AND the ignominy of it! If anything could add to my confusion of mind it was the sense of the false position in which I had been so weak as to place myself. For now that it was too late, now that I could not extricate myself, I was convinced that I ought to have run any risk rather than submit to this wretched travesty, detection in which must cover me with ridicule. I recalled the ripple of laughter which had stirred the embassies from Naples to London when poor Drake had fled across Germany disguised in a green poke-bonnet and a woman’s pelisse. I remembered the volley of jests of cartoons and pasquinades which had hailed about his unlucky head, and even the “Poor devil! C'en est fait de lui!" with which I had dismissed him from future employment. And here was I, with that warning before my eyes, here was I, but a short six months before, a British Minister accredited to a first-class Court—sneaking about a Chess Board in a disguise still more ludicrous and absurd, obeying the orders and tapped on the shoulder by the wand of a miserable Jack in livery.
No wonder that with these reflections and the heat, I lost my head at the moment when I needed it most. The order for me to move was given—I failed to hear it. It was repeated harshly, violently, and tap, tap, down on my head fell the scandalized wand, while from all sides “Move! Move, Herr Roche. Don’t you hear, Dummer? Move, Chemnitz!" Injunctions in all forms rained upon me, completing my confusion.
Shade of Perceval Ellis! Virulently was he avenged in that hour. I started at last, but in my haste I tripped and all but fell over the skirt of my dress. Pulled up by it, I lost my place, and did not know where to go; and it was only when a clear, childish voice, rising above the grumbled objurgations, shrilled “Four to the front!” that clumsily and lamely I executed the move.
I had done it now! I had called attention to myself with a vengeance! I heard on one hand an angry exclamation—that the knave was drunk, on the other a growl— that the fool was ill. For the moment I felt all eyes upon me and I awaited what was to come. And heaven knows what might not have come of it, if in the nick of time luck had not intervened to save me. The trumpets blared anew, there was a cry of “The Prince! The Prince!” and in a moment all eyes left me and were turned in curiosity on the august arrival.
I and my scrape were forgotten, and I had a moment’s respite. I collected my scattered senses. I could afford to make no more blunders, that was clear.
I HAD a glimpse of Davout, the clear,brisk little man, as he passed, a few paces from me, along the side of the Board, to pay his court to the Duchess and her ladies. His white gloves and his white breeches gleamed, his epaulettes and sword-hilt glittered in the sun -he was fine enough. But I felt too that he was real, terribly real! I perceived and I am sure that I was not the only one who perceived the harsh contrast between his steadfast presence and this mimic court, this mimic war! Between his firm tread and the flaccid pretensions on which he politely but firmly intruded. He passed behind me, and mounted the rostrum. I could no longer see him. But I could fancy that the easy benevolence, the long mild face and quaint pigeon-wings of the Grand Duke made but a poor show beside him, and that even in the breasts of the Grand Duke’s subjects there must be some searchings of heart, as awed and intimidated they eyed this strange phenomenon, this master of their masters. There was here no one to cry “Vivat Schill," no one to speak for the Vaterland, no champion of the vast invertebrate Germany. But surely, here and there, in the subservient watching crowd there must be felt some twinge of misgiving, some pang of shame, some feeling of distaste. The Master of their Masters! Of Prussia! Of Germany! Ay, the Master of all—under his Master.
But if this was so, nothing bore witness to it, no one dared to voice it. After a moment, “Proceed!” cried the Master of the Game. “It is the wohlgebore Hofarzt's move.”
The Court Physician moved. The Grand Duke moved in his turn—moved, and moved me. But this time, strung to attention and nerved by Davout’s presence, and the urgency of the peril, I kept my head, I behaved as others. And the next move—oh, joy, removed me from the Board. A red Knight captured me, and with what dignity I might and a sigh of relief I joined the “taken pieces,” who in an orderly motionless line formed a red and white fringe along the left hand side of the Board, where our presence added to the picturesqueness of the scene.
I was thankful for the respite, and my spirits rose. But the crux remained. I had still to pass the Gates and the sentries, I had still to escape from the town, and for some time to come suspense must be my portion. My place in the line happened to be opposite to the spot where the Duchess sat and I had leisure to observe her; and as I watched her slowly waving her fan and now and again languidly murmuring a word to her ladies, I was tempted to believe that she had forgotten my plight. Babetta too, at play behind her and now skipping over her rope, now tossing back her ringlets as she expressed a shrill and free opinion on a move—it was hard to believe that the child had a care in the world, harder still to suppose that she had the eye of a hawk for whatever might affect the Englander whom she had taken under her protection.
