and what I can do to assist you."

"Wait," she answered in the voice of one speaking in a dream. "Be
patient, and you shall know all--everything."

"But it is all so puzzling," I said. Then, after an instant's pause I
asked, "What of Judith? Has she left you?"

She nodded.

"After making a charge against me?" I inquired.

Again she nodded.

"And you believe it?" I gasped.

"I believe nothing without proof," she answered, and I saw a sweet,
sympathetic love-look still in her eyes.

"I swear that her allegation is not true," I said. She was calm, but
pale, and I fancied that she shuddered when I took her hand and raised
it to my lips.

"You think it strange that I should meet you here," she said at last.
"This house is the house of a lady with whom I lived for three years
while learning English; and this room my own, which has been kept just
as I left it when I returned home to make my debut in society. How well
I remember it!" she exclaimed, glancing round; "and how happy I used to
be here, in my girlhood days, before the great evil fell upon me."

"The great evil? What do you mean?"

"Ah! Philip," she answered, "it is only right and just that you should
know, even if after I have spoken I dare never to look into your face
again. You are an honest, upright, conscientious man, a trusted servant
of your Queen and country, and a manly lover of whom any woman might be
proud--yet I have deceived you."

"Deceived me!" I ejaculated. "How?"

"Towards you my life has been a living lie. I have----"

But her words were interrupted by the entrance of a man-servant, who
said:

"A gentleman who gives the name of Krauss desires to see your Highness."

"Krauss!" she gasped, turning to me, in an instant, white as death. "Is
he alone?" she inquired, with an assumed calmness.

"A lady is with him. She is fair, and dressed in black."

For an instant she was silent, then, with a calm determined look upon
her face she ordered them both to be shown in.

"Krauss and Judith Kohn!" she said, turning to me. "They have lost no
time in tracing me here, and their purpose is undoubtedly a sinister
one--to obtain by foul means that which I have refused them."

"Happily I am with you!" I said, reassuringly.

"Yes, yes," she cried in despair, "but you, like all others, will turn
from me when you know the wretched, ghastly truth."

Then, next instant, the spy and traitor, together with the handsome
woman who was his ingenious assistant, entered the room.

Both drew back speechless at sight of me. Probably they remembered that
the frustration of their clever designs was once due to my watchfulness;
at any rate they both had just cause to detest the memory of those days
of the past.

"Good evening to you," I said, with an affected politeness, for it
appeared that the interesting pair had walked quite unconsciously into a
trap. Such illusion was, however, very quickly dispelled, for Krauss,
arrogant and overbearing as was his wont, answered:

"I called to see the Princess alone."

"I am a friend of her's--an intimate friend--and shall remain here," I
said.

"Then my business can wait until she is alone," he answered, with a grin
upon his countenance. "I am in no immediate hurry, I assure you."

"Speak!" exclaimed Melanie, hoarsely, grasping the back of a chair to
steady herself. "I well know that the object of your visit is in
continuation of the overtures you have so constantly made to me.
Explain."

"How can this person be connected with you," he said, turning his eyes
upon her companion.

Judith Kohn stood beside him, a silent figure in black, her handsome
features but half concealed by her spotted veil.

"You know Philip Crawford," Melanie said, impatiently. "You have met
before, and are not strangers. Why do you hesitate to speak?"

The spy, silent for a few moments, exchanged a quick glance with his
companion.

"Because," he said at last, "because explanations are quite unnecessary
The matter between us concerns your delicate character."

"Then if you are determined not to speak, I myself will explain," said
Melanie, bracing herself up with an effort. "I have resolved to suffer
no longer. I am determined to end for ever this eternal torture of the
soul, even at the risk of losing all in this world I hold most dear."

"Your love--eh?" sneered Krauss with a contemptuous glance at me. He had
not forgotten our encounter on that well-remembered night in Brussels.

"Listen, Philip," she cried in a voice of desperation. "The persecution
of this man has driven me to moral suicide. To-night I will end it all.
Hear me, and then judge my faults impartially and with justice. I know I
am unworthy, yet I have deceived you, because, loving you as I did, I
feared that when you knew the hideous truth you would cast me aside and
forsake me."

A cynical laugh escaped the ex-captain's lips.

"Continue," I said. "Take no heed of this released criminal's jeers."

Krauss's face puckered into a frown, and without answering he darted at
me an evil glance.

"For years I have been this man's victim," she cried, panting. "Fearing
always to disobey his will I have been compelled to act as he has
directed, to be his cat's-paw in the many dishonourable transactions in
which he has been implicated. To-night, however, I release myself from
the hateful thraldom by making full confession of all the past. True, I
am of an honourable house upon whom no breath of scandal has ever
rested, and at the outset I declare that I will rather die by my own
hand than bring discredit and idle gossip upon the Hapsbourgs. The pride
of my family has always been the virtue and integrity of its women, and
in order to clear the escutcheon I have besmirched by my conduct I tell
the whole truth without concealing one single fact."

"Then you're an idiotic fool," interrupted Krauss bluntly. "You always
were the most circumspect and cautious woman I ever knew, but now you
actually intend to bring scandal upon yourself in a manner utterly
unnecessary. Only you yourself can suffer by such an exposure."

