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   Chapter 26 A BODY FROM THE SEINE

A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11601

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"At the sport, my young friend," Henri murmured, from the depths of his basket chair, "I yield you without question supremacy. Your rude games, trials mostly of brute strength, do not interest me. Your horsemanship I must confess that I envy, and I fear that you are a better shot. But two things remain to me."

"Only two?" Guy murmured. "What unexampled modesty!"

"I can drive a racing automobile at eighty miles an hour, and with the foils I can play with you."

"I give you the first," Guy answered, "but I'm beginning to fancy myself a bit with the sticks. Let's have a bout!"

"My dear Guy," Henri exclaimed, "forgive me, but what a crude suggestion! The first breeze of the day is just coming up from the lake. Close your eyes as I do. Can't you catch the perfume of the roses and the late lilac? Exquisite. In half an hour you will see a new green in the woods there as the sun drops. This is silent joy. You would exchange it for vulgar movement."

"I don't see anything vulgar about fencing," Guy replied. "It's all right here, of course, but I'm getting stiff, and I haven't the appetite of a kitten. I should like a good hour's bout, a swim afterwards in the baths, and a rub down. Come on, Henri! It'll make us as fit as possible."

Henri shivered a little.

"My young friend," he murmured, "you move me to despair. How can an alliance between nations with such contrary ideals be possible? You would desert a beautiful scene like this to gain by vulgar exercise an appetite that you may eat. Can't you realize the crudeness of it? Yet I must remember that you are my guest," he added, striking the bell by his side. "Antoine shall prepare my linen clothes, and I will give you a lesson. Antoine," he added, half turning to the man-servant who stood by his elbow, "my black linen fencing-clothes and shoes in the dressing-room, and have the floor in the fencing-gallery sprinkled with sand."

The man bowed, and Henri slowly rose from his chair.

"Don't bother about it, you know, if you mind very much," Guy said. "Would you rather have a game of billiards, or a swim in the lake?"

Henri thrust his arm through his friend's.

"By no means," he answered. "If we are to do anything at all we will do the thing in which I excel. It feeds my vanity, which is good for me, for by disposition I am over-modest."

But they were not destined to fence that night, for on their way across the hall the Duke's own servant intercepted them.

"Monsieur le Duc," he announced, "desires to speak with Monsieur in the library."

Henri let go his friend's arm.

"I return to the terrace, mon ami," he said. "You can fetch me when my respected uncle has finished with you."

Monsieur le Duc and Monsieur Grisson were still together. Immediately the door was closed the former turned to Guy.

"Your luggage has been thoroughly searched," he announced, "by a trusty agent. The letter of credit is still there, but the paper of which you spoke is missing."

Guy looked a little incredulous.

"I know it was there the evening I left the hotel," he answered. "It was fastened to my letter of credit by an elastic band. The man you sent must have missed it."

The Duke shook his head.

"That," he said, "is impossible. The paper has been abstracted."

"But who could have known about it?" Guy protested.

"Monsieur Poynton," the Duke said, "we think it well-Monsieur Grisson and I-to take you a little further into our confidence. Has it occurred to you, I wonder, to appreciate the significance of what you saw on the railway in the forest of Pozen?"

"I'm afraid-not altogether," Guy answered.

"We assumed as much," the Duke said. "What you did see was this. You saw a meeting between the German Emperor and the Czar of Russia. It was marvellously well arranged, and except those interested you were probably the only witness. According to the newspapers they were never less than four hundred miles apart, but on the day in question the Emperor was reported to be confined to his room by a slight chill, and the Czar to be resting after a fatiguing journey. You understand that this meeting was meant to be kept a profound secret?"

Guy nodded.

"But why?" he asked. "Was there any special reason why they should not meet?"

"My young friend," the Duke answered gravely, "this meeting of which you were the only witness might, but for your chance presence there, have altered the destiny of Europe. Try how you will you cannot appreciate its far-reaching possibilities. I will endeavor to give you the bare outlines of the affair. Even you, I suppose, have observed or heard of the growing friendship between my country and yours, which has culminated in what is called the entente cordiale."

"Yes, I know as much as that," Guy admitted.

"This movement," the Duke said, "has been looked upon with growing distaste and disfavor in Russia. Russia is the traditional and inevitable enemy of your country. Russia had, I may go so far as to say, made up her mind for war with England very soon after her first reverses at the hands of Japan. I am telling you now what is a matter of common knowledge amongst diplomatists when I tell you that it was the attitude of my country-of France-which alone has stayed her hand."

"This is very interesting," Guy said, "even to me, who have never taken any interest in politics, but--"

"Wait! Russia, as I say, found us indisposed to back her in any quarrel with England. She turned then, of course, to Germany. We became aware, through our secret service, that something was on foot between the two countries. With our utmost vigilance we were unable to obtain any particulars. It is you, Monsieur Poynton, who have brought us the first information of a definite character."