But I had presently proof that I wronged them both. I saw the child lean over to her mother, and “Oh dear, dear!” the Duchess exclaimed, in a voice audible across the Board, “How hot those poor Castles must be! That one opposite—he very nearly fainted just now. Who is he? Herr Chemnitz? Well, poor man, tell him he*may go. And Herr Hauser—his visor must be stifling.” Then to an attendant, “Tell Herr Chemnitz and Herr Hauser they may go. His Highness permits.”
THE servant brought the message to us and I suppose that the permission was not unusual, for no one expressed surprise. With a low obeisance we fell out of the line. Hauser made a sign to me, and when we had retired a few yards we made a second obeisance. Then he turned, and side by side, as quickly as our masquerade and our skirts permitted, we walked towards the Entrance Gates, which stood near the extremity of the Terrace, and about a furlong from the Chess Board.
The Duchess’s bold stroke, while it had relieved me, had also surprised me. I had thought to pass the Gates, one of a crowd; now that it was to be done in the company of Herr Hauser only, I felt the pinch. I appreciated, perhaps a little too clearly, the risks. What if the sentries stopped us? Or compelled us to unmask? Short as was the distance we had to cover, I had time before we reached the Gates to wish that the Duchess had not interfered, but had left us to pass out with the others.
I wondered what Hauser thought of it, and as we climbed the steps to the Terrace, “Suppose that they ask us to unmask?” I suggested. I could see the Gates and between them a smudge or two of bright colour, in sharp contrast with the lace-work of russet boughs that overtopped the wall.
“Ach!" he answered with German phlegm. “We will hope not, mein Herr. I came in with Chemnitz. Why should they?”
“But we are going out, not coming in.”
“So!” he answered, and that was all.
I could only hope that he was right. The gates were of fine iron-work in a frame of the same, and above them the Grand Ducal flag floated idly. Between them I could look down the vista of the cobbled street flanked on either hand by the green shutters of clean, substantial' houses.
And how heartily, at that moment, I wished that my feet were safely on those stones. There were four sentries, two in the uniform of Zerbst, two in a French cavalry uniform, green with red revers. They faced one another and it was necessary to pass between them.
As we approached, “Herren Hauser and Chemnitz,” my companion announced, and coolly paused to exchange a. word about the game with one of the German sentries. Perforce I stood too, cursing his easiness, and fuming at the delay; while the two moustachioed Frenchmen standing on the other side of the gate, looked us over, a grin from ear to ear. And truly in all their campaigns it was unlikely that they had ever seen two stranger figures. A moment and Hauser prepared to move on—I, too, with a sigh of thankfulness. We had, indeed, as good as passed the barrier, our feet were actually on the street, when the blow fell.
“Halte la," cried the nearer Frenchman, and let his gun-butt fall noisily to the ground. "Il faut demasquer, Messieurs!"
Heavens! I had not a word to say, nor an idea what to do. The worst had befallen us and I stood helpless, tongue tied, manacled in that accursed dress of mine. And it may be that it was better so, for my companion rose to the occasion with admirable aplomb.
"Ach!" he said. “But not for us! We are townsfolk, playing for His Highness’s pleasure and free of the Gate. Let us pass, my friend, and no jokes.”
But the second Frenchman, he who had not challenged us, barred the way by levelling his gun-barrel before us.
“Demasquz vous, messieurs!” he commanded. “It is an order.”
“But not for us," Hauser persisted stubbornly. “Hartel here knows us. We are townsfolk. Natives of Zerbst, see you.”
The German confirmed him. “I know the Herren,” he said. “It is right.”
BUT the Frenchman did not give way. Instead “Plus de mots!” he grumbled harshly. “I say it is an order, and we—-we obey orders or it is the wooden horse for us. Peste! Are we here to be laughed at?” And he muttered something which sounded like “German pigs!”
“Oh well, very good,” Hauser replied—but his voice was no longer steady. “I’ll unmask. But my friend here, he cannot unless he undresses in the street, and it is—” fumbling with the strings of his helmet—“it is not—what do you call it?—convenable. A respectable tradesman in his own town! I tell you there will be talk of this, meins Herren.”
“Then there will be talk!” the Frenchman growled. “I obey orders and what do I care? Have we fought our way across Europe to be bearded by a—”
“Herr Chemnitz! Herr Chemnitz!” The hail came even as I hesitated, stricken dumb by the ignominy as well as the danger of my position—came from the gardens behind us, and we turned— thankfully. A flying figure, light as gossamer, with floating curls and billowing skirts was racing towards us. It was Babetta, and at her heels a leaping dog and a panting attendant, who was loudly but vainly protesting. “Herr Chemnitz! Herr Chemnitz!” the child repeated, and beckoned to us to await her.
