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Title: The Spy Paramount
Author: E Phillips Oppenheim
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Spy Paramount
Author: E Phillips Oppenheim

*

Date of first publication: 1935

*


CHAPTER I


Martin Fawley glanced irritably at the man stretched flat in the chair
he coveted--the man whose cheeks were partly concealed by lather
and whose mass of dark hair was wildly disarranged. One of his
hands--delicate white hands they were, although the fingers were long
and forceful--reposed in a silver bowl of hot water. The other one was
being treated by the manicurist seated on a stool by his side, the
young woman whose services Fawley also coveted. He had entered the
establishment a little abruptly and he stood with his watch in his hand.
Even Fawley's friends did not claim for him that he was a good-tempered
person.

"Monsieur is ten minutes _en retard_," the coiffeur announced with
a reproachful gesture.

"Nearly a quarter of an hour," the manicurist echoed with a sigh.

The newcomer replaced his watch. The two statements were
incontrovertible. Nevertheless, the ill-humour which he felt was
eloquently reflected in his face. The man in the chair looked at him
expressionless, indifferent. The inconvenience of a stranger meant
nothing to him.

"If Monsieur will seat himself," Henri, the coiffeur, suggested, "this
will not be a long affair."

Fawley glanced once more at his watch. He really had nothing whatever
to do at the moment but he possessed all the impatience of the man
of energy at being asked to wait at any time. While he seemed to be
considering the situation, the man in the chair spoke. His French
was good enough but it was not the French of a native.

"It would be a pity," he said, "that Monsieur should be misled. I
require _ensuite_ a face massage and I am not satisfied with the hand
which Mademoiselle thinks she has finished. Furthermore, there is the
trimming of my eyebrows--a delicate task which needs great care."

Martin Fawley stared at the speaker rudely.

"So you mean to spend the morning here," he observed.

The man in the chair glanced at Fawley nonchalantly and remained silent.
Fawley turned his back upon him, upon Henri and Mathilde, the
white-painted furniture, the glittering mirrors, and walked out into the
street...He did not see again this man to whom he had taken so
unreasonable a dislike until he was ushered with much ceremony, a few
days later, into his very magnificent official apartment in the Plaza
Margaretta at Rome.




CHAPTER II


General Berati looked at his visitor, as he motioned to a chair, with
very much the same stony indifference with which he had regarded him in
the barber's shop at Nice. Their eyes met and they exchanged one long,
calculating glance. Fawley felt the spell of the man from that moment.
Often afterwards he wondered why he had not felt it, even when he had
seen him with his face half covered with lather and his fingers plunged
into the silver bowl.

"You have come direct from Paris?" Berati asked.

"Those were my instructions. I was at your Embassy on Thursday
afternoon. I caught the Rome express at seven o'clock."

"You have an earnest sponsor in Paris?"

"Carlo Antonelli. I have worked with him."

"So I understand. Why are you not working for your own country?"

"There are half a dozen more of us Americans to whom you might address
that question," Fawley explained. "The department to which I belong has
been completely disbanded. M.I.B.C. exists no longer."

"You mean," Berati asked, with a keen glance from under his bushy black
eyebrows, "that your country has no longer a Secret Service?"

"It amounts to that," Fawley admitted. "Our present-day politicians
believe that all information acquired through Secret Service work is
untrustworthy and dangerous. They have adopted new methods."

"So you are willing to work for another country?"

"Provided," Fawley stipulated, "I am assured that the work does not
conflict directly with American or British interests."

"The Americans," Berati observed quietly, "are the only people who have
no idea what their real interests are."

"In what respect?"

The Italian shrugged his shoulders very slightly.

"America," he said, "needs the information which Secret Service agents
could afford them as much or more than any nation in the world. However,
you need have no fear nor need you think that you are the only foreigner
who is working for us. You will probably become acquainted before your
work is over with a German, a Monegasque and a Dane. I am not a believer
in using one's own country-people exclusively."

"You strip our profession of its honourable side," Fawley remarked
drily. "That does not refer to myself. I am admittedly a free lance. I
must have work of an adventurous type, and since my country cannot offer
it to me, I must seek for it in any decent way."

"Patriotism," Berati sneered, "has been the excuse far many a career of
deceit."

"It has also been its justification," Fawley ventured.

Berati's expression did not change an iota, yet somehow his visitor was
made to feel that he was not accustomed to argument.

"The present work is worth while for its own sake," he announced. "It is
so dangerous that you might easily lose your life within a fortnight.
That is why I shall give you your work chapter by chapter. To-day I
propose only to hand you your credentials--which, by the by, will mean
sudden death to you if ever they are found by the wrong people upon your
person--and explain the commencement of your task."

Berati touched a concealed bell embedded in the top of his desk. Almost
immediately, through a door which Fawley had not previously noticed, a
young man entered, noiseless and swift in his movements and of
intriguing personality. His head was shaven like the head of a monk, his
complexion was almost ivory white, unrelieved by the slightest tinge of
colour. His fingers were bony. His frame was thin. The few words he
addressed to his Chief were spoken in so low a tone that, although
Fawley's hearing was good and Italian the same to him as most other
languages, he heard nothing. To his surprise, Berati introduced the
newcomer.

"This is my secretary, Prince Patoni," he said. "Major Fawley."

The young man bowed and held out his hand. Fawley found it, as he had
expected, as cold as ice.

"Major Fawley's work was well known to us years ago," he remarked a
little grimly. "As a _confrère_ he will be welcome."

Almost immediately, in obedience to a gesture from Berati, he departed
leaving behind him a sense of unreality, as though he were some phantom
flitting across the stage of life rather than a real human being. But
then indeed, on that first day, Berati himself seemed unreal to his
visitor. The former tore open one of the packages the secretary had
brought and tossed its contents across the table.

"Open that," he directed.

Fawley obeyed. Inside was a plain platinum and gold cigarette case with
six cigarettes on either side, neatly kept in place by a platinum clasp.

"Well?" Berati demanded.

"Is that a challenge?" Fawley asked.

"You may accept it as such."

Fawley held the case with its diagonal corners between two fingers and
ran the forefinger of his other hand back and forth over the hinges.
Almost instantaneously a third division of the case disclosed itself.
Berati's expression remained unchanged but his eyebrows were slowly and
slightly elevated.

"There are three of you alive then," he remarked coolly. "I thought
that there were now only two."

"You happen to be right," his visitor told him. "Joseffi died very
suddenly."

"When?"

"The day after he opened the case."

Berati, who indulged very seldom in gestures, touched his underlip with
his long firm forefinger.

"Yet--you came."

Fawley smiled--perhaps a little sardonically.

"The men who work for you, General," he observed, "should rid themselves
of any fear of death."

Berati nodded very slowly and very thoughtfully. He seemed to be
appraising the man who stood on the other side of his desk.

"It appears to me," he admitted, "that we may get on."

"It is possible," Fawley agreed. "Curiosity prompts me to ask you one
question, however. When you sent for me, had you any idea that we had
met in that barber's shop at Nice?"

"I knew it perfectly well."

"I confess that that puzzles me a little," Fawley admitted. "I was at my
worst that day. I did not show the self-control of a schoolboy. I had
not even the excuse of being in a hurry. I was annoyed because you had
taken my place and I showed it."

Berati smiled.

"It was the very fact," he pronounced, "that you were able to forget
your profession on an ordinary occasion which commended you to me. Our
own men--most of them, at any rate--err on the side of being too
stealthy. They are too obvious in their subterfuges ever to reach the
summits. You have the art--or shall I call it the genius?--of being able
to display your natural feelings when you are, so to speak, in mufti.
You impressed me, as you would any man, with the idea that you were a
somewhat choleric, somewhat crude Englishman or American, thinking, as
usual, that the better half of any deal should fall to you. I made up my
mind that if you were free you were my man."

"You had the advantage of me," Fawley reflected.

"I never forget a face," the other confided. "You were in Rome five
years ago--some important mission--but I could recall it if I chose...
To proceed. You know where to look for your identification papers if it
should become necessary to show them. Your supplementary passports are
in the same place--both diplomatic and social."

"Passports," Fawley remarked, as he disposed of the cigarette case in
the inner pocket of his waistcoat, "generally indicate a journey."

Berati's long fingers played for a moment with the stiff collar of his
uniform. He looked meaningly across his table.

"Adventure is to be found in so many of these southern cities," he
observed. "Monte Carlo is very pleasant at this time of the year and the
France is an excellent hotel. A countryman of ours, I remind myself, is
in charge there. There is also a German named Krust--but that will do
later. Our relations with him are at present undetermined. Your first
centre of activities will be within twenty kilometres of the Casino. _A
rivederci, Signor._"

He held out his hand. Fawley took it, but lingered for a moment.

"My instructions--" he began.

"They will arrive," the Italian interrupted. "Have no anxiety. There
will be plenty of work for you. You will begin where Joseffi left off. I
wish you better fortune."

Fawley obeyed the little wave of the hand and took his leave. In doing
so, however, he made a not incomprehensible error. The room was
irregular in shape, with panelled walls, and every one of the oval
recesses possessed a door which matched its neighbour. His fingers
closed upon the handle of the one through which he believed that he had
entered. Almost at once Berati's voice snapped out from behind him like
a pistol shot.

"Not that one! The next to your right."

Fawley did not, however, at once withdraw his hand from the beautiful
piece of brass ornamentation upon which it rested.

"Where does this one lead to?" he asked with apparent irrelevance.

Berati's voice was suddenly harsh.

"My own apartments--the Palazzo Berati. Be so good as to pass out by the
adjoining door."

Fawley remained motionless. Berati's voice was coldly angry.

"There is perhaps some explanation--" he began ominously.

"Explanation enough," Fawley interrupted. "Some one is holding the
handle of this door on the other side. They are even now matching the
strength of their fingers against mine."

"You mean that some one is attempting to enter?"

"Obviously," Fawley replied. "Shall I let them in?"

"In ten seconds," Berati directed. "Count ten to yourself and then open
the door."

Fawley obeyed his new Chief literally and it was probably that instinct
of self-preservation which had always been helpfully present with him in
times of crisis which saved his life. He sprang to one side, sheltering
himself behind the partially opened door. A bullet whistled past his
ear, so that for hours afterwards he felt a singing there, as though a
hot wind was stabbing at him. There was a crash from behind him in the
room. Berati's chair was empty! Down the passage was dimly visible the
figure of a woman, whose feet seemed scarcely to touch the polished oak
floor. Fawley was barely in time, for she had almost reached the far end
before he started in pursuit. He called out to her, hoping that she
would turn her head and allow him a glimpse of her face, but she was too
clever for any _gaucherie_ of that sort. He passed through a little
unseen cloud of faint indefinite perfume, such as might float from a
woman's handkerchief shaken in the dark, stooped in his running to pick
up and thrust a glittering trifle into his pocket, and almost reached
her before she disappeared through some thickly hanging brocaded
curtains. It was only a matter of seconds before Fawley flung them on
one side in pursuit and emerged into a large square anteroom with shabby
magnificent hangings, but with several wonderful pictures on the walls
and two closed doors on either side. He paused to listen but all that he
could hear was the soft sobbing of stringed instruments in the distance
and a murmur of many voices, apparently from the reception rooms of the
_palazzo_. He looked doubtfully at the doors. They had the air of not
having been opened for generations. The only signs of human life came
from the corridor straight ahead which obviously led into the reception
rooms. Fawley hesitated only for a moment, then he made his way
cautiously along it until he arrived at a slight bend and a further
barrier of black curtains--curtains of some heavy material which looked
like velvet--emblazoned in faded gold with the arms of a famous
family...He paused once more and listened. At that moment the music
ceased. From the storm of applause he gathered that there must have been
at least several hundred people quite close to him on the other side of
the curtain. He hesitated, frowning. Notwithstanding his eagerness to
track down the would-be assassin, it seemed hopeless to make his way
amongst a throng of strangers, however ingenious the explanations he
might offer, in search of a woman whose face he had scarcely seen and
whom he could recognise only by the colour of her gown. Reluctantly he
retraced his steps and stood once more in the anteroom which, like many
apartments in the great Roman palaces which he had visited, seemed
somehow to have lost its sense of habitation and to carry with it a
suggestion of disuse. There were the two doors. He looked at them
doubtfully. Suddenly one was softly opened and a woman stood looking out
at him with a half-curious, half-frightened expression in her brown
eyes. She was wearing a dress the colour of which reminded him of the
lemon groves around Sorrento.




CHAPTER III


An angry and a frightened woman! Fawley had seen many of them before in
his life but never one quite of this type. Her eyes, which should have
been beautiful, were blazing. Her lips--gashes of scarlet fury--seemed
as if they were on the point of withering him with a storm of words. Yet
when she spoke, she spoke with reserve, without subtlety, a plain, blunt
question.

"Why are you following me about?"

"Scarcely that," he protested. "I am keeping you under observation for a
time."

"Like all you Anglo-Saxons, you are a liar and an impudent one," she
spat out..."Wait!"

Her tone had suddenly changed to one of alarm. Instinctively he followed
her lead and listened. More and more distinctly he could hear detached
voices at the end of the corridor which led into the reception rooms.
The curtains must have been drawn to one side, for the hum of
conversation became much louder. She caught at his wrist.

"Follow me," she ordered.

They passed into a darkened entresol. She flung open an inner door and
Fawley found himself in a bedroom--a woman's bedroom--high-ceilinged,
austere after the Italian fashion, but with exquisite linen and lace
upon the old four-postered bed, and with a shrine in one corner, its old
gilt work beautifully fashioned--a representation of the Madonna--a
strangely moving work of art. She locked the door with a ponderous key.

"Is that necessary?" Fawley asked.

She scoffed at him. The fury had faded from her face and Fawley, in an
impersonal sort of way, was beginning to realise how beautiful she was.

"Do not think that I am afraid," she said coldly. "I have done that to
protect myself. If you refuse to give me what I ask for, I shall shoot
you and point to the locked door as my excuse. You followed me in. There
can be no denying that."

She was passionately in earnest, but a sense of humour which had
befriended Fawley in many grimmer moments chose inappropriately enough
to assert itself just then. With all her determination, it was obvious
that her courage was a matter of nerve, that having once keyed herself
up to a desperate action she was near enough now to collapse. Probably
that made her the more dangerous, but Fawley did not stop to reflect. He
leaned against the high-backed chair and laughed quietly...Afterwards
he realised that he was in as great danger of his life in those few
seconds as at any time during his adventurous career. But after that
first flash of renewed fury something responsive, or at any rate
sympathetic, seemed to creep into her face and showed itself suddenly
in the quivering of her lips. Her fingers, which had been creeping
towards the bosom of her dress, retreated empty.

"Tell me what it is that you want from me," Fawley asked.

"You know," she answered. "I want my slipper."

He felt in his pocket and knew at once that his first suspicion had been
correct. He shook his head gravely.

"Alas," he replied, "I am forced to keep this little memento of your
expedition for the present. As to what happened a few minutes ago--"

"Well, what are you going to do about that?" she interrupted. "I deny
nothing. I tried to kill Berati. But for the fact that you unnerved
me--I did not expect to find any one holding the door on the other
side--I should have done it. As it is, I fear that he has escaped."

"What did you want to kill the General for?" Fawley asked curiously.
"You are both Italian, are you not, and Berati is at least a patriot?"

"Take my advice," she answered, "and do not try to interfere in matters
of which you know nothing."

"That seems a little hard on me," Fawley protested, with a smile. "I
have been knocking about Europe for a reasonable number of years and I
should say that no man had worked harder for his country than Berati."

"Nevertheless," she rejoined, "he is on the point of making a hideous
blunder. If you had known as much as I do, you would have stepped back
and let me kill him."

"I am not in favour of murder as an argument," Fawley objected.

"You think too much of human life, you Americans," she scoffed.

"In any case, Berati has done a great deal for Italy," he reminded her.

"There are some who think otherwise," she answered.

She listened for another moment, then she moved to the door and turned
the key. She swung around and faced Fawley. The anger had all gone. Her
eyes had softened. There was a note almost of pleading in her tone.

"There shall be no more melodrama," she promised. "I want what you
picked up of mine. It is necessary that I go back to the reception of
the Principessa."

"I am not detaining you," Fawley ventured to remind her hopefully.

"Do you suggest then," she asked, with a faint uplifting of her delicate
eyebrows, "that I make my appearance in that crowded room with but one
shoe on?"

"This being apparently your bedchamber," Fawley replied, looking
around, "it occurs to me as possible that you might find another pair."

"Nothing that would go with the peculiar shade of my frock and these
stockings," she assured him, lifting her skirt a few inches and showing
him her exquisitely sheened ankles.

Fawley sighed.

"Alas," he regretted, "an hour ago I was a free man. You could have had
your slipper with pleasure. At this moment I am under a commitment to
Berati. His interests and his safety--if he is still alive--must be my
first consideration."

"Do you think that after all I hit him?" she asked eagerly.

"I fear that it is quite possible. All I know is that he was seated in
his chair one moment, you fired, and when I had looked around the chair
was empty."

She smiled doubtfully.

"He is very hard to kill."

"And it appears to me that you are a very inexperienced assassin!"

"That," she confided, "is because I never wanted to kill a man before.
Please give me my slipper."

He shook his head.

"If Berati is alive," he warned her, "it will be my duty to hand it over
to him and to describe you according to the best of my ability."

"And if he is dead?"

"If he is dead, my contract with him is finished and I shall leave Rome
within an hour. You, at any rate, would be safe."

"How shall you describe me if you have to?" she asked, with a
bewildering smile.

Insouciance was a quality which Fawley, in common with most people,
always admired in criminals and beautiful women. He tried his best with
a clumsier tongue to follow her lead.

"Signorina," he said, "or Mademoiselle--heaven help me if I can make up
my mind as to your nationality--I am afraid that my description would be
of very little real utility because I cannot imagine myself inventing
phrases to describe you adequately."

"That is quite good," she approved, "for a man in conference with a
would-be murderess. But after all I must look like something or other."

"I will turn myself into a police proclamation," he announced. "You have
unusual eyes which are more normal now but which a few minutes ago were
shooting lightnings of hate at me. They are a very beautiful colour--a
kind of hazel, I suppose. You have an Italian skin, the ivory pallor of
perfect health which belongs only to your country-people. Your hair I
should rather like to feel but it looks like silk and it reminds one of
dull gold. You have the figure of a child but it is obvious that you
have the tongue, the brain, the experience of a woman who has seen
something of life...With that description published, would you dare
to walk the streets of Rome to-morrow?"

"A proud woman but, alas, I fear in perfect safety," she sighed. "Too
many people have failed with Berati and you distracted my attention. I
saw his still, terrible face but when I looked and hoped for that
transforming cloud of horror, I saw only you. You frightened me and I
fled."

Fawley moved slightly towards the door.

"It is plainly my duty," he said, "to find out whether Berati is alive
or dead."

"I agree with you."

"And when I have discovered?"

"Listen," she begged, moving a little nearer towards him. "There is a
tiny café in a fashionable but not too reputable corner of Rome in the
arcade leading from the Plaza Vittoria. Its name is the Café of the
Shining Star. You will find me there at ten o'clock. May I have my shoe
so that I can make a dignified departure?"

Fawley shook his head. He pointed to an antique Italian armoire which
looked as if it might be used as a boot cupboard.

"You can help yourself, Signorina. The slipper I have in my pocket I
keep until I know whether Berati is alive or dead."

"You keep it as evidence--yes? You would hand me over as the assassin?
As though any one would believe your story!"

"All the same," Fawley reminded her, "for the moment Berati is my
master."

He turned the handle of the door. She kissed the tips of her fingers to
him lightly.

"I can see," she sighed, "that you are one of those who do not change
their minds. All the same, I warn you there is danger in what you are
doing."

"A slipper," Fawley protested, "a delicate satin slipper with a slightly
raised inner sole could never bring me ill luck."

She shook her head and there was no ghost of a smile upon her lips just
then.

"Medici buckles," she confided. "They are very nearly priceless. Men and
women in the old days paid with their lives for what you are doing."

Fawley smiled.

"You shall have the buckle back," he promised. "For the rest, I will use
my penknife carefully."




CHAPTER IV


Once more Fawley entered Berati's palatial bureau with a certain
trepidation. His heart sank still further after his first glance towards
the desk. The chair behind it was occupied by Prince Patoni.

"What about the Chief?" Fawley asked eagerly. "Was he hurt?"

The young man remained silent for a moment, his jet-black eyes fixed
upon his visitor's, his fingers toying with the watch-chain which was
suspended from a high button of his waistcoat. He seemed, in his
ravenlike black clothes, with his hooked nose, his thin aristocratic
face and bloodless lips, like some bird of prey.

"Our Chief," he announced calmly, "is unhurt. A modern assassin seldom
succeeds in checking a really great career. He has left a message for
you. Will you be pleased to receive it."

Fawley drew a sigh of relief. Life seemed suddenly to become less
complicated.

"Let me hear what it is, if you please," he begged.

"The Chief has been summoned to his wife's, the Principessa's, reception
at the _palazzo_. Some royalties, I believe, have made their appearance.
It is his wish that you should repair there immediately. Here," he
added, pushing a highly glazed and beautifully engraved card across the
table towards him, "is your invitation, as you are probably unknown to
the servants and ushers of the household."

Fawley glanced at the card and thrust it into his pocket.

"I will go, of course," he replied, "but please explain to me how it is
that Berati's wife is Principessa? He himself, I understood, had no
other rank than his military one of General."

"That is quite true," Patoni admitted, "but our illustrious Chief
married some time ago the Principessa de Morenato...You will leave the
bureau as you entered it. When you reach the street, turn to the right
twice and the entrance to the _palazzo_ courtyard confronts you. I must
beg you not to delay."

"Tell me before I leave," Fawley begged, "if any orders have been issued
for the arrest of the person who fired that shot?"

"The matter does not come, sir, within the scope of your activities,"
was the icy reply.

Fawley took his departure and made his way according to directions to
where, under a scarlet awning, guests were coming and going from the
great grey stone _palazzo_. A very courtly seneschal received his card
with enthusiasm and conducted him into a magnificent room still filled
with men and women, talking together in animated groups, dancing in a
further apartment, or listening to soft music in a still more distant
one. He led Fawley towards a slightly raised floor, and, in a tone which
he contrived to make almost reverential, announced the visitor. The
Principessa, a handsome woman of the best Roman type, gave him her
lifted fingers and listened agreeably to his few words.

"My husband has told me of your coming," she confided. "It will give him
pleasure before you leave to have a further word with you. He is showing
one of the Royal Princes who have honoured us with their presence a
famous Murillo which came into our family a short time ago...Elida, do
not tell me you are going to leave us so soon?"

Fawley glanced around. Some instinct had already told him whom he would
find standing almost at his elbow. It seemed to him, however, that he
had not realised until that moment, in the over-heated, flower-scented
room, with its soft odours of femininity, its vague atmosphere of
sensuous disturbance, the full subtlety of her attraction. The tension
which had somewhat hardened her features a few minutes ago had gone. An
air of gentle courtesy had taken its place. She smiled as though the
impending introduction would be a pleasure to her.

"It is Major Martin Fawley, an American of many distinctions which for
the moment I cannot call to mind," the Princess said. "My, alas, rather
distant relative, the Princess Elida di Rezco di Vasena."

The formal introduction with its somewhat Italian vagueness gave Fawley
no hint as to whether the Princess were married or not, so he contented
himself with a ceremonious bow. He murmured some commonplace to which
she replied in very much the same fashion. Then a newcomer presented
himself to the Princess and the latter turned away to greet him. Fawley
found himself involuntarily glancing at his companion's feet. She was
elegantly shod in bronze slippers but the bronze and the lemon colour
were not an ideal combination.

"It is your fault," she reminded him gently. "In a short time I hope
that you will see me properly shod. Tell me your news. There seem to be
no rumours about."

Her coolness was almost repelling and Fawley felt himself relieved by
the gleam of anxiety in her eyes. The reply, however, which was framing
upon his lips became unnecessary. It seemed as though both became aware
of a certain fact at the same moment. Within a few feet of them, but so
placed that he was not directly in their line of vision, stood the man
whom all Italy was beginning to fear. General Berati, very impressive in
his sombre uniform, very much alive, was watching the two with steady
gaze.

"Princess," Fawley said, determined to break through the tenseness of
those few seconds, "I am wondering whether I have had the happiness to
meet one of your family. There was a Di Vasena riding some wonderful
horses in the show at San Remo last year. I met him at a friendly game
of polo afterwards."

"My brother," she exclaimed, with a quick smile of appreciation. "I am
glad that you remembered him. He is my favourite in the family. You are
like all your country-people, I suppose, and the English too--very fond
of games."

"We have less opportunity nowadays for indulging in them," Fawley
regretted.

"You would say that I speak in--what is the English word?--platitudes,
if I suggested that you had been driven to the greater amusements?"

"There is truth in the idea, at any rate," Fawley admitted.

She turned and touched the arm of a young uniformed soldier who was
standing near by.

"You remember Major Fawley, Antonio?" she asked. "He met you--"

"Why, at San Remo. Naturally I do," the young man interrupted. "We
played polo afterwards. The Ortini found us ponies and I remember, sir,"
he went on, with a smile, "that you showed us how Americans can ride."

"I shall leave you two together for a time," Elida announced. "I have to
make my adieux. Rome is suffering just now, as your witty Ambassador
remarked the other day," she observed, "from an epidemic of congested
hospitality. Every one is entertaining at the same time."

She passed on, made her curtsey to royalty and lingered for a moment
with her hostess. Fawley exchanged a few commonplaces with Di Vasena and
afterwards took his leave. He looked everywhere for his Chief, but
Berati was nowhere to be found. It seemed almost as though he had sprung
out of the earth to watch the meeting between his would-be assassin and
Fawley, and then, having satisfied himself, disappeared.




CHAPTER V


The Café of the Shining Star could have existed nowhere but in Rome, and
nowhere in Rome but in that deserted Plaza Vittoria, with its strange
little pool of subdued lights. Its decorations were black, its furniture
dingy but reminiscent of past magnificence. A broad staircase ascended
from the middle of the sparsely occupied restaurant and from the pillars
supporting it were suspended two lights enclosed in antique lanterns. As
Fawley entered, a weary-looking _maître d'hôtel_ came forward, bowed and
without wasting words pointed to the stairs.

Madame, the _patrona_, from behind a small counter where, with her head
supported between her hands, she studied the pages of her ledger, also
glanced up and, with a welcoming smile, pointed upwards. Fawley mounted
the stairs to a room in which barely a dozen people were seated at small
tables--people of a class which for the moment he found it difficult to
place. At the farther end of the room, at a table encircled by a
ponderous screen, he found the Princess. A dour-looking woman standing
patiently by her side fell back on his arrival.

"Sit down if you please, Major Fawley," Elida begged him. "I have
ordered wine. You see it here. Drink a glass of it or not, as you
please. It is very famous--it has been in the cellars of this café for
more years than I have lived--or perhaps you."

Fawley obeyed her gestured invitation, seated himself opposite to her
and poured out two glasses of the clear amber wine. She laughed a toast
across at him.

"You come in a good humour, I trust," she said. "You know at least that
I am not an ordinary assassin. Perhaps I am sorry already that I raised
my hand against my relation-in-law. He is on the point, I fear, of
making a great mistake, but to kill--well--perhaps I was wrong."

"I am very glad to hear you say so," Fawley murmured.

"You have brought the slipper?"

"I have brought the slipper," he acknowledged. "It has, in fact, never
left my possession."

"You will give it to me?" she exclaimed, holding out her hand.

"Yes, I will give it to you," Fawley assented.

The tips of her fingers tapped hard against the tablecloth.

"I cannot wait," she prayed. "Give it to me now."

"There are terms," Fawley warned her.

Disappointment shone in her eyes. Her lips quivered. For a moment his
attention wandered. He was thinking that her mouth was the most
exquisite thing he had ever seen. He was wondering--

"Do not keep me in suspense, please," she begged. "What terms do you
speak of?"

"You will not find them difficult," he assured her, "especially as you
have confessed just now that you are not an assassin at heart. Listen to
my proposition."

"Proposition," she sighed, her eyes once more dancing. "I am intrigued.
Will you commence? I am all eagerness."

"Fold your hands in front of your bosom and swear to me that you will
not repeat this afternoon's adventure and you shall have your slipper."

She held out her hands.

"Please place them exactly as you desire."

Fawley crossed them. Like white flowers they were--soft and fragrant,
with nails showing faintly pink underneath but innocent of any
disfiguring stain of colour. She repeated after him the few words which
form the sacred oath of the Roman woman. When she had finished, she
treated him to a little grimace.

"You are too clever, my chivalrous captor," she complained. "Fancy your
being able to play the priest. And now, please, the slipper."

Fawley drew it from his pocket and laid it upon the table. The exquisite
paste buckle with the strangely set crown flamed out its brilliant
colouring into the room.

"You regret the buckle?" she asked. "It is very beautiful and very
valuable. It is quite authentic too. There is Medici blood in my veins.
That, I suppose, is why I have the impulse to kill!"

A single lamp stood upon the table, with a worn shade of rose-coloured
silk. Except for its rather fantastic and very dim illumination, they
sat amongst the shadows. Her hand touched his, which still rested upon
the slipper.

"You will give it to me?" she whispered.

"I shall give it to you," Fawley agreed, "but please do not think that
the buckle or even the fact that you have worn it are the only things I
have found precious."

"What do you mean?" she asked fearfully.

Fawley lifted the delicate inner sole of the slipper and looked up.
Their eyes met across the table. She was breathing quickly.

"You have read it?" she gasped.

"Naturally."

"You are keeping it?"

"On the contrary, I am returning it to you."

A wave of relief drove the tension from her face. She seemed for the
moment speechless. The paper which he handed across the table found its
way almost mechanically into the jewelled handbag by her side.

"At the same time," he went on gravely, "you must not hope for too much.
I am in the service of Berati. I must tell him what I found in the
slipper of the woman who tried to kill him."

"You will tell him who it was?"

"I think that I am wrong, but that I propose to forget," he told her.
"You have probably made many men forget themselves in your brief years,
Princess. You will make many more. What I read, I shall communicate to
Berati. The source of my information I shall keep to myself. Take the
slipper."

Her hands were drawing it off the table but, as though by accident, they
passed over Fawley's and he felt their shivering warmth. There was a
softer light in her eyes than he had ever seen.

"Princess--Elida--" he whispered.

She leaned towards him but Fawley swung suddenly around in his chair.
Patoni, stark and sinister, was standing by the side of the screen,
looking in. His smile was one of composed malevolence.

"I beg a thousand pardons," he apologised, with a stiff little bow. "I
am here on a mission of great importance."

Fawley rose to his feet. He was as tall as Patoni and at that moment his
face was as hard and set.

"It is part of your Italian manners," he asked, "to play the spy in this
way?"

"I have offered you my apologies," was the cold retort. "A quarrel
between us is not possible, Major Fawley. I am still of the Church and I
do not fight duels. I am compelled to ask you to accompany me without a
moment's delay to the Generalissimo."

"The Princess--" Fawley began.

"Has her duenna," Patoni interrupted.

Elida leaned forward and suddenly clasped Fawley's hand. He seemed
somehow to have grown in stature, a man on fire with anger and without a
doubt dangerous. Even the two _carabinieri_ standing behind Patoni
looked at him with respect.

"Please go," she begged. "Please go with Prince Patoni, my friend. My
car is waiting, my servant is here. I need no escort. I wish so much
that you do as I ask."

Fawley bent over her hands and touched them with his lips. Then he
turned and left the room with Patoni.




CHAPTER VI


In a life full of surprises Martin Fawley was inclined to doubt whether
he had ever received a greater one than when, for the second time during
the same day, he was ushered into the presence of General Berati, the
most dreaded man in Rome. Gone was the severe high-necked and
tight-waisted uniform; gone the iciness of his speech and the cold
precision of his words. It was a tolerable imitation of a human being
with whom Fawley was confronted--a dark-haired, undersized but
sufficiently good-looking man dressed in a suit of apparently English
tweeds, stretched at his full length upon the sofa of a comfortable
sitting room leading out of his bureau, reading the _New York Herald_
and with something that looked suspiciously like a Scotch whisky and
soda by his side. He threw down his paper and welcomed his visitor with
a grim cordiality.

"Come in, Major," he invited. "I will offer you a whisky and soda as
soon as you tell me exactly whom you found on the other side of that
door."

Fawley accepted the chair to which his host had pointed.

"May I take the liberty," he begged, "of asking a question first?"

"Why not?" Berati answered with unabated good humour. "This is an
unofficial conversation. Proceed."

"Where did you disappear to after that first shot?"

Berati chuckled.

"I give audiences too easily," he confided, "and for that reason, I have
several little contrivances of my own invention. Some day I will show
you this one. There is a button on my desk which I touch, the rubber
floor upon which I sit disappears, and so do I, into the room below. I
should explain perhaps that it is only a drop of a few feet and the end
is what you call in England a feather bed. And now the answer to my
question, please."

Martin Fawley was probably as near complete embarrassment as ever before
in his life. He hated the position in which he found himself. He hated
what he was about to do. He kept his countenance but he was bitterly
mortified as he felt for a secret pocket inside his coat and silently
withdrew his cigarette case.

"General Berati," he said, "I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself and I
shall merit what you will doubtless think of me. At the same time, do
remember this--I am to some extent a mercenary in your service. I allow
myself that amount of excuse. It was a woman who fired the shot and, as
you see, I am handing back my papers."

"This is most intriguing," Berati observed. "I gather then that you
refuse to tell me her name?"

"Frankly," Fawley replied, "I believe you know it already but, all the
same, you are right: I refuse to tell you her name. I have been in your
service for the matter of a few hours, I see you nearly killed, I know
who fired the shot and I am not going to tell you who it was."

"Capital," Berati exclaimed. "Just what I should have expected from you.
Put back your cigarette case, my young friend. After all, you probably
saved my life, for, thanks to you, there was no second shot."

"You know who it was?" Fawley asked, a little bewildered.

"Perfectly well," Berati confided. "I joined my wife's guests," he went
on, "chiefly for the pleasure of seeing whether you showed any
embarrassment when you were presented to a certain one of our Roman
beauties. My congratulations, Major. You have some of the gifts
necessary in our profession, at any rate. Let me offer you a whisky and
soda."

Fawley thanked him and helped himself. Berati's intonation as well as
his manner seemed to have become curiously Anglo-Saxon.

"Listen, my friend," he continued, "when an attempt is made upon my
life, I never, if I can help it, allow anything to appear in the
journals. You do not wish to give away a beautiful lady any more than I
want to admit to the indignity of having been nearly wiped off the earth
by so frail an instrument."

"I think, sir, that you are a very brave and a very forgiving man,"
Fawley declared, with an impulsiveness which was absolutely foreign to
his character.

Berati laughed almost gaily.

"No man," he said, "who is in touch with the great affairs of the world
can afford to be made ridiculous. An attempt on my life by my wife's
niece, by the Princess Elida, is a thing to smile at. Nevertheless," he
went on, his tone becoming a trifle graver, "I have reason to believe
that the Princess was carrying with her a paper of some importance."

"She was," Fawley admitted.

"You discovered it?" Berati snapped out with a trace of his former
manner.

"I discovered it," Fawley confessed. "Its purport is at your disposal."

"And the paper?"

"I returned it to the Princess."

Berati's air of _bonhomie_ temporarily disappeared. He scowled.

"An amazing act of gallantry at my expense," he sneered.

"Bad enough in my position, I admit, but not quite as bad as it seems,"
Fawley pointed out. "I have already told you that the purport of that
paper is at your disposal."

