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The Pawns Count by E. Phillips Oppenheim

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She smiled.

"Queer tastes, haven't I, Jimmy?"

"Queer for a girl."

"That's prejudice," she objected, shaking her head. "Nowadays there are
few things a woman can't do. To tell you the truth, my new interest in
life started three years ago, when Uncle Theodore found out that I was
going to Rome for the winter."

"So Uncle Theodore started it, did he?"

She nodded.

"That's the worst of having an uncle in the Administration, isn't it?
Well, of course, he gave me letters to every one in Rome, and I found
out what he wanted quite easily, and without the inquiries going
through the Embassy at all. Sometimes, as you can understand, that's a
great advantage. I found it simply fascinating--the work, I mean--and
after three or four more commissions--well, they recognised me at
Washington. I have been to most of the capitals in Europe at different
times, with small affairs to arrange at each, or information to get.
Sometimes it's been just about commercial things. Since the war,
though, of course, it's been more exciting than ever. If I were an
Englishwoman instead of an American, I could tell them some things in
London which they'd find pretty surprising. It's not my affair, though,
and I keep what information I do pick up until it works in with
something else for our own good. I knew quite well in Berlin, for
instance, to speak of something you've heard of, that Henry's
Restaurant in London was being used as a centre of espionage by the
Germans. That is why I was on the lookout, the day I went there."

"You mean the day that pocketbook was stolen that the whole world seems
crazy about?" Van Teyl asked.

She nodded.

"I believe it is perfectly true," she said, "that a young man called
Graham has invented an entirely new explosive, the formula for which he
brought to Henry's with him that day. It isn't only what happens when
the shell explodes, but a sort of putrefaction sets in all round, and
they say that everything within a mile dies. There were spies down even
watching his experiments. There were spies following him up to London,
there were spies in Henry's Restaurant when like a fool he gave the
thing away. Fischer was the ringleader of this lot, and he meant having
the formula from Graham that night. I don't want to bore you, Jimmy,
but I got there first."

"Bore me!" the young man repeated. "Why, it's like a modern Arabian
Nights. I can't imagine you in the thick of this sort of thing,
Pamela."

"It's very easy to slip into the way of anything you like," she
answered. "I knew exactly what they were going to do to Captain Graham,
and I got there before them. When they searched him, the formula had
gone. Fischer caught my steamer and worried me all the way over. He
thought he had us in a corner last night, and then a miracle happened."

"You mean that fellow Lutchester turning up?"

"Yes, I mean that," Pamela admitted.

"Say, didn't that Jap fellow get the pocketbook from your rooms at all,
then?" Van Teyl asked. "I couldn't follow it all last night."

"He searched my rooms," Pamela replied, "and failed to find it.
Afterwards, when he and I were alone in your sitting-room, heaven knows
what would have happened, but for the miraculous arrival of Mr.
Lutchester, whom I had left behind in London, come to pay an evening
call in the Hotel Plaza, New York!"

Van Teyl shook his head slowly, got up from his seat, lit a cigarette,
and came back again.

"Pam," he confessed, "my brain won't stand it. You're not going to tell
me that Lutchester's in the game? Why, a simpler sort of fellow I never
spoke to."

"I can't make up my own mind about Mr. Lutchester," Pamela sighed. "He
helped me in London on the night I sailed--in fact, he was very useful
indeed--but why he invented that story about Nikasti, brought a dummy
pocketbook into the room and helped us out of all our troubles, unless
it was by sheer and brilliant instinct, I cannot imagine."

"Let me get on to this," Van Teyl said. "Even the pocketbook was a
fake, then?"

She nodded.

"I shouldn't be likely to leave things I risk my life for about my
bedroom," she told him.

"Where is it, then--the real thing?" he asked.

She smiled.

"If you must know, Jimmy," she confided, dropping her voice, "it's in a
little compartment of a silk belt around my waist. It will remain there
until I get to Washington, or until Mr. Haskall comes to me."

"Haskall, the Government explosives man?"

Pamela nodded.

"Even he won't get it without Government authority."

"Now, tell me, Pamela," Van Teyl went on--"you're a far-seeing girl--I
suppose we should get it in the neck from Germany some day or other, if
the Germans won? Why don't you hand the formula over to the British,
and give them a chance to get ahead?"

"That's a sensible question, Jimmy, and I'll try to answer it," Pamela
promised. "Because when once the shells are made and used, the secret
will be gone. I think it very likely that it would enable England to
win the war; but, you see, I am an American, not English, and I'm all
American. I have been in touch with things pretty closely for some time
now, and I see trouble ahead for us before very long. I can't exactly
tell you where it's coming from, but I feel it. I want America to have
something up her sleeve, that's why."

"You're a great girl, Pamela," her brother declared. "I'm off downtown,
feeling a different man. And, Pamela, I haven't said much, but God
bless you, and as long as I live I'm going as straight as a die. I've
had my lesson."

He bent over her a little clumsily and kissed her. Pamela walked to the
door with him.

"Be a dear," she called out, "and come back early. And, Jimmy!" ...

"Hullo?'"

"Put things right at the office at once," she whispered with emphasis.
"Fischer hasn't found out yet. I sent him a message this morning,
thanking him for the carnations, and asking him to walk with me in the
park after breakfast, I shall keep him away till lunch time, at least."

The young man looked at her, and at Nikasti, who out in the corridor
was holding his hat and cane. Then he chuckled.

"And they say that things don't happen in New York!" he murmured, as he
turned away.

CHAPTER XVI

An elderly New Yorker, a man of fashion, renowned for his social
perceptions, pressed his companion's arm at the entrance to Central
Park and pointed to Pamela.

"There goes a typical New York girl," he said, "and the best-looking
I've seen for many a long day. You can go all round Europe, Freddie,
and not see a girl with a face and figure like that. She had that frank
way, too, of looking you in the eyes."

"I know," the other assented. "Gibson's girls all had it. Kind of look
which seems to say--'I know you find me nice and I don't mind. I wonder
whether you're nice, too.'"

Pamela strolled along the park with Fischer by her side. She wore a
tailor-made costume of black and white tweed, and a smart hat, in which
yellow seemed the predominating colour. Her shoes, her gloves, the
little tie about her throat, were all the last word in the simple
elegance of suitability. Fischer walked by her side--a powerful,
determined figure in a carefully-pressed blue serge suit and a brown
Homburg hat. He wore a rose in his buttonhole, and he carried a
cane--both unusual circumstances. After fifty years of strenuous
living, Mr. Fischer seemed suddenly to have found a new thing in the
world.

"This is a pleasant idea of yours, Miss Van Teyl," he said.

"I haven't disturbed your morning, I hope?" she asked.

"I guess, if you have, it isn't the way you mean," he replied. "You've
disturbed a good deal of my time and thoughts lately."

"Well, you've had your own way now," she sighed, looking at him out of
the corner of her eyes. "I suppose you always get your own way in the
end, don't you, Mr. Fischer?"

"Generally," he admitted. "I tell you, though, Miss Van Teyl," he went
on earnestly, "if you're alluding to last night's affair, I hated the
whole business. It was my duty, and the opportunity was there, but with
what I have I am satisfied. With reference to that little debt of your
brother's--"

"Please don't say a word, Mr. Fischer," she interrupted. "You will find
that all put right as soon as you get down to Wall Street. Tell me,
what have you done with your prize?"

Mr. Fischer looked very humble.

"Miss Van Teyl," he said, "for certain reasons I am going to tell you
the truth. Perhaps it will be the best in the long run. We may even
before long be working together. So I start by being honest with you.
The pocketbook is by now on its way to Germany."

"To Germany?" she exclaimed. "And after all your promises!"

"Ah, but think, Miss Van Teyl," he pleaded. "I throw aside all
subterfuge. In your heart you know well what I am and what I stand for.
I deny it no longer. I am a German-American, working for Germany,
simply because America does not need my help. If America were at war
with any country in the world, my brains, my knowledge, my wealth would
be hers. But now it is different. Germany is surrounded by many
enemies, and she calls for her sons all over the world to remember the
Fatherland. You can sympathise a little with my unfortunate country,
Miss Van Teyl, and yet remain a good American. You are not angry with
me?"

"I suppose I ought to be, but I am not in the least," she assured him.
"I never had any doubt as to the destination of that packet."

"That," he admitted, "is a relief to me. Let us wipe the matter from
our memories, Miss Van Teyl."

"One word," she begged, "and that only of curiosity. Did you examine
the contents of the pocketbook?"

He turned his head and looked at her. For a moment he had lost the
greater spontaneity of his new self. He was again the cold, calculating
machine.

"No," he answered, except to take out and destroy what seemed to be a
few private memoranda. There was a bill for flowers, a note from a
young lady--some rubbish of that sort. The remaining papers were all
calculations and figures, chemical formulae."

"Are you a chemist, Mr. Fischer?" she inquired.

"Not in the least," he acknowledged. "I recognised just enough of the
formulae on the last page to realise that there were entirely new
elements being dealt with."

She nodded.

"I only asked out of curiosity. I agree. Let us put it out of our
thoughts. You see, I am generous. We have fought a battle, you and I,
and I have lost. Yet we remain friends."

"It is more than your friendship that I want, Miss Van Teyl," he
pleaded, his voice shaking a little. "I am years older than you, I
know, and, by your standards, I fear unattractive. But you love power,
and I have it. I will take you into my schemes. I will show you how
those live who stand behind the clouds and wield the thunders."

