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A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11971

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Three men were the sole occupants of the great room whose windows looked out upon the Louvre.

The table around which they were seated was strewn with papers and maps. The door of the room was locked, and a sentry stood outside in the passage. The three men were busy making history.

The man who occupied the seat at the head of the table was the Monsieur Grisson to whom Guy Poynton, at the instigation of the Duc de Bergillac, had told his story. It was he who was spokesman.

"The situation," he said, "is one which bristles with difficulties. We will assume for a moment the truth of what we have certainly reasonable ground to believe. Russia has shown every sign of disappointment with us for our general attitude during the war. Our understanding with England has provoked a vigorous though unofficial protest from her representatives here. Since then our relations have become to a certain extent strained. Germany, ever on the look-out for complications which might lead to her own advantage, steps in. Her attitude towards Russia is changed to one of open and profound sympathy. Russia, in her desperate straits, rises like a starving fish to a fat fly. Here it is that our secret service steps in."

"Our secret service-and her allies," one of the other men murmured.

"Exactly! We pass now to the consideration of facts which need one thing only to justify our course of action. Evidence is brought to us that a secret meeting took place between the Czar of Russia and the Emperor of Germany. From all the information which we have collected that meeting was possible. I personally believe that it took place. A treaty is said to have been drawn up between them, having for its object the embroilment of England with Russia, and an alliance of Germany with Russia so far as regards her quarrel with England. We know that Germany is secretly mobilizing men and ships. We know that the ambition of the Emperor is to possess himself of the Colonies of Great Britain, if not actually to hold his court in London. We know that his jealousy of King Edward amounts to a disease. We know that he is a man of daring and violent temper, with an indomitable will and an unflinching belief in his own infallibility and the infallibility of his army and navy. We know that he has at least a dozen schemes for a sudden attack upon England, and mighty though the navy of Great Britain is, it is not in our opinion strong enough to protect her shore from the combined Baltic and German fleets and also protect her Colonies. England, through our friendship, has been warned. She proposes with most flattering alacrity the only possible counter-stroke-an alliance with ourselves. We must decide within twelve hours. The treaty lies upon my desk there. Upon us must rest the most momentous decision which any Frenchman within our recollection has been called upon to make. What have you to say, gentlemen?"

There was a short silence. Then the man who sat at Monsieur Grisson's right hand spoke.

"The issues before us," he said slowly, "are appalling. Every Frenchman's blood must boil at the thought of Germany greedily helping herself to the mighty wealth and power of Great Britain-becoming by this single master-stroke the strongest nation on earth, able to dictate even to us, and to send her word unchallenged throughout the world. It is a hideous picture! It must mean the abandonment forever of the hope of every true Frenchman. Every minute will become a menace to us. Wilhelm, the arrogant, with British gold and British ships at his back, will never forget to flaunt himself before us to our eternal humiliation."

"You are taking it for granted," his neighbor remarked, "that Germany will be successful."

"The odds are in her favor," was the quiet reply. "The navy of Great Britain is immense, but her sea front, so to speak, is enormous. She is open to be the prey of a sudden swift attack, and the moment has never been more favorable."

"Let all these things be granted," the third man said. "Even then, are we free to enter into this alliance with England? Our treaty with Russia remains. We have no proof that she has broken faith with us. If this secret treaty between Russia and Germany really exists, it is, of course, another matter. But does it? We have nothing but the word of an English boy. The rest is all assumption. The whole affair might be a nightmare. We might sign this treaty with England, and find afterwards that we had been the victim of a trick. We should be perjured before the face of all Europe, and our great financial interest in Russia would at once be placed in a perilous position."

A telephone upon the table rang softly. Monsieur Grisson held the receiver to his ear and listened. Then he rose to his feet.

"Count von Munchen desires a word with me," he announced. "He pledges himself not to keep me more than five minutes. I had better receive him. Excuse me, gentlemen."

The two men were left alone. The elder and stouter of the two busied himself with an inch rule and an atlas. He seemed to be making calculations as to the distance between Cherbourg and a certain spot in the North Sea.

"What is the chief's own mind?" his companion asked. "Does any one know?"

The other shook his head.

"Who can say? Our ties of friendship with England are too recent to make this a matter of sentiment. I believe that without proof he fears to accept this statement. And yet above all things he fears Germany. There was some talk of a missing page of the actual treaty between Russia and Germany. If this could be found I believe that he would sign the draft treaty."

"I myself," the other said, "do not believe that England would be so easily overpowered."

"It is the suddenness and treachery of the attack which counts so greatly in its favor," his companion said. "It might be all over in two days before she could assemble a fifth part of her forces. If our information is correct Germany has men enough m

obilized to run huge risks. Besides, you know how Lafarge's report ran, and what he said. The German army is beginning to suffer from a sort of dry rot, as must all institutions which fulfil a different purpose than that for which they exist. The Emperor knows it. If war does not come Germany will have to face severe military troubles."