"Wait until I have finished," she cried, turning fiercely upon him. "I
have suffered enough at your unscrupulous hands, compelled as I have
been to perform actions mean and despicable, even to commit acts which
might have brought me within the clutches of the criminal law; to pose
as your lover when you so desired it, and to render you assistance in
official quarters. Little the world has dreamed that you, the condemned
traitor to your country, obtained your liberty through my effort, or
that my money has kept you in luxury and extravagance for months, nay
years. And why? Because I feared you? Yes. I was not long in discovering
how mean and relentless you could be when occasion required, and I knew
that defiance meant my ruin and a scandal which would fill the
newspapers and cause half Europe to gossip. The safety of an Empire was
at stake, the honour of a royal house was in your hands, therefore I,
believed by all to be innocent and ingenuous, was compelled to submit to
your demands, to act as you dictated, to supply you with information
which you sold at enormous profit to enemies of my house and country. At
a foolish moment I had placed myself irresistibly within your power, and
you, a cunning schemer, used me as your tool wherewith to execute some
of the most delicate and ingenious coups of espionage ever perpetrated.
Nothing is sacred to you--patriotism, honour, family ties, or even a
woman's life. These three long, weary years have to me been a veritable
century of suffering. Now you have driven me to desperation, and I
prefer exposure, the execration of the world, even the denunciation of
the man who loves me so tenderly and truly, to this secret alliance
which has crushed and killed my very soul."

At these passionate words of hers the man drew back with an uneasy
laugh, meant to be derisive, but sounding strangely artificial. My
previous dealings with him had shown me that he was by no means easily
cowed. To obtain success he had hesitated at nothing, and was an
adventurer of the very worst and most irresponsible type. There was a
look of cruel, crafty cunning upon his countenance and a glitter in his
eyes which told of fierce thoughts within.

"Well," he said, "explain all if you consider it wise. Only you yourself
will suffer."

"You," she cried, "have striven to drive me to commit suicide; and I
should long ago have taken my own life were it not for the fact that by
doing so you would triumph. You sent this woman to me," she said,
pointing to Judith, "in order to obtain that which you sought; but by a
fortunate circumstance Philip came to Brandenberg and there recognised
her as the woman who helped you in your nefarious, traitorous work in
Vienna. It placed me on my guard, and, happily, I have been enabled to
frustrate you from making a coup which would undoubtedly have startled
the world."

"But tell me," I interrupted, much puzzled. "Tell me why you have been
held powerless by this man?"

"Ah, it is a wretched story," she answered, turning to me, "yet it is
only just that all mystery should now be removed, and that you should
have full and clear explanation. Four years ago, while still in my
teens, I delighted to escape from the palace and wander about alone. We
were living in Vienna, and I often went out secretly by myself to make
various little purchases, being in the habit of calling at a
pastrycook's where they made English tea. On one of these visits I met
there a smart-looking officer who showed me some trivial politeness, and
who afterwards came there so frequently that I could not help guessing
that he came purposely to meet and chat with me. This acquaintanceship
quickly became more sincere; he gave me his card, and at his request I
one evening met him clandestinely. In those days of romantic girlhood I
thought it great amusement to have a lover, and evening after evening I
would contrive to get away from the home circle and go for walks with
him. Months went on. He was unaware of my true name and of who I was,
for I had given my address at the house of a friend on the outskirts of
the city, until one day he was ordered to do duty with the Palace guard,
and quite by accident discovered my identity. Almost a year had elapsed,
a year of halcyon days and foolish dreams of love and happiness, when
one evening he did not keep the appointment he had made. I waited for
him over an hour, then went back disappointed. For three evenings
following I returned to the spot, but he came not, nor did he write and
explain. I thought that probably he had been ordered into the country
suddenly; but about a week later the real truth became revealed, for I
received anonymously in an envelope a clipping from a newspaper which
briefly stated that Captain Oswald Krauss, of the 33rd Regiment of
Artillery, had been arrested for gross dereliction of duty."

"Krauss!" I echoed. "Then he was the officer whom you met, and whom you
loved!"

"Yes," she answered hoarsely. "I loved him, but remember I was young,
and utterly inexperienced in the ways of the world. I knew little of
life beyond the walls of the Palace, or of Brandenberg."

"Well, after his arrest, what then?" I inquired, amazed at her
revelation, and recollecting how I had successfully tracked the spy
through a perfect labyrinth of complications previous to his arrest.

"I knew that he would be tried by court-martial, therefore at my request
the President allowed me to remain in an adjoining room at the trial.
There, through a small window I saw the man who was my lover standing
between two guards with fixed bayonets, and I heard the terrible charge
against him. I heard the evidence, and was present when you yourself
explained how you had first made the discovery of his treachery. He
trembled at your calm straight-forward denunciation, and I saw of what
dastardly treachery he had been guilty. He had coolly sold his country,
and placed the lives of his fellow-men in jeopardy in exchange for
Russian roubles. Had you not discovered the truth in time he would have
given Russia the key to Austria."

"You actually heard me give my evidence?" I exclaimed, amazed.

"I heard every word of it, being present each day that the court-martial
sat," she answered. "I was present, too, on that morning when at sunrise
the spy was led forth into the barrack square, and in front of the whole
garrison his sentence was read out, although the exact charge was not
stated, for fear of giving offence to Russia. Then his sword was broken,
his epaulettes torn off, the gay braiding cut from his tunic, and to
loud drumming and the execrations of his brother officers and the men
who had served under him, he was led off to prison, a scowling sneaking
wretch in whose crime there had been no extenuating circumstance. From
that moment my love for him turned to hatred. He had betrayed me, and
had sought to betray his country and his Emperor."