"It was signed by one who used to bear a great name in Germany?" Berati
asked.

"It was," Fawley assented.

"And in return for certain action on your part you were offered--?"

"I can tell you specifically, if you like."

Berati shook his head.

"A copy of the proposed agreement reached me ten minutes ago. My mind is
not made up. I have decided to wait until you have visited Germany. Your
reports from there will influence me. At present I have an open mind.
The Princess Elida has been bitterly disappointed," he went on, "by what
she thought was a point-blank refusal on my part. She believes that I
lean towards Behrling. She has the usual woman's fault--she jumps at
conclusions.

"Is it permitted to ask what your intentions are with regard to the
Princess?"

Berati grunted.

"Nothing venomous, I can assure you. I do not make war on women. She is
now on her way to Vienna in the safest of my airships. I regret the
necessity for such discipline, but she will not be allowed to cross the
frontier again for a year. This need not disturb you, my friend, for I
doubt whether you will spend much of your time in this country. You will
recognise the fact, I am sure, that however much I may choose to risk in
the way of danger, I cannot afford to be made ridiculous."

"I think that you have behaved very generously," Fawley declared.

Berati rose to his feet and touched the bell.

"The car in which you arrived is waiting for you, Fawley," he announced.
"Your place is taken in the night train for Monte Carlo. You have
thirty-five minutes. Good luck to you. Carlo," he added in Italian, to
the servant who had answered the bell, "show this gentleman to his
automobile. He goes to the Central Railway Station. By the by, Fawley,
your luggage has all been registered and your small things put in your
compartment. Once more--good night and good luck to you."

Fawley lingered for a moment until the servant was out of hearing.

"How do you propose to communicate with me, General?" he asked.

"Concerning that you need not worry," was the bland reply. "I do not
approve of the telephone or the telegraph and I like even less letters
which go through the post. Live your own perfectly natural life. Some
day you will find in your salon a blue envelope."




CHAPTER VII


The blue envelope!

Fawley threw down the tennis racquet he had been carrying, turned the
key in the lock of his sitting room door at the Hôtel de France and
moved swiftly to the writing table on which the letter had been placed.
He tore it open, read it very deliberately--for it was in a somewhat
curious cipher which he had only just committed to memory--and then,
lighting a match, watched it slowly consume to ashes. Afterwards he
lingered for a few minutes on his balcony, looking up towards the misty
peaks eastwards of Mont Agel. He no longer regretted the fortnight's
idleness, the nonappearance of Krust, the almost stagnant calm of his
days. He had thoroughly established himself as a leisure-loving American
with a passion for games. He now busied himself at the telephone,
cancelling a few social engagements, for Fawley, reserved though he was
by habit, was a man always sought after.

"A few days' golf up at Sospel," he told every one, after he had packed
his clothes.

He wondered a little grimly whither those few days' golf would lead him.
Perhaps to the same place as Joseffi, who had been found in the gardens
with a bullet through his heart and a revolver by his side, but who had
never been known to enter the Casino in his life.

"You are not leaving us, sir?" the _valet de chambre_ enquired, as he
answered the bell.

"Only for a few days," Fawley assured him. "I am keeping on my rooms."

"You are not leaving us, Major Fawley, I trust," the smiling and urbane
manager asked him in the hall.

"Only for a few days," Fawley repeated. "I am going to explore your

hills and try another golf links. Back about Sunday, I should think.
Keep my letters."

"I wish you a pleasant and successful expedition," the manager remarked,
with a final bow.

Fawley's smile was perhaps a little enigmatic. He waved his hand and
drove off without further speech.

* * * * *

Fawley, some five days later, driving his high-powered Lancia car
through one of the many passes of the lesser Alps between Roquebrune and
the frontier, suddenly swung around a corner to find himself confronted
by a movable obstruction of white freshly painted rails and an ominous
notice. A soldier in the uniform of the Chasseurs Alpins stepped
forward, his rifle at a threatening angle.

"There is no road this way, Monsieur," he announced curtly.

Fawley, who had brought his car to a standstill, leaned forward and
produced a map. He addressed the soldier in his own language.

"My young friend," he protested, "I fancy that you are mistaken. You
have blocked the wrong road. This is clearly marked in the latest
edition of the issued maps as a Number Two road between Hegel and the
village of Les Estaples."

"Your map is of no consequence," the man replied. "This road was taken
over by the military some time ago. There is no passage here for
civilians."

A sergeant, who had been sitting on a rock amongst the sparse pine trees
smoking a cigarette, scrambled down to them.

"What is the trouble?" he demanded.

"Monsieur desires to use this route," his subordinate confided. "I have
told him that it exists now only for military purposes. He must return
the way he came."

"_C'est exact_," the sergeant declared. "Where were you bound for by
this route, Monsieur?"

Fawley leaned from his seat.

"I have been told," he replied confidentially, "that your army is
thinking of erecting military works here. I wish to discover how far
that is the truth."

The sergeant stared at him. So did the private. So did the young
lieutenant, who had just ridden up on a high-spirited horse in time to
hear the end of the sentence.

"What is the reason for Monsieur's desire to gain this information?" he
asked, wheeling around so that he completely blocked the road.

"I might reply that that is my affair," Fawley declared. "I really do
not see why I should be questioned in this fashion. I have a map in my
hand which clearly indicates this as a public thoroughfare."

The lieutenant made a sign. The sergeant mounted on one footboard, the
private on the other.

"Go backwards in reverse," Fawley was ordered. "Take the narrow turning
to the right about thirty metres back."

"Where will it lead me?" Fawley asked doubtfully.

"You will find out when you get there," was the curt reply. "If you
hesitate, I shall have to ask you to consider yourself under arrest."

Fawley, grumbling to himself all the time, obeyed orders. He found
himself, after a climb of a couple of kilometres along a road which
commenced in villainous fashion, but whose latter portion was smooth and
beautifully engineered, in front of a recently built, white stone house,
around which a considerable clearing had been made. A sentry stood in
front of the door. The lieutenant who had galloped on ahead had
disappeared into the house. Fawley rose to his feet.

"Is this where I get out?" he asked.

"On the contrary, you remain where you are," the sergeant replied
gruffly. "Our lieutenant is now interviewing the commandant."

Fawley lit a cigarette and gazed down the avenue of fallen pines to the
broken country beyond, the bare peaks fading into the mist with the
background of snow-capped ridges incredibly near.

"A trifle wild here," Fawley remarked. "You seem to have cut down a
great many trees. You use a lot of timber in the army, I suppose."

The sergeant maintained a scornful silence. The private grinned. The
horizon was suddenly blurred. A few flakes of sleet began to fall.

"Any objection to my putting up the hood?" Fawley asked, shivering.

The sergeant pointed to the house.

"You will be warm enough in there," he said. "Monsieur le Lieutenant is
coming to fetch you."

The lieutenant approached them and motioned Fawley to descend.

"Colonel Dumesnil would like a word or two with you, Monsieur," he
announced. "Will you be so good as to come this way. Sergeant!"

The sergeant's instructions were unspoken but obvious. He walked by
Fawley's side and the steel of his unsheathed bayonet was very much in
evidence. Fawley turned up his coat collar and swore softly.

"I shall never find my way down through this labyrinth of passes, if you
keep me here much longer," he grumbled. "Why does your commandant wish
to speak to me?"

"That you will soon discover," the lieutenant answered shortly. "Let me
advise you to answer his questions politely and without complaint. The
colonel is not noted for his good temper. This way, please."

Fawley was ushered into what might have been an orderly room. Colonel
Dumesnil looked up from his task of studying a pile of maps and watched
the newcomer keenly. The former was a short man, whose spurred riding
boots scarcely reached the floor, but his face was stern and his
steel-grey eyes and tone were alike menacing.

"Will you explain, sir, what you are doing on a military reservation?"
he demanded.

"I was following a road which is marked on my map as an ordinary
civilian thoroughfare," Fawley explained. "I had a perfect right to be
where I was."

"That, sir, one might easily dispute," was the cold reply. "All the
roads around here are well known by the handful of scattered residents
to be under military supervision. I must ask you what you are doing in
this part of the world."

"There is no secret about it," Fawley answered blandly. "I have been
trying to discover the extent and nature of the new French
fortifications."

No more unexpected reply could have been given. There was a dead
silence. The colonel's face remained immovable but there was an ominous
tapping of his fingers upon the desk.

"For what reason?"

Fawley shrugged his shoulders.

"If you insist upon knowing, I suppose I had better tell you," he said,
"but I don't want the thing to get about. There are some golf links
about twelve kilometres from here at a place called Sospel. I have taken
a great fancy to them and to the hotel, and as I have a little capital
to invest, I thought of buying the lot. The one thing which makes me
hesitate is that no one is willing or able to tell me where the new
French fortifications and gun emplacements are situated, and until I
know that, I feel that my property might be utterly destroyed in case of
war."

There was a further silence. Another officer who might have been the
colonel's aide-de-camp crossed the room and whispered in his ear.

"You have corroborative evidence of what you are telling me?" the
Colonel asked.

"Any quantity," Fawley assured him confidently. "The mayor of the
district, the committee of the old golf club, the late hotel proprietor
and owner of the land, half the village of Sospel."

"Your name and passport."

Fawley produced identification papers from his pocket and handed them
across. The Colonel examined them and his face relaxed.

"As an ex-military man, Major Fawley," he said, with a certain severity
still in his tone, "you should have known that yours was a very
dangerous enterprise. You should have applied to the authorities for any
information you desired."

"I thought, as mine was a civil enterprise," Fawley argued, "they might
not notice me. All that I need is a little general information."

"There is none to be given," was the brusque reply. "Escort this
gentleman to our boundaries, Lieutenant, and let me warn you, sir, not
to be found in this locality again. This is from no lack of courtesy,
Major Fawley. It is a matter of military necessity which I am amazed
that you should not already have realised and respected."

Fawley suffered himself to be led away. A soldier escorted him to the
nearest village, where he descended at the local café and accepted

without hesitation a ten franc note to be spent there. He refused,
however, to answer the slightest question respecting the geography of
the neighbourhood and regarded with evident suspicion Fawley's few
tentative enquiries.

"Monsieur has been generous," were his parting words, as he stood
outside the café. "He would be wise to listen to a word of advice.
Strangers are sometimes treated generously, as Monsieur has been, on
their first visit to the nest in the mountains. The second visit means
the cold steel or the swift bullet. The bones of more than one too
curious person will be found in the secret places of the mountains
yonder, when the world comes to an end."

He pointed up beyond the pass which they had descended. A stern
inhospitable line of country it was, with great declivities and huge
fragments of rock split by the slow fires of eternity. Fawley shivered a
little as he stepped back into the car.

"I shall not forget, my brave fellow," he declared. "Drink a glass for
me. I am best out of the neighbourhood."

The soldier grinned. Nevertheless, there was something serious in his
expression behind the grin.

"_Monsieur est un homme prudent_," was his only comment.




CHAPTER VIII


Fawley, a few nights later, lay on his stomach in the midst of a
crumpled heap of undergrowth on almost the topmost spur of the range of
mountains eastward from Mont Agel and very little below the snow line.
He was on the edge of a recently made clearing and the air was full of
the odour of the sawn pine trunks lying about in every direction. The
mists rolled over his head and the frozen rain stung his cheeks and
pattered against his leather clothes. It was the third moonless night of
his almost concluded enterprise and there remained only one unsolved
mystery. The six galleries were there, visualised before his eyes. He
knew the connecting points of each one and the whereabouts of most of
the amazing battery of guns. He knew the entrances and roughly the exits
to each. His work had been done with genius and good fortune, yet it was
incomplete. The seventh gallery! The key to all the positions. The
seventh gallery which must hold the wonder gun. Its exact whereabouts
still eluded him.

The night before, the storm which had swept the mountains bare, which
had driven even the guards and sentries into shelter, had been a godsend
to him. In the roar of the elements and that blinding deluge of rain,
the crashing of the trees and the hissing of the wind through the
undergrowth and along the ground, he had abandoned caution. He had
tramped steadily round from post to post. He had been within a few yards
of the Colonel's headquarters. He had even laid his hand on one of the
guns, but it was not the gun he sought. He had worked it all out,
though, by a process of elimination. The main gallery, the control
station and the supreme mystery, which was probably the mightiest
anti-aircraft gun in the world, must be somewhere within a radius of
about a hundred yards of where he was. It was information invaluable as
it stood, but Fawley, through these long hours of darkness and peril,
had conceived an almost passionate desire to solve the last enigma of
this subterranean mountain fortress. The howling of the wind, which the
night before had been his great aid, obscuring all sound and leaving him
free to roam about in the darkness in comparative safety, was now, he
felt, robbing him of his chance. The special body of men of whom he was
in search--he had discovered that many hours ago--worked only in the
darkness, so that even the woodcutters should know nothing of their
doings. They must be somewhere near now...There were great piles of
cement lying within fifty feet of where he was, barrels of mortar, light
and heavy trucks. Somewhere close to him they must be working...

This business of listening grew more hopeless. One of the trees in the
wood, on the outskirts of which he lay, was creaking and roaring, like a
wild animal in pain. He raised himself slowly and carefully on one side
and by straining his eyes he could catch the outlines of its boughs,
stretched out in fantastic fashion like great arms. He even heard the
splinters go. Then, for the first time, he fancied he heard--not one
voice but a hum of voices! His whole body stiffened--not with fear but
with the realisation of danger. The voices seemed to come from below. He
raised himself a little more, almost on to his knees. His eyeballs
burned with the agony of the fruitless effort to penetrate the darkness.
Below! In his brain, at any rate, there was light enough. He remembered
the somewhat artificial appearance of the great masses of undergrowth
amongst which he lay. Perhaps this Number Seven tunnel was underneath!
Perhaps in seeking for shelter he had crept into a ready-made ambush.
Then for some time he ceased to think and action became almost
automatic.

Nothing in the orchestra of the howling wind, the crashing trees and the
hollow echoes amongst the grim mountains had produced sound such as now
seemed to split his eardrums. Within a few feet of him came a crash
which blotted out the whole world with a great barrier of sound. He felt
his cheeks whipped, his body thrashed, the sense of an earthquake
underneath him--the sense of falling. It took him only a second or two
to realise what was happening. Within a few yards of him, the tree which
he had been watching had given up its fight with the rising wind and
had crashed through the artificial roof on which he lay, down into the
space below. He, too, was falling, as the branches and shrubs on either
side subsided. He fell with his mind quite clear. He saw two men in the
familiar uniform of the Chasseurs Alpins, their faces convulsed with
amazed fear, flung to the ground by the trunk of the tree. It fell upon
them so that Fawley, even in those wild seconds of excitement, was
obliged to close his eyes. Their shrieking and yelling was all over in a
moment...Fawley himself fell sideways on to the platform of a smooth
and shining cylindrical erection which was unlike anything he had ever
seen before. There was nothing to which he could cling and almost at
once he slid down on to the cement floor. Opposite him was the most
astonished human being he had ever seen--a soldier, who had run to the
assistance of the other two and was suddenly faced with the
consciousness of Fawley's amazing appearance.

"_Sacré nom de Dieu!_" he called out, wringing his hands. "What is it
then that has arrived? Is it an earthquake? Who are you?"

"Never mind. Stay where you are. Don't raise your hands."

One last sobbing cry echoed from wall to wall of the passage. Fawley
took one look under the tree and then turned his back.

"They are dead," he said. "You cannot help them. Listen. Is this gallery
Number Seven?"

The chasseur, incapable of speech, pointed to the wall. There it was--a
great sprawling seven.

"Which is the way out?" Fawley asked.

The youth--he was scarcely more than a boy--was shivering so that words
were almost impossible. He pointed in a certain direction. Fawley drew
an automatic from his pocket.

"Look here," he threatened, "if you have lied, I shall come back and
shoot you."

The chasseur pointed again. His face was white. He looked almost as
though he had had a stroke. His head was bleeding where one of the
boughs had struck him. The tree lay like a great destroying octopus all
over the place. Only one thing seemed to have survived untouched. The
great machine with its metal cylinders and huge dynamos, which might
well have been some devilish contrivance of the nether world.

"Where do you come from?" the youth asked.

Fawley raised his weapon. He had completely recovered his self-control.

"No more questions," he said curtly. "Give me your belt."

The soldier obeyed. Fawley's hand seemed as steady as a rock and the
revolver, though small, was an ugly-looking affair.

"Put your hands out. Fold them together."

Again the chasseur obeyed. Fawley tied them; then, leaning forward, he
struck him lightly but firmly near the chin.

"That is for your good," he said, as his victim stumbled backwards.

He turned away and crawled down the passage. There was no sentry but the
wind had ceased its sobbing for a moment and from the road came the
sound of voices and the hurrying of feet. Fawley, bent double, made his
way through the rough piece of waste ground towards the edge of the
precipice. Something seemed to have created an alarm and shots came from
behind him to which he paid no attention. A bullet whistled over his
head. He only smiled. At the edge of the precipice he steadied himself:
six hundred feet to scramble. Well, he had done it before. He fell flat
just in time to escape another bullet and then, with gloved hands and
protected by his thick leather clothes, he commenced the wild descent.
Sometimes his feet slipped and he heard the crashing of the small
boulders and stones which he had dislodged. He felt himself falling
through space but each time a bump in the ground, or a bush, or a young
pine sapling saved him. Once he hung over an absolutely sheer precipice,
his legs dangling in the air, the trunk of the tree he clasped cracking
and splintering in his hands. He pulled himself up again, made a little
détour and felt the ground rise beneath his feet. As he descended lower
and lower, the wind and rain grew less, the cold decreased. The time
came when he found himself standing upright on the solid earth. Below
him long stretches of wood still lay like black smudges of fallen
clouds, but for a time, at any rate, he had reached a rough path down
which he was able to scramble without difficulty. He took one pull at
his flask and, in a dark spot with trees all around, one quick glance at
his compass with the help of his torch. A sparsely planted wood was a
godsend to him. He swung himself from trunk to trunk of the trees, his
feet secure in the thick accumulation of pine needles below. When he
emerged, it was to face a flickering light from a small hamlet already
astir. Before daybreak, he was in his car, clad in a rough knickerbocker
suit, smoking a pipe, leaning nonchalantly back in his seat and already
well on his way down the great descent to the sea.

* * * * *

Monsieur Carlotti, the very popular manager of the Hôtel de France, was
taking his usual morning promenade in the lounge of the hotel when
Fawley drove up and entered. He welcomed his returning guest with a
beaming smile.

"Monsieur has found the weather inclement, I fear," he remarked.

"Fiendish," was the emphatic reply. "No more of your mountains for me,
Monsieur Carlotti. I have finished with them. Cagnes may be dull golf
but it will be good enough for me."

Carlotti's eyes twinkled with comprehension.

"The telephones have been busy this morning," he observed. "There has
been a great deal of disturbance and still is at the frontiers. The
weather again, without a doubt."

Fawley nodded.

"I shall not trouble the frontiers," he confided. "A few quiet days in
this warmth will suit me better."

Carlotti bowed.

"It is good news for us," he declared. "If by chance," he added, as the
two men neared the lift, "Monsieur should be in need of a golfing
companion, there is a Mr. Krust here who would like a game."

"Fix it up for me," Fawley replied. "To-morrow or the next day--as soon
as the weather gets decent."

The little man remained below, smiling and bowing. Fawley mounted to his
apartments upon the second floor. The valet, whom he met in the
corridor, threw open the doors and shutters.

"There have been telephone enquiries for Monsieur," he announced,
pointing to some slips upon the table. "No letters."

"A hot bath--quickly," Fawley ordered. "As soon as you have turned the
water on, find the waiter and order coffee--a large pot--_café
complet_."

The valet bustled off. Fawley strolled into the room twenty minutes
later in his dressing gown, a different man. The coffee was steaming
upon the table, a delicious fragrance was in the air. He ordered more
rolls and butter. In the act of serving himself, he stopped abruptly.
Upon his writing table, in a prominent position, was a blue envelope. He
called to the valet.

"Henri," he pointed out, "that letter was not on my table when I went to
my bath a few minutes ago."

"Certainly it was not, sir."

"Who has been in the room?"

"No one, sir, except the waiter who brought the coffee."

Fawley turned to the latter who had just reappeared.

"Did you bring that note?" he asked.

The man shook his head.

"_Non, Monsieur_," he replied. "I have not seen it before. Ten minutes
ago when I first came it was not there."

Fawley made no further remark. He possessed himself of the note and
turned to the valet.

"Send me the _coiffeur_," he ordered, "in twenty minutes. Afterwards you
might put me out a grey tweed suit and flannel shirt."

"No golf or tennis to-day, sir?"

Fawley shook his head. The man disappeared. Fawley poured out the coffee
with his right hand. His left palm lay over the letter in the blue
envelope. Just at that moment, without any previous warning, there came
an almost peremptory knocking at the inside door of the salon.




CHAPTER IX


Fawley's left hand conveyed the letter in the blue envelope to the safe
recesses of his pocket. His right hand continued its task of pouring out
the coffee.

"Come in," he invited.

The door was promptly opened. The person who stood upon the threshold
was one of the most harmless-looking elderly gentlemen possible to
conceive. He was inclined to be stout but his broad shoulders and erect
carriage somewhat discounted the fact. He was possessed of a pink and
white complexion, eyes of almost a China blue and shortly cropped grey
hair. He wore a grey knickerbocker suit and carried in his hand a hat of
the same colour of quaint design.

"I have the pleasure to address Major Fawley, is it not so?" he began in
a clear pleasant voice with a slight foreign accent. "I was hoping to
present a letter of introduction but it arrives late. My name is Krust."

"Adolf Krust?" Fawley asked, rising to his feet.

"The same," was the cheerful rejoinder. "You have heard of me, yes?"

"Naturally," Fawley replied. "Any one who takes an interest in European
politics must have heard of Adolf Krust. Come in and sit down, sir."

The visitor shook hands but hesitated.

"This is not a formal visit," he said. "I ventured to look in to ask if
you would care to play golf with me to-day. I have heard of you from a
mutual friend, besides this letter of introduction of which I spoke."

"That is quite all right," Fawley assured him. "You have had your
coffee, I suppose?"

"At seven o'clock," the other answered. "What I wished to explain was
that I am not alone. My two nieces are with me. It is permitted to ask
them to enter?"

"By all means," Fawley assented. "I hope they will excuse my rather
unconventional attire."

"They are unconventional themselves," Krust declared. "Nina!"

Two young women entered at once. They wore the correct tweed clothes of
the feminine golfer but they gave one rather the impression of being
dressed for a scene in a musical comedy. Their bérets were almost too
perfect and the delicacy of their complexions could scarcely have
survived a strenuous outdoor life. They were, as a matter of fact,
exceedingly pretty girls.

"Let me present Major Fawley," Krust said, waving his hand. "Miss Nina
Heldersturm--Miss Greta Müller."

Fawley bowed, shook hands with the young women, apologised for his
costume and disposed of them upon a divan.

"We owe you apologies," Krust went on, "for descending upon you like
this, but the fact of it is our rooms are all upon this floor. I
ventured--"

"Not another word, please," Fawley begged. "I am very glad indeed to
meet you, Mr. Krust, and your charming nieces."

"We go to golf," Krust declared. "These young ladies are too frivolous
for the pursuit. I myself am a serious golfer. It has been said of me
that I take my nieces with me to distract my opponents!"

"We never say a word," one of the young ladies protested.

"We really have very good golf manners," the other put in. "If we are
allowed to walk round, we never speak upon the stroke, we never stand in
any one's line and we always say 'hard luck' when any one misses a
putt."

"You have been well trained," Fawley approved.

"To serious conversation they are deaf," Krust confided. "They have not
a serious thought in their brains. How could it be otherwise? They are
Bohemians. Nina there calls herself an artist. She paints passably but
she is lazy. Greta has small parts at the Winter Garden. Just now we are
all in the same position. We are out of harness. Our worthy President
has put me temporarily upon the shelf. Nina is waiting for a contract
and Greta has no engagements until the summer. We were on our way to
Italy--as perhaps you know."

Krust's suddenly wide-opened eyes, his quick lightning-like glance at
Fawley almost took the latter aback.

"I had no idea of the fact," he answered.

"I wish to go to Rome. It was my great desire to arrive there yesterday.

A mutual friend of ours, however, said 'No.' A politician cannot travel
incognito. My business, it seems, must be done at second hand."

"It is," Fawley ventured, "the penalty of being well known."

Krust stroked his smooth chin. His eyes were still upon Fawley.

"What our friend lacks," he observed, "is audacity. If it is dangerous
for me to be in a certain place, I call for the photographers and the
journalists. I announce my intention of going there. I permit a picture
of myself upon the railway platform. What a man is willing to tell to
the whole world, the public say, can lead nowhere. One succeeds better
in this world by bluff than by subtlety."

"Are you going to play golf with this talkative old gentleman?" Greta
asked, smiling at Fawley in heavenly fashion. "We love him but we are a
little tired of him. We should like a change. We should like to walk
round with you both and we promise that our behaviour shall be perfect."

Fawley reflected for a moment. He had the air of a man briefly weighing
up the question of an unimportant engagement but actually his mind had
darted backwards to the seventh gallery in the mountains. Step by step
he traced his descent. He considered the matter of the changed cars--the
ancient Ford lying at the bottom of the precipice; his Lancia, released
from its place of hiding in a desolate spot, into which he had clambered
in the murky twilight after dawn. His change of clothes in a wayside
barn. The bundle which lay at the bottom of a river bed in the valley.
Civilian detectives perhaps might have had a chance of tracing that
intruder from the hidden galleries, but not military police. If he
crossed the frontier now into, say, Switzerland or Germany, he would
be weeks ahead of the time and only a trivial part of his task
accomplished. The decision which he had intended to take after more
leisurely reflection he arrived at now in a matter of seconds.

"If you will wait while I get into some clothes and see my _coiffeur_, I
shall be delighted," he accepted.

Greta flashed at him a little smile of content which left him pondering.
Krust picked up his hat and glanced at his watch.

"At eleven o'clock," he pronounced, "we will meet you in the bar below.
Rudolf shall mix us an Americano before we start. There is no need for
you to bring a car. The thing I have hired here is a perfect omnibus and
will take us all."

"Where do we play?" Fawley asked.

"It is a fine morning," the other pointed out. "The glass is going up.
The sun is shining. I will telephone to Mont Agel. If play is possible
there, they will tell me. If not, we will go to Cagnes."

"In the bar at eleven o'clock," Fawley repeated as he showed them
out...

Fawley was an absent-minded man that morning. When he submitted himself
to the ministrations of the _coiffeur_ and valet, his thoughts travelled
back to his interview with Berati and travelled forward, exploring the
many byways of the curious enterprise to which he had committed himself.
Krust occupied the principal figure in his reflections. With the papers
daily full of dramatic stories of the political struggle which seemed
to be tearing out the heart of a great country, here was one of her
principal and most ambitious citizens, with an entourage of frivolity,
playing golf on the Riviera. Supposing it were true, as he had hinted,
that his presence was due to a desire to visit Berati, why had Berati
gone so far as to refuse to see him--a man who might, if chance favoured
him, become the ruler of his country? Berati had known of his presence
here, had even advised Fawley to cultivate his acquaintance.

"Do you know the gentleman who was in here when you arrived--Monsieur
Krust?" he asked his _coiffeur_ abruptly.

The man leaned forward confidentially.

"I shave him every morning, sir," he announced. "A very great German
statesman and a millionaire. They say he could have been President if
Hindenburg had retired. Every one is wondering what he is doing here
with things in such a turmoil at home."

"He seems to have good taste in his travelling companions," Fawley
observed.

The _coiffeur_ coughed discreetly.

"His nieces, sir. Charming young ladies. Very popular too, although the
old gentleman seldom lets them out of his sight. My wife," the man went
on, dropping his voice a little, "was brought up in Germany. She is
German, in fact. She knows the family quite well. She does not seem to
remember these young ladies, however."

"I wonder how long he is staying," Fawley meditated.

"Only yesterday morning," the man confided, "he told me that he was
waiting for news from home which might come at any moment. He is rung
up every morning from Germany. He brought his own private telephone
instrument and had it fitted here. He has spoken to Rome once or twice
too. It is my belief, sir, that he is up to some game here. From what I
can make out by the papers, he is just as well out of Germany while
things are in this mess. He has plenty working for him there."

"Perhaps you are right," Fawley observed indifferently. "... Just a snip
on the left-hand side, Ernest," he went on, glancing into the mirror.

"The usual time to-night, sir?" the man asked, stepping back to observe
his handiwork.

His customer nodded. For several moments after the _coiffeur_ had left
him, he remained in his chair, glancing into the mirror. He was utterly
free from vanity and his inspection of himself was purely impersonal.
Something to thank his ancestry for, he reflected. No one, to look
at him, would believe for a moment the story of his last night's
adventures; would believe that he had been for hours in peril of his
life, in danger of a chance bullet, in danger of his back to a wall and
a dozen bullets concerning which there would be no chance whatever; in
danger of broken limbs or a broken neck, committing his body to the
perils of the gorges and precipices with only a few feet between him and
eternity. There were lines upon his healthy, slightly sunburnt face with
its firmly chiselled features and bright hard eyes, but they were the
lines of experiences which had failed to age. They were the lines
turning slightly upwards from his mouth, the fainter ones at the corners
of his eyes, the single furrow across his forehead. Life and his
forebears had been kind to him. If he failed in this--the greatest
enterprise of his life--it would not be his health or his nerve that
would play him false. The turn of the wheel against him might do it...
Below him the people were streaming into the Casino. He smiled
thoughtfully as he reflected that amongst these worshippers of the
world-powerful false goddess he was the one man of whom a famous
American diplomat praising his work had declared, "Fawley never
leaves anything to chance."




CHAPTER X


Several minor surprises were in store for Fawley that morning. On the
first tee, having to confess to a handicap of two at St. Andrews, and
Krust speaking of a nebulous twenty, he offered his opponent a stroke a
hole, which was enthusiastically accepted. Fawley, who had an easy and
graceful swing, cut his first drive slightly but still lay two hundred
yards down the course, a little to the left-hand side. Krust, wielding a
driver with an enormous head, took up the most extraordinary posture. He
stood with both feet planted upon the ground and he moved on to his toes
and back on to his heels once or twice, as though to be sure that his
stance was rigid. After that he drew the club head back like lightning,
lifted it barely past his waist and, without moving either foot from the
ground in the slightest degree and with only the smallest attempt at a
pivot, drove the ball steadily down the course to within twenty yards of
Fawley's. The latter tried to resist a smile.

"Does Mr. Krust do that every time?" he asked Greta, who had attached
herself to his side.

She nodded. "And you need not smile about it," she enjoined. "You wait
till the eighteenth green."

For eleven holes Krust played the golf of an automatic but clumsy
machine. Only once did he lift his left heel from the ground and then he
almost missed the ball altogether. The rest of the time he played every
shot, transforming himself into a steady and immovable pillar and simply
supplying all the force necessary with his arms and wrists. At the
eleventh, Fawley, who was two down, paused to look at the view. They
all stood on the raised tee and gazed eastwards. The sting from the
snow-capped mountains gave just that peculiar tang to the air which
seems to supply the alcohol of life. Facing them was a point where the
mountains dropped to the sea and the hillside towns and villages boasted
their shelf of pasture land above the fertile valleys. Fawley turned
towards the north. It was like a dream to remember that less than eleven
hours ago he was committing his body to the mercies of those seemingly
endless slopes, clutching at tree stumps, partially embedded rocks,
clawing even at the ground to brake his progress.

"The frontier is over that way," Krust remarked cheerfully.

"What? Into Italy?" Greta demanded.

"Into Italy," Fawley replied. "A strange but not altogether barbarous
country. Have you ever visited it?"

She indulged in a little grimace.

"Don't try to be superior, please," she begged. "Americans and English
people are always like that. I studied in Milan for two years."

"I was only chaffing, of course," Fawley apologised.

"And I," Nina confided, tugging at Krust's arm, "have worked in
Florence. This dear uncle of mine sent me there."

A warning shout from behind sent them on to the tee. In due course the
match was finished and Fawley tasted the sweets of defeat.

"I think," he told his companion good-humouredly, "that you are the most
remarkable golfer I have ever seen."

Krust smiled all over his face.

"With a figure like mine," he demanded, "what would you do? I have
watched others. I have seen how little the body counts. Only the arms
and wrists. I turn my body into a monument. I never move my head or my
feet. If I do, I fail. It is an idea--yes? All the same, it is not a
great amusement. I get stiff with the monotony of playing. I miss the
exercise of twisting my body. Now you pay me the price of a ball and I
stand drinks for everybody and lunch to follow."

"The loser pays for lunch," Fawley declared cheerfully. "I accept the
cocktails, warning you that I am going to drink two."

"And I also," Greta remarked. "I must console myself for my partner's
defeat!"

Luncheon was a pleasant meal. They sat in the bald undecorated
restaurant with its high windows, out of which they seemed in incredibly
close touch with the glorious panorama of snow-capped hills rolling
away to the mists.

"There is no worse golf course in the world," Krust declared
enthusiastically, "but there is none set in more beautiful surroundings.
My heart is heavy these days, but the air here makes me feel like a boy.
I make of life a failure--I come here with the disappointed cry of the
people I love in my ears and I can forget."

"We help," Nina pleaded softly, laying her hand upon his sleeve.

"Yes, you help," he admitted, with a curiously clouded look in his blue
eyes. "Youth can always help middle age. Still, it remains a terrible
thing for a man of action to remain idle. Would it break your hearts, my
two little beams of sunshine, if we packed our trunks and sailed away
northwards?"

"It would break mine," Greta declared, touching Fawley's hand as though
by accident.

"And mine," Nina echoed.

That was the last of serious conversation until they descended some
short time after luncheon into the Principality. In the hall of the
hotel Fawley handed his golf clubs to the porter and took his leave
somewhat abruptly. He had scarcely reached his room, however, before
there was a knock at the door. Krust entered. Fawley welcomed him a
little grudgingly.

"Sorry if I hurried away," he apologised, "but I really have work to
do."

"Five minutes," Krust begged. "I understand something of your
profession, Major Fawley. I passed some time in our own Foreign Office.
For the moment, though, it happens that I must disregard it. I have not
the temperament that brooks too long delay. Answer me, please. Our
friend in Rome spoke to you of my presence here? Did he give you any
message, any word as to his decision?"

"None whatever," Fawley replied cautiously. "To tell you the truth, I
don't know what you are talking about."

A flaming light shone for a moment in the cold blue eyes.

"That is Berati--the Italian of him--the over-subtlety! The world is
ours if he will make up his mind, and he hesitates between me--who have
more real power in Germany than any other man--and one who must be
nameless even between us; but if he leans to him our whole great scheme
will go 'pop' like an exploded shell. Were you to make reports upon me?
To give an opinion of my capacity?"

"I had other work to do here," Fawley said calmly. "I was simply told to
cultivate your acquaintance. The rest I thought would come later."

"It may come too late," Krust declared. "Berati cannot trifle and
twiddle his thumbs forever. Listen, Major Fawley. How much do you know
of what is on the carpet?"

"Something," Fawley admitted. "Broad ideas. That's all. No details.
Nothing certain. I am working from hand to mouth."