She looked at him with genuine surprise. It was necessary to readjust
some of her impressions of him. Oscar Fischer was, after all, a human
being.

"What you say is all very well so far as it goes," she told him. "I
admit that a life of scheming and adventure attracts me. I love power.
I can think of nothing more wonderful than to feel the machinery of the
world--the political world--roar or die away, according to the touch of
one's fingers. Oh, yes, we're alike so far as that is concerned! But
there is a very vital difference. You are only an American by accident.
I am one by descent. For me there doesn't exist any other country. For
you Germany comes first."

"But can't you realise," he went on eagerly, "that even this is for the
best? America to-day is hypnotised by a maudlin, sentimental affection
for England, a country from whom she never received anything but harm.
We want to change that. We want to kill for ever the misunderstandings
between the two greatest nations in the world. My creed of life could
be yours, too, without a single lapse from your patriotism. Friendship,
alliance, brotherhood, between Germany and America. That would be my
text."

"Shall I be perfectly frank?" Pamela asked.

"Nothing else is worth while," was the instant answer.

"Well, then," she continued, "I can quite see that Germany has
everything to gain from America's friendship, but I cannot see the quid
pro quo."

"And yet it is so clear," Fischer insisted. "Your own cloud may not be
very large just now, but it is growing, and, before you know it, it
will be upon you. Can you not realise why Japan is keeping out of this
war? She is conserving her strength. Millions flow into her coffers
week by week. In a few years time, Japan, for the first time in her
history, will know what it is to possess solid wealth. What does she
want it for, do you think? She has no dreams of European aggression, or
her soldiers would be fighting there now. China is hers for the taking,
a rich prize ready to fall into her mouth at any moment. But the end
and aim of all Japanese policy, the secret Mecca of her desires, is to
repay with the sword the insults your country has heaped upon her. It
is for that, believe me, that her arsenals are working night and day,
her soldiers are training, her fleet is in reserve. While you haggle
about a few volunteers, Japan is strengthening and perfecting a mighty
army for one purpose and one purpose only. Unless you wake up, you will
be in the position that Great Britain was in two years ago. Even now,
work though you may, you will never wholly make up for lost time. The
one chance for you is friendship with Germany."

"Will Germany be in a position to help us after the war?" Pamela asked.

"Never doubt it," Fischer replied vehemently. "Before peace is signed
the sea power of England will be broken. Financially she will be
ruined. She is a country without economic science, without foresight,
without statesmen. The days of her golden opportunities have passed,
frittered away. Unless we of our great pity bind up her wounds, England
will bleed to death before the war is over."

"That, you must remember," Pamela said practically, "is your point of
view."

"I could tell you things--" he began.

"Don't," she begged. "I know what your outlook is now. Be definite.
Leaving aside that other matter, what is your proposition to me?"

Fischer walked for a while in silence. They had turned back some time
since, and were once more nearing the Plaza.

"You ask me to leave out what is most vital," he said at last. "I have
never been married, Miss Van Teyl. I am wealthy. I am promised great
honours at the end of this war. When that comes, I shall rest. If
you will be my wife, you can choose your home, you can choose your
title."

She shook her head.

"But I am not sure that I even like you, Mr. Fischer," she objected.
"We have fought in opposite camps, and you have had the bad taste to be
victorious. Besides which, you were perfectly brutal to James, and I am
not at all sure that I don't resent your bargain with me. As a matter
of fact, I am feeling very bitter towards you."

"You should not," he remonstrated earnestly. "Remember that, after all,
women are only dabblers in diplomacy. Their very physique prevents them
from playing the final game. You have brains, of course, but there are
other things--experience, courage, resource. You would be a wonderful
helpmate, Miss Van Teyl, even if your individual and unaided efforts
have not been entirely successful."

She sighed. Pamela just then was a picture of engaging humility.

"It is so hard for me," she murmured, "I do not want to marry yet. I do
not wish to think of it. And so far as you are concerned, Mr.
Fischer--well, I am simply furious when I think of your attitude last
night. But I love adventures."

"I will promise you all the adventures that can be crammed into your
life," he urged.

"But be more definite," she persisted. "Where should we start? You are
over here now on some important mission. Tell me more about it?"

"I cannot just yet," he answered. "All that I can promise you is that,
if I am successful, it will stop the war just as surely as Captain Graham's
new explosive."

"I thought you were going to make a confidante of me," she complained.

He suddenly gripped her arm. It was the first time he had touched her,
and she felt a queer surging of the blood to her head, a sudden and
almost uncontrollable repulsion. The touch of his long fingers was like
flame; his eyes, behind their sheltering spectacles, glowed in a
curious, disconcerting fashion.

"To the woman who was my pledged wife," he said, "I would tell
everything. From the woman who gave me her hand and became my ally I
would have no secrets. Come, I have a message, more than a message, to
the American people. I am taking it to Washington before many hours
have passed. If it is your will, it should be you to whom I will
deliver it."

Pamela walked on with her head in the air. Fischer was leaning a little
towards her. Every now and then his mouth twitched slightly. His eyes
seemed to be seeking to reach the back of her brain.

"Please go now," she begged. "I can't think clearly while you are here,
and I want to make up my mind. I will send to you when I am ready."

CHAPTER XVII

Pamela sat that afternoon on the balcony of the country club at
Baltusrol and approved of her surroundings. Below her stretched a
pleasant vista of rolling greensward, dotted here and there with the
figures of the golfers. Beyond, the misty blue background of rising
hills.

"I can't tell you how peaceful this all seems, Jimmy," she said to her
brother, who had brought her out in his automobile. "One doesn't notice
the air of strain over on the Continent, because it's the same
everywhere, but it gets a little on one's nerves, all the same. I
positively love it here."

"It's fine to have you," was the hearty response. "Gee, that fellow
coming to the sixteenth hole can play some!"

Pamela directed her attention idly towards the figure which her brother
indicated--a man in light tweeds, who played with an easy and graceful
swing, and with the air of one to whom the game presented no
difficulties whatever. She watched him drive for the seventeenth--a
long, raking ball, fully fifty yards further than his opponent's--
watched him play a perfect mashie shot to the green and hole out in
three.

"A birdie," James Van Teyl murmured. "I say, Pamela!"

She took no notice. Her eyes were still following the figure of the
golfer. She watched him drive at the last hole, play a chip shot on to
the green, and hit the hole for a three. The frown deepened upon her
forehead. She was looking very uncompromising when the two men ascended
the steps.

"I didn't know, Mr. Lutchester, that there were any factories down this
way," she remarked severely, as he paused before her in surprise.

For a single moment she fancied that she saw a flash of annoyance in
his eyes. It was gone so swiftly, however, that she remained uncertain.
He held out his hand, laughing.

"Fairly caught out, Miss Van Teyl," he confessed. "You see, I was
tempted, and I fell."

His companion, an elderly, clean-shaven man, passed on. Pamela glanced
after him.

"Who is your opponent?" she asked.

"Just some one I picked up on the tee," Lutchester explained. "How is
our friend Fischer this morning?"

"I walked with him for an hour in the Park," Pamela replied. "He seemed
quite cheerful. I have scarcely thanked you yet for returning the
pocketbook, have I?"

His face was inscrutable.

"Couldn't keep a thing that didn't belong to me, could I?" he observed.

"You have a marvellous gift for discovering lost property," she
murmured.

"For discovering the owners, you mean," he retorted, with a little bow.

"You're some golfer, I see, Mr. Lutchester," Van Teyl interposed.

"I was on my game to-day," Lutchester admitted. "With a little luck at
the seventh," he continued earnestly, "I might have tied the amateur
record. You see, my ball--but there, I mustn't bore you now. I must
look after my opponent and stand him a drink. We shall meet again, I
daresay."

Lutchester passed on, and Pamela glanced up at her brother.

"Is he a sphinx or a fool?" she whispered.

"Don't ask me," Van Teyl replied. "Seems to me you were a bit rough on
him, anyway. I don't see why the fellow shouldn't have a day's holiday
before he gets to work. If I had his swing, it would interfere with my
career, I know that, well enough."

"Did you recognise the man with whom he was playing?" Pamela inquired.

"Can't say that I did. His face seems familiar, too."

"Go and see if you can find out his name," Pamela begged. "It isn't
ordinary curiosity. I really want to know."

"That's easy enough," Van Teyl replied, rising from his place. "And
I'll order tea at the same time."

Pamela leaned a little further back in her chair. Her eyes seemed to be
fixed upon the pleasant prospect of wooded slopes and green,
upward-stretching sward. As a matter of fact, she saw only two faces--
Fischer's and Lutchester's. Her chief impulse in life for the immediate
present seemed to have resolved itself into a fierce, almost a
passionate curiosity. It was the riddle of those two brains which she
was so anxious to solve. ... Fischer, the cold, subtle intriguer, with
schemes at the back of his mind which she knew quite well that, even in
the moment of his weakness, he intended to keep to himself; and
Lutchester, with his almost cynical devotion to pleasure, yet with his
unaccountable habit of suggesting a strength and qualities to which he
neither laid nor established any claim. Of the two men it was
Lutchester who piqued her, with whom she would have found more pleasure
in the battle of wits. She found herself alternately furious and
puzzled with him, yet her uneasiness concerning him possessed more
disquieting, more fascinating possibilities than any of the emotions
inspired by the other man.

Van Teyl returned to her presently, a little impressed.

"Thought I knew that chap's face," he observed. "It's Eli Hamblin--
Senator Hamblin, you know."