CHAPTER XXIV.--CONFESSION.


"And then?" I asked eagerly.

"Well, I left Vienna with my family, and we spent the summer at
Brandenberg and the winter at Beaulieu. Then we went on a round of
visits to London, to the Hague, and to Rome, until all thought of the
wretched convict passed from my mind. One day, however, while on a visit
to the Empress William, at Berlin, I received a letter dated from the
prison of Budapesth containing a cool, alarming demand--namely, that I
should go at once to the Emperor Francis Joseph and beg his immediate
release. To this I made no response; whereupon I received several other
letters in which he repeated his demand, adding that he knew the Emperor
would accede to my wish provided that the release was kept a secret, and
that he gave an undertaking never to again set foot on Austrian soil. I
replied, telling him that no Hapsbourg had ever assisted one guilty of
treason, and that I would be no exception. Then, in response, came
another brief note which held me terrified--for he threatened that if he
were not released within fourteen days he would write and forward to the
newspapers a certain statement concerning me--a statement which, I knew
too well, alas, would cause a sensation throughout Europe. Defiance was
useless. This keen-witted, unscrupulous spy held me irrevocably in his
power, hence, though I hated him and detested his memory, I was
compelled to go to the Emperor and plead for his release. At first I was
unsuccessful; but having concocted an ingenious story I at last
succeeded, and the man who had so coolly bartered his country's military
secrets was secretly escorted to the frontier.

"Many months passed, and I heard nothing of him," she continued. "Last
summer, however I came to London and stayed here with my old teacher of
English, when one day he called, and from his conversation I learnt that
he had left the secret service of Russia and had entered that of France;
and further, that together with the woman who had so cleverly assisted
him in Vienna he had concocted a deeply laid plan to secure possession
of certain secrets of the British Foreign Office. He told me how at
Downing-street the French had established a complete system of
espionage, and, equally with Russia, were aware of nearly all that
transpired. So cleverly were documents copied or their purport noted
that no suspicion was ever aroused, and further he said that one of the
principal of the secret agents was a woman who was wife of a trusted
official through whose hands all treaties, or drafts of treaties
passed."

"And that woman," I interrupted, "that woman is now before us!"

"Why should I thus be implicated?" said Judith, resentfully. Then
turning to her companion, she said, in Hungarian. "The affair is growing
too ugly for my liking."

"No doubt," I exclaimed, severely. "You remember your brief married life
with poor Gordon, and the circumstances of his death, which were more
than peculiar."

She glared at me fixedly, but uttered no response.

"Continue," I said, addressing Melanie, who had now become calm and
determined, and who spoke with a fearlessness which showed her
resolution to explain the whole truth.

"This woman, he said, had obtained knowledge that certain negotiations
were in progress between Belgium and England, which in event of war
would seriously affect the success of any operations by Russia and
France. Of the preliminaries they had gained a good deal of knowledge
which had been carefully transmitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
in Paris, where it had created great consternation. Orders had,
therefore, been given this arch-traitor and spy to secure at all costs
the original documents on which the supposed secret treaty was based,
and it was with that object he had come to me."

"He wanted you to assist him in his plans, I suppose?" I observed.

"Yes," she answered. "He unfolded an elaborate scheme by which I was to
help him. Briefly, it was that on a certain day the correspondence
between King Leopold and your Ambassador, Sir John Drummond, would be
transmitted by special messenger from the Legation to Downing-street,
and he proposed that on this particular day I should travel with the
messenger from Brussels to London with an exact duplicate of the Foreign
Office despatch box, and on the journey contrive to exchange the box
containing the State secrets for the dummy one, which, with his
marvellous ingenuity, he had already carefully prepared."

She paused, while I stood open-mouthed and astonished at her statement.

"At first," she went on, "at first I allowed my disgust at his proposal
to over-ride my discretion, and angrily ordered him from the house; but
very soon, from his threatening attitude, I saw that his fixed intention
was that I should render him assistance. Thus, for fear of the exposure
he might make regarding myself, I was compelled to submit. I was
compelled to become a political agent."

"You!" I cried. "Then did you actually assist him?"

"Yes, under compulsion, and in order to avoid the gross and terrible
scandal which he might bring upon my family, I was compelled to
sacrifice myself and become this man's catspaw in his nefarious
schemes."

"Then you actually stole the King's correspondence!" I gasped, utterly
amazed.

