"THE Governor was taken aback. The request and the circumstances were out of the ordinary, he was a Prussian official, and he had no instructions. He was at first for refusing. But he saw that his visitor was laboring under great excitement and he took time to consider. He examined the stranger’s passports, and at length, being convinced that he really was—astounding as it seemed—a British envoy en voyage, he consented to his request, and sent two soldiers down to the Post House. He is by way of being a gentleman, Kalisch, and seeing that his visitor was suffering from cold as well as from nervousness, he sent for some hot tea and insisted on him drinking a cup. This, after some pressing, Ellis did, but the Governor noticed that his hands shook so violently that he used both to raise the cup to his lips. About half past six Ellis left and walked down to the Post House. You follow that?”
“Kalisch lays much stress on his condition. He had all the appearance he says of a man who had not slept for several nights and was haunted by presentiments of evil. He even goes so far as to say that he would not have been surprised if the stranger had done something rash.”
I STOOD up impetuously—and sat down again.
“Absurd!” I said. “Inconceivable! Ellis was the last man, even if he had not been in a position of responsibility—the very last man to do such a thing!”
The Baron nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I am with you there—absolutely. I think that Kalisch, looking at things by the light of what followed, has exaggerated his impressions. I am sure that we may put that aside, and I proceed. Ellis on arriving at the Post House or soon afterwards supped with one companion in a small room in which were supping two Jew merchants, who were also on their way to Hamburg, and who were still in the house some hours after his absence was" discovered. They did not leave, indeed, until nearly midnight, but no suspicion attaches to them. About half past seven, the gentleman was observed by a girl, a servant at the Post House, to be examining his pistols, apparently to see if the priming was in order, and from this arose in part the idea of suicide. A few minutes later, again entering the room she found him walking up and down, in an excited state, and talking to himself. At eight he appears to have suddenly changed his mind as to staying the night it is possible that it was only then that he learned that there were no sleeping rooms at the Post House and that he would have to remove into the town. At any rate he went to the room used by the postillions and ordered horses to be put to his carriage—he would go on. At that the man who had conducted the party from Kyritz—”
“Yes, if he was a Frenchman, objected and angry words followed, but Ellis persisted, and after some toing and froing, for it would appear that he changed his mind more than once, final orders were given for a start at nine o’clock. Ellis then went out to the sentries, and giving the men a douceur told them that they were no longer needed. He sent his thanks by them to the Governor and informed him that he was going on that night.”
“Would to God I had been with him!” I exclaimed, deeply moved by the picture of poor Perceval, alone, distraught, and awàre of bis peril, but unable to see whence it threatened. “Where was Klatz all this time?” “After supper? In and out, he says, until about half past eight. At half past eight he went into town on an errand of his own. He says that when he left the Post House, Ellis was walking up and down beside the carriage, which was standing in the road before the Post House, and between it and the Black Cow, the tavern on the opposite side of the way. The carriage had not been unloaded and after sunset a woman, the wife of the Postmaster, undertook to watch it. Later she was called away and deputed the task to her son August, a young man of a reputation on a par with that of the Black Cow. He admits that about a quarter to nine seeing the traveller in the fur cloak standing beside it, he stepped away and when he returned at five minutes to nine the carriage was unattended. At the same moment—or as nearly as can be fixed—Klatz returned from the town and seeing that the horses were not attached went into the yard to learn the reason. He found that the postboy was not there; he had been missing, the hostler said, for twenty minutes. Klatz went into the house to tell his master, but could not find him. He looked into the carriage, fancying that he might have seated himself in it, and gone to sleep; but he was not there. And from that moment to this, my friend—with one doubtful exception—your friend Perceval has not been seen by living eyes—so far as we can learn.”
“A very strange story,” I said, drawing a long breath. “Yes, yet as far as we can learn, a true story.”
“He was last seen then, standing by the carriage at five minutes to nine—in the dark.”
“Yes, it was dusk at any rate—and we are told a cloudy evening.”
“And August who saw him last is—suspect?”
“A vaurien! A bad character! Beyond doubt. Moreover, when search was made later and the Post House was ransacked, a thing that was at first believed to be Ellis’s, and that certainly was purloined from the party, was discovered hidden under some sacks in an outhouse.” “No!” I cried. “What was it?”
“A fur cloak.”
“But does not that bring it fairly home to August?”
“To the Post House at any rate? Yes, apparently. But wait a moment. The two Jews were in and about the Post House until fully two hours after Ellis's disappearance. They are responsible men and we have their evidence, and they are certain that nothing could have happened to Ellis in or about the Post House without their knowledge. Then the story August tells seems to be probable. He says that later in the evening he looked into the carriage and saw the cloak lying on the seat, was tempted by its value, and took it. But he denies strenuously—he is still in custody—that he did anything to Ellis or has any knowledge where he is or what happened to him. Moreover, Klatz and Kasper both assert that the cloak is not Ellis’s but yours.”
“But as we believed that you had disappeared with Ellis, this did not remove the suspicion. Now, however, as you were not there, it looks still more likely that August is telling the truth.”
“Yes,” I admitted, “it does. But, Baron, when you said a few minutes ago that August was the last to see Ellis, you added ‘with one doubtful exception.’ What exception? It may shed some light.” “It does, if we can be sure of the facts. I’ll tell you. The Governor’s landlady has a daughter, a respectable girl. She took in the tea that afternoon and saw Ellis and is able to describe Ellis’s dress. She says he wore a fur travelling cap and a fur cloak, open, over a short laced grey coat and grey trousers, with a diamond brooch in his shirt or stock. Now she says that at nine that evening—the cathedral clock was striking at the moment—a tall man wearing a cloak with the collar turned up about his neck called and asked to see the Governor. She told him that Captain Von Kalisch was not at home; he was at a ball given that evening by the provincial nobility at the German Coffee House. The visitor turned away without replying, and she fancied went round the corner in the direction of that inn, and she thinks that he was joined a few paces from the door by a man who came out of the darkness about the Roland Statue. But she is not certain that the caller was the Englishman who had been to see Kalisch earlier in the evening and had taken tea. There was no light in the passage, the only lights were two oil lamps in the market place and they were behind the visitor. Consequently his face was in deep shadow, and she can only say that he wore a cloak and appeared to be about Ellis’s height.”
“Still that is evidence,” I said.
“Yes, and I think with the girl that it was your friend. Indeed we concluded that the person win joined him was no other than yourself. It was not but any way if it was Ellis who called at the door that was positively the last that was seen of him.”
“Turning as if to enter the street in which is tin German Coffee House?”
“There is nothing to be learned about him at tin Coffee House?”
“Nothing! Absolutely nothing. No Englishman called there that night. But there was a ball going forward at the inn, a band playing, there were many strangers in every part of the house, and much confusion.”
“Well,” I said drily, after thinking it over for a minute, “I was certainly not the person who joined him in the Market Place. And to be frank, Baron, as there seems to be an entire want of evidence of my presence in Perleberg, I am more astonished than even that you assumed it. Especially as Klatz and Kaspai were in one story that I was not there.”
“You forget the strength of the parti pris, my friend. We started with the assumption that Ellis and you were together. You as well as Ellis were missing; hence we believed that the same fate had overtaken both. As a fact at Perleberg the party were never together except, perhaps, at supper-time; one in, one out—you might have been on some errand in the town. Then the man Kaspai was a stupid, frightened witness, am: when he corroborated Klatz that you were not there we, knowing something about Klatz doubted him also."
“It was probably Klatz who joined Ellis in the Market Place?”
NO. WE have the Jews evidence that from nine onwards Klatz was searching for Ellis at the Post House. Klatz could not therefore have been in the Market Place at nine, moving in the direction of the German Coffee House. Moreover”—and Bronberg once more bent forward and significantly tapped me on the knee—“we hold Klatz, my friend. We know all about Klatz."