"A friend and confidant of the President," she murmured. "A Westerner,
too. I wonder what he's doing here ... Jimmy!"

"Hallo, Sis?"

"You've just got to be a dear," Pamela begged. "Go to the caddy master,
or professional, or some one, and find out whether Mr. Lutchester met
him here by accident or whether they arrived together."

"You'll turn me into a regular sleuthhound," he laughed. "However, here
goes."

He strolled off again, and Pamela found herself forced to become
mundane and frivolous whilst she chatted with some newly-arrived
acquaintances. It was not until some little time after her brother's
return that she found herself alone with him.

"Well?" she asked eagerly.

"They arrived within a few minutes of one another," Van Teyl announced.
"Senator Hamblin bought a couple of new balls and made some inquiries
about the course, but said nothing about playing. Lutchester, who
appears not to have known him, came up later and asked him if he'd like
a game. That's all I could find out."

Pamela pointed to a little cloud of dust in the distance.

"And there they go," she observed, "together."

Van Teyl threw himself into a chair and accepted the cup of tea which
his sister handed him.

"Well," he inquired, "what do you make of it?"

"There's more in that question than you think, James," Pamela replied.
"All the same, I think I shall be able to answer it in a few days."

Another little crowd of acquaintances discovered them, and Pamela was
soon surrounded by a fresh group of admirers. They all went out
presently to inspect the new tennis courts. Pamela and her brother were
beset with invitations.

"You positively must stay down and dine with us, and go home by
moonlight," Mrs. Saunders, a lively young matron with a large country
house close by, insisted. "Jimmy's neglected me terribly these last few
months, and as for you, Pamela, I haven't seen you for a year."

"I'd love to if we can," Pamela assured her, "but Jimmy will have to
telephone first."

"Then do be quick about it," Mrs. Saunders begged, "It doesn't matter a
bit about clothes. We've twenty people staying in the house now, and
half of us won't change, if that makes you more comfortable. Jimmy, if
you fail at that telephone I'll never forgive you."

But Van Teyl, who had caught the little motion of his sister's head
towards the city, proved equal to the occasion. He returned presently,
driving the car.

"Got to go," he announced as he made his farewells. "Can't be helped,
Pamela. Frightfully sorry, Mrs. Saunders, we are wanted up in New
York."

Pamela sighed.

"I was so afraid of it," she regretted as she waved her adieux. . . . .

An hour or so later the city broke before them in murky waves. Pamela,
who had been leaning back in the car, deep in thought, sat up.

"You are a perfect dear, James," she said. "Do you think you could
stand having Mr. Fischer to dinner one evening this week?"

"Sure!" he replied, a little curiously. "If you want to keep friends
with him for any reason, I don't bear him any ill-will."

"I just want to talk to him," Pamela murmured, "that's all."

CHAPTER XVIII

There was a ripple of interest and a good deal of curiosity that
afternoon, in the lounge and entrance hall of the Hotel Plaza, when a
tall, grey-moustached gentleman of military bearing descended from the
automobile which had brought him from the station, and handed in his
name at the desk, inquiring for Mr. Fischer.

"Will you send my name up--the Baron von Schwerin," he directed.

The clerk, who had recognised the newcomer, took him under his personal
care.

"Mr. Fischer is up in his rooms, expecting you, Baron," he announced.
"If you'll come this way, I'll take you up."

The Baron followed his guide to the lift and along the corridor to the
suite of rooms occupied by Mr. Fischer and his young friend, James Van
Teyl. Mr. Fischer himself opened the door. The two men clasped hands
cordially, and the clerk discreetly withdrew.

"Back with us once more, Fischer," Von Schwerin exclaimed fervently.
"You are wonderful. Tell me," he added, looking around, "we are to be
alone here?"

"Absolutely," Fischer replied. "The young man I share these apartments
with--James Van Teyl--has taken his sister out to Baltusrol. They will
not be back until seven o'clock. We are sure of solitude."

"Good!" Von Schwerin exclaimed. "And you have news--I can see it in
your face."

Fischer rolled up easy chairs and produced a box of cigars.

"Yes," he assented, with a little glitter in his eyes, "I have news.
Things have moved with me. I think that, with the help of an idiotic
Englishman, we shall solve the riddle of what our professors have
called the consuming explosive. I sent the formula home to Germany, by
a trusty hand, only a few hours ago."

"Capital!" Von Schwerin declared. "It was arranged in London, that?"

"Partly in London and partly here," Fischer replied.

Von Schwerin made a grimace.

"If you can find those who are willing to help you here, you are
fortunate indeed," he sighed. "My life's work has lain amongst these
people. In the days of peace, all seemed favourable to us. Since the
war, even those people whom I thought my friends seem to have lost
their heads, to have lost their reasoning powers."

"After all," Fischer muttered, "it is race calling to race. But come,
we have more direct business on hand. Nikasti is here."

Von Schwerin nodded a little gloomily.

"Washington knows nothing of his coming," he observed. "I attended the
Baron Yung's reception last week, informally. I threw out very broad
hints, but Yung would not be drawn. Nikasti represents the Secret
Service of Japan, unofficially and without responsibility."

"Nevertheless," Fischer pointed out, "what he says will reach the ear
of his country, and reach it quickly. You've gone through the papers I
sent you?"

"Carefully," Von Schwerin replied. "And the autograph letter?"

"That I have," Fischer announced. "I will fetch Nikasti."

He crossed the room and opened the door leading into the bedchambers.

"Are you there, Kato?" he cried.

"I am coming, sir," was the instant reply.

Nikasti appeared, a few moments later. He was carrying a dress coat on
his arm, and he held a clothes brush in his hand. It was obvious that
he had studied with nice care the details of his new part.

"You can sit down, Nikasti," Fischer invited. "This is the Baron von
Schwerin. He has something to say to you."

Nikasti bowed very low. He declined the chair, however, to which
Fischer pointed.

"I am your valet and the valet of Mr. Van Teyl," he murmured. "It is
not fitting for me to be seated. I listen."

Von Schwerin drew his chair a little nearer.

"I plunge at once," he said, "into the middle of things. There is
always the fear that we may be disturbed."

Nikasti inclined his head.

"It is best," he agreed.

"You are aware," Von Schwerin continued, "that the Imperial Government
of Germany has already made formal overtures, through a third party, to
the Emperor of Japan with reference to an alteration in our relations?"

"There was talk of this in Tokio," Nikasti observed softly. "Japan,
however, is under obligations--treaty obligations. Her honour demands
that these should be kept."

"The honour of a country," Baron von Schwerin acknowledged, "is,
without doubt, a sacred charge upon her rulers, but above all things in
heaven or on earth, the interests of her people must be their first
consideration. If a time should come when the two might seem to clash,
then it is the task of the statesman to recognise this fact."

Nikasti bowed.

"It is spoken," he confessed, "like a great man."

"Your country," Von Schwerin continued, "is at war with mine because it
seemed to her rulers that her interests lay with the Allies rather than
with Germany. I will admit that my country was at fault. We did not
recognise to its full extent the value of friendship with Japan. We did
not bid high enough for your favours. Asia concerned us very little. We
looked upon the destruction of our interests there in the same spirit
as that with which we contemplated the loss of our colonies. All that
might happen would be temporary. Our influence in Asia, our colonies,
will remain with us or perish, according to the result of the war in
Europe. But our statesmen overlooked one thing."

"Our factories," Nikasti murmured.

"Precisely! We have had our agents all over the world for years. Some
are good, a few are easily deceived. There is no country in the world
where apparently so much liberty is granted to foreigners as in Japan.
There is no country where the capacity for manufacture and output has
been so grossly underestimated by our agents, as yours."

Nikasti smiled.

"I had something to do with that," he announced. "It was Karl Neumann,
was it not, on whom you relied? I supplied him with much information."

Von Schwerin's face clouded for a moment.

"You mean that you fooled him, I suppose," he said. "Well, it is all
part of the game. That is over now. We want your exports to Russia
stopped."

"Ah!" Nikasti murmured reflectively. "Stopped!"

"We ask no favours," Von Schwerin continued. "The issue of the war is
written across the face of the skies for those who care to read."

Nikasti looked downwards at the dress coat which he was carrying. Then
he glanced up at Von Schwerin.

"Perhaps our eyes have been dazzled," he said. "Will you not
interpret?"

"The end of the war will be a peace of exhaustion," Von Schwerin
explained. "Our loftier dreams of conquest we must abandon. Germany has
played her part, but Austria, alas! has failed. Peace will leave us all
very much where we were. Very well, then, I ask you, what has Japan
gained? You answer China? I deny it. Yet even if it were true, it will
take you five hundred years to make a great country of China. Suppose
for a moment you had been on the other side. What about Australia?...
New Zealand?"

"Are those things under present consideration?" Nikasti queried.

"Why not?" Von Schwerin replied. "Listen. Close your exports to Russia
within the next thirty days. Build up for yourselves a stock of
ammunition, add to your fleet, and prepare. Within a year of the
cessation of war, there is no reason why your national dream should not
be realised. Your fleet may sail for San Francisco. The German fleet
shall make a simultaneous attack upon the eastern coast of
Massachusetts and New York."

"The German fleet," Nikasti repeated. "And England?"

Von Schwerin's eyes flashed for a moment.