When she came up she was out of breath, and for a moment she could not speak. But her presence changed the atmosphere. The German sentries sprang to attention, slapping their butts and standing rigid. “Her Highness, the Princess!” ejaculated Hauser—in a tone of unmistakable relief. And at the word the French sentries came also to the salute.
“Herr Chemnitz,” Babetta announced, as soon as she had recovered her breath—and with an imperious little hand she waved off her scandalized attendant, “your Anna is to come to the Schloss to play with me at one o’clock. Do you hear? Her Highness permits!”
“I, in the highest degree, honoured am,” I murmured. And I bowed as low as my disguise permitted.
“Bid her bring her hoop,” the young lady commanded. “And see you go quickly and send her. She will need to dress, it goes without saying.”
“Immediately, if Her Highness so honours her,” I replied, and I bowed again. “I hasten to her.”
SHE waved imperiously to us to go, and we turned. The sentries, still standing at attention, no longer barred the way. We moved off together, Hauser and I, keeping the middle of the road, and even swaggering a little.
“Colossal!” Hauser muttered. “She is an Angel Child.”
“It was a near thing,” said I. But my coolness was the merest pretence. As a fact, all my desire at the moment was to wipe my brow.
“Gott in Himmel! She certainly has the true German wit!” he swore enraptured.
“In excelsis!” I agreed thankfully.
”Ach! You say well, in the highest indeed. But there, there, they are not as others,” reverently. “How should they be, being born? And now, listen, Freiherr. We are clear of that, thank God, and in a moment I leave you. But a space before you reach the bridge and on the right hand is an alley little frequented.
You will do wisely to step in there and take off that dress. Then on to— but you have your directions?”
“To Puckler’s. But I have no hat.”
“Better hatless than headless,” he rejoined drily. “We part here.” And to my surprise, without so much as a backward glance or a word of farewell, the man turned his hobby’s head from me and stalked into a shop. He had behaved with splendid courage, and I would gladly have thanked him as he deserved; but he gave me no chance. I suppose that he was as glad to be rid of me as I should be, when the time came, to be rid of my hated disguise, and perhaps for all his phlegm he was not unshaken. At any rate that was how we parted and I saw him no more. But I drink to his memory. ..Hoch! For a German, a man of very nimble brain.
I walked on down the quiet, sleepy street, and though here and there a stray French soldier stood to gape at the strange figure I presented, no one accosted me. Presently I saw the bridge before me, and choosing an alley at random, I left the street. I suppose it was the right passage, for it was untenanted, and hidden from observation by a sharp turn. I tore off the abomininal covering under which I had suffered so much both in body and mind. Freed from its folds I flung it down in a corner and oh, the relief of that moment! But I dared not linger, and with the welcome air cooling my heated brow I returned to the street and, hatless indeed, but otherwise presentable, I strode on to the inn by the bridge. I saw a man standing in the entrance to the yard. He was whistling and I made up to him.
He did not wait for me. Making an almost imperceptible sign he turned back into the yard, and I followed. Within the gates a chaise and four stood ready for the road, the postboys in the saddle. The man opened the door of the carriage and without a word beckoned to me to enter. I did so, he closed the door, clapped his hands, and we moved out of the yard. In a trice we were crossing the long wooden bridge, the clear waters of the river shining beneath us, here broken by a brown sail, there stemmed by a floating mill. The horses’ feet ceased to drum upon the resounding planks. We took the road.
I looked back many times but I saw no sign of pursuit. The chaise was shabby but the horses were strong arid fresh, and the postboys had some countersign, or perhaps word of our coming had been sent before us, for at the Prussian frontier-post with its black and white pillars, we passed without even a check. Again and again I looked back but the road remained empty behind us. At Posdorf we changed horses, but I dared not, hungry and faint as I was, stay to eat, and it was not until we reached Belitz, still some thirty miles from Berlin at five in the afternoon, that I broke my fast. Even so an hour saw me on the road again.
* * * *
AND, oh! the relief it was to awake from that bad. dream and to be one’s self again! To stand next morning, once more Francis Cartwright, of "the British F. O., at the windows of the very same suite in the Hotel de Russie, by the Schlossbrucke, that I had occupied five years before, at a time when the Embassy in the Linden was preparing! To escape from the nightmare of the last three days and the shifts and disguises and inglorious expedients to which I had been driven and at which I now shuddered, and to stand on my own feet ready to face whatever of danger or difficulty still awaited me! For at last I was in Berlin, and beyond Berlin my thoughts did not yet pass—sufficient for the day, I told myself. Indeed, as I turned from the windows to the table, spread English fashion in my honour, and prepared to fall to with an appetite, even the dark prospect that faced me at home lost half its terrors. Viewed through the sunshine of this fine, this exhilarating autumn morning, all things seemed possible. I reminded myself with a good heart that I must be man enough to bear what my own folly had brought upon me and—faire bonne mine a mauvais jeu!