“You think so, but —”
“Oh, but we do. We know all about him. He did sell you! He did sell you! You were right there. Cartwright, you were right all along. Klatz did sell you, or rather the despatches you carried—to the French or five hundred pounds sterling that we are sure of.”
“No!” I cried, really surprised at last. “Yes! For five hundred pounds—English sterling!”
“The villain! The d—d villain!” I exclaimed.
“He was a villain. Your suspicions were right. He told you. But he failed to carry out his bargain. You were to be waylaid in a lonely part of the road and robbed of the despatches. Of course the French wished to carry out the affair as quietly as possible, and accordingly the first trap was laid for you in a wood rear Elsterwerde. But you diverged from the Berlin road— as you have told me—and made instead for Wittenberg, and so baffled them for that time. Klatz could not arrange another snare in a moment; your change of route had put him out of touch with his employers, and not all places were suited to so delicate a business. However, another rendez-vous was ultimately arranged, at a quiet spot on the farther side of Kyritz. But again Klatz’s plan was dislocated. Ellis’s illness deferred his departure from Kyritz by twenty-four hours —you will remember that Klatz remonstrated—and when the party arrived at the place, the trap was not set. Justus Gruner has got to the bottom of all that, and the French, confronted with Klatz’s confession, have admitted as much and have even cynically reclaimed the five hundred-pound bill which was found on him, and which guided Justus to the truth.”
“Well, I am d—d!” I exclaimed.
“The French, indeed, think nothing too bad for Klatz, for it is their theory—and it is one of the three which cover the ground—that he was a double traitor; that he had another client and having touched the French money, sold the despatches and his master to a third party.”
“The Judas! But do believe that, Baron?”
“No, I don’t. I do not think that the man could have been rash enough to entertain the idea. And—for a second and weightier reason—if he sold the despatches to a third party, where are the despatches? Where are they?” The Baron leaned forward and touched my knee significantly.
“Where are they, my friend?” The Baron nodded twice, his face pregnant with meaning.
“Yes, I see,” I said.
“That is the real point. That is the index finger to the mystery. Where are they? Who has them? For”—his eyes beginning to twinkle—’“I suppose without trespassing on your confidence, Mr. Secretary, I may presume that they were important? ”
“Important! I should think so, Baron!” I cried.
“Valuable, therefore,” drily, “to the French, of course? We know it."
“Well, I have told you that I am quite sure that they have not got them. If they had—"
“There would have been trouble before this,” I admitted. “Yes, that is so, Baron. I allow it. That certainly seems to be a conclusive proof that the French have not got them.”
“It is. Well, then, to whom besides would they be of value?"
“To our own Foreign Office, of course.”
“Of course. Well, we know from them that they have not got them. They have bleated loudly enough about them! To any third party?”
“No, I should think not,” I said.
“Ah, but think! Think again, my friend.” He looked at me with a queer smile. “What of the -what of the Ball Platz, eh?”
I STARED at him, and thought hard, while I waited for him to go on.
“What of Vienna? What of our excellent friends, the late Stadion, and the present Metternich and the nimble-witted but enthusiastic Gentz? Your friends? What if they came to feel that in their desire to maintain a link with your delightful money-bags, and your so powerful ships of war—which, alas, for poor Copenhagen I cannot admit are always well used—-what if it struck them that they had put their hands to a little more than on cooler reflection, with the French Army undeniably masters, they deemed wise? Or safe? Or safe, my friend? Might they not in that case conceive the idea of regaining possession —of those important signatures?”
I smiled. “It does not arise,” I said. “No, Baron. There was nothing in the despatches—”
“Though so important? Though so secret?” His face wore a benevolent smile, but his eyes twinkled. “Nothing in them that might render Vienna anxious— to recover them or destroy them?”
I shook my head smiling. It would not do for me to admit that. “No,” I said, “there was nothing in them as bad—or as good—as that, Baron.” But I did not suppose that he would believe me, and certainly his suggestion fell in with the facts; it accounted not only for the loss of the despatches but for the non-effect of that loss. But I considered it a most unlikely solution, and I was not prepared to give it weight by debating it. “No,” I repeated, “there is no way out there, I am sure. I can think of no third party with an interest strong enough to lead them to bribe Klatz —or to murder poor Ellis.”
“Then we will rule that out—for the moment,” he agreed. “There remain but two theories then. The first is the one which is firmly maintained by Kalisch and the police at Perleberg. It is that Ellis fell a victim to a common robbery, that he was lured from the side of the carriage —possibly in the darkness no more than thirty or forty yards -and was attacked and murdered by vulgar cutthroats, who finding the papers upon him destroyed them in ignorance of their value. The suspicions of the local people fixed themselves, I may tell you, on the tavern opposite the Post House. They searched it most closely and with some success, for they found buried under the cellar floor a skeleton. But it was certainly not Ellis’s, as it was plain it had lain there for some years; and for the rest no trace of anything belonging to him could be found there. But a stream runs near, and there are pinewoods within ten minutes walk. The stream was dragged, and the woods were beaten without result. But such a search must be perfunctory, the Black Cow is not the only suspicious house in the town, and the failure to find the body has not convinced the local police that they are wrong.”
“But on the whole I prefer the third and last alternative —the one held by Gruner and the Berlin police and incessantly and vociferously proclaimed by Klatz.”
“And that is?”
THAT Klatz was not the only one in pursuit of the despatches, that there were others hunting a la meme piste, who had the advantage over him that they were aware of his operations, while he was in ignorance of theirs; that the warnings given at Grossenhayn and Kyritz were given by them, with a view to spoiling his game and that at Perleberg Ellis fell into their hands.”
I paused to consider the suggestion. Some one tapped at the door. The messenger who had introduced me put in his head. “In five minutes," the Baron said.
“Yes, I allow, Baron,” I said, “that that would account for many of the facts. But it is open to the same objection you. stated before. If Ellis fell a victim to a scheme, the object of which was to obtain the despatches, and to sell them to the highest bidder —where are they?”
“Just so,” he said. “And that was why I” - he looked blandly at me—“suggested the Ball Platz. If Vienna recovered them it would only be to destroy them."
““But don’t you see, Baron,” I remonstrated with some heat, “that you are accusing Metternich of a monstrous thing? Of the murder of an envoy accredited to his own Court. Of an infamy in fact! An unspeakable treachery!”
“No, no!” protesting with arms flung wide. “No, no, my friend, do not put that on me. Because, do you see, he might be only the purchaser—after the event.”
“I don’t believe it,” I said positively. And I meant it. “I’ll never believe it, Baron. We are not, really we are not as bad as that.”
“Well, perhaps not,” he answered—but I could see with some lingering doubt. “Perhaps not. Only you see the hypothesis meets the facts as far as we know them. And putting it aside there remains only the local theory —that Ellis was the victim of a casual crime.”
“Then whence the warnings at Grossenhayn and Kyritz?”
Bronberg shrugged his shoulders. “I give it up,” he said. “It is a puzzle, a great puzzle, my friend. But do you meet Gruner here at three. I’ll send for him, and we’ll see what he says about it.”
AS I WALKED away from the Mission, I might, no doubt, if I had used my eyes, have seen more than I had already remarked of the change for the worse which had come over Berlin. But my thoughts were not of Berlin, nor of our French friends whose door I passed blindly, nor even of Bronberg, whose door I had just left. Nor did they as yet range among the several theories that the Baron had propounded. They were of Ellis, and they were, God knows, very bitter and very sad thoughts. For it is true that the faults of the dead fall from them, their virtues remain in our minds; and Perceval had been my chief and, with all his trifling affectations, an honest English gentleman. And it was a picture of him, pacing to and fro in the darkness beside the lonely carriage, with a fate more obscure than the night already enveloping him—-a picture of him, alone, deserted, distracted, trusting no one and with no one to trust, aware of his danger yet ignorant of the quarter whence it threatened him—this picture it was, and the gloomy and remorseful reflections which it called up that gripped and tormented my mind, as I walked through the unseen streets.
