L. P. M.
The End of the Great War
By J. Stewart Barney
With a Frontispiece by Clarence F. Underwood
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
TO MY REAL FRIENDS, WHO MAY LOVE IT. WHILE THE OTHERS IT MAY BORE; TO MY ENEMIES, GOD BLESS THEM, THO' THEY SPLUTTER, MORE AND MORE.
CHAPTER I.—THE MAN AND THE HOUR II.—THE ONE-MAN SECRET III.—CROSSING WITH ROYALTY IV.—THE FIRST REBUFF V.—ECHOES FROM THE WILHELMSTRASSE VI.—A RUSTY OLD CANNON-BALL VII.—DIPLOMACY WINS VIII.—THE SPY-DRIVEN TAXI IX.—BUCKINGHAM PALACE X.—HE MEETS THE KING XI.—THE DEIONIZER XII.—FIRST SHOW OF FORCE XIII.—"THE KING IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE KING!" XIV.—THE ROYAL TEA-TABLE XV.—SURROUNDED BY SOLDIERS XVI.—A DINNER AT THE BRITZ XVII.—THE VOICE IN THE TELEPHONE XVIII.—IN THE HANDS OF THE GERMANS XIX.—THE GERMAN POINT OF VIEW XX.—GENERAL VON LICHTENSTEIN XXI.—HE INSTALLS HIS WIRELESS XXII.—KAFFEE KLATSCH XXIII.—THE TWO-WHEELED MYSTERY XXIV.—DER KAISER XXV.—THE MASQUERADER XXVI.—TWO REMARKABLE MEN XXVII.—ALL CARDS ON THE TABLE XXVIII.—WHERE IS IT? XXIX.—THE DIFFERENCE OF THEIR STATIONS XXX.—THEY CALL FOR ASSISTANCE XXXI.—"SIT DOWN, YOU DOG!" XXXII.—L. P. M. XXXIII.—YACHTING IN THE AIR XXXIV.—THE ULTIMATUM XXXV.—A LYING KING MAKES A NATION OF LIARS XXXVI.—THINK OF IT! WHY NOT?
L. P. M.
THE MAN AND THE HOUR
The Secretary of State, although he sought to maintain an air of official reserve, showed that he was deeply impressed by what he had just heard.
"Well, young man, you are certainly offering to undertake a pretty large contract."
He smiled, and continued in a slightly rhetorical vein—the Secretary was above all things first, last, and always an orator.
"In my many years of public life," he said, "I have often had occasion to admire the dauntless spirit of our young men. But you have forced me to the conclusion that even I, with all my confidence in their power, have failed to realize how inevitably American initiative and independence will demand recognition. It is a quality which our form of government seems especially to foster and develop, and I glory in it as perhaps the chief factor in our national greatness and pre-eminence.
"In what other country, I ask you," he flung out an arm across the great, flat-topped desk of state, "would a mere boy like yourself ever conceive such a scheme, or have the incentive or opportunity to bring it to perfection? And, having conceived and perfected it, in what other country would he find the very heads of his Government so accessible and ready to help him?"
The young man leaned forward. "Then am I to understand, Mr. Secretary, that you are ready to help me?"
"Yes." He faced about and looked at his visitor in a glow of enthusiasm. "Not only will I help you, but I will, so far as is practicable, put behind you the power of this Administration.
"Doubtless the newspapers," his tone took on a tinge of ironic resentment, "when they learn the broad character of the credentials that I shall give you in order that you may meet the crowned heads of Europe, will say that I am again lowering the dignity of my office. But I consider, Mr. Edestone, that I am, in reality, giving more dignity to my office by bringing it closer to and by placing it at the services of, those from whose hands it first received its dignity, the sovereign people. 'The master is greater than the servant'; and to my mind you as a citizen are even more entitled to the aid and co-operation of this Department than are its accredited envoys, our ministers and ambassadors, who, like myself, are but your hired men."
His face lighted up with the memory of the many stirring campaigns through which he had passed and his wonderful voice rang out, responding to his will like a perfect musical instrument under the touch of the artist.
