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A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9605

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

On the following morning the inhabitants of London, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg for a sum varying from a halfpenny to a penny were treated to sensationalism as thrilling as any six-shilling shocker hot from the press and assured of its half-million circulation. One English and one French newspaper outdid their competitors by publishing side by side with their account of the exploits of the Russian fleet a marvellous but circumstantial story of a meeting and alliance between the rulers of Germany and Russia. The eyes of the whole world were turned towards Kiel, and more wonderful rumors still flashed backwards and forwards along the wires throughout Europe. A great mobilization can be kept secret up to a certain point, but when men and ships are collected and ready the truth must out.

At an unusually early hour Monsieur Grisson, supported now by two members of his ministry, received a visit from the Russian and German Ambassadors, Prince Korndoff and Count von Munchen. The usual compliments were quickly exchanged.

"I have asked my friend Count von Munchen to accompany me," Prince Korndoff explained, "because we are here to speak with you on a matter concerning which our interests are identical. You have read the demands which England has dared to lay before my master with reference to the encounter in the North Sea."

Monsieur Grisson bowed.

"I have studied them with great interest," he admitted.

"I do not need tell you then that they are scouted with indignation by my master and his advisers," the Prince answered. "Neither shall we permit for a single moment the detention of our fleet upon its mission."

"That means, then, war with England," Monsieur Grisson remarked quietly.

"Unless they instantly withdraw their insolent demands-undoubtedly," the Prince answered.

Monsieur Grisson turned to the German.

"And you, Count," he asked, "how does this concern you?"

"We also," the Count answered, "consider the demands of England unwarrantable. We believe that there were undoubtedly Japanese torpedo boats concealed amongst the English fishing fleet, and we consider that the action of the Admiral in command of the Russian fleet was fully justified."

"You are prepared, then, to give Russia your moral support?" the President asked.

"We are prepared to do more," the Count answered boldly. "If England persists in her demands we are prepared to demonstrate against her."

Monsieur Grisson assumed a very grave expression.

"I too," he said, "have lost no time in endeavoring to solve the mystery of this North Sea incident. I have been in communication with the English Ambassador, and I have collected all the evidence possible. There is absolutely no proof obtainable of the presence of any Japanese craft amongst the English fishing fleet. I submit, therefore, that this is a case for arbitration. I consider that up to the present our friends on the other side of the Channel have displayed commendable moderation in a time of great excitement, and I am happy to say that I have the authority of Lord Fothergill himself for saying that they will consent to submitting the affair to a commission of arbitration."

The President's words were received with chilling silence. It was the Prince, who, after a short silence, replied.

"Arbitration," he said coldly, "does not commend itself to us. We have been insulted. Our country and our gallant fleet have been held up to ridicule throughout the whole English Press. We are tired of being dictated to and bullied by a weaker Power-the openly declared ally of our enemy. England has long been seeking for a casus belli with us. At last she has found it."

Monsieur Grisson whispered for a moment to one of his colleagues. Then he turned once more to the Prince.

"Let us understand one another, Monsieur le Prince!" he said, "and you, Count von Munchen! You have come to announce to me your intention to jointly make war upon England. St. Petersburg is to refuse her demands, England will naturally strike at the Baltic Fleet, and Germany will send her fleet to the rescue, and at the same time land troops somewhere in the North of England. Russia, I presume, will withdraw her troops from Manchuria and strike at India!"

"No, no!" Count von Munchen protested. "I can assure you, Monsieur, it is not our intention to land a single German soldier in England. We are interested only to see fair play to Russia. We require that the Baltic Fleet shall be allowed to go on its way without molestation."

The President faced the last speaker. His gray bushy eyebrows met in a frown.

"Then what, Count," he asked, "is the meaning of the mobilization of two hundred thousand men at Kiel? What is the meaning of your State railroads running west being closed last night to

all public traffic? Why have you cabled huge orders for Government supplies? Why were you running trains all last night to the coast? Do you suppose that our secret service slumbers-that we are a nation of babies?"