For my eyes were opened, and I saw and saw with bitter regret what I had done. We had been bound together by all the ties of the service. We had lived side by side for weeks, we had shared many an hour of work and some of cordial companionship, we had been friends after a fashion. And then with danger ahead, in the teeth of clear warnings and of my own apprehensions, I had left him to face the peril! In a moment of irritation—-and how petty, how unworthy seemed its cause now I looked back!—I had abandoned him, I had deserted him, and consigned him to the fate that I now felt certain had been his!
In Bronberg’s presence I had hidden my feelings, though even then they had tormented me; but now that I was free to think, it seemed to me that I could never make up for the past, never hold up my head again, never put off the burden of self-reproach!
For I was sure that had I been with him, this would not have happened. Together we could have borne with ease a burden too great for one. Together we could have stood back to back, and baffled this miserable scheme. And at least and at worst he would not have spent his last hours, alone and unsupported, watched only by alien eyes and entangled, with none to support him, in the unseen toils that he knew to be closing about him. And why, I asked myself, had I deserted him? Why had I abandoned him—-and my duty? Alas, for reasons so small and so petty that I could not recall them without shame, nor formulate them without humiliation! Poor Ellis! Poor Perceval! How could I face his wife, bis family, his friends—and tell them the tale?
It was a most wretched hour that I spent, wandering through the Thiergarten, heedless whither I went, and blind even to the change caused by the removal of the Chariot and Horses from the Brandenburg Gate. I saw only the mean post house at Perleberg, and the dark road before it, the shapeless bulk of the laden carriage, and beside it, pacing'distractedly, to and fro, the figure of my friend!—the friend whom I had abandoned!
But if I could not save him, at least I might avenge him! And slowly as I passed along in sorrowful meditation, that thought took possession of me. I might avenge him! And the despatches? It might still be possible to undo my error there. They were lost, but they might not be lost beyond finding; and to recover them were it practicable, were it even possible, was the only reparation I could make. True, what the Prussian police and their French masters had failed to find, it was unlikely that I could find. But I might try, it was my duty to try, and with so strong, so overwhelmingly an inducement as moved me, I might conceivably succeed, and in doing so, might also avenge Ellis’s death.
THE thought gave me some consolation. For a moment it lifted the dark cloud, and I fell to considering the four theories, which according to Bronberg, exhausted the facts. The first—that the French had obtained the despatches, I discarded; it was clear that had they seized them they would have acted on them. They would have demanded the dismissal of Metternich and taken other steps; and I had the Baron’s word that they had taken no such steps. The second alternative—that the Ball Platz had taken fright and manoeuvred to recover them, I could not stomach. I knew the Austrian ministers well, and I could not think so ill of them.
Then for the theory of a casual robbery, which the complete disappearance of the papers seemed to support? It failed in one point. It did not account for the warnings against Klatz. Those warnings, if they were, as seemed likely, given by the guilty party, pointed to something deeper and more deliberate than a casual guet-apens having for its object a diamond brooch or a fur cloak.
So there remained only the fourth alternative—that Klatz in the pursuit of the papers had had his rivals who had succeeded where he had failed. This theory also had its difficulty, in the complete disappearance of the despatches. But inasmuch as it implied that the authors of the crime were also the authors of the warnings, given at Grossenhayn and Kyritz, it was tempting, seeing that it provided at least one clue; the conspirators or some one acting for them must have been at these places and also at Perleberg at the time Ellis was there.
I cast my thoughts backwards. Could I recall any one? Any one who had been at Grossenhayn? And also at Kyritz, according to the story?
At Grossenhayn? Of course! In the excitement of the moment I stood still and heedless of observers struck the tree I was passing a resounding blow with my cane. Of course, the French-dressed postillion! The very man beyond a doubt, who had vanished at Perleberg!
Two ladies who were walking down an adjacent allee, divided from me by a row of trees, glanced at me, surprised by my sudden action, and their astonished looks recalled me to myself. As they passed on, the younger glanced back, and our eyes met a second time. Plucked sharply from my thoughts, I recognized her.
For unless I was mistaken, it was the girl of the courtyard at Wittenberg, the girl whom I had seen starting at daybreak from the door of the Golden Stag. More, it was the face of the portrait—-of Babetta’s Norma, who should have arrived at the schloss two days before! A strange coincidence, I thought, as I stood gazing after her and her companion. Two men were strolling a few paces behind them, who might or might not be of their party, but otherwise they were alone. And stranger coincidence still! I had been thinking, when the girl passed, of the French postillion and now I remembered that the woman with whom she had departed from Wittenberg that morning had been the very woman whom I had seen a day or two earlier travelling in a carriage conducted by that very postillion.
By Jove! But it was not that thought that after a moment’s startled reflection led me to turn and follow. It was partly curiosity, the desire to view the girl more nearly, and to learn if the attraction which her portrait had possessed for me attached to herself; and partly the idea that I might through her, more speedily and fully than through the post, convey to my kind friend the Duchess the news of my safe arrival in Berlin and of my reception by Bronberg. The two women were walking quickly, and by the time I had made up my mind, they were at such a distance that the intervening trees hid them. But once I had started, I gained quickly on them, and on the two men who seemed to belong to them, and by the time they reached the Brandenburger Thor I was not more than thirty yards behind them. The Unter den Linden was moderately crowded, though not with the well-dressed crowd of other days; but having them now well in hand, I slackened my pace to consider how I should explain my intrusion. And then quite suddenly I missed them. A moment later I picked them up again— they were hastening down an alley in the direction of the schlossbrucke and I made after them, not without a suspicion that they had observed me following them and were evading me. But though I mended my pace, I was only just in time to see them turn into—of all places—my hotel.
THERE was no longer any need of haste, for they A could not escape me now, and it would be more seemly, I thought, if they were staying in the house to send up my name. I entered, and a little within the entrance I came on Herr Jager. I asked him if a young lady of the name of Mackay was staying there.
He shook his head. “Nein,” he said. “Not to my knowledge, sir, but—”
“She has just entered with another lady,” I explained.
“Ah? With Frau Wachter, then, it must be. There is a young lady of her party, I remember.”
“They are staying here?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “For the night only. They make an early start to-morrow.”
I reflected then, that if I sent up my name, Fraulein Mackay would not know it, and “If you will tell me where their rooms are,” I said, “I will go up.”
“That is easy. They are on His Excellency’s corridor, the last suite on the same side—-after passing his. Not our best rooms, but—” with a deprecatory gesture, “for the night only.”
“Thank you, Herr Jager,” I said. “I have a message which I wish to send by the lady. That’s all.”
He smirked. “A charming messenger,” he said. “Ein schönes Fraulein!"
I did not reply, but went up the stairs. The hotel, like most of the houses in Berlin, covered much ground, being of two stories only. My suite was the one next the head of the staircase, about the middle of a long corridor, which ran both ways—a wide passage bare and pink-washed with here and there one of those faded daubs of frescoes trellises of vine-leaves and grapes and the like, with which the Germans delight to adorn their houses. ] turned into my bedroom to brush my hair and settle my stock, and then proceeded hat in hand along the corridor in search of the strangers’ rooms.
I found that the last suite did not open directly on the corridor, but lay back and was approached by an-entry a few feet deep. This entry was dark as well as narrow, and the first thing I did was to stumble over some article of luggage left in it; so that, as far as heralding a caller went my knock, executed after I had suppressed a cry of pain and nursed my shin for a few seconds, came late.
PERHAPS for that reason, it was promptly answered. The door opened. The person who opened it was a woman, and that was all I could see, for the window was behind her and I could only guess from her height and outline that she was the lady I had seen in the girl’s company.
“A thousand pardons, madam,” I said with my best air. “I beg you to forgive this intrusion. But I think that I recognized in the young lady with you just now—”
“My daughter?” bluntly.