"I tell you, sir," he declared, "I would rather be instrumental in bringing to an end this cruel war which is now deluging the pages of history with the heart's blood of the people, whose voices may now be drowned in the roar of the 42-centimeter guns, but whose spirits will unite in the black stench clouds which rise from the festered fields of Flanders to descend upon the heads of those who by Divine Right have murdered them,—I would rather be instrumental in bringing about this result, than be President of the United States!"
He had risen, as he spoke, and had stepped from behind his desk to give freer play to this burst of eloquence, but he now paused at the entrance of a secretary for whom he had sent, and changing to that quizzical drawl with which he had so often disarmed a hostile audience, added, "And they do say that I am not without ambition in that respect."
He turned then to the waiting secretary, and letting his hand drop on Edestone's shoulder:
"Mr. Williams," he said, "this is Mr. John Fulton Edestone, of New York, whose name is no doubt familiar to you. He is desirous of meeting and discussing quite informally with the potentates of Europe, a little matter which he thinks, and I more or less agree with him, will be of decided interest to them."
He chuckled softly; then continued in a more serious tone: "Mr. Edestone hopes, in short, with our assistance, to bring about not only the end of the European war, but to realize my dream—Universal Peace—and his plan, as he has outlined it to me, meets with my hearty approval.
"I wish you to furnish him with the credentials from this Department necessary to give him entree anywhere abroad and protect him at all times and under all circumstances.
"And, Mr. Williams," he halted the retiring subordinate, "when Mr. Edestone's papers have been drawn, will you kindly bring them to me? I wish to present them in person, and I know of no more appropriate occasion than this afternoon, when I am to receive a delegation of school children from the Southern Baptist Union and the Boy Scouts of the Methodist Temperance League. I will be glad to have these young Americans, as well as any others who may be calling to pay their respects—not to me but to my office—hear what I have to say on peace, patriotism, and grapes."
With the departure of the secretary he unbent slightly. "Well," he smiled, "you cannot say, as did Ericsson with his monitor and Holland with his submarine and the Wrights with their aeroplane, that you could not get the support of your Government until it was too late. In fact, my dear fellow, when I think of the obstacles so many inventors have to contend with, it strikes me that you have had pretty easy sailing."
"Perhaps," Edestone raised his eyebrows a trifle whimsically, "it has not been so easy as you think, Mr. Secretary."
"Oh, I know, I know!" the other replied. "You still must admit that in comparison with most men you have been singularly fortunate. You have had great wealth, absolute freedom to develop your ideas as you saw fit, and finally the influence to command an immediate hearing for your claims. Do you know that perhaps you are the richest young man in the world today? It is this which, I must confess, at first rather prejudiced me against you."
Edestone laughed good-naturedly. "It is lucky that my photographs were able to speak for me."
"Yes," the Secretary assented. "As you probably have recognized, I am not a scientist, and all your formulae and explanations were about as so much Greek to me, but those photographs of yours were most convincing, and prove to me how simple are the greatest of discoveries. I fancy," he added slyly, "that they will penetrate even the intelligence of a monarch."
"Ah!" He rubbed his hands together. "I can imagine the chagrin and fury of those war lords when they find themselves so unexpectedly called to time, while your device is held over the nations like a policeman's club, with America as its custodian. What a thought! Universal dominion for our country; Universal Peace!"
Some sense of opposition on the part of his companion aroused him, and he levelled a quick and searching glance at the other.
"That is your intention, is it not, Mr. Edestone?" he demanded. "That, upon the completion of your present mission, the Government shall take over this discovery of yours?"
Edestone moved uneasily in his seat. He had naturally anticipated this question, and yet he was unprepared to meet it.
The Secretary frowned and repeated his question. "That is your intention, is it not?"
Hesitating no longer the inventor answered quietly:
"Mr. Secretary, I yield to no man in my devotion to my country, but I am one of those who believe that the highest form of patriotism is to seek the best interest of mankind, and standing on that I tell you frankly that I cannot at this time answer your question. Just now I look no farther than the end of this brutal war. After that is accomplished it will be time enough for me to decide the ultimate disposition of my invention. Its secret is now known to no living soul but myself, and is so simple that it requires no written record to preserve it, and would die with me. It is the result, it is true, of many years of hard work, but the finished product I can and often do carry in my waistcoat pocket.