"Listen," Krust insisted. "There is a scheme. It was Berati's, I admit
that, although it came perhaps from a brain greater than his--some one
who stands in the shadows behind him. It called for a swift alliance
between Germany and Italy. An Anglo-Saxon neutrality. Swift action.
Africa for Italy. A non-military Germany but a Germany which would soon
easily rule the world. And when the moment comes to strike, Berati is
hesitating! He hesitates only with whom to deal in Germany. He dares to
hesitate between one who has the confidence of the whole German nation,
and a man who has been cast aside like a pricked bladder, whose late
adherents are swarming into my camp, and the man whose name, were it
once pronounced, would be the ruin of our scheme. And he cannot decide!
I have had enough. I am forbidden to approach Berati--courteously,
firmly. Very well. By to-morrow morning I come back to you with the
truth."

Fawley was mystified. He knew very well that his companion was moved
by a rare passion but exactly what had provoked it was hard to tell.

"Look here, Herr Krust--" he began.

It was useless. The man seemed to have lost control of himself. He
stamped up and down the room. He passed through the inner and the outer
doors leading into the corridor. A few moments later Fawley, from his
balcony, saw the huge car in which they had driven up to Mont Agel
circle round by the Casino and turn northwards...Fawley, with a
constitution as nearly as possible perfect for his thirty-seven years,
felt a sense of not altogether unpleasant weariness as he turned away
from the window. His night of strenuous endeavour, physical and mental,
his golf that morning in the marvellous atmosphere of Mont Agel, had
their effect. He was suddenly weary. He discarded his golf clothes, took
a shower, put on an old smoking suit and threw himself upon the bed. In
five minutes he was asleep. When he awoke, the sunshine had changed to
twilight, a twilight that was almost darkness. He glanced at his watch.
It was seven o'clock. He had slept for three hours and a half. He swung
himself off the bed and suddenly paused to listen. There was a light
shining through the chink of the door leading into his salon. He
listened again for a moment, then he opened the first door softly and
tried the handle of the second only to find it locked against him. Some
one was in his salon surreptitiously, some one who had dared to turn his
own key against him! His first impulse was to smile at the ingenuousness
of such a proceeding. He thrust on a dressing gown, took a small
automatic from one of the drawers of his bureau, stole out into the
corridor and knocked at the door of the sitting room. For a moment or
two there was silence. Whoever was inside had evidently not taken the

trouble to prepare against outside callers. A sound like the crumpling
of paper had ceased. The light went out and was then turned on again.
The door was opened. Greta stood there, taken utterly by surprise.

"A flank movement," he remarked coolly, closing the door behind him.
"Now, young lady, please tell me what you are doing in my sitting room
and why you locked the door against me."

She was speechless for a moment. Fawley crossed the room and stood on
the other side of the table behind which she had retreated. His eyes
travelled swiftly round the apartment. A large despatch box of
formidable appearance had been disturbed but apparently not opened. One
of the drawers of his writing desk had been pulled out.

"Is this an effort on your own behalf, Miss Greta," he continued, "or
are you trying to give your uncle a little assistance?"

"You are not very nice to me," she complained pathetically. "Are you not
pleased to find me here?"

"Well," he answered, "that depends."

She threw herself into an easy-chair.

"Are you angry that I have ventured to pay you a visit?" she persisted.

He sighed.

"If only the visit were to me! On the other hand, I find myself locked
out of my own salon."

"Locked out," she repeated wonderingly. "Just what do you mean? So far
from locking you out, I was wondering whether I dared come and disturb
you."

He moved across towards the double doors and opened them without
difficulty.

"H'm, that's odd," he observed, looking around at her quickly. "I tried
this inner door just now. It seemed to me to be locked."

"I, too, I found it stiff," she said. "I first thought that you had
locked yourself in, then I found that it gave quite easily if one turned
the key the right way."

"You have been into my bedroom?"

She smiled up into his face.

"Do you mind? My uncle has gone away--no one knows where. Nina has gone
motoring with a friend to Nice. I am left alone. I do not like being by
myself. I come along here, I knock softly at the door of your sitting
room. No reply. I enter. Emptiness. I think I will see if you are
sleeping. I open both those doors without any particular difficulty. I
see you lying on the bed. I go softly over. You sleep--oh, how you were
sleeping!"

Her eyes met Fawley's without flinching. There stole into his brain a
faint recollection that some time during that deep slumber of his there
had come to him a dreamlike suggestion of a perfume which had reminded
him of the girl, a faint consciousness, not strong enough to wake him,
of the presence of something agreeable. She was probably telling him the
truth.

"I had not the heart to wake you," she went on. "I stole out again. I
sat in your easy-chair and I waited."

"I perceive," he pointed out, "that a drawer of my writing table is open
and that my despatch box has changed its position."

Her eyes opened a little wider.

"You do not think that I am a thief?"

"How can I tell? Why did you open that drawer?"

"To find some note paper. I thought that I would write some letters."

"Why did you move my despatch box?"

"For the same purpose," she assured him. "I found it locked, so I left
it alone. Do you think that I came to steal something? Can you not
believe that I came because I was lonely--to see you?"

He smiled.

"To tell you the truth," he admitted, "I cannot see what else you could
have come for. I have no secrets from Mr. Krust."

"But you have," she exclaimed impetuously. "You will not tell him what
he so much wants to know."

"So that is why you are here," Fawley remarked, with a faint smile. "You
want to see if you can find out for your uncle Berati's disposition
towards him, and you think that I may have papers. My little butterfly
lady, you are very much an amateur at this sort of thing, aren't you?
Men do not carry papers nowadays. It is too dangerous. Besides, who am I
to see what lies behind Berati's mind?"

"I tell you that I care nothing about Berati," she cried suddenly. "I
was weary of being alone and I came to see you."

She moved across and stood beside him. She was wearing some sort of
negligée between golf and dinner costume, something in one piece with
vivid flashes of scarlet and wide sleeves, and her arm rested
affectionately upon his shoulders.

"Please do not be horrid to me," she begged. "Mr. Krust has been very
kind to me. If we could help him--either Nina or I--we should do so, but
not at your expense."

"You would have no chance, little Greta," he told her, with a very
gentle caress. "Since we seem to be arriving at an understanding, tell
me what I can do for you."

"First of all," she said, drawing her arm tighter around him, "try to
believe that I am not the frivolous little idiot I sometimes try to
appear. Secondly, believe also that when I came here this afternoon, the
great thing in my mind was to see you, not to be like one of the
adventuresses of fiction and pry about for papers; and thirdly, as I am
left all alone, I thought perhaps you might take pity on me and ask me
to dine--just you and I alone--only much later."

He looked out of the window, over which the curtains had not yet been
drawn, at the flashing lamps of the square, and further away at the
lights stealing out from the black curtain of the shrouded hillside.

"My dear," he protested, "you are inviting me to flirt with you."

"Is it so difficult?" she whispered. "I am much nicer than you think I
am. I am much fonder of you than you could believe."

"It would not be difficult at all," he assured her. "But alas, how would
you feel when I told you, as I would have to very soon, that most of the
time when I am not thinking of more serious things I spend thinking of
another woman?"

She stood quite still and he had a queer fancy that the soft palm which
she had stretched out upon his cheek grew colder. It was several moments
before she spoke.

"I would be sorry," she confessed. "But, after all, the days are past
when a man thinks only of one woman. It was beautiful to read of and
think of, but one scarcely hopes for it now. Who is she, please?"

"What does it matter?" he answered. "I am not sure that I trust her any
more than I trust you. The truth of it is I am a clumsy fellow with
women. I have lived so long with the necessity of trusting no one that I
cannot get out of the habit of it."

She hesitated for a moment.

"I can be truthful," she said earnestly. "With you I would like to be.
It was not writing paper I searched for in your drawer and if I could
have opened your box, I should have done so. I have a bunch of keys in
my pocket."

"But what is it you are hoping to find?" he asked.

"Mr. Krust," she said, "thinks that you must know towards which party in
Germany Berati is leaning. He thinks that you must know the reason why
he is not allowed to go to Rome."

"Supposing I assured you," he told her, "that I have not the faintest
idea what lies behind Berati's mind. He has not asked my advice or given
me his opinion. I have learnt more from Mr. Krust than from him. I have
not a single paper in my possession which would interest you in any way.
If I might make a wild guess, it would be that Berati is afraid that
Krust might gain access to and influence the greater man who stands
behind him."

"Is that the truth?" she asked fervently.

"It is the honest truth," he assured her. "You see, therefore, that I am
useless, so far as regards your schemes. Realising that, if you would
like to dine with me, I should be delighted."

"If you want me to," she consented eagerly. "I believe you think that I
am very terrible. Perhaps I am, but not in the way you imagine. Do you
want me to dine with you, Major Fawley? Would it give you pleasure?"

"Of course it would," he answered. "I warn you that I am a very wooden
sort of person but I am all alone for to-night, at any rate, and you are
not an unattractive young woman, are you?"

She smiled a little oddly.

"Well, I do not know," she said. "I do not think that unless a clever
man has a flair for women, we girls have much to offer. What time,
please?"

"Nine o'clock," he decided. "You shall tell me about Germany and the
life there. I am rather curious. I find the political parties almost
impossible to understand. You may make a disciple of me!"

"Perhaps," she murmured, as she took her very reluctant leave, "we might
find something even more interesting to talk about than German
politics."




CHAPTER XI


Fawley felt that fate treated him scurvily that evening. Some great
European notable staying in the Hôtel de France had taken it into his
head to entertain the local royalty, who seldom if ever was seen in
public, and Greta and he had scarcely established themselves at their
corner table before, amidst a buzz of interest, a very distinguished
company of guests made their way towards the magnificently beflowered
and ornamented table which had been reserved for them. There were
princes and princesses in the gathering, dukes and duchesses, men and
women of note in every walk of life and--Elida. She came towards the end
of the procession, walking side by side with a famous English diplomat,
and she passed within a yard or two of Fawley's table. For the moment he
was taken unawares. He half rose to his feet, his eyes even sought hers,
but in vain. If she was surprised at seeing him there and under such
circumstances, she gave no sign. She passed on without a break in her
conversation, easily the most distinguished-looking figure of the party,
in her plain black frock and her famous pearls.

"What a beautiful woman," Greta sighed, "and I believe that you know
her."

Fawley, who had recovered from his momentary aberration, smiled.

"Yes," he admitted, "once upon a time I knew her--slightly."

"What will she think of you?" Greta reflected. "I wonder how long it is
since you have met. Will she think that you have married, or that, like
every one else who comes to this quaint corner of the world, you have
brought with you your favourite companion?"

"She probably won't think of me at all," Fawley replied. "We only met
for one day and ours was rather a stormy acquaintance, as a matter of
fact."

"She is more beautiful than I am," Greta confessed naïvely. "She looks
very cold, though. I am not cold. I have too much heart. I think that is
the pity about Germans. We are abused all over the world, I know, but we
are too sentimental."

"Sentimentality is supposed to be one of your national characteristics,"
Fawley observed, "but I do not think your menkind, at any rate, allow it
to stand in the way of business--of their progress in life, perhaps I
should say."

"Adolf Krust is sentimental," she continued, "but with him all his
feelings seem to be centred on his country. He loves women, but they
mean little to him. He is what I call a passionate patriot. At any cost,
anyhow, he wants to see Germany stand where she did amongst the
nations."

"Almost the same with you, isn't it?"

She shook her head.

"Not quite. Very few women in the world have ever put love of country
before love of their lover. I suppose we are too selfish. I am fond of
Germany, although I see her faults, but she could not possibly occupy
all my affections."

"You are rather intriguing, aren't you?" he remarked. "I should like to
know you better."

"Ask me questions, then," she suggested.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-two."

"Where were you educated?"

"In London, Paris, Dresden, a short time for my voice in Milan. I may be
anything you like to fancy, but I have never known poverty."

"And Krust--he is really your uncle?"

She hesitated.

"We are on rather delicate ground," she remarked, "because Nina is in
this, of course. No, he is not our uncle. Nina and I have both developed
a passion for politics. Nina worked for some time in a public office
without salary. It was through her that I became interested. Now I
honestly believe politics--we use the word in Germany in a broader sense
than you do--has become the great interest of my life. I want Krust to
be Chancellor and, more still, I want him, when the proper time comes,
to decide how Germany shall be governed."

"What about the President?"

"A stupid office. One man is enough to rule any country. If he fails, he
should be either shot or deposed. Adolf Krust is the only man whom the
great mass of Germans would trust. What we need in Central Europe is a
shock. People would make up their minds then quickly. At present we are
drifting. That is why Krust, who hates to leave his work for a moment,
who hates games and the sunshine of foreign places and gambling and all
recreations, has come down here to be nearer to the one man who seems to
hold the fate of Europe in his hand just now. He will be disappointed. I
feel that. His rival has powerful agents at work in Italy."

"I am a little confused about German affairs," Fawley confessed. "Who is
his rival?"

She glanced at him for permission and lit a cigarette. Their dinner had
been well chosen and excellently served but she had eaten sparingly. She
took a long draught of champagne, however.

"Heinrich Behrling."

"The communist?" Fawley exclaimed.

She shook her head.

"Behrling is no communist. He is not even a socialist. He is the apostle
of the new Fascism."

"Krust then?"

"If I am telling you secrets," she said, "I shall be very ashamed of
myself. I do not think, though, that Adolf Krust would mind. He has
tried to make a confidant of you. Krust is for the reëstablishment of
the monarchy."

"Heavens!" Fawley murmured. "I thought that General von Salzenburg was
the head of the aristocratic party."

"So does he," she replied simply. "This is our trouble, you see. We are
not united. Come to Berlin and you may find out. Why do you not get
Berati to give you a freer hand? Then I think that we could convince
you."

"But, my dear child," Fawley protested, "I am nothing to General Berati.
I am just an agent who was out of work, whom he has trusted to make a
few observations. I have never even met his chief. I am a subordinate
without any particular influence."

She shook her head.

"You may deceive yourself or you may think it well to deceive me," she
said. "Adolf Krust would never believe it."

"By the by," Fawley asked, "where has your reputed uncle hurried off
to?"

"You tell me so little and you expect me to tell you everything," she
complained. "He has gone to San Remo to telephone to Berati. If Berati
permits it, he will go on to Rome--that is what he is so anxious to do.
To go there and not be received, however, would ruin his cause. The
other side would proclaim it as a great triumph. Von Salzenburg, too,
would be pleased."

"You seem to have a very fair grasp of events," Fawley remarked, as they
entered upon the last course of their dinner. "Tell me, do you believe
in this impending war?"

Again she showed signs of impatience. She frowned and there was a
distinct pout upon her full but beautifully shaped lips.

"Always the same," she exclaimed. "You ask questions, you tell nothing
and yet you know. You take advantage of the poor little German girl
because she is sentimental and because she likes you. Ask me how much I
care and I will tell you. What should I know about wars? Ask a soldier.
Ask them at the Quai d'Orsay. Ask them at Whitehall in London. Or ask
Berati."

"Those people would probably tell me to mind my own business," Fawley
declared.

Her eyes twinkled.

"It is a very good answer."

They had coffee in Fawley's salon--an idea of Greta's. She wanted to be
near, if Adolf Krust should return in despair. But time passed on and
there was no sign of Krust. They sat in easy-chairs, watching the lights
in the gardens and listening to the music from across the way. They sat
in the twilight that they might see Krust's car more easily, should it
put in an appearance. Conversation grew more spasmodic. Fawley, he
scarcely knew why, was suddenly tired of speculations. The great world
over the mountains was moving on to a crisis--that he knew well
enough--but his brain was weary. He wondered dimly whether for the last
few years he had not taken life too seriously. Would any other man have
felt the fatigue he was feeling? He half turned his head. The outline of
the girl in her blue satin frock was only just visible. The vague light
from outside was shimmering in her hair. Her eyes were seeking for his,
a little distended, as though behind their sweetness there lay something
of anxious doubt. The swift rise and fall of her slim breasts, the icy
coldness of her hand resting lightly in his, seemed to indicate
something of the same emotion. Her fingers suddenly gripped his
passionately.

"Why are you so difficult?" she asked. "You do not like me, perhaps?"

"On the contrary," he assured her, "I like you very much. I find you
very attractive but far too distracting."

"How distracting?" she demanded.

"Because, as we all know--you and I and the others--" he went on,
"love-making is not part of our present scheme of life. It might
complicate it. It would not help."

"All the time you reason," she complained. "It is not much that I ask. I
make no vows. I ask for none. I should like very much, as we say in
Germany, to walk hand in hand with you a little way in life."

"To share my life," he reflected, "my thoughts, and my work--yes?"

There was a tinge of colour in her cheeks.

"Leave off thinking," she cried almost passionately. "Many men have lost
the sweetest things in life through being choked with suspicions. Cannot
you--"

There was commotion outside. The opening of a door, heavy footsteps, a
thundering knocking at the inner door flung open almost immediately.
Krust entered, out of breath, his clothes disarranged with travel, yet
with something of triumph dancing in his blue eyes. He was carrying his
heavy spectacles, he flung his hat upon the table and struggled with his
coat.

"My friend," he exclaimed, "and little Greta! Good. I wanted to speak to
you both. Listen. I have talked with Berati."

"You are to go to Rome?" Fawley demanded.

"I have abandoned the idea," Krust declared. "For the moment, it is not
necessary. There is another thing more important. I say to Berati--'Give
me a trusted agent, let him visit the places I shall mark down, let him
leave with me for three days in Berlin and then let him report to you.
No rubbish from inspired newspapers with Jew millionaires behind them.
The truth! It is there to be seen. Give me the chance of showing it.' I
spoke of you, Fawley, indefinitely, but Berati understood. Oh, he is
swift to understand, that man. To-morrow you will have your word.
To-morrow night you will leave for Germany. I ask pardon--for half an
hour I spoke on the private wire at the Royal Hôtel in San Remo. From
there I jump into the car and we have driven, I can tell you that we
have driven! You excuse?"

A waiter had entered the room with two bottles of beer in ice pails and
a large tumbler. Krust filled it to the brim, threw back his head and
drank. He set down the glass empty.

"It is good news which I bring?" he asked Fawley anxiously. "You are
satisfied to come?"

Fawley's eyes travelled for a moment to the dark line of mountains
beyond Roquefort. There had been rumours that the French were combing
the whole Principality, looking for a spy. Monsieur Carlotti had spoken
of it lightly enough, but with some uneasiness. Fawley tapped a
cigarette upon the table and lit it.

"A visit to Germany just now," he admitted, "should be interesting."

* * * * *

Krust in his own salon an hour later looked curiously across the room to
where Greta was standing, an immovable figure, at the open window. He
had rested and eaten since his journey, but there were unusual lines in
his smooth face and his expression of universal benevolence had
disappeared. Greta half turned her head. Her tone was almost sullen.

"You had success with our impenetrable friend?" Krust asked.

"I did my best," she replied. "You came back too soon."




CHAPTER XII


On his way down to the quay the next morning Fawley read again the note
which had been brought to him with his morning coffee. It was written on
the Hôtel de France note paper but there was no formal commencement or
ending.

     I am very anxious to talk to you privately but not in the
     hotel, where you seem to have become surrounded by an
     _entourage_ which I mistrust. One of my friends has a small
     yacht here--the _Sea Hawk_--lying on the western side of the
     harbour. Will you come down and see me there at half-past
     eleven this morning? It is very, very important, so do not fail
     me.
                              E.

The horse's hoofs clattered noisily on the cobbled road fringing the
dock. Fawley slowly returned the letter to his pocket. It seemed
reasonable enough. The _Sea Hawk_ was there, all right--a fine-looking
schooner yacht flying the pennant of an international club and the
German national flag. Fawley paid the _cocher_ and dismissed him, walked
down the handsome gangway and received the salute of a heavily built but
smartly turned-out officer.

"It is the gentleman whom Madame la Princesse is expecting?" the man
enquired, with a strong German accent. "If the _gnädiger Herr_ will come
this way."

Fawley followed the man along the deck to the companionway, descended a
short flight of stairs and was ushered into a large and comfortable
cabin fitted up as a sitting room.

"I will fetch the Princess," his guide announced. "The gentleman will be
so kind as to repose himself and wait."

Fawley subsided into an easy-chair and took up a magazine. In the act of
turning over the pages, however, he paused suddenly. For a moment he
listened. Then he rose to his feet and, crossing the room swiftly, tried
the handle of the door. His hearing, which was always remarkably good,
had not deceived him. The door was locked! Fawley stood back and
whistled softly under his breath. The affair presented itself to him as
a magnificent joke. It was rather like Elida, he decided, with her queer
dramatic gestures. He pressed the bell. There was no response. Suddenly
a familiar sound startled him--the anchors being drawn up. The Diesel
engines were already beating rhythmically. A moment or two later they
were moving. The grimmer lines in his face relaxed. A smile flickered at
the corners of his lips.

"Abducted," he murmured.

He looked out of the porthole and gazed at the idlers on the quay from
which they were gliding away. There was a pause, a churning of the sea
and a swing around. The _Sea Hawk_ was evidently for a cruise. She
passed out of the harbour and her course was set seawards. Fawley lit a
cigarette and took up a magazine. It appeared to him that this was a
time for inaction. He decided to let events develop. In due course, what
he had expected happened--there was a knock at the door of the very
luxurious and beautifully decorated green-and-gold cabin in which he was
confined. Fawley laid down his magazine and listened. The knock was

repeated--a pompous, peremptory sound, the summons of the conqueror in
some mimic battle determined to abide by the grim courtesies of warfare.

"Come in!" Fawley invited.

There was the sound of a key being turned. The door was opened. A tall,
broad-shouldered man with sunburnt cheeks and a small, closely cropped
yellow moustache presented himself. He was apparently of youthful
 middle age, he wore the inevitable mufti of the sea--blue serge,
double-breasted jacket, grey flannel trousers and white shoes. He had
the bearing of an aristocrat discounted by a certain military arrogance.

"Major Fawley, I believe?" he enquired.

"You have the advantage of me, sir," was the cool reply.

"My name is Prince Maurice von Thal," the newcomer announced. "I have
come for a friendly talk."

"Up till now," Fawley observed, "the element of friendliness seems to
have been lacking in your reception of me. Nevertheless," he added, "I
should be glad to hear what you have to say."

"Monte Carlo just now is a little overcrowded. You understand me, I dare
say."

"I can guess," Fawley replied. "But who are you? I came to visit the
Princess Elida di Vasena."

"The Princess is on board. She is associated with me in our present
enterprise."

Fawley nodded.

"Of course," he murmured. "I knew that I had seen you somewhere before.
You were in the party who were entertaining the local royalties last
night at the Hôtel de France."

"That is so."

Fawley glanced out of the porthole. They were heading for the open seas
now and travelling at a great speed. On the right was the Rock, with its
strangely designed medley of buildings. The flag was flying from the
palace and the cathedral bell was ringing.

"Many things have happened to me in life," he reflected, with a smile,
"but I have never before been kidnapped."

"It sounds a little like musical comedy, doesn't it?" the Prince
remarked. "The fact is--it was my cousin's idea. She was anxious to
talk to you, but the hotel is full of spies and she could think of no
safe place in the neighbourhood."

"I thought there was something fishy about that note," Fawley sighed.
"Is Princess Elida really on board?"

"She certainly is," was the prompt reply. "Wait one moment. I will
summon her. I can assure you that she is impatient to meet you again."

He stepped back to the doorway and called out her name. There came the
sound of light footsteps descending from the deck. Elida, in severe but
very delightful yachting attire, entered the room. She nodded pleasantly
to Fawley.

"I hope Maurice has apologised and all that sort of thing," she said.
"We had no intention of really keeping you here by force, of course, but
it did occur to us that you might not want to be seen in discussion with
us by your other friends here."

"It might have been awkward," Fawley admitted pleasantly. "It is
humiliating, though, to be whisked off like this. Your designs might
have been far more sinister and then I should have felt very much like
the booby who walked into the trap. There is nothing I enjoy so much as
a cruise. Wouldn't it be pleasanter on deck, though?"

"As you please," the Prince assented. "There is a little movement but
that is not likely to hurt any of us. As a matter of form, Major, may I
beg for your word of honour that you will not seek to call the attention
of any passing craft to your presence here?"

"I give it with pleasure," was the prompt acquiescence.

They found a sheltered divan on the port side of the boat. A
white-coated steward arranged a small table and appeared presently with
a cocktail shaker and champagne in an ice pail. The Prince drank the
latter out of a tumbler. Elida and Fawley preferred cocktails. Caviare
sandwiches were served and cigarettes.

"This is very agreeable," Fawley declared. "May I ask how far we are
going?"

The Prince sighed.

"Alas, it can be only a short cruise," he regretted. "The Princess is
unfortunately commanded to lunch."

"Then I suggest," Fawley said, "that we commence our conversation."

Elida leaned forward. She looked earnestly at her opposite neighbour.

"We want to know, Major Fawley, whether it is true that you are going to
Germany with Adolf Krust and his two decoys?"

"We should also," the Prince added, "like to know with what object you
are visiting that country and whether you are going as the accredited
agent of Berati?"

"Would it not be simpler for you to ask General Berati?" Fawley
suggested.

"You know quite well," Elida reminded him, "that for the present I am
not allowed in Italy. Believe me, if I were there, I should find out,
but I may not go and I know well that my letters here are tampered with.
Prince Patoni promised me news but nothing has come."

Fawley reflected for a moment.

"How did you know," he asked, "that I was going to Germany?"

She smiled.

"My dear man," she protested, "I am, after all, in a small way
doing your sort of work. I must have a few--what is it you say in
English?--irons in the fire. Adolf Krust, I hear, is hoping for great
things from the little girl. Are you susceptible, I wonder?"

Fawley looked steadily across at the Princess.

"I never thought so until about a month ago," he answered. "Since then I
have wondered."

She sighed.

"If my hair were that wonderful colour and my morals as elastic, do you
think I could throw a yoke of roses around your neck and lead you into
Germany myself?"

"A pathetic figure," Fawley observed. "I will go with you to Germany at
any time you invite me, Princess. But, I should carry out my work when I
got there in exactly the way I intend to now."

"I want you to meet General von Salzenburg," she murmured.

"The world's fire eater," Fawley remarked.

"These damned newspapers!" Von Thal exclaimed angrily in his deep bass
voice. "What is it to be a fire eater? Fire purges the earth. God knows
Europe needs it!"

"I am not a pacifist, by any means," Fawley protested, accepting a
cigarette from Elida. "In the old days war was the logical method of
settling disputes. There was no question of reparation. The victorious
nation cut off a chunk of the other's country and everything went on
merrily afterwards. Those days have gone. War does not fit in with a
civilisation the basis of which is economic."

Von Thal stiffened visibly. One could almost feel the muscles swelling
underneath his coat.

"It seems strange to hear an ex-army man, as I presume you are, Major
Fawley, talking in such a fashion," he declared. "To us war is a holy
thing. It is a means of redemption. It is a great purifier. We shall not
agree very well, Major Fawley, if you are going to tell us that you are
a convert of Krust."

"I am not going to tell you anything of the sort," Fawley replied,
helping himself to another sandwich. "As a matter of fact, I have had
very little conversation with Herr Krust. Between our three selves, as
the Princess here has had proof of it, I am working on behalf of Italy.
All I have to do is to make a report of the political situation in
Germany as I conceive it. The rest remains with General Berati and his
master. Besides," he went on, "it would be very foolish to imagine that
my reports would be more than a drop in the bucket of information which
Berati is accumulating. He is a very sage and far-seeing man and he is
collecting the points of view of as many people as he can."

Von Thal grunted.

"I am afraid," he pronounced, "that our conversation is not approaching
a satisfactory termination."

"You see," Elida murmured softly, "our information does not exactly
march with what you tell us. We believe that Berati is prepared to shape
his policy according to your report. The great national patriotic party
of Germany, to which my cousin here and I belong and of which General
von Salzenburg is the titular chief, is the only party which we believe
in, and for our success we must have the sympathy of and the alliance
with Italy."

"And war?" Fawley queried gravely.

"Why should I deny it?" she answered. "And war. You do not know
perhaps how well prepared Germany is for war. I doubt whether even
Adolf Krust knows; but we know. War alone will free Germany from her
fetters. This time it will not be a war of doubtful results. Everything
is prearranged. Success is certain. Italy will have what she
covets--Africa. Germany will be once more mistress of Europe."

"Very interesting," Fawley conceded. "You may possibly be right. When I
get back from Germany, I shall very likely be in a position to tell you
so. At present, I have an open mind."

Von Thal poured himself out a glass of wine and drank it. He turned to
Elida. His expression was unpleasant.

"This conversation," he said, "has reached an unsatisfactory point. The
Princess and I must confer. Will you come below with me, Elida?"

She shook her head slowly.

"For what purpose, dear cousin? We cannot stretch this obstinate
gentleman upon the rack until he changes his mind."

"Neither," Von Thal said savagely, "can we turn him loose to hobnob with
Krust to destroy the golden chance of this century. It must be Von
Salzenburg who signs the treaty with Italy--never Adolf Krust or any
other man."

"That," Fawley observed quietly, "is not for us to decide."

Von Thal, a mighty figure of a man, took a quick step forward. Elida's
arm shot out, her fingers pressed against the lapels of his coat.

"There is nothing to be done in this fashion, Maurice," she insisted.
"Major Fawley is our guest."

"It is not true," Von Thal declared. "He is our prisoner. I, for one,
do not believe in his neutrality. I believe that he is committed to
Krust. He is for the bourgeoisie. This is not a private quarrel, Elida.
It is not a private affair of honour. We must do our duty to the party
for which we work, for the cause which we have made ours."

"It seems to me a most unpleasant way of ending a mild argument, this,"
Fawley ventured. "I told you that I have given no pledges. My mind is
not made up. It will not be made up until I have visited Germany. I have
accepted your invitation to discuss the matter. You are displeased with
me. What is there to be done about it? You are not, I presume, thinking
of murder."

"To kill a man who is an enemy to one's country is not murder," Von Thal
shouted.

"To kill a guest," Fawley retorted, "is against the conventions, even
amongst savages!"

"You are not a guest," Von Thal denied. "You are the prisoner who walked
into a trap. That is a part of warfare. It seems to me you are to be
treated as a man enemy."

"Have it your own way," Fawley yielded. "Anyway, those are the best
caviare sandwiches I ever ate in my life."

Elida laughed softly. She laid her hand upon Von Thal's arm.

"Maurice," she pleaded, "yours is a hopeless attitude. Major Fawley is
too distinguished a personage to be treated without due consideration,
and I, for one, have no wish to see the inside of a French prison."

"What am I here for, then?" Von Thal demanded angrily. "I prefer deeds
to words."

"So do the most foolish of us," Elida murmured. "But the way must be
prepared. We cannot frighten Major Fawley as we might a weaker man."

"Our country is worth lying for," Von Thal declared. "Why should we not
report that Fawley, taking a short cruise with us, slipped and fell
overboard? No one can say otherwise."

"Major Fawley," Elida objected disdainfully, "is not one of those men
who slip on decks, especially with rails such as we have and in a calm
sea. Be reasonable, Maurice."

"I am no damned by the Almighty Jesuit!" Von Thal persisted. "You tell
me that you have information that Berati has placed his faith in this
man. He is sending him to Germany to report upon the situation, to
choose between Krust, Behrling and us, in plain words. Very well. You
go on to say that you fear he will decide for Krust."

"I did not go so far as that," Elida protested earnestly. "Only
yesterday Berati refused to receive Krust. He had to come back from San
Remo where he went to telephone. He refused to see him or to take him
anywhere else for an audience. The matter is not decided. Our object
with Major Fawley should be to get him to promise that we have fair
play, that he shall see something of our organisations and hear
something of our plans as well as Krust's. After that will come the time
for arguments, and after that, Maurice, but not before, might come the
time for the sort of action you are contemplating."

She was suddenly more grave. There was a smouldering light in her eyes.
She turned to face Fawley.

"If we arrive at that stage," she said, "and we are faced with an
unfavourable decision, I think I would send the dearest friend or the
dearest relative I have into hell, if he elected to hand Germany over
to the bourgeoisie."

"Better to the Soviet," Von Thal grunted.

The captain came and spoke to Von Thal in a low voice.

"It is a mistral which arrives, Your Highness," he announced.

The Prince rose to his feet and gazed westward. There was a curious bank
of clouds which seemed suddenly to have appeared from nowhere. White
streaks of foam danced upon the sea below. Von Thal waved the man aside
with a muttered word and turned his back upon him.

"The trouble of this affair," Fawley declared, "is that the Princess has
formed an exaggerated idea of my influence. I am only a pawn, after all.
Berati has already a sheaf of reports from Germany. Mine will only be
one of the many."

"At the risk of flattering your self-esteem," Elida said, "I will tell
you that Berati has an extraordinary opinion of your resource and
capacity. He does not believe that any other man breathing could have
obtained for him the plan of the new French defences on the frontier
with particulars of their guns and preserved his life and liberty."

Fawley laid down his cigarette. For once Elida had scored. He was
genuinely disturbed.

"That sounds rather like a fairy tale, Princess."

"Never mind," she persisted. "It was bad diplomacy on my part, I admit,
to tell you that, but I could not resist the temptation. You are a
clever man, Major Fawley, but neither I nor my friends walk altogether
in the dark. You need not be afraid. Only I and two others know what I
have just told you and how you communicated with Berati is still a
secret to us."

"Such an enterprise as you have alluded to," Fawley observed, "would
have been more in my line. I am no politician. That is what neither my
Chief nor you seem to understand. I will promise what you ask," he went
on, after a moment's pause. "I shall not travel to Germany with Krust. I
will not be subject to his influence and I will visit any organisation
or meet any one you may suggest."

Von Thal sprang to his feet. There was a sullen look in his face, angry
words trembling upon his lips. Elida rose swiftly and laid her fingers
upon his mouth.

"I forbid you to speak, Maurice," she enjoined. "You hear that? You see,
I have guessed your thoughts. You would wish to provoke a quarrel with
Major Fawley by means of an insult. I will not tolerate it. I accept
Major Fawley's proposition. Remember, I am your superior in this matter.
You must do as I say."

She withdrew her hand slowly. The blood seemed to have rushed to Von
Thal's head. He was by no means a pleasant sight.

"And if I refuse?" he demanded.

"You will be ordered to return to Germany to-night," she told him.
"You will never again be associated with any enterprise in which I
am concerned and I shall do my best to discredit you entirely with
Von Salzenburg."

Von Thal hesitated for a moment, then he swung on his heel and strode
away forward. From their sheltered seats they could see him leaning over
the side of the boat, regardless of the spray through which they were
driving.

"A nice joy ride you are giving me," Fawley grumbled. "How do you know
that I am not liable to seasickness?"

"You do not seem to me to be that sort of person," she answered
absently.

They were rolling and pitching now in the trough of a heavy sea.
Occasionally a wave sent a cloud of spray over their heads. They had
turned toward the harbour but it was hard to see more than its blurred
outline. A sailor had brought them oilskins and removed the plates and
glasses.

"We are running in with the wind now," Fawley remarked. "Good thing we
turned when we did."

She drew him farther into the shelter. It seemed to him that her fingers
lingered almost caressingly upon his wrist.

"If only you and I," she sighed, "could be on the same side."

"Well, I think I should be an improvement upon your present fellow
conspirators," he rejoined.

"Maurice, as I dare say you know," she told him, "is a nephew of Von
Salzenburg. He has the reputation of being a fine soldier."

"These fine soldiers," Fawley grunted, "are always a terrible nuisance
in civil life. What the mischief is he up to now?"

Conditions had changed during the last few moments. They were only about
a hundred yards from the entrance to the harbour but they seemed to be
taking an unusual course which laid them broadside to the heavy seas.
Two sailors were busy lowering one of the dinghies. Elida pointed
towards the wheel. The Prince had taken the captain's place, he had
thrown off his oilskins and coat, and was standing up with the wheel in
his hand, his broad ugly mouth a little open, his eyes fixed steadily
upon the narrow entrance to the harbour.