“No, but—” with a little hesitation—“if I have made no mistake, Fraulein Mackay—of Zerbst. I must needs seem impertinent as I have not the honour of her acquaintance, but I believe that she is on her way to the Schloss, and if so—
“There is no one of that name here,” the woman said. Her tone was downright, not to say harsh.
I stared, a good deal at a loss—I had been so certain of the recognition. “But, madam, one moment,” I ventured “I think—”
“Of the name of Mackay, you say? No, I know no one of that name. And I am busy, sir. More, I have had complain before of persons following my daughter in the streets, sir—and if I am again to be troubled in this way—’
“Oh, but,” I said, thinking this a little too strong. assure you, that this is nothing of that kind. Of course if I have made a mistake, and the young lady is not Frau lein Mackay, I offer you my most sincere apologies. But unless I am mistaken—”
“You are mistaken,” she replied rudely. “Completely mistaken, and your apologies as they occupy my time sir, only make it worse. I wish you good morning!” And the woman shut the door in my face.
I confess that I sneaked back to my rooms, feeling rather small. Could I have mistaken the suite? But no Herr Jager’s directions had been precise. And the height and the figure of the woman, as I had seen he silhouetted against the window, tallied with those of the Mackay’s companion. No, I had made no mistake— unless it was in my recognition of the girl. Of course if I was wrong in that some annoyance on the mother’ part was reasonable—young men will at times follow pretty girls and seek their acquaintance in offhand ways.
But it seemed to me that there had been something over-offensive in the woman’s manner: something that a I dwelt upon it, awakened suspicion. She had been very quick to repudiate the Fraulein Mackay’s presence so very rude in repelling my overture! And had I really overheard—at some stage in the interview but I could not say at what stage—a low cry, as of surprise, in the room behind her? Yes, now I thought of it, I felt sure that had, although at the moment, my attention taken up with the woman, I had paid no heed to it.
However, the matter, if annoying, was of no moment and even if the girl was Fraulein Mackay and her companions chose to deny her to a stranger, it was no business of mine. I had other and sadly more important things t deal with, and I sighed as they flocked back upon m mind. I had wasted enough time on the girl and ha perhaps been a fool to meddle where I was not wanted.
I HAD ceased from the moment of my meeting with Baron Von Bronberg to trouble about my personal safety. But when I left the Russie to keep my appointment with him I happened to look back and I notice that I was followed by a man whom I had seen a little earlier standing opposite the hotel. The fact did not alarm me, for I felt that I was safe in the Baron’s hand; But I kept it in mind.
I found the Baron in talk with a middle-sized man sallow and flat-faced, with bald temples, and a closed secretive mouth. He was not, I thought, a man in pleasant aspect, but Bronberg seemed to be on easy terms with him. “This is my friend, Herr Oberst-Offiza Grüner of the Berlin Police,” he said. And after the e: change of a few formal phrases, “I have told him all you have told me, Cartwright,” Bronberg continued, “and interests him, but it does not alter his, point of view."
“It confirms it,” Grüner said laconically. He had way of speaking with his eyes lowered which gave no clue to his thoughts.
“In what way, Herr Grüner?” I asked.
“I am clear, mein Herr, that the parties who assaulted and searched you near Dessau were the same who later disposed of His Excellency.”
“Yes, I think so myself,” I said. “It seems likely.”
“It is certain. Having made sure that the despatches were not on you, they followed your chief and the day and a half he wasted at Kyritz enabled them to come up with him at Perleberg.”
The Baron nodded his big head. “Grüner is right,” he said. “That was the way of it, no doubt.”
“And the fact is proof,” Grüner continued, his eyes still on the floor, “that the despatches were their object.” “But are you quite sure, Herr Oberst-Offizier,” I said, “that it was not Klatz who—”
He showed his teeth in a close smile. “No, it was not Klatz,” he said. But he seemed to be unwilling to say more.
“Yet if their object,” I argued, “was the despatches and they obtained the despatches—this should make itself plain in one way or another?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“You cannot explain that, Herr Grüner?” I said. “No. If I could—” He shrugged his shoulders.
I confess the man puzzled me, and annoyed me. I felt myself brought up against his reticence as against a wall. I tried another line. “You have no doubts of Captain von Kalisch?”
He shook his head. “No, sir, none,” he said.
“And the girl’s story—that she saw His Excellency in the town at nine o’clock? Is that to be trusted?”
“She believes it, but—.” He shrugged his shoulders. The Baron laughed his big hearty laugh. We amused him. “Our friend, Herr Grüner—I am going to be quite candid, mein Herr—has a difficult part to play, Cartwright. He is head of the Berlin police, but—.”
“Better not,” said the other.
‘ Well,” I cried, rather warmly, “if you will not trust me, Herr Grüner, I must take my own line, and I have already determined what that must be. I intend to look into this myself, and I shall go to Perleberg for that purpose. And make my own inquiries on the spot.”
“Impossible,” he said dryly. “Out of the question.” “Why?”
“Because my orders, sir, are that you leave the country by the shortest road, and without an hour’s delay.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. This was a blow indeed.
“We can allow you four days to cross the frontier— under escort.”
T WAS very angry.
“But this is infamous!” I cried. “You murder my chief and—
Baron,” I turned impetuously to him, “I must apply to you. You must—y ou are bound to protect me.”
But the Baron, toying with a paper-knife, which he had taken from the table, only looked grave. “I am afraid that Grüner is within his rights,” he said slowly.
“And I am afraid too that he is right, my friend. To begin with, I do not believe that you could effect anything or disfavor anything. And you would be running a risk, and I think a considerable risk, for nothing. For consider: if our friend here with his network of agents, his many connections and his power of control cannot get to the bottom of this mystery, how should you—a foreigner and singlehanded, my friend? Frankly, it is out of the question—it is absurd!”
“Yet I am determined to try,” I said firmly.
The silent man shook his head.
The Baron also shook his big, bald head. “You might try,” he said.
“And if that were all, though you would certainly fail, no harm would be done, Cartwright. But that is not all. What the Oberst Offizier means is that he does not want—”
“And is not going to have,” Grüner put in sourly. “Another disappearance and a fresh scandal. It is his duty now to see you safely—safely, my friendout of the country. And I am afraid that he is determined to do it.”
“But he might send an agent with me,” I remonstrated, “that would effectually secure my safety. You do not suppose that the villains who murdered poor Ellis would dare to come into the open again and attack me?”
“It is not of them I am. thinking,” Grüner muttered, his eyes on the floor, “though there is risk on that side.” The Baron nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Perhaps a good deal of risk —if they thought that you were on their track. But it is not of them, Cartwright, that our friend is thinking. I will tell you what is in his mind. Suppose that by some wonderful turn of good fortune you recovered these precious papers—of which I confess I am sick of hearing! Or even came within arms’ length of them, will that suit Klatz’s employers? Have you thought of that?”
“Just so,” said the Baron, with his eyes on the door. Grüner shook his head in reprobation of the other’s candour. “This is waste of time,” he said gruffly, “just waste of time, Herr Baron. This gentleman must be at Hamburg in four days. And that is my last word.”
“Yes, I am afraid that that is the last word, Cartwright,” Bronberg agreed. “Grüner means you well—he means you well I assure you, but I can understand his anxiety to see the last of you. Now that you are found, the Prussian authorities are responsible for your safety, and circumstances might arise, if you did what you propose, which would make their task —embarrassing.”
“You mean,” I said bluntly, “that they could not protect me from the French? Very good. I agree. I don’t want to see the inside of Magdeburg fortress more than another. But—” very firmly, for I had by this time set my heart on this search, seeing clearly that it was by that way only that I could set my self right with the Office and with Ellis’s family—“there is a way of avoiding that peril. I will go to the French Embassy, now, myself, and I will see Daru or St. Marsan—whoever is there, in fact—and I will demand a safe-conduct. If only to clear themselves they must give it me. If I obtain that, surely Herr Grüner cannot refuse.”
“Useless!” the policeman muttered curtly.