"For a long time I refused to consent," she answered. "He called fully a
dozen times, and at last finding him inexorable I went to Brussels,
carrying with me the dummy despatch box. Then, on the day he had stated,
his information coming, I suppose, from some secret agent in the Belgian
Ministry, I saw on the platform of the Gare du Nord, at Brussels, the
messenger, bearing despatches. I entered the same compartment, and
presently contrived to get into conversation with him. The dummy box was
concealed in my large dressing-bag, and I awaited my opportunity to draw
it forth and exchange it for the one he had placed upon the seat beside
him. It was a hazardous and delicate piece of work, and no opportunity
presented itself during the journey to Ostend, or while on board the
steamer bound for Dover, where, by the way, my bag was not opened by the
Customs officers. The Queen's messenger--Graves was his name, I
think--kept an ever-watchful eye upon his despatches. During the
journey, however, we had become quite good friends, and when at Dover we
had entered the express for London he suddenly asked whether I would
like some tea. To this I replied in the affirmative, and asking me to
keep an eye to his things he descended and obtained some tea from the
refreshment room lad on the platform. In the moment of his absence,
however, I drew forth the box Krauss had given me--an exact imitation of
the real one--and, placing it upon the seat, slipped the one containing
the despatches into my dressing-bag. My heart beat wildly within me when
he returned, for I feared lest he might discover the trick, but so well
had the box been imitated that he merely placed it on the rack over his
head and settled down and chatted affably with me during the remainder
of our journey to London. Eager to escape at the earliest possible
moment I told him that I was on a visit to some friends at Horsham, in
Sussex, and therefore London Bridge was my best station to alight, for
there I could obtain a train direct to my destination. So I left him
when we arrived at the first stoppage in London, and after the train had
crossed the bridge in the direction of Cannon-street I returned, at once
took a ticket back to Dover, and a quarter of an hour later was again on
my return journey, having successfully accomplished my first mission as
a spy. How I existed during that journey back to Ostend I scarcely know.
So intense was the excitement within me, and so great my fear of arrest,
that I passed hours of agony and dread, until in the grey of the morning
I found myself once more in Brussels, where I concealed the box unopened
in one of my trunks in my own room at the Palace. Later that day I
telegraphed the result of my effort to the man who held me within his
power. He was in London, and replied that he had further important
affairs there, but that he would meet me in Brussels in three days time.
He also wrote by the same post saying that he would meet me three days
later at the evening promenade concert at the Wauxhall Garden, when I
was to hand him the stolen correspondence, which he would convey at once
to Paris."

"And did he meet you?" I asked, eager to know what had become of the
file of the King's letters, the loss of which had caused us such
consternation and alarm.

"Yes," she answered. "But on the night following my return from London I
made a discovery which caused me to entirely alter my plans. I found
that you, Philip, the man whom I had met in the Bois, was an agent of
the English Government: and I then saw that if I parted with the papers
I had stolen opprobrium must fall upon you. I learnt from the King's own
lips that you were employed on secret service, charged with making
inquiries into certain operations of the 'cabinet noire' in Brussels,
and with obtaining such information as might combat the conspiracies of
the enemies of Belgium and England. Well, I may as well confess that I
loved you, Philip, and with a vague idea of rendering a service to you,
as well as to King Leopold, I refused to give up the stolen letters."

"You refused," I cried quickly. "Then have they never fallen into this
man's hands?"

"Never!" she answered. "The box, unopened, is still in my possession."

"Then you have saved England from a deadly peril--from a disastrous and
terrible war," I exclaimed in breathless joyousness.

"When he came to me and I refused to deliver up the despatches," she
explained, "he grew furious, threatening me with the same threats of
exposure he had successfully used to secure his release and obtain my
assistance in the masterstroke of espionage. But from what I had learnt
from diligent inquiry I knew full well that you were in active search
for the missing letters, and further, I felt assured that they must be
of gravest importance in the critical political outlook. Hence, after
fully weighing the situation, I determined to disregard his threats and
keep the correspondence intact. I dared not reveal to you my wretched
story of woman's weakness lest you should cast me aside as a spy; and it
was for that reason I have been compelled to preserve this long silence.
You will now understand the reason of our midnight meetings on the
boulevards, and of this man's murderous attack upon me. At that moment,
so infuriated was he by my refusal to deliver up the papers that I
believe he would have murdered me had you not come to my aid."

"It is amazing!" I exclaimed, dumbfounded, when she paused.

"Yes, the facts are indeed extraordinary," she said. "When this man
found me inexorable and determined not to betray the secrets of English
diplomacy, he first placed a spy upon me--the tall man whose presence at
the Palace you noticed and then afterwards devised, with his devilish
ingenuity, another plan which, but for you, might have succeeded. By
artful plotting he contrived to introduce his accomplice, this woman, as
my maid in order that she might be enabled to search my belongings and
secure the papers of which the French Government were so anxious to
possess themselves. Fortunately, however, you recognised her, and then
in an instant I discerned the object of her entering my service."

The woman thus referred to laughed defiantly, while the man remained
sullen and silent, as if undecided how to act now that the truth was out
and he was denounced as a cunning, despicable spy, whose craftiness had
been frustrated just at the very moment of making his greatest coup.

With a vindictiveness characteristic of such a woman, Judith Kohn began
to pour forth upon me a torrent of abuse, referring in no measured terms
to the death of the Chevalier de Jedina, and declaring that I was a
murderer. Melanie, however, took no heed of her libellous utterances,
for she was satisfied with the truthful explanation I had given of the
dastardly plot against me by which a man's life was sacrificed.

"But the stolen despatch-box--where is it?" I asked of Melanie. For
answer she crossed to a large, old-fashioned chest of carved oak which
she opened, lifting out the box which had been so cleverly snatched from
Graves' possession and handing it to me I took it, and saw that the
seals which Sir John Drummond had placed upon it were actually still
intact.

