The Greek phrase on the title page has been transliterated and placed between plus marks.
Every effort has been made to replicate this text as closely as possible, including most inconsistencies in spelling and hyphenation. A list of examples of the above, as well as a list of changes (corrections of spelling and punctuation) made to the original text appears at the end of this book. ]
* * * * *
MYSTERY AT GENEVA
An improbable tale of singular happenings
Author of "Dangerous Ages," "Potterism," etc.
hostis toia echei en hdon echei en hdon toia.
LONDON: 48 PALL MALL
W. COLLINS SONS & CO. LTD.
GLASGOW MELBOURNE AUCKLAND
LONDON AND GLASGOW: W. COLLINS SONS AND CO. LTD.
MYSTERY AT GENEVA
TYLER OF BARNET BERNARD GILBERT
PILGRIM'S REST F. BRETT YOUNG
PIRACY MICHAEL ARLEN
BEANSTALK MRS. HENRY DUDENEY
ROSEANNE E. MARIA ALBANESI
BIG PETER ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
As I have observed among readers and critics a tendency to discern satire where none is intended, I should like to say that this book is simply a straightforward mystery story, devoid of irony, moral or meaning. It has for its setting an imaginary session of the League of Nations Assembly, but it is in no sense a study of, still less a skit on, actual conditions at Geneva, of which indeed I know little, the only connection I have ever had with the League being membership of its Union.
Henry, looking disgusted, as well he might, picked his way down the dark and dirty corkscrew stairway of the dilapidated fifteenth century house where he had rooms during the fourth (or possibly it was the fifth) Assembly of the League of Nations. The stairway, smelling of fish and worse, opened out on to a narrow cobbled alley that ran between lofty medival houses down from the Rue du Temple to the Quai du Seujet, in the ancient wharfside quarter of Saint Gervais.
Henry, pale and melancholy, his soft hat slouched over his face, looked what he was, a badly paid newspaper correspondent lodging in unclean rooms. He looked hungry; he looked embittered; he looked like one of the under dogs, whose time had not come yet, would, indeed, never come. He looked, however, a gentleman, which, in the usual sense of the word, he was not. He was of middle height, slim and not inelegant of build; his trousers, though shiny, were creased in the right place; his coat fitted him though it lacked two buttons, and he dangled a monocle, which he screwed impartially now into one brown eye, now into the other. If any one would know, as they very properly might, whether Henry was a bad man or a good, I can only reply that we are all of us mixed, and most of us not very well mixed.
Henry was, in fact, at the moment a journalist, and wrote for the British Bolshevist, a revolutionary paper with a startlingly small circulation; and now the reader knows the very worst of Henry, which is to say a great deal, but must, all the same, be said.
Such as he was, Henry, on this fine Sunday morning in September, strolled down the Alle Petit Chat, which did not seem to him, as it seems to most English visitors, in the least picturesque, for Henry was a quarter Italian, and preferred new streets, and buildings to old. Having arrived at the Quai du Mont Blanc, he walked along it, brooding on this and that, gazing with a bitter kind of envy at the hotels which were even now opening their portals to those more fortunate than he—the Bergues, the Paix, the Beau Rivage, the Angleterre, the Russie, the Richemond. All these hostels were, on this Sunday morning before the opening of the Assembly, receiving the delegates of the nations, their staffs and secretaries, and even journalists. Crowds of little grave-faced Japs processed into the Hotel de la Paix; the entrance hall of Les Bergues was alive with the splendid, full-throated converse of Latin Americans ("Ah, they live, those Spaniards!" Henry sighed); while at the Beau Rivage the British Empire and the Dominions hastened, with the morbid ardour of their race, to plunge into baths after their night journey.
Baths, thought Henry bitterly. There were no baths in the Alle Petit Chat. All his bathing must be done in the lake—and cold comfort that was. Henry was no lover of cold water: he preferred it warm.
These full-fed, well-housed, nobly cleaned delegates.... Henry quite untruly reported to his newspaper, which resented the high living of others, that some of them occupied as many as half a dozen rooms apiece in the hotels, with their typists, their secretaries, and their sycophantic suites.
Even the journalists, lodging less proudly in smaller hotels, or in apartments, all lodged cleanly, all decently, excepting only Henry, the accredited representative of the British Bolshevist.
Bitterly and proudly, with a faint sneer twisting his lips, Henry, leaning against the lake-side parapet, watched the tumultuous arrival of the organisers of peace on earth. The makers of the new world. What new world? Where tarried it? How slow were its makers at their creative task! Slow and unsure, thought Henry, whose newspaper was not of those who approved the League.
With a sardonic smile Henry turned on his heel and pursued his way along the Quai towards that immense hotel where the League Secretariat lived and moved and had its being. He would interview some one there and try to secure a good place in the press gallery. The Secretariat officials were kind to journalists, even to journalists on the British Bolshevist, a newspaper which was of no use to the League, and which the Secretariat despised, as they might despise the yapping of a tiresome and insignificant small dog.
The Secretariat were in a state of disturbance and expectation. The annual break in their toilsome and rather tedious year was upon them. For a month their labours would be, indeed, increased, but life would also move. One wearied of Geneva, its small and segregated society, its official gossip, the Calvinistic atmosphere of the natives, its dreary winter, its oppressive summer, its eternal lake and distant mountains, its horrid little steamboats rushing perpetually across and across from one side of the water to the other—one wearied of Geneva as a place of residence. What was it (though it had its own charm) as a dwelling-place for those of civilised and cosmopolitan minds? Vienna, now, would be better; or Brussels: even the poor old Hague, with its ill-fated traditions. Or, said the French members of the staff, Paris. For the French nation and government were increasingly attached to the League, and had long thought that Paris was its fitting home. It would be safer there.
However, it was at Geneva, and it was very dull except at Assembly time, or when the Council were in session. Assembly time was stimulating and entertaining. One saw then people from the outside world; things hummed. Old friends gathered together, new friends were made. The nations met, the Assembly assembled, committees committeed, the Council councilled, grievances were aired and either remedied or not; questions were raised and sometimes solved; governments were petitioned, commissions were sent to investigate, quarrels were pursued, judgments pronounced, current wars deplored, the year's work reviewed. Eloquence rang from that world-platform, to be heard at large, through the vastly various voices of a thousand newspapers, in a hundred rather apathetic countries.
In spite of the great eloquence, industry, intelligence, and many activities of the delegates, there was, in that cosmopolitan and cynical body, the Secretariat, a tendency to regard them, en masse, rather as children to be kept in order, though to be given a reasonable amount of liberty in such harmless amusements as talking on platforms. Treats, dinners and excursions were arranged for them; the Secretariat liked to see them having a good time. They would meet in the Assembly Hall each morning to talk, before an audience; noble sentiments would then exalt and move the nations and be flashed across Europe by journalists. But in the afternoons they would cross the lake again to the Palais des Nations, and meet in Rooms A, B, C, or D, round tables (magic phrase! magic arrangement of furniture and human beings!) in large or small groups, and do the work. The Assembly Hall was, so to speak, the front window, where the goods were displayed, but where one got away with the goods was in the back parlour. There, too, the fiercest international questions boiled up, boiled over, and were cooled by the calming temperature of the table and the sweet but firm reasonableness of some of the representatives of the more considerable powers. The committee meetings were, in fact, not only more effective than the Assembly meetings, but more stimulating, more amusing.
Henry, entering the Palais des Nations, found it in a state of brilliant bustle. The big hall hummed with animated talk and cheerful greetings in many tongues, and members of the continental races shook one another ardently and frequently by the hand. How dull it would be, thought Henry, if ever the Esperanto people got their way, and the flavour of the richly various speech of the nations was lost in one colourless, absurd and inorganic language, stumblingly spoken and ill understood.
Henry entered a lift, was enclosed with a cynical American, a brilliant-looking Spaniard, a tall and elegant woman of assurance and beauty, and an intelligent-faced cosmopolitan who looked like a British-Italian-Latin-American-Finn, which, in point of fact, he was. Alighting at the third floor, Henry found his way to the department he required and introduced himself to one of its officials, who gave him a pink card assigning him to a seat in the press gallery, which he felt would not be one he would really like.
"You've not been out here before, have you," said the official, and Henry agreed that this was so.
"Well, of course we don't expect much of a show from your fanatical paper...." The official was good-humoured, friendly, and tolerant. The Secretariat were, indeed, sincerely indifferent to the commentary on their proceedings both of the Morning Post and the British Bolshevist, for both could be taken for granted. One of these journals feared that the League sought disarmament, the other that it did not; to one it was a league of cranks, conscientious objectors, and (fearful and sinister word) internationals, come not to destroy but to fulfil the Covenant, bent on carrying out Article 8, substituting judiciary arbitration for force, and treating Germany as a brother; to the other it was a league of militarist and capitalist states, an extension of the Supreme Allied Council, bent on destroying Article 18 and other inconvenient articles of the Covenant, and treating Germany as a dog. To both it was, in one word, Poppycock. Sincerely, honestly, and ardently, both these journals thought like that. They could not help it; it was temperamental, and the way they saw things.