Not that I was not grateful. Not that when I thought of my gracious and generous countrywoman and of dear little Babetta’s wit and courage I did not do so with a full heart, and long for the time when I might make some acknowledgment. Acknowledgment? I could make none equal to the occasion, indeed, but if there were still smugglers at Hamburg or at Varel, if Heligoland still stood, then English toys and Bond Street millinery should not be lacking! Still, my gorge rose at the fallen position in which I had placed myself and the risk of detection I had run; and, never again, never again, I determined would I be so weak. One Drake was enough. I might share, I probably should share, his disgrace. But I would run no second chance of becoming, like him, a laughing stock.
At the Berlin barrier I had taken a high tone, announcing that my business was with the Danish Ministry on behalf of His Highness the Grand Duke of Zerbst. I should be found, if needed, at the Hotel de Russie. But that, I had vowed, was the last subterfuge, if it was one, to which I would stoop. At the hotel, I had presented myself in my own name and demanded my old suite. The night attendant, a former acquaintance, had received me respectfully, though, I saw, with profound astonishment. He had gone to rouse mine host, and he, too, though he had been in some degree prepared, had stared at me as at one risen from the dead.
”Mein Goit!” he had exclaimed, the candle shaking in his hand as he held it up to view me the better. “It is, as Johann said.”
“To be sure, Herr Jager!” I had replied. But I had been a little dashed by a surprise that seemed to exceed the circumstances. “I would like to have my old rooms if they are unoccupied.”
HE HAD shrugged his shoulders. “There are few occupied in_these days. We are a city of the dead. The rooms are at his Excellency’s service, and Johann shall light a fire at once. But—”
But I had no thought now, save of bed, and I had cut him short, bidding him light me to the rooms; I had been many hours on the road, I told him. And still as he obeyed me, and stood to superintend the kindling of the fire, I had caught him stealing furtive glances at me, and I had known that a question trembled on his lips. But I had jumped to the conclusion that the presence in Berlin of that rara avis, an Englishman, sufficiently accounted for his stupefaction, and dog-tired as I was, by all that I had gone through since morning, I had dismissed him as I early and cursorily as was consistent with good manners.
I was soon to learn, from another mouth, that the good fellow had a more substantial and a much stranger reason for his surprise than any of which I had knowledge.
I KNEW it to be of prime importance that I should be in touch with the Danish Minister before the Prussian police or their French masters moved against me, and half an hour after nine saw me leaving the Russie. I had but a short distance to walk, but I saw enough in that brief space to convince me that this was not the Berlin I had known. The city’s one good point, its State buildings, remained; but they seemed in their new and rather garish magnificence to be at greater odds than ever with the meanness of the shabby streets and low roofs that clustered beneath them. Traffic was sparse, trade appeared to be stagnant, depression reigned on all faces, the very carriages seemed to be, were that possible, a shade more ramshackle, and the harness a little dingier than of old. On a city, never beautiful, but once aspiring, the victor had set his heel with a vengeance; and such prosperity as his exactions had not crushed, the absence of the court, still in exile at Konigsberg, had sapped.
Only in one place did I see, as I passed along, shunning rather than seeking notice, anything like animation. About one house in the Unter den Linden, and but a block or two from the Danish Mission, there was coming and going enough. A sentry in a blue coat and red trousers paced to and fro before this house, and through its doors an incessant stream of callers—soldiers, civilians, messengers, officers—was continually in passage. Over the door, flaunting its gilded plumes in the sunshine, an imperial eagle stretched its beak and spread its wings—for this was the French embassy, and within its walls I could fancy Daru and St. Marsan lolling in their chairs, while German princes waited in the anteroom, until it should be the pleasure of French generals to receive them.
Truly a wonderful sight to one who had known the old Berlin, its braggart air, its swaggering army, its traditions of victory, its memory, all-pervading of the Great Frederick! A sight to move and to astonish! It brought home to me as nothing else had, Jena and Auerstadt, those crushing defeats—ay, and the slender basis on which all military power rests!