The covetous eyes of the pair were upon it, and fearing lest they might
make a dash to overpower me and obtain possession of its precious
contents I whipped out my revolver in readiness. Sight of my weapon
cowed them. Possibly they remembered that where I aimed I generally hit.

"You have, by refusing to part with this, Melanie," I said placing my
hand upon the despatch-box, "rendered a service to my Queen and country
of a magnitude it is almost impossible to comprehend. Had these letters
been in the hands of our enemies it is absolutely certain that to-day
the whole of Europe would have been convulsed by the most terrible and
disastrous war the world has ever known. Driven by this pair of
malefactors to commit deeds of treason and dishonour, you fortunately
recognised the extreme gravity of the situation in time, and thus the
honour and security of England have been preserved."

"Had I not met you in the Bois, Philip," she said in a broken voice, "I
should certainly have parted with the box in order to obtain a respite
from this man's eternal persecutions, for he had made it the price of my
deliverance from this thraldom. God knows how I have suffered, how, day
by day, I strove to brace myself to confess all to you, but had not the
courage--how, day by day, I prayed to heaven to deliver me from the
hateful bond."

"But what was this bond?" I asked, puzzled. "Why were you in constant
dread of this man? Why were his threats so potent in compelling you to
act as you have done?"

"Ah!" laughed Krauss with sarcasm. "Now, tell your lover the truth. You
said you would not conceal anything."

The colour again left her cheeks. She was silent, her face ashen pale.




CHAPTER XXV.--CONCLUSION.


Melanie's clenched hands trembled. In her bright dark eyes was the
haunted look of one driven to desperation.

"The truth!" she gasped in a low hoarse voice, full of emotion. "The
truth is that I feared he would expose me and create a scandal. I--I am
that man's--wife!"

"His wife?" I cried in blank dismay. "Impossible."

"Alas! such is the hideous truth. In the early days of our acquaintance
I loved him with the romantic admiration that a girl does her first
lover. He spoke of marriage, I consented, and we were married legally at
Budapesth, only two other persons being in the secret. I gave my name
without my title, and none suspected my rank or station on that Sunday
morning in early spring when we attended before the Mayor with a dozen
other couples of the lower class. For a year, separated as we were bound
to be, our lives were not without their romance, but judge my horror on
the day that I learnt that my husband was to be tried by court-martial,
and later when I saw him degraded and condemned to life imprisonment as
a traitor to his Emperor and his country. A feeling of hatred and
disgust was created within me when I received that letter declaring that
if I did not obtain his release he would, through a journalist who
visited him in prison, reveal to the world that I, Princess Melanie of
Hapsbourg was wife of an imprisoned traitor and spy. Because of this
threat which he ever held over me I was compelled to act always as he
directed, until now that I can bear this terrible mental tension no
longer I have preferred exposure and confession."

"And you are actually his wife!" I exclaimed, utterly amazed at this
astounding revelation.

For answer the man Krauss, with a triumphant exclamation, thrust a paper
towards me, and at a single glance I saw from it that the marriage was
an entirely legal one.

The woman I had loved could no longer be mine.

The ghastly truth fell upon me, crushing out all hope and life. Calm,
sweet-faced, and innocent, she had been tricked by this cunning
scoundrel, and her suffering had, I know, been terrible through all
those weary months. She had loved me fondly, knowing at the same time,
however, that we could never be more to one another than friends. Yet
her friendship had been stanch and true, and by her firm determination
and resolute action, loyal devotion and self-sacrifice, she, the
daughter of a Royal house, had saved England's honour and the lives of
thousands of her valiant sons.

Shortly before 11 o'clock on the following morning, accompanied by
Melanie, pale and anxious, and carrying the missing despatch-box I
ascended the grand staircase of the Foreign Office to the Marquis of
Macclesfield's private room.

We had not long to wait, for her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State
for Foreign Affairs was always punctual at Downing-street, and a few
moments after the clock at Westminster had solemnly chimed the hour, he
entered grey faced and calm, with that light springy step and smartness
of gait that was astonishing in one of his age. None passing him in the
street would ever suspect that upon the shoulders of that thin, wiry,
solitary-looking man rested the responsibilities of the greatest nation
in the world.

As he passed through the outer room wherein we were waiting he raised
his grey eyebrows in slight surprise. Then, recognising me, he wished me
good morning and glanced inquiringly at my companion, for ladies were
unusual visitors there.

"I wish to be permitted to introduce to your lordship her Royal Highness
the Princess Melanie of Hapsbourg," I said, adding: "She wishes for an
interview upon a matter of extreme importance."

The old man bowed with his courtly diplomatic habit, expressed his
instant readiness to receive us, and opened the door of his private room
for her to pass in.

Then, when we were all three closeted together I placed into the Chief's
hands the stolen despatch box, with a word of explanation that the
King's correspondence contained therein had remained hidden from the
eyes of all. His thin hands trembled slightly as he took the box,
carefully examining the official seals which had been affixed by Sir
John Drummond, and with a mingled look of surprise and satisfaction,
raised his eyes to mine saying:

"Then you have actually outwitted the dastardly spies, after all,
Crawford."

"No credit is due to myself," I answered. "Her Highness has called to
make personal explanation."

"To make apology and what amends I can," faltered Melanie, raising her
veil, and glancing timidly at the great Minister feared by every
Government in Europe.

"Apology!" he repeated, puzzled. "I do not understand."