Guy looked his amazemen

t, but he said nothing.

"To you," the Duke continued, "a secret meeting between these two monarchs may not seem at all an astonishing thing. To us it is of the gravest political importance. Some sort of an understanding was arrived at between them. What was it? That sheet of paper which was once in your possession might very possibly contain the clue. Now you can appreciate its importance to us."

"What an ass I was not to take more care of it!" Guy muttered.

"There are other things to be considered," the Duke continued. "For the last month every dockyard in Germany has been working night and day, and we have authentic information as to a huge mobilization scheme which is already on foot. We might have wondered against whom these preparations were intended but for you. As it is, the English Government has been fully apprised of everything. Your magnificent fleet, under the pretext of seeing the Baltic Squadron safely on its way, has been gradually concentrated. From despatches to the German Ambassador which we have managed to intercept in England, we know that it is intended to raise a casus belli during the presence of the squadron in British waters. Quite unexpectedly, as it was hoped, Germany was to range herself on Russia's side and strike against England. We, Russia's nominal ally, have had no intimation of this whatever. We are apparently left to ourselves-ignored. Our friendship with your country has destroyed Russia's friendship for us. She relies no doubt on our neutrality, and she makes terms, doubtless absurdly favorable ones, with our ancient enemy. In the eyes of the world France is to be made to appear ridiculous. The German Empire is to be ruled from London, and the Emperor Wilhelm's known ambition is to be realized."

"It sounds," Guy admitted, "like a nightmare. I know you foreigners all think we English are a lot too cock-sure, but we have our own ideas, you know, about any attempt at invasion."

"I am afraid," the Duke said, "that when it comes to throwing a million men at different points of your coasts protected by a superb navy you might find yourselves unpleasantly surprised. But let that pass. Have I said enough to make you understand the importance of what you saw in the forest of Pozen? Good! Now I want you to understand this. In the interests of your country and mine it is most important that the fact of our knowledge of this meeting should be kept a profound secret."

"Yes," Guy said, "I understand that."

"Your presence there," the Duke continued, "created a certain amount of suspicion. You were watched to Paris by German spies, and if they had had the least idea of how much you had seen your life would not have been worth five minutes' purchase. As it is they are uneasy over your disappearance. There are at least a dozen men and women in Paris and England to-day who are searching for you! You are moderately safe here, but not altogether. I want to put them finally off the scent. I might, of course, put you into such confinement that detection would be impossible. I do not want to do that. You have rendered your own country and mine an immense service. I prefer to treat you as a gentleman and a man of honor, and to take you, as I hope you will see that I have done, into our entire confidence."

"Monsieur le Duc," Guy answered, "I can assure you that I appreciate all that you have said. I am willing to do exactly as you say."

"To-morrow morning's papers," the Duke said slowly, "will contain an account of the finding of your body in the Seine."

"My what!" Guy exclaimed.

"Your body! We are going to stab and drown you. Perhaps I should say we are going to discover you stabbed and drowned."

Guy half rose from his seat.

"I say--" he began.

"I need not explain, of course," the Duke continued, "that you will suffer by proxy. The whole affair has been carefully arranged by the commissioners of police.

"An account of your doings since you arrived in Paris will be given, which I fear may not flatter you, but you must remember that it is necessary to put our German friends completely off the scent, and in a month's time or so you will reappear, and everything will be contradicted."

"But my sister?" Guy exclaimed.

"Concerning your sister," the Duke continued, "we have further explanations, perhaps I should say apologies, to offer you at some future time. For the present-this only. She is now in Paris. She is to some extent in our confidence, and you shall see her within the next few days."

"And what are you going to do with me really?" Guy asked.

"You will remain here. Half the servants of the household have been dismissed, and every one who is not absolutely trustworthy has been got rid of. We are in close consultation with your English Cabinet, and the moment the time arrives for us to disclose our knowledge of these secrets you will be free to go where you please."

"Absolutely free?" Guy asked anxiously.

"Certainly!" the Duke answered. "The other little affair is cancelled by your present services. In fact, as regards that, you need not give yourself another moment's anxiety."

A small telephone which stood upon the table rang sharply. The Duke exchanged a few sentences and replaced the receiver. He turned to Guy.

"It is an affair of the tides," he said. "Your body was washed up this afternoon, six hours before time. It will be in the evening papers. Ah!"

The telephone rang again. This time it was Monsieur Grisson who was required. He listened for a moment or two with inscrutable countenance. Then he glanced at the clock.

"The Russian Ambassador," he said, replacing the receiver, "desires an immediate interview with me on a matter of the utmost importance-and the Russian Fleet has left the Baltic!"

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