"He is mad!" Elida exclaimed.

A great wave broke over them, smashing some of the woodwork of the deck
lounge and sending splinters of glass in every direction. People were
running, dimly visible shrouded figures, through the mist and cloud of
rain to the end of the pier. There were warning shouts. The captain
gripped Von Thal by the arm and shouted indistinguishable words.
Maurice's right hand shot out. The man staggered back and collapsed half
upon the deck, half clinging to the rails. Once again they mounted a
wave which for a few seconds completely engulfed them.

"Maurice is running straight for the sea wall," Elida gasped.

"In that case," Fawley exclaimed, tearing off his coat, "I think we will
make for the dinghy."

There was suddenly a terrific crash, a splintering of wood all around
them, a crashing and screeching of torn timbers. They seemed to be up
in the air for a moment. Von Thal, who had left the wheel, came dashing
towards them. The deck seemed to be parting underneath their feet.
Fawley drew the girl closer into his arms, her wet cheeks were pressed
to his. For a period of seconds their lips met fiercely, hungrily, the
flavour of salt in their madness, and the roar and blinding fury of the
breaking waves stupefying them...Once again the yacht, which had been
sucked backwards, crashed into the stone wall. This time she fell apart
like a cardboard box. Fawley saw, as though in a dream, Elida hauled
into the dinghy. She was surrounded by ugly pieces of wreckage,
threatening them every second with death. He drew a long breath and
dived down to the calmer waters.




CHAPTER XIII


Fawley, after several weeks of devious and strenuous wanderings, crossed
the very fine hall of Berlin's most famous hotel, well aware that he was
now approaching the crucial point of his enterprise. Frankfurt, thanks
to his English and French connections, had been easy. At Cologne and
some of the smaller towns around, even if he had aroused a little
suspicion, he had learnt all that he needed to know. But in Berlin, for
the first time, outside aid was denied to him and he became conscious
that he was up against a powerful and well-conducted system of
espionage. The very politeness of the hotel officials, their casual
glance at his credentials, their meticulous care as to his comfort--all
these things had seemed to him to possess a sinister undernote. He chose
for his headquarters a small suite upon the sixth floor, with the
sitting room between his bedroom and bathroom; but his first discovery
was that the one set of keys attached to the double doors was missing
and he only obtained the keys giving access to the corridor after some
considerable delay...

Yet to all appearance he had been received as an ordinary and welcome
visitor. According to his custom, he was travelling under his own
passport and without any sort of compromising papers, yet all the time
he fancied that these polite officials, some of whom seemed to be always
in the background, were looking at him from behind that masked
expression of courtesy and affability with definite suspicion.

For two days he lounged about the city as an ordinary tourist, without
any particular attempt at secrecy, asking no questions, seeking no new
acquaintances, and visiting only the largest and best-known restaurants.
On the third morning after his arrival there was a thunderous knocking
at the door, and in reply to his invitation to enter there rolled in,
with his fat creaseless face, and pudgy hand already extended, Adolf
Krust. Fawley laid down his pipe and suffered his fingers to be gripped.

"So you gave us all the slip, you crafty fellow," the visitor exclaimed.
"And you left my little friend in such distress with a copy of an A.B.C.
in her hand and tears in her eyes; and all that we know, or rather that
we do not know, is that the _Daily Mail_ tells us that Major Fawley,
late of the American Army, has left the Hôtel de France for London.
London, indeed! The one place in the world that for you and me and for
those like us is dead. What should you be doing in London, eh?"

"I may go there before I finish up," Fawley replied, smiling. "After
all, I am half English, you know."

"You are of no country," Adolf Krust declared, sinking into the
indicated easy-chair and blowing out his cheeks. "You are the monarch of
cosmopolitans. You are a person who carries with him always a cult. You
have upset us all in Monte Carlo. Some believe that you were drowned
when that clumsy fool, that idiot nephew of Von Salzenburg, drove you on
to the sea wall of the harbour in that fearful mistral."

"It was an excellent stage disappearance for me," Fawley observed. "I
was just a shade too much in the limelight for my safety or my comfort."

"You speak the truth," his visitor agreed. "Only two days after you
left, the French military police were swarming in the hotel. Every one
was talking about you. There were some who insisted upon it that you
were a dangerous fellow. They are right, too, every time; but all the
same, you breathe life. Yes," Krust concluded, with a little sigh of
satisfaction, "it is well put, that--you breathe life."

"Perhaps that is because I have so often loitered in the shadow of
death," Fawley remarked.

Krust shrugged his tightly encased shoulders. In the city he had
abandoned the informal costume of the Riviera and was attired with
the grave precision of a senator.

"In the walk of life we traverse," he said, "that is a matter of
course..._Ach_, but this is strange!"

"What is strange?"

"To find you, after all my persuadings, in my beloved Berlin."

"I have also visited your beloved Frankfurt and Cologne," Fawley
confided drily, perfectly certain that his visitor was well acquainted
with the fact.

The blue eyes grew rounder and rounder.

"You take away the breath," Krust declared. "As the great young man used
to say--you sap the understanding. You have seen Von Salzenburg?"

Fawley shook his head.

"Not I!" he answered. "Some day, if there is anything that might come of
it, we will see him together."

Krust's eyes became more protuberant than ever. This was a strange one,
this man! He wondered whether, after all, Greta had told the truth,
whether she had not all the time kept back something from him. Fawley
pushed a box of cigarettes across the table. His caller waved them away
and produced a leather receptacle the size of a traveller's sample case.

"You are not one of those who object to the odour of any good tobacco,
even if it be strong?" he asked. "You have seen my cigars. You will not
smoke them, but they are good. They are made in Cologne and they cost
two _pfennig_ each, which in these days helps the pocketbook."

"Smoke one, by all means," Fawley invited. "Thank goodness, it is warm
weather and the windows are open!"

"You joke at my taste in tobacco," Krust grumbled, "but you do not joke
at my taste in nieces, _nicht_? What about the little Greta?"

"Charming," Fawley admitted with a smile. "Every one in Monte Carlo
wondered at your luck."

"It is all done by kindness and a little generosity," the other
remarked, with an air of self-satisfaction. "I have not the looks. I
certainly have not the figure; but there are other gifts! One has to
study the sex to know how to please."

"How did you find me out here?" Fawley asked abruptly.

"I have intelligent friends in Berlin who watch," was the cautious
reply. "You were seen down south at the march of the Iron Army. You were
seen at the new Russian Night Club in Düsseldorf the other night, where
there are not many Russians but a good deal of conversation. People are
curious just now about travellers. I have been asked what you do here."

Fawley yawned.

"Bore myself chiefly," he admitted. "I find Germany a far better
governed country than I had anticipated. I have few criticisms. A great
brain must be at work somewhere."

Krust rolled a cigar between his fingers. It was a light-coloured
production, long, with faint yellow spots. Every few seconds he knocked
away the ash.

"A great brain," he repeated, as if following out a train of thought
of his own. "I will tell you something, friend Fawley. What you think
is produced by a great brain is nothing but the God-given sense of
discipline which every true German possesses. There is no one to thank
for the smoothness with which the great wheel revolves. It is the German
people themselves who are responsible."

"Prosperity seems to be returning to the country," Fawley reflected. "I
find it hard to believe that these people will suffer themselves to be
led into such an adventure as a new war."

Krust pinched his cigar thoughtfully.

"The German has pride," he said. "He would wish to reëstablish himself.
In the meantime, he does not hang about at street corners. He works. You
want to see underneath the crust. Why not accept my help? Unless some
doors are unlocked, even you, the most brilliant Secret Service agent of
these days, will fail. You will make a false report. You will leave this
country and you will not understand."

"Berati has his methods and I have mine," Fawley observed. "I admit that
I am puzzled but I do not believe that either you or Von Salzenburg
could enlighten me...Still, there would be no harm in our dining and
spending the evening together. My ears are always open, even if I do not
promise to be convinced."

Krust sighed.

"To go about openly with you," he regretted, "would do neither of us
any good. It would give me all the joy in the world to offer you the
hospitality of the city. I dare not."

Fawley smiled as he pressed the bell for the waiter.

"Then I must show you some."

Adolf Krust chuckled.

"I am a man," he confessed, "who, when he talks, likes to drink. Most
good Germans are like that."

"Cocktails?"

Krust waved aside the idea.

"I drink cocktails only at the bar. Wine or beer here. It is equal to
me."

Fawley gave the waiter an order. The finest Rhine wine was served to
them in deliciously frosted glasses. They drank solemnly an unspoken
toast. Fawley refilled the glasses. Again they were raised.

"To our better understanding," the German said.

He muttered a few words in his own language. The toast, however,
whatever it may have been, was never drunk. There was a loud knocking at
the outside door. What followed on Fawley's invitation to enter seemed
to his astonished eyes more like the advance guard of a circus than
anything. The door was thrown open with a flourish. The manager of the
hotel, in a tightly fitting frock coat and grey trousers of formal
design, entered hurriedly. He took not the slightest notice of Fawley
but swung around and ranged himself by the side of the threshold. He
was joined a few seconds later by the assistant manager, dressed in
precisely the same fashion, who also made precipitate entrance and stood
on the other side, facing his chief. There followed an officer dressed
in some sort of uniform and after him a younger man, who appeared to
hold the post of aide-de-camp, in more sombre but still semi-military
accoutrements. Last of all came a man in civilian clothes--stern, with a
shock of brown hair streaked with grey, hard features, granite-like
mouth, keen steely eyes. He held up his hand as he entered in a gesture
which might have been intended for the Fascist salute or might have been
an invocation to silence. He spoke German correctly, but with a strong
Prussian accent.

"My name is Behrling--Heinrich Behrling," he announced. "It is my wish
to speak a few words with the agent of my friend, General Berati of
Rome. I have the pleasure--yes?"

Fawley bowed but shook his head.

"I cannot claim the distinction of being the recognised agent of that
great man," he declared. "I am an American visiting Germany as a
tourist."

The newcomer advanced farther into the room and shook hands with some
solemnity. Fawley turned towards where his previous visitor had been
seated, then gave a little start. The hideous and unsavoury cigar
propped up against an ash-tray was still alight. The armchair, however,
had been pushed back and the black Homburg hat which had rested upon the
floor had gone. There was in the place where Adolf Krust had sat the
most atrocious odour of foul tobacco, but nowhere in the room was there
any sign of him or any indication of his sudden departure, except the
wide-open door leading into the bathroom!

"You search for something?" the visitor asked.

"Before you came, sir," Fawley confided, "I had a caller. He must have
taken his leave in a hurry."

Heinrich Behrling laughed.

"There are many," he declared, "who leave in a hurry when I arrive!"




CHAPTER XIV


Heinrich Behrling, the man whom the most widely read paper in Berlin
had called only that morning "the underground ruler of Germany," showed
no hesitation in taking the vacated easy-chair and he watched the
disappearance of the still burning cigar out of the window with an air
of satisfaction. In response to a wave of the hand, his escort retired.
He breathed a sigh of relief.

"It gives me no pleasure to be so attended," he declared, "but what
would you have? The communists have sworn that before the end of the
week I shall be a dead man. I prefer to live."

"It is the natural choice," Fawley murmured with a smile.

"You are Major Fawley, the American who has entered the service of
Italy?" Behrling demanded. "You speak German--yes?"

"Yes to both questions," was the prompt reply. "My name is Fawley, I
have accepted a temporary post under the Italian Government and I speak
German."

"What brought you to Berlin?"

"Every one comes to Berlin nowadays."

"You came on Berati's orders, of course."

Fawley's fingers tapped lightly upon his desk and he remained for a
moment silent.

"I look upon your visit as a great honour, sir," he said. "I only regret
that when I became a servant I became dumb."

"I wish there were more like you on my staff," Behrling muttered, with a
throaty exclamation. "Can I deal with you? That is the question."

"On behalf of whom?"

"On behalf of my country. You have seen my army in the making. You have
visited Cologne and Frankfurt, amongst other towns. You know what is
coming to Germany as well as I can tell you. I ask whether I can deal
with you on behalf of my country."

"Is this not a little premature, Herr Behrling?" Fawley asked quietly.
"The elections are yet to come."

"So you have been listening to the fat man," was the scornful reply.
"The man who smokes that filthy stuff and left the room like a streak of
lightning at my coming! He would have you think that the dummy who has
taken my place in the Reichstag is to be dealt with. He is a fool. If I
raised my hand in opposition--crash to-morrow would come the whole of
your brilliant scheme, and where would you be then? Where would Italy
be? I ask you that."

Fawley was silent. This man was not as he had expected. He was at the
same time more verbose yet more impressive.

"If I chose to listen to my councillors," Behrling went on, "I will tell
you what would happen. Italy would be stripped, disgraced, convicted of
a great crime and--worse still--guilty of being found out. That is what
will happen to any nation who dares to ignore the only party which is
strong enough to rule Germany, the only party which can put into the
field an army of patriots."

Fawley shook his head regretfully.

"Alas," he explained, "I am only a messenger. I have no weight in the
councils of Italy."

"You can repeat my words."

"I will do so."

"When?"

"When I return to Italy."

Behrling's expression was fervent and blasphemous.

"Why do you wait till then?" he demanded. "You are here to see how
the land lies. You have to make your report. Von Salzenburg's men are
veterans of the war. They would carry arms in no man's cause. Soon they
will be carrying them to the grave. The spirit of young Germany is with
me. Italy will miss her great chance. She will pass down into the rank
of second-class nations if she does not recognise this."

"Every word of what you have said I promise shall be repeated."

"But why not in your despatches?" Behrling argued, striking the table
with his fist. "Why not to-night? Why not let a special messenger fly
to Rome? An aeroplane is at your disposal."

"I never send despatches," Fawley confided, tapping a cigarette upon
the table and lighting it.

His visitor stared at him in blank surprise.

"What do you mean? Of course you must send despatches."

"I have never sent one in my life," Fawley assured him. "I have very
seldom committed a line of anything relating to my profession to paper.
When a thing is important enough for me to pass it on to my chiefs, I
take the knowledge of it in my brain and I go to them. Otherwise a
message in Berati's private code on his private telephone is always
possible."

Behrling rose to his feet and walked restlessly up and down the room.
His strong features were working nervously. He threw away his cigarette.
It was obvious that he had been living for months under a great strain.
He beat the air with his fists--a gesture which seemed to Fawley
curiously familiar. Suddenly he swung around.

"The fat man--Adolf Krust--he has been here this afternoon?"

Fawley nodded.

"Yes, he has been here. He was in Monte Carlo when I was there. He went
on to see Berati. It is scarcely my business to tell you so," Fawley
observed, "still I see no reason why I should keep another man's
secret. He only got as far as San Remo. Berati refused to see him."

"When do you return to Rome?"

"In ten days."

"The world itself may be changed in that time," Behrling declared
impatiently. "If you were to study the welfare of your adopted country,
I tell you this--you would return to Rome to-morrow. You would use every
argument to convince Berati that Italy stands upon the threshold of a
colossal mistake."

"Mistake?" Fawley repeated.

"Give me a few hours of your time," Behrling demanded, with flashing
eyes, "and I will show you how great a mistake. If ever a thing was dead
at heart, snapped at the roots, it is the monarchical spirit of Germany.
Youth alone can rebuild and inspire Germany. These men who do the goose
step through the streets of Berlin, who have adopted the mouldy, ignoble
relic of the most self-intoxicated monarchical régime which ever plunged
its country into ruin, they lack everything. They lack inspiration,
they lack courage; more than anything they lack youth. You have seen
my men march, Major Fawley. You know that their average age is under
twenty-four. There is the youth and fire of the country. There is the
living force. They have no soul fatigue."

"There are rumours," Fawley ventured to remind him, "of negotiations
between the monarchists and your young men. I have heard it said that
if this great cataclysm should take place, there would be a coming
together of every military party in Germany."

"You may have heard this," Behrling admitted, with a queer smile, "but
you would not be sitting where you are now if you had not the wit to
know that it is a falsehood. My men will fight for their country and
their principals and me, but not a shot would they fire to drag back
from happy obscurity one half an hour of the accursed Hohenzollern
rule."

"Then what do you predict will be the government in this country?"
Fawley asked.

"No sane man doubts that," Behrling answered. "The people have spoken. I
am on my way there already. I shall be dictator within two months. In
twelve months, Germany will be once more a great power, the greatest
power amongst the European nations."

Fawley lit another cigarette and pushed the box towards his visitor who,
however, shook his head.

"In these days," the latter confided, "I may not smoke and I may not
drink. It is the Lenten fast of my life. Every nerve of my body is
strained. The time for relaxation will come afterwards. Major Fawley,
I invite you to attend a meeting of my council to-night."

Fawley declined respectfully.

"If I accepted your offer," he acknowledged, "I should be doing so under
false pretences. I was fortunate enough to intercept a private despatch
addressed to Berati's chief, the last time I was in Rome. From it I am
convinced that however long she may hesitate, Italy has made up her mind
to support the Monarchist Party. The treaty is already drawn up."

Behrling's arms went out with a gesture towards the sky. One forgot the
banality of the gilt-and-white ceiling above his head.

"What are treaties," he cried, "when the stars are falling and new
worlds are being born? I take my risk of all. You and I both know why
Berati's master leans towards the monarchical party. It is because he
has sworn that there shall be only one dictator in Europe. That is sheer
vanity. In time, his patriotism will conquer and he will see the
truth...I meet you at midnight at an address which will be given you
this afternoon with no explanation. You will be there?"

"If you invite me with the full knowledge of the situation," Fawley
replied.

"That is understood."




CHAPTER XV


The _maître d'hôtel_ at the newest Berlin restaurant, which had the
reputation of almost fantastic exclusiveness, was typically Teutonic.
His fair hair had been shaved close to his skull, his fierce little
yellow moustache was upturned in military fashion, his protuberant
stomach interfered in no manner with his consequential, almost
dignified, bearing. He scarcely troubled to reply to Fawley's enquiry
for a table.

"Every table is taken," he announced, "for to-night and every night this
week."

"For the other evenings during the week," Fawley replied, "I have no
interest. Please to give the matter your attention. You had better
glance at this card."

The _maître d'hôtel_ turned ponderously around. Fawley's rather lazy
voice, easily recognisable as American, notwithstanding his excellent
accent, was in a way impressive. A great deal more so, however, was the
card which he had presented. The man's manner underwent a complete
change. He indulged in a swift ceremonious bow.

"Your table is reserved, _Herr Oberst_," he said. "Please to follow me."

He led the way into a small but evidently very high-class restaurant.
The walls were panelled in black oak which, so far from giving the place
a sombre appearance, increased the brilliancy of the effect produced by
the masses of scarlet flowers with which every table was decorated, the
spotless linen, the profusion of gleaming glass and silver. He led the
way to a small table in a recess--a table laid for three, one place of
which was already occupied. Fawley stopped short. Elida was seated
there--looking like a Greuze picture in her filmy veil and white satin
gown, with her chestnut-brown hair and soft hazel eyes. She was
obviously very nervous.

"I am afraid that there must be some mistake," Fawley said to the
_maître d'hôtel_. "It is a man whom I am expecting to meet."

The _maître d'hôtel_ had resumed his consequential air.

"I do not make mistakes, _Herr Oberst_," he declared. "This is the table
commanded by my most honoured patron to be reserved for Herr Oberst
Fawley and the Prinzessin Elida di Rezco di Vasena. His Excellency will
join you later."

Elida smiled appealingly up at Fawley.

"You will support my presence for a short time until your host arrives?"
she begged. "He is, as you know, a very busy man. He thought that we
might converse for a while until he comes."

"But what do you know about him?" Fawley asked wonderingly. "Surely
this is not your _galère_?"

"I will explain," she promised. "You are angry with me but indeed
nothing that happened was my fault. Please sit down."

She laid her hand upon his wrist and drew him gently towards the table.
Fawley steeled himself, as well as he might, against the lure of her
beseeching eyes, but took the place by her side.

"Forgive me if I seemed ungracious," he murmured. "I never dreamed of
seeing you here."

She drew a sigh of relief and approved his idea of a cocktail. The
pedagogue of the place strutted away. They were alone.

"Dear friend," she said, and for a person who had seemed to him, at most
times, so indifferent, her voice trembled with emotion. "Indeed I was
not to blame. No idea of my mad cousin's scheme had ever entered my
head. One result of it you see in my presence here."

"I am glad to believe it," he answered. "Do you mean then that your
sympathies are changed?"

"It would seem so, would it not?" she answered, with a sigh of relief.
"It has been a great upheaval but I believe that they are. My cousin
assured me that Von Salzenburg himself said that you were to be got rid
of. The idea sickened me. I no longer wish to serve a company of
assassins."

The cocktails were served. Elida ordered supper and wine.

"You see," she explained, "our host eats or drinks practically nothing.
I am to entertain you till he comes. You are to be impressed. How shall
I begin, I wonder?"

He raised his eyebrows.

"Princess--" he began.

"You may call me Elida," she interrupted. "From you I prefer it. I shall
call you Martin. In a place like this, we do not wish to advertise
ourselves."

"I am very happy to find you so gracious," he assured her. "I am happy
too to know that you did not share your cousin's desire to send me to
destruction."

"No one in the world," she said quietly, "has a stronger wish than I
have, Martin, to keep you alive, to keep you well, to keep you near me
if I can."

"Do you speak for your new chief?" he enquired.

"You must please not be bitter," she pleaded. "I speak for myself. That,
I assure you, you should believe. If you wish to be serious, I will now
speak to you for Heinrich Behrling. It was his wish that I should do
so."

"Why should he trouble about me?" Fawley asked, toying with the stem of
his wineglass. "I am only an agent and a mercenary at that."

"Do not fence," she begged. "Remember that I know all about you. We can
both guess why you are here. Berati is at last not absolutely certain
that he is dealing with the right party. Very late in the day and
against his will, he is finding wisdom--as I have. Our tinsel prince and
his goose-stepping soldiers will never help Germany towards freedom. It
is the passionate youth of Germany, the liberty-loving and
country-loving youth in whose keeping the future rests."

"This is very interesting," Fawley remarked, with a faint smile.
"Considering your antecedents, I find it almost incredible."

"Must one ignore the welfare of one's country because one happens to be
born an aristocrat?" she demanded.

"Not if a Rienzi presents himself," he retorted. "Are you sure, however,
that Behrling really is your Rienzi?"

"If I were not," she insisted, with a note of passion in her tone, "I
should never have given my life and reputation and everything worth
having to his cause, as I have done since the day of that catastrophe
upon the yacht. Do you know, Martin, that I am one of a band--the latest
recruit perhaps but one of the most earnest--a band of six thousand
young women, all born in different walks of life. We have all the same
idea. We work to make Heinrich Behrling the ruler of Germany. We are not
all Germans. We do not wear uniform, we do not look for any reward. Our
idea is to give everything we possess, whatever it may be--money, our
gifts of persuasion, our lives if necessary, to win adherents to
Behrling's cause, to stop and rout the communists and the Monarchist
Party. Another Hohenzollern mixed up with politics and the whole world
would lose faith in Germany. The only way that she can escape from the
yoke of France is by showing the world that she has espoused the broader
and greater principles of life and government."

Fawley accepted a cigarette.

"You are very interesting, Elida," he said. "I wish that I knew more of
this matter. I am afraid that I am a very dumb and ignorant person."

"It has occurred to me once or twice this evening," she rejoined drily,
"that you wish to appear so."

"Alas," he sighed, "I can assure you that I am no actor."

"Nor are you, I am afraid," she whispered, leaning across the table,
"quite so impressionable as I fancied you were that afternoon in the
corridor of Berati's _palazzo_."

The grim lines at the corners of his mouth relaxed.

"Elida," he replied, as he looked into her eyes, "all I can say is--give
me the opportunity to prove myself."

She was puzzled for a moment. Then she smiled.

"You are thinking of Krust and his little crowd of fairies," she
laughed. "Yet I am told that he finds them very useful. One of them you
seemed to find--rather attractive--at Monte Carlo."

He shrugged his shoulders. Perhaps she realised that her mention of the
place was not altogether tactful. She changed the conversation.

"Why are you not working for your own country?" she asked curiously.

"Because my own country has a passion for imagining that even in these
days of fast steamships and seaplanes, she can remain apart from Europe
and European influence," he answered, with a faintly regretful tremor in
his tone. "We have abandoned all Secret Service methods. We have no
Secret Service. I can tell you of six departments in which one might
have served before the war. Not one of these exists to-day. In their
place we have but one department and to belong to this it is only
necessary that a man has never been out of his own country, can speak no
language but his own and is devoid of any pretensions to intelligence!
The work for its own sake is so fascinating that one finds it hard to
abandon it altogether. That is why I offered my services to Italy."

"And are you satisfied? The work interests you?"

He seemed a little doubtful.

"Lately," he admitted, "there is too much talk and too little action. I
cannot see that I make any definite progress."

"That means that you weary yourself talking to me?" she asked, her hand
resting for a moment on his and her soft eyes pleading with him.

"Not in the least," he assured her. "In a few minutes, though, we shall
have our friend Behrling here, and it will all begin again. I would so
much sooner take you somewhere else, where Behrling is not likely to
appear, and ask you a few questions which you would find quite easy to
answer."

A brilliant smile parted her lips.

"Now you talk more as I had hoped," she confided. "Indeed, if you would
let me, I would wish to be your companion all the time that you are
here. All the devotion I can offer is at your command but I will be
honest with you--there are still a few things I want to know."

"Elida," he said, "I do not believe that there is a single thing in the
world I could tell you that you do not know already. For instance, heaps
of people must have told you that you have the most beautiful
hazel-brown eyes in the world."

She patted his hand.

"If I were Nina or Greta," she observed, "I should throw my arms around
your neck. You would wish it--yes?"

They were very beautiful arms but he shook his head.

"It is absurd of me," he confessed, "but I should be afraid that you
were not sincere."

"How very Anglo-Saxon," she meditated. "What on earth has sincerity to
do with it?"

"To the sentimentalist--" he began.

"My dear new friend Martin," she interrupted, "do not let us spoil
everything before we begin. We are neither of us sentimentalists. We are
both just playing a game: fortunately it is a pleasant game. I am afraid
that you mean to win. Never mind, there are pleasures--But do not speak
about sentiment. That belongs to the world we leave behind us when we
take our country into our hearts."

"The wrong word, I suppose," he admitted. "On the other hand, I do
confess to being a trifle maudlin. If I had any secrets to give away,
you would succeed where Behrling would fail."

"But you have none?"

"Not a ghost of one," he assured her.

Her face suddenly lost its softened charm. She was looking past him
towards the door. He leaned forward and followed her gaze, then, though
nothing audible escaped his lips, he whistled softly to himself. It was
Krust who had entered with Fräulein Nina, Krust in bulging white shirt
front and waistcoat, his dinner coat tightly stretched across the
shoulders, his beautifully shaven face pink and white, his hair brushed
smoothly back. He recognised Fawley instantly. He deposited his
companion at their table and made his way up the room. For the first
part of his progress the most beatifically welcoming smile parted his
lips. Then he saw Elida and the good humour faded from his face. His
lips took an unpleasant curve, his eyes seemed to recede into his head.
Again the mask fell. He came towards them with outstretched hands. The
smile reëstablished itself.

"My friend Fawley," he exclaimed. "I have an opportunity, then, of
making my apologies for leaving your salon so abruptly. An engagement of
the utmost importance came into my mind as I heard your friends at the
door."

He shook hands with Fawley and looked questioningly at Elida.

"I believe, Princess," he ventured, with a stiff bow, "that I have had
the pleasure."

She shook her head.

"I am afraid that you are mistaken," she said coldly.

Krust was not in the least discomposed. He pointed down the room to
where Nina waved her hand gaily at Fawley.

"My work here is finished," he confided. "Others more capable are taking
it over. I return to-morrow to Monte Carlo. The thought of it has made
the little one very happy. And you, my friend?"

"I am never sure of my movements," was the vague reply.

"If I had not found you so charmingly occupied," Krust continued, "I
would ask you to join us."

"As you see, it is impossible," Fawley pointed out, a trifle curtly.

Krust, his good humour apparently completely restored, took his leave.
He had only proceeded a few steps, however, when he came to a pause on
the edge of the dancing floor. There was the sound of commotion from the
entrance hall of the place, a tangle of angry voices, a peremptory
command given in an official tone, a glimpse of grey uniforms and the
flash of arms. The music stopped, the dancers at that end of the room
hurried towards the doorway. Krust followed their example, but he was
too late. A heavy black curtain which hung over the entrance was drawn
by some unseen hand, the sound behind was partially deadened. Suddenly
the manager pushed the curtains back and appeared upon the floor.

"Ladies and gentlemen--honourable clients of mine," he announced, "the
slight disturbance outside is over. Kindly resume your seats. Some young
men, members of a recently inaugurated society, endeavoured to enter in
uniform--which is strictly against the rules. The police interfered and
they have been sent to their homes."

There was a brief silence. Few people understood the exact nature of the
disturbance. Here and there, however, was an angry snarl of voices. The
veins were standing out on Krust's forehead. He strode up to the manager
in a fury.

"Who sent for the police?" he demanded.

"There was no need to send for them," was the prompt reply. "The young
gentlemen were followed here from the Garden."

"Did you refuse them entrance to your restaurant?" Krust persisted.

Every one seemed to be holding their breaths. There was a queer strained
silence in the luxurious little place.

"It is against the law for any one to enter, wearing an unrecognised
uniform," the manager declared. "I told them so. Whilst we were
discussing the matter, the police appeared."

"You will bow down to that uniform before many days have passed," Krust
prophesied furiously.

"_Ach_, that or another!" was the equally angry reply.

Krust stepped forward as though to deal a blow. Nina, who had left her
place, silently threw her arms around his neck. She whispered something
in his ear. He suffered himself to be led away. The orchestra struck up
again. The dancing recommenced...

"Behold," Elida exclaimed, as she watched the waiter filling her glass
with champagne, "a tableau! A situation which might have become more
than dramatic. Krust--the monarchist spy--with one of his little
butterflies. Major Fawley, the Italian mercenary, the trusted agent of
Berati. I, Elida di Rezco di Vasena, who have gone over at the peril of
my life to the new order. We line the walls of this restaurant. What are
we playing at? I scarcely know. We are all just a little hysterical
these days. The restaurant is likely to be raided by the communists if
Behrling comes, by the monarchists if the refusal to admit those
officers is reported at their headquarters, or by Behrling's own men.
What will our friend Berati say when he hears that you have been seen in
such an environment?"

"He will probably realise," Fawley replied, "that I am going about my
business and his in my own way. Mercenaries, as I dare say you know, are
never over-officered. They are left with a certain measure of
initiative. If one were to indulge in speculations," he went on, after a
momentary pause, "one might wonder what Krust does here. From the fact
that Behrling suggested it as a rendezvous, one might gather that this
place is frequented by his followers. Is it not a little dangerous in
these days, when party spirit is running high, to risk an encounter?"

Elida shrugged her pearly white shoulders.

"Krust can take care of himself," she said. "He is, as I dare say you
have heard, the richest man in Germany, and he is reputed to have a
secret body of armed guards, some of whom are never far distant. In any
case, the present situation has all developed in a week. This was Von
Salzenburg's headquarters before Behrling decided to establish himself
here. A month ago Gustaf there was bowing to other lords."

For the second time that evening some measure of commotion was manifest
at the entrance. This time, however, there was no intimation of any
dispute. A great man was being welcomed. Heinrich Behrling, in plain
evening clothes, handed his overcoat and soft black hat to an attendant
and followed Gustaf's outstretched hand towards the table where Fawley
and his companion were seated.




CHAPTER XVI


Fawley watched his approaching host with calm and critical interest. His
travels in the country during the last few days had already convinced
him that great events were looming. A tortured nation was on the point
of breaking its bonds. An atmosphere of impending cataclysm was brooding
over the place. The worn faces of the people, the continuous stream of
processions, the crowded cafés all gave evidence of it. It was as though
there were dynamite upon the pavements and liquid dynamite in the air,
dynamite which needed only a spark to light the storm. Even in this
luxurious and secluded restaurant, Fawley thought that the first
mutterings of the thunder might begin...Looking across the room, he
saw the good-natured expression fade from the face of Adolf Krust, the
great industrialist, saw his eyes receding into his head, alight as they
were with hatred, saw the menacing curve of his lips as he stared at the
approaching figure. Elida touched her companion on the arm.

"You see what is happening," she whispered. "Every other table in the
restaurant has an engaged card upon it. Now watch."

Without any confusion or haste, a well-behaved, good-looking crowd of
young men, with here and there a woman companion, had followed Behrling
into the place. Every one knew his table and occupied it swiftly. They
wore no sort of uniform, these newcomers. They were dressed with
singular precision in the fashion of the day, but there was a small
brown ribbon upon the lapel of their dinner coats. Furthermore, although
they were of varying types, there was a curious similitude in their
bearing and expression.

"Interesting," Fawley murmured. "I gather that these young men have all
been subjected to some sort of military training?"

"They are Behrling's bodyguard," she confided. "It is not his own idea;
it is the idea of those who would protect him. Krust to-night, for
instance, might easily have made mischief. What chance has he now? He
has not been allowed a table within fifty feet of us and his slightest
movement will be watched."

She rose to her feet to welcome the newcomer. Fawley followed her
example. Behrling, still without a smile upon his strong colourless
face, bowed formally to them both and sank into the vacant chair.

"You have been entertained, I hope, Major Fawley?" he asked.

"Admirably," the other assured him.

"You will remember that you are my guests," he went on. "Supper, I
think, has already been ordered. You will forgive me if I drink nothing
but coffee and eat some plain food. I see," he added, glancing across
the room, "that our friends the enemy are represented here to-night."

Elida nodded.

"Adolf Krust has been over to speak to us," she remarked. "He looks upon
Major Fawley as a lamb in danger of straying from the fold."

"I hear that he was at the Italian Embassy this evening," Behrling
confided. "Does that disconcert you, Major Fawley?"

"Not in the least," was the composed reply. "The work of investigation
which I have to do I shall do in my own way and in my own fashion. Krust
will not interfere with or influence me."

"You are in a difficult position," Behrling continued, as he watched the
glasses being refilled with champagne and sipped his own coffee. "Italy
is employing you upon a very delicate mission, because a great scheme
has been thought out to the last details and an unexpected crisis has
imperilled its fruition. There have arisen the questions--Who is
Germany? What is Germany? Who shall speak for her? Who is there alive
to-day who can sign a treaty in her name?"

"These are all matters for statesmen," Fawley observed. "Very difficult
matters for an outsider to deal with."

Behrling's tightened lips concealed his irritation. This impenetrable
American was getting upon his nerves.

"You are here, I presume, to report upon the situation," he said. "All
that I desire is that you will report upon it fairly. You saw, perhaps,
the goose-step march of the weary veterans on their celebration day.
What you saw was a true and just allegory. The weariness of those who
fainted by the wayside--and there were many--is typical of the weariness
of all the things they represent. How much you have seen of my people I
do not know, but I make you this offer. I will make over to you one of
my most trusted lieutenants and, with the Princess here as your guide,
you shall visit the chosen spots of my country. You shall judge for
yourself of the new spirit. You will be in a position then to tell those
who employ you with whom it would be politic to deal."

"If you only see half as much as I have seen within the last few weeks,"
Elida intervened, "it will be enough."