“I fear so,” the Baron agreed. “It is not St. Marsan or Daru you have to fear. It is the underlings who are here to do the dirty work, and who will know how to evade even Daru’s orders. You fall in with a squad of mounted douaniers, or a handful of French horse crossing the country; and what care they for the Intendant’s safeconduct? They have had a hint and a handful of thalers, may be, and piff! You disappear! That is all! You disappear! And awale of that possibility, Daru, you may be sure, will not be so foolish as to commit himself. He will have had word—from Talleyrand may bec'eut la, le diable! --and he will stand mum-chance. He will simply and politely refer you to the Prussian authorities. He will say— I can hear him saying it with his dry smile—that he could not presume to issue a safe-conduct within the Prussian dominions.”
“Then what am I to do?”
“Go home—by the shortest road!” said Grüner.
“Well, I’m hanged if I do!” I replied angrily. “No, I’m hanged if I do!” I repeated, uplifted by an idea that had suddenly come into my head. “If it be useless to apply to Daru, I will go to one whom at any rate your douaniers and your French horse will respect—or he falls very far below his reputation! He is in Berlin now, he has just arrived, and I will see him. I will tear aside this web of flimsy pretences that stifles us! I will get his safe-conduct!”
“Whose?” The question was Gruner’s. He looked up— for once. I had excited h;s curiosity.
“Davout’s!” I said. “Davout’s! The Prince of Eekmuhl’s.”
Neither of them spoke.
“Do you mean that that will not avail—to protect me?”
I cried, looking from one to another, challenging them.
For the first time the Prussian’s eyes met mine. He even smiled—grimly, but he smiled. “Possibly, if you could get it,” he said.
“I will get it. You don’t think that I shall?”
“No,” he replied. “I am sure that you will not.”
“Well, at any rate, I can try,” I said. “And I will try.” And I took up my hat.
WITH the French Embassy before me and no more than thirty yeards ahead I was shaken by a spasm of doubt. An embassy is extra territorial and I knew that once across the threshold I stood on French soil. If, then, upon no matter what pretext, my hosts chose to detain me, it might not be easy for Bronberg, it might not be easy even for the Prussian authorities to reclaim me. But some risk, I reflected, I must run, and I judged that the affaire Ellis had made too much noise in the world and been too publicly affichéd for even the agents of Talleyrand to venture on a fresh outrage at this moment. I went on.
The bustle which centred about the Embassy had impressed me when I had gone by it that morning, but it struck me more forcibly now. For it was evident that something of note was passing. Twenty paces from the house a squadron of Chasseurs a cheval sat cloaked and motionless in their saddles, their shining helmets and nodding plumes in sharp contrast with the russet green of the autumnal trees. Facing the door, a couple of troopers, their carbine-butts on theii thighs, their horses drawn across the roadway, gazed stonily before them, and between them and the entrance half a dozen led-chargers held by as many orderlies, tossed their heads, and jingled their bits. On the steps stood a score of officers and civilians, and fringing the wall of the opposite houses a long line of idlers gazed sullenly on the spectacle, on which from every window in the neighbourhood pale, curiousfaces looked down It suddenly occurred to me that I had come near to missing, if I had not missed, my opportunity, and I hastened my steps. Forgetting the qualms which I had felt a moment before, I pushed boldly through the group on the steps and entered the hall. A porter in a gorgeous livery placed himself before me, but with the air of authority that custom soon confers, Ï waved him aside. “The Prince of Eckmuhl?” I said, sans facón. “He has not started yet? Good! Tell him if you please that Mr. Cartwright, Secretaire de la Mission Britannique, accredite auprès de la Cour 'de Vienne, ex-envoye Extraordinaire auprès de la meme Cour, desires leave to speak with him.”
Continued on page 35
Continued from page 25
Astonished, the man was going to reply, but I waved him away. “At once, if you please,” I said. “It is important that I should see M. le Maréchal immediately.”
My announcement had been extraordinary enough to impress the man and my manner completed the work. He beckoned to an underling to take his place while he him.self vanished up the wide staircase to do my bidding.
I caught the murmur of surprise to which my announcement had given rise, and I was aware that I was the object of all eyes and of much whispered comment. But I was not unaccustomed to that, and could bear it. Presently an officer detached him.self from one of the groups about me, and approached me courteously. “I trust,” he said politely, “that the safety of his Excellency M. Ellis whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Vienna, is also ascertained?”
“Alas, monsieur,” I answered, “I regret to say that that is not the case. It is in his behalf that I desire to see the Prince.”
“I regret. I fear that he is at this moment on the point of starting to Magdeburg,” he answered. “Still it is possible— ah! Here is the Prince.” And he hurriedly stepped back, as the Marshal, attended by a brilliant cluster of officers appeared at the head of the stairs.
T STEPPED forward, recognizing that I this was no time for misgivings or for diffidence, and that all now depended on myself. Fortunately the diplomat, however young he m.ay be, has a sense of his own importance—or he were not fit to represent his sovereign—and is not easilyabashed.
Davout descended slowly. He was cloaked to the feet, the heel of his scabbard slid from step to step behind him, and looking up I had time to consider him. He had not the face of a soldier, rather the look of a physician or of some staid business man, sagacious, firm., not wanting in benevolence—so little does the man at times match his reputation. Of the ruthless disciplinarian, the dogged, unsparing fighter, the commander for whom no responsibility was too great, there appeared not a trace.
“Are you the gentleman who sent in a request to see me?” he asked.
“I am, M. le Prince.” I replied. “If you will be so good, I need detain you but five minutes.”
“You are bold, young gentleman,” Davout said, “since to hear you I must detain all these gentlemen. It should be an important matter to warrant that.”
“It is a matter of the first importance, Prince,” I said, firmly—for I saw that in another moment I might be put aside.
“Ha!” Plis eyes searched mine, but I did not give way, and, “You crow loudly,” he said drily, “considering all that I know! But there, I will hear you. Five minutes. Follow me.”
He led the way, Daru accompanying him, into a small waiting room beside the hall, and a servant at a sign from him closed the door upon us. Davout laid his plumed hat on the table and turned to me. “Now, sir,” he said, taking out his watch which he held in his hand throughout the interview, “What is it?”
“Marshal Davout’s safe-conduct, while I inquire on His Britannic Majesty’s behalf—and my own—into the fate of my friend and chief, Mr. Perceval Ellis, of whose disappearance on Prussian soil and in possession of Prussian passports, you have doubtless heard.”
“You have no need of my safe-conduct,” he said harshly. “M. Daru here
“M. Daru,” I said bluntly, “cannot give me the same assurance of safety— in all circumstances—which the Prince of Eckmuhl can. Of course, Prince, if this were a question of a private person or of the disappearance of a private person I should not presume to approach you. But the honour of France, and of the French administration is in question here.”
“I deny it!” Daru said forcibly.
“M. Daru may deny it,” I retorted, “but these matters are regarded differently by civilians and soldiers. And I am appealing—I own it—from M. Daru to the Marshal of France. I am assured and I am. personally satisfied that the French authorities have had no part in this tragedy. I believe them, I honestly be-! lieve them to be innocent of it—as things turned out. But the only way to make that innocence clear to the world is to allow me to make my investigation and to afford me protection while I make it. I speak too bluntly, perhaps. But I have lost, M. le Maréchal, a dear and attached friend, and my sovereign a useful servant. And that, in circumstances which, if the matter be not cleared up, must reflect upon the French nation—and the Emperor.”
“I deny it!” Daru cried again. “I deny it altogether!” And I saw him touch the j Prince on the arm. But Davout did not heed him. “What do you want to do?” he asked sternly.
“I desire to go to Perleberg and there to make inquiries on the spot, sir.”
“But I understand that the Prussian police have investigated the circumstances.”