"Do not misunderstand me," he lifted his hand as the Secretary endeavoured to break in. "I thoroughly realize the responsibility of my position and that my great wealth is a sacred trust. Upon the answer to the question you have just put to me depends the destiny of the world, whether it is answered by myself at this time or by others in the future. Exactly what I will do when the time comes I cannot say, but I will tell you this much, that in reaching a decision I will call to my assistance men like yourself and abide by whatever course the majority of them may dictate."
"But, my dear young fellow, that will not do." The Secretary shook his head. "You are called upon to answer my question right here and now."
He dropped his bland and diplomatic manner as he spoke, and with his jaw thrust forward showed himself the unyielding autocrat, who, in the rough and tumble of politics, had ruled his party with a rod of iron. This man whose wonderful talents and personality had fitted him for his chosen position of champion of the plain people, and whose great motive power, against all odds, that had forced him into the first place in their hearts, was his sincere and honest love of office.
He had now assumed a rather boisterous and bullying tone, showing that perhaps his great love for the rougher elements of society was due to the fact that in the process of evolution he himself was not far removed from the very plain people.
"You have been talking pretty loud about using the 'big stick' over on the other side," he went on sternly, "but that big-stick business you will find is a thing that works two ways. Suppose then I should tell you, 'No answer to my question, no credentials.' What would you have to say?"
"I should say," Edestone's face was set, "simply this, Mr. Secretary, if I must speak in the language of the people in order that you may understand me: 'I should like very much to have your backing in the game, but if you are going to sit on the opposite side of the table, I hold three kings and two emperors in my hand, and I challenge you to a show-down.' I should further say that, credentials or no credentials, I am leaving tomorrow on the Ivernia, and that inasmuch as I have a taxi at the door, and a special train held for me at the Union Station, I must bid you good-day, and leave you to your watchful waiting, while I work alone."
He rose from his seat, and with a bow started for the door.
"Hold on there, young fellow, keep your coat on!" the Secretary shouted, throwing his head back and laughing loud enough to be heard over on the Virginia shores. "You remind me of one of those gentle breezes out home, which after it has dropped the cow-shed into the front parlour and changed your Post-Office address, seems always to sort of clear up the atmosphere. When one of them comes along we generally allow it to have its own way. It doesn't matter much whether we do or not, it will take it anyhow. I never play cards, but what you say about having a few kings in your pants' pocket seems to be pretty nearly true. You are made of the real stuff, and if you can do all the things that you say you can do, and I believe you can, nothing will stop you."
"In that case," said Edestone, resuming his seat, "I suppose I may as well wait for my credentials."
And in due time he got them, the presentation being made by the Secretary to the edification of the Baptist School children and the Methodist Soldiers of Temperance and a score of adoring admirers. Then with a hasty farewell to the officials of the State Department, this emissary of peace started on his hurried rush to New York.
His taxi, which he had held since seven o'clock that morning, broke all speed regulations in getting to the station, and the man was well paid for his pains.
Edestone found his Special coupled up and waiting for him. He always travelled in specials, and they always waited for him. In fact, everything waited for him, and he waited for no one. When he engaged a taxi he never discharged it until he went to bed or left the town. It was related of him that on one occasion he had directed the taxi to wait for him at Charing Cross Station, and returning from Paris three days later had allowed his old friend, the cabby, who knew him well, a shilling an hour as a pourboire. He claimed that his mind worked smoothly as long as it could run ahead without waits, but that as soon as it had to halt for anything—a cab, a train, or a slower mind to catch up—it got from under his control and it took hours to get it back again.
To him money was only to be spent. He would say: "I spend money because that calls for no mental effort, and saving is not worth the trouble that it requires."
A big husky chap, thirty-four years old, with the constitution of an ox, the mind of a superman, the simplicity of a child: that was John Fulton Edestone. He insisted that his discovery was an accident that might have befallen anyone, and counted as nothing the years of endless experiments and the millions of dollars he had spent in bringing it to perfection. He was a dreamer, and had used his colossal income and at times his principal in putting his dreams into iron and steel.
Upon arriving in New York he was met by his automobile and was rushed away to what he was pleased to call his Little Place in the Country. It was one of his father's old plants which had contributed to the millions which he was now spending.
It was nothing more nor less than a combination machine shop and shipyard, situated on the east bank of the Hudson in the neighbourhood of Spuyten Duyvil.