"You must please understand this," Fawley said firmly. "I honestly do
not believe that any word I could say would influence Berati or those
who stand behind him in the least. He trusts none of his army of spies.
He listens to every scrap of information we bring him and he decides for
himself."

"Yes, but the great thing is to see that the spirit of the country is
represented to him fairly," Behrling declared passionately. "Can you not
see that? Krust, they tell me, although he is not in favour just now,
has been twice received in Rome--once at the Vatican. I know that for a
fact."

"Krust must be received wherever he claims the entrée," Fawley pointed
out. "I suppose he still remains the greatest industrialist in Central
Europe."

"He is also unfortunately the intimate friend of Von Salzenburg and
the Crown Prince," was Behrling's grim comment. "I am not pleading for
myself. I am pleading only for the thousands of Germans who must go once
more to their doom if a false note is struck now. They think in Rome
that Germany is leaning towards the idea of a monarchy. She is doing
nothing of the sort. When these clouds are cleared away, and believe
me it will not be long, her programme will be before the world for
every one to see. Heart and soul she is nationalist. She is for a
reëstablished and almighty Germany. She is for the peace that brains
and industry can ensure."

A note was handed to Behrling. He read it and glanced meaningly at
Elida.

"I think that our host would like to speak with some of his friends,"
she said. "Will you dance for a few minutes, Major Fawley?"

Fawley looked enquiringly at his host. The latter's acquiescence was
swift.

"I see there two of my party with whom I have affairs," he said. "Do not
leave me without a farewell, Major, or without giving me your decision.
Remember, I shall expect nothing but a favourable one."

* * * * *

Fawley felt his feet upon the earth again. Elida, notwithstanding the
smooth grace of her movements, clung to him every now and then as though
he represented destiny, as though he were the only pillar of security
remaining in a world-threatening flood. Fawley, whose complete humanity
was one of the possible elements of his success in his profession, felt
her allure without the slightest idea of yielding to it.

"You must accept Heinrich Behrling's offer," she whispered eagerly. "You
would not be doing your duty to the country which employs you if you did
not. We can go to all the important places, the very names of which are
seldom mentioned in the papers nowadays. We can go by aeroplane. One of
Behrling's warmest supporters is the largest maker of aeroplanes in
Europe."

"What do you expect to gain from me at the end of it?" he asked,
genuinely a little puzzled.

"Cannot you see," she murmured passionately, "that this German-Italian
scheme would mean the reconstruction of Europe? It would bring power and
supremacy to both nations and would place them where they have a right
to belong. Behrling is terribly afraid that Berati's leanings are
towards the other party and that he will not conclude a treaty with any
one else."

"I can understand that part of it," Fawley assented, "but I am certain
that my own importance in the matter is overrated. I am here on a
special errand, concerning which I have to make a detailed report.
Berati does not ask me for my views upon the situation. The Italian
Government are satisfied with their own correspondents here. I should
simply be butting in if I went home with a lot of information which they
have probably already acquired."

"But they have not," she insisted, with a fierce little clutch at his
arm. "There was never a man in this world--a clever man, I mean--so
befooled by another as Berati's master has been by Krust. If Berati only
knew the truth, there would be no further hesitation. Now listen. I must
tell you more about Heinrich Behrling. I must tell you more about the
monarchists here. Do you suppose that I, who am connected with three of
the royal families of Europe, who have nothing but monarchist blood in
my veins, could turn aside if I were not utterly and completely
convinced? Come this way."

She led him into a little recess, pushed back the curtain and showed
the way into a small but wonderfully decorated and luxurious bar. A fat
and genial-looking dispenser of drinks stood behind the counter. Elida
ordered champagne frappé and drew Fawley down on to a divan. He indulged
in a dubious grimace.

"I was rather enjoying that dance with you," he complained.

"Have I not offered you," she reminded him, in a voice which shook with
earnestness, "all the dancing with me you might care for, all the days
of your life? I am sincere too. I want many things from you, but first
of all I want you to take that journey with me."

"If I took it," he told her, "if you convinced me, as you very likely
might, if I flew straight back to Rome and showed Berati the whole
truth, I am not sure that it would make one particle of difference. You
probably know the man--he takes advice from no one and he is very seldom
wrong."

"Take me to him, then," she begged. "I am forbidden the country but I
will risk that. I tried to take his life but I will risk his
retaliation."

Fawley tried to impart a lighter note to a conversation which was
becoming too highly charged with emotion.

"I would not dream of doing such a thing," he said. "I have heard
something of Berati's methods with Italian ladies!"

She sipped her wine with a little gesture of despair. Fawley's feet beat
time to the music. She ignored the hint. Suddenly, as though by an
impatient hand, the curtain shielding the other entrance to the bar was
drawn back. A tall middle-aged man of dissipated appearance, but still
slim and alert in his manner, hastened across the room towards Elida,
bowed in perfunctory fashion and broke into a stream of rapid German.
Two or three younger men also pushed their way into the bar and ranged
themselves by his side. Elida rose slowly to her feet, curtsied and
resumed her place.

"You are a disgrace to your name and your family," the angry newcomer
wound up. "Of your relationship I am ashamed."

"The shame is on my side," Elida answered indignantly. "I should feel it
in the case of even an acquaintance who would attempt to brawl with a
woman in a public place. If you have anything to say to me which you
have not already said through Von Salzenburg and Maurice von Thal,
please find another opportunity."

"What are you doing with this American?" the other demanded.

"That is entirely my affair."

"I am inclined to make it mine," was the sullen reply. "Americans are
not welcome in Germany just now. We wish to be left alone to settle our
own affairs."

"You do not like Americans?" Fawley asked softly.

"I _hate_ them."

"Perhaps that is to be understood," Fawley observed. "Unfortunately, I
am in the same position with regard to Germans--of your type. I don't
exactly see what we can do about it."

There was a tense silence for a moment. Outside in the restaurant the
music, too, had paused. It was as though every one had recognised the
fact that there was trouble afoot. One of the younger men in the group
stepped forward and tendered his card to Fawley. The latter made no
movement towards taking it.

"Sir," the intervener declared, "you have insulted one who does me the
honour to regard me as a friend. You insult me also if you refuse my
card."

"What am I to do with your card?" Fawley asked.

"You give me yours," the other replied, with a flash in his eyes. "By
to-morrow morning you will know."

Fawley accepted the card, tore it in two and flung the pieces from him.

"It is time the world had finished with such theatrical trash," he
observed calmly. "I happen to have earned the right to refuse to fight
with any one, as you can see for yourself, if you consult an American
army list. In the meantime, I suggest that you allow me to take the
Princess to her table and I will return to discuss the matter with you."

Elida passed her hand through his arm. She knew most of these men who
had entered and she was very determined that Fawley should leave with
her.

"Since you have reminded me of our relationship," she said, turning
towards the man who had first addressed her, "let me beg you, for the
sake of your name, to avoid anything like a brawl. Major Fawley is a
distinguished guest and I believe a well-wisher of your country."

The music outside was still silent but there was a curious shuffling of
feet upon the dancing floor. The main curtain was abruptly thrown back,
a party of the young men who had followed Behrling into the restaurant
made their appearance. They entered quietly, without any sign or word of
menace, but they were a formidable-looking body as they ranged
themselves around the bar. By some manoeuvre, or it may have been by
chance, they spread themselves out between Elida and her angry relative.
In dead silence, although to the accompaniment of a cloud of evil looks,
Fawley and his companion passed out of the room.




CHAPTER XVII


Almost before they had stepped on to the dancing floor, the shock
came. There was the sound of a shrill, penetrating whistle from a
distant corner, two sharp revolver shots, and within another second the
whole room was enveloped in darkness. For a moment or two the music
continued, the dancers swayed against one another, a moving phalanx of
half-laughing, half-terrified humanity, groping their way through the
perfumed obscurity. Then a woman's hysterical cry following those two
reports struck a note of fear. Somewhere in the middle of the floor a
woman fainted, calling out wildly as she collapsed...A powerful hand
gripped Fawley's arm, a man's voice whispered in his ear:

"I lead you. Hold my wrist and the Princess."

Fawley for a moment hesitated. It was obvious that there was some sort
of trouble on hand. Elida whispered in his ear.

"It is Gustaf who speaks. Do anything he says."

Behind them in the darkness was the sound of something which was like a
concerted movement--the steady shuffling of purposeful feet. From the
corner near where they had been seated and in the vicinity of which the
two shots had been fired, they could hear the low moaning of a wounded
man. Some one on the dancing floor lit a match and thrust the tiny flame
almost into the faces of the man and woman by his side, only to blow it
out quickly, as though he realised that the two were not the people whom
he sought. Fawley hesitated no longer. With his arm still around Elida,
he suffered himself to be led between the tables towards the side exit
and down a passage leading into the street. Underneath the flare of an
electric standard a line of cars was ranged along the curb. Gustaf
opened the door of one and literally pushed them inside. The car moved
off at once. A familiar voice greeted them from the corner.

"My dear Princess and Major Fawley, I owe you the most profound
apologies. Gustaf is in despair. His restaurant has practically been
seized by the members of a political party who would be delighted to
involve me in a scandal--or worse."

"We heard shots," Fawley remarked.

"They were meant for me," Behrling said grimly. "Gustaf had a secret
message and he hurried me off. It is not for myself I fear. It is for
the cause."

"Who was responsible for putting out the light?" Elida asked.

"An asinine crowd of young bloods," Behrling replied contemptuously,
"all blindly following that middle-aged roué. As a matter of fact, it
was the best thing that could happen for us. Gustaf was able the easier
to manoeuvre our departure. By the by, Fawley, if this is going to be
the bad night that they threatened us with, what about putting you down
at your Embassy?"

Fawley shook his head.

"Sorry," he regretted. "For the moment I am not engaged in my country's
interests. I can claim no privileges."

"You are not by any chance in disgrace with your own people?" Behrling
asked curiously.

"Not in the least," Fawley assured him. "I simply asked for a job, found
there was nothing doing, and took on a mission of observation for a
friendly power."

Behrling nodded.

"What happened in the bar?" he asked abruptly.

"Nothing really happened," Fawley replied, with a smile. "Nothing except
threats, that is to say. A gentleman of the student type offered me his
card and reminded me of the ancient institution of duelling."

"What did you do with it?"

"He tore it up," Elida intervened.

Behrling nodded approval.

"In the new Germany," he muttered, "there will be no duels. The blood of
every citizen will be needed for the nation."

"You think that there will be war?" Fawley asked.

Behrling peered curiously through the obscurity of the vehicle.

"Is that not already determined upon? There may be war and unless Berati
makes the one unpardonable mistake, the map of Europe will be altered.
I have no more to say. Here is your destination. You have made me no
promises, Major Fawley. You have spoken no word of approval. You have
given me no hint as to where your sympathies lie. Yet I have a feeling
of satisfaction. I am glad that we have met."

He shook hands warmly. Fawley turned to make his adieux to Elida. She
too, however, was preparing to descend.

"I am staying with my aunt, who has a suite here," she explained.

Behrling leaned forward from his corner.

"Before we meet again, Major Fawley," he prophesied, "there will be a
great change in this city--in this country. You are here now in these
terrifying moments before the storm, when the air is sulphurous and
overcharged with the thunders to come. You will find us a saner country
when you return."

* * * * *

There was the sound of music and many voices as they arrived on the
fourth floor. At the end of the corridor was a vision of bowing servants
and beyond, rooms banked with flowers and waving palms. Elida gave one
look and stepped swiftly back into the lift.

"I cannot bear it," she told Fawley. "My aunt receives her political
friends on Thursday evenings and to-night they are all there in force.
I can hear their voices even here. They will tear themselves to pieces
before they have finished. There must be, it seems, a hundred different
ways of saving Germany and every one of my aunt's friends has hold of a
different plan. Let me come and sit with you for a few minutes. I heard
the waiter say that he had placed a note in your salon, so I feel that I
may come without compromising you."

"By all means," Fawley assented. "My sitting room is not much, but from
the window one has at least a fine view of the city. Come with the
greatest pleasure, but," he went on, as they stepped out of the lift and
he fitted the key in the door of his suite, "do let us leave politics
alone for a time. My sympathies are of no use to any one. I cannot turn
them into action."

She sighed as she followed him into the rooms and allowed her cloak to
slip from her shoulders.

"It is too bad," she lamented, "because there was never a time in her
history when Germany more needed the understanding of intelligent
Anglo-Saxons. So this is where you live?"

He smiled.

"For a few hours longer," he reminded her. "I am off to-morrow."

"To Rome?"

He remained silent for a moment.

"In these days of long-distance telephones and wireless, a poor
government messenger never knows where he will be sent."

He picked up the despatch which lay upon the table and, after a
questioning glance towards her, opened it. He read it carefully then
tore it into small pieces.

"Your plans are changed?" she asked.

"Only confirmed," he answered. "Come and sit before the window and look
down at this beautiful city. We have an idea in America, you know, or
rather we used to have, when I was interested in politics, that in order
to bring about a state of bankruptcy in Berlin, the people beautified
their city, built new boulevards, new public buildings, and then failed
to pay the interest on their loans!"

"It is probably true," Elida assented. "That was all before I took any
interest in this part of the world. To-day Germany is on her feet again,
her hands are uplifted, she is feeling for the air. She is trying to
drag down from the heavens the things that belong to her. Germany has a
great future, you know, Major Fawley."

"No one doubts that," he replied.

She looked around the room curiously and last of all at him, at his
drawn but wholesome-looking face, his deep-set visionary eyes, his air
of immense self-control. She took note of all the other things which
appeal to a woman, the little wave in his hair brushed back by the ears,
the humorous lines about his firm mouth. He possessed to the fullest
extent the distinction of the class to which they both belonged.

"Do you mind if I become very personal for a few moments?" she asked
abruptly.

"So long as you do not find too much fault with me."

"The men in the Secret Service, whom I have come across," she began,
"our Italian Secret Service, I mean, of course, and the French, travel
under false names, generally assuming a different status to their real
one. They travel with little luggage, they stay in weird hotels in
streets that no one ever heard of, and life for them seems to be filled
with a desire to escape from their own personality. Here are you staying
in the best-known hotel in Berlin under your own name, wearing the
clothes and using the speech of your order. There on your writing table
is your dressing case fitted with an ordinary lock and with your name in
full stamped upon it. I begin to think that you must be a fraud. I
should not be surprised to find that your proper name even was inscribed
in the hotel register."

"Guilty to everything," he confessed, pushing his chair a little nearer
to hers and closer to the window. "But then you must remember that the
Secret Service of the old order has gone out. The memoirs writer and the
novelist have given away our fireworks. We are only subtle now by being
terribly and painfully obvious."

"You may be speaking the truth," she murmured, "but it seems to me that
it must be a dangerous experiment. I could recall to myself the names of
at least a dozen people who know that a Major Fawley is here on behalf
of a certain branch of the Italian Government to see for himself and
report upon the situation. It would be worth the while of more than one
of them to make sure that you never returned to Rome."

"There are certain risks to be run, of course," he admitted. "The only
point is that I came to the conclusion some years ago that one runs them
in a more dignified fashion and with just as much chance of success by
abandoning the old methods."

She sat perfectly silent for some time. They were both looking downwards
at the thronged and brilliantly lit streets, the surging masses of human
beings, listening to the hoarse mutterings of voices punctuated
sometimes with the shouting of excited pedestrians. There was a certain
tenseness underneath it all. The trampling of feet upon the pavement was
like the breaking of an incoming tide. One had the idea of mighty forces
straining at a yielding leash. Elida swung suddenly around.

"You play the game of frankness wonderfully," she said bitterly, "but
there are times when you fall down."

"As for instance?"

"When you make enquiries of the concierge about the air services to
Rome. When you send for a time-table to compare the trains and when you
slip into the side entrance at Cook's in the twilight an hour or so
later and take your ticket for England!"

"You have had me followed?" he asked.

"It has been necessary," she told him. "What has England to do with your
report to Berati?"

His eyes seemed to be watching the black mass of people below, but he
smiled reflectively.

"What an advertisement this last _coup_ of yours is for the open methods
of diplomacy," he observed. "Would it surprise you very much to know
that I can take the night plane to Croydon, catch the International
Airways to Rome, and be there a little quicker than any way I have
discovered yet of sailing over the Alps?"

"Will you turn your head and look at me, please?"

He obeyed at once.

"You are not going to London, then?" she persisted. "Berati has
abandoned that old idea of his of seeking English sympathies?"

Fawley rose to his feet and Elida's heart sank. She knew very well that
during the last few minutes, ever since, in fact, she had confessed to
her surveillance over him, she had lost everything she had striven so
hard to gain. Her bid for his supreme confidence had failed. Before she
actually realised what had happened, she was moving towards the door. He
was speaking meaningless words; his tone, his expression had changed.
All the humanity seemed to have left his face. Even the admiration which
had gleamed more than once in his eyes and the memory of which she had
treasured all the evening had become the admiration of a man for an
attractive doll.

"You are under your own roof," he remarked, as he opened the door. "You
will forgive me if I do not offer to conduct you to your aunt's
apartment?"

He bent over her cold fingers.

"Why are you angry with me?" she asked passionately.

He looked at her with a gleam of sadness in his eyes, the knob of the
door in his hand.

"My dear Elida," he expostulated, "you know very well that the only
feeling I dare permit myself to have for you is one of sincere
admiration."




CHAPTER XVIII


His Excellency the Marchese Marius di Vasena, Ambassador from Italy to
the Court of St. James's, threw himself back in his chair and held out
his hands to his unexpected visitor with a gesture of astonishment. He
waved his secretary away. It had really been a very anxious week and
this was a form of relaxation which appealed to him.

"Elida!" he exclaimed, embracing his favourite niece. "What on earth
does this mean? I saw pictures of you last week with all the royalties
at Monte Carlo. Has your aunt any idea?"

"Not the slightest," Elida laughed.

"But how did you arrive?"

"Oh, I just came," she replied. "I did not arrive direct. I had some
places to visit on the way. As a matter of fact, I left Monte Carlo a
fortnight ago. Yesterday I was in Paris but I had a sudden feeling that
I must see you, dear Uncle. So here I am!"

"And the need for all this haste?" the Ambassador asked courteously, as
he arranged an easy-chair for his niece. "If one could only believe that
it was impatience to see your elderly but affectionate relative!"

She laughed--a soft rippling effort of mirth.

"I am always happy to see you, my dear Uncle, that you know," she
assured him. "That is why I was so unhappy when you were given London.
Yesterday, however, a great desire swept over me."

"And that was--?"

"To attend the American Ambassador's dance to-night at Dorrington House.
I simply could not resist it. Aunt will not mind. You are going to be
very good-natured and take me--yes?"

The smile faded from the Ambassador's face.

"I suppose that can easily be arranged," he admitted. "It will not be a
very gay affair, though. In diplomatic circles, it is rather our close
season."

Elida--she was certainly a very privileged niece--leaned forward and
drew out one of the drawers of her uncle's handsome writing table. She
helped herself to a box of cigarettes and lit one.

"Yet they tell me," she confided, "I heard it even in Monte Carlo, that
just now England or Washington--no one is certain which; perhaps
both--are busy forging thunderbolts."

"No news of it has come my way," the Ambassador declared, with a
benevolent smile. "If one were ever inclined to give credence to absurd
rumours, one would look rather nearer home for trouble."

She leaned over and patted his cheek.

"Dear doyen of all the diplomats, it is not you who would tell your
secrets to a little chatterbox of a niece! It seems a pity, for I love
being interested."

"_Carissima_," he murmured, "to-night at Dorrington House you will find
ten or a dozen terribly impressionable young Americans, two or three of
them quite fresh from Washington. You will find English statesmen even,
who have the reputation of being sensitive to feminine charms such as
yours and who have not the accursed handicap of being your uncle. You
will find my own youthful staff of budding diplomats, who all imagine
that they have secrets locked away in their bosoms far more wonderful
than any which have been confided to me. You will be in your glory, dear
Elida, and if you find out anything really worth knowing about these
thunderbolts, do not forget your poor relations!"

She made a little grimace at him.

"You have always been inclined to make fun of me, have you not, since I
became a serious woman?"

The Marchese assumed an austere air and tone.

"I do not make fun of you," he assured her. "If I am not too happy to
see you wrapped up in things which should be left to your elders, it is
because there is no excitement without danger, and it was not intended
that a young woman so highly placed, so beautiful as you, should court
danger."

"Me--court danger?" she exclaimed with wide-open eyes.

The Ambassador's gesture dismissed her protest with a shade of
impatience.

"You have the misfortune, my dear niece," he continued, "to be by birth
and education an amazing example of modern cosmopolitanism. Your sister
is married to a German princeling, whose father is aiming at being
Chancellor of Germany and who is himself a prominent figure in this
latest upheaval. Your aunt is almost the only remaining French
aristocrat who is permitted to interest herself--behind the scenes
naturally--in French politics. Both your brothers, my nephews, have made
their mark in our own country and are reported to be ambitious."

"Is all this the prelude to an eulogy or a lecture?" Elida asked.

"Neither," her uncle answered. "It is just that I am going to take the
privilege of a near relative and an elderly man, who has at any rate won
his spurs in diplomacy, to give you a word of advice. There is no place
to-day, no seemly and dignified place, for women in the underground
galleries of diplomacy. Spies there must always be and always have been.
Cocottes have generally been the most successful, but I need not remind
you of their inevitable fate. The profession is not elastic enough to
include members of the great families of Europe."

There was a brief silence. A puff of wind stole into the room through
the open windows, bent the lilac blossoms in their vases and wafted
their perfume into the further recesses of the stately apartment. A
Louis XVI clock of blue and gold inlay chimed the hour merrily. Elida
moved uneasily in her chair. No one in the world had ever spoken to her
like this.

"What have you been hearing about me?" she asked.

The Marchese shrugged his shoulders.

"One hears," he murmured. "One does not necessarily listen. Now, if you
take my advice, you will present yourself to your aunt. She is resting
for a time in her rooms and taking a new face treatment from some New
York wizard. She will like to know that you are here. By the by, we dine
at home--only one or two very dull people--and we leave for Dorrington
House at ten-thirty."

She gave his arm a gentle squeeze and kissed his forehead.

"I have sent my maid to see which are my rooms," she said. "As soon as I
have had a bath, I will present myself. Perhaps Aunt Thérèse will hand
over the new treatment to me. A dignified and unadorned middle age is
all the mode nowadays."

"You go and tell her so," her uncle remarked, with a smile.

* * * * *

The Marchese suffered from a fit of unusual restlessness after the
departure of his favourite niece. He left his chair and paced the room,
his hands behind his back, an anxious frown upon his forehead. He was an
exceedingly handsome man of the best Italian type, but he seemed during
the last few months to have grown older. The lines in his face were
deeper, his forehead was furrowed, he had even acquired a slight stoop.
He was a conscientious politician and withal an astute one. There were
certain features of the present situation which filled him with
uneasiness. He took up the house telephone and spoke in rapid Italian.
In a few minutes a quietly dressed young man presented himself. He
carried a locked volume under his arm. The Ambassador summoned the
servant who brought him in.

"Close all the windows," he ordered. "See that I am not disturbed until
I ring the bell."

The man obeyed with the swiftness of the well-trained Italian. The
Ambassador reseated himself at his desk. He took a key from his chain
and unlocked the volume.

"The Princess Elida has arrived, Ottavio," he confided.

The young man assented.

"So I understood, Your Excellency."

The Ambassador turned over the pages of the volume which he had opened
and paused at a closely written sheet.

"A fortnight ago," he continued quietly, "my niece was in Berlin. I see
your reports are all unanimous. She appears to have deserted Von
Salzenburg and to have left the Prince behind her in Monaco."

"That is true, Your Excellency."

"She spent much of her time with Behrling and with an American, who is
reported to be in the service of Berati."

"I can vouch for the truth of that, Your Excellency."

"The American arrived unexpectedly in London a few days ago," the
Ambassador went on. "You brought me word of his coming, although he has
not presented himself here. Perhaps that is policy. Do you know what he
has been doing in the capital?"

"It is possible to ascertain, Your Excellency. His movements did not
come within the scope of my observations."

The Ambassador nodded. He read through another page, then he carefully
locked up the volume and returned it.

"It would appear," he remarked, "that my niece's sympathies, at any
rate, have been transferred to Behrling. One might consider her almost
an opportunist."

"Behrling to-day," the young man said firmly, "is the master of
Germany."

The Ambassador handed him back the volume and sighed.

"That will do, Ottavio," he said. "I should like, during the next few
days, to have an interview arranged with the American Ambassador."

"The matter shall be attended to, Excellency. In the meantime, I am
charged with a somewhat serious communication from the Captain Varzi,
Commander Borzacchini and Air Pilot Nuvolari. They desire to know
whether they may pay their respects or whether it would be better for
them to take leave of absence without announcement."

Again there was silence. The Marchese looked up wearily. He seemed
suddenly conscious of the gloom of the apartment, with its drawn
curtains and closed windows.

"It was a message by wireless a few hours ago, Excellency. They would
wish, subject to your permission, to attend the ball at Dorrington House
to-night and to leave separately before morning."

"I have no jurisdiction," the Marchese pronounced. "They must obey such
orders as they have received. Have you any further information?"

"None, Your Excellency, except a hint that the urgency is not so great
as might seem. About the middle of next week, perhaps, we may expect
official news. Is it permitted to ask Your Excellency a question?"

"With the proviso that he answers it only if he feels inclined to," was
the weary reply.

"The Department has received a very cautiously worded enquiry as to this
American, Major Martin Fawley," the young man confided. "It seems that
he has been in Rome and on the French Riviera, from which one
understands that he had to make a precipitate departure. Then he turned
up in Berlin and if our information is correct, Excellency, he was seen
once or twice with Her Highness the Princess Elida. We have been asked
quite unofficially whether we can give any information as to the nature
of his activities."

"Well, you know the answer well enough," the Marchese replied irritably.
"I have no knowledge of Major Fawley. Of my niece's acquaintances or
companions I naturally can keep no count. If he is a suspected person, I
regret her association with him; otherwise there is nothing to be said."

The young man took silent and respectful leave of his chief. The
Ambassador, who was a very much worried man, lit a cigarette and studied
the neatly typed list of his engagements for the next few days with a
groan.




CHAPTER XIX


It was the moment for the sake of which Elida had made many sacrifices.
She had, for the first time in her life, disobeyed certain instructions
issued from a beautiful white stone and marble building in the Plaza
Corregio at Rome, instructions signed by the hand of a very great man
indeed. Not only that but, in quartering herself upon a relative whom
she loved better than any other amongst her somewhat extensive family,
she had involved him in many possible embarrassments. As she sat there,
she felt that she had offended against the code of her life and,
listening to the music in the distant rooms, the hum of joyous voices,
watching men in brilliant uniforms and beautifully gowned women pass
back and forth, she felt conscious of a sense of shame. Yet it all
seemed worth while when young Hartley Stammers, second secretary at the
American Embassy, the acquaintance of a few hours, from whom she had
begged this favour, and Fawley, a quietly distinguished-looking figure
in his plain evening clothes amongst this colourful gathering, suddenly
appeared upon the threshold. The light which flashed for a single moment
in his eyes filled her with a sort of painful joy. For the first time,
she felt weak of purpose. She was filled with a longing to abandon at
that moment and forever this stealthy groping through the tortuous ways
of life, to respond instead to that momentary challenge with everything
she had to give. Perhaps if the mask had not fallen quite so quickly,
she might have yielded.

"This is indeed a great pleasure, Princess," Fawley said courteously, as
he raised her fingers to his lips. "I had no idea that you thought of
coming to London."

"Nor I until--well, it seems only a few hours ago," she said. "My aunt
has not been well and my uncle--you know him, I dare say--he is our
Ambassador here--begged me to pay him a flying visit. So here I am!
Arrived this evening. Will you not sit down, Major Fawley? I should like
so much that we talk for a little time."

The younger man took regretful leave. Elida smiled at him delightfully.
He had fulfilled a difficult mission and she was grateful.

"You will not forget, Mr. Stammers, that we dance later in the evening,"
she reminded him. "You must show me some of your new steps. None of our
Italian men can dance like you Americans."

"I will be glad to," the boy promised a little ruefully. "I have a list
of duty hops down here which makes me tired. I'll surely cut some of
them, if I can. Being sort of office boy of the place, they seem to
leave me to do the cleaning up."

He took his leave, followed by Elida's benediction. The quiet place for
which she had asked fulfilled all its purposes. It was an alcove, as yet
undiscovered by the majority of the guests, leading from one of the
smaller refreshment rooms. Fawley sank onto the divan by her side.

"Why have you come to London?" he asked quietly.

"Is this bluntness part of the new diplomacy they talk about?" she
retorted.

"It is the oldest weapon man has," he declared. "It is rather effective,
you see, because it really demands a reply."

"What you really want to know," she reflected, "is whether I followed
you."

"Something of the sort. Perhaps you may have had quite different ideas.
I can assure you that so far as I am concerned--" he left the sentence
unfinished. A very rare thing with him.

"I came here expressly to see you," she suddenly confessed. "It is quite
important."

"You flatter me."

"You know all your people in Rome, of course?"

"Naturally. We Americans always know one another. We do not keep
ourselves in water-tight compartments."

"Mr. Marston is a great friend of mine," she said. "Poor man, just now
he seems so worried."

"What? Jimmie Marston?" Fawley exclaimed. "That sounds quaint to me. I
don't think I ever saw him when he did not look happy."

"He is what you call in your very expressive language a bluffer," she
answered. "I know what the matter is with him now. He is terrified lest
at any moment he may find himself in the imbroglio of a European war."

Like a flash the relaxation passed from Fawley's expression. His tone
was unchanged but he had relapsed into the stony-faced, polite, but
casual guest, performing his social duties.

"Our dear old friend," he observed, "is probably having an unfortunate
love affair. He is the only one of our diplomats who has achieved the
blue ribbon of the profession and remained a lover of women. They really
ought not to have given him Rome. It was trying him too high."

"Yet not long ago," she reminded him, "you were pursuing your vocation
there."

"Ah, but then I am not a lover of women," he declared.

"I wonder whether it matters," she went on. "I mean, I wonder whether,
outside the pages of the novelist, ambassadors ever do give away
startling secrets to the Delilahs of my sex, and whether," she added,
with a flash of her beautiful eyes, "they ever win successes with a
whisper which should cost them a lifetime's devotion."

With a murmured request for permission, he followed her example and lit
a cigarette.

"One would like to believe in that sort of thing," he reflected, "but I
do not think there is much of it nowadays. Whispers are too easily
traced back and if you once drop out of a profession, it is terribly
difficult to reëstablish yourself. We Americans, as you must have found
out for yourself, are an intensely practical people. We would not
consider any woman in the world worth the loss of our career."

She leaned back in her corner of the divan and laughed melodiously.

"What gallantry!"

There was a certain return of good humour in his kindly smile.

"Let us be thankful at any rate," he said, "that our relations are such
that we do not need to borrow the one from the other."

Her fingers played nervously with her vanity case.

"That may not last," she murmured, almost under her breath. "I did not
follow you here for nothing."

He listened to the music.

"Rather a good tune?" he suggested.

She shook her head.

"Neither did I follow you here to dance with you."

He sighed regretfully.

"The worst of even the byways of my profession," he lamented, "is that
duty so often interferes with pleasure. The Chief's wife who, as I dare
say you know, is my cousin, has given me a special list here and I have
to take the wife of the French Naval Attaché in to supper."

"I shall not keep you," she promised. "I should probably have sent you
away before now if I had not felt reluctant to say what I came to say.
Sit down for one moment and leave me when you please. It is necessary."

"Necessary?" he repeated.

She nodded. She was less at her ease than he had ever seen her. Her
exquisite fingers were playing nervously with a jewel which hung from
her neck.

"I think I told you once that I saw quite a good deal of your young
brother in Rome during the hunting season."

"Micky?"

"Yes. The one in the Embassy. Third secretary, is he not?"

Fawley nodded.

"Well, what about him?"

"He is not quite so discreet as you are."

A queer silence. The sound of the music seemed to have faded away. When
he spoke, his voice was lower than ever but there was an almost active
belligerency in his tone.

"Just what do you mean?" he demanded.

"You are going to hate me, so get ready for it."

"For the first time in my life," he muttered, "I am inclined to wish
that you were a man."

She was hardening a little. The first step was taken, at any rate.

"Well, I am not, you see, and you can do nothing about it. Here is a
scrappy note from your brother which I received a short time ago. It is
written, as you see, on the Embassy note paper."

She handed him an envelope. He drew out its contents deliberately and
read the half sheet of paper.

     Dear Princess,

     I rather fancy that I am crazy but here you are. I send you
     copies of the last three code cables from Washington to the
     Chief. I have no access to the code and I cannot see what use
     they can be to you without it, but I have kept my word.

     Don't forget our dance to-morrow night.
                              Micky.

Fawley folded up the note and returned it.

"The copies of the various cables," she remarked, "were enclosed. Rather
ingenuous of the boy, was it not, to imagine that any one who interested
themselves at all in the undercurrents of diplomacy had not the means of
decoding despatches? They were all three very unimportant, though. They
did not tell me what I wished to know."

There was a tired look in his eyes but otherwise he remained impassive.

"Yes," he agreed, "it was ingenuous. It just shows that it is not quite
fair to bring these lads fresh from college into a world where they meet
women like you. Go on, please."

"The cables," she continued, "and your brother's note, if you wish for
it, are at your disposal, in return for accurate knowledge of just one
thing."

"What is it you wish to know?" he asked.

"I wish to know why you came here to London instead of taking the
information you collected in Germany straight to Rome."

"Anything else?"

"Whether Washington and London are likely to come to any agreement."

"Upon what?"

"Some great event which even the giants fear to whisper about."

"I have seldom," he declared, rising to his feet and beckoning to a
young man who was standing upon the threshold of the anteroom, looking
in, "spent an hour in which the elements of humour and pleasure were so
admirably blended. Dickson, young fellow, you are in luck," he went on,
addressing the friend to whom he had signalled. "I am permitted to
present you to the Princess di Vasena. Put your best foot foremost, and
if you can dance as well as you used to, heaven is about to open before
you. Princess--to our next meeting."

He bowed unusually low and strolled away. She looked after him
thoughtfully as she made room for the newcomer by her side.

"You were wondering?" the latter asked.

"When that meeting will be, for one thing. Major Fawley is always so
mysterious. Shall we dance?"




CHAPTER XX


Fawley, during the course of his wanderings about the world, had years
ago decided upon London as his headquarters and occupied in his hours of
leisure a very delightful apartment in the Albany. At ten o'clock on the
evening following the ball at Dorrington House a freckled young man,
still in flying clothes, was ushered into his room by the family servant
whom he had brought with him from New York and established as caretaker.

"Mister Michael, sir," the latter announced. "Shall I serve dinner now?"

"Cocktails first," Fawley ordered, "then dinner as soon as you like. You
won't need to change, Micky. Just get out of those ghoulish-looking
clothes, have your bath and put on a dressing gown or anything you like.
That is, unless you want to go out. I am not moving myself this
evening."

The young man appeared doubtful.

"The fact is, Martin old chap," he confessed, "I have a very particular
friend over in London just now. I thought of trying to see if I could
locate her."

"The Princess di Vasena?" his brother enquired casually.

Micky stared at him.

"How the mischief did you guess?"

Fawley smiled a little sadly.

"This is not like home, you know, Micky. Here you have to picture to
yourself nations and individuals all standing on tiptoe and crazy to get
to know everybody else's business. The whole place is like a beastly
whispering gallery."

"Still, I don't see how--" the boy began, with a puzzled frown.