"If the English fleet is still in being," he declared, "it will be a
crippled and defeated fleet, but, for the sake of your point of view, I
will assume that it exists. Even then there will be nothing to prevent
the German fleet from steaming in what waters it pleases. If our shells
fall upon New York on the day when your warships are sighted off the
Californian coast, do you suppose that America could resist? With her
seaboard, her fleet is contemptible. For her wealth, her army is a
farce. She has neglected for a great many years to pay her national
insurance. She is the one country in the world who can be bled for the
price of empires."

Fischer, who had been smoking furiously, spat out the end of a fresh
cigar.

"It will be a just retribution," he interposed, with smothered
fierceness. "Under the guise of neutrality, America has been
responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of my countrymen.
That we never can, we never shall, forget. The wealth which makes these
people fat is blood-money, and Germany will take her vengeance."

"For whom do you speak?" Nikasti inquired.

Von Schwerin rose from his place.

"For the greatest of all."

"Do I take anything but words to Tokio?" the Japanese asked softly.

Fischer unfolded a pocketbook and drew from it a parchment envelope.

"You take this letter," he said, "which I brought over myself from
Berlin, signed and written not more than three weeks ago. I ask you to
believe in no vague promises. I bring you the pledged faith of the
greatest ruler on earth. What do you say, Nikasti? Will you accept our
mission? Will you go back to Tokio and see the Emperor?"

Nikasti bowed.

"I will go back," he promised. "I will sail as soon as I can make
arrangements. But I cannot tell you what the issue may be. We Japanese
are not a self-seeking nation. Above and higher than all things are our
ideals and our honour. I cannot tell what answer our Sovereign may give
to this."

"These are the days when the truest patriotism demands the most sublime
sacrifices," Von Schwerin declared. "Above all the ethics of
individuals comes the supreme necessity of self-preservation."

The Japanese smiled slightly.

"Ah!" he said, "there speaks the philosophy of your country, Baron, the
paean of materialism."

"The destinies of nations," Baron von Schwerin exclaimed, "are above
the man-made laws of a sentimental religion! One needs, nowadays, more
than to survive. It is necessary to flourish."

Nikasti stood suddenly to attention.

"It is Mr. Van Teyl who returns," he warned them.

He glided from the room, shaking out a little the dress coat which he
had been carrying. The two men looked after him. Fischer threw his
cigar savagely away and lit another.

"Curse these orientals!" he muttered. "They listen and listen, and one
never knows. Van Teyl won't be here for hours. That was just an excuse
to get away."

But there was a smile of triumph on Von Schwerin's lips.

"I know them better than you do, Fischer," he declared. "Nikasti is our
man!"

CHAPTER XIX

High up in one of the topmost chambers of the Hotel Plaza, Nikasti,
after his conference with Von Schwerin and Fischer, sought solitude. He
opened the high windows, out of which he could scarcely see, dragged up
a chest of drawers and perched himself, Oriental fashion, on the top,
his long yellow fingers intertwined around his knees, his soft brown
eyes gazing over the wooded slopes of the Park. He was away from the
clamour of tongues, from the poisoned clouds of sophistry, even from
the disturbance of his own thoughts, incited by specious arguments to
some form of reciprocity. Here he sat in the clouds and searched for
the true things. His eyes seemed to be travelling over the battlefields
of Europe. He saw the swaying fortunes of mighty armies, he looked into
council chambers, he seemed to feel the pulses of the great world force
which kept going this most amazing Juggernaut. He saw the furnaces of
Japan, blazing by night and day; saw the forms of hundreds of thousands
of his fellow creatures bent to their task; saw the streams of ships
leaving his ports, laden down with stores; saw the great guns speeding
across Siberia, the endless trains of ammunition, the rifles, food for
the famine-stricken giants who beat upon the air with empty fists. He
saw the gold come streaming back. He saw it poured into the banks, the
pockets of the merchants, the homes of his people. He saw brightening
days throughout the land. He saw the slow but splendid strength of the
nation rejoicing in its new possibilities. And beyond that, what?
Wealth was the great means towards the great end, but if the great end
were once lost sight of, there was no more hideous poison than that
stream of enervating prosperity. He remembered his own diatribes
concerning the decadence of England; how he had pointed to the gold
poison, to the easy living of the poor, the blatant luxury of the rich.
He had pointed to the soft limbs, the cities which had become pools of
sensuality, to the daily life which, calling for no effort, had seen
the passing of the spirit and the triumph of the gross. And what about
his own people? Mankind was the same the world over. The gold which was
bringing strength and life to the nation might very soon exude the same
poisonous fumes, might very soon be laying its thrall upon a people to
whom living had become an easier thing. However it might be for other,
the Western nations, for his own he firmly believed that war alone,
with its thousand privations, its call to the chivalry of his people,
was the one great safeguard. China! The days had gone by when the
taking of China could inspire. It was to greater things they must look.
Australia. New Zealand! Had any Western race the right to flaunt her
Empire's flag in Asiatic seas? And America! Once again he felt the slow
rising of wrath as he recalled the insults of past years ... the
adventurous sons of his country treated like savages and negroes by
that uncultured, strong-limbed race of coarse-fibered, unimaginative
materialists. There was a call, indeed, to the soul of his country to
avenge, to make safe, the homes and lives of her colonists. Across the
seas he looked into the council chambers of the wise men of his race.
He saw the men whose word would tell. He watched their faces turned
towards him, waiting; heard the beginning of the conflict of thoughts
and minds--blind fidelity to the cause which they had espoused, or a
rougher, more splendid, more selfish stroke for the greatness of Japan
and Japan only. "If we break our faith we lose our honour," one
murmured. "There is no honour save the care of my people," he heard one
of his greatest countrymen reply.

So he sat and thought, revolved in his mind arguments, morals,
philosophy. It was the problem which had confronted the great Emperor,
his own ancestor, who had lived for three months on the floor of the
Temple, asking but one question of the Silent Powers: "Through what
gate shall I lead my nation to greatness?"

The senses of the man who crouched in his curious attitude, with his
eyes still piercing the heavens, were mobile and extraordinary things.
No disturbing sounds had reached him from outside. His isolation seemed
complete and impregnable. Yet, without turning his head, he was
perfectly conscious of the slow opening of the door. His whole frame
stiffened. He was conscious for one bitter second of a lapse from the
careful guarding of his ways. That second passed, however, and left him
prepared even for danger, his brain and muscles alike tense. He turned
his head. The expression of slow surprise, which even parted his lips
and narrowed his eyes, was only half assumed.

"What do you wish?" he asked.

Lutchester did not for a moment reply. He had closed the door behind
him carefully, and was looking around the room now with evident
interest. Its bareness of furniture and decoration were noteworthy, but
on the top of the ugly chest of drawers was a great bowl of roses, a
queer little ivory figure set in an arched frame of copper--a figure
almost sacerdotal, with its face turned towards the east--and a little
shower of rose leaves, which could scarcely have fallen there by
accident, at the foot of the pedestal. Lutchester inclined his head
gravely, as he looked towards it, a gesture entirely reverential,
almost an obeisance. Nikasti's eyes were clouded with curiosity. He
slipped down to the ground.

"I have travelled in your country," Lutchester said gravely, as though
in explanation. "I have visited your temples. I may say that I have
prayed there."

"And now?" Nikasti asked.

"I am for my country what you are for yours," Lutchester proceeded.
"You see, I know when it is best to speak the truth. I am in New York
because you are in New York, and if you leave on Saturday for Japan it
may happen--of this I am not sure--but I say that it may happen that I
shall accompany you."

"I shall be much honoured," Nikasti murmured.

"You came here," Lutchester continued, "to meet an emissary from
Berlin. Your country, which could listen to no official word from any
one of her official enemies, can yet, through you, learn what is in
their minds. You have seen to-day Fischer and the Baron von Schwerin.
Fischer has probably presented to you the letter which he has brought
from Berlin. Von Schwerin has expounded further the proposition and the
price which form part of his offer."

Nikasti's face was imperturbable, but there was trouble in his eyes.

"You have found your way to much knowledge,", he muttered.

"I must find my way to more. I must know what Germany offers you. I
must know what is at the back of your mind when you repeat this offer
in Tokio."

"You can make, then, the unwilling speak?" Nikasti demanded.

"Even that is amongst the possibilities," Lutchester affirmed. "Strange
things have been done for the cause which such as you and I revere."

Nikasti showed his white teeth for a moment in a smile meant to be
contemptuous.

"It is a great riddle, this, which we toss from one to the other," he
observed. "I am the simple valet of two gentlemen living in the hotel.
You have listened, perhaps, to fairy tales, or dreamed them yourself,
sir."

"It is no fairy tale," Lutchester rejoined, "that you are Prince
Nikasti, the third son of the great Marquis Ato, that you and I met
more than once in London when you were living there some years ago;
that you travelled through our country, and drew up so scathing an
indictment of our domestic and industrial position that, but for their
clumsy diplomacy, your country would probably have made overtures to
Germany. Ever since those days I have wondered about you. I have
wondered whether you are with your country in her friendship towards
England."

"I have no friends but my country's friends," Nikasti declared, "no
enemies save her enemies. But to-day those things of which you have
spoken do not concern me. I am the Japanese valet of Mr. Fischer and
Mr. Van Teyl."

Lutchester, as though by accident, came a step further into the room.
Nikasti's eyes never left his face. Perhaps at that moment each knew
the other's purpose, though their tongues clung to the other things.

"Will you talk to me, Japan?" Lutchester asked calmly. "You have
listened to Germany. I am England."