Henry descended the broad and shallow double stairway of the Palais des Nations, up and down which tripped the gay crowds who knew one another but knew not him, and so out to lunch, which he had poorly, inexpensively, obscurely and alone, at a low eating-house near the Secretariat. After lunch he had coffee at a higher eating-house, on the Quai, and sat under the pavement awning reading the papers, listening to the band, looking at the mountain view across the lake, and waiting until the other visitors to Geneva, having finished their more considerable luncheons, should emerge from their hotels and begin to walk or drive along the Quai. Meanwhile he read L'Humeur, which he found on the table before him. But L'Humeur is not really very funny. It has only one joke, only one type of comic picture: a woman incompletely dressed. Was that, Henry speculated, really funny? It happens, after all, to nearly all women at least every morning and every evening. Was it really funny even when to the lady thus unattired there entered a gentleman, either M. l'Amant or M. le Mari?
Was only one thing funny, as some persons believed? Was it indeed really funny at all? Henry, who honestly desired to brighten his life, tried hard to think so, but failed, and relapsed into gloom. He could not see that it was funnier that a female should not yet have completed her toilet than that a male should not. Neither was funny. Nothing, perhaps, was funny. The League of Nations was not funny. Life was not funny, and probably not death. Even the British Bolshevist, which he was reduced to reading, wasn't funny, though it did have on the front page a column headed "Widow's Leap Saves Cat from Burning House."
A young man sat down at Henry's little table and ordered drink; a bright, neat, brisk young man, with an alert manner. Glancing at the British Bolshevist, he made a conversational opening which elicited the fact that Henry represented this journal at Geneva. For himself, he was, it transpired, correspondent of the Daily Sale, a paper to which the British Bolshevist was politically opposed but temperamentally sympathetic; they had the same cosy, chatty touch on life.
The two correspondents amused themselves by watching the delegates and other foreign arrivals strolling to and fro along the elegant spaciousness of the Quai, chatting with one another. They noticed little things to write to their papers about, such as hats, spats, ways of carrying umbrellas and sticks, and so forth. They overheard fragments of conversation in many tongues. For, clustering round about the Assembly, were the representatives, official and unofficial, of nearly all the world's nations, so that Henry heard in the space of ten minutes British, French, Italians, Russians, Poles, Turks, Americans, Armenians, Dutch, Irish, Lithuanians, Serb-Croat-Slovenes, Czecho-Slovakians, the dwellers in Dalmatia and Istria, and in the parts of Latin America about Brazil, Assyrio-Chaldeans, and newspaper correspondents, all speaking in their tongues the wonderful works of God. Geneva was like Pentecost, or the Tower of Babel. There were represented there very many societies, which regularly settled in Geneva for the period of the Assembly in order to send it messages, trusting thus to bring before the League in session the good causes they had at heart. The Women's International League was there, and the Esperanto League, and the Non-Alcoholic Drink Society, and the Mormons, and the Y.M.C.A. and the Union of Free Churches, and the Unprotected Armenians, and the Catholic Association, and the Orthodox Church Union, and the Ethical Society, and the Bolshevik Refugees (for it was in Russia, at the moment, the turn of the other side), and the Save the Children Committee, and the Freemasons, and the Constructive Birth Control Society, and the Feathered Friends Protection Society, and the Negro Equality League, and the Anti-Divorce Union, and the Humanitarian Society, and the Eugenic Society, and the Orangemen's Union, and the Sinn Feiners, and the Zionists, and the Saloon Restoration League, and the S.P.G. And hundreds of Unprotected Minorities, irresistibly (or so they hoped) moving in their appeals.
Many of the representatives of these eager sections of humanity walked on the Quai du Mont Blanc on this fine Sunday afternoon and listened to the band, and buttonholed delegates and their secretaries, and chatted, and spat. The Czecho-Slovakians spat hardest, the Costa-Ricans loudest, the Unprotected Armenians most frequently, and the Serb-Croat-Slovenes most accurately, but the Assyrio-Chaldeans spat farthest. The Zionists did not walk on the Quai. They were holding meetings together and drawing up hundreds of petitions, so that the Assembly might receive at least one an hour from to-morrow onwards. Zionists do these things thoroughly.
Motor-cars hummed to and fro between the hotels and the Secretariat, and inside them one saw delegates. Flags flew and music played, and the jet d'eau sprang, an immense crystalline tree of life, a snowy angel, up from the azure lake into the azure heavens.
Henry gave a little sigh of pleasure. He liked the scene.
"Will there be treats?" he asked his companion. "I like treats."
"Treats? Who for? The delegates get treats all right, if you mean that."
"For us, I meant."
"Oh, yes, the correspondents get a free trip or a free feed now and then too. I usually get out of them myself; official beanos bore me. The town's very good to us; it wants the support of the press against rival claimants, such as Brussels."
"I should enjoy a lake trip very much," said Henry, beginning to feel that it was good to be there.
"Well, don't forget to hand in your address then, so that it gets on the list."
Henry was damped. 24 Alle Petit Chat, Saint Gervais—it sounded rotten, and would sound worse still to the Genevan syndics, who knew just where it was and what, and were even now engaged in plans for pulling down and rebuilding all the old wharfside quarter. No; he could not hand in that address....
"I suppose you've got to crab the show, whatever it does, haven't you," said the Daily Sale man presently. "Now I'm out to pat it on the back—this year. I like that better. It's dull being disagreeable all the time; so obvious, too."
"My paper is obvious," Henry owned gloomily. "Truth always is. You can't get round that."
"Oh, well, come," the other journalist couldn't stand that—"it's a bit thick for one of your lot to start talking about truth. The lies you tell daily—they have ours beat to a frazzle. Why, you couldn't give a straight account of a bus accident!"
"We could not. That is to say, we would not," Henry admitted. "But we lie about points of fact because our principles are true. They're so true that everything has to be made to square with them. If you notice, our principles affect all our facts. Yours don't, quite all. You'd report the bus accident from pure love of sensation. We, in reporting it, would prove that it happened because buses aren't nationalised, or because the driver was underpaid, or the fares too high, or because coal has gone up more than wages, or something true of that sort. We waste nothing; we use all that happens. We're propagandists all the time, you're only propagandists part of the time; and commercialists the rest."
"Oh, certainly no one would accuse you of being commercialists," agreed the Sale man kindly. "Hallo, what's up?"
Henry had stiffened suddenly, and sat straight and rigid, like a dog who dislikes another dog. His companion followed his tense gaze, and saw a very neat, agreeable-looking and gentlemanly fellow, exquisitely cleaned, shaved, and what novelists call groomed (one supposes this to be a kind of rubbing-down process, to make the skin glossy), with gray spats, a malacca cane, and a refined gray suit with a faint stripe and creases like knife-blades. This gentleman was strolling by in company with the senior British delegate, who had what foreigners considered a curious and morbid fad for walking rather than driving, even for short distances.
"Which troubles you?" inquired the representative of the Daily Sale. "Our only Lord B., or that Secretariat fellow?"
"That Secretariat fellow," Henry replied rather faintly.
The other put on his glasses, the better to observe the neat, supercilious figure. He laughed a little.
"Charles Wilbraham. Our Gilbert. The perfect knut. The type that does us credit abroad. Makes up for the seedy delegates and journalists, what?... He is said to have immense and offensive private wealth. In fact, it is obvious that he could scarcely present that unobtrusively opulent appearance on his official salary. They don't really get much, you know, poor fellows; not for an expensive place like this.... The queer thing is that no one seems to know where Wilbraham gets his money from; he never says. A very close, discreet chap; a regular civil servant. Do you know him, then?"
Henry hesitated for a moment, appearing to think. He then replied, in the pained and reserved tone in which Mr. Wickham might have commented upon Mr. Darcy, "Slightly. Very slightly. As well as I wish. In fact, rather better. He wouldn't remember me. But I'll tell you one thing. But for a series of trivial circumstances, I too might have been ... oh, well, never mind. Not, of course, that for any consideration I would serve in this ludicrous and impotent machine set up by the corrupt states of the world. Wilbraham can: I could not. My soul, at least, is my own."
"Oh, come," remonstrated the other journalist. "Come, come. Surely not.... But I must go and look up a few people. See you later on."
Henry remained for a minute, broodingly watching the neat receding back of Charles Wilbraham. How happy and how proud it looked, that serene and elegant back! How proud and how pleased Henry knew Charles Wilbraham to be, walking with the senior British delegate, whom every one admired, along the Quai du Mont Blanc! As proud and as happy as a prince. Henry knew better than most others Charles Wilbraham's profound capacity for proud and princely pleasure. He loved these assemblies of important persons; loved to walk and talk with the great. He had, ever since the armistice, contracted a habit of being present at those happy little gatherings which had been, so far, a periodic feature of the great peace, and showed as yet no signs of abating. To Paris Charles Wilbraham had gone in 1919 (and how near Henry had been to doing the same; how near, and yet how far!). To San Remo he had been, to Barcelona and to Brussels; to Spa, to Genoa, even to Venice in the autumn of 1922. Besides all the League of Nations Assemblies. Where the eagles were gathered together, there, always, would Charles Wilbraham be.
Henry winced at the thought of Charles's so great happiness. But let him wait; only let Charles wait.
"Holy Mother of God!" (for Henry was a Roman Catholic), "only let him wait!"
The Assembly Hall was, as seen from the Press Gallery, a study in black and white. White sheets of paper laid on the desks, black coats, white or black heads.