“Without solving the mystery. Moreover their report will not have the same weight with my government as a report made by me after a thorough investiga-
“Your government!” As_ he spoke Davout’s eyes sparkled with anger. “Your government, sir! What is it to me? We are at war with it! We owe it nothing —neither satisfaction nor explanation, nor anything—save cannon shot, sir! It is a false and perfidious one, the begetter of wars, the paymaster of trouble! I hate it, and if the sea did not protect it and your nation of shop-keepers—•”
“It would still know how to procect itself!” I said stoutly. “But that is not the question, Prince. War is war. But murder, the murder of an Envoy, passing lawfully through the country in reliance on the laws and customs of nations—that is another matter.”
“What of Rastadt?” he said, with a gloomy look.
“It was a vile and wicked outrage, in which my country, at least, had no part. There French ambassadors were foully murdered; here an English envoy has apparently met with the same fate. There the Court of Vienna hastened to make what amends she could. Here it is no question of reparation, but of information. And I say, and I say with the utmost certainty, that if your Emperor were here and this application were made to him, His Majesty would hasten to grant it— since his sagacity would at once appraise him that to grant it would be to risk nothing, while to refuse it would afford grounds for suspicion—suspicion that I have already told you, I believe to be baseless.”
“You acknowledge that?”
“I do, Prince.”
“Then what more do you want?”
“Proof,” I replied, standing my ground. “Proof that will convince my government as well as myself.”
HE STOOD silent a moment,reflecting;
and Daru would have given much I felt sure to attract his attention. But the Intendant did not venture to break in on his thoughts unasked, and presently Davout struck a bell that stood on the table. “Paper and ink,” he said to the man who came in, and he drew off his right-hand gauntlet. “For how long?” he asked, addressing me abruptly.
“A fortnight should suffice.”
“I will allow you ten days. That should be enough. In ten days, understand, you will cross the frontier. M. Daru will see to that. And before you leave you will communicate to him what you have discovered— if you discover anything.”
“I will, Prince. On my honour.”
He sat down and wrote half a dozen lines, signed them, cast sand upon the writing, and handed it to me. Then he looked at me—much as I should fancy a cat looks at a mouse. “I grant your request,” he said, “but mark me, young gentleman, and have a care! Plus de betises! Plus de bavardage! No prying! No observation!”
“I will observe your terms—strictly,” I answered. “On my honour, Prince.”
“It will be well for you to do so,” he riposted. “For be assured I on my part shall do my duty as I always do my duty, and look to others to do theirs. If you deceive me je vous ferai fusiller sans façon, monsieur, c'est bien entendu."
“Agreed, sir,” I said. “And I thank you.” And my spirits rising marvelously I placed the precious document in my breastpocket.
He struck the bell. “You will not halt in Spandu, and you will not approach within ten miles of Magdeburg or Stettin. You understand? Very well.” And to the servant, “You will see this gentleman— out.”
I bowed and retreated—victorious. And lest there should be any recall, lest that cunning Daru, who was eyeing me with scowling disfavour, should even now get in a word, I hastened to put a hundred yards between myself and the Embassy. Then and then only I breathed freely.
Even so, and though I was not slow to move away, I had a glimpse from a side street of the French cavalcade as it swept,
in all the glitter and panoply of war—and unmolested except by the sullen looks that followed it—down the Unter den Linden. And a strange sight I thought it, my mind going back to the days, no more than three years back, when countless vapouring officers had cocked their hats on the Berlin side-walks and bragged of the invincibility of Prussian arms; when moustachioed Vons and Barons, elbowing the civilian aside, had boasted that happen what might to Russians and Austrians and Italians, the battalions of Frederic were invincible! Yes, a strange sight, and one it seemed to me that had its lesson for the nations.
THE Baron’s mighty laugh, as he clapped me on the shoulder and gave me joy of a success that he had not anticipated, was the prelude to a pleasant little dinner—tete-a-tete, for the diplomatic circie was with the King at Königsberg, and even Hatzfeldt’s parties— Hatzfeldt was playing the thankless part of Governor of Berlin—consisted in the main, the Baron told me, of Jews and tradesmen. Poverty prevailed, men were living in garrets who had lived in palaces, and though the French garrison had retired and their generals no longer barracked in the Royal Schloss, or Marshal Victor in the Princess Louise’s palace, the French grip still held the city lifeless.
He talked much of this, but after dinner he had a serious word for me. “You go to Kyritz to-morrow then?”
“Yes, I start at seven,” I informed him. “I have given the necessary orders, and Jager is seeing to it.”
“Well, Grüner will keep an eye on you, no doubt. And you may trust him, if you have occasion to. But all the same,” gravely, “have a care, my friend. And if by any chance you fall on the secret of your precious papers, then above all things have a care. Look to yourself.”
I nodded. “Once let me get my hands on them, Baron—”
“Just so! Just so! But still take care! Take care, my friend. Have you pistols?” “I bought a pair in the Jagerstrasse this afternoon.”
“Good. Then keep them about you and keep them loaded, and your eyes open. With that and Davout’s passport you should do. But the roads are covered, even as far as this, with the flotsam of this unlucky war; every bush holds its thief, and every heath its broken-down soldier. And you’ll have need of prudence. Well, Goff befohlen and good luck to you.”'
I parted most gratefully from the good natured Dane and a little before ten left his house to return to my hotel. But, whether the change was due to the gloomy aspect of the unlighted streets through which I had to pass or was merely the effect of reaction, I had not covered half the distance before I felt my spirits sink. I had been successful beyond my hopes with Davout, I had wrung from him the chance, however desperate, of rehabilitating myself in the eyes of those at home, I had before me an enterprise which I ardently desired to undertake; and yet, with all this, I fell within the length of a street into a black depth of depression.
Instead of anticipating with zest the early start I was to make, and facing with confidence the chances and changes oi the road, I felt a dark despondency envelop me. Young, armed, with Davout’s credentials in my pocket, and authorized, Englishman as I was, to lord it in a hostile land, I yet felt in this hour no hope. On the contrary I felt a kind of horror of the desolate leagues across the Mark to which I must commit myself. I pictured the lonely road winding over the flat heavy sands, now buried in pinewoods, now lapped by lonely water-pools and I found it an ill-omened road, a road beset by perils, and perils the worse because I could not guess at them. And at the end of the road I had a vision, through what accursed illusion I cannot say, of Ellis’s distorted face, of his blood-bedabbled breast, of his hair, unkempt and mingled with soil.
ÎT WAS a strange mood a strange and unusual mood for me, who am no more superstitious than other men of the world; and 1 have never been able to explain it. Long afterwards, looking back on it, I remembered that when the fit possessed me most completely I was walking at the heels of two people who, going my way, loitered in talk, and whom I eventually passed. At the moment I noticed them so little that had 1 been asked five minutes later whether thev were
men or women I could not have said; but the time was to come when I not only recalled them—with something of the horror of that night, but suspected who they were. If I was right, then some strange thing passed from them to me, some emanation of evil that found in the darkness power and in the night a medium. But to believe this—no, in the daylight I do not believe it.
Nevertheless I certainly breathed more freely, when I had crossed the threshold of the Russie.
For here, though the house was very quiet—I do not believe that there were a dozen guests in the hotel, and the servants had retired to bed—at any rate the normal and the common-place reigned. I lit my candle at the taper in the hall, and went thoughtfully up the shadowy staircase, telling myself that what I needed was a good night’s rest, and that in the morning things would wear a more cheerful aspect. I reached the first floor, the echo of my footsteps on the bare boards going before me, and I turned into my bedroom. I closed the door, and set down my candle on the table. Then, after making some preparations, I put off my boots, and I opened the door to place them outside for the valet to clean. As I did this I glanced down the dark corridor, my mind recurring for a moment to the Mackay girl and the odd episode of the afternoon. Could I have made a mistake, familiar as I was with the portrait? Or, if I had not, and the girl I had seen was Norma Mackay, the Duchess’s governess, what was she doing here? With that woman? And when she was already overdue at Zerbst?