"If you have anything to say," Nikasti replied, "Baron Yung is at
Washington."

"You and I know well," Lutchester continued, "that ambassadors are but
the figureheads in the world's history. Speak to me of the things which
concern our nations, Nikasti. Tell me of the letter you bear to the
Emperor. You have nothing to lose. Sit down and talk to me, man to man.
You have heard Germany. Hear England. Tell me of the promises made to
you within the last hour, and I will show you how they can never be
kept. Let us talk of your country's future. You and I can tell one
another much."

"A valet knows nothing," Nikasti murmured.

Lutchester came a step nearer. Nikasti, in retreating, was now almost
in a corner of the room.

"Listen," Lutchester went on, "for many years I have suspected that you
are an enemy of my country. That is the reason why, when our
Intelligence Department learnt of your mission, I chose to come myself
to meet you. And now we meet, Nikasti, face to face, and all that you
are willing to do for your country, I am willing to do for mine, and
unless you sit down and talk this matter out with me as man to man, you
will not leave New York."

The arm of the Japanese stole with the most perfect naturalness inside
his coat, and Lutchester knew then that the die was cast. The line of
blue steel flashed out too late. The hand which gripped the
strangely-shaped little knife was held as though in a vice, and
Lutchester's other arm was suddenly thrown around the neck of his
assailant, his fingers pressed against his windpipe.

"Drop the knife," he ordered.

It fell clattering on to the hard floor. Nikasti, however, twisted
himself almost free, took a flying leap sideways, and seized his
adversary's leg. In another moment he came down upon the floor with a
crash. Lutchester's grip upon him, a little crueller now, was like a
band of steel.

"There are many ways of playing this game. It is you who have chosen
this one," he said. "It's no use, Nikasti. I know as much of your own
science as you do. You're my man now until I choose to let you free,
and before I do that I am going to read the letter which you are taking
to Japan."

Nikasti's eyes were red with fury, but every movement was torture.
Lutchester held him easily with one hand, felt over him with the other,
drew the letter from his vest, and, shaking it free from its envelope,
held it out and read it. When he had finished, he replaced it in the
envelope and pushed it back into the other's breast pocket.

"Now," he directed, "you can get up."

Nikasti scrambled to his feet. There were livid marks under his eyes.
For a moment he had lost all his vitality, he was like a beaten
creature.

"You would never have done this," he muttered, "ten years ago, I grow
old."

"So that is the letter which you are taking to your Emperor!"
Lutchester said. "You think it worth while! You can really see the
German fleet steaming past the British Isles, out into the Atlantic,
and bombarding New York!"

Nikasti made no reply. Lutchester looked at him for a moment
thoughtfully. There was a light once more in the beaten man's eyes--a
queer, secretive gleam. Lutchester stooped down and picked up the knife
from the floor.

"Nikasti," he enjoined, "listen to me, for your country's sake. The
promise contained in that letter is barely worth the paper it is
written on, so long as the British fleet remains what it is. But, apart
from that, I tell you here, of my own profound conviction--and I will
prove it to you before many days are past--Germany does not intend to
keep this promise."

Nikasti made no reply. His face was expressionless.

"Germany has but one idea," Lutchester continued. "She means to play
you and America off against one another. I have found out her offer to
you. All I can say is, if you take it seriously you are not the man I
think you. Now I will tell you what I am going to do. I am going to
find out her offer to America. I will bring that to you, and you shall
see the two side by side. Then you shall know how much you can rely
upon a country whose diplomacy is bred and born of lies, who cheats at
every move of the game, who makes you a deliberate offer here which she
never has the least intention of keeping. Have you anything to say to
me, Nikasti?"

Nikasti raised his eyes for one moment.

"I have nothing to say," he replied. "I am the valet of Mr. Fischer and
Mr. Van Teyl. These things are not of my concern."

Lutchester shrugged his shoulders.

"Whatever you may be," he concluded, "and however much you may resent
all that has happened, I know that you will wait. I might go direct to
Washington, but I prefer to come to you, if it remains possible. Before
you leave this country we will meet again, and, when you have heard me,
you will tear that letter which you are treasuring next your heart into
small pieces."

Lutchester turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Nikasti crouched in his place without movement. The ache in his heart
seemed to be shining out of his face. He turned slowly towards the
little figure of black ivory, his head drooped lower--he was filled
with a great shame.

CHAPTER XX

Fischer raised his eyebrows in mild surprise to find Nikasti waiting
for him in the sitting room that evening, with his overcoat and evening
hat. He closed the door of the bedroom from which he had issued
carefully behind him.

"You don't need to go on with this business now that we have had our
little talk," he remonstrated.

"I cannot leave until the twentieth," Nikasti replied. "I think it best
that I remain here. Your cocktail, sir."

Fischer accepted the glass with a good-humoured little laugh.

"Well," he said, "I suppose you know what you want to do, but it seems
to me unnecessary. Say, is anything wrong with you? You seem shaken,
somehow."

"I am quite well," Nikasti declared gravely. "I am very well indeed."

Fischer stared at him searchingly from behind his spectacles.

"You don't look it," he observed. "If you'll take my advice, you'll get
away from here and rest somewhere quietly for a few days. Why don't you
try one of the summer hotels on Long Island?"

Nikasti shook his head.

"Until I sail," he decided, "I stay here. It is better so."

"You know best, of course," Fischer replied. "Where's Mr. Van Teyl?"

"He has gone out with his sister, sir--the young lady in the next
suite," Nikasti announced.

Fischer sighed for a moment. Then he finished his cocktail, drew on his
gloves, and turned towards the door.

"Well, good night," he said. "Perhaps you are wise to stay here.
Remember always what it is that you carry about with you."

"I shall remember," Nikasti promised.

Fischer entered his automobile and drove to a fashionable restaurant in
the neighbourhood of Fifth Avenue. Arrived here, he made his way to a
room on the first floor, into which he was ushered by one of the head
waiters. Von Schwerin was already there, talking with a little company
of men.

"Ah, our friend Fischer!" the latter exclaimed. "That makes our number
complete."

A waiter handed around cocktails. Fischer smiled as he raised his glass
to his lips.

"It is something, at least," he confided, "to be back in a country
where one can speak freely. I raise my arm. Von Schwerin and
gentlemen--'To the Fatherland!'"

They all drank fervently and with a little guttural murmur. Von
Schwerin set down his empty glass. He was looking a little glum.

"In many ways, my dear Fischer," he said, "one sympathises with that
speech of yours; but the truth is best, and it is to talk truths that
we have met this evening. We are gaining no ground here. I am not sure
that we are not losing."

There was a moment's disturbed and agitated silence.

"It is bad to hear," one little man acknowledged, with a sigh, "but who
can doubt it? There is a fever which has caught hold of this country,
which blazes in the towns and smoulders in the country places, and that
is the fever of money-making. Men are blinded with the passion of it.
They tell me that even Otto Schmidt in Milwaukee has turned his great
factories into ammunition works."

Von Schwerin's eyes flashed.

"Let him be careful," he muttered, "that one morning those are not
blackened walls upon which he looks! We go to dinner now, gentlemen,
and, until we are alone afterwards, not one word concerning the great
things."

The partition doors leading into the dining room were thrown back and
the little company of men sat down to dine. There were fourteen of
them, and their names were known throughout the world. There was a
steel millionaire, half-a-dozen Wall Street magnates, a clothing
manufacturer, whose house in Fifth Avenue was reputed to have cost two
millions. There was not one of them who was not a patriot--to Germany.
They ate and drank through the courses of an abnormally long dinner
with the businesslike thoroughness of their race. When at last the
coffee and liqueurs had been served, the waiters by prearrangement
disappeared, and with a little flourish Von Schwerin locked the door.
Once more he raised his glass.

"To the Kaiser and the Fatherland!" he cried in a voice thick with
emotion.

For a moment a little flash of something almost like spirituality
lightened the gathering. They were at least men with a purpose, and an
unselfish purpose.

"Oscar Fischer," Von Schwerin said, "my friends, all of you, you know
how strenuous my labours have been during the last year. You know that
three times the English Ambassador has almost demanded my recall, and
three times the matter has hung in the balance. I have watched events
in Washington, not through my own but through a thousand eyes. My
fingers are on the pulse of the country, so what I say to you needs
nothing in the way of substantiation. The truth is best.
Notwithstanding all my efforts, and the efforts of every one of you,
the great momentum of public feeling, from California to Massachusetts,
has turned slowly towards the cause of our enemies. Washington is
hopelessly against us. The huge supplies which leave these shores day
by day for England and France will continue. Fresh plants are being
laid down for the manufacture of weapons and ammunition to be used
against our country. The hand of diplomacy is powerless. We can
struggle no longer. Even those who favour our cause are drunk with the
joy of the golden harvest they are reaping. This country has spoken
once and for all, and its voice is for our most hated enemy."

There were a variety of guttural and sympathetic ejaculations. A dozen
earnest faces turned towards Von Schwerin.

"Diplomacy," Von Schwerin continued, "has failed. We come to the next
step. There have been isolated acts of self-sacrifice, splendid in
themselves but systemless. Only the day before yesterday a great
factory at Detroit was burned to the ground, and I can assure you,
gentlemen, I who know, that a thousand bales of cloth, destined for
France, lie in a charred, heap amongst the ruins. That fire was no
accident."

There was a brief silence. Fischer nodded approvingly. Von Schwerin
filled his glass.