"I was the thief," she said in a low, hoarse voice, "and it is but just
that I should make a full confession."

"You? The thief!" exclaimed Lord Macclesfield, amazed. "Did you actually
steal these despatches?"

"I did," she answered, firmly. "Mr. Crawford knows the whole truth. He
will tell you everything."

Pressed by his lordship, I then related the whole of the curious
circumstances, just as they are set down in the foregoing narrative,
without, of course, referring to my love for the pretty, penitent woman
before us, although I think he must have shrewdly guessed it. The
telling occupied half an hour or more, and when I had concluded the
Minister broke the seals, unlocked the box with his key and drew forth
the despatches and precious pile of King Leopold's correspondence.

He glanced cursorily through them, then raising his eyes to Melanie,
said in that grave, kindly tone which always endeared him to the staff
of the Foreign Office:

"In this matter I offer your Royal Highness the warmest thanks of her
Majesty's Government, for, by refusing to part with these despatches you
have saved Europe a war, and, at the same time, preserved the honour of
two nations--that of my own and of Belgium. You were induced by threats
to commit the theft, but, happily you realised to the full the terrible
consequences of the exposure. By risking your honour and your own good
name you atoned for the crime you were forced to commit; hence we can
only offer your our warmest thanks."

"You are indeed generous. I am undeserving of any thanks," she protested
in a low voice.

"Pardon me, but you certainly are not," declared her Majesty's Minister
with courtesy. "Had this correspondence actually fallen into the hands
of those who conspired to obtain it we should, no doubt, at this moment
be plunged into one of the fiercest and most calamitous wars that the
world has ever seen. By the recovery of these letters confidence is at
once restored; for we can now act vigorously, and the whole European
situation is thereby changed."

She smiled, much gratified at these words from the great statesman for
whom, she had told me long ago, she had the highest admiration. She had
come there to humbly ask forgiveness, yet this Minister of world-renown
declared her to be the saviour of England.

"And now that her Highness has succeeded in restoring to us the
despatches, there is still another matter which it is only fair that I
should explain," observed his lordship, settling himself in his padded
chair, with his thin clasped hands resting upon the writing-table where
day and night he worked in the interests of the nation. "Curiously
enough, it was quite by accident that my suspicions were awakened
regarding the wife of poor Gordon Clunes. One afternoon, as I was
walking down to the House, I passed Clunes in Whitehall, and saw him
meet a woman whom I at once recognised. About a year before a certain
important document was found to be missing from the archives of the
Embassy at Vienna, and one day, to my surprise, I received a letter from
some mysterious person giving an address at Dieppe, offering to restore
it on payment of a certain sum. I entered privately into correspondence
with this person, who subsequently came over to London and saw me. It
turned out to be a woman; and the same woman I was amazed to recognise
in the company of such a trusted and faithful servant of the Department
as Clunes. I at once caused secret inquiries to be made, and found that
she was actually the wife of Clunes, and that they lived at Richmond.
Comparison between the letters written from Dieppe and one written by
Mrs. Clunes showed the handwriting to be identical; therefore there was
every reason to suppose that the woman was an adventuress who had made a
matrimonial alliance with Clunes with some ulterior motive. The
unfortunate man himself must have also had his suspicions aroused,"
continued his lordship after a pause, "for on the day prior to his death
he sought a private interview with me, confided to me the belief that
his wife was a foreign agent, and handed to me a document which he had
found concealed in her possession--an official document which plainly
showed that France and Russia were conspiring against us. It was a
startling revelation, but of course I hesitated to repeat his
statement," he added, glancing at me, "having given my word to keep the
suspicion secret."

"Then he actually knew that his wife was a spy!" I cried.

"Certainly!" responded his lordship gravely. "But in a matter of such
delicacy I could not betray the poor man's confidence, therefore I sent
you, his friend, down to Richmond in order to hear his suspicions from
his own lips. When the news, however, came that he had been found dead I
caused the most searching inquiries to be made. The Director of Criminal
Investigation gave the case into the hands of four of the most expert
detectives in London, who, although they were unable to trace the
whereabouts of the woman, made several very curious discoveries. I have
their reports here," and unlocking a drawer he took therefrom a document
on blue official paper which he opened and spread before him.

"The inquest was held at Richmond, and after an adjournment an open
verdict returned, the jury being satisfied to leave further inquiries in
the hands of the police. The most careful investigations were
subsequently made by Dr. Bond and Dr. Woodhead, two competent analysts
of the Home Office, who after a long series of experiments were agreed
in their opinions that Clunes had been poisoned. There was a slight
abrasion of the skin upon the forefinger of the right hand, caused by a
trivial accident, and on searching the room in which he was found dead
they discovered that the silver penholder which he habitually used was
somewhat discoloured, as though by an acid, a single spot of which had
apparently been dropped by accident upon the blotting pad. This was
analysed and submitted to a number of experts, who pronounced it to be a
most virulent poison extracted from the leaf of the strophanthus, a
plant which grows in Uganda. This poison is a little known one, and
almost impossible of detention thirty hours after death. It is likewise
most virulent, one-hundredth part of a grain being sufficient to kill a
man."

"Then by taking up the pen which had been smeared with that deadly
compound the poison had entered the finger!" I exclaimed in surprise.