But it may be believed that I did not stand before that house and gaze! I passed it with averted face, hurried on to the Danish Mission, and sent in my name. Only then did I breathe freely or feel myself at liberty to indulge my curiosity. From the safe haven of the doorway, I had the French House still in sight and could discern through the thinning foliage of the limes, the gleam of the golden wings and the stir of the crowd that moved beneath them. And as I gazed, myself withdrawn from sight, I witnessed the commotion caused by an arrival. I saw the crowd part suddenly asunder, and a carriage drawn by four smoking horses, whirl up to the door. From the carriage, amid much parade and excitement, there alighted four men, wearing cloaks over their uniforms. They entered the house, and in the first to pass within, flanked on either hand by bared heads, salutes, ceremony, I recognized Davout!
I had attained to safety only just in time!
I turned back into the hall, and immediately became aware—my sight-seeing had taken up no more than a minute—of a stentorian voice heaping one exclamation of surprise on another. “Bring him in! Bring him in!” I heard, and the next moment the messenger, to whom I had given my name, came hurrying out to me. “His Excellency will see you at once, sir,” he said, and, beckoning me to follow him, went before me into the room.
Dear old Bronberg! As-huge, as hearty, as burly as ever, yet hiding under his booming and bellowing personality almost as much finesse as benevolence. “Wunderbar! Colossal!” he cried. “It is!" And laying his hands on my shoulders he kissed me roundly on both cheeks. “Cartwright, by all the powers, returned to life!”
“To be sure!” I said, moved by the cordiality of his reception, yet already feeling the awkwardness of the explanation upon which I must enter. “Here I am, Baron, at last!”
“And Ellis? Perceval Ellis?” He looked expectantly towards the door which the messenger still held ajar. “Is your chief not—"
“Ellis?” I exclaimed.
“Yes. He is with you, I suppose?”
I stared. What did the man mean? “Perceval Ellis?” I repeated. “With me?”
“Why not? If one, why not the other? Why,” gazing at me in amazement, “what’s the matter, man? Why do you look like that?”
“But Perceval Ellis?” I stammered. “Ellis is in England, Baron—this ten weeks.”
“The devil he is!” he exploded.
“But of course.”
“Then all I can say,” the Baron roared, and I saw the blood rush to his face and his eyes snap, “your people have given me a devilish lot of trouble for nothing! In England these ten weeks? Do you mean it? Donner und Blitzen, man! If that is so, what does your pretty Government mean by mean by--”
“But, isn’t it so?” I struck in, staring feebly at him. “Did he not come through Berlin in August—the' first week of August, and go on to England?”
“No, he didn’t!” he bellowed in his bull voice. “No, he didn’t, or there are more liars in your country than I believe in! No! No, no, no! He didn’t! And if he is not with you now, the devil knows where he is! Gott in Himmel, haven’t I interviewed half the German nation and written a pile of letters this high—this high about him and about you? Haven’t you both been given up for dead—haven’t you both been lost this two months, and half the embassies and all the police and der Teufel knows who besides been driven out of their senses to find you? And Talleyrand—that subtle devil! writing, and Duroc! And has not the whole country been ransacked to find him—and you? And you walk coolly in with a smile on your face and want to make me believe—why, man, it would try the patience of a saint! What does it all mean? What’s at the bottom of it? Where is he? Where is he, man?”
“Before God, I don’t know,” I said, my head whirling. “I did not know that he was lost, I supposed him to be in England—these many weeks.”
“Then why are you here? Why are you here, man? If he is in England! Were you not together?”
“I can explain that,” I said, wincing. “We parted at Wittenberg, Baron.”
“The last day of July.”
“And he went on—without you?”
“Yes.” I wiped my brow.
“It is a long story.”
“WELL, in heaven’s name, man, let us have it. Let us have it! It is time, I am sure. Let us get some glimmer of light in this worse than Baltic fog. Gott in Himmel, when I saw you come in at the door I supposed he was with you, and there was an end of it! And glad I was, my friend, I can tell you, for the bother I’ve had with this—but there, wait! wait!” He touched a bell and to the messenger who entered, “I am not to be interrupted, do you hear?” he said. “Not for an hour, if it is Count Hardenberg himself! I see no one. And hark you, don’t let any one know that this gentleman is here. Let us see where we are,” he continued as the door closed, “before we commit ourselves. This is the strangest thing I have known for many a day.”
“I am completely in the dark,” I said.
“Well, you can tell me your story, at any rate. We can get that. And that may throw light on the rest. So you parted, eh? At Wittenberg? Well, how was it? And why? Better begin at the beginning, man.”
“Yes,” I said. “I will. You shall know all that I know, Baron. But it never even occurred to me until now—when I have it from your mouth—that Perceval Ellis was not safe in England these three months. You really tell me that that is not so?”