"This," he went on, "was the individual act of a brave and faithful
patriot. The time has come for us, too, to remember that we are at war.
I have striven for you with the weapons of diplomacy and I have failed.
I ask you now to face the situation with me--to make use of the only
means left to us."

No one hesitated. Possibly ruin stared them in the face, but not one
flinched. Their heads drew closer together. They discussed the ways and
means of the new campaign.

"We must add largely to our numbers," Von Schwerin said, "and we had
better have a fund. So far as regards money, I take it for granted--"

There was a little chorus of fierce whispers. Five million dollars were
subscribed by men who were willing, if necessary, to find fifty.

"It is enough," their leader assured them. "Much of our labours will be
amongst those to whom money is no object. Only remember, all of you,
this. We shall be a society without a written word, with no roll of
membership, without documents or institution, for complicity in the
things which follow will mean ruin. You are willing to face that?"

Again that strange, passionate instinct of unanimity prevailed. To all
appearance it was a gathering of commonplace, commercialised and
burgeois, easy-living men, but the touch of the spirit was there.
Fischer leaned a little forward.

"In two months' time," he said, "every factory in America which is
earning its blood money shall be in danger. There will be a reign of
terror. Each State will operate independently and secretly."

"Our friend Fischer," Von Schwerin told them, "has promised to stay
over here for the present to organise this undertaking. I, alas! am
bound to remain always a little aloof, but the time may come, and very
soon, too, when I shall be a free lance. On that day I shall throw my
lot in with yours, to the last drop of my blood and the last hour of my
liberty. Until then, trust Oscar Fischer. He has done great deeds
already. He will show you the way to more."

Fischer took off his spectacles and wiped them.

"Our first proceeding," he said, "sounds paradoxical. It must be that
we cease to exist. There can be no longer any meetings amongst us who
stand in this country for Germany. Gatherings of this sort are
finished. We meet, one or two of us, perhaps, by accident, in the clubs
and in the streets, in our houses and perhaps in the restaurants, but
the bond which unites us, and which no human power could ever sever
because it is of the spirit, that bond from to-night is intangible.
Wait, all of you, for a message. The task given to each shall not be
too great."

Mr. Max H. Bookam, a little black-bearded man who had started life
tailoring in a garret, and was now a multi-millionaire, raised his
glass.

"No task shall seem too great," he muttered. "No risk shall make us
afraid. Even the exile shall take up his burden."

CHAPTER XXI

Mr. Fischer's business later on that night led him into unsavoury
parts. He left his car at the corner of Fourteenth Street, and, after a
moment's reflection, as though to refresh his memory, he made his way
slowly eastwards. He wore an unusually shabby overcoat, and a felt hat
drawn over his eyes, both of which garments he had concealed in the
automobile. Even then, however, his appearance made him an object of
some comment. A little gang of toughs first jostled him and then turned
and followed in his footsteps. A man came out of the shadows, and they
broke away with an oath.

"That cop'll get his head broke some day," Fischer heard one of them
mutter, with appropriate adjectives.

There were others who looked curiously at him. One man's hand he felt
running over his pockets as he pushed past him. A couple of women came
screaming down the street and seized him by the arms. He shook himself
free, and listened without a word to their torrent of abuse. The lights
here seemed to burn more dimly. Even the flares from the drinking dens
seemed secretive, and the shadowy places impenetrable. It was before a
saloon that at last he paused, listened for a moment to the sound of a
cracked piano inside, and entered. The place was packed, and,
fortunately for him, a scrap of some interest between two
villainous-looking Italians in a distant corner was occupying the
attention of many of the patrons. A man with white, staring face was
banging at a crazy piano without a movement of his body, his whole
energies apparently directed towards drowning the tumult of oaths and
hideous execrations which came from the two combatants. A drunken
Irishman, rolling about on the floor, kicked at him savagely as he
passed. An undersized little creature, with the face of an old man but
the figure of a boy, marked him from a distant corner and crept
stealthily towards his side. Fischer reached the counter at last and
stood there for a moment, waiting. Two huge, rough-looking negroes, in
soiled linen clothes, were dispensing the drinks. As one of them
passed, Fischer struck the counter with his forefinger, six or seven
times, observing a particular rhythm. The negro started, turned his
heavily-lidded, repulsive eyes upon Fischer, and nodded slightly. He
handed out the drink he had in his hand, and leaned over the counter.

"Want the boss?" he demanded.

Fischer assented. The negro lifted the flap of the counter and opened a
trapdoor, leading apparently into a cellar beneath.

"Step right down," he muttered. "Don't let the boys catch on. Get out
of that, Tim," he added thickly to the dwarflike figure, whose slender
fingers were suddenly nearing Fischer's neck.

The creature seemed to melt away. Fischer dived and descended a dozen
steps or so into another bare looking apartment, the door of which was
half open. There were three men seated at the solitary deal table,
which was almost the only article of furniture to be seen. One,
sombrely dressed in legal black, with a pale face and fiercely
inquiring eyes, half rose to his feet as the newcomer entered.
Another's hand went to his hip pocket. The man who was sitting between
the two, however--a great red-headed Irishman--rose to his feet and
pushed them back to their places.

"There's no cause for alarm, now, boys," he declared. "This is a friend
of mine. I won't make you acquainted, because we're all better friends
strangers down in these parts. Hop it off, you two. Sit down here, Mr.
Stranger."

The two men stole away. The Irishman poured out a glassful of neat
whisky and passed it to his visitor.

"Clients of mine," he explained. "Tim Crooks is in politics. Got your
message, boss. What's the figure?"

"Two thousand!"

The Irishman whistled and looked thoughtfully down at the table.

"Isn't it enough?" Fischer asked.

"Enough?" was the hoarse reply. "Why, there isn't one of my toughs that
wouldn't go rat-hunting for a quarter of that. If it's any one in these
parts, twelve hours is all I want."

"It isn't!"

The Irishman's face fell.

"Some swell, I suppose? Fifth Avenue way and the swagger parts, eh?"

Fischer assented silently. His host poured himself out some whisky and
drank it as though it were water.

"You see, boss," he pointed out, "it's no use sending greenhorns out on
a job like that, because they only squeak if they're pinched, and
pinched they're sure to be; and all my regulars are what we call in
sanctuary."

"You mean they are hiding already?"

"That's some truth," was the grim admission. "The cops ain't going to
trouble to come after 'em, so long as they keep here, but they'd nab
'em fast enough if they showed their noses beyond the end of
Fourteenth. Still, I'd like to oblige you, guv'nor. I don't know who
you are, and don't want, but my boys speak fine of you. You know Ed
Swindles?"

"Not by name," Fischer confessed.

"He did that little job up at Detroit," the Irishman went on, dropping
his voice a little. "I tell you he's a genius at handling a bomb, is
Ed. Blew that old factory into brick-ends, he did. He's in the saloon
upstairs--got his girl with him. They've been doing a round of the
dancing saloons."

"That's all right, but what about this job?" Fischer inquired, a little
impatiently.

The Irishman glanced behind him. Then he dropped his voice a little.

"Look here, guv'nor," he said, "I've some idea, if it pans out. You've
heard of the Heste case?"

"You mean the girl who was murdered?"

"Yes! Well, the chap that did it is within a few feet of where we're
sitting."

Fischer took off his spectacles and rubbed them. In the dim light his
face looked more grim and powerful than ever.

"Isn't that a little dangerous?" he observed. "The police mean having
him."

"You're dead right," the Irishman replied. "They've got to have him,
and he knows it. They'd keep their hands off any one in these parts if
they could, but this bloke's different. He done it too thick, and he's
got the public squealing. Now if we could get him out for long enough,
he's the man for your job. Come right along, boss."

He rose heavily to his feet, crossed the room, and threw open the door
of what was little more than a cupboard at the further end. The place
was in darkness, but a human form sprang suddenly upright. His white
face and glaring eyes were the only visible objects in a shroud of
darkness.

"That's all right, kid," the Irishman said soothingly. "No cops yet.
This is a gentleman on business. Wait till I fix a light."

He stepped back, and brought a candle from the table at which he had
been seated. Fischer helped him light it, and by degrees the interior
of the little apartment was illuminated. Its contents were almost
negligible--there was simply a foul piece of rug in the corner, and a
broken chair. With his back to the wall crouched a slim, apparently
young man, with a perfectly bloodless face and black eyes under which
were blue lines. His clothes were torn and covered with dust, as though
he had dragged himself about the floor, and one of his hands was
bleeding.

"The gentleman's on business, Jake," his host repeated.

"Give me some whisky," the young man mumbled.

The Irishman shaded his eyes.

"Holy Moses! why, you've finished that bottle!" he exclaimed.

"It's like water," the fugitive replied in a hot whisper, "I drink and
I feel nothing; I taste nothing--I forget nothing! Give me something
stronger."

He tossed off without hesitation the tumbler half full of whisky which
his guardian fetched him. Then he came out.

"I'm sick of this," he declared. "I'll sit at your table. It's no use
talking to me of jobs," he went on. "I couldn't get out of here. I made
for the docks, but they headed me off. They know where I am. They'll
have me sooner or later."

"Yes, they'll have you right enough," the Irishman assented; "but if
there was any chance in the world, this gent could give it to you. He's
got a job he wants done up amongst the swells in Fifth Avenue, and
there's money enough in it to buy Anna herself, if you want her. Anna's
our real toff down here," he explained, turning to Fischer, "and all
the boys are crazy about her."