"Exactly," answered his lordship. "The detectives succeeded in
reconstructing the whole scene and its surrounding circumstances. It
would appear from their report that the woman Judith Kohn, having
ascertained that Clunes had discovered her identity, killed him in order
to prevent her betrayal, not knowing, however, that he had already
handed me the document he had found in her possession. On the day of the
murder Clunes went forth in the morning with the ostensible purpose of
going to the Foreign Office as usual, but having sent the telegram of
excuse, he remained in Richmond and watched the man Krauss call upon
her. During the whole of that day he was engaged in carefully watching
her movements, being now confident that she was a foreign agent. He
followed her home, and through the study window watched her take some
documents from her jewel case and burn them in the grate. Then he
withdrew and wandered about Richmond for an hour or so, hesitating how
to act. Meanwhile, the woman had completed her arrangements for
departure. Again he returned shortly before the dinner hour, and finding
the French windows of the study open, entered from the lawn. Having made
an examination of the tinder in the grate, and satisfied himself that
the remains were of some official papers written in French, he sat down
and lit a cigar in perplexity. At last he rose, and seating himself at
the writing table took up his pen with the object of writing her a
letter of accusation and farewell, intending afterwards to leave without
seeing her. The touch of the pen was, however, fatal. She knew of the
trifling injury to his finger--for it had been caused on the previous
evening while they were cycling across Richmond Park--and had carefully
prepared the pen holder he habitually used. He sat for a moment with it
poised in his hand, but that moment was sufficient to produce a fatal
result. The poison of the strophanthus is extremely rapid in effect, and
ere half a minute had passed he commenced to experience a strange
giddiness which was succeeded by racking pains in the limbs. He threw
himself upon the couch to rest, but there quickly ensued coma, and
afterwards death. His wife was in the adjoining room and knew the dire
result of her dastardly plot; then having received you--for you called
at the final moment--she left the house and disappeared. So virulent was
the poison placed upon the penholder that Dr. Woodhead reports there was
sufficient to have killed 50 men. Whoever supplied her with the poison
must have been well versed in toxicology, for as far as is known this is
the first time strophanthus has been used in this country for the
purpose of committing murder."

"Are those the actual facts?" inquired my fair companion, who had
listened dumbfound.

"Every fact which I have related has been proved by the most searching
inquiries," his lordship answered gravely. "It was undoubtedly Krauss
who called upon the woman after her husband's departure, and there is no
doubt that the object in her marriage with Clunes was to obtain from him
the secrets of certain drafts of treaties which passed through his
hands."

"Astounding!" I said, amazed at these startling revelations.

"Yes. Most remarkable," the Minister went on. "You may, I think, both
congratulate yourselves upon your fortunate escape from the hands of a
most unscrupulous pair. It is evident that they have been actively
conspiring against you. Now, however, that they are in London their
arrest will be only a matter of a few hours. I will at once see the
Director of Criminal Investigations myself."

"But you will allow my statement to become public property!" exclaimed
Melanie in alarm.

"I shall, of course, respect your Highness's confidence in every
particular," the grave old Minister answered reassuringly. "I am fully
aware how much you have risked in order to preserve this despatch-box
intact, therefore remain confident that I shall act with discretion.
None will know the truth save Mr. Crawford and myself."

Melanie thanked him with tears in her large dark eyes, then after some
further consultation lasting over an hour, her Majesty's principal
adviser shook hands with us both and we withdrew.

Late that same afternoon the Princess left London for Brandenberg. I saw
her off at Charing Cross, and it is sufficient to say that at the moment
of parting we were both speechless, over-whelmed by regret, sorrow and
blank despair. I raised her tiny gloved hand to my lips for the last
time. My heart was bursting with a poignant grief. I watched the
continental train steam away across the Thames into the mist, then
turned into the busy turmoil of the Strand with the heaviest burden of
grief my soul had ever borne.

My idol was broken. Melanie, the woman I had loved dearer than life,
could never be mine--never!

A few days later I sadly returned to my post in Brussels, and eagerly
watched the newspapers, fearing day by day lest, in revenge, Krauss
should expose the secret of Melanie's marriage. Although the London
police were active, their search was in vain. Descriptions of both were
circulated in every district in the metropolis, and every constable on
duty remained on the watch for them. The detectives who idle at all the
ports watching embarking passengers were duly apprised, and were
vigilant in their efforts, but days lengthened into weeks, until at last
it was believed at Scotland Yard that they had both escaped from the
country on the evening prior to our interview with Lord Macclesfield.

I had audience of King Leopold on the morning after my return to
Brussels, and related to him the circumstances in which his
correspondence had been recovered, without, however, exposing the secret
of Melanie's marriage, or of her complicity in the affair.

At mention of the woman Kohn his Majesty said,

"You will remember that some time ago I expressed to you a strong desire
to see her. Some two years ago I ascertained that she was one of the
most accomplished secret agents in the employ of Russia, and it occurred
to me that she might possibly have a hand in the theft of the despatch
box. My Minister in St. Petersburg was of the same opinion, therefore I
wished to see her and ascertain if such were the truth. If so, I
intended to offer her her price for the return of the letters. But what
you have told me fortunately renders this unnecessary. I can only thank
you very heartily for your successful efforts which have saved my
personal honour, and as a mark of my esteem confer upon you the Order of
Leopold, which I trust that your Sovereign the Queen will allow you, in
these exceptional circumstances, to accept."