“Haven’t I told you—over and over again?” he roared in his great bull voice. “He has not been heard of since the first days of August, I tell you—when the earth opened and swallowed him as far as I can hear! But tell me your tale and may be we shall get some light at last.” And he wiped his brow with a handkerchief as big as a lug sail.
I told him then what I had to tell, the story, step by step, but more briefly, of course, and omitting all unnecessary details, which I have here related. He stopped me now and again that he might jot down a date, but otherwise he refrained from comment, though an occasional grunt of -surprise bore witness to the interest with which he followed my adventures. I knew as I told the tale, knew only too well, that I did not come well out of it; that the part I had played in leaving Ellis must appear in his eyes—unfavorable. But he made no remark on this and the shock that this news about Perceval Ellis had caused me, and the curiosity I felt to learn the facts, rendered me less tender on my own account and less susceptible to his criticism.
When I had done, “And you come now from Zerbst?” he said.
“I left Zerbst at noon yesterday.”
“And Davout?” He gave way, despite himself, I think, to a bellow of laughter. “You gave him the slip, you funny dog, en tour a echecs! Ho! Ho! You funny dog, you! Mein Gott, it was well thought of!”
I nodded, my face hot. I saw that I should never hear the last of that game of chess.
“And you in no danger, had you known it, my lad! Why, I tell you, he is as keen to get to the bottom of this as we are. His people swear they know nothing about it, and meantime they are getting the credit of shooting you both in the ditch at Madgeburg for the sake of the despatches you carried! And on the top of the d’Enghien case and the Rumbold and the Wagstaff business they don’t like it! They are as sore as a mangy dog. A bad name and nothing gained, all the stink and no despatches, do you see? Do you see? I’m told that the Emperor has written in his own hand and rapped M. Daru pretty smartly over the knuckles. Of course if they had got the despatches it would be another story.”
“But are you sure, Baron, that they have not got them?” I put in.
He nodded with a meaning look. “Well, yes, I am sure,” he said. “I think I am sure, my friend. If they had got them—more than one would have heard of it and been sorry—always supposing there was that in them which I suspect there was? No, they have not got them or they are cleverer than I think them, and I think M. de Talleyrand the devil for cleverness. No, my friend, I am pretty sure that they have not got them. And a man who should know better than I is equally sure. And that is Justus Gruner.”
“Justus Gruner?” I echoed. I did not know the name.
“Was he not in your time? The head of the Prussian police.” He looked at the door and lowered his tone. “He has the name of being devoted to Daru—he would not hold his office another day if he had not. But—” he looked meaningly at me—“I can trust my Justus, see you, my friend, and between me and you, he is confident that they have not got them. You shall see him to-day, and tell him your story. I will arrange it.”
“In the meantime,” I said anxiously. “I have told you my story, Baron, but I am in the dark as to yours. Perceval Ellis and I parted at Wittenberg. I suppose that something is known of his movements after that? I left Klatz the messenger with him, and also Kaspar his servant. Have they too disappeared? What of them?”
“We have them.”
“They are both in the hands of the police—here in Berlin.”
“But did they not tell you that I—"
“Had left Ellis? They did!” the Baron roared, and he struck the table. “They did! And we did not believe them. No one did! No one believed them! And that was one reason—there were others of course, but that was one—why they are still in charge. They have been examined and re-examined, and always that has been against them. But I’ll tell you the whole story—I have the précis here. The précis? Why, Potztausend! we have drawn up a hundred, if we have drawn up one. We’ve kept our quill-drivers at work for days and days on this! We’ve covered reams with it! Your Foreign Office has given us no rest over it, and my lord, Perceval Ellis’s uncle—uncle, is he not?—pheugh, there’s a man! But the précis—here it is, and here are the facts. Where shall I begin? Well, I’ll begin here. “The British envoy lately accredited to Vienna, travelling with Us suite, passed, it is certain through Berlin on the second day of August. He was provided with Prussian passports in the name of Herr Eils and attendants, and his passage is proved by the fact that a person exhibiting those passports was supplied with a relay of horses upon the demand of the landlord of the Hotel Parlement d’Angleterre. But the travellers appear to have been anxious, to avoid observation, so that in fact no one acquainted with their persons is able to speak to their separate identities, though the hotel keeper is clear that one wore a handsome fur cloak which he noticed because the day, though wet, was warm, and he drew the conclusion that the wearer was an invalid. A gentleman believed to be the Envoy called at the Danish Ministry but in the absence of Baron von Bronberg declined to leave his name.