Young and old, black and white, the delegates stood and walked about the hall, waiting for the session of the League of Nations Assembly to begin. The hum of talk rose up and filled the hall; it was as if a swarm of bees were hiving. What a very great deal, thought Henry, had the human race to say, always! Only the little Japs at the back sat in silent rows, scores and scores of them (for Japanese are no use by ones), immobile, impassive, with their strange little masks and slanting eyes, waiting patiently for the business of the day to begin. When it began, their reporters would take down everything that was said, writing widdershins, very diligently, very slowly, in their solemn picture language. There was something a little sinister, a little macabre, a little Grand Guignolish about the grave, polite, mysterious little Japs. The Yellow Peril. Perilous because of their immense waiting patience, that would, in the end, tire the restless Western peoples out. How they stored their energy, sitting quiet in rows, and how the Westerners expended theirs! What conversations, what gesticulations, what laughter filled the hall! The delegates greeting one another, shaking one another by the hand, making their alliances and friendships for the session, arranging meals together, kindly, good-humoured, and polite, the best of friends in private for all their bitter and wordy squabbles in public. The chief Russian delegate, M. Kratzky, a small, trim little ex-Bolshevik, turned Monarchist by the recent coup d'tat, was engaged in a genial conversation with the second French delegate. France had loudly and firmly voted last year against the admission of Russia to the League, but when the coup d'tat restored the Monarchist Government (a government no less, if no more, corrupt than the Bolshevik rule which had preceded it, but more acceptable to Europe in general), France held out to her old ally fraternal arms. The only delegates who cut the Russians were the Germans, and among the several delegates who cut the Germans were the Russians, for, as new members, these delegates were jealous one of the other. The Turkish delegates, also recently admitted, were meanwhile delightful to the Armenians, as if to prove how they loved these unhappy people, and how small was the truth of the tales that were told concerning their home life together. The two Irish delegates, O'Shane from the Free State and Macdermott from Ulster, were personally great friends, though they did not get on well together on platforms, as both kept getting and reading aloud telegrams from Ireland about crimes committed there by the other's political associates. This business of getting telegrams happens all the time to delegates, and is a cause of a good deal of disagreeableness.
On this, the first morning of the Assembly, telegrams shot in in a regular barrage, and nearly every delegate stopped several. Many came from America. The trouble about America was that every nation in the League had compatriots there, American by citizenship, but something else by birth and sympathy, so that the Ukrainian congregation of Woodlands, Pa., would telegraph to request the League to save their relations in Ukraine from the atrocities of the Poles, and the Polish settlement in Milwaukee would wire and entreat that their sisters and their cousins and their aunts might be delivered from the marauding Ukrainians, and Baptist congregations in the Middle West wired to the Roumanian delegation to bring up before the Assembly the persecution of Roumanian Baptists. And the Albanian delegate (a benign bishop) had telegrams daily from Albania about the violation of Albanian frontiers by the Serbs, and the Serbian delegate had even more telegrams about the invasions and depredations of the Albanians. And the German and Polish delegates had telegrams from Silesia, and the Central and South American delegates had telegrams about troubles with neighbouring republics. And the Armenians had desperate messages from home about the Turks, for the Turks, despite the assignment to Armenia of a national home, followed them there with instruments of torture and of death, making bonfires of the adults, tossing the infants on pikes, and behaving in the manner customarily adopted by these people towards neighbours. There is this about Armenians: every one who lives near them feels he must assault and injure them. There is this about Turks: they feel they must assault and injure any one who lives near them. So that the contiguity of Turks and Armenians has been even more unfortunate than are most contiguities. Neither of these nations ought to be near any other, least of all each other.
Meanwhile the Negro Equality League wired, "Do not forget the coloured races," and the Constructive Birth Control Society urged, "Make the world safe from babies" (this, anyhow, was the possibly inaccurate form in which this telegram arrived), and the Blackpool Methodist Union said, "The Lord be with your efforts after a World Peace, watched by all Methodists with hope, faith and prayer," and the Blue Cross Society said, "Remember our dumb friends," and Guatemala (which was not there) telegraphed, "Do not believe a word uttered by the delegate from Nicaragua, who is highly unreliable." As for the Bolshevik refugees, they sent messages about the Russian delegation which were couched in language too unbalanced to be made public either in the Assembly Journal or in these pages, but they would be put in the Secretariat Library for people to read quietly by themselves. This also occurred to a telegram from the Non-Co-operatives of India, who wired with reference to the freedom of their country from British rule, a topic unsuited to discussion from a world platform.
All this fusillade of telegrams made but small impression on the recipients, who found in them nothing new. As one of the British delegates regretfully observed, "Denique nullum est jam dictum quod non sit dictum prius."
But one telegram there was, addressed to the acting-President of the League, and handed in to him in the hall before the session began, which aroused some interest. It remarked, tersely and scripturally, in the English tongue, "I went by and lo he was not." It had been despatched from Geneva, and was unsigned.
"And who," said the acting-President meditatively to those round him (he was an acute, courteous, and gentle Chinaman), "is this Lo? It is a name" (for so, indeed, it seemed to him), "but it is not my name. Does the sender, all the same, refer to the undoubted fact that I, who shall open this Assembly as its President, shall, after the first day's session, retire in favour of the newly elected President? Is it, perhaps, a taunt from some one who wishes to remind me of the transience of my office? Possibly from some gentleman of Japan ... or America ... who knows? or does it, perhaps, refer not to myself, but to some other person or persons, system or systems, who will, so the sender foresees, have their day and cease to be?" The acting-President was a scholar, and well read in English poetry. But, as his knowledge did not extend to the English translation of the Hebrew Psalms, he added, "It reads, this wire, like a quotation from literature?"
One of the British delegates gave him its source and explained that, in this context, "lo" was less a name than an ejaculation, and would probably, but for the limitations of the telegraphic code, have had after it a point of exclamation. "The telegram," added the British delegate, who was something of a biblical student, "seems to be a combination of the Bible and Prayer Book translations of the verse in question. The Revised Version of the Bible has again another translation, a rather unhappy compromise. I believe the correct rendering——"
"It is sarcasm," interrupted a French Secretariat official, "C'est l'ironie. The sender means that we are of so little use that in his eyes we don't exist. C'est tout. We're used to these gibes."
"I expect it means," said another member of the Secretariat hopefully (he was sick of Geneva), "that the fellow thinks the League will soon be moved to Brussels."
"Is Maxse visiting Geneva by any chance?" inquired one of the delegates from Central Africa. "It has rather his touch. But then Maxse would always sign his name. He's unashamed.... I dare say this is merely some religious maniac reminding us that sic transit gloria mundi. Very likely a Jew.... Look, I have a much better one than that from the Non-Alcoholics...."
So they proceeded in their leisurely, attached, and pleasant way to discuss these outpourings from eager human hearts all over the globe.
But the second French delegate, after brooding a while, said suddenly, "Ce tlgramme-l, celui qui dit 'j'ai travers par l, et voici, il est biff!' les Boches l'ont expdi. Oui, justement. Tous les Boches veulent dtruire la Socit des Nations; ils le dsirent d'autant plus depuis que l'Allemagne est admise dans la Socit des Nations. C'est une chose tout fait certaine."
The French would talk like that about the Germans: you could not stop them. They had not, and possibly never would have, what is called a League mind. Central Africa, who had remonstrated gently but to no effect, pointing out that Germans would probably not be acquainted with the English version of the Psalms, either Prayer Book or Bible. To prevent international emotion from running high, the acting-President caused the bell to be rung and the Assembly to be summoned to their seats.
So here, thought Henry of the British Bolshevist, was this great world federation in session. He could not help being excited, for he was naturally excitable, and it was his first (and, had he known it, his last) Assembly. He was annoyed by the noisy moving and chattering of the people behind him in the gallery, which prevented his hearing the opening speech so well as he otherwise would have done. Foreigners—how noisy they were! They were for ever passing to and fro, shaking hands with one another, exchanging vivacious comments. Young French widows, in their heavy crape, gayest, most resigned, most elegant of creatures, tripped by on their pin-like heels, sweetly smiling their patient smiles. How different from young British widows, who, from their dress, might just as well have only lost a parent or brother. All widows are wonderful: Henry knew this, for always he had heard "Dear so-and-so is being simply wonderful" said of bereaved wives, and knew that it merely and in point of fact meant bereaved; but French widows are widows indeed. However, Henry wished they would sit still.
Henry was at the end of a row of English journalists. On his right, across a little gangway, were Germans. "At close quarters," reflected Henry, "one is not attracted by this unfortunate nation. It lacks—or is it rather that it has—a je ne sais quoi.... It is perhaps more favourably viewed from a distance: but even so not really favourably. Possibly, like many other nations, it is seen to greatest advantage at home. I must visit Germany." For Henry was anxious to acquire a broad, wise, unbiased international mind.
The acting-President was speaking, in his charming and faultless English. He was saying what a great deal the League had done since the preceding Assembly. It did indeed seem, as he lightly touched on it, a very great deal. It had grappled with disease and drugs, economics, sanitation, prostitution, and education; it had through its Court of Justice arbitrated several times in international disputes and averted several wars; other wars it had deplored; it had wrestled with unemployment and even with disarmament ... ("not, perhaps, quite happily put," murmured one British delegate to another). It had had great tasks entrusted to it and had performed them with success. It hoped to have, in the future, greater tasks yet; ... it had admitted to membership several new nations, to whom it had extended the heartiest fraternal welcome; ... above all it had survived in the face of all its enemies and detractors.... This present session was faced with a large and important programme. But before getting on to it there must be elections, votings, committees, a new President, and so forth.
The speaker sat down amid the applause proper to the occasion, and the interpreter rose to translate him into French.