The Count made an effort to retain his composure.

"Monsieur le Président," he said, "the reports which have reached you have been much exaggerated. It is necessary for us to back up our protests to England by a show of force!"

Monsieur Grisson smiled.

"Enough of this, gentlemen!" he said. "We will now talk to one another as men who have weighty affairs to deal with simply and directly. The story of the meeting between your two rulers which you, Prince Korndoff, have alluded to as a fairy tale, was a perfectly true one. I have known of that meeting some time, and I have certain proof of what transpired at it. The North Sea incident was no chance affair. It was a deliberately and skilfully arranged casus belli, although your admiral, Prince Korndoff, had to go one hundred miles out of his way to find the Dogger Bank fishing-fleet. You spoke to me last night of Cherbourg, Prince. I think that after all your secret service is scarcely so successful as mine, for I can assure you that you will find there all that is to be found to-day at Kiel."

The Prince was amazed.

"But, Monsieur le Président," he exclaimed, "you cannot mean-you, our ally--"

The President extended a forefinger.

"It was no part of our alliance," he said sternly, "that you should make a secret treaty with another Power and keep hidden from us no less a scheme than the invasion of England. My Cabinet have dealt with this matter on its own merits. I have the honor to tell you, gentlemen, that I have concluded an alliance with England to come into effect in the case of your carrying out your present intention. For every army corps you succeed in landing in England I too shall land one, only, I think, with less difficulty, and for every German ship which clears for action in the North Sea two French ones will be prepared to meet her."

"I think, Monsieur le Président," he said stiffly, "that this discussion had better be postponed until after I have had an opportunity of communicating with my Imperial master. I must confess, sir, that your attitude is a complete surprise to me."

"As you will, sir," the President answered. "I am perhaps more a man of affairs than a diplomatist, and I have spoken to you with less reserve than is altogether customary. But I shall never believe that diplomacy which chooses the dark and tortuous ways of intrigue and misrepresentation is best calculated to uphold and strengthen the destinies of a great nation. I wish you good morning, gentlemen!"

* * *

For forty-eight hours the war fever raged, and the pendulum swung backwards and forwards. The cables between Berlin and St. Petersburg were never idle. There was a rumor, amongst those behind the scenes, of an enormous bribe offered to France in return for her neutrality alone. Its instantaneous and scornful refusal practically brought the crisis to an end. The German hosts melted away, and the Baltic Fleet passed on. St. Petersburg accepted the British demands, and a commission of arbitration was appointed. Henri de Bergillac read out the news from the morning paper, and yawned.

"C'est fini-l'affaire Poynton!" he remarked. "You can get ready as soon as you like, Guy. I am going to take you into Paris to your sister!"

Guy looked up eagerly.

"My pardon?" he asked.

The Vicomte made a wry face.

"Heavens!" he exclaimed, "I forgot that there were still explanations to make. Fill your abominable pipe, mon ami, and think that to-morrow or the next day you may be in your beloved England. Think how well we have guarded you here when a dozen men were loose in Paris who would have killed you on sight. Remember that in the underground history of England you will be known always as the man who saved his country. I shouldn't wonder in the least if you weren't decorated when you get home. Think of all these things-hard!"

"All right!" Guy answered. "Go ahead!"

"You never killed any one. The duel was a fake. You were-not exactly sober. That was entirely our fault, and we had to invent some plan to induce you to come into hiding peacefully. Voilà tout! It is forgiven?"

Guy laughed a great laugh of relief.

"Rather!" he exclaimed. "What an ass I must have seemed, asking that old Johnny for a pardon."

The Vicomte smiled.

"The old Johnny, Guy, was the President of France. He wanted to know afterwards what the devil you meant."

Guy rose to his feet.

"If you tell me anything else," he said, "I shall want to punch your head."

The Vicomte laughed.

"Come," he said, "I will return you to your adorable sister!"

* * *

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