“IT IS ascertained that the party left Berlin about four in the afternoon but it is thought that one or more of the travellers entered the carriage as it passed through the streets—this it is supposed for the purpose of avoiding observation. They arrived at Spandau at seven but instead of going to the principal inn, the Rothe Adler, they stayed at Koch’s inn, which being the stopping place for the stage waggons was crowded. The inn-keeper who has been repeatedly questioned is able to state the following facts: that two gentlemen sat down to supper together and that the taller and darker of the two who appeared to be also the superior, seemed to be in a nervous and fidgetty state; that he supped—the inn has only one common room—in his fur cloak, and that by turning up the collar, on the pretext that the room was draughty, he concealed his features as far as possible from the people about him. The servants of the inn differ as to the number of attendants who were with the party, but the better evidence appears to be that there were two. The travellers let it be known that they were merchants returning to Hamburg, but their appearance and their desire to keep to themselves left the impression that they were other than they gave out. On the last point the Postmaster at Spandau remembers that before leaving in the morning one of the travellers appeared to be in favor of going on with a pair of horses only, but that the wearer of the fur cloak, supported by the Postmaster’s statement that the road was sandy, over-ruled him and the full team was taken on.
“Their intention, as given out, was to reach Perleberg that day, but it is believed that the principal traveller was seized with illness. At any rate on the arrival of the party at Kyritz in the afternoon he announced that he would stay the night. Unfortunately the Black Eagle where they stopped was in a commotion owing to the presence of a detachmen of French infantry, which had halted there on its march from Stettin to Hanover. Very little, therefore, can be learned of the movements of the party, but it has been ascertained that the two principal persons were forced to share one room and on the pretext of illness kept themselves so close that it was only with difficulty—when inquiry was made five weeks later—that they could be traced. However, there is evidence that the sick man’s companion was anxious to proceed next morning, and that something like a dispute arose. Eventually they stayed over the whole day and towards evening the invalid was sufficiently recovered to descend and he and his friend took their supper at a table which they shared with two women travellers who had just arrived. This was impressed on the memory of the attendant by a special incident. As the gentleman in the fur cloak sat down and opened his napkin, he let fall a slip of paper. The waitress was beside him, she picked it up and returned it to him, and it was the agitation into which the sight of this paper threw him that brought the party to her mind. She remembers that he rose to his feet as if taken with illness and as abruptly resumed his seat; and that then, like one taking a resolution, he placed the paper in his companion’s hand. He too appeared to be much agitated. The elder of the two ladies, a handsome woman about thirty-five—her companion was fifteen years younger and also attractive—made more than one effort to enter into conversation with them, but in vain—the travellers appeared to be so completely engrossed by the appearance of the paper.”
“It was Klatz, of course,” I said, “to whom he handed the paper.”
“No doubt it was. I understand that now.”
“And the paper—there is equally no doubt—was a warning, similar to the two of which I have told you.”
“But now that we are again on Klatz, I wonder, Baron—I really do wonder,” I asked, “why with so little evidence of my presence with the party, you did not accept his story—that I was not there.”
SO, TO BE SURE!” The Baron bent forward and tapped me on the knee to ensure my attention. “Well, I will tell you. For three reasons. First, there was always a cause for the lack of evidence of your presence—the crowded inns, the shyness of the party, the disorder on the roads—the thing was always in doubt. Secondly, if you were not there, and if your disappearance was not due to the same cause that accounted for Perceval Ellis’s—where were you? Why did you not come forward? See, my friend? You did not appear, neither in Germany nor in England. Ergo, my dear fellow, we argued that, dead or alive, you and Perceval Ellis had disappeared together, And thirdly— thirdly we had another reason for distrusting Klatz, which I will come to by and by. For the moment let me continue. Where was I? At the departure from Kyritz, was it not?”
“Yes, Baron, but one moment. The postboys? They must have known and been able to tell you how many were in the party?”
“Just so, my friend,” with another tap on the knee. “Just so. And doubtless they did know. But we have them not. The two that rode from Berlin to Spandau left Berlin a week later under contract to go to Konigsberg, to the Court, and they are believed to be at present with the Queen at Petersburg. At any rate they are lost in the eastern fog. From Spandau to Kyritz the lads who rode that stage went off with the French detachment taking their master’s horses with them, and they cannot be traced. Justice would much like to trace them and the horses. Then from Kyritz to Perleberg they had one postboy only, riding the leaders —a volunteer who offered himself at the last —the Postmaster was short—and who disappeared with poor Ellis.”
“Disappeared?” I exclaimed. “No?”
“Ay, disappeared— with Ellis. No more trace to be found of the one than of the other.”
“But that’s very singular,” I said. “Was the man a stranger to the Postmaster?”
“He was—a complete stranger. A man—but don’t let this prejudice you—” the Baron shook his head with a smile—-“in the French postillion service. Or he had been.”
“Postillion service. Yes.”