An elderly English clergyman behind Henry tapped his shoulder with a pencil and said, "What paper do you represent? I am reporting for the Challenge. The Churches have not taken enough interest in the League. One must stir them up. I preach about nothing else, in these days. The Church of England is sadly apathetic."
"It is a fault churches have," said Henry. "All the same, the Pope has telegraphed a blessing."
Those who would fain follow the French interpreter hushed them. Henry leant over, and watched Latin America conferring among itself, looking excited and full of purpose. Latin America obviously had something on its mind.
"What interests them so much?" he wondered aloud, and the journalist next him enlightened him.
"They've made up their minds to have a Latin American President again. They say they make a third of the Assembly, and it's disgraceful that they don't have one every year. They don't want Edwardes again; they want one who'll let the Spanish-Americans get on their legs every few minutes. Edwardes had lived abroad too long and was too cosmopolitan for them. They're going to put up a really suitable candidate this time, and jolly well see he gets it. He won't, of course. But there may be the hell of a row."
"That will be very amusing," said Henry hopefully.
They were taking the votes of the delegates for the committee on the credentials of delegates. Suppose, thought Henry, that in that hall there were one or more delegates whose credentials were impeachable; delegates, perhaps who had come here by ruse with forged authority, or by force, having stolen the credentials from the rightful owner.... It might be done: it surely could be done, by some unprincipled adventurer from a far country. Perhaps it had been done, and perhaps the committee would never be the wiser. Or perhaps there would be a public expos.... That would be interesting. Public exposs were always interesting. Henry's drifting glance strayed to the platform, where the Secretariat staff sat, or went in and out through the folding door. There, standing by the door and watching the animated scene, was Charles Wilbraham, composed, pleased, serene, looking like a theatrical producer on the first night of a well-staged play.
Yes, public exposs were interesting....
The committee was elected and the Assembly dispersed for lunch, over which they would occupy themselves in lobbying for the Presidential election in the afternoon. Henry saw Charles Wilbraham go out in company with one of the delegates from Central Africa. No doubt but that the fellow had arranged to be seen lunching with this mainstay of the League. To lunch with the important ... that should be the daily goal of those for whom life is not a playground but a ladder. It was Charles Wilbraham's daily goal: Henry remembered that from old days.
At the afternoon session the Assembly voted for a President and six Vice-Presidents. It took a long time, and considerable feeling was involved. Five candidates were proposed: Roumania suggested a French delegate, Great Britain an Albanian bishop, Japan the senior British delegate, Central Africa an eminent Norwegian explorer, and the Latin Americans put up, between them, three of their own race. Owing to unfortunate temporary differences between various of these small republics they could not all agree on one candidate.
After what seemed to Henry, unversed in these matters, a great deal of unnecessary voting on the part of the Assembly and of the Council, it was announced that the delegate for Norway, Dr. Svensen, was elected President. Amid cheers from those delegates who were pleased, from those who had self-control enough to conceal their vexation, and from the public in the galleries (for Dr. Svensen was the most widely popular figure in the Assembly), the new President took his place and made the appropriate speech, in his sonorous English. Many in the hall were bored, some because the new President was known to be in with the English, who are not always liked by other nations; some because he spoke English readily and French ill, and most of them understood French readily and English not at all; others because he was of the party which was bent on carrying out certain measures in Europe for which they saw no necessity.
However, Dr. Svensen, a brief person and no word-waster, did not detain his audience long. At six o'clock the Assembly adjourned.
Henry despatched a short scornful story of the proceedings to his newspaper (which would not, he knew, print a long or effusive one), and dined with another English journalist in a caf in the old cit. The other journalist, Grattan, came from Paris, and was bored with the League and with Geneva. He preferred to report crime and blood, something, as he said, with guts in it. Statesmen assembled together made him yawn. For his part, he wished something would happen during the Assembly worth writing home about—some crime passionnel, some blood and thunder melodrama. "Perhaps," said Henry, hopefully, "it will."
"Well, it may. All these hot-blooded Latins and Slavs herded together ought to be able to produce something.... I bet you the Spanish Americans are hatching something to-night over there...." He waved his hand in the direction of the other side of the lake, where the great hotels blazed their thousand windows into the night. Behind those windows burnt who knew what of passion and of plot?
Dr. Svensen, strolling at a late hour across the Pont du Mont Blanc (he was returning from dinner at the Beau Rivage to his own hotel), was disturbed by a whimpering noise behind him, like the mewing of a little cat. Turning round, he saw a small and ragged form padding barefoot after him, its knuckles in its eyes. The Norwegian explorer, unlike most great men, was tender-hearted to children. Bending down to the crying urchin, he inquired of it the cause of its trouble. Its answer was in Russian, and to the effect that it was very hungry. Dr. Svensen softened yet more. A hungry Russian child! That was an object of pity which he never could resist. Russia was full of them; this one was probably an exiled Bolshevik. He felt in his pockets for coins, but the hungry Russian infant tugged at his coat. "Come," it said, and Dr. Svensen gathered from it that there were yet more hungry Russians where this came from. He followed....
The morning session of the Assembly was supposed to begin at ten, and at this hour next morning the unsophisticated Henry Beechtree took his seat in the Press Gallery. He soon perceived his mistake. The show obviously was not going to begin for ages. No self-respecting delegate or journalist would come into the hall on the stroke of the hour. The superior thing, in this as in other departments of life, was to be late. Lateness showed that serene contempt for the illusion we call time which is so necessary to ensure the respect of others and oneself. Only the servile are punctual....
But "Nothing to swank about in being late," thought Henry morosely; "only means they've spent too long over their coffee and bread and honey, the gluttons. I could have done the same myself."
Indeed, he wished that he had, for he fell again into the hands of the elderly clergyman who had addressed him yesterday, and who was, of course, punctual too.
"I see," said the clergyman, "that you have one of the French comic papers with you. A pity their humour is so much spoilt by suggestiveness."
Suggestiveness. Henry could never understand that word as applied in condemnation. Should not everything be suggestive? Or should all literature, art, and humour be a cul-de-sac, suggesting no idea whatsoever? Henry did not want to be uncharitable, but he could not but think that those who used this word in this sense laid themselves open to the suspicion (in this case, at least, quite unjustified), that their minds were only receptive of one kind of suggestion, and that a coarse one.
"I expect," he replied, "that you mean coarseness. People often do when they use that word, I notice. Anyhow, the papers are not very funny, I find."
"Suggestiveness," said the clergyman, "is seldom amusing."
Before Henry had time to argue again about this word, he hurried on.
"I sent yesterday a long message to the Church Times, the Guardian, the Commonwealth, and the Challenge about the first meeting. It is most important that these papers should set before their readers the part that the Church ought to play in promoting international goodwill."
"Indeed," said Henry, who did not see Anglican journals. He added vaguely, "The Pope sent a telegram...." For when people spoke to him of Church life, he said "the Pope" mechanically; it was his natural reaction to the subject.
"You interest me," said the English clergyman. "For the second time you have mentioned the Pope to me. Are you, perhaps, a Roman Catholic?"
"I suppose," Henry absently agreed, "that is what you would call it."
"We do, you know," the clergyman apologised. "Forgive me if it seems discourteous.... You know, then, of course, who that is, opposite?"
Henry looked across the hall to the opposite gallery, and perceived that his companion was referring to a small, delicate-looking elderly man, with the face of a priest and the clothes of a layman, who had just taken his seat there.
"I do not indeed."
"He is the ex-cardinal Franchi. You know him by reputation, of course."
"Wasn't he suspended for heresy? I have, I think, seen some of his books."
"He is a great scholar and a delightful writer. No one has gone more deeply into medival Church history and modern theological criticism. So I am told, but I have not read him myself, as he prefers to write in Italian, though he has a perfect command of several other tongues."
"Nor I, as I am not very much interested in Church history or theological criticism. Besides, his writings are, I suppose, heretical."
"I don't know as to that; I am no judge. But he was, I believe, as you say, retired for heresy. And now he lives in the most delightful of medival chteaux at Monet, a little village up the lake. I have been to see him there. If I may, I will introduce you. He enjoys making the acquaintance of his co-religionists. In this Calvinistic part of the world the educated classes are nearly all Protestants. The ex-cardinal does not care for Protestants; he finds them parvenus and bourgeois. He is a delightfully courteous host, however, even to those, and a wonderful talker. And his heart is in the League. A wit, a scholar, an aristocrat, a bon-viveur, and a philanthropist. If your Church retains many priests as good as those she expels, she is to be congratulated."
"She is," Henry agreed. "She can afford to fling out one or two by the way. Yes; I would like to know him, the ex-cardinal; he looks witty and shrewd, and at the same time an idealist.... But how late they are in beginning. My watch is seldom right, but I imagine it must be after ten-thirty."
The young man Grattan, with whom Henry had dined last night, lounged in, with his cynical smile.
"You're very young and innocent, Beechtree. I suppose you've been here since ten. It's just on eleven now. The President's not to hand and no one seems to know where he is. Oh, well, it's not his fault; people spoil him. His head's turned, poor Svensen. I expect he made a night of it and is lying in this morning. I don't blame him. We don't need a President. But there seems to be some unrest among the Secretariat."
This seemed, indeed, to be so. The members of this body, standing about the hall and platform, were animated and perturbed; the more irresponsible juniors seemed amused, others anxious. The Secretary-General was talking gravely to another high official.