It was midnight when he arrived. The night force was just leaving as he stepped from his automobile and the morning shift was taking its place. At eight o'clock the next morning this latter would in turn be relieved by a day shift; for night and day, Sundays and holidays, winter and summer, without stopping, his work went on. It got on his nerves, he said, to see anything stop. Speed and efficiency at any cost was his motto, and the result was that he had gathered about him men who were willing to keep running under forced draft, even if it did heat up the bearings.
"Tell Mr. Page to come to me at once," he said, as he entered a little two-story brick structure apart from the other buildings. This had originally been used as an office, but he had changed it into a comfortable home, his "Little Place in the Country."
THE ONE-MAN SECRET
With the giving of a few orders relative to his departure in the morning, the brevity of which showed the character of service he demanded, Edestone permitted himself to relax. He dropped into an arm-chair, after lighting a long, black cigar, and pouring out for himself a comfortable drink of Scotch whisky and soda.
For a few minutes he sat looking into the open fire, while blowing ring after ring of smoke straight up into the air. The well-trained servant moved so quietly about the room that his presence was only called to his attention by the frantic efforts of the smoke rings to retain their circular shape as they were caught in the current of air which he created and were sent whirling and twisting to dissolution, although to the last they clung to every object with which they came in contact in their futile struggle to escape destruction.
Edestone loved to watch these little smoke phantoms, their first mad rush to assume their beautiful form and the persistency with which they clung to it until overtaken by another, were brushed aside, or else drifted on in wavering elongated outlines and so gradually disappeared.
They suggested to his fancy the struggling nations of the world, battling with the currents and cross-currents near the storm-scarred old earth, and continually endeavouring to rise above their fellows to some calmer strata, where serene in their original form they could look down with condescension upon their harassed and broken companions below.
The little rings were, however, more interesting to him for another and more practical reason. It was their toroidal movement around a circular axis which moved independently in any direction that first suggested to him the principles of his discovery.
Before him the fire upon the hearth sang and crackled as it tore asunder the elements that had taken untold ages to assemble in their present form, and with the prodigality of nature was joyfully rushing them up the chimney to start them again upon their long and weary journey through the ages.
The bubbles coming into existence in the bottom of his glass, rushing in myriads through the pale yellow liquid to the top and obliteration, set the thin glass to vibrating like the sound of distant bells.
From his workshop came the soft purr of rapidly moving machinery, punctuated now and again by the roar of the heavy railroad trains that thundered past his little flag station.
Had he seen then what the future had in store for him, had he realized that he was in that well-beloved environment for the last time, he would not have hesitated to have gone on along the road that he had marked out for himself. It would simply have made the wrench at parting a little bit more severe.
His musing was interrupted by his man, who had attracted his attention by noiselessly rearranging on the table the objects that were already in perfect order.
"Mr. Page is outside, sir."
It was a call to action. Edestone, without changing his position, said: "Tell him to come in." And then taking two or three deep puffs at his cigar, he blew out into the clear space in front of him a large and perfectly formed ring. Rising he followed it slowly as it drifted across the room, twisting and circling upon itself. Then with a low laugh, which was almost a sigh, after sticking his finger through its shadowy form, with a sweep of his powerful hand he brushed it aside.
"Good-bye, little friend," he said, "we have had many good times together, and whatever you may have in store for me, I promise never to complain. Let us hope that I shall use wisely and well the knowledge which you have given me."
Turning quickly at some slight sound, which told him that he was no longer alone, he threw his shoulders back, and with his head high in the air there came over his clean-shaven face a look of quiet determination, a look before which those who were born to rule were so soon to quail.
Then, with a complete change of manner, upon seeing his old friend and fellow-workman, his face lighted up, and he laughed:
"Well, old 'Specs,' I'm back, you see, and the 'Dove of Peace' is safely caged. He came to hand with scarcely even a struggle." Then as he looked down into the other's worn and haggard eyes which peered up at him through their round, horn-rimmed spectacles, his voice softened and he spoke with a touch of compunction.
"By Jove, old chap, you look all in. I've been driving you boys a bit too hard; but don't you worry. I'm off in the morning, and then you'll have a chance to take it easier. Soon our beautiful Little Peace Maker," he winked, "will be tucked safely away in some quiet corner, and you scientific fellows can devote all your attention to your beloved bridge, while I bid up The Hague Conference for a no-trump hand.
