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   Chapter 2 MR. CAMPBELL AND THE CABLE

Elusive Isabel By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 8969

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Just as it is one man's business to manufacture watches, and another man's business to peddle shoe-strings, so it was Mr. Campbell's business to know things. He was a human card index, a governmental ready reference posted to the minute and backed by all the tremendous resources of a nation. From the little office in the Secret Service Bureau, where he sat day after day, radiating threads connected with the huge outer world, and enabled him to keep a firm hand on the diplomatic and departmental pulse of Washington. Perhaps he came nearer knowing everything that happened there than any other man living; and no man realized more perfectly than he just how little of all of it he did know.

In person Mr. Campbell was not unlike a retired grocer who had shaken the butter and eggs from his soul and settled back to enjoy a life of placid idleness. He was a little beyond middle age, pleasant of face, white of hair, and blessed with guileless blue eyes. His genius had no sparkle to it; it consisted solely of detail and system and indefatigability, coupled with a memory that was well nigh infallible. His brain was as serene and orderly as a cash register; one almost expected to hear it click.

He sat at his desk intently studying a cable despatch which lay before him. It was in the Secret Service code. Leaning over his shoulder was Mr. Grimm-the Mr. Grimm of the bureau. Mr. Grimm was an utterly different type from his chief. He was younger, perhaps thirty-one or two, physically well proportioned, a little above the average height, with regular features and listless, purposeless eyes-a replica of a hundred other young men who dawdle idly in the windows of their clubs and watch the world hurry by. His manner was languid; his dress showed fastidious care.

Sentence by sentence the bewildering intricacies of the code gave way before the placid understanding of Chief Campbell, and word by word, from the chaos of it, a translation took intelligible form upon a sheet of paper under his right hand. Mr. Grimm, looking on, exhibited only a most perfunctory interest in the extraordinary message he was reading; the listless eyes narrowed a little, that was all. It was a special despatch from Lisbon dated that morning, and signed simply "Gault." Completely translated it ran thus:

"Secret offensive and defensive alliance of the Latin against the English-speaking nations of the world is planned. Italy, France, Spain and two South American republics will soon sign compact in Washington. Proposition just made to Portugal, and may be accepted. Special envoys now working in Mexico and Central and South America. Germany invited to join, but refuses as yet, giving, however, tacit support; attitude of Russia and Japan unknown to me. Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi, believed to be in Washington at present, has absolute power to sign for Italy, France and Spain. Profound secrecy enjoined and preserved. I learned of it by underground. Shall I inform our minister? Cable instructions."

"So much!" commented Mr. Campbell.

He clasped his hands behind his head, lay back in his chair and sat for a long time, staring with steadfast, thoughtful eyes into the impassive face of his subordinate. Mr. Grimm perched himself on the edge of the desk and with his legs dangling read the despatch a second time, and a third.

"If," he observed slowly, "if any other man than Gault had sent that I should have said he was crazy."

"The peace of the world is in peril, Mr. Grimm," said Campbell impressively, at last. "It had to come, of course, the United States and England against a large part of Europe and all of Central and South America. It had to come, and yet-!"

He broke off abruptly, and picked up the receiver of his desk telephone.

"The White House, please," he requested curtly, and then, after a moment: "Hello! Please ask the president if he will receive Mr. Campbell immediately. Yes, Mr. Campbell of the Secret Service." There was a pause. Mr. Grimm removed his immaculate person from the desk, and took a chair. "Hello! In half an hour? So much!"

The pages of the Almanac de Gotha fluttered through his fingers, and finally he leaned forward and studied a paragraph of it closely. When he raised his eyes again there was that in them which Mr. Grimm had never seen before-a settled, darkening shadow.

"The world-war has long been a chimera, Mr. Grimm," he remarked at last, "but now-now! Think of it! Of course, the Central and South A

merican countries, taken separately, are inconsequential, and that is true, too, of the Latin countries of Europe, except France, but taken in combination, under one directing mind, the allied navies would be-would be formidable, at least. Backed by the moral support of Germany, and perhaps Japan-! Don't you see? Don't you see?"

He lapsed into silence. Mr. Grimm opened his lips to ask a question: Mr. Campbell anticipated it unerringly:

"The purpose of such an alliance? It is not too much to construe it into the first step toward a world-war-a war of reprisal and conquest beside which the other great wars of the world would seem trivial. For the fact has at last come home to the nations of the world that ultimately the English-speaking peoples will dominate it-dominate it, because they are the practical peoples. They have given to the world all its great practical inventions-the railroad, the steamship, electricity, the telegraph and cable-all of them; they are the great civilizing forces, rounding the world up to new moral understanding, for what England has done in Africa and India we have done in a smaller way in the Philippines and Cuba and Porto Rico; they are the great commercial peoples, slowly but surely winning the market-places of the earth; wherever the English or the American flag is planted there the English tongue is being spoken, and there the peoples are being taught the sanity of right living and square dealing.

"It requires no great effort of the imagination, Mr. Grimm, to foresee that day when the traditional power of Paris, and Berlin, and St. Petersburg, and Madrid will be honey-combed by the steady encroachment of our methods. This alliance would indicate that already that day has been foreseen; that there is now a resentment which is about to find expression in one great, desperate struggle for world supremacy. A few hundred years ago Italy-or Rome-was stripped of her power; only recently the United States dispelled the illusion that Spain was anything but a shell; and France-! One can't help but wonder if the power she boasts is not principally on paper. But if their forces are combined? Do you see? It would be an enormous power to reckon with, with a hundred bases of supplies right at our doors."

He rose suddenly and walked over to the window, where he stood for a moment, staring out with unseeing eyes.

"Given a yard of canvas, Mr. Grimm," he went on finally, "a Spanish boy will waste it, a French boy will paint a picture on it, an English boy will built a sail-boat, and an American boy will erect a tent. That fully illustrates the difference in the races."

He abandoned the didactic tone, and returned to the material matter in hand. Mr. Grimm passed him the despatch and he sat down again.

"'Will soon sign compact in Washington,'" he read musingly. "Now I don't know that the signing of that compact can be prevented, but the signing of it on United States soil can be prevented. You will see to that, Mr. Grimm."

"Very well," the young man agreed carelessly. The magnitude of such a task made, apparently, not the slightest impression on him. He languidly drew on his gloves.

"And meanwhile I shall take steps to ascertain the attitude of Russian and Japanese representatives in this city."

Mr. Grimm nodded.

"And now, for Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi," Mr. Campbell went on slowly. "Officially he is not in Washington, nor the United States, for that matter. Naturally, on such a mission, he would not come as a publicly accredited agent, therefore, I imagine, he is to be sought under another name."

"Of course," Mr. Grimm acquiesced.

"And he would avoid the big hotels."

"Certainly."

Mr. Campbell permitted his guileless blue eyes to linger inquiringly upon those of the young man for half a minute. He caught himself wondering, sometimes, at the perfection of the deliberate indifference with which Mr. Grimm masked his emotions. In his admiration of this quality he quite overlooked the remarkable mask of benevolence behind which he himself hid.

"And the name, D'Abruzzi," he remarked, after a time. "What does it mean to you, Mr. Grimm?"

"It means that I am to deal with a prince of the royal blood of Italy," was the unhesitating response. Mr. Grimm picked up the Almanac de Gotha and glanced at the open page. "Of course, the first thing to do is to find him; the rest will be simple enough." He perused the page carelessly. "I will begin work at once."

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