The correspondent of the Daily Insurance, who had been talking in the hall to the delegates and Secretariat, watched by Henry from above with some envy, at this point entered the Press Gallery, edged his way to his seat, picked up the papers he had deposited there earlier, and made rapidly for the exit.
"Got a story already?" Grattan said to him.
"No, but there may be one any moment. They've sent round to the Metropole, and Svensen didn't sleep in his bed. He never came in last night after dinner."
He was off. Grattan whistled, and looked more cheerful.
"That's good enough. That's a story in itself. Didn't sleep in his bed. That's a headline all right. Good old Svensen. Here, I'm going down to hear more. Mustn't let Jefferson get ahead of us. Come along, Beechtree, and nose things out. This will be nuts for our readers. Even your crabbed paper will have to give a column to Svensen Not Sleeping in his Bed. Can't you see all the little eyes lighting up?"
He rushed away, and Henry followed. Meanwhile the bell was rung and MM. les Dlgus took their seats. The deputy-President, the delegate for Belgium, took the chair. The President, he announced, was unfortunately not yet in attendance. Pending his arrival, the Assembly would, since time pressed, proceed with the order of the day, which was the election of committees.... The Assembly, always ready to vote, began to do so. It would keep them busy for some time.
Meanwhile Henry stood about in the lobby, where a greater excitement and buzz of talk than usual went on. Where was Dr. Svensen? The other members of the Norwegian delegation could throw no light on the question. He had dined last night at the Beau Rivage, with the British delegation; he had left that hotel soon after eleven, on foot; he had meant, presumably, to walk back to the Metropole, which stood behind the Jardin Anglais, on the Mont Blanc side. The hall porter at the Metropole asserted that he had never returned there. The Norwegian delegation, not seeing him in the morning, had presumed that he had gone out early; but now the hotel staff declared that he had not spent the night in the hotel.
"He probably thought he would go for a long walk; the night was fine," Jefferson, who knew his habits, suggested. "Or for a row up the lake. The sort of thing Svensen would do."
"In that case he's drowned," said Grattan, who was of a forthright manner of speech. "He's a business-like fellow, Svensen. He'd have turned up in time for the show if he could, even after a night out."
The next thing was to inquire of the boat-keepers, and messengers were despatched to do this.
"I am afraid it looks rather serious," remarked a soft, grave, important voice behind Henry's back. "I am pretty intimate with Svensen; I was lunching with him only yesterday, as it happens. He didn't say a word then of any plan for a night expedition, I am afraid it looks sadly like an accident of some sort."
"Perspicacious fellow," muttered Jefferson, who did not like Charles Wilbraham.
Henry edged away: neither did he like Charles Wilbraham. He did not even turn his face towards him.
He jostled into his friend the English clergyman, who said, "Ah, Mr. Beechtree. I want to introduce you to Dr. Franchi." He led Henry by the arm to the corner where the alert-looking ex-cardinal stood, talking with the Spaniard whom Henry had noticed in the lift at the Secretariat buildings.
"Mr. Beechtree, Your Eminence," said the Reverend Cyril Waring, who chose by the use of this title to show at once his respect for the ex-cardinal, his contempt for the bigotry which had unfrocked him, and his disgust at the scandalous tongues which whispered that the reason for his unfrocking had been less heresy than the possession of a wife, or even wives. If Canon Waring had heard these spiteful on-dits, he paid no attention to them; he was a high-minded enthusiast, and knew a gentleman and a scholar when he saw one.
"The correspondent of the British Bolshevist," he added, "and a co-religionist of Your Eminence's."
The ex-cardinal gave Henry his delicate hand, and a shrewd and agreeable smile.
"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Beechtree. You must come and see me one day, if you will, at my lake villa. It is a pleasant expedition, and a beautiful spot."
He spoke excellent English with a slight accent. A thousand pities, thought Henry, that such a delightful person should be a heretic—such a heretic as to have been unfrocked. Why, indeed, should any one be a heretic? Atheism was natural enough, but heresy seemed strange. For, surely, if one could believe anything, one could believe everything. For his part, he believed everything....
Nevertheless, he accepted the invitation with pleasure. It would be a trip, and Henry loved trips, particularly up lakes.
Dr. Franchi, observing the young journalist with approbation, liking his sensitive and polite face, saw it grow suddenly sullen, even spiteful, at the sound of a voice raised in conversation not far from him.
"Perhaps you will do me the honour of lunching with me, M. Kratzky. I have a little party coming, including Suliman Bey...."
M. Kratzky was, in his way, the most deeply and profusely blood-stained of Russians. One of the restored Monarchist government, he it was who had organised and converted the Tche-ka to Monarchist use, till they became in his hands an instrument of perfect and deadly efficiency, sparing neither age, infancy, nor ill-health. M. Kratzky had devised a system of espionage so thorough, of penalties so drastic, that few indeed were safe from torture, confinement, or death, and most experienced all three. One would scarcely say that the White tyranny was worse than the Red had been, or worse than the White before that (one would indeed scarcely say that any Russian government was appreciably worse than any other); but it was to the full as bad, and Kratzky (the Butcher of Odessa, as his nickname was), was its chief tyrant. And here was Charles Wilbraham taking the butcher's blood-stained hand and asking him to lunch. What Mr. Wickham Steed used to feel of those who asked the Bolsheviks to lunch at Genoa in April, 1922, Henry now felt of Charles Wilbraham, only more so. And Suliman Bey too ... a ghastly Turk; for Turk (whatever you might think of Russians) were ghastly; the very thought of them, for all their agreeable manners, turned Henry, who was squeamish about physical cruelty, sick. God, what a lunch party!
"You know our friend Mr. Wilbraham, I expect," said Dr. Franchi.
"Scarcely," said Henry. "He wouldn't know me."
"A very efficient young man. He has that air."
"He has. But not really very clever, you know. It's largely put on.... I'm told. He likes to seem to know everything ... so I've heard."
"A common peccadillo." The ex-cardinal waved it aside with a large and tolerant gesture. "But we do not, most of us, succeed in it."
"Oh, Wilbraham doesn't succeed. Indeed no. Most people see at once that he is just a solemn ass. That face, you know ... like a mushroom...."
"Ah, that is a Bernard Shaw phrase. A bad play, that, but excellent dialogue.... But he is good-looking, Mr. Wilbraham."
Henry moodily supposed that he was. "In a sort of smug, cold way," he admitted.
"E cosa fa tra questo bel giovanotto e quel Charles Wilbraham?" wondered the ex-cardinal, within himself.
Henry left the Salle de la Reformation and went out into the town to look for further light on the mystery. How proud he would be if he should collect more information about it than the other journalists! Than Jefferson, for instance, who was always ahead in these things, interviewing statesmen, getting statements made to him.... No one made statements to Henry; he never liked to ask for them. But he was, he flattered himself, as good as any one else at nosing out news stories, mysteries, and so forth.
Musing deeply, he walked to the ice-cream caf, close to the Assembly Hall. There he ordered an ice of mixed framboise, pistachio, and coffee, and some iced raspberry syrup, and sat outside under the awning, slowly enjoying the ice, sucking the syrup through straws, and thinking. He always thought best while eating well too; with him, as with many others, high living and high thinking went together, or would have, only lack of the necessary financial and cerebral means precluded much practice of either.
While yet in the middle of the raspberry syrup he suddenly lifted his mouth from the straws, ejaculated softly, and laughed.
"It is a possibility," he muttered. "A possibility, worth following up.... Odder things have happened ... are happening, all the time.... In fact, this is not at all an odd thing...." Decisively he rapped on the table for his bill, paid for his meal, and rose to go, not forgetting first to finish his raspberry syrup.
He walked briskly along the side of the lake to the Molard jetty, where he found a mouette in act to start for the other side. How he loved these mouette rides, the quick rush through blue water, half Geneva on either side, and the narrow shave under the Pont du Mont Blanc. He was always afraid that one day they would not quite manage it, but would hit the bridge; it was a fear of which he could not get rid. He always held his breath as they rushed under the bridge, and let it out in relief as they emerged safely beyond it. How cheap it was: a lake trip for fifteen centimes! Henry was sorry when they reached the other side. He walked thoughtfully up from the landing stage to the Secretariat, where he ascended to the room of Mr. Wilbraham. Mr. Wilbraham was not, of course, there; he was over at the Assembly Hall. But his secretary was there; a cheerful young lady typing letters with extraordinary efficiency and rapidity.
"Oh," said Henry, "I'm sorry. I thought Mr. Wilbraham might possibly be here."
"No," said the young lady agreeably. "He is over at the Assembly. Will you leave a message?"
Henry laid his hat and cane on a table, and strode about the room. A large pleasant room it was, with a good carpet; the kind of room that Charles Wilbraham would have, and always did have.
"No. No, I'll look in again. Or I'll see him over there this afternoon." He looked at his watch. "Lunch time. How quickly the morning has gone. It always does; don't you find that? And more so than usual when it's an exciting morning like this."
"It is exciting, isn't it. Have they found him yet? I do admire him, don't you?"
"Completely. No, they haven't found him. Mr. Wilbraham says it looks sadly like an accident of some sort."
She acknowledged his imitation of Mr. Wilbraham's voice with a smile.
"That would be tragic. Svensen, of all the delegates! One wouldn't mind most of them disappearing a bit. Some of them would be good riddances."
"Well," said Henry, changing the subject, "if we're both going out to lunch, can't we lunch together? I'm Beechtree, of the British Bolshevist."