I was not expecting anything, of that I am certain. But it may be that under the influence of my thoughts, my gaze dwelt a moment longer than was necessary on the corridor’s end—dwelt long enough anyway for me to grasp that all was darkness, and that then on that darkness there fell, as I looked, a thin upright shaft of light. I stared, arrested by the sight and saw the light slowly, very slowly, broaden. Some one was opening, in that narrow entry at the end of the corridor, a door; was opening it silently, very silently, for the house was as still as death and I caught no sound—and equally slowly, for it seemed to me that a whole long minute elapsed before there shone on the floor and on the opposite wall a patch of light equal to the width of the entry. Then for a moment nothing more happened. Silence reigned. The light shone steadily on the wall.
I waited, my boots in my hand, gazing that way, arrested not so much by the light as by the death-like stillness that attended its appearance. I listened with all my ears, but still not a sound reached
BUT now my eyes detected a change.'
Gradually, at what precise moment I could not say, the lower half of the patch of light, the half which lay across the floor before the passage doorway, was broken by a round blur. A few seconds, and as silently, as stealthily as the light had grown, this shadow within it began to grow. Slowly it lengthened, slowly it rose; it crept inch by inch up the screen of light, until it broke upon me that that at which I was staring, that which I was watching, was the shadow of a woman, slender and slightly stooping, who was creeping with infinite care and precaution along the passage, her back to the lighted room from which she had issued. As yet she, or rather her shadow, was invisible only from the waist upwards, but her head, her shoulders and her figure were sufficiently defined for me to judge of her sex; and the more easily as she presently steadied herself by stretching out an arm, and placing her hand against the wall.
In that posture—and I could fancy her listening with all her ears before she crept farther—she remained motionless for as it seemed to me an age. Then, her arm still extended, she came on again. The shadow began once more to steal up the screen of light, and slowly to develop the lower part of the girl’s form.
The slow movement, the silence, the darkness which reigned everywhere save where the lighted space held and absorbed the eyes, wrought strongly on the nerves, and I watched, fascinated. Now, surely now, the girl must show herself! She must appear in the corridor! But no, at the moment when her shadow from the waist upwards darkened the wall, while the lower part fell on the floor, she ceased to move. I divined that she was pausing again to listen, standing just within the doorway of the passage. But not a sound, not a breath reached me. There might have been no living thing within a hundred miles of me. The hotel about us, with its two score bare, deserted rooms, was as silent as the tomb.
And still her shadow did not alter, she did not appear. She was still listening. And I cannot say why, much less can I describe the degree to which this last pause spoke to me of fear. But it did, and so eloquently, that if I had heard the wild beating of the girl’s heart or seen the stare frozen on her face, I could not have been more Sure of the fact. Something I was certain, some movement, some sound, possibly from the room behind, had arrested her, paralyzed her limbs, taken from her even the power to cry out.
I was so certain of this, though not a sigh reached me from the passage, nor a board creaked, that I could not bear the suspense any longer. I had my boots in my hand, I was in my stockinged feet, and I Started to creep along the corridor towards the light. At all costs I would see what was passing in that passage. Something very strange, I was certain.
I suppose that I had taken half a dozen steps forward when I stopped. For on a sudden the girl’s profile had shifted. It had become blurred—thickened. Her head and neck still remained clear and defined, but from her waist downwards she was now a thing without form, as if some one had crept up behind her and obscured the light. Then, as I checked myself, taking in the change, I saw on a level with the girl’s neck a grim addition—'the dark shape of a huge hand, that with open clutching fingers hovered and groped, as if about to close upon her throat. I gasped—-this was more than I could stand. And flinging caution aside, I sprang forward.
BUT as I did so, the figures on the screen wavered, changed, melted. A second the shadows danced, the next they flitted downwards, vanished! The light narrowed, leapt, it too was gone. A door slammed, and I was left, brought up by the darkness, and still a pace short of the threshold of the passage.
I hesitated. I had seen an ugly thing, and my first impulse was to go through with the matter, to grope my way down the entry, to knock at the door and demand an explanation. But of what? I paused, considering. Darkness and silence have a sobering effect and that which I had seen might, I began to perceive, mean nothing after all. I might have mistaken the import of it, that which had passed might have passed in jest, and if I acted on my mistake I should be laughed at. Then the girl—surely if the girl had been frightened or had feared harm, she would have cried out or run out. She would have roused the house.
And what after all had I seen? I found it difficult to understand it, but the door remained closed, the passage dark, no sound, no cry came from the room. And it was no business of mine. No appeal had been made to me. Presently I went slowly back to my bedroom. I began to undress.
But so strong was the impression left in my mind, so abiding the remembrance of that clutching, claw-like hand, so disturbed was I by the whole thing, that five minutes later I paused in my undressing, half-minded to go out, late as it was,* and knock the people up. I went so far, indeed, as to open my door. But before I had crossed the threshold, I heard footsteps approaching, and looking in the direction of the staircase I saw two people emerging from it, bearing candles. This touch of reality, the contact with this common-place of life, reassured me, and once more I told myself that I had let my fancy run away with me, and had made much out of nothing. I retreated unseen, closed my door and heard the two go by, on their way to the end of the corridor.
At any rate the matter was out of my hands now, and shaking off the spell I undressed and plunged thankfully into bed. I was weary and I fell asleep at once, but though my mind, before I lost consciousness reverted to my own affairs, or rather to poor Perceval’s fate which dwelt heavily upon it, I must have harked back during sleep to the incident, for at some time in the night I had an ugly dream—a dream of clutching hands and cloaked shapes, and I awoke heated and with bursting temples, to fancy that I heard a cry for help. I stumbled out of bed and groped my way to the door and opened it. But all was still outside, and after assuring myself of this I went back to bed, and thank Heaven, when I opened my eyes again a man was hammering at my door, and the world was awake and afoot—the blessed workaday world! It was half after six—would I take coffee in my room, the man asked, or in the sitting room? A wet morning, Excellency, he was sorry to say. The carriage at seven? Yes, Excellency, all was prepared. Herr Jager had seen to it.
TT WAS barely light, the sun had not A yet risen, and it had turned cold; autumn, and almost winter had come in the night, as I learned when I opened the window. A steady rain, too, was falling. But, thank God, the sick fancies of darkness had passed with the night, and Francis Cartwright was his own man again. I dressed in high spirits—I had furnished myself in Berlin with what I needed for the journey—and I took my coffee and rolls standing at the table, anticipating with a pleasure which even thoughts of poor Ellis could not quite damp, the movement of the day and the adventures it might embrace. At seven I descended and found Herr Jager on the doorstep in the act of despatching another party. My carriage was in waiting behind them, and as they drove away, it drew up to the door.
The good Herr turned to me with a smiling greeting. “I am afraid, Jager,” I said, “that you are losing all your guests at once.”
He threw out his hands. “No great loss —those!” he said with a shrug. “They go also for Hamburg. The young lady—his Excellency learned from her what he wanted, 1 trust?”
I laughed. “No,” I answered. “Unfortunately she was not the lady I took her for. If she had been she would have been travelling the other way.”
“Ah!” dubiously. “I was a little surprised, I confess, at his Excellency knowing them. I did not think them quite of his condition, and we who keep inns are judges, mein Herr. But,” lowering his voice, “his Excellency may like to know that inquiry was made—at the back this morning—at what hour he was leaving.”
“Indeed!” I smiled—I could afford to smile with that little slip of Davout’s in my pocket. “By the police, I suppose?”
“Well—probably. Most probably. His Excellency’s position, if I may be forgiven for referring to it, is, of course—”
“Delicate?” I nodded. “To be sure, Herr Jager, it is. And I am the more grateful to you for taking me in so kindly. Be sure the circumstances shall be reported to my Foreign Office, and when we return, your house shall be especially recommended to English travellers. As for me, have no fear. I am easy— all is in order.” And I shook the good fellow by the hand.
“You have no servant? I am afraid—” He looked at the carriage.
