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The Great Secret by E. Phillips Oppenheim

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you with a copy of the _Daily Oracle_."



The issue of the _Daily Oracle_ which appeared on the following, or
rather the same, morning electrified Europe. Nothing like it had been
known in the memory of man. For one halfpenny, the city clerk, the
millionaire, and the politician were alike treated to a sensation which,
since the days of Caxton, has known no parallel. The whole of the front
page of the paper was devoted to a leading article, printed in large
type, and these questions were the text of what followed:

"1. Do the Government know that within eighty miles of Kiel are one
hundred and eighty thousand troops, with guns and all the munitions of
war, assembled there for the purpose of an immediate invasion of England,
assembled partly in secrecy, and partly under the ridiculous pretexts
of manoeuvres?

"2. Do the Government know that it is a skeleton fleet, the weedings of
the German navy, which awaits our squadron in Kiel waters, and that the
remainder of the German fleet, at its full strength and ready for action,
is lying in hiding close at hand?

"3. That there exists in London, under the peaceful guise of a trade
union, an army of nearly 200,000 Germans, who have passed their training,
and that a complete scheme exists for arming and officering same at
practically a moment's notice?

"4. That a German army is even now massed upon the French frontier,
prepared to support the claims to the throne of France of Prince Victor
of Normandy, and that a conspiracy has been discovered within the last
forty-eight hours amongst the French army, to suffer an invasion of their
country on this pretext?

"5. That an American paper is to-day publishing the names of some of her
richest citizens, who are finding the money for French Royalist agents,
to buy over the wavering officers of the army of our ally, the army of
the French Republic!

"There is ignorance which is folly," the article went on, "and ignorance
which is sin. The Government have proved themselves guilty of the first;
if they show themselves guilty also of the second, the people of this
country have the right to hurl from their places the fools who have
brought them to the brink of disaster, and to save themselves. In their
name, we demand two things:

"The dispatch of a gunboat with orders to the Channel Squadron to at once
return to their waters.

"The mobilization of our Mediterranean Fleet."

With this text Staunton had written his article, and he had written it
with a pen of fire. Every word burned its way home. With the daring of
those few hours of inspiration, he had turned inference into fact, he had
written as a man who sees face to face the things of which he writes.
There could be but one result. At ten o'clock a Cabinet Council was
called, and Staunton was telephoned for. Before midday, everything that
he had suggested was done.

Even then, we knew that the question of peace or war must be trembling in
the balance.

"Let it come if it will," Guest declared from his easy-chair in Gilbert's
study, "the great plot is smashed. I pledge you my word that to-morrow
the German newspapers will hold us up to scorn, will seek to make of
us the laughing-stock of the world. They will explain everything. There
will be no war. A German invasion of England is only possible by
intrigues which will keep France apart, and treachery which will render
our fleet ineffective. This plot has taken five years to develop, and I
have been on its track from the first. Thank God, I can call myself
square now with the past! ..."

There was no war, but the laughter of the German newspapers was a little
hysterical. The Press of the world took the matter more seriously. But
there was no war, and there are people even to-day, mostly his
journalistic enemies, who say that Staunton was hoaxed.

* * * * *

"Do we receive our deserts in this world?" some one asked one night, when
our dinner table at Saxby was like a suggestion of old times--and we all
paused to think.

"Staunton has a peerage," Adèle remarked.

"Luckier than I," Guest laughed; only he called himself Guest no longer,
but Lord Leslie Wendover. "My past disgrace had to be wiped out by an
invitation to Windsor and a ribbon. Such are the ways of diplomacy, which
never dare own a mistake."

"The amazing denseness of the man!" his wife murmured. "Do I count for

He bent and touched her hand with his lips, as Adèle leaned forward and
laughed at me across the table.

"I think," she said; "that you both deserve--what you got--us!"

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