"Go and get your bath and dry up," his brother interrupted. "I will send
Jenkins in with a cocktail."

"Jove, that sounds good," Micky admitted. "I sha'n't be longer than
twenty minutes. Awfully decent of you to wait dinner."

* * * * *

The cocktails tasted good, as indeed they were, for granted the right
material, the American touch on the shaker is after all the most subtle
in the world. The dinner was excellent and the bottle of Pommery '14
iced to perfection was a dream. Michael Fawley, a rather loosely built
but pleasant-looking lad, drew a deep sigh of content as he lit his
pipe.

"Well, I don't know what you were in such a devil of a hurry to see me
for, Martin old chap," he observed, "but it is pretty well worth it,
even if they dock me the three days off my leave. French champagne
tastes all wrong in Italy, and though the food is good enough for a time
it's monotonous--too many _pâtés_ and knickknacks for my taste. This is
like New York again."

"You always were fond of New York, weren't you, Micky?" his brother
remarked speculatively.

"I'll say so," the boy assented. "New York and the summer life on Long
Island should be good enough for anybody."

"I'm glad."

"What the devil do you mean?" Micky demanded, with a match hovering over
the bowl of his pipe.

"I mean that I think you would be better out of this diplomatic
business, young fellow," his brother said. "I want you to post your
resignation to Washington to-night."

The match burnt out between the lad's fingers. He laid down his pipe and
stared.

"For the love of Mike, what are you talking about, Martin?"

"You are too susceptible for our job, Micky," was the grave reply. "A
little too credulous."

"Gee!" the young man muttered under his breath.

"I came across the Princess di Vasena last night," Fawley confided. "I
am not going to say hard things about her because, after all, I am in
the same job myself, and if we take it on at all, we have to go right
through with it. It happens that there is something she wants very badly
from me just now and she tried to bargain for it with a copy of those
cables you sent her, Micky."

"Are you telling me," the boy cried in horror, "that the Princess di
Vasena--"

"Come, come," Fawley interrupted. "Don't make such a tragedy of it,
Micky. It isn't worth it. I could have told you directly I heard her
name that you would have to be careful. She is in our Black Book but, of
course, that doesn't come round to the juniors. We don't think that they
ought to know everything. There is no actual mischief done, I am glad to
say, but that--to put it plainly--is not your fault."

Micky was petrified into a stark and paralysed silence. His hands were
gripping the side of the table. He was ghastly pale. Fawley leaned over
for a cigarette and lit it.

"There is just one rough word to be said, Micky," he continued, "and you
can guess how I hate to say it, but it is better to get it over. You
have offended against the code. You have to pay. It will be my business
to see that no one knows anything about it, but you must post your
resignation to Washington to-night and you must catch--let me see, I
think it is the _Homeric_ the day after to-morrow for New York."

Micky picked up his pipe, relit it and smoked for a moment or two in
silence. He came of good stock. He showed no signs of whimpering.

"You are dead right, Martin," he blundered out at last. "I cannot think
how in hell I came to do it. It was not as though she vamped me, made
any promises or that sort of thing. I was simply almighty crazy."

"Never mind, old chap," his brother remarked consolingly, "the thing is
over and done with and so, perhaps fortunately, is your diplomatic
career. You were not cut out for it. Fortunately, those cables did not
tell the Princess what she wanted to know. There is no real harm
done--only a great principle broken. I hope we will see you over this
side again, Micky, for the Walker Cup next year. You are a good lad, but
I think you are better at golf than at diplomacy."

Micky walked over to the writing table and drew out a sheet of paper.

"Dictate, Martin," he invited.

Fawley stood at the window looking out, with his hands behind him. He
knew precisely how much of his brother's composure was assumed and he
took care to keep his face averted.

     TO Q.D.A.S. DEPARTMENT 137,
                              WASHINGTON.

     MICHAEL FAWLEY THIRD SECRETARY ROME BEGS LEAVE TENDER
     RESIGNATION IMPORTANT FAMILY BUSINESS STOP CONFIRMATION BY
     LETTER FOLLOWS STOP LEAVE OF ABSENCE ALREADY GRANTED.

"Who has given me leave of absence?" the boy asked, looking up.

"Douglas Miller over here is able to deal with all these slight matters.
Your Chief, as you know, is on the high seas. I told Miller what is
quite true--that your family affairs at home were in the devil of a
mess. You have far too much money, you know, Micky, like all of us, and
he agreed to your getting out at once. There has not been a suspicion of
anything else. There never will be, unless you give it away yourself."

"And the Princess?" the boy faltered hopelessly. "Sha'n't I ever see her
again?"

Fawley made no reply for the moment, then he swung slowly round in his
chair. Micky, the personification of rather sulky boyhood, was leaning
back on the divan with his hands in his pockets.

"How old are you, Micky?" he asked.

"Twenty-two."

"The Princess is thirty-two," Fawley confided. "There is nothing in the
world to be said against her. She is noted throughout Europe as a woman
of great charm and many accomplishments. She has, also, a little more
brain than is good for her. I do not fancy that she has much time for
boys, Micky, except when she can make use of them."

"Rubbing it in, aren't you?" the other muttered.

"For your own good, young fellow."

"I can look after myself," the boy grumbled.

"On Long Island, yes. At Newport, very likely. At any petting party at
Bar Harbor I think you might be a star. But over here, you are a trifle
out of the game, Micky. We experienced ones have to don our armour when
we come up against women like Elida."

"Hello!" Micky exclaimed. "Do you call her by her Christian name?"

"A slip of the tongue," Fawley confessed. "All the same, we have met
quite a number of times lately. I don't mind telling you, Micky, in
confidence, that she is the only woman who has ever tempted me to wish
that I had never taken on my particular branch of work."

The younger man whistled softly. He was rather a cub in some matters but
he was honestly fond of his brother.

"Why don't you chuck it and marry her, then?" he asked.

Fawley smiled a little sadly.

"Mine is just one of those professions, Micky," he said, "which is
pretty difficult to chuck. When you are once in it, you are in it for
good or for evil. If you once leave the subterranean places and come out
into the sunshine, there are risks. People do not forgive."

"Have you been looking for any particular sort of trouble, Martin?"

"Perhaps so. At any rate, I have this consolation. The goal towards
which I have been working for years is worth while. Any man in the world
would feel justified in devoting his whole life, every energy of his
brain, every drop of blood in his body towards its accomplishment, yet I
cannot even make up my own mind whether my last few months' energies
have been the energies of an honourable man. I should hate to be
arraigned at any court in which my conscience would be the judge."

"That damned Quaker streak in our family cropping up," the young man
muttered sympathetically.

"Perhaps so," his brother agreed. "After all, it is the old question of
whether the end can justify the means. Soon I shall be face to face with
the results which will tell me that; then I shall know whether I shall
ever be able to rid myself of the fetters or not."

"I wonder," Micky speculated, "what makes you so eager to get out of
harness. You were always the worker in our family."

"The same damned silly reason, I suppose, which has brought your
diplomatic career to an end," Fawley answered, with a note of savagery
in his tone. "Within thirty seconds of knowing Elida di Vasena, I saved
her from committing a murder. Within five minutes I had the evidence in
my hand which would have sent her out to be shot as a spy, and within
ten minutes I knew that I cared for her more than any other woman I have
ever known."

"Does she know?" Micky asked, with a note of reverence in his tone.

"Was there ever a woman who did not know when she had succeeded in
making a fool of a man?" Fawley rejoined bitterly. "I have not told her,
if that is what you mean. I doubt whether I ever shall tell her."

Jenkins presented himself upon the threshold. He stood on one side as he
opened the door.

"The Princess di Vasena, sir," he announced.




CHAPTER XXI


It was evident from the moment of her entrance that Elida was not
entirely her usual composed self. She was breathing rapidly as though
she had run up the stairs. Her eyes darted restlessly around the room.
The sight of Micky in no way discomposed her. She drew a sigh of relief,
as though the thing which she had feared to see was absent. She nodded
to the young man as she held out her hand to Fawley.

"You see that my brother is here to answer for his sins," he remarked.

She sank into a chair.

"Poor Micky!" she exclaimed. "Some day I hope he will forgive me when he
understands."

"Oh, I forgive you all right," Micky conceded. "I was just an ass.
Didn't quite understand what I was doing, I suppose."

"Do any of us?" she lamented. "Please give me a cigarette, Martin. You
have, perhaps, some brandy. I have been greatly disturbed and I am not
well."

Fawley produced cigarettes, touched the bell and ordered the liqueur.
Elida took one sip and set the glass down. She looked half fearfully at
her host.

"The little girl of Krust--Greta--she has not been here?"

"Not that I know of," Fawley assured her. "I have not seen her since I
left Berlin."

"Nor Krust? Nor Maurice von Thal?"

"Not one of them."

She seemed a trifle relieved. She threw open her cloak a little and
tapped a cigarette upon the table. Her eyes were still full of trouble.

"I am almost afraid to ask my next question," she confessed. "Pietro
Patoni?"

Fawley shook his head. This time he was bewildered but grave. If Patoni
was in London, there might indeed be trouble.

"I have not seen him," he assured Elida, "since I was in Rome."

"I know the fellow," Micky put in. "Nephew of a holy cardinal, with eyes
like beads. Looked like a cross between a stork and a penguin."

Elida smiled despite her agitation.

"Kindly remember that he is my cousin," she said. "Anyhow, I am thankful
that he has not found you out yet, Martin. I have word that he is in
London, and if he is in London, it is because he is looking for you. And
if Krust is in London, or any of his emissaries, it is because they are
looking for you. And if Greta or Nina are here, they are here for the
same reason."

"Well, my name is in the directory," Fawley observed, "both here and in
New York. I am perfectly easy to find. What do they want with me?"

"I think," Elida confided, "that they all want to kill you--especially
Pietro."

"He looks just that sort of pleasant fellow," Fawley remarked.

"He hates all of us Americans," Micky grumbled. "He was never even
decently civil to me."

Elida took another sip of her _fine_, lit a second cigarette and
relaxed. A slight tinge of colour came into her cheeks. Her lovely eyes
had lost their tiredness.

"It is not so much that he hates Americans," she explained. "He resents
their interference in European politics. He has a very clear idea of how
the destinies of Italy should be shaped and just now there are rumours
passing across Europe which are stupefying everybody. I came over myself
to see if I could learn anything of the truth. I am ashamed of what I
did but I wanted so much to know."

Her eyes were pleading with Fawley's. He avoided their direct challenge.

"To revert to this question of Prince Patoni and his antipathies," he
said, "I should not think that America herself was very keen about any
individual interference upon this side."

"Please do not try to mislead me any more," Elida begged. "I understand
that I may not have your confidence--perhaps I do not deserve it--but
you need not try to throw dust in my eyes. There is something else I
have to say."

She glanced at Micky and hesitated. He rose to his feet.

"I will be toddling off, Martin," he announced. "Good night, Princess."

"No ill will, Mister Micky?" she asked, smiling. "Those cables were
terribly uninteresting. They did me no good whatever."

He made a wry face.

"Sorry," he rejoined gruffly. "They didn't give me much of a boost!"

She waited patiently until the door was closed behind him then she
turned almost hysterically to Fawley.

"Why have you not reported to Berati?" she cried breathlessly. "Tell me
what has brought you here? Do you know that you are in danger?"

"No, I don't think I realised that," he answered. "One always has to
watch one's step, of course. I did not go back to Berati because I had
not finished my job."

"What part of it have you to finish here in England?" she demanded.

"I had most of my clothes stolen in Berlin," he confided. "I had to come
and visit my tailor."

"Is that sort of thing worth while with me?" she protested. "Do you not
understand that I have come here to warn you?"

He smiled.

"This is London," he told her. "I am in sanctuary."

"Do you really believe that?" she asked wonderingly.

"Of course I do."

Elida shook her head. She seemed very tired. There was a note of despair
in her tone.

"That man Berati is always right," she lamented. "He told me that the
ideal Secret Service man or woman did not exist. They are all either too
brave or too cowardly. If you have no fear, you have no caution. If you
have no caution, you are to be caught by the heels. Very well. For you,
perhaps, that may be nothing. Life must end with all of us, but for your
work it is finality. The knowledge you have acquired is lost. You are a
failure."

"You really have a great gift of intelligence, Elida," Fawley declared,
in a noncommittal tone.

"It does not amount to intelligence," she objected. "It is common sense.
Very well. Let us continue. You think that you are safe in London, when
you have failed to report to Berati, when there are rumours going about
in Rome that you are not to be trusted, that you have all the time been
working for a cause of your own, concerning which no one knows anything.
Italy has sent over her spies. They are here now. In Germany, they have
the same distrust. Krust has given word that you are to be removed and
Krust has more assassins at his back than any man in the world. Maurice
von Thal swore only three nights ago that this next time he would not
fail. Even Behrling has doubts of you! In France it is almost as bad.
They suspect you of double espionage and of selling some great secret of
theirs of which even I know nothing."

"It all sounds very unpleasant," Fawley murmured under his breath.

She took a cigarette from the box. Her slim beautiful fingers were
shaking so that she lit it with difficulty. Fawley bent over her and
steadied her hand. She looked up at him pathetically.

"Now I shall qualify for the executioner's bullet," she went on. "There
is one of Berati's spies outside on the pavement at the present moment.
Another one has applied for a position as valet in this building. I do
not say that either of these men has instructions to proceed to
extremes. I do not know. This I do know. They are to keep a faithful
record of your movements hour by hour and minute by minute. Patoni, on
the other hand, scoffs at such mildness. He, like Maurice, has sworn to
kill you on sight. Krust's men have the same instructions and they are
clever--diabolically clever. You will see that the situation is not
wholly agreeable, my friend."

"It certainly is not," was the grim reply.

"So now again I ask you," Elida continued, "what are you doing in
London, Martin, when you should be in Rome? You acquired a great deal
of information in Berlin which Berati needs. You are his man. What are
you doing in London?"

"That I cannot tell you just yet," Fawley said gravely. "But, Elida,
believe me when I tell you that I am not working for the harm of Italy
or Germany or France. I may not have kept my word to the letter with any
one of these countries, or rather with their representatives to whom I

have talked, but I have been aiming at great things. If the great things
come, it does not matter what happens to me. And they may come. In the
meantime, I can do so little. A single false movement and calamity might
follow."

"You speak in riddles," Elida faltered, "but I trust you, Martin. None
of the others do. I trust you, dear Martin. If I could help--if I could
save you--I would give my life!"

For a moment he took her lightly and reverently, yet with a faint touch
of the lover, into his arms. The worn look passed from her face. Her
eyes suddenly lost their terrified gleam, a tremor of joy seemed to pass
through her body. He drew quietly away but he kept her hand in his.

"Tell me," he asked, "are you here officially?"

She shook her head.

"They do not trust me any more," she confided.

"Then why are you here?" he persisted.

She lifted her eyes. Since those last few minutes they were so soft and
sweet, so full of expression, that at that moment she was entirely and
utterly convincing.

"Because I am such a big fool. Because I like to see you. Because I knew
that you were in danger on every side. I had to tell you. You must have
thought me such an ordinary little adventuress," she said wistfully.
"You will forgive me for that? All that I wanted to know I wanted to
know for your sake--that I might help you--"

The door was suddenly half flung, half kicked open. Micky, in his
pyjamas, swayed upon the threshold. All his fresh colour had gone. He
was gripping the wainscoting as though for support. There was an ugly
splash of colour on his chest.

"Fellow in your room, Martin," he faltered. "Room--Jenkins told me I was
to sleep. Must have been--hiding somewhere."

Fawley half carried, half dragged his brother to a couch. Elida sprang
to the bell and kept her finger upon it.

"Did you see the fellow, Micky?" Fawley asked.

"Looked like a foreigner. He came out from behind the wardrobe--only a
few feet away--and shot at me just as I was getting into bed."

Fawley gave swift orders to Jenkins, who was already in the room. Elida
had possessed herself of a cloth and was making a bandage.

"There will be a doctor here in a minute, Micky," his brother said.
"Close your eyes. I must have a look. Elida is making a bandage for
you. Missed your heart by a thirtieth of an inch, thank God," he went
on. "Don't faint, old chap. I can't give you a drink, but I am going to
rub some brandy on your lips. God, what a fool I was to let you sleep in
my room!"

"An undersized little rat," Micky gasped, with feeble indignation. "I
could have squeezed the life out of him if he'd given me the chance. He
turned out the lights and stole up behind. What are you in trouble with
the Dagos for, Martin?"

"You think he was a Dago, then?"

"Sure. What about the police?"

Fawley shook his head.

"We ought to send for them, I suppose, but it is not altogether
etiquette in the profession."

"Am I in on one of your jobs, then, Martin?" the boy asked, with a weak
grin.

"Looks like it," his brother assented. "I'm damned sorry. It was
Jenkins' fault, putting you in there. You were not prepared, of course."

"Well, I didn't think it was necessary to hold a gun in your right hand
and untie your tie with the left in London," Micky grumbled.

Then the door swung open. The man with the bald head, the beady eyes and
the long jaw stood upon the threshold. He seemed to grasp the situation
in a moment. With an impatient turn of the shoulder, he threw back the
long evening cape he was wearing. His hand flashed out just too late. He
was looking into the muzzle of Fawley's steadily held and
vicious-looking revolver.

"That won't do here, Patoni," the latter said, in a voice such as no one
in the room had ever heard him use before. "Drop your gun. Before I
count three, mind. There's going to be none of that sort of thing.
One--two--"

Patoni's weapon fell smoothly on to the carpet. Fawley kicked it towards
Elida, who stooped and picked it up. From outside they heard the rattle
of the lift.

"That's the doctor," Fawley announced. "Micky, can you get back to your
room? You will find Jenkins there to help you."

"I guess so," the young man replied, moving unsteadily towards the door.

"An accident, remember," Fawley continued. "You were unpacking your gun
and it went off--shaking a cartridge out or anything you like. The
doctor won't be too particular. He leaves that sort of thing to the
police and we don't want the police in on this."

There were hurried footsteps outside and the door was thrown open.
Jenkins was there, the doctor, the liftman. Micky staggered towards
them.

"Take Mr. Michael into my room, Jenkins," Fawley ordered. "Let the
doctor examine him there and report. I have looked at the wound. I do
not think it is dangerous. Close the door and leave us."

Fawley's voice was not unduly raised but some quality in it seemed to
compel obedience. They all disappeared. Elida, obeying a gesture from
him, closed the door. He pointed to a chair.

"Sit down, Prince," he directed.




CHAPTER XXII


Fawley, gentle though he was in his methods, was running no risks. He
seated himself at his desk, his revolver lying within a few inches of
his fingers. Patoni was a yard or so away towards the middle of the
room. Elida was on Fawley's left.

"What do you want with me, Prince Patoni?" Fawley asked.

The Italian's eyes were full of smouldering anger.

"A great deal," he answered. "General Berati has sent me here with an
order which I have in my pocket--you can see it when you choose--that
you accompany me at once to Rome. Furthermore, I am here to know what my
cousin the Princess Elida is doing in London, and particularly what she
is doing in your room at this hour of the night."

"That is my own affair entirely," Elida declared. "He is an impertinent
fellow, this cousin of mine," she went on, turning to Fawley. "He
follows me about. He persecutes me. In Rome it is not permitted. There
are too many of my own people there. I have a brother, if I need a
protector."

"Is it not true," he demanded, "that you were once engaged to me?"

"For four days," she answered. "Then I discovered that I hated your
type. Proceed with your business with Major Fawley. Leave me out of it,
if you please."

Patoni's eyes flamed for a moment with malignant fire. He turned his
shoulder upon her and faced Fawley. For the moment he had lost his guise
of the cardinal's nephew, the politician's secretary. His rasping tone,
his drawn-up frame once more recalled the cavalry officer.

"I have told you, Major Fawley," he said, "that I have in my pocket an
order from General Berati requiring your immediate presence in Rome. I
have an aeroplane waiting at Heston now. I should be glad to know
whether it would be convenient for you to leave at dawn."

"Most inconvenient," Fawley answered. "Besides, I hate the early morning
air. Why does the General want me before my work is finished?"

"He demands to know what part of the work he entrusted you with concerns
England?"

"He will find that easy to understand later on," was the smooth
rejoinder.

"I am not talking about later on," Patoni declared harshly. "I am
talking about now. I represent General Berati. You can see my mandate if
you will. I am your Chief. What are you doing in England when you should
have taken the information you gained in Berlin direct to Rome?"

"Working still for the good of your country," Fawley assured him.

"No one has asked you to work independently for the good of our
country," was the swift retort. "You have been asked to obey orders, to
study certain things and report on them. Not one of these concerns
England. You are not supposed to employ any initiative. You are supposed
to work to orders."

"I must have misunderstood the position," Fawley observed. "I never work
in that way. I preserve my own independence always. Was Berati not
satisfied with me for my work on the frontier?"

"It was fine work," Patoni admitted grudgingly. "To show you that I am
not prejudiced, I will tell you something. Five men we have sent one
after the other to check the details of your work, to confirm the
startling information you submitted as to the calibre of the
anti-aircraft guns and to report further upon the object of the
subterranean work which has been carried to our side of the frontier.
One by one they disappeared. Not one of the five has returned alive!"

"It was murder to send them," Fawley remarked. "I do not say that they
might not have done as well as I did if they had been the first, but
unfortunately I did not get clean away, and after that the French
garrison redoubled their guards."

"The matter of the frontier is finished and done with," Patoni declared.
"I have no wish to sit here talking. Here are the General's
instructions."

He drew a paper from his pocket and smoothed it out in front of Fawley.
The latter glanced at it and pushed it away.

"Quite all right, beyond a doubt," he admitted. "The only thing is that
I am not coming with you."

"You refuse?" Patoni demanded, his voice shaking with anger.

"I refuse," Fawley reiterated. "I am a nervous man and I have learnt to
take care of myself. When you introduce yourself into my apartment,
following close upon an attempt at assassination by one of your
countrymen, I find myself disinclined to remain alone in your company
during that lonely flight over the Alps, or anywhere else, in fact."

"This will mean trouble," Patoni warned him.

"What more serious trouble can it mean," Fawley asked, "than that you
should commence your mission to me--if ever you had one--by having one
of your myrmidons steal into my bedroom and nearly murder my brother,
who was unfortunately occupying it in my place? That is a matter which
has to be dealt with between you and me, Patoni."

The Italian's right hand groped for a minute to the spot where the hilt
of his sword might have been.

"That is a private affair," he said. "I am ready to deal with it at any
time. I am a Patoni and we are in the direct line with the Di Rezcos.
The presence of my cousin in your rooms is a matter to be dealt with at
once."

"It will be dealt with by ordering you out of them," Fawley retorted, as
he pressed the bell.

Patoni sprang to his feet. He looked more than ever like some long, lean
bird of prey.

"This is an insult!" he exclaimed.

Elida rose from her chair and moved over between the two men. It was her
cousin whom she addressed.

"No brawling in my presence, if you please," she insisted. "You have put
yourself hopelessly in the wrong, Pietro. A would-be assassin cannot
claim to be treated as a man of honour."

"A would-be assassin!" he exclaimed furiously.

"I will repeat the words, if you choose," she went on coldly. "I too am
well served by my entourage. I know quite well that you arrived in this
country with two members of Berati's guard and that it was you yourself
who gave the orders for the attack upon Major Fawley."

"You are a traitress!" he declared.

"You may think what you will of me," she rejoined, "so long as you leave
me alone."

"Am I to suffer the indignity, then, of finding you here alone with this
American at this hour of the night?" Patoni demanded harshly.

"So far as you are concerned, there is no indignity," Elida replied.
"You are not concerned. I am past the age of duennas. I do as I choose."

Jenkins presented himself in answer to the bell.

"Show this gentleman out," his master instructed.

The man bowed and stood by the opened door. Patoni turned to his cousin.

"You will leave with me, Elida."

She shook her head.

"I shall leave when I am ready and I shall choose my own escort," she
replied. "It will not be you!"

Patoni was very still and very quiet. He moved a few steps towards the
door. Then he turned round.

"I shall report to my Chief what I have seen and heard," he announced.
"I think that it will cure him of employing any more mercenaries in the
affairs of our country."

"I hope that at the same time he will be cured of sending offensive
envoys," Fawley concluded, with a valedictory wave of the hand.




CHAPTER XXIII


The Right Honourable Willoughby Johns, the very harassed Prime Minister
of England, fitted on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and studied the
atlas which lay before him.

"Take a sharp pencil, Malcolm," he invited his secretary, "and trace the
frontier for me from the sea upwards."

The latter promptly obeyed. The map was one which had been compiled in
sections and the particular one now spread out stretched from Nice to
Bordighera.

"You will find it a little irregular, sir," he warned his chief. "The
road from the sea here mounts to the official building on the main
thoroughfare in a fairly straight line, but after that in the mountains
it becomes very complicated. This will doubtless be the excuse the
French authorities will offer in the matter of the subterranean
passages."

"And the roads?"

"There is a first-class road on the French side from a place called
Sospel running in this direction, sir. The whole range of hills on the
right-hand side is strongly fortified, but our military report, which I
was studying this afternoon at the War Office with General Burns, still
gives the situation here entirely in favour of an attacking force.
Fawley's latest information, however," the secretary went on, dropping
his voice, "changes the situation entirely. The new French defences,
starting from this bulge here, and which comprise some of the finest
subterranean work known, strike boldly across the frontier and now
command all the slopes likely to be dangerous. If a copy of Fawley's
plan should reach Italy, I imagine that there would be war within
twenty-four hours."

"Has Fawley reported any fresh movements of troops in the
neighbourhood?"

"Major Fawley himself, as you know, sir, has been in Berlin for some
short time," Malcolm replied. "So far as our ordinary sources of
information are concerned, we gather that everything on the Italian side
is extraordinarily quiet. The French, on the other hand, have been
replacing a lot of their five-year-old guns with new Creuzots at the
places marked, and trains with locked wagons have been passing through
Cagnes, where we have had a man stationed, every hour through the night
for very nearly a fortnight. So far as we know, however, there has been
no large concentration of troops."

The Prime Minister studied the atlas for some minutes and then pushed it
on one side.

"Seems to me there is some mystery about all this," he observed. "Bring
me Grey's textbook upon Monaco."

"I have it in my pocket, sir," the young man confided, producing the
small volume. "You will see that the French have practically blotted out
Monaco as an independent State. There is no doubt that they will treat
the territory in any way they wish. The old barracks at the top of Mont
Agel, which used to contain quite a formidable number of men and a
certain strength in field artillery, has been evacuated and everything
has been pushed forward towards the frontier. It would seem that the
whole military scheme of defence has been changed."

The Prime Minister leaned back in his chair a little wearily.

"Telephone over to the War Office and see if General Burns is still
there," he directed. "Say I should like to see him."

"Very good, sir. Is there anything more I can do?"

"Not at present. The call to Washington is through, I suppose?"

"You should be connected in half an hour, sir."

"Very well. Send in General Burns the moment he arrives."

Henry Malcolm, the doyen of private secretaries, took his leave. For
another twenty minutes the Prime Minister studied the atlas with its
pencilled annotations and the pile of memoranda which had been left upon
his desk. A queer, startling situation! No one could make out quite
what it meant. Willoughby Johns, as he pored over the mass of
miscellaneous detail which had been streaming in for the last
forty-eight hours, was inclined to wonder whether after all there was
anything in it. Another war at a moment's notice! The idea seemed
idiotic. He took a turn or two up and down the room, with its worn but
comfortable furniture, its spacious, well-filled bookshelves. His
familiar environment seemed in some way a tonic against these sinister
portents...There was a tap at the door. Malcolm presented himself once
more.

"General Burns was at the Foreign Office, sir," he announced. "He will
be around in five minutes."

The Prime Minister nodded. He glanced at his watch. Still only seven
o'clock. A telephone message from Washington to wait for and he had been
up at six. He listened to the subdued roar of traffic in the Buckingham
Palace Road and the honking of taxis in the park. Men going home after
their day's work, without a doubt, home to their wives and children. Or
perhaps calling at the club for a cheerful rubber of bridge and a whisky
and soda. What a life! What peace and rest for harassed nerves! Dash it
all, he would have a whisky and soda himself! He rang the bell twice. A
solemn but sympathetic-looking butler presented himself.

"Philpott," his master ordered, "a whisky and soda--some of the best
whisky you have--and Schweppe's soda water--no siphons."

"Very good, sir," the man replied, rather startled. "Would you care for
a biscuit as well, sir?"

"Certainly. Two or three biscuits."

"Mr. Malcolm was saying that you had cancelled the dinner with the
Cordonas Company to-night, sir."

"Quite right," Willoughby Johns assented. "No time for public dinners
just now. I will have something here later on after the call from
Washington has been through."

The man took his departure only to make very prompt reappearance. The
whisky and soda was excellent. The Prime Minister drank it slowly and
appreciatively. He made up his mind that he would have one every night
at this hour. He hated tea. It was many hours since lunch, at which he
had drunk one glass of light hock. Of course he needed sustenance. All
the doctors, too, just now were preaching alcohol, including his own.
Nevertheless, he felt a little guilty when General Burns was ushered in.

"Come in, General," he welcomed him. "Glad I caught you. Take a chair."

Burns, the almost typical soldier, a man of quick movements and brusque
speech, took the chair to which he was motioned.

"My time is always at your disposal, sir," he said. "I very seldom leave
before nine, anyway."

The Prime Minister crumpled up his last piece of biscuit and swallowed
it, finished his whisky and soda, and stretched himself out with the air
of a man refreshed.

"What is all this trouble down south, Burns?" he asked.

The General smiled sardonically.

"We leave it to you others to discover that, sir," he replied. "We only
pass on the externals to you. I don't like the look of things myself but
there may be nothing in it."

"You started the scare," the Prime Minister reminded him reproachfully.

"I beg your pardon, sir, I would not call it that," the other protested.
"What I did was to send in a report to the Foreign Office, as it was my
duty to do, that there were at the present moment in Monte Carlo and
Nice a larger number of Secret Service men of various nationalities than
I have ever known drawn towards one spot since 1914."

"Who are they? Is there any report of their activities, further than
these formal chits and despatches?" Willoughby Johns asked.

"They scarcely exist by name, sir. There have been seven men from the
eastern section of the newly established Italian Secret Service staying
in Monte Carlo at once. They mingled freely with every one and gambled
at the tables, but recently five of them are said to have disappeared
completely. There have been various reports about them but nothing
authentic."

"What do you imagine yourself has happened to them?" the Prime Minister
enquired.

The General shrugged his shoulders.

"My opinion, sir, is," he said, "that they got lost in the mountains and
fell into the hands of people who have an ugly way with strangers. They
take their risks, of course, but no one has complained. Then there is a
Frenchman there, Marquet. One of the cleverest agents who ever breathed.
He sits in an easy-chair in the Hôtel de France lounge practically the
whole of the day, but somehow or other he gets to know things. Then
there were two Germans--Krust, the great industrialist, who is supposed
to be a supporter of the Crown Prince, and another one whom I do not
know. We have our own two men; one of them has a villa and never leaves
Monte Carlo and the other resides in Nice. Finally, if I may mention his
name, there is the American, Major Fawley, who is reported to have been
drowned at the entrance to the harbour but whom we have heard of since
in Germany. He would be a useful man to talk to if we could get hold of
him."

"Ah, yes, Major Fawley," the Prime Minister reflected.

"Fawley's report about affairs in Berlin, if he ever got there, would be
extraordinarily interesting," the General remarked.

The Prime Minister looked vague.

"I thought it was one of the peculiarities of the man," he observed,
"that he never made reports."

"He is a remarkable traveller. One meets him in the most unexpected
places. He believes in _viva voce_ reports."

The Prime Minister stroked his chin.

"I suppose you know that he is in London, Burns?" he asked.

"Only half an hour ago. We were not, as a matter of fact, looking out
for him. We were interested in the wanderings of the Princess di Vasena
and we tracked her down to Major Fawley's rooms at the Albany."

"Your men are good workers," the Prime Minister approved.

"Espionage in London is easy enough. You must appreciate the fact,
though, sir, that to have a man like Fawley working outside the
department, who insists upon maintaining this isolation, makes it rather
difficult for us."

"That is all very well, General," the Prime Minister declared
impatiently. "Personally, I hate Secret Service work, but we have to
make use of it. We are up against the gravest of problems. No one can
make out what is going on in Rome or in Berlin. We are compelled to
employ every source of information. Fawley is invaluable to us but you
know the situation. We are under great obligations to him and he has
done as much, without the slightest reward or encouragement, to bring
about a mutual understanding between Washington and Downing Street as
was possible for any human being. He works for the love of the work. He
will accept no form of reward. All that he asks is freedom from
surveillance so that he can work in his own fashion. I admit that the
position must seem strange to you others but I am afraid that we cannot
alter it."

The General rose thoughtfully to his feet. The Prime Minister, whose
nerves were a little on edge, waved him back again.

"It is no good taking this matter the wrong way, Burns," he said. "We
are having far more trouble with M.2.XX. at Scotland Yard than with you.
There was a fight of some sort in Major Fawley's rooms at the Albany
last night. His young brother got rather badly wounded. Fawley simply
insists upon it that the whole affair be hushed up, yet we know that in
that room were the Princess Elida di Vasena, Prince Patoni, her
cousin--the private secretary of Berati, mark you--and Fawley. To add to
the complication, the young man, who was third secretary at Rome, has
resigned from the Service and is going back to New York to-morrow, if he
is well enough to travel. The Sub-commissioner is furious with the Home
Secretary and the Home Secretary complains to us. Nothing matters. We
have given our word to Fawley and we have to keep it."

"Why?" the General asked calmly.

The Prime Minister smiled.

"I don't blame you for asking that question, General," he went on, "and
I will give you an honest reply. Because I myself, and the two others
who have to bear the brunt of affairs during these days of fierce
anxiety, have come to one definite conclusion. Fawley is the only man in
Europe to-day who can save us from war."

Malcolm made a hurried entrance.

"The call to Washington is through, sir, in your private cabinet," he
announced.

General Burns saluted and took his leave. The Prime Minister hurried to
the telephone.

* * * * *

It was ten minutes later when a furious ringing of the bell in the
small room sent Malcolm hurrying in to his chief. The Prime Minister
was restlessly pacing up and down the room. There seemed to be new
lines in his face. He was haggard as though with a sense of fresh
responsibilities. Yet with it all there was a glow of exaltation. He was
like a man in the grip of mighty thoughts. He looked at Malcolm for a
moment, as the latter entered the room and closed the door behind him,
almost vaguely.

"You have spoken to Washington, sir?"

The Prime Minister nodded.

"Malcolm," he instructed his secretary, "I want Fawley here within half
an hour."

"Fawley, sir?" the young man repeated anxiously. "But you know our
agreement? As a matter of fact, the house is being watched at this
minute. London seems to have become as full of spies as any place on the
Continent could be. Would it not be best, sir--"

"I must see Fawley myself and at once," the Prime Minister said firmly.
"If an armed escort is necessary, provide it. Do you think that you can
find him?"

"There will be no difficulty about that, sir," the young man replied
doubtfully. "He keeps us informed of his movements from hour to hour. If
this Prince Patoni, the envoy from Italy, discovers that Fawley is in
direct communication with you, though, sir, it might lead to any sort of
trouble," Malcolm said gravely.

"It is worth the risk," was the dogged reply. "Have a squad of police,
if you want them, and clear the street. Anderson will see to that for
you. Fawley can arrive as an ordinary dinner guest in a taxicab, but
whatever happens, Fawley must come."

"It shall be arranged, sir," Malcolm promised.