“Ah, I see,” I said. “You have provided a double caleche. No matter. I will take what small baggage I have inside, as the front seat is open to the weather.” And a moment later, the arrangement having been made, I left the door and my bowing host, and was on my way, driving through the bald, grey streets towards the Unter den Linden. It was broad daylight by now, and the sun had risen, but for all we could see of it there might have been no sun. As we passed the Brandenburg Thor, I noticed for the first time the absence of the Chariot of Victory, which Napoleon had carried off to Paris, and it brought to my mind the French quip on him, “Le Char Vallend" for Le Charlatan, and I laughed. Even the rain did not damp me, but for the poor postboys it was another matter. They rode with humped shoulders, little rivulets streaming from their black glazed hats, their drenched woollen, tassels sticking out in ludicrous fashion from the collars of their rain-cloaks
ÍT WAS the fourth of November when I thus left Berlin, just fifteen weeks after our start from Iglau. But something was still to happen before I was clear of the town. At the barrier I had to wait. There were half a dozen carriages and Eilwagen before me, taking their turn to pass the examination—it seemed to be strict that morning—and among the waiting travellers I identified the four persons who had left the hotel before me. Their presence recalled the foolish stew into which I had permitted an over-wrought imagination to cast me the previous, night but I don’t know that I should have remarked them particularly, but for an altercation which arose, while we waited, between them and a man, who, though he had not the look of one of the beggars that haunt such places, appeared to be plaguing them with some petition. Apparently they had repulsed him once but he continued to plead with desperate insistence.
“If it is only a stage?” I heard him whine. “If it is only a stage? For God’s sake, lady, just a stage!”
“Curse you!” one of the party flung at him. “Begone! Can’t you see, you fool, that we have no room, Schapkopf? And if we had, I’d—”
“I’ll sit on the step!” the man persisted. “On the step or anywhere! MeinGott, just a stage, High-born! If my wife were not dying—”
“D—n her,” the man retorted coarsely, “Let her die! Whip him off! Whip him off, boy! We’ve no room, I tell you, you rascal!”
One of the officials in moving down the line reached me at this moment. Idly, I asked him, pointing to thé man, what the trouble was.
He looked back. “Oh, that?” he said, shrugging Ins shoulders. “It’s a man wants a lift for nothing—to Hamburg. Wish he may get it, mein Herr! But I think he’s silly! He’s been here this halfhour plaguing every carriage that’s passed through with his nonsense. Says his wife’s dying in Hamburg and he’s penniless. Lies, I’m thinking! An old story! This all you’ve got, mein Herr?"
“It’s enough,” I said, but at the same moment I slipped a double thaler into his palm. I had no mind to produce Davout’s safe-conduct in such places, and to avoid the necessity I had begged one of the Baron’s official cards, which Grüner had countersigned above the word? “The bearer is known to me Let him pass.”
The man took the money. “Well, I suppose it should be,” he grumbled. “It is irregular, but very well.”
HE PASSED on. for by this time there were others behind me, and my carriage moved up the line. It was now my turn to be importuned by the man with the dying wife, and very pat he was with his story, which would have moved me more if I had not seen him apply to others. Even as it was, his appeal and his desperate offer to travel anywhere, anywhere or nowhere, pole or step, if the Wohlgeborener would only consent to take him, made me look him over. He certainly had not the air of an habitual beggar. The wrap-rascal that covered him, from his coarse rig-andfurrow stockings to a hat broken but decent, was patched and white at the seams, but still was whole, and the man looked clean, with the pale pinched face of an indoor artisan. His story might be true, and in that case he was to be pitied; and by and by, whether it was this that moved me, or only the desire to be rid of his importunity, I found myself in doubt. After all, the fellow’s company would not do me any harm. The seat before me was empty, he would not incommode me. So at the last moment, as my carriage moved forward to the barrier, “Well, get in! Get in in front, man,” I said, “if it’s really as bad as that with you. But for heaven’s sake no more words! You may come a stage.” “Gott sei dank, wohledelgeborener Herr!” he cried, and hat in hand making himself as small as possible, he slid in at the front. “I have asked many, but until now—”
“There, enough! No more words!” I cried impatiently, ashamed of my weakness. And a moment later, reflecting that I might have been more than weak in accepting a stranger’s company, I doubted. However, there the man was, I had not the heart to turn him out again, and as he took the hint and fell silent, I said no more. A moment later we left the barrier behind us and trundled away on the Spandau road.
The rain fell, the postboys bobbed up and down in their saddles, we left the Charlottenburg quarter behind us, we rumbled on a boarded track, again we plunged off it into bottomless depths of mud. The lads had all they could do, poor wretches, to keep their nags on their feet, and if this was a sample of the road within a league of Berlin I suspected that its state farther on would more than hear out the Baron’s account. Even now, though the boys were hired at the courier rate, we were scarcely doing one German mile an hour, and in the wet bottoms about Spandau we crawled. It was half past nine when we reached the fortress town, and ten before, after changing horses, we had left it behind us.
THENCEFORTH we struggled forward, under a steady downpour, now through mud into which we sank almost to the hubs of the wheels, now under gloomy pines where again and again in their efforts to avoid the rutted ground the drivers bumped us—to the risk of breaking everything—against the stumps. I fumed, I fretted, I resigned myself; and about noon reaching a village the very name of which I have now forgotten, but which seemed to boast a decent inn, I sprang out, announced that I should dine there, and thankfully sought a blazing fire.
It had not yet occurred to me that we might not reach Kyritz that night, and I made the mistake of resting for an hour after I had dined. It was two o’clock, therefore, when we took the road again, and now, a little more resigned to the position, I had leisure to take in the aspect of the road and those who travelled it, and to note that here too the Baron’s warning had been to the point. Disbanded soldiers, begging their way home, sutlers’ carts with sturdy rogues trudging behind them, skulking figures that peered at us from the undergrowth and were gone as soon as seen, these, and once a squad of horsepolice armed to the teeth, bore abundant witness to the disordered state of the country and to the wrack which the ebb of war had left.
The waters too were rising. Towards four we came to a place where a swollen stream crossed the road, and much time was lost in persuading the postboys to attempt the crossing. I don’t know that I should have persuaded them if one of the troops of vagabonds I have mentioned had not come up and offered their aid. They soundedbefore us, led the frightened horses through the ford, propped up the carriage—in all I must allow, ably directed by my chance companion, at whose continued presence in the carriage —as he did not trouble me—I had silently winked. Indeed I was glad to have him with us at this juncture, for our helpers were an ugly crew, and if appearances went for anything would have as soon robbed us as aided us.
As the afternoon wore on, I felt my spirits sink, I experienced in lieu of the briskness of the start a growing depression, as if some part of me, more sensitive than the mind, recognized that which was indeed the case—that I was about to lose touch with the life I knew, and which, whatever my troubles, had hitherto encircled me; and to come face to face with dark and grim things. At the time I set down the change to the weather, to the gloomy prospect of the road before me, to depression on Ellis’s account; but I believe now that some shadow cast by the future fell on me on that afternoon and silently warned me that I was about to descend to a lower plane and to come in contact for a span with that underworld which seethes beneath our civilization.
WE WERE still over two German miles from Kyritz when the November day began to close in. The horses were jaded, the postboys out of temper, and we were plodding along at little more than a walk when we heard the horn of an approaching mail. The man who was riding, first shouted something to my fellows, and a moment later they pulled up, and the lad on the wheeler turned in his saddle.
“He says, mein Herr, that we cannot go beyond”—some half-heard name. “The water is out.”
“Nonsense!” I answered peevishly. “Get on!”
The lad shrugged his shoulders and obeyed. But ten minutes later we met an empty caleche. I stopped it and got the same news from it. “And you’d best push on,” the driver added, “for there’s but one inn at Pessin, and it is like a fair already. There’ll be no crossing before daylight.”
“D-n!” 1 said, forced to believe the story, and a good deal out of humor. “Go on!” I cried. “We shall see when we get there.”
To be Continued