Jake shook his head, unimpressed. He fixed his eyes upon Fischer,
moistened his lips a little, and spoke in a sort of croaky whisper.

"Money's no use to me," he said, "nor women either--I'm through with
them. You know what I done? I killed my girl. That's what I'm going to
the chair for. But if I could get out of this, I'd do your job. I'm
kind of hating people. I can't get my girl's face out of my mind.
Perhaps if I did your job I'd have another one to think about."

"Pleasant company, ain't he?" the Irishman grunted. "He's the real
goods."

Fischer stared at the young man as though fascinated. He seemed beyond
and outside human comprehension. Their host was sitting with his hands
in his pockets and his feet on another chair. The braces hung from his
shoulders upon the floor, his collarless shirt had fallen a little
open. His face, with its little tuft of red side whiskers and unshaven
chin, was reminiscent of the forests.

"If you want this job fixed, Mr. Stranger," he said, "I don't know as
Jake here couldn't take it on. It'd have to be done like this. Jake's a
real toney chauffeur--drive anything. If you had your automobile at a
spot I could tell you of one evening, just at dusk, I might get him
that far, in a set of chauffeur's clothes. Once on the box of your
auto, he'd be out of this and could give 'em the slip for a bit. It's
the only way I can think of, to get him near the game."

"The arrangement would suit me," Fischer admitted.

Jake suddenly showed a gleaming set of unexpectedly white teeth. His
eyes stared more than ever.

"I'm game! I'm on to this," he cried fiercely. "You can have all there
is coming to me, Sullivan, if I get nabbed, but I'm going to take my
risk. I hate this hole! It's a rat's den."

"Then get you back to your cupboard, Jake," the Irishman enjoined.
"I've got to talk business to the gent."

The young man rose to his feet. He took the bottle of whisky under his
arm. His face was still ashen, but his tone was steady. He gripped
Fischer by the arm.

"I will do your job," he promised. "I will do it thoroughly."

He slouched across the floor, entered his cupboard, and disappeared.
Fischer was suddenly aware of the moisture upon his forehead. There was
something animallike, absolutely inhuman, about this creature with whom
he had made his murderous bargain.

"I have no money here, of course," he reminded his companion.

"Don't know as I blame you, guv'nor," the other observed with a grin.
"I saw my toughs lay out a guy only the other day for flashing a
smaller wad than you'd carry. You know the rules, and I guess I'll ring
up the bank to-morrow morning at eleven o'clock. Does that go?"

"You'll find the deposit there," Fischer promised. "You'd better let me
know when he's ready to take the job on."

The Irishman walked to the foot of the steps with his visitor.

"Give Joe the double knock on the trapdoor," he directed, "and get out
of the saloon as quick as you can. There's a Dago about there keeps our
hands full. Got anything with you?"

Fischer nodded. His hand stole out of his overcoat pocket.

"Better give them one if they look like trouble," his host advised.
"They've plenty of spunk, but I can tell you they make tracks for their
holes if they hear one of those things bark."

"They shall hear it fast enough, if they try to hustle me," Fischer
observed grimly.

"You've some pluck," the Irishman declared, as he watched his departing
guest ascend the steps. "Sure, this is no place for cowards, anyway.
And good night and good luck to you! Jake will do your job slick, if
any one could."

Fischer beat his little tattoo upon the trapdoor, crawled through it
and underneath the flap in the counter, out into the saloon. He paused
for a moment to look around, on his way to the door. The fight was
apparently over, for every one was standing at the counter, drinking
with a swarthy-faced man whose cheeks were stained with blood. From a
distant corner came the sound of groans. The air seemed heavier than
ever with foul tobacco smoke. The man at the piano still thrashed out
his unmelodious chords. Some women in a corner were pretending to
dance. One or two of them looked curiously at Fischer, but he passed
out, unchallenged. Even the air of the slum outside seemed pure and
fresh after the heated den he had left. He reached the corner of the
street in safety and stepped quickly into his car. He threw both
windows wide open and murmured an order to the chauffeur. Then he
leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment. He was a man not
overburdened with imagination, but it seemed to him just then that he
would never be able altogether to forget the face of that ghastly,
dehumanised creature, crouching like some terrified wild animal in his
fetid refuge.

CHAPTER XXII

Mrs. Theodore Hastings was forty-eight years old, which her friends
said was the reason why her mansion on Fifth Avenue was furnished and
lit with the delicate sombreness of an old Italian palace. There was
about it none of the garishness, the almost resplendent brilliancy
associated with the abodes of many of our neighbours. Although her
masseuse confidently assured her that she looked twenty-eight, Mrs.
Hastings preferred not to put the matter to the test. She received her
carefully selected dinner guests in a great library with cedarwood
walls, furnished with almost Victorian sobriety, and illuminated by
myriads of hidden lights. Pamela, being a relative, received the
special consideration of an affectionately bestowed embrace.

"Pamela, my child, wasn't it splendid I heard that you were in New
York!" she exclaimed. "Quite by accident, too. I think you treat your
relatives shamefully."

Her niece laughed.

"Well, anyhow, you're the first of them I've seen at all, and directly
Jim told me he was coming to you, I made him ring up in case you had
room for me."

"Jimmy was a dear," Mrs. Hastings declared, "and, of course, there
couldn't be a time when there wouldn't be room for you. Even now, at
the last moment, though, I haven't quite made up my mind where to put
you. Choose, dear. Will you have a Western bishop or a rather dull
Englishman?"

"What is the name of the Englishman?" Pamela asked, with sudden
intuition.

"Lutchester, dear. Quite a nice name, but I know nothing about him. He
brought letters to your uncle. Rather a queer time for Englishmen to be
travelling about, we thought, but still, there he is. Seems to have
found some people he knows--and I declare he is coming towards you!"

"I met him in London," Pamela whispered, "and I never could get on with
bishops."

The dinner table was large, and arranged with that wonderful simplicity
which Mrs. Hastings had adopted as the keynote of her New York parties.
She had taken, in fact, simplicity under her wing and made a new thing
of it. There were more flowers than silver, and cut glass than heavy
plate. There seemed to be an almost ostentatious desire to conceal the
fact that Mr. Hastings had robbed the American public of a good many
million dollars.

"Of course," Pamela declared, as they took their places, and she nodded
a greeting to some friends around the table, "fate is throwing us
together in the most unaccountable manner."

"I accept its vagaries with resignation," Lutchester replied. "Besides,
it is quite time we met again. You promised to show me New York, and I
haven't seen you for days."

"I don't even remember the promise," Pamela laughed, "but in any case I
have changed my mind. I am not sure that you are the nice,
simple-minded person you profess to be. I begin to have doubts about
you."

"Interest grows with mystery," Lutchester remarked complacently. "Let
us hope that I am promoted in your mind."

"Well, I am not at all sure. Of course, I am not an Englishman, so it
is of no particular interest to me, but if you really came over here on
important affairs, I am not sure that I approve of your playing golf
the day after your arrival."

"That, perhaps, was thoughtless," he admitted, "but one gets so short
of exercise on board ship."

"Of course," Pamela observed tentatively, "I'd forgive you even now if
you'd only be a little more frank with me."

"I am prepared to be candour itself," he assured her.

"Tell me," she begged, "the whole extent of your mission in America?"

He glanced around.

"If we were alone," he replied, "I might court indiscretion so far as
to tell you."

"Then we will leave the answer to that question until after dinner,"
she said.

She talked to her left-hand neighbour for a few moments, and Lutchester
followed suit. They turned to one another again, however, at the first
opportunity.

"I have conceived," she told him, "a great admiration for Mr. Oscar
Fischer."

"A very able man," Lutchester agreed.

"He is not only that," Pamela continued, "but he is a man with large
principles and great ideas."

"Principles!" Lutchester murmured.

"Of course, you don't like him," Pamela went on, "and I don't wonder at
it. He is thoroughly German, isn't he?"

"Almost prejudiced, I'm afraid," Lutchester assented.

"Don't be silly," Pamela protested. "Why, he's German by birth, and
although you English people are much too pig-headed to see any good in
an enemy, I think you must admit that the way they all hang together--
Germans, I mean, all over the world--is perfectly wonderful."

"There have been a few remarks of the same sort," Lutchester reminded
her, "about the inhabitants of the British Empire--Canadians,
Australians, New Zealanders, for instance."

"As a matter of fact," Pamela admitted generously, "I consider that
your Colonials understand the word patriotism better than the ordinary
Englishman. With them, as with the Germans, it is almost a passionate
impulse. Your hearts may be in the right places, but you always give
one the impression of finding the whole thing rather a bore."

"Well, so it is," Lutchester insisted. "Who wants to give up a very
agreeable profession and enter upon a career of bloodshed, abandon all
one's habits, and lose most of one's friends? No, we are honest about
that, at any rate! Germany may be enjoying this war. We aren't."

"What was your profession?" Pamela inquired.

"Diplomacy," Lutchester confided. "I intended to become an ambassador."

"Do you think you have the requisite gifts?"

"What are they?"

"Secrecy, subtlety, caution, and highly-developed intelligence," she
replied. "How's that?"

"All those gifts," he assured her, "I possess."

She fanned herself for a moment and looked at him.

"We are not a modest race ourselves," she said, "but I think you can
give us a lead. By the bye, were you playing golf with Senator Hamblin
by accident the other afternoon?"

"You mean the old Johnny down at Baltusrol?" he asked coolly. "I picked
him up wandering about by the professionals' shed."