CHAPTER XXIV


After all, it seemed as though a great deal of fuss had been made about
nothing. There were certainly half a dozen curious strollers in Downing
Street but the small cordon of policemen around the entrance to Number
Ten awakened no more than ordinary comment. People of international
importance were passing through those portals by day and by night and in
these disturbed times an escort was not unusual. Fawley himself, dressed
in the clubman's easy garb of short jacket and black tie, with a black
slouch hat pulled over his eyes and a scarf around his throat, was quite
unrecognisable as he jumped lightly from the taxi, passed the fare up to
the driver and stepped swiftly across the pavement and through the
already opened door. He was ushered at once into Malcolm's room. The two
men, who were old friends, shook hands.

"Any idea what's wrong?" Fawley asked.

"Very likely nothing at all," Malcolm replied. "I have spoken to
Washington twice to-day and I gathered there was something stirring in
our department. They wanted the Prime Minister himself at seven o'clock.
The Chief spoke and came out from the box looking rather like a man who
had had a shock and yet who had found something exciting at the back of
it all. He insisted upon breaking all rules and seeing you here himself
at once. I hope you did not mind the cavalcade. It was my job to get you
here safely, at all costs."

"I generally find I am safer alone," Fawley confided, "but I didn't mind
at all. The others dropped out at the corner of the street and made a
sort of semicircular drive down. Queer days we are living in, Malcolm."

There was a knock at the door. The butler entered.

"The Prime Minister asks if you have dined, sir," he said, addressing
Fawley. "If not, will you join him in a simple dinner in ten minutes."

"Delighted," Fawley assented.

"I was to ask you to entertain Major Fawley for that time, sir," the man
went on, turning to Malcolm.

"You and I will do the entertaining together, Philpott," the secretary
replied, with a smile.

"Dry Martinis, sir?" the man asked.

"A couple each and strong," Malcolm specified. "This has been a wearing
day. And bring some more cigarettes, Philpott."

"This sounds like good news," Fawley remarked, installing himself in an
armchair. "The cocktails, I mean. Any late news from Berlin?"

"We had a message through half an hour ago," Malcolm confided. "The
city is still in a turmoil but Behrling seems to have got them going. I
think the Chief hit it on the nail at the luncheon to-day when he
remarked that he could not make up his mind whether a weak and disrupted
Germany for a time or a strong and united country gave us the best hope
of peace."

Fawley sipped his cocktail appreciatively. He made no comment on the
other's remarks. Just at the moment he had nothing to say about Germany,
even to the secretary of the British Prime Minister.

"Good show at the American Embassy last night," he observed.

"I didn't go," Malcolm regretted. "The Chief just now is too restless
for me to get away anywhere and feel comfortable. I cannot help feeling
that there is something of terrific importance in the air, of which even
I know nothing."

The two men smoked on for a minute or two in silence. Then Fawley asked
his host a question.

"Are those fellows outside waiting to ride home with me?"

"I'm afraid so," Malcolm assented. "You see, the Chief gave special
orders to M.I.2. and they brought Scotland Yard into it. We know how you
hate it, but the Chief is just as obstinate, and it seems you must be
kept alive at all hazards for the next week or so."

"They didn't stop a mad Italian having a go at me last night," Fawley
grumbled. "Got my brother instead. Not much harm done, I'm glad to say.
What sort of an Italian colony is yours here?"

"No idea," Malcolm confessed. "This sort of work that you go in for is
right outside my line. From what I have heard, though, I believe they
are a pretty tough lot. Not as bad as in your country, though."

"They don't need to be," Fawley smiled. "As a rule, I find it pretty
easy to slip about but it seems I am not popular in Rome just now."

"These fellows to-night didn't annoy you in any way, I hope?" Malcolm
asked.

"Not in the least. I dare say, as a matter of fact, they were very
useful. I don't take much notice of threats as a rule but I had word on
the telephone that they were laying for me."

"Official?"

"I think not. I think it was a private warning."

The butler reopened the door.

"The Prime Minister is down, sir," he announced. "If you will allow me,
I will show you the way to the small dining room."

"See you later," Malcolm observed.

"I hope so," Fawley answered. "By the by, I sha'n't be sorry to have you
keep those fellows to-night, Malcolm. First time in my life I've felt
resigned to having nursemaids in attendance but there is a spot of
trouble about."

Malcolm's forehead wrinkled in surprise. He had known Fawley several
years but this was the first time he had ever heard him utter any
apprehension of the sort.

"I'll pass word along to the sergeant," he promised. "They would not
have been going in any case, though, until they had seen you safely
home."

Fawley had the rare honour of dining alone with the Prime Minister. As
between two men of the world, their conversation could scarcely be
called brilliant but, when dinner was over and at the host's orders
coffee and port simultaneously placed upon the table, the Prime Minister
unburdened himself.

"You are a man of experience, Fawley," he began. "You would call things
on the Continent pretty critical, wouldn't you?"

"Never more so," Fawley assented. "If any one of five men whom Italy
sent out to the frontier had got back to Rome alive, there would have
been war at the present moment."

The Prime Minister was allowing himself a glass of port and he sipped it
thoughtfully.

"It's a funny thing," he went on. "We have ambassadors in every country
of Europe and never, by any chance, do they make any reports to us which
are of the slightest interest. When anything goes wrong, they are the
most surprised men in the world. They seem always the last to foresee
danger."

"You must remember," Fawley pointed out, "they are not allowed a Secret
Service department. The last person to hear of trouble as a rule is, as
you say, the ambassador to the country concerned. What can you do about
it, though?"

"Not much, I'm afraid," the other sighed. "Take our friend at Rome. It
was only last night we had a long rigmarole from the Embassy there. Lord
Rollins said he had never been more deeply impressed with the earnest
desire of a certain great man for European peace. All the time we know
that Berati has the draft of a treaty ready for the signature of
whichever party in Germany comes out on top."

"Berati very nearly made a mistake there," Fawley remarked. "Still, I
don't know that he was to be blamed. There were a few hours when I was
in Berlin when the chances were all in favour of a monarchy. Von
Salzenburg and his puppet played the game badly or they would have won,
all right."

"Shall I tell you why I sent for you to-night?" the Prime Minister asked
abruptly.

"I wish you would," was the very truthful and earnest response.

"You have your finger upon the situation in Germany and in Rome. You are
not so well informed about the Quai d'Orsay, perhaps, but you know
something about that. You know that war is simmering. Can you think of
any means by which trouble can be postponed for, say, one week?"

"You mean," Fawley said, "keep things as they are for a week?"

"Yes."

"And after that week?"

"Rawson is on his way over. He is coming on the new fast liner and there
is a question of sending a plane to meet him. You know what this means,
Fawley."

"My God!"

There was a brief and curious silence. Fawley, the man of unchanging
expression, the man whose thoughts no one could ever divine, was
suddenly agitated. The light of the visionary so often somnolent in his
eyes was back again. His face was transfigured. He was like a prophet
who has suddenly been given a glimpse of the heaven he has preached...
The Prime Minister was a man of impulses. He leaned over and laid his
hand in friendly fashion for a moment on the other's shoulder.

"I know what this must mean to you, Fawley," he said. "The long and
short of it is--so far as I could gather--the President is coming in. He
is going to adopt your scheme. What we have to do now is to keep things
going until Rawson arrives."

"How much of this can be told to--say--three men in Europe?" Fawley
asked.

"I have thought of that," the Prime Minister replied. "You know that I
am not an optimist--I have been coupled with the Gloomy Dean before
now--yet I tell you that from a single word the President let fall this
evening, they have made up their minds. America is going to make a
great sacrifice. She is going to depart from her principles. She is
going to join hands with us. It will be the launching of your scheme,
Fawley...Don't think that your labours are over, though. It is up to
you to stop trouble until Rawson arrives. On that day we shall
communicate simultaneously with France, Italy and Germany. Until that
day what has to be done must be done unofficially."

"It shall be done," Fawley swore. "A week ago I heard from the White
House. They were still hesitating."

"They only came to an agreement this morning," the Prime Minister
announced. "It was the recent happenings in Germany which decided them.
Another Hohenzollern régime--even the dimmest prospect of it--was enough
to set the greatest democratic country in the world shivering."

"It shall be done," Fawley repeated stubbornly, and the light was
flaming once more in his eyes. "For one week I shall be free from all
the bullets in the world."

"I shall ask you nothing of your plans," the Prime Minister continued.
"In years to come--on my deathbed, I think--these few minutes we are
spending together will be one of the great memories of my life...I
have been reading my history lately. It is not the first time that the
future of the world has been changed by subterranean workings."

"You can call me a spy if you like," Fawley observed, with a smile. "I
don't mind."

"You shouldn't mind," the Prime Minister replied. "They tell me that you
are a millionaire and I know myself that you accept no decoration or
honours except from your own country. What a reward, though, your own
conscience will bring you, if we succeed. Think of the millions of lives
that will be saved and lived out to their natural end. Think of the
great sum of unhappiness which will be avoided--the broken hearts of the
women, the ugliness of a ruined and blasted world. Fawley, sometimes the
thought of another war and one's responsibilities concerning it comes to
me like a hideous nightmare. Twice I have suffered from what they called
a nervous breakdown. It was from the fear that war might come again in
my days. Think of being in your place!"

Fawley rose to his feet.

"I shall be no more than a cog in the wheels, sir," he sighed. "I just
had the idea. Directly it has been put on paper, the sheer simplicity of
it will amaze every one. I am going to gamble on Rawson."

"I will back you," the Prime Minister declared. "I tell you I know for a
certainty that he brings the President's signature."

Fawley glanced at the clock.

"Very good, sir," he said. "Will you allow me to arrange with Malcolm
for the most powerful government plane that can be spared? I shall want
it ready at Heston to-morrow morning at six o'clock."

"Where are you off to first?"

"I am afraid I shall have to go to Paris, where I am not very popular,
and on to Rome, where they have sworn to have my blood. Something I saw
in Germany, though, will help me there. If my scheme comes off, there
will be no war."

The Prime Minister held out both his hands. Afterwards he took his guest
by the arm.

"We will go in to Malcolm together, Fawley," he proposed. "Paris and
Rome, eh? And Germany afterwards. Well, you are a brave man."




CHAPTER XXV


Fawley, with his hands thrust into his overcoat pockets and a freshly
lit cigarette in his mouth, walked briskly to the corner of Downing
Street and paused, looking around for a taxicab, apparently unconscious
that he was the cynosure of a dozen pairs of eyes. A private car was
waiting by the side of the curbstone, to all appearance unoccupied.
Suddenly he felt a grip upon his arm--not the sinister grip of an
assailant but the friendly grasp of slender fingers.

"Do not hesitate for one moment, please," the slim figure by his side
insisted. "Step into that car."

He looked down at her with a smile. He knew very well that he had
nothing to fear, for there were shadowy figures hovering around close at
hand.

"Am I to be abducted again, Princess?" he asked. "This time I warn you
that I have protectors at my elbow."

"It is nevertheless I," she declared a little petulantly, "who have to
be your protector-in-chief. You do such foolish things--you who are on
the black list of two countries, both of whom are well known for the
efficiency of their Secret Service, and you walk about these streets as
though you were invisible!"

He smiled but he followed her obediently into the car. One of those
shadowy figures stepped into the roadway and whispered a word to the
driver. Elida gave the man the address of the Italian Embassy.

"Alas, I must get back to my rooms," he told her. "Sorry, but it is
really important."

"You will come out from them on a stretcher, if you do," she answered.
"Honestly, I sometimes cannot decide whether you are wilfully stupid or
whether you have that sort of courage which marches with luck."

"What have I to fear at my rooms?" he asked. "I can assure you that
there will be no strangers allowed in the building for a long time to
come."

"The man whom you have to fear is Pietro Patoni," she replied firmly. "I
tell you this seriously, not as a fashion of speech. He has gone mad! I
am sure of it. He believes--oh, I cannot tell you all that he believes
about us. He also looks upon you as a traitor to his country."

Fawley was silent for a moment. He appeared to be watching the street
through the window. In reality, he was thinking deeply enough. Elida was
probably right. It was foolish in these days not to take every
precaution with the end of his efforts so closely in sight.

"Whose car is this?" he asked abruptly.

"It belongs to my uncle, the Marchese di Vasena."

"And your destination?"

"The Italian Embassy."

"Sanctuary or prison?" he enquired, with a grim little quiver at the
corners of his lips.

"I have thrown in my hand," she told him. "I am no longer to be
considered. It is sanctuary only which I offer you."

"But the trouble is," he explained, "that I must go to my rooms. I am
leaving England early to-morrow morning and to say nothing of my kit,
there are one or two necessary papers--my passport, for instance--which
I must take with me."

"I will fetch them for you," she announced. "You yourself--you shall not
go. Please be reasonable."

She leaned towards him. Some little quiver in her tone, perhaps the
eager flash of her eyes, the closeness of her obscure presence, reminded
Fawley that after all he was quite a human person. He took her hand and
held it in his.

"My dear Elida," he said, "we have been on opposite sides all this time.
How can I let you play around with my papers and learn my secrets?"

"There are no secrets to be learnt from any papers you leave around,"
she declared. "Besides, you need not mind my seeing anything. I told you
just now I have finished with the game. I have an idea in my mind that
you are playing for greater stakes than any of us, that we must all seem
like little pawns on the chessboard to you. I am content. I will help
you if I can and, to begin with, let me convince you of this--Pietro is
absolutely and seriously insane."

"Of course, that might complicate matters," Fawley reflected. "As just
an angry man, I had no fear of him. You see, here in London a man cannot
commit murder and get away with it. He cannot even manage an abduction.
Patoni in his sane moments would realise that. If he is really mad,
however, that is a different matter. The cleverest schemes in the world
have been most often foiled by madmen."

"What you will do is this," she said decidedly. "You will come with me
to my uncle's. I shall establish you in my rooms. There is no reason to
bring the Embassy into the matter at all. You will then telephone your
servant what things you require and if there is anything he is unable to
do, you can send me. What time do you start in the morning?"

"Now, you see, I prove that I am the worst Secret Service agent in the
world, because I tell you the whole truth. I am leaving from Heston
to-morrow morning at six o'clock."

"Excellent," she replied. "I shall not believe that you are an enemy and
I shall not treat you as one. You shall have your short sleep at the
Embassy, this car will take you to Heston in the morning, then you must
find your adventure, whatever it may be. While you are in danger, I
shall be unhappy. When it is all over, I hope that you will come back. I
hope," she added, with her fingers upon his shoulders, drawing him
towards her, "that you will come back to me."

The car drew up smoothly outside the pillared portico of the Embassy. A
footman came out and opened the door. Fawley followed his guide up the
broad steps and into the hall.




CHAPTER XXVI


Fawley found his reception by the Minister who in those days was
controlling the destinies of France chilling in the extreme. Monsieur
Fleuriot, a man of some presence but with a tired expression and an
ominous sagging of flesh under his eyes, rose from his chair as Fawley
was ushered in but made no attempt to shake hands. He indicated a chair
in cursory fashion.

"It is very good of you to receive me, sir," Fawley remarked.

"I do so," was the cold reply, "with the utmost reluctance. I can refuse
no request from the representative of a friendly nation, especially as
Monsieur Willoughby Johns is a personal friend of mine, and I believe a
friend of France. I must confess, however, that it would have appeared
to me a more fitting thing to have found you a prisoner in a French
fortress than to be receiving you here."

Fawley smiled deprecatingly.

"I can quite understand your sentiments, sir," he said. "I am only
hoping that my explanation may alter your views."

"My views as to spies, especially partially successful ones who are
working against my country, are unchangeable."

"But I hope to convince you, sir," Fawley argued earnestly, "that even
during the enterprise of which you have, of course, been made
acquainted, I was never an enemy of France. I am not an enemy of any
nation. If any man could--to borrow the modern shibboleth--call himself
an internationalist, it is I."

"To avoid a confusion of ideas, sir," Monsieur Fleuriot said, "I beg
that you will proceed with the business which has procured for you this
extraordinary letter of introduction. It is the first time in history, I
should think, that the leader of a great nation has been asked to
receive any one in your position."

"The world has reached a point," Fawley remarked, "when the old
conditions must fall away. Have I your permission to speak plainly?"

"By all means."

"Amongst the great nations of the world," Fawley continued, "France is
to-day the most important military power. I do not believe that it is in
any way a natural instinct of the French people to crave bloodshed and
disruption and all the horrible things that follow in the wake of war. I
believe it is because you have a deep and unchangeable conviction that
your country stands in peril."

"You may be right," Monsieur Fleuriot observed drily. "And then?"

"France, if peace were assured," Fawley went on, "would take the same
place amongst the nations of the world in culture and power as she
possesses now in military supremacy. She would be a happier and a freer
country without this burden of apprehension."

"France fears nobody."

"For a dictum, that is excellent," Fawley replied; "but in its greatest
significance, I deny it. France must fear the reopening of the bloody
days of '14. She must fear the loss again of millions of her subjects. I
want you to believe this if you can, Monsieur Fleuriot. I have been
working as a Secret Service agent for the last five years and I have
worked with no country's interests at heart. I have worked solely and
simply for peace."

"You imagine," Monsieur Fleuriot demanded incredulously, "that you are
working in the cause of peace when you steal into the defences of our
frontiers and discover our military secrets?"

"I do indeed," Fawley asserted earnestly. "If you think that I behaved
like a traitor to France, what then about Italy? But for my efforts, I
firmly believe--and I can bring forward a great deal of evidence in
support of what I say--that a treaty would have been signed before now
between Italy and Germany, and it would have been signed by the chief of
the Monarchist Party in Germany; and on the day after its signature she
would have pledged herself to the restoration of the Hohenzollern
régime. That treaty now will, I hope, never be signed. Behrling will not
sign it if he knows the truth, which I can tell him. Italy will not
offer to share in it, if you will adopt my views and do as I beg. Now,
if I may, I am going to speak more bluntly."

"Proceed," Fleuriot directed.

"France believes herself practically secure," Fawley continued. "Her
spies have been well informed. She knew a year ago that Italy was
collecting aeroplanes, not only of her own manufacture but from every
nation in the world who had skill enough to build them. Even the Soviet
Government of Russia contributed, I believe, something like two
hundred."

Fawley paused but his listener gave no sign. The former continued.

"France knew very well the Italian scheme--to launch an attack of a
thousand aeroplanes which would pass the frontier with ease and which
would lay Nice, Toulon and Marseilles in ruins, and the greater portion
of the French fleet at the bottom of the sea. Meanwhile, the Italian
land forces would have joined the German and attacked across the western
frontier. I will not say that France has waited for the day with
equanimity, but at any rate she has awaited it without despair. I know
the reason why, Monsieur Fleuriot, and it is a secret which should have
cost me my life a dozen times over. As it is, the fact that my espionage
on your frontier was successful may save the world. You see, I know why
you are calm. You have there as well as the guns, as well as all the
ordinary defences, you have there an example of the greatest scientific
invention which the world of destruction has ever known. You know very
well that the hellnotter on the Sospel slopes could destroy by itself,
without the help of a single gun, every one of those thousand
aeroplanes, whether they passed in the clouds directly overhead or a
hundred miles out at sea."

Monsieur Fleuriot had half risen to his feet. He sat down again,
breathing quickly. There were little beads of perspiration upon his
forehead.

"Mon Dieu!" he muttered.

He dabbed his face with a highly perfumed handkerchief. Fawley paused
for a moment.

"I am now going to propose to you, Monsieur Fleuriot," he said, "the
most unusual, the most striking gesture which has ever been made in the
history of warfare. I am going to suggest to you that you put France in
the place of honour amongst the nations of the world as the country who
ensured peace. You may sit quiet, you may destroy this scheme at the
cost of thousands of lives, you may send a thrill of horror throughout
the world, but you can do something more. You can invite representatives
of the Italian Army to witness the demonstration of what your diabolical
machine will do in friendly fashion upon your frontier. If you will do
that, there will be no war. Italy would never face the destruction of
her aeroplanes. She will abandon her enterprise and the treaty between
Behrling and Italy will never be signed."

"It seems to me that you are raving, Major Fawley," the Minister
declared.

"What I am saying is the simplest of common sense, Monsieur Fleuriot,"
Fawley answered. "I will tell you why. You have been deceived by your
great professor. You believe that you possess the only constructed
hellnotter in the world. You are wrong. Germany has one completed at
Salzburg. I have seen it with my own eyes."

"It is incredible," Fleuriot exclaimed.

"It is the truth," was the impressive assurance. "And I will tell you
this. Von Salzenburg has kept from Italy the secret of their possession.
That I shall be able to prove to Berati and his master, if you fall in
with my scheme. Germany, if her alliance with Italy were an honourable
one, would have disclosed the fact of her possession of this duplicate
machine. She is too jealous, or rather Von Salzenburg was too jealous,
for them. It was so mighty a secret that they declined to share it with
an ally. Mind you, I will not say that Von Salzenburg knew that you too
possessed this horrible machine, but wilfully or not wilfully, he was
keeping a secret from his ally which would have given her the greatest
shock of her history."

"Put your proposition into plain words," Monsieur Fleuriot requested.

"I propose that you give me letters to your Colonel Dumesnil commanding
the frontier, which will instruct him to make the experiment I suggest,
and I further suggest that you address an invitation to the Italian War
Office to witness the experiment. Show them what you can do and I
guarantee the rest. There will be no war now nor at any time during the
near future."

Fleuriot was silent for at least five minutes. He was leaning back in
his chair. He had the appearance of a man exhausted by some stupendous
brain effort.

"The military staff," he muttered at last, "would scoff at your scheme.
War has to come and nothing can keep Europe free from it. Of that we are
all convinced. Why not let it come now? There might be worse moments."

"Monsieur Fleuriot," Fawley said earnestly, "I come now to more concrete
things. I come to information of great value, not to information which I
gained through espionage, but from the mouth of your friend, the British
Prime Minister, from the mouth of the Ambassador of my own country in
London. The one sane and possible scheme for the preservation of peace
is already launched. When Italy knows that her aeroplanes are doomed to
destruction, that the ally with whom she was about to conclude a treaty
is keeping secret information from her, she will follow in the wake of
the others. She will elect for peace. When Germany realises this and
many other things, she too will give in. There will be a world pact for
peace and the guarantors will be America, England, France, Germany and
Italy. Each of these countries will elect a dictator or a president or,
in the case of the royalist countries, the king, to sign the pact that
under no circumstances will they embark upon war in any shape or form.
Listen, Monsieur Fleuriot," Fawley went on, as he noticed the blank
expression upon the Minister's face. "I am not talking of dreams or
fancies. The scheme has been carried beyond that world. The pact is
actually drawn up and there are signatures already upon it. The
President of the United States has signed. King George V has signed,
with the Prime Minister of the country--Mr. Willoughby Johns. That
document is now in the safe at the British Foreign Office. It awaits the
signatures of yourself and Monsieur Flaubert the President, the
signatures of the King of Italy and Berati's Chief, the signatures of
Hindenburg and the German dictator. Adopt my scheme, Monsieur Fleuriot,
and that pact is going to be the mightiest ruling force in the world.
Give Italy that demonstration. Let it be brought to her notice that the
country with whom she was seeking an alliance has deceived her and she
will sign. Behrling hates war. That was the reason why Berati was
favouring the Monarchist Party in Germany. Behrling will sign the pact,
so will Hindenburg. Now, Monsieur Fleuriot, will you write to Colonel
Dumesnil--will you place the arrangements for carrying out the
experiment in my hands? Remember the secret of the mountains of Sospel
is no longer a secret. Even though you shoot me before sundown, as I
suppose you have the right to do, you will not save that secret."

The Minister rose from his place. He walked to the window and looked out
for a few minutes across the gardens. Then he came back and resumed his
seat. With trembling fingers he lit a cigarette. He was a man of
courteous habits but he offered no invitation to his guest.

"Major Fawley," he confided, "for the last half hour I have not been
quite sure whether I have been listening to a madman or not. All that
you have told me is possible, of course. It is nevertheless incredible."

Fawley smiled.

"Naturally," he said, "you require some verification of my word. The
English Ambassador, Lord Rollins, is waiting to hear from you. He will
tell you that he has seen the signatures of King George V and Willoughby
Johns on this pact, also the signature of the President of the United
States. It is a simple document. There will be a secondary one of
conditions but nothing will alter the vital principle. The five powerful
nations of the world swear each one that whatever provocation they
receive, there shall be no war. It is enough."

"Lord Rollins, you said? The English Ambassador?" Fleuriot exclaimed.

"He is spending the afternoon at home, in case you care to send for
him."

"You have at least given me an issue," the Minister cried out in relief.
"I will receive Lord Rollins at once. There shall be a Cabinet Meeting
following his visit. If yours has been an honest enterprise, Major
Fawley, I consent to your scheme. If I find that you are still playing
the game of the super-Secret Service man, you will be shot, as you say,
before sundown, and if your Ambassador went down on his knees to save
you he would do so in vain."

"Excellent," Fawley agreed. "Place me under arrest if you like. I am
content."

Monsieur Fleuriot touched his bell.

"I shall not order your arrest, Major Fawley, but I shall place you in
security," he said. "Meanwhile, I shall send for Lord Rollins."

The Minister held whispered conference with his secretary, who had
answered the bell. The latter turned to Fawley.

"If Monsieur will be so kind as to come to my room," he begged.

At the door Fawley looked back. Monsieur Fleuriot had still the
appearance of a man stunned. In a way, however, there was a change in
his features, a light upon his face. If this thing should be true, it
would be he who would lead France into the new world!




CHAPTER XXVII


Fawley brought his Lancia slowly to a standstill at the top of the
Sospel Pass. He was surrounded now by the white-capped mountains of the
Lesser Alps and, though the day had been warm enough, the evening breeze
brought with it a cold tang from the snows. He paused to light a
cigarette. The work of mining and tunnelling the mountain range seemed
to have progressed even since his last visit. There was a new road cut
in the direction of headquarters. Within half a mile of him, around the
shoulder of the hill, was the subterranean passage from which he had had
so narrow an escape. Yet everywhere there seemed to be a curious
stillness. There was no sound anywhere of human life or activities.
Underneath his feet, almost underneath the whole range of hills around
which the road wound, was another world--an active world bristling with
the great vehicles of destruction. From where he sat he could see the
ravine down which he had flung himself only a month or so ago. He could
recall the sound of the rifle bullets spitting against the rocks, the
muttering of the Chasseurs Alpins cursing the darkness. He had escaped
where others with as much experience as he had paid with their lives for
seeking to learn the secrets of this fortress. Would the luck hold, he
wondered...

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! The sound of men marching close at hand. Fawley,
suddenly alert, sat up in his place. They were already making their way
around the corner, a little company of weary men with a handful of tired
mules. They were almost passing him when the officer who was marching in
the middle of the road came to a sudden standstill. He looked
incredulously at Fawley. It was the same officer who had found him
wandering in the roads and taken him to the Colonel! The meeting was one
of mutual amazement. The young lieutenant of the Chasseurs Alpins,
however, was this time a very resolute person. He snapped out his
orders. In a very few seconds Fawley found himself with a soldier
standing on each footboard and another with pointed rifle facing the
car.

"What's the trouble?" Fawley asked.

"You are under arrest," the officer replied. "I do not think I could
possibly bring in a more welcome prisoner. Start your car, if you
please, take the turn to the right and stop at headquarters. You heard
my orders to the men. They will shoot unless you obey precisely."

Fawley made no comment. He started the engine and drove slowly along in
the direction indicated. When he arrived at the white-plastered house
from which was flying the French flag, he descended and was escorted,
the centre of a strong bodyguard, into the bare apartment which he had
visited once before. The same Commandant was seated at his table with a
similar pile of despatches before him and an orderly on either side.
This time, however, Fawley's reception was different. The Colonel stared
at him first in blank astonishment, then a curious glitter of almost
malicious gratification flashed in his eyes.

"_Le bon Dieu!_" he exclaimed. "It is the same man!"

Fawley saluted with a smile.

"It is quite true. I was here a month or so ago, Colonel," he reminded
him. "Major Fawley, late of the American Army."

The Colonel's fingers caressed his moustache.

"Ah, yes," he said. "I remember you. Major Fawley of the American Army.
Excellent! You came, I think, to buy the Sospel Golf Links."

"Exactly," Fawley admitted. "I have almost made up my mind to sacrifice
my deposit, however. Your work up here is too threatening. I can see
that Sospel might become a strategic point if a rapid advance were
contemplated."

The Colonel murmured softly to himself. His eyes travelled past Fawley
to the door.

"Close the door," he ordered. "See that it is securely fastened. Search
the prisoner for arms."

"Arms," Fawley protested. "Why should I carry arms?"

"The man is a _blagueur_," the Colonel said harshly. "Search him for
arms and papers."

Fawley felt himself pinioned from behind. He yielded without any attempt
at resistance. A cigarette case, a small revolver and a long
official-looking envelope were produced and laid upon the table.

"A revolver," Fawley argued, "is almost a necessity in this country. I
motor a great deal at night. I have never used it, but one must threaten
if a bandit accosts one."

The Colonel pushed the weapon impatiently on one side, took up the
envelope, and if his astonishment at seeing Fawley was great, his
astonishment as he studied the envelope was certainly greater. He turned
it over in his hand time after time. It bore the well known official
seal of the Quai d'Orsay and it was addressed to himself!

                    _Colonel Dumesnil_
            _By favour of Major Martin Fawley_

"A communication for you," Fawley explained courteously. "I was on my
way to deliver it."

"Perhaps!" the Colonel exclaimed contemptuously. "It is a likely story,
that! This is one more of your artifices, I make no doubt. Lieutenant
Vigny, detail a squad of men in the courtyard with loaded rifles. We do
not let a spy slip through our hands twice, Major Fawley."

"I think," the latter suggested, "you had better open that envelope."

"I shall do so," the Colonel assured him, "but this time you have been
too clever. I shall take nothing for granted. Before I read, I shall be
convinced that what I read is forgery."

"Forgeries in a code so secret as the French 'B' military code do not
exist," Fawley declared. "I received that envelope from Marshal Hugot
himself three days ago."

"How do you know that it is in the French military code?" the Colonel
demanded.

"The Minister for War, Field Marshal Hugot, himself told me so," Fawley
explained. "There was no need for me to open the letter. I know exactly
what it contains."

"You have dared to present yourself at the Quai d'Orsay?" the Colonel
gasped.

"I had a very pleasant hour there on Monday," was the prompt reply.

"If I have my will," the Colonel said, as he broke the seal, "you will
have a far less pleasant few minutes shortly, looking down the barrels
of my men's rifles! You may fool a French soldier once, Major Fawley. It
is not an easy thing to do the second time."

The Colonel slit open the long envelope and drew out a closely written
sheet of paper. He frowned as he stared at it. Without a doubt it was a
communication addressed in the most secret of all codes, a code known
only to the inner circle of the French military council.

"Fetch me Manual Number 17 from the safe," he directed one of the
orderlies.

The man obeyed. The Colonel opened the volume and, producing a fresh
sheet of paper, carefully commenced his task of transcribing. His
occupation lasted for something like twenty minutes. When he had
finished, he read through the decoded letter word for word, tapping each
with his pencil. He had the appearance of a man suffering from shock.

"It is impossible," he muttered to himself. The palm of one hand rested
on the decoded message, the palm of the other on the message itself. He
leaned forward in his chair. His eyes seemed to be boring into Fawley's.

"When did you receive this communication?" he demanded.

"Monday at eight o'clock from the hands of Field Marshal Hugot himself."

"It is impossible," the Colonel declared. "Marshal Hugot is at Geneva."

"He may be now," Fawley answered indifferently. "He flew back from
Geneva to Paris on Sunday. I had an interview with him at midnight. He
placed this communication in my hands to be brought to you."

"You know what is written here?"

"Absolutely," Fawley assured him. "The suggestion itself came from me.
I will admit," he went on thoughtfully, "that my reception at the Quai
d'Orsay, in the first instance, was not everything I could have wished.
That perhaps is natural. There were certain things against me, including
your own very bitter report of my innocent activities, Colonel. But, you
see, I had credentials. I was able to impress them upon the Staff."

The Colonel breathed heavily several times. Then he looked up again.

"I decline," he decided, "even in the face of such evidence, to accept
this as genuine."

"Then you are a very obstinate person," Fawley replied. "You have plenty
of ways of securing verification, but I suggest that you use the
speediest. The matter referred to in that communication is one that
brooks of no delay."

The Colonel turned towards his senior orderly.

"Pierre," he directed, "call up the department on our private
long-distance wire. Say that I must speak to General du Vivier himself."

The man saluted and hurried out. The Colonel leaned back in his chair.

"Your story will be put to the proof," he said coldly.

"A reasonable precaution," Fawley murmured. "May I, however, be allowed
to sit down and more especially to smoke?"

The Colonel bit his lips.

"You may sit down in that chair facing the barred window," he enjoined,
"and you may watch those twelve men standing at attention. You know what
their orders will be in the event of there being the slightest hitch in
these communications. Orderly, take these cigarettes to the prisoner."

"Prisoner," Fawley repeated reproachfully, as he accepted the case and
lit a cigarette. "Well, prisoner if you like," he added. "Liberty will
be all the more desirable."

"It is my personal wish," the Colonel acknowledged, "that that liberty
never comes. I am not a cruel man but I should stand at the window there
and watch your execution with the utmost satisfaction. If this letter is
genuine, it will simply prove to me that you are something of a
necromancer in your line. I shall still believe that you have deceived
my chiefs as you have deceived us."

"You may believe that, Colonel," Fawley said quietly, "but you will be
wrong."

There was a long silence. The Colonel continued his task of signing
papers and the sound of the scratching of his pen was almost the only
sound in the room. The window itself commanded a view of the dusty
courtyard and the sun flashed upon the short-barrelled rifles of the men
waiting to perform their task. It was a silent spot, this, amongst the
mountains. If engineering works were still being carried on in the
vicinity, the labours of the day were evidently at an end. From
somewhere in the heart of the woods came the faintly musical humming of
a saw at work amongst the pine logs, and from an incredible distance
came every now and then the faint wailing of a siren in the midst of a
stretch of misty sea. Fawley smoked on composedly. Only once he indulged
in a grimace. He remembered the story of a fellow worker who, after
bringing off many successful coups, was eventually shot for being
discovered with absolutely genuine papers. Those things are in the day's
march. It might come to him as it had come to others. Fawley, in moments
of crisis, had contemplated often before the problem of sudden
extermination. This time it was mixed with a new emotion. He found
himself remembering Elida!

An orderly hurried in. He whispered a word in the Colonel's ear. The
latter left his place and entered the little cabinet at the far end of
the room. He remained inside fully ten minutes. One heard occasionally
the threads of a broken conversation mingled with the somewhat heated
amenities between the Colonel and the local authorities. In the end, the
Colonel emerged from the telephone booth and resumed his seat behind his
desk without speech. He had the air of a man who has received a sudden
and unexpected blow. He had lost his dignity, his poise, his military
flair. He was just a middle-aged, tired old gentleman who had set
himself to face an unsatisfactory problem.

"Do I take off my collar," Fawley asked, "and submit myself to the
amiable ministrations of your picturesque bandits outside, or are you by
chance convinced that my mission to you is a genuine one?"

The Colonel closed his eyes for a moment as though in pain.

"I am prepared to admit the genuineness of your mission, Major Fawley,"
he said. "Why my superiors at the War Office are playing this
extraordinary game, I do not know. I imagine that military logic has
become subservient to political intrigue...What date do you propose
for this extraordinary entertainment?"