Miss Doris Wembley looked at Beechtree, rather liked him, and said, "Right. But I must finish one letter first."
She proceeded with her efficient, rapid, and noisy labours. She did not need to look at the keyboard, she was like that type of knitter who knits the while she gazes into space; she had learnt "Now is the time for all good men to come to the help of the party."
Henry, strolling round the room, observing details, had time to speculate absently on the wonderful race of typists. He had in the past known many of them well, and felt towards them a regard untouched by glamour. How, he had often thought, they took life for granted, unquestioning, unwondering, accepting, busy eternally with labours they understood so little, performed so well, rattling out their fusillade of notes that formed words they knew not of, sentences that, uncomprehended, yet did not puzzle them or give them pause, on topics which they knew only as occasioning cascades of words. To them one word was the same, very nearly the same, as another of similar length; words had features, but no souls; did they fail to decipher the features of one of them, another of the same dimensions would do. And what commas they wielded, what colons, what semis, what stops! But efficient they were, all the same, for they were usually approximately right, and always incredibly quick. Henry knew that those stenographers who had been taken out to Geneva were, in the main, of a more sophisticated order, of a higher intellectual equipment. But Charles Wilbraham's secretary was of the ingenuous type. Probably the more sophisticated would not stay with him. A pretty girl she was, with a round brown face, kind dark eyes, and a wide, sweet, and dimpling mouth. Henry, like every one else, liked a girl to be pretty, but, quite unlike most young men, he preferred her to be witty. The beauty of the dull bored him very soon; Henry had his eccentricities. He did not think that Miss Wembley was going to be amusing, but still, he intended to cultivate her acquaintance.
Henry looked at his watch. It was twelve forty-five. "Can't the rest wait?" he said.
"I'm just on done. It's a re-type I'm doing. I spelt parliament with a small p, and Mr. Wilbraham said he couldn't send it, not even if I rubbed it out with the eraser. He said it would show, and it was to the F.O., who are very particular."
"My God," Henry ejaculated, in a low yet violent tone, and gave a bitter laugh. His eyes gleamed fiercely. "I can imagine," he said, with restraint, "that Mr. Wilbraham might be particular. He looks particular."
"Well, he is, rather. But he's quite right, I suppose. Messy letters look too awful. Some men will sign simply anything. I don't like that.... There, now I've done."
"Come along then," said Henry rapidly.
The Assembly met again at four o'clock, and proceeded under the Deputy President with the order of the day. But it was a half-hearted business. No one was really interested in anything except the fate of Dr. Svensen, who, it had transpired from inquiry among the boat-keepers, had not taken a boat on the lake last night.
"Foul play," said the journalist Grattan, hopefully. "Obviously foul play."
"Ask the Bolshevist refugees," the Times correspondent said with a shrug. For he had no opinion of these people, and believed them to be engaged in a continuous plot against the peace of the world, in combination with the Germans. The Morning Post was inclined to agree, but held that O'Shane, the delegate from the Irish Free State, was in it too. Whenever any unpleasant incident occurred, at home or abroad (such as murders, robberies, bank failures, higher income tax, Balkan wars, strikes, troubles in Ireland, or cocaine orgies), the Times said, "Ask the Bolshevists and the Germans," and the Morning Post said, "Ask the Bolshevists and the Germans by all means, but more particularly ask Sinn Fein," just as the Daily Herald said, "Ask the capitalists and Scotland Yard," and some eminent littrateurs, "Ask the Jews." We must all have our whipping-boys, our criminal suspects; without them sin and disaster would be too tragically diffused for our comfort. Henry Beechtree's suspect was Charles Wilbraham. He knew that he suspected Charles Wilbraham too readily; Wilbraham could not conceivably have committed all the sins of which Henry was fain to believe him guilty. Henry knew this, and kept a guard on his own over-readiness, lest it should betray him into rash accusation. Information; evidence; that was what he had to collect.
The question was, as an intelligent member of the Secretariat pointed out, who stood to benefit by the disappearance of Svensen from the scenes? Find the motive for a deed, and very shortly you will find the doer. Had Svensen a private enemy? No one knew. Many persons disapproved of the line he was apt to take in public affairs: he wanted to waste money on feeding hungry Russians ("No one is sorrier than my tender-hearted nation for starving persons," the other delegates would say, "but we have no money to send them, and are not Russians always hungry?") and was in an indecent hurry about disarmament, which should be a slow and patient process. ("No one is more anxious than my humane nation for peace," said the delegates, "but there is a dignified caution to be observed.") Yes; many persons disagreed with Svensen as to the management of the affairs of the world; but surely no one would make away with him on that account. Far more likely did it seem that he had inadvertently stumbled into the lake, after dining well. What an end to so great and good a man!
Lord Burnley, the senior British delegate, that distinguished, notable, and engaging figure in the League, had, as has been said earlier, a strange addiction to walking. This afternoon, having parted from his friends outside the Assembly Hall, he started, as was a favourite pastime of his, to walk through the older and more picturesque streets of the city, for which he had a great taste.
As he strolled in his leisurely manner up the Rue de la Cit, stopping now and then to look at its antique and curious shops, he came to a book shop, whose outside shelf was stocked with miscellaneous literature. Lord Burnley, who could seldom pass an old bookshop without pausing, stopped to glance at the row of paper-backs, and was caught by a familiar large bound book among them. Familiar indeed, for was it not one of his own works? He put on his glasses and looked closer. Yes: the volume was inscribed Scepticism as a Basis for Faith, by George Burnley. And printed on a paper label below the title, was the inscription, "Special Edition, recently annotated by the Author."
Strange! Lord Burnley was puzzled. For neither recently nor at any other time was he conscious of having issued a special annotated edition of this work.
For a minute or two he pondered, standing on the pavement. Then, deciding to inquire further into this thing, he stooped his head and shoulders and passed under the low lintel into the little dark shop.
Henry, having left the Assembly, sent off his message to his newspaper (it was entirely about the disappearance of Dr. Svensen), glanced into his pigeon-hole on his way out, and found there, among various superfluous documents, a note addressed to him by the ex-cardinal Franchi, suggesting that, if he should not find himself better employed, he should give the writer his company at dinner at eight o'clock that evening, at his villa at Monet, two miles up the lake. He would find a small electric launch waiting for him at seven-thirty at the Eaux-Vives jetty, in which would be Dr. Franchi's niece, who had been attending the Assembly that afternoon.
"Excellent," thought Henry. "I will go." For he was greatly attracted by Dr. Franchi, and liked also to dine out, and to have a trip up to Monet in a motor launch.
He went back to his indigent rooms in the Alle Petit Chat, and washed and dressed. (Fortunately, he had at no time a heavy beard, so did not have to shave in the evenings.) Well-dressed he was not, even in his evening clothes, which were a cast-off of his brother's, and not, as evening clothes should be, faultless; but still they passed, and Henry always looked rather nice.
"Not a bad face," he reflected, surveying it in the dusty speckled glass. "A trifle weak perhaps. I am a trifle weak; that is so. But, on the whole, the face of a gentleman and a decent fellow. And not devoid of intelligence.... Interesting, to see one's own face. Especially in this odd glass. Now I must be off. Hat, stick, overcoat, scarf—that is everything."
He walked down to the Eaux-Vives jetty, where a smart electric launch did indeed await him, and in it a young lady of handsome appearance, who regarded him with friendly interest and said, in pronounced American with an Italian accent, "I'm real pleased to meet you, Mr. Beechtree. Step right in. We'll start at once."
Henry stepped right in, and sat down by this prepossessing girl.
"I must introduce myself," she said. "My name is Gina Longfellow, and I'm Dr. Franchi's niece."
"What excellent English you talk," said Henry politely.
"American," she corrected him. "My father was a native of Joliet, Ill. Are you acquainted with the Middle West?"
"I've travelled there," said Henry, and repressed a shudder, for he had found the Middle West deplorable. He preferred South America.
"I am related to the poet," said Miss Longfellow. "That great poet who wrote Hiawatha, Evangeline, and The Psalm of Life. Possibly you came across him out in the States?"
"No," said Henry. "I fancy he was even then dead. You are a descendant of his?"
"A descendant—yes. I remember now; he died, poor nonno.... The lake pleases you, Mr. Beechtree?"
"Indeed, yes. It is very beautiful."
Miss Longfellow's fine dark eyes had a momentary flicker of resentment. Most young men looked at her, but Mr. Beechtree at the lake, with his melancholy brooding eyes. Henry liked handsome young women well enough, but he admired scenery more. The smooth shimmer of the twilight waters, still holding the flash of sunset, the twinkling city of lights they were swiftly leaving behind them at the lake's head, the smaller constellations of the lakeside villages on either hand—these made on Henry, whose sthetic nerve was sensitive, an unsteadying impression.
Miss Longfellow recalled his attention.
"Do you think the League will last?" she inquired sharply. "Do you like Geneva? Do you think the League will be moved somewhere else? Isn't it a real pity the French are so obstructionist? Will the Americans come in?"
Henry adjusted his monocle and looked at her in some surprise.
"Well," she said impatiently, "I guess you're used to those questions by now."
"But you've left out the latest," Henry said. "What do you think can have happened to Svensen?"
"Ah, there you have us all guessing," she amiably returned. "Poor Svensen. Who'd have thought it of him?"
"Why, this. He always seemed such a white man. My, isn't it queer what people will do?"
Henry, who had been brought up on Dr. Svensen's narrations of his Arctic explorations, and greatly revered him, said, "But I don't believe he's done anything."