I sprang to my feet. “The devil he was!” I cried. “Why that man—a man in a French postillion’s uniform positively haunted me—haunted me during the last two days I was with poor Ellis.”
“You noticed him?”
Bronberg nodded thoughtfully, but after a moment’s consideration shook his head. “Well, if we had known that,” he said, “we could not have done more than we have to find him. The other postboys could have had nothing to do with the catastrophe, and search for them has been no doubt more or less perfunctory. But for this man, who was on the scene at the vital moment, the hue and cry has been strict. Not only have the most strenuous inquiries been made, but a reward of 200 thalers has been offered for his discovery.”
“That should produce him,” I said. And I sat down again. “Well, so much for that. But I’ve led you astray. You were leaving Kyritz for Perleberg!”'
“YES. They left Kyritz about seven, we gather, or I a little later. The road you know? It is infamous. It is one of the worst in Europe, if you can call it a road—sandy, heavy, unpeopled, the hamlets sparse and miserable, the inns wretched hovels! It is all sand and pine-woods, sand and pine-woods, and here and there a melanchoy lake hemmed in by trees, or a sluggish arm of the Havel winding through the woods and to be forded thrice in the hour! Oh, d—n it, I have travelled that road a score of times both ways, and it is still a nightmare to me! Well, on that road there is no trace of them until we come through to Perleberg. They arrived at Perleberg an hour before sunset, and here, at Perleberg, every movement that they made has been traced, followed, examined, scrutinized—every movement! For if anything is certain, my friend, it is that into Perleberg your countryman drove about six in the afternoon of that day, and out of it, so far as human intelligence can determine, he never did go!”
"Then he is there now!” I cried, astonished at the Baron’s vehemence.
“Yes, alive or dead. Alive or dead! God knows which!” The Baron wiped his brow.
“And some one else too, I suppose?”
“Ay, more than one probably. More than one,” darkly.
“Yet you are sure that the French—”
He shook his head. “No, the French did not do it. I tell you so. Nor do the French know who did it. I have reasons for being sure of that, which I will tell you by and by. Of course at first we were all inclined to lay it at their door. They had a motive, and they are not”—with a glance at the door—“to say the least of it, scrupulous. But no, it was not they, my friend, in this case.”
“But perhaps the Prussian police—at their bidding?” I persisted.
“No, nor on their own motion. I am quite sure of that, too. I can trust my friend Justus. They do not know, they, too, who did it. The truth is if the ground had opened and swallowed your Chief—at nine o’clock that night—he could not have disappeared more completely or left fewer traces behind him. Oh, it is a puzzle, a very great puzzle, my friend. Colossal! And the trouble it has given me! I sweat when I think of it!” And he passed his huge bandanna over his vast smiling face. “Colossal!” he repeated. “A puzzle!”
“YES,” I answered thoughtfully, “it seems a most I extraordinary thing, Baron, if, as you say, every effort has been made to find him.” Later, let me say here, sadder and deeper emotions were to be mine, emotions stirred by the part I had unwittingly played in the matter; but for the moment I felt only perplexity. “But you haven’t told me yet what did happen at Perleberg.”
“No,” he replied, “that is what I am going to do, my friend. You know Perleberg? Have passed through it, probably? Small quiet town on the Mecklenburg frontier; a cobbled Market Place over big for the town and here and there grass-grown, in the middle a statue of Roland, on one side the Cathedral. Two streets, divided by the Rathaus leave the Market Place at the far end; in one of these streets is the principal inn, the Golden Crown, in the other, the second-best inn, the German Coffee House. From the nearer end of the Market Place one broad street runs out to the Post House, which is on the post road from Berlin to Hamburg—the road skirts but does not pass through Perlebeig. Opposite the Post House is a third tavern, a ramshackle place of middling reputation, though at times travellers put up there by reason of its situation. Well, that’s Perleberg—a Cathedral, a grass-grown Market Place, three streets, three inns and a Post House—add a few lanes and alleys and you have the whole. Well, the carriage arrived at the Post House about six, but Perceval Ellis was not in it. He had alighted—this is agreed —some fifty yards short of the Post House and had gone into the town. He asked his way to the house of Captain von Kalisch, the Governor, who lodges next door to the Rathhaus at the corner of the street in which is the German Coffee House. He found Kalisch at home. He at once disclosed to him—he was in a state of great excitement who he was and his nationality. He stated that he was being followed, that he had received retreated warnings and believed himself to be in imminent danger. He proposed to stay the night and he requested that a guard should be furnished for his protection.
Who killed Ellis, and why? Or was he really dead? Another long and absorbing instalment will appear in the January 15 issue.