"But to business now. How did the films for the moving pictures come out?"
"Good. I'll have you run them over for me presently. I don't want to show too much when I give my performances for Royalty, you understand; just enough to scare them to death. And how about the wireless? Did you test that out, and tune it to my instruments, as I asked you?"
With a satisfactory answer to this also, he ranged off rapidly into a dozen other inquiries.
"Does Lee understand exactly where he is to go, and what he is to do, if by any chance he is discovered there? He does, eh? Well, I don't think he need anticipate the slightest trouble in that regard; but we've got to be prepared for every emergency.
"Now, 'Specs,' I want you to get off tomorrow night. Leave enough men about the plant, and have sufficient work going on, so that your absence may not excite comment. Go by way of Canada, and as soon as you are safely out of here, take your time and run no unnecessary risks. As soon as you are settled, communicate with me, once only every day at exactly twelve o'clock Greenwich time, until I answer you. I shall then not communicate with you again until this peace game is up and we are forced to show our hands."
He paused a moment as if to make sure that he had overlooked nothing; then resumed his instructions.
"Captain Lee's men all understand, I believe, that we are playing for a big stake, and that the work we have on hand is no child's play; but it will do no harm to impress it on them again. I sincerely hope that no rough work will be required; but they may as well realize that I intend to have absolute obedience, and shall not hesitate at the most extreme measures to obtain it. They must be drilled until every man is faultlessly perfect in the part he is to play. We may all be pronounced outlaws at any time with a price upon our heads, and therefore, before leaving here, I wish that none be allowed to join the enterprise except those who willingly volunteer for the sake of the cause. The men who are unwilling to volunteer, and yet know too much, must be taken and held incommunicado in some perfectly safe place until such time as I notify you.
"I think that is all," he reflected. Then, while the other man watched him curiously, he stepped to the safe, and opening it brought back a small, hardwood box about six inches square.
"I have never explained to you, Page," he said, "the exact construction of the instrument that is contained in this box. As you know, there is but one other instrument like this in the world, and that you know is in a safe place. My reason for not taking anybody into my confidence was not from any lack of faith in you or my other trusted associates, but simply in order to be absolutely sure at all times and under all circumstances that I was the only one in possession of this secret."
And turning to the fireplace he threw the box with its contents directly on to the burning logs.
Page gave a slight gasp as he saw the wooden receptacle catch, and half stepped forward as if to rescue it, but Edestone quickly raised an interposing hand. Then he turned to his companion with a smile.
"That was my first very clumsy model. The actual mechanical construction of this instrument is so simple," he said, "that I can at any time construct one which will answer all purposes that I may require of it until I see you. I intend to amuse myself on the Ivernia during the crossing constructing a new smaller and more compact instrument, combining with it one of the receivers which you have attuned to your wireless. See that these as well as the following," handing "Specs" a list of electrical supplies, "are put in Black's steamer trunk. And now, let's have a look at those films."
He followed this with a tour of inspection of the entire establishment, although the latter was largely perfunctory in character, since he knew that for days everything had been in readiness for his orders, waiting only for his return from Washington; then returning to his quarters, he tumbled into bed to catch a few hours of sleep before again whirling off at a sixty-mile-an-hour gait to board his steamer at the dock.
His plans were completed. His men, down to the lowest helper, were fellows of tested experience and education, many of them college graduates, while his "commissioned officers," as he called them, numbering sixty, were all experts in their respective lines. They had been drawn from all ranks of life, from the college laboratory, the automobile factory, and the war college. There were among them bank clerks, former commanders of battle-ships, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, and sailors. In fact, his little world was a perfectly equipped and smoothly running community with all the departments of a miniature government, save only a diplomatic service, and that he combined with his own prerogatives as Executive and Commander-in-Chief.
One thing he did not have in all his company, so far as he knew,—and that was a weakling. So thoroughly had he sifted them out, and applied to each of them the acid test, that he was sure he could rely on them, as he liked to say, "to the last ditch."
For the rest, although he had taken only a few of them into his confidence as to his real purposes and intentions, he had assured each recruit that he would be required to do nothing that was contrary to his duty to his fellow-man, his country, or his God.