"Not done a get-away, you mean? Well now, why should he, after all? Perhaps he fell right into this deep lake after dining, and couldn't get out, poveretto. Yet he was a real fine swimmer they say."
"Most improbable," said Henry, who had dismissed that hypothesis already. He leant forward and spoke discreetly. "I fancy, Miss Longfellow, there are those in Geneva who could throw some light on this affair if they chose."
"You don't say! Dio mio! Now isn't that quite a notion!" Miss Longfellow was interested. "Why, Mr. Beechtree, you don't suspect foul play, do you?"
"I suppose I rather easily suspect foul play," he candidly admitted. "It's more interesting, and I'm a journalist. But in this case there are reasons——"
"Now isn't this too terribly exciting! Reasons! Just you tell me all you know, Mr. Beechtree, if it's not indiscreet. Non son' giornalista, io!"
"I don't know anything. Except that there are people who might be glad to get Svensen out of the way."
"But who are they? I thought every one respected him ever so!"
"Respect is akin to fear," said Henry.
On that dictum, the launch took a swift turn to the right, and dashed towards a jetty which bore on a board above it the words, "Chteau Lman. Defense."
"A private jetty," said Henry.
"Yes. The village jetty is beyond. This is my uncle's. That path only leads up to the Chteau."
They disembarked, and climbed up a steep path which led through a wrought iron gate into a walled garden that ran down to the lake's edge. Henry, who was romantic, said, "How very delightful. How old is the Chteau?"
"Chi sa? Real old, I can tell you. Ask Uncle Silvio. He's great on history. He's for ever writing historical books. History and heresy—Dio mio! That is why they turned him out of the Church, you know."
"So I heard.... Are you a Catholic, Miss Longfellow?"
She gave a little shrug.
"I was brought up Catholic. Women believe what they are taught, as a rule, don't they?"
"I hadn't observed it," Henry said, "particularly. Are women so unlike men then?"
"That's quite a question, isn't it. What do you think?"
"I can't think in large sections and masses of people," Henry replied. "Women are so different one from another. So are men. That's all I can see, when people talk of the sexes."
"Macch! You don't say!" said Miss Longfellow, looking at him inquiringly. "Most people always think in large masses of people. They find it easier, more convenient, more picturesque."
"It is indeed so," Henry admitted. "But less accurate. Accuracy—do you agree with me?—is of an importance very greatly underestimated by the majority of persons."
"I guess," said Miss Longfellow, not interested, "you're quite a clever young man."
Henry replied truthfully, "Indeed, no," and at this point they turned a bend in the path and the chteau was before them in the evening light; an arcaded, balconied, white-washed building, vine-covered and red-roofed, with queer outside staircases and green-shuttered windows, many of which were lit. Certainly old, though restored. A little way from it was a small belfried chapel.
"Charming," said Henry, removing his eyeglass the better to look. "Amazingly charming."
A big door stood open and through this they passed into a hall lit by large hanging lamps and full of dogs, or so it seemed to Henry, for on all sides they rose to stare at him, to sniff at his ankles, for the most part with the air of distaste commonly adopted towards Henry by these friends of man.
"You're not a dog lover?" Miss Longfellow suggested, and Henry again replied that he could not like or dislike his fellows in large sections; some dogs he liked, others not, as with men, women, and children.
"But I guess they don't like you very much," she returned, shrewdly observing their manners to him. "Now isn't that cute, how they take to some people and not to others. They all love Uncle Silvio on sight. Stray dogs follow him in the road and won't leave him. Half these are strays.... They know he likes them, that's what it is. Dogs always know, they say, don't they."
"Know what?" asked Henry, suspicious that she meant that dogs know a good character from a bad, which was what "they" ("they" meaning the great collection of noodles who constitute the public) do actually say. The things "they" say! They even say that children too (the most foolish of God's creatures) have this intuitive knowledge; they say that to drink hot tea makes you cooler, that it is more tiring going down-hill than up, that honesty is the best policy, that love makes the world go round, that "literally" bears the same meaning as "metaphorically" ("she was literally a mother to him," they will say), that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, that those who say least feel most, that one must live. There is truly no limit to what "they," in their folly, will say. So Henry, wincing among the suspicious dogs, moodily, and not for the first time, reflected.
Miss Longfellow did not answer his inquiry, but stood in the hall and cried, "Zio!" in a voice like a May cuckoo's.
A door opened, and in a moment Dr. Franchi, small and frail and charming, came forward with a sweet smile and hand outstretched, through a throng of fawning, grinning dogs.
"A pleasure indeed, Mr. Beechtree."
"He is like Leo XIII.," was Henry's thought. "Strange, that he should be a heretic!"
They sat at dinner on a terrace, under hanging lamps, looking out at the lake through vine-festooned arches. The moon rose, like the segment of an orange, sending a softly glowing path to them across black water. Here and there the prow lanterns of boats rosily gleamed. The rest was violet shadow.
How Henry, after his recent experiences of cheap cafs, again enjoyed eating a meal fit for a gentleman. Radiant silver, napery like snow (for, in the old fashion still in use on the continent, Dr. Franchi had a fair linen cloth spread over his dinner-table; there is no doubt but that this extravagant habit gives an old-world charm to a meal), food and wines of the most agreeable, conversation to the liking of all three talkers (which is, after all, the most that can be said of any conversation), one of the loveliest views in Europe, and gentle night air—Henry was indeed fortunate. How kind, he reflected, was this ex-cardinal, who, having met him but once, asked him to such a pleasant entertainment. Why was it? He must try to be worthy of it, to seem cultivated and agreeable and intelligent. But Henry knew that he was none of these things; continually he had to be playing a part, trying to hide his folly under a pretence of being like other people, sensible and informed and amusing, whereas really he was more like an animal, interested in the foolish and fleeting impressions of the moment. He was not fit for a gentleman's dinner-table.
The conversation was of all manner of things. They spoke, of course, of the League.
"It has a great future," said Dr. Franchi, "by saying which I by no means wish to underrate its present."
"Rather capitalist in tendency, perhaps?" the correspondent of the British Bolshevist suggested. "A little too much in the hands of the major states?" But he did not really care.
"You misjudge it," Dr. Franchi said. "It is a very fair association of equal states. A true democracy: little brothers and great, hand in hand. Oh, it will do great things; is, indeed, doing great things now. One cannot afford to be cynical about such an attempt. Anything which encourages the nations to take an interest in one another's concerns——"
"There has surely," said Henry, still rather apathetically voicing his paper, "always been too much of that already. Hence wars. Nations should keep themselves to themselves. International impertinence ... it's a great evil. Live and let live."
"You don't then agree that we should attempt a world-cosmogony? That the nations should be as brothers, and concern themselves with one another's famines, one another's revolutions, one another's frontiers? But why this curious insistence on the nation as a unit? Why select nationality, rather than the ego, the family, the township, the province, the continent, the hemisphere, the planet, the solar system, or even the universe? Isn't it just a little arbitrary, this stress we lay on nationalism, patriotism, love of one particular country, of the territories united fortuitously under one particular government? What is a government, that we should regard it as a connecting link? What is a race, that queer, far-flung thing whose boundaries march with those of no nation? And when we say we love a country, do we mean its soil, the people under its government, or the scattered peoples everywhere sharing some of the same blood and talking approximately the same tongue? What, in fact, is this patriotism, this love of country, that we all feel, and that we nearly all exalt as if it were a virtue? We don't praise egoism, or pride of family, or love of a particular town or province, in the same way. What magic is there in the ring that embraces a country, that we admire it as precious metal and call the other rings foolish or base? You will admit that it is a queer convention."
"All conventions are queer, I think," Henry said indifferently. "But there they are. One accepts them. It is less trouble."
"It makes more trouble in the end, my young friend.... I will tell you one thing from my heart. If the League of Nations should fail, should go to pieces, it will be from excess of this patriotism. Every country out for its own hand. That has always been the trouble with the world, since we were hordes of savages grouped in tribes one against the other—as, indeed, we still are."
"Well, zio mio," said Miss Longfellow breezily, "if you don't look out for number one, no one else will, you may be dead sure. And then where are you? In the soup, sure thing. Nel zuppo!" She gave a gay, chiming, cuckooish laugh. A cheerful girl, thought Henry.
"Viva the League of Nations!" she cried, and drank brightly of her marsala.
Dr. Franchi, with an indulgent smile for youthful exuberance, drank too.
"The hope for the world," he said. "You don't drink this toast, Mr. Beechtree?"
"My paper," said Henry, "believes that such hope for the world as there may be lies elsewhere."
"Ah, your paper. And you yourself?"
"I? I see no hope for the world. No hope, that is to say, that it will ever be an appreciably better world than it is at present. Before that occurs, I imagine that it will have broken its string, as it were, and dashed off into space, and so an end."
"And my hopes for it are two—an extension of country-love into world-love, and a purified version of the Christian faith."
"Purified...." Henry recollected that Dr. Franchi was a modernist and a heretic. "A queer word," he mused. "I am not sure that I know what it means."
"Ah. You are orthodox Catholic, no doubt. You admit no possible impurities in the faith."
"I have never thought about it. I do not even know what an impurity is. One thing does not seem to me much more pure than another, and not much more odd. For my part, I accept the teaching of the Church wholesale. It seems simpler."