"I thank your Majesty for the honour," I responded. "And I only hope
that my Queen will give her permission. As your Majesty is doubtless
aware, the regulations in our diplomatic service are very strict
regarding the acceptance of foreign orders."

"I am well aware of that," answered the King, smiling pleasantly. "But I
will use what personal influence I can in the matter, for you certainly
merit some reward more substantial than mere words."

Shortly afterwards, having received renewed expressions of the royal
favour, I withdrew, and had the satisfaction a fortnight later of
receiving the handsome insignia of the Order, together with the Queen's
gracious permission to accept it.

About a month after my return to Brussels the post one morning brought a
long, rambling letter from Judith, dated from Dawes-road, a
thorough-fare in Walham Green, confessing to the murder of Clunes, and
giving precise directions as to where her accomplice Krauss was in
hiding. Save that she was prompted by some motive of revenge there
seemed no reason whatever why the letter should have been written, and
its wording puzzled me. Knowing, however, that the police were still in
active search of her, I wired the address to Scotland Yard.

Two hours after the despatch of my telegram the police arrived at the
house where she was lodging under the guise of a widow named Franklin.
They found the door of her room locked, and when they broke it open
discovered her lying upon the bed lifeless. After writing the letter to
me on the previous afternoon she had apparently committed suicide, using
the same poison with which she had so swiftly and secretly killed poor
Gordon.

Krauss according to the dead woman's letter, was working as a shoesmith,
a trade he once followed in his early days in the Austrian army, at a
farrier's in the Passage St. Pierre, a turning off the Boulevard
Voltaire in Paris. That same afternoon three agents of police went there
to arrest him and found him wearing a leather apron and quietly engaged
in shoeing a horse. He was amazed at the suddenness of his arrest, but
upon being interrogated some days later it quickly became apparent to
him that the truth was out, and before the formalities for his
extradition could be completed he hanged himself in the police cell.

Few letters had come to me from Brandenberg, but when the details of the
death of that pair of accomplished spies reached the Embassy officially
I lost no time in communicating them to Melanie.

In response she wrote me a long letter of warmest thanks, pointing out
that to me alone was due her freedom from that hateful tie, and therefore
she owed me a debt which she could never hope to repay. The letter,
which at her desire I at once destroyed, spoke of our mutual love in
terms of tenderness and deepest regret. It was true, she wrote, that we
had loved each other fondly and passionately, but all was now of the
past. Ours had, indeed, been a dream impossible of realisation, but her
final words gratified me, and will ever live within my heart. "I shall
remember you, Philip," the letter ended. "I have loved you, and shall
remember you always--always."

Our correspondence, after that, was as may be well imagined, full of the
tenderest passion of a platonic love, until one day, coincident with the
announcement in the newspapers, she wrote and told me that the Emperor
Francis Joseph had suggested to her family that she should marry the
young Prince Adolphe of Hohenzollern. I sent her congratulations, but my
heart was heavy with its burden of sorrow.

My love had passed from me for ever.

The royal marriage took place at Potsdam in the following spring, I
being present in my official capacity, having in the meantime been
promoted to the secretaryship of the Embassy at Berlin, under the most
accomplished of Ambassadors, Sir Frank Lascelles. The wise maxim of the
Marquess of Macclesfield, that to be a successful diplomatist a man
should not marry, consoled me in my long hours of regret and melancholy,
and to satisfy the curiosity of those who read this narrative I may
perhaps add that I am still a bachelor.

I own to a sadness and grief sometimes, and more than once since
Melanie's marriage, when I have danced with her at some State ball, or
she has leaned lightly on my arm at some brilliant Court function, a
recollection of the old days when we were lovers has come vividly back
to me. But since that well-remembered day when she wrote telling me of
her engagement, no word of love has ever been exchanged between us. I am
philosopher enough to know that things are as they should be. Our love
was but one of those vague dreams of the impossible which, even if
followed by a flood of sorrow, do much to lighten and brighten our lives
and make us better men and women. Sometimes, when she speaks to me, I
fancy I detect in those dark beautiful eyes something of the old
love-glance of long ago. But it is really only a foolish fancy of mine.
That look is not of love, but of extreme happiness, and of confidence
that I will ever be loyal to her and rigorously preserve the secret of
her marriage and her tragic widowhood.

Yes, it is as it should be, even though in the lonely silence of my
rooms I may sigh sometimes during those little debauches of regret that
come at intervals to every man. From the very first I had regarded
marriage as impossible. We had loved each other with a deep, profound,
and tender affection, yet the barrier of birth was impassable--I a
struggling diplomatist, and she a Hapsbourg.

The Prince and Princess Adolphe of Hohenzollern are now my warmest
friends, and I am always a welcome guest at their palace. Moving in the
centre of Berlin Court life as they do, her Highness is often in
possession of information of highest importance to us in our constant
efforts to counteract the wiles of French and Russian diplomacy. Truth
to tell, therefore, to our mutual friendship is due those constant coups
that we, at the British Embassy, are enabled to make, so much to the
chagrin of our enemies, the two Powers who are ever seeking to outwit
us, and who little dream that the information upon which we so promptly
and successfully act comes direct from the private circle of the Emperor
William, or that our informant is actually a Princess of the Blood
Royal.



THE END



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