And tomorrow the wheels would be set in motion. The undertaking to which he had dedicated his life and colossal fortune would be launched.
It was characteristic of Edestone that no sooner had he laid his head upon the pillow than his eyes closed, and he slept as peacefully as a tired child.
CROSSING WITH ROYALTY
After a perfectly uneventful voyage, the Ivernia, with Edestone and his three men aboard, swung slowly to her dock. As the big vessel had approached the coast the few cabin passengers were at first a little nervous, but the contempt in which the officers held, or pretended to hold, the submarine menace made itself soon felt throughout the ship, and but for the thinness of their ranks all went as usual. It is true that the little group of army contract-seekers and returning refugees seemed to enjoy constituting themselves into special look-outs, and regarded it as their particular duty, as long as it did not interfere with their game of bridge, or might cause them to lose a particularly comfortable and sheltered corner of the deck, to notify the stewards if they happened to see anything which to them looked like a periscope or floating mine.
Throughout the voyage Edestone kept very much to himself and in his quarters occupied himself constructing a new instrument, and to the hard-rubber case that had been provided for it he attached a wireless receiver. In some of this work he was assisted by Stanton and Black, two electricians he had brought with him, who, with James, his valet, made up his party.
He had little time and less inclination to observe his neighbours, who occupied the corresponding suite just across the passageway; but his man James, who had been formally introduced to their servants, insisted upon telling him all about them. They were, James said, the Duchess of Windthorst and her daughter, the Princess Wilhelmina, who were returning from Canada, where they had been visiting the Duke of Connaught at Toronto.
But, if Edestone was preoccupied, the Princess, on the contrary, being a girl of nineteen, with absolutely nothing on her mind, had not failed to note the handsome young man across the passage. Unconsciously answering to the irresistible call of youth, which is as loud to the princess as to the peasant, she had watched him with a great deal of interest, and had been fascinated by his faultless boots and the fact that he failed to notice her at all.
Yet Edestone, it may be remarked, was not the only person on board favoured with the royal regard. The Duchess, with the propensity of her kind on visiting the States, had selected for her rare promenades on deck a Broadway sport of the most absurd and exaggerated type, known as "Diamond King John" Bradley.
This vagary is explained by the fact that the social chasm separating them from all Americans is, to their limited vision, so infinitely great that it is impossible for them to see and to understand the niceties that the Americans draw between the butcher of New York and the dry-goods merchant of Denver; and since it is impossible to see nothing from infinity, they content themselves by selecting those who are, in their opinion, typical, in order that in the short time they can give to this study they may learn all of the characteristics of this most extraordinary race, who on account of the similarity of language have presumed to claim a relationship with them. They will not accept as true what much of the world believes: that Old England is in her decadence, and that her only hope is in those sons who have left her and who, away from the debilitating influence of the poisonous vapours arising from the ruins of her glory, are developing the ancient spirit of their ancestors and are returning to her assistance in her time of need.
As to the Princess, Edestone, although he noted that she was extremely attractive in face and figure, did not give her a second thought. He was amused at the attitude of the Duchess and her class, and was willing to accept it, but it did not arouse any desire on his part to follow the lead of the gentleman from Broadway and seek their acquaintance. As a matter of fact, he had always found the young women of the upper classes of England either extremely stupid or perfectly willing to appear so to an American of his class.
Still, as it happened, he did meet the Princess. One night after dinner he found her struggling with the door into the passage which led to their adjoining apartments. She was, or pretended to be, helpless in the wind that was blowing her down the deck as she clung to the rail, and, quietly taking her by the arm, he pulled her back to the door, where he held her until she was safely inside. This was all done in a perfectly matter-of-fact manner, and she might as well have been a steamer rug that was in danger of being blown overboard. Then before she had time to thank him, the door was blown shut, and he had resumed his solitary walk along the deck.
The next time that the Princess saw him, although she felt sure that he must have known that she had looked in his direction, there was no indication of any desire on his part to continue the acquaintance. He had apparently entirely forgotten the episode or her existence, and the pride of a beautiful young girl was hurt, and the dignity of royalty offended—but the first was all that really mattered.