"Until you come to think about it," said the ex-cardinal. "Then it ceases to be simple, and becomes difficult and elaborate to a high degree. Too difficult for a simple soul like myself. For my part, I have been expelled from the bosom of my mother the Church, and am now, having completed immense replies to the decree Lamentabili Sane and to the encyclical Pascendi Gregis, writing a History of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. Does the topic interest you?"
"I am no theologian," said Henry. "And I have been told that if one inquires too closely into these mysteries, faith wilts. I should not like that. So I do not inquire. It is better so. I should not wish to be an atheist. I have known an atheist whom I have very greatly disliked."
The thought of this person shadowed his brow faintly with a scowl, not unobserved by his host and hostess. "But," he added, "he became a worse thing; he is now an atheist turned Catholic...."
"There I am with you," the ex-cardinal agreed. "About the Catholic convert there is often a quite peculiar lack of distinction.... But we will not talk about these."
They were now eating fruit. Melon, apricots, pears, walnuts, figs, and fat purple grapes. The night ever deepened into a greater loveliness. In the steep, sweet garden below the terrace nightingales sang.
"On such a night as this," said Dr. Franchi, cracking a walnut, "it is difficult to be an atheist."
"Why so?" asked Henry dreamily, biting a ripe black fig, and wishing that the ex-cardinal had not thought it necessary to give so lovely and familiar an opening phrase so tedious an end.
"Don't tell me," he added quickly, repenting his thoughtless question. "What nightingales! What figs! And what apricocks!" (for so he always called this fruit). He hated to talk about atheists, and about how God had fashioned so beautiful a world. It might be so, but the world, on such a night, was enough in itself.
Dr. Franchi's keen, gentle eyes, the eyes of a shrewd weigher of men, observed him and his distastes.
"An sthete," he judged. "God has given him intuition rather than reason. And not very much even of that. He might easily be misled, this youth."
Aloud he said, "All I meant was that
"'Holy joy about the earth is shed, And Holiness upon the deep,'
as one of your Edwardian poets has sung. That was a gifted generation: may it rest in peace. For I think it mostly perished in that calamitous war we had.... But your Georgians—they too are a gifted generation, is it not so?"
"You mean by Georgians those persons who are now flourishing under the sovereignty of King George the Fifth of England? Such as myself? I do not really know. How could it be that gifts go in generations? A generation, surely, is merely chronological. Gifts are sporadic. No, I find no generation, as such, gifted. Except, of course, with the gifts common to all humanity.... People speak of the Victorians, and endow them with special qualities, evil or good. They were all black recently; now they are being white-washed—or rather enamelled. I think they had no qualities, as a generation (or rather as several generations, which, of course, they were); men and women then were, in the main, the same as men and women to-day, I see nothing but individuals. The rest is all the fantasy of the foolish, who love to generalise, till they cannot see the trees for the wood. Generalisations make me dizzy. I see nothing but the separate trees. There is nothing else...."
Dreamily Henry wandered on, happy and fluent with wine and figs. A ripe black fig, gaping to show its scarlet maw—what could be more lovely, and more luscious to the palate?
As to Miss Longfellow, she was eating her dessert so rapidly and with such relish that she had no time for conversation. All she contributed to it was, between bites, a cheerful nod now and then at Henry to show that she agreed with him.
"Yours," said Dr. Franchi, "is not, perhaps, the most natural view of life. It is more natural to see people in large groups, with definite characteristic markings, according to period, age, nationality, sex, or what not. Also, such a view has its truth, though, like all truths, it may be over-stressed.... But here comes our coffee. After we have drunk it, Gina will leave us perhaps and you and I will smoke our cigars and have a little talk on political questions, and matters outside a woman's interests. Our Italian women do not take the same interest in affairs which your English women do."
"No," Miss Longfellow readily agreed. "We don't like the New Woman over here. Perhaps Mr. Beechtree admires her though."
"The New Woman?" Henry doubtfully queried. "Is there a new woman? I don't know the phrase, except from old Victorian Punch Pictures.... Thank you, yes; a little cherry brandy."
"Ah, is the woman question, then, over in your country—died out? Fought to a finish, perhaps, with honours to the victorious sex?"
"The woman question, sir? What woman question? I know no more of woman questions than of man questions, I am afraid. There is an infinity of questions you may ask about all human beings. People ask them all the time. Personally, I don't; it is less trouble not to. There people are; you can take them or leave them, for what they're worth. Why ask questions about them? There is never a satisfactory answer."
"A rather difficult youth to talk to," the ex-cardinal reflected. "He fails to follow up, or, apparently, even to understand, any of the usual conversational gambits. Is he very ignorant, or merely perverse?"
As to Miss Longfellow, she gave Henry up as being not quite all there, and anyhow a bloodless kind of creature, who took very little notice of her. So she went indoors and played the piano.
"I am failing," thought Henry. "She does not like me. I am not being intelligent. They will talk of things above my head, things I cannot understand."
Apathy held him, drinking cherry brandy under the moon, and he could not care. Woman question? Man question? What was all this prating?
"And now," said Dr. Franchi, as he enjoyed a cigar and Henry a cigarette and both their liqueurs, "let us talk of this mysterious business of poor Svensen."
"Yes, do let's," said Henry, for this was much more in his line.
"I may misjudge you, Mr. Beechtree, but I have made a guess that you entertain certain suspicions in this matter. Is that the case? Ah, I see I am right. No, tell me nothing you do not wish. In fact, tell me nothing at all. It would be, at this point, indiscreet. Instead, let us go through all the possible alternatives." He paused, and puffed at his cigar for a while in thoughtful silence.
"First of all," he presently resumed, "poor Svensen may have met with an accident. He may have fallen into the lake and have been drowned. But this we will set aside as improbable. Geneva is seldom quite deserted at night, and he would have attracted attention. Besides which, I have heard that he is an excellent swimmer. No; an improbable contingency. What remains? Foul play. Some person or persons have attacked him in a deserted spot and either murdered or kidnapped him. But who? And for what purpose? Robbery? Personal enmity? Revenge? Or an impersonal motive, such as a desire, for some reason, to damage and retard the doings of the Assembly? It might be any of these.... Let us for a moment take the hypothesis that it is the last. To whom, then, might such a desire be attributed? Unfortunately, my dear Mr. Beechtree, to many different persons."
"But more to some than to others," Henry brightly pointed out.
"Certainly more to some than to others. More to the Poles than to the Lithuanians, for instance, for is it not to the Polish interest to hold up the proceedings of the Assembly while the present violation of the Lithuanian frontier by Polish hordes continues? Well they know that any inquiry into that matter set on foot by the League would end in their discomfiture. Every day that they can retard the appointment of a committee of inquiry is to the good, from their point of view.
"Again, take Russia. The question of the persecution of the Bolsheviks is to be brought up in the Assembly early. Naturally the Russian delegation are not anxious for the exposure of their governmental methods which would accompany this. And then there are the Bolshevik refugees themselves—a murderous gang, who would readily dispose of any one, from mere habit. Nor can Argentine be supposed to be anxious for the inquiry into her dispute with Paraguay which the Paraguay delegation intend to bring forward. The Argentine delegation may well have orders to delay this inquiry as long as possible, in order that the dispute may arrange itself domestically, in Argentine interests, without the intervention of the League. There is, too, the Graeco-Turkish war, which both the Greeks and the Turks desire to carry on in peace. There are also several questions of humanitarian legislation, which by no means all the members of the League desire to see proceeded with—the traffic in women, for instance, and that in certain drugs. And what about the Irish delegates? Are they not both, for their different reasons, full of anger and discontent against Great Britain and against Europe in general, and may they not well intend, in the determined manner of their race, to hold up the association of nations at the pistol's mouth, so to speak, until it considers their grievances and adjudicates in their favour? And then we must not exclude from suspicion the natives of this city and canton. Calvinists are, in my experience, capable of any malicious crime. A dour, jealous, unpleasant people. They might (and often have they done so) perpetrate any wickedness in the name of the curious God they worship."
"Indeed, yes," said Henry. "How confusing it all is, to be sure! But you haven't mentioned the biggest stumbling-block of all, sir—disarmament."
"Ah, yes; disarmament. As you say, the most tremendous issue of all. And it is, as every one knows, going to be, during this session of the League, decisively dealt with by the Council. Many a nation, militant from terror, from avarice, from arrogance, or from habit, many a political faction, and many a big business, has a vital interest in hindering disarmament discussions. You think then, that——"
"I will tell you," said Henry, leaning forward eagerly and lowering his rather high voice, "what I think. I think that there are those not far from us who have a great deal of money in armaments, and who get nervy whenever the subject comes up. There are things that I know.... I came out here knowing them, and meaning to speak when the time came. Not because it was my duty, which is why (I understand) most people expose others, but because I had a very great desire to. There is some one towards whom I feel a dislike—a very great dislike; I may say hate. He deserves it. He is a most disagreeable person, and has done me, personally, a great injury"—(Henry was feeling the expansive influence of the cherry brandy)—"and naturally I wish to do him one in my turn. I have wished it for several years; to be exact, since the year 1919. I have waited and watched. I have always known him to be detestable, but until recently I thought that he was also detestably and invariably in the right—or, anyhow, that he could not be proved in the wrong. Lately I learnt something that altered this opinion. I discovered a thing about him which would, if it were known (having regard to the position he occupies), utterly shame and discredit him. I am now, I have a feeling, on the track of discovering yet another and a worse thing—that he has done away with the elected President of the Assembly, in order to wreck the proceedings so that the armament question should not come up."