"Did you talk politics with him?"

"We gassed a bit about the war," Lutchester admitted cheerfully.

Pamela laughed. She leaned a little forward. The buzz of conversation
now was insistent all around them.

"Of you two," she whispered, "I prefer Fischer."

Lutchester considered the matter for some time.

"Well, there's no accounting for tastes," he said presently. "I
shouldn't have thought him exactly your type."

"He may not be," Pamela confessed, "but at least he has the courage to
speak what is in his mind."

Lutchester smiled.

"So Fischer has taken you into his confidence, has he?" he murmured.
"Well, now, that seems queer to me. I should have thought your
interests would have lain the other way."

"As an individual?"

"As an American."

"I am not wholly convinced of that."

"Come," he protested, "what is the use of a friend from whom you are
separated by an unnegotiable space?"

"What unnegotiable space?"

"The Atlantic."

"And why is the Atlantic unnegotiable?"

"Because of a little affair called the British fleet," Lutchester
pointed out.

"There is also," she reminded him drily, "a German fleet, and they
haven't met yet."

"Ah! I had almost forgotten there was such a thing," he murmured.
"Where do they keep it?"

"You know. You aren't nearly so stupid as you pretend to be," she said,
a little impatiently. "I should like you so much better if you would be
frank with me."

"What about those qualifications for my ambassadorial career?" he
reminded her--"Secrecy, subtlety, caution."

"The master of these," she whispered, rising to her feet in response to
her hostess's signal, "knows when to abandon them--"

Lutchester changed his place to a vacant chair by James Van Teyl's
side.

"I was going to ask you, Mr. Van Teyl," he inquired, "whether your
Japanese servant was altogether a success? I think I shall have to get
a temporary servant while I am over here."

"Nikasti was entirely Fischer's affair," Van Teyl replied, "and I can't
say much about him as I have given up my share of the apartments at the
Plaza. The fellow's all right, I dare say, but we hadn't the slightest
use for a valet. The man on the floor's good enough for any one."

"By the bye," Lutchester inquired, "is Fischer still in New York?"

"No, he's in Washington," Van Teyl replied. "I believe he's expected
back to-morrow.... Say, can I ask you a question?"

Lutchester almost imperceptibly drew his chair a little closer.

"Of course you can," he assented.

"What I want to know," Van Teyl continued confidentially, "is how you
get that long run on your cleek shots? I saw you play the sixteenth
hole, and it looked to me as though the ball were never going to stop."

Lutchester smiled.

"I have made a special study of that shot," he confided. "Yes, I can
tell you how it's done, but it needs a lot of practice. It's done in
turning over the wrists sharply just at the moment of impact. You get
everything there is to be got into the stroke that way, and you keep
the ball low, too."

"Gee, I must try that!" Van Teyl observed, making spasmodic movements
with his wrists. "When could we have a day down at Baltusrol?"

"It will have to be next week, I'm afraid, if you don't mind,"
Lutchester replied. "I've a good many appointments in New York, and I
may have to go to Washington myself. By the bye, I thought our host
lived there."

"So he does," Van Teyl assented. "Nowadays, though, it seems to have
become the fashion for politicians to own a house up in New York and do
some entertaining here. They're after the financial interest, I
suppose."

"Is your uncle a keen politician?"

"Keen as mustard," Van Teyl answered. "So's my aunt. She'd give her
soul to have the old man nominated for the Presidency."

"Any chance of it?"

"Not an earthly! He'll come a mucker, though, some day, trying. He'd
take any outside chance. For a clever man he's the vainest thing I
know."

Lutchester smiled enigmatically as he followed the example of the
others and rose to his feet.

"Even in America, then," he observed, "your great men have their
weaknesses."

CHAPTER XXIII

Fischer, exactly one week after his nocturnal visit to Fourteenth
Street, hurried out of the train at the Pennsylvania Station, almost
tore the newspapers from the news stand, glanced through them one by
one and threw them back. The attendant, open-mouthed, ventured upon a
mild protest. Fischer threw him a dollar bill, caught up his handbag,
and made for the entrance. He was the first passenger from the
Washington Limited to reach the street and spring into a taxi.

"The Plaza Hotel," he ordered. "Get along."

They arrived at the Plaza in less than ten minutes. Mr. Fischer tipped
the driver lavishly, suffered the hall porter to take his bag, returned
his greeting mechanically, and walked with swift haste to the tape
machine. He held up the strips with shaking fingers, dropped them
again, hurried to the lift, and entered his rooms. Nikasti was in the
sitting-room, arranging some flowers. Fischer did not even stop to
reply to his reverential greeting.

"Where's Mr. Van Teyl?" he demanded.

"Mr. Van Teyl has gone away, sir," was the calm reply. "He left here
the day before yesterday. There is a letter."

Fischer took no notice. He was already gripping the telephone receiver.

"982, Wall," he said--"an urgent call."

He stood waiting, his face an epitome of breathless suspense. Soon a
voice answered him.

"That the office of Neville, Brooks and Van Teyl?" he demanded. "Yes!
Put me through to Mr. Van Teyl. Urgent!"

Another few seconds of waiting, then once more he bent over the
instrument.

"That you, Van Teyl?... Yes, Fischer speaking. Oh, never mind about
that! Listen. What price are Anglo-French?... No, say about what?...
Ninety-five?... Sell me a hundred thousand.... What's that?... What?...
Of course it's a big deal! Never mind that. I'm good enough, aren't I?
There'll be no rise that'll wipe out half a million dollars. I've got
that lying in cash at Guggenheimer's. If you need the money, I'll bring
it you in half an hour. Get out into the market and sell. Damn you,
what's it matter about news! Right! Sorry, Jim. See you later."

Fischer put down the telephone and wiped his forehead. Notwithstanding
the fatigue in his face, there was a glint of triumph there. He laid
his hand upon Nikasti's shoulder.

"My friend," he said, "there's big proof coming of what I said to you
the other day. You'll find that letter you carry will mean a different
thing now. There's news in the air."

"There has been a great battle, perhaps?" Nikasti asked slowly.

"All that is to be known you will hear before evening," Fischer
replied. "Tell some one to send me some coffee. I have come through
from Washington. I am tired."

He sank a little abruptly into an easy-chair, took off his spectacles,
and leaned his head back upon the cushions. In the sunlight his face
was almost ghastly. A queer sense of weakness had suddenly assailed
him. His mind flitted back through a vista of sleepless nights, of
strenuous days, of passions held in leash, excitement ground down.

"I am tired," he said. "Telephone down to the office, Nikasti, for a
doctor."

Nikasti obeyed, and his summons was promptly answered. The doctor who
arrived was pleasantly but ominously grave. In the middle of his
examination the telephone rang. Fischer, without ceremony, moved to the
receiver. It was Van Teyl speaking.

"I've sold your hundred thousand Anglo-French," he announced. "It's
done the whole market in, though--knocked the bottom out of it. They've
fallen a point and a half. Shall I begin to buy back for you? You'll
make a bit."

"Not a share," Fischer answered fiercely. "Wait!"

"Have you any news you're keeping up your sleeve?" Van Teyl persisted.

"If I have, it's my own affair," was the curt reply, "and I don't tell
news over the telephone, anyway. Watch the market, and go on selling
where you can."

"I shall do as you order," Van Teyl replied, "but you're all against
the general tone here. By the bye, you got my letter?"

"I haven't opened it yet," Fischer snapped. "What's the matter?"

"Pamela and I have taken a little flat in Fifty-eighth Street. Seems a
little abrupt, but she didn't want to be alone, and she hates hotels.
We felt sure you'd understand."

"Yes, I understand," Fischer said. "Good-by! I'm busy."

The doctor completed his examination. When he had finished he mentioned
his fee.

"You work too hard, and you live in an atmosphere of too great strain.
The natural consequences are already beginning to show themselves. If I
give you medicine, it will only encourage you to keep on wasting
yourself, but you can have medicine if you like."

"Send me something to take for the next fortnight," Fischer replied.
"After that, I'll take my chance."

The doctor wrote a prescription and took his leave. Fischer leaned back
in his chair and closed his eyes. His mind travelled back through these
latter days of his over-strenuous life. In such minutes of relaxation,
few of which he permitted himself, he realised with bitter completeness
the catastrophe which had overtaken him--him, Oscar Fischer, of all men
on earth. Into his life of grim purposes, of lofty and yet narrow
ambitions, of almost superhuman tenacity, had crept the one weakening
strain whose presence in other men he had always scoffed at and
derived. There was a new and enervating glamour over the days, a new
and hatefully powerful rival for all his thoughts and dreams. Ten years
ago, he reflected sadly, this might have made a different man of him,
might have unlocked the gates into another, more peaceful and beautiful
world, visions of which had sometimes vaguely disturbed him in his cold
and selfish climb. Now it could only mean suffering. This was the first
stroke. It was the assertion of humanity which was responsible for his
present weakness. How far might it not drag him down?

There should be a fight, at any rate, he told himself, as an hour or
two later he made his way downtown. He paid several calls in the
vicinity of Wall Street, and finished up in Van Teyl's office. That
young man greeted him with a certain relief.

"You know the tone of the market's still against you, Fischer," he
warned him once more.

Fischer threw himself into the client's easy-chair. The furniture in
the office seemed less distinct than usual. He was conscious of a
certain haziness of outline in everything. Van Teyl's face, even, was
shrouded in a little mist. Then he suddenly found himself fighting

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