"I myself am for the alliance!"

"And I," the other replied, "if proof of this Germano-Russian understanding could be produced."

Monsieur Grisson returned. He carefully closed and locked the door behind him.

"Gentlemen," he said, "the German Ambassador has just left me. His mission in every way confirms our secret information. He has been instructed to inquire as to our attitude in the event of any British interference with the Baltic Fleet while in home waters."

The two men looked up expectantly. Monsieur Grisson continued:-

"I replied that it was a contingency which we scarcely thought it worth while to consider. I expressed my firm belief that England would observe all the conventions, written and understood, of international law."

"And he?"

"He was not satisfied, of course. He declared that he had certain information that England was making definite plans with a view to ensure the delay of the fleet. He went on to say that Germany was determined not to tolerate any such thing, and he concludes that we, as Russia's ally, would at any rate remain neutral should Germany think it her duty to interfere."

"And your reply?"

"I answered that in the event of untoward happenings France would act as her honor dictated-remaining always mindful of the obligations of her alliance. He was quite satisfied."

"He had no suspicion of this?" the young man asked, touching the treaty with his forefinger.

"None. It is believed in Germany that the young Englishman was really found drowned in the Seine after a short career of dissipation. Our friends served us well here. Now, gentlemen, the English Ambassador will be here in twenty minutes. What am I to say to him? Do we sign this draft agreement or do we not?"

There was a silence which lasted nearly a minute. Then the younger of the two men spoke.

"Sir," he said respectfully, "without some proof of Russia's falsity I cannot see how in honor we can depart from our treaty obligations with her to the extent of signing an agreement with her putative enemy. England must fight her own battle, and God help her!"

"And you?" Monsieur Grisson asked, turning to the third man.

"I agree," was the regretful answer. "If this treacherous scheme is carried out I believe that France will be face to face with the greatest crisis she has known in history. Even then I dare not suggest that we court dishonor by breaking an alliance with a friend in distress."

"You are right, gentlemen," Monsieur Grisson said with a sigh. "We must tell Lord Fothergill that our relations with his country must remain unfettered. I--"

Again the telephone bell rang. Monsieur Grisson listened, and replied with a sudden return to his old briskness of manner.

"It is young De Bergillac," he announced. "He has been in England in search of that missing page of the treaty. I have told them to show him in."

The Vicomte entered, paler than ever from recent travel, and deeply humiliated from the fact that there was a smut upon his collar which he had had no time to remove. He presented a paper to Monsieur Grisson and bowed. The President spread it out upon the table, and the faces of the three men as they read became a study. Monsieur Grisson rang the bell.

"Monsieur le Duc de Bergillac and a young English gentleman," he told the attendant, "are in my private retiring-room. Desire their presence."

The servant withdrew. The three men looked at one another.

"If this is genuine!" the younger murmured.

"It is the Russian official paper," his vis-à-vis declared, holding it up to the light.

Then the Duc de Bergillac and Guy Poynton were ushered in. Monsieur Grisson rose to his feet.

"Monsieur Poynton," he said, "we have all three heard your story as to what you witnessed in the forest of Pozen. It is part of your allegation that a page of writing from the private car which you were watching was blown to your feet, and that you picked it up and brought it to Paris with you. Look at this sheet of paper carefully. Tell me if it is the one."

Guy glanced at it for a moment, and handed it back.

"It is certainly the one," he answered. "If you look at the back you will see my initials there and the date."

Monsieur Grisson turned it over quickly. The two other men looked over his shoulder, and one of them gave a little exclamation. The initials and date were there.

Then Monsieur Grisson turned once more to Guy. He was not a tall man, but he had dignity, and his presence was impressive. He spoke very slowly.

"Monsieur Guy Poynton," he said, "it is not often that so great an issue-that the very destinies of two great countries must rest upon the simple and uncorroborated story of one man. Yet that is the position in which we stand to-day. Do not think that you are being treated with distrust. I speak to you not on behalf of myself, but for the millions of human beings whose welfare is my care, and for those other millions of your own countrymen, whose interests must be yours. I ask you solemnly-is this story of yours word for word a true one?"

Guy looked him in the face resolutely, and answered without hesitation.

"On my honor as an Englishman," he declared, "it is true!"

Monsieur Grisson held out his hand.

"Thank you!" he said.

The three men were again alone. The man who controlled the destinies of France dipped his pen in the ink.

"Gentlemen," he said, "do you agree with me that I shall sign this draft?"

"We do!" they both answered.

The President signed his name. Then he turned the handle of the telephone.

"You may show Lord Fothergill in!" he ordered.

* * *

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