"Sunday next. Four days from to-day," Fawley answered briskly. "Of
course, before that time I have an almost impossible task to perform,
but if I should succeed--four days from to-day. You will do me the
favour perhaps to look at this small sketch. You will see I have marked
in pencil three crosses just where I should think I might install our
friends the enemy."

The Colonel studied the plan. He referred to a hand-drawn map and turned
back again to the plan. He nodded his head slowly in unconvinced but
portentous fashion.

"With every moment of our intercourse," he said coldly, "you impress me
the more, Major Fawley, with your exceptional ability as a--do we call
it spy or Secret Service star? I leave it to you to choose. Be there at
that spot at the time and hour appointed, and France, with your
assistance, shall betray herself."

Fawley rose to his feet.

"I gather that I am a free man?" he asked.

"You are a free man," the Colonel answered calmly. "I do not like you. I
do not trust you. I hate these intermeshed political and military
eruptions which in a single second destroy the work of years. In letting
you go free, I submit to authority, but if you care for a warning, take
it. You are a self-acknowledged spy. You will be watched from the moment
you leave my doors and if the time should come when you make that little
slip which they say all men of your profession make sooner or later, I
pray that I may be the one to benefit."

Fawley sighed as he drew himself up and stood with his hand upon the
door handle.

"I really do not know, Colonel," he expostulated, "why you dislike me so
much. I need not have worked at all. I have chosen to work in the
greatest cause the world has ever known--the great cause of peace. I
have already risked my life half a dozen times. Once more makes no
difference. Perhaps when you have settled down on your estates, with
your children and grandchildren, you will not regard the man who works
behind the scenes quite so venomously...By the by, if I must submit to
perpetual escort, may I beg that you will give me two of your lightest
guards? The two who mounted my footboard coming up would break the back
axle of my car before we reached Sospel."

The Colonel looked coldly at his departing guest.

"You need have no fear, Major Fawley," he said. "You are no longer a
prisoner. My motor-bicycle scouts will trace you from the moment you
leave to wherever you go and telephone to me their report. I shall get
in touch at once with the Chef de la Sûreté of the district. Things may
happen or they may not."

Fawley drew a deep breath of the pine-scented air as he stood outside,
lingered for a moment and stepped unhindered into his car. This was the
first stage of his desperate mission safely accomplished. Elida had
warned him almost passionately that it was the second which would prove
most difficult.




CHAPTER XXVIII


Once more Fawley crossed that huge spacious apartment, at the far end of
which Berati sat enthroned behind his low desk, a grim and motionless
figure. The chair on his left-hand side was vacant. There was no sign
anywhere of Patoni.

"I ought to apologise for my sudden return to Rome, perhaps," Fawley
ventured. "Events marched quicker than I had anticipated. Except for a
brief stay at Monte Carlo, I have come here directly from Paris."

Berati leaned slightly forward. His eyes were like slits of coal-black
fire, his lower lip was dragged down, his face resembled a sculptor's
effort to reproduce the human sneer.

"You have been paying quite a round of visits, I understand," he
remarked icily. "London--I scarcely thought that London and Downing
Street were places with which we had any present concern."

"You were misinformed, sir," Fawley replied calmly. "London and
Washington are both concerned in the present situation."

Berati rang a bell from under his desk, an unseen gesture. In complete
silence, so stealthily that Fawley was unaware of their presence until
he felt a heavy hand upon each of his shoulders, two of the new Civic
Guards had entered the room and moved up to where he stood. They were
standing on either side of him now--portents of the grim future.

"You and the Princess," Berati said harshly; "both of you pretend to
have been working for Italy. You have been working for England. The
Princess, for all I know, has been working for France--"

"Not exactly correct, sir," Fawley interrupted. "Of the Princess'
activities I know little, except that I believe she was trying to coerce
you into signing a treaty with the wrong party in Germany. So far as I
am concerned, I will admit that I have deceived you. I professed to
enter your service. I never had the intention of working for one nation
only. I had what I venture to consider a greater cause at heart."

Berati glared at him from behind his desk. He seemed to have suddenly
become, in these moments of unrestrained anger, the living presentment
of the caricatures of himself which Europe had studied with shivering
repugnance for the last two years.

"There is one thing about you, Major Fawley," he said. "There will not
be many words between us, so I will pay you a compliment. I think that
you are the bravest man I ever met."

"You flatter me," Fawley murmured.

"Somehow or other," Berati went on, "you learnt the most important
secrets of the French fortifications. You must have taken enormous
risks. I sent five men after you to check your statements and every one
of them lies buried amongst the mountains. Yours was a wonderful and
courageous effort but your visit here to-day is perhaps a braver action
still. Do you realise that, Fawley? You must have known that if ever you
came within my reach--within my grasp--you would pay for your treachery
with your life."

"I knew there was a risk," Fawley admitted coolly. "On the other hand, I
know that you have brains. I am less afraid of you than I should be of
most men, because I think that when you have listened to what I have to
say you will probably widen your view. You will realise that the person
whom you accuse of betraying her has saved Italy."

"Fine talk," Berati sneered.

"Never in my life," Fawley assured him, "have I made a statement which I
could not prove. What I am going to disclose now is the greatest secret
which has existed in Europe for a hundred years. If it is your wish that
I should continue in the presence of these men, I will do so. For
reasons of policy, I should advise you to send them away. I am unarmed:
your person is sacred from me. I give you my word as an American officer
that I shall not raise my hand to save my life. I do pray for one thing,
however, and that is that the few words I have to say now are spoken for
your ear only."

"Search this man for arms," Berati commanded.

Fawley held out his hands. The two guards went over him carefully. The
contents of his pockets were laid out upon the table.

"The Signor has no weapon," one of the two men announced.

"Wait outside the door," Berati ordered.

The men retired. Fawley returned the various articles they had left upon
the table to his pockets. He waited until the door was closed.

"General Berati," he said, "on the twenty-fourth of May or thereabouts
you intended to launch the most amazing aeroplane attack which history
has ever dreamed of--some thousand aeroplanes were to have destroyed
utterly Nice, Toulon, and Marseilles and swept around upon Paris. A
German army, munitioned and armed by Soviet Russia, was to have joined
hands with forty divisions of Italians upon the eastern frontier of
France. Roughly, these were your plans."

"It is fortunate indeed," Berati sneered, "that the man who knows them
so well is the man who is about to die."

"We are all about to die," was the indifferent response. "The length of
our lives is merely a figure of speech. In comparison with the cause for
which I am fighting, my life is as valueless as a handful of dust."

There was a light in Fawley's eyes which Berati had never seen before.
In spite of himself, he was impressed.

"What is this cause of yours?" he asked.

"By this time you should have known," Fawley answered. "Remember, I went
through the war. I started as an ardent soldier. The profession of arms
was to me almost a sacred one. I took it as an axiom that the waging of
war alone could decide the destinies of the world. I came out at the end
of the war a broken man. The horror of it had poisoned my blood. For two
years I was recovering my health mentally and physically. I came back
into the world a crank if you like, a missionary if you will, but at any
rate, a man with a single desperate purpose. It made a man of me once
again. My own life became, as I have told you, worthless except in so
far as I could use it to carry out my purposes. Washington alone knew
the truth and they thought me crazy. Two people in England divined it.
To the official classes of every other nation in Europe I was just a
Secret Service agent working for himself, for his own advancement, and
because he loved the work. Italy--I came to you. I cared nothing for
Italy. Germany--I went to Germany. I cared nothing for Germany.
France--I very nearly mortally offended, but I cared nothing for France.
What I did care for was to cherish the great ambition which has come to
fruition after years of suffering. To do something--to devote every atom
of energy remaining to me in life--to tear out of the minds of men this
poisonous idea that war is the sane and inevitable method of dealing
with international disputes."

Berati sat with his chin raised upon his hand, sprawling across the
table, his eyes fixed upon his visitor.

"France has made the first sacrifice," the latter went on. "I am hoping
that Italy will make the second. I ask you to send a messenger, General
Berati, across to the French Embassy and to request them to hand you a
letter which they are holding, addressed to you in my care. I tell you
frankly that I dared not bring it myself across the frontier or travel
with it to Rome, but the letter is there. When you see what it contains,
I will finish my explanation."

"That means," Berati said, "that I shall have to keep you alive for
another half an hour?"

"It would be advisable," Fawley acquiesced.




CHAPTER XXIX


Down on the coast, the marvellous chain of lights along the Promenade
des Anglais and the illumination of Monte Carlo shone pale in the steady
moonlight, but up in the clefts of the mountains by the straggling
frontier line, the mists were rolling, and at the best there were
occasional glimpses of a vaporous twilight. From down in the deep
valleys came the booming of a dying mistral. Stars were few--only the
reflection of a shrouded moon wrapped at times in a sort of ghostly
illumination the white-topped caps of the distant mountains. Berati
shivered in his fur coat, as he leaned back in the open touring car.
Fawley, pacing the road, continually glanced skywards. The two other
men--one a staff officer of the Italian flying command, the other a
field marshal of the army--scarcely took their eyes from the clouds. In
the distance was a small escort of Chasseurs Alpins. They stood like
dumb figures at the bend of the curving road, veritable gnomes of the
darkness in their military cloaks and strange uniform. There was no need
for silence but no one spoke. It was Berati at last who broke through
the tension.

"It is the hour?" he asked.

"Within five minutes," Fawley answered.

"We run some risk here, perhaps?" Berati continued, in his thin
querulous voice.

"An experiment like this must always entail risk of some sort," the
staff officer observed.

Dumesnil held a small electric torch to his watch.

"The first should be here in ten minutes," he announced.

"Guido Pellini is the pilot," Berati muttered.

"Much too brave a man to be the victim of such a ghastly enterprise,"
one of the Italian staff officers declared.

"I agree with you," Fawley said emphatically. "It was Air Marshal
Bastani here who insisted upon the test being carried out in such a
fashion. It was he who asked for the ten volunteers."

"I asked only," the Marshal announced harshly, "for what our brave
Italian soldiers offer always freely--the risk of their lives for the
good of their country. I myself have a nephew in the clouds somewhere."

Some one whispered a warning. There was an intense silence. They all
heard what sounded like the muffled thunder of a coming earthquake from
the sides of the mountain. The ground beneath their feet trembled,
startled birds flew over their heads. From the unseen distance they
heard, too, the trampling of a flock of goats or sheep galloping madly
towards the valley. The sound died away.

"The dynamos," Fawley muttered. "The hellnotter is at work."

They listened again. Another sound became audible, a sound at first like
the ticking of a watch, then unmistakable. Somewhere in the hidden world
above an aeroplane was travelling. Every one was now standing in the
road. Berati was breathing heavily. The excitement amongst the group was
such that Bastani, the Chief of the Italian Air Staff, found himself
moaning with pent-up anxiety. Then, when their eyes were red with the
strain of watching, there shot into the sky a long, ever-widening shaft
of light--pale violet light--which seemed to illuminate nothing, but
stayed like a ghastly finger piercing the clouds. There was a second
rush of light, this time towards the sea. The intervening clouds seemed
to melt away with its passage, until it burst like a rocket into a mass
of incongruous flame and then passed onwards and upwards. Through the
silence of the night came a crash from the other side of the precipice,
as though a meteor had fallen. The staff officer saluted.

"A brave man," he muttered, "dead!"

"It was a ghastly test, this," Fawley observed sorrowfully. "There was
no need. The thing could have been proved without human sacrifice."

Again there came the sound of that horrible, nerve-shattering crash.
This time closer at hand. They even fancied that they heard a human
cry. Fawley would have stepped into his car but the staff officer by his
side checked him.

"They were flying at over two thousand feet," he said. "No one could
live till the end."

Fawley pointed upwards to where that faint violet light seemed to have
discoloured the whole sky.

"You see that area, General," he pointed out. "Nothing living could
exist within it. No form of explosive could be there which would not
ignite. No metal that would not be disintegrated. The man who works the
hellnotter has no need to aim. He has an illimitable range, a range
which in theory might reach the stars, and a field of ever-increasing
miles as the ray flashes. A hellnotter is the last word in horrors. It
has been your own choice to sacrifice your men, but you will not find a
single machine which exists except in charred fragments, or a single
recognisable human being. If the squadron to-night, instead of ten
aeroplanes, had consisted of a thousand, the result would have been
precisely the same. There would not have been a human being alive or a
wing of a machine to tell the story."

Fawley spoke with no elation--sorrowfully though convincingly. Berati
spoke only once and his thoughts seemed far away.

"Von Salzenburg knew. God!"

The violet tinge in the sky seemed to lean in their direction. There was
a warning shout from Fawley. In a crowd they dashed into the wide
opening of the shelter, outside which the cars had stopped. Fawley
called out to them.

"Keep well away from the mouth," he directed. "There was one about a
mile up. I heard the humming."

His voice echoed and re-echoed down the smoothly tunnelled aperture.
Bastani opened his lips to reply but for the next few moments no speech
was possible. From outside came a sound like the battering of the earth
by some gigantic flail, the crashing of metal striking the rocks, the
roar of an explosion. An unnatural calm fell upon them all. They were in
almost complete darkness, but when Berati pulled out his electric torch,
their faces were like white masks in the velvety blackness. Outside in a
matter of seconds the fierce rain had ceased. There was the hissing and
crackling of flames, a lurid light which for the moment showed them the
whole countryside. The silence, which lasted for a few seconds, was
broken once more by the screaming of birds and the galloping back and
forth of terrified cattle. Bastani pushed his way to the front.

"It is my duty to see something of this in the moment of its opening."

The French officer in charge remonstrated violently.

"Marshal Bastani," he begged, "you have been placed in my care. This is
all new to us. There may be another explosion. In any case, nothing
will have changed if we wait."

Bastani pushed him gently but with force on one side.

"It is my duty," he repeated. "I must be the first to investigate. It is
for that that I am here."

He disappeared into the mists outside and they saw the flash of his
torch as he turned towards the ascent. The French officer shrugged his
shoulders.

"You will bear witness, gentlemen, that I did my best to stop the
Marshal. We have had no experience in the after events of such a
cataclysm as this."

They talked in desultory fashion. Berati smoked furiously. The seconds
were drawn out. Conversation was spasmodic and disconnected. Then
Fawley, who was nearest to the entrance, pointed out a thin pencil of
light between two mountains eastward.

"The morning comes quickly here," he said. "In half an hour at the most
we can leave."

Almost as he spoke, there was another explosion which shook large
fragments of rock from the sides of their shelter. In one place the
cement floor beneath their feet cracked. Then there was silence.

"I wish Bastani had stayed with us," Berati murmured.

* * * * *

The dawn through which they started their short ride to Colonel
Dumesnil's headquarters brought its own peculiar horrors. With every
yard they found strange distorted fragments of metal--nothing
recognisable. A bar of steel transposed into the likeness of a Catherine
wheel. What might have been the wing of an aeroplane rolled up like a
sheet of paper. At different points on the mountainside there were small
fires burning. At the last bend they came suddenly upon a man, walking
round in circles in the road. He wore the rags of a portion of torn
uniform. One side of his face was unrecognisable. Blood was dripping
from a helpless arm.

"Count Bastani! My God!" one of the Italian staff officers cried.

They were near enough to see him now. He looked at them with wild eyes,
threw up one arm and called out. Then, as though he had tripped, he fell
backwards heavily. There was plenty of help at hand but Air Marshal
Bastani was dead.

* * * * *

In the orderly room of the French headquarters hidden amongst the hills,
Colonel Dumesnil's secretary was seated typing. Dumesnil himself, who
had raced on from the pass, rose to his feet mechanically at their
entrance. He handed a sheet of paper to Berati, who was the first to
stagger in. The latter waved it away.

"Read it to me," he begged. "My eyes are blind with the horrors they
have looked upon."

"It is my first report to headquarters," Dumesnil confided.

     I have to report that ten apparently enemy aeroplanes
     endeavoured to cross the frontier to-night at varying
     distances. All ten machines were at once destroyed and all
     pilots are believed to have perished. I regret also to announce
     that Air Marshal Luigi Bastani, one of the observers selected
     by the Italian War Office, having left the shelter provided,
     was killed by the falling fragments of one of the planes.
                              DUMESNIL,
                                   Colonel.

"The Air Marshal's body was brought in a few minutes ago," the Colonel
announced..."My orderly has prepared coffee in the mess room."

A soldier servant threw open the door of the next room. Somehow or
other, every one staggered in that direction. The windows looked across
the precipice to the mountains eastward. As they sank into their places,
the first rays of the rising sun in ribald beauty moved across the
snows.




CHAPTER XXX


Fawley reached Berlin a tired man, with the firm determination, however,
to sleep for twenty-four hours. At the end of that time he came back
into the world, submitted himself to the full ministrations of an
adequate _coiffeur_ and sent around a note, asking for an interview with
Heinrich Behrling. There seemed to be some slight hesitation about
granting his request, but in the end it was acceded to. Behrling, now
established in a palace, received him a little coolly.

"You lacked confidence in me, I fear, Major Fawley," Behrling remarked,
motioning him towards a chair but making no effort to shake hands.
"Well, you see what has happened. I suppose you know? Some of the
newspapers have done their best to hide their heads in the sand but the
truth is all the time there."

"I never lacked confidence in you," Fawley said. "I never doubted your
star. You have triumphed as you deserve to triumph. I have come here to
make sure that you retain all that you have won."

Behrling moved uneasily in his chair.

"What do you mean--retain what I have won?" he demanded harshly. "There
is no question about that."

"Perhaps not," Fawley replied. "At the same time, it is necessary that
you should forget the satisfaction of small triumphs. You must rise
above them. Italy, if she turned towards any one, would turn towards
you. Any idea of a treaty signed by any one else on behalf of Germany
has been washed out. On the other hand, the treaty itself has vanished."

Behrling looked keenly at his visitor. During the last few weeks the
former's appearance had changed. He was wearing well-tailored clothes,
his untidy moustache was close-cropped, his hair was no longer an
unkempt mass; it conformed in its smooth backward brushing to the
fashion of the times. Success had agreed with him and he seemed to have
gained in dignity and confidence.

"The treaty has been washed out," he repeated meditatively.

"The War Office of Italy has abandoned its scheme," Fawley confided. "I
dare say you know that already. If they had made their alliance with
Krust and the monarchists, as at one time seemed probable, they would
have remained a vassal State for another thirty years. A merciful
Providence--I ask your forgiveness for a somewhat slang phrase--put them
on a winner. They distrusted Von Salzenburg, and Krust and Berati were
never on good terms."

"There was some other happening, though?" Behrling asked, his voice
hardening.

"There was never any intention of keeping you in the dark," Fawley
assured him, "but naturally they did not want the Press to get hold of
it. France issued a private challenge to Italy and Italy accepted it.
What happened will always remain a chapter of secret history, but it was
a very wonderful chapter. France and Italy have shaken hands. There will
be no war."

"Between France and Italy?"

"There will be no war at all."

Behrling sat motionless in his chair. The lines of thought were deeply
engraved on his face. He drummed with his fist upon the table. His eyes
never left his visitor's. They seemed trying to bore their way into the
back of his mind.

"Germany has yet to speak," he reminded Fawley at last.

"There is no one who knows better than you yourself," the latter said
calmly, "that Germany cannot go to war without the alliance of another
nation."

"A million of the finest young men any race has ever produced--"

Fawley, who was rarely impetuous in conversation, interrupted almost
savagely.

"The most reckless military fanatic who ever breathed, Herr Behrling,
would never dare to sacrifice the whole youth of his country in an
unequal struggle to gain--God knows what. You are without munitions, a
sufficiency of guns; you have not even rifles, you have not the food to
support an army, you have not an established commissariat, you have no
navy to follow your movements at sea. You cannot make war, Herr
Behrling."

Behrling's face was dark with passion.

"Who are you who come here to tell me what I can and cannot do?" he
demanded furiously. "You appear first as an envoy of Italy. You are an
American who bargains in Downing Street. You were at the Quai d'Orsay a
week ago. Whose agent are you? For whom do you work?"

"The time has come for me to answer that question," Fawley replied. "I
am glad that you have asked it. I work for no nation. I work for what
people have called a dream but which is soon to become reality. I work
for the peace of civilised countries and for the peace of Europe."

"You take your instructions from some one," Behrling insisted.

"From no one. Nor do I give instructions. I am here, though, to tell you
why there will be no war, if you care to listen."

"There have been rumours of a pact," Behrling remarked cynically. "Pacts
I am sick of. They start with acclamation. When the terms are announced,
enthusiasm dwindles. In a month or two they are just a pile of
parchment."

"The pact I am speaking of has survived all those troubles."

Behrling squared his shoulders.

"Well, tell me about it," he invited with resignation. "I warn you I am
no sympathetic listener. I am sick of promises and treaties. The bayonet
is the only real olive branch."

"You will have to forget those crisp little journalistic epigrams if you
stay where you are, Behrling," his visitor said firmly.

Behrling was furious. He rose to his feet and pointed towards the door.
Fawley shook his head.

"Too late, my friend," he declared. "The pact I am offering you is one
already signed at Washington by the President of the United States, at
Windsor by the King of England and the Prime Minister. It has been
signed by the President of France and the Premier. It has been signed by
the King of Italy and Berati's master. It only remains to have your
signature and Hindenburg's."

"Signed?" Behrling repeated incredulously.

"Absolutely. It is the simplest of all pacts that has ever been
recorded. The secondary tabulated formula of minor conditions will be
issued shortly, but they will none of them affect the main point.
America, England, France and Italy have entered into a compact that
under no circumstances will they go to war. It is to be a five-power
pact. You are the man for whose signature we are waiting now and the
thing is finished."

"Under no circumstances are we to go to war," Behrling muttered, in
dazed fashion.

"Well, you see you cannot go to war," Fawley pointed out with a smile,
"if there is no one to go to war with."

Behrling waved his hand towards the east window with a sweeping gesture
and his companion nodded understandingly.

"Quite so," he admitted. "There is Soviet Russia, but Soviet Russia came
into the world spouting peace. With America and the four civilised
nations of Europe united, she will scarcely blacken the pages of history
by attempting a bellicose attitude. If she did, there is a special
clause which would mean for her economic destruction."

Behrling rose from his place and walked restlessly up and down the room.
His pride was hurt, his dreams of the future dimmed. The promises he had
made his people were to become then impossible. He swung around and
faced Fawley.

"Look here," he said. "This pact of yours. Well enough for England to
sign it--she has all that she needs. Well enough for France--she bled
the world in 1919. Well enough for Italy, who could not even conquer
Austria and is laden with spoils. What about us? Stripped of everything.
The pact comes to us at an evil moment. Peace is great. Peace is a finer
condition than warfare. I grant you that, but peace should come at the
right moment. It is the wrong moment for Germany."

"Others besides you," Fawley acknowledged, "have seen the matter from
that point of view, Behrling. England and America have both discussed it
with sympathy. I bring you a great offer--an offer which you can
announce as the result of your own policy--a great triumph to salve the
humiliation of the country. In consideration of your signing the pact,
England will restore to you your colonies."

Behrling resumed his perambulations of the room. His heart was lighter.
This man with the quiet voice and the indescribable sense of power spoke
the truth. War was an impossibility. Here was something to send the
people crazy with delight, to make them forget the poison of Versailles.
Behrling knew as well as any German how, apart from their intrinsic
value, the thought of foreign possessions had always thrilled his
country-people. The Polish Corridor--nothing. A matter of arrangement.
But the colonies back again! The jewels set once more in her crown and
he--Behrling--the man to proclaim this great happening as the result of
his own diplomacy. He resumed his seat.

"Major Fawley," he said, "I suppose in all history there has never been
a case of an unknown ambassador like yourself speaking with a voice of
such colossal authority. You are known to the world only as an American
Secret Service agent who became a free lance and betrayed the country
for which he worked."

"In her own interests," his visitor reminded him, "and in the interests
of the world. That is true. But I do not ask you to take my word. It is
not I who will bring you the treaty or lead you to it. You will find it
at the English Ambassador's or the American Embassy, I am not sure
which. Five minutes will tell us. You can sign it to-day. You can lunch
with Martin Green, the American Ambassador, where you will probably meet
Lord Inglewood, the Englishman. You can sign it to-day and issue your
proclamation to the German people this afternoon. You will have the
largest crowd that Germany has ever known shouting outside your
residence to-night. The coming of peace to the world, after all,
Behrling, is the greatest boon that could happen. I only deal with
superficials. You will meet the councillors at both embassies during the
day. You will understand much that I cannot tell you. But nothing can
dim the truth. This is peace. And however you may talk, Behrling,"
Fawley went on, after a momentary break in his voice, "of the military
spirit, the grand sense of patriotism that comes from the souls of the
German people, you know and they all know in their calm moments that
they too are fathers, they too have their own little circle of friends
and shudder at the thought of being robbed of them. War may have its
glories. They fade away into blatant vapours if you compare them with
the splendours of the peaceful well-ordered life--the arts progressing,
manufactories teeming with work and life, the peoples of every nation
blessed without ever-haunting anxiety."

Behrling smiled and there was little of the grimness left in his face.

"You are eloquent, my doyen of Secret Service men," he observed.

Fawley smiled back.

"I think," he said, "that it is the longest speech I ever made in my
life."

Behrling was holding the telephone in his hand. He touched a bell and
demanded the presence of his secretary. Already he was on fire, yet even
in that moment he seemed scarcely able to take his eyes off his visitor.

"After all," he remarked, with a smile half-whimsical, half-jealous at
the corners of his lips, "you will be the outstanding figure in this
business."

Fawley shook his head.

"My name will never be heard," he declared. "I shall remain what I have
been all my life--the Secret Service agent."




CHAPTER XXXI


The Marchese Marius di Vasena, Italian Ambassador to the Court of St.
James's, threw himself into an easy-chair with a sigh of relief. This
was the moment for which he had been waiting more or less patiently
since the night when he had sheltered Martin Fawley, and Fawley in
return had taken him a little way into his confidence, had raised for
him with careful and stealthy fingers the curtain which shrouded a
Utopian future...From outside the folding doors came the sound of
floods of music distant and near at hand, the shuffling of feet, the
subdued hum of happy voices, the fluttering of women's dresses like the
winged passage of a flock of doves.

"We make history, my friends," the Marchese exclaimed, with a gesture
which would have been dramatic if he himself, like most of the diplomats
and politicians of the five countries, had not been somewhat overtired.

"What sort of chapter in the world's history, I wonder," Prince von
Fürstenheim, German Ambassador, speculated. "I have been present at many
functions organised to celebrate the launching of a new war. I have
never yet heard of a great entertainment like this given to celebrate
the coming of perpetual peace. How can there be perpetual peace? Is it
not that we mock ourselves?"

"I do not think so," Willoughby Johns declared. "There has never before
been such a unanimous and vociferous European Press. This pact of ours,
through its sheer simplicity, seems to have touched the imagination of
millions."

The great ball at the American Embassy to celebrate the formal signing
of the greatest of written documents since the Magna Charta was in full
swing. The Marchese, however, felt that he had done his duty. A young
Prince connected with the Royal House, whom he had been asked to look
after, was safely established in the ballroom outside. He himself had
kissed the fingers of his hostess and paid his _devoirs_ to the
Ambassador some time ago. He was forming one now of a _parti carré_ with
the Right Honourable Willoughby Johns, the English Premier, Prince von
Fürstenheim, German Ambassador, and Monsieur Vallauris, the newly
appointed delegate of his country from the Quai d'Orsay.

"I tell you what it is," the latter remarked, in an outburst
half-cynical, half-humorous. "We ambassadors have cut our own throats.
What I mean is this. There is no work to be done--no reason for our
small army of secretaries and typists. Diplomacy will become a dead
letter. Commerce! Commerce! Commerce! That is all our people, at any
rate, think about. My visitors, my correspondents, all have to do with
matters which concern our consular department."

"Capital!" Willoughby Johns commented. "I always thought that the two
establishments--diplomatic and commercial--should be joined up."

"Nowadays," Von Fürstenheim pronounced, "there is as much diplomacy in
dealing with the commerce of our country as was ever required in the
settlement of weightier affairs."

"It is a new era upon which we enter," the Marchese declared.

"I ask myself and you," Vallauris propounded, "what is to be the reward
which will be offered to this almost unknown person who first of all
conceived the idea of the pact and then carried it through?"

"Perhaps I can answer that question," Willoughby Johns observed,
lighting a fresh cigarette. "It has been rather a trouble to all of us.
What are you to do with a man who is himself a multimillionaire, who
cannot accept a title because he is an American and whose sole desire
seems to be to step back into obscurity? However, between us--the
Marchese and myself--we have done all that is humanly possible. I, or
rather my Cabinet, we have presented him with an island and the Marchese
has given him a wife."

"An island?" Vallauris repeated, a trifle bewildered.

Willoughby Johns nodded assent.

"The island," he confided, "is the most beautiful one--although of
course it is very small--ever owned by the British Government, and the
Princess Elida di Rezco di Vasena, the niece of our friend here, is, I
think, quite one of the most beautiful of his country-women I have ever
seen."

"An island," the Frenchman, who like most of his compatriots was of a
social turn of mind, repeated incredulously. "Fancy wanting to live on
an island!"

The Marchese smiled. There was a strange look in his eyes, for he, too,
had known romance.

"You have never met my niece, Monsieur Vallauris," he observed.




EPILOGUE


Through the driving grey mists of the Channel, battling her way against
the mountainous seas of the Bay of Biscay, emerging at last into the
rolling waters of the Straits and the sunshine of Gibraltar, the famous
yacht _Espèrance_ seemed, in a sense, to be making one of those
allegorical voyages of the Middle Ages, dimly revealed in ancient
volumes of fable and verse. Something of the same spirit had, perhaps,
already descended upon her two passengers--Martin Fawley and Elida--as
they passed into the warm tranquillity of the Mediterranean. After the
turmoil of the last few months, a sort of dreaming inertia seemed to
have gathered them into her bosom. They were never tired of sitting in
their favourite corner on deck, searching the changing sea by day and
the starlit or cloud-bespattered sky by night, indulging in odd little
bursts of spasmodic conversation, sometimes breaking a silence Elida,
for her part declared, with the sole purpose of assuring herself that
the whole affair was not a dream.

In the long daylight hours a new gaiety seemed to have come to her. She
was restless with her happiness. She moved about the ship the very
spirit of joy--light-footed, a miracle of grace and fantastic devotion
to her very little more sedate lover. With the coming of night,
however, her mood changed. She needed reassurance--Martin's arm and
lips, the deep obscurity of their retired resting place. There was
excitement in the very throbbing of the engines. There were times when
she felt herself shivering with the tremors of repressed passion. Martin
surprised himself at the effortless facility with which, at such times,
he played the part of lover and husband. With him, too, it seemed, after
the hurricane of a stormy life, the opening of the great book of peace
and romance...

It was seldom that they spoke of the immediate past. Both seemed equally
convinced that it belonged to two utterly different people who would
some day slowly awaken into life, rubbing their eyes. Patches of those
colourful days, however, would sometimes present themselves. One morning
Elida discovered her husband with a powerful telescope, watching the
distant land. She paused by his side--a silent questioner.

"Somewhere amongst that nest of mountains," he pointed out, with a grim
smile of reminiscence, "is a French Colonel--a fine little chap and I
should think a thorough soldier--the desire of whose life it was to see
me with a bandage over my eyes, against his whitewashed barrack walls,
facing a squad of his picked rifle shots! Nearly came off, too!"

She shivered and half closed her eyes. He understood that she was
shutting out Europe from the field of her vision. He closed the
telescope with a little snap.

"We both had our escapes," he remarked. "Berati was out for your blood
once...It is my watch," he added, listening to the bell. "Come with me
on the bridge for an hour."

She passed her arm through his and they mounted the steps together. The
third officer made his report, saluted and withdrew. For several minutes
afterwards no words passed. Fawley, leaning a little forward over the
canvas-screened rail, scanned the horizon with seaman's vision. At such
times a sort of graven calm came to his features, a new intensity to his
keenly searching eyes. The blood of his seafaring ancestors revealed
itself. Deliberately, it seemed as though of natural habit, he examined
with meticulous care every yard of the grey tossing waters. Only when he
felt himself master of the situation did his features relax. He smiled
down at Elida, drew her hand through his arm and commenced their nightly
promenade.

Silence on the bridge. Sometimes he wondered whether they were not both
grateful for that stern commandment of the sea. At ordinary times they
were overwhelmed with the happiness which was always seeking to express
itself. The silences of night were wonderful. The forced silences of the
day were like an aching relief. A few paragraphs in a modern novel
which she had passed to him with a smile contained sentences which
struck home to them both.

* * * * *

The self-consciousness of the lover has increased enormously since the
decay of Victorian sentimentalism. Allegorically speaking, it is only
amongst the brainless and the lower orders of to-day that the man walks
unashamed with his arm around his sweetheart's waist, and both scorn to
wait till the darkness for the mingling of lips. The affection of Edwin
and Angelina of the modern world may be of the same order as that which
inspired their great-grandmother and great-grandfather, but they seem to
have lost the idea of how to set about it. In town this seems to be a
fair idea of what goes on. Edwin and Angelina find themselves by
accident alone.

"What about a spot of love-making, old dear?" Edwin suggested
apprehensively.

"All right, old bean, but for heaven's sake don't let's moon about
alone! We'll ring up Morris' Bar and see if any of the crowd are over
there."

Or if the amorous couple happen to be in the country, the reply to the
same question is a feverish suggestion that they try if the old bus will
do over sixty, or rival bags of golf clubs are produced, or Edwin is
invited to search for his gun and come along and see if there's an odd
rabbit sitting outside the woods...

* * * * *

Fawley closed the volume with a laugh.

"Let us be content to belong to the old-fashioned crowd," he suggested.
"You come anyhow of a race which expresses itself far more naturally
than we Anglo-Saxons can, and whether I am self-conscious about it or
not, I am not in the least ashamed of owning that I am absolutely and
entirely in love with you."

She stretched out her arms.

"Come and tell me so again, darling," she invited. "Tell me so many
times during the day. Do not let us care what any of these moderns are
doing. Keep on telling me so."

Which invitation and his prompt acceptance of it seemed to form the
textbook of their wonderful cruise.

* * * * *

And then at last their voyage came to an end. In the pearly grey
stillness before the dawn they found themselves one morning on deck,
leaning over the rail, watching a dark mass ahead gradually take to
itself definite shape. A lighthouse gave pale warning of a nearby
harbour. The stars faded and a faint green light in the east broke into
the coming day. They heard the ringing down of the engine behind. They
were passing through the placid waters now at half speed. The shape and
colour of that dark mass gradually resolved themselves. The glimmering
light sank into obscurity. There were rolling woods and pine-topped
hills surrounding the old-fashioned town of quaintly shaped buildings
which they were slowly approaching. Behind there was a great sweep of
meadowland--a broad ribbon of deep green turf--cut so many ages ago
that it seemed as though it must have been a lordly avenue from all
time. At the head was a dim vista of flower gardens surrounding the
Castle, from the turrets of which the streaming flag had already caught
the morning breeze. One other building towered over the little town--the
cathedral--half in ruins, half still massive and important. As they drew
nearer they could hear the chimes, the sound of bells floating over the
water. He pressed her arm.

"No salute," he warned her. "Some one told me there was not a gun upon

the island."

"Is that not rather wonderful?" she whispered. "We have had all two
people need of strife. The bells are better."

They were near enough now to hear the birds in the woods which hung over
the low cliffs. A flight of duck surprised them. The chiming of the
bells grew more melodious. There was a little catch in her voice as her
arms reached out for him.

"The people on the quay may see us but I do not care," she whispered.
"This is Paradise which we have found!"



THE END



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