And so the voyage ended. The passengers all seemed perfectly willing to go ashore, notwithstanding their assumption of indifference to the German blockade. Edestone, as usual, was met by the fastest form of locomotion, and before the trunks and bags had begun to toboggan down to the dock, he was whirling up to London in the powerful motor car belonging to his friend, the Marquis of Lindenberry. Edestone had notified him by wireless to meet the steamer, and they were now being driven directly to the Marquis's house in Grosvenor Square. Stanton and Black were left behind with James, who condescended with his superior knowledge to assist them in getting the luggage through the custom-house.
"Well what in the name of common sense has brought you over to England at such a time as this?" demanded Lindenberry, after the automobile had swept clear of the town and with a gentle purr had settled down to its work. He leaned over as he spoke, to satisfy himself that the chauffeur, having finished adjusting his glasses with one hand while running at top speed, finally had both hands on the wheel, and then turned expectantly to his companion.
"Oh, I see," Lindenberry nodded when he found that he got no satisfactory answer to this or the other inquiries he put; "you evidently do not propose to take me into your confidence. Still, I would not be so deucedly mysterious, if I were you. I call it beastly rude, you know. Here I have come all the way from Aldershot, and am using the greater part of my valuable leave in response to your crazy wire. Tell me, is it a contract to deliver a dozen dreadnoughts at the gates of the Tower of London before Easter Sunday?" and his eyes twinkled, "or have some of your young Americans enlisted and the fond parents sent you over to rescue them?"
Edestone smiled. "Well, the first thing I want, Lindenberry, is a little chat with Lord Rockstone."
"Oh, is that all?" with a satiric inflection. "Well, why in the name of common sense didn't you say so at first? I do not know, however, that I can positively get you an appointment today. You must not mind if His Lordship keeps you waiting for a few minutes if he happens to be talking with the Czar of Russia on the long-distance telephone. You know, we over here are still great sticklers on form. We are trying hard to be progressive, but we still consider it quite rude to tell a King to hold the wire while we talk to someone else who has not taken the trouble that he has to make an appointment. You must remember that he has perhaps dropped several shillings into the slot, and would naturally be annoyed if told by the girl that time was up and to drop another shilling.
"Or Lord Rockstone may perhaps be just in the midst of one of his usual twenty-four-hour interviews with an American newspaper representative," he continued his chaffing. "Now if he does not invite Graves and Underhill and Apsworth to have tea with you, you might drop in at Boodles' on your way back from the city, and we will just pop on to Buckingham Palace and deliver to Queen Mary the ultimatum from the suffragette ladies of the Sioux Indians."
Edestone laughed so heartily that the footman nearly turned to see if something had happened. "And they say that you Englishmen have no sense of humour. The trouble with you though, old top, is that your joke is so deucedly good that you don't see the point yourself."
They were just passing through one of Rockstone's military camps, where England's recruited millions were being trained, and cutting short his badinage Edestone gazed at the scene with interest.
"It does seem a pity that all these fine young fellows should be sacrificed in order to settle a question which I could settle in a very short time," he said, becoming more serious.
"Settle it in a very short time?" repeated Lindenberry. "I would like to know how you propose to do it. I know you are full of splendid ideas, and invent all kinds of electrical contrivances to do things that one can do perfectly well with one's own hands. I suppose you would take a large magnet and with it pull all of the German warships out of the Kiel Canal, and hold them while you went on board and explained to Bernhardi and von Bulow the horrors of war, and if they did not listen to you, you would, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin lead them off with all the other disagreeable odds and ends, submarines and Zeppelins, to an island, way, way out in the ocean, where they would have to stay until they promised to be good little boys?"
"Well, wouldn't that be better than killing a lot of these fine young fellows you have here?" demanded Edestone, although he smiled at his friend's fantastic idea.
"You Americans are developing into a nation of foolish old women," taunted Lindenberry, "and the sooner that you get into a muss like this one we're in, the sooner you will get back that fighting spirit which has made you what you are. You are fast losing the respect of the other nations by your present methods, always looking after your own pocket-books while the rest of the world is bleeding to death."
Edestone was thoughtful, and appeared to have no answer for this, and Lindenberry reverted to his request.
"If you really want to have an interview with Lord Rockstone, Jack, I think I can possibly arrange it. I will telephone to Colonel Wyatt, who is on his staff, and find out what he can do for you."
And so they chatted until coming to Grosvenor Square where they got out of the automobile in front of an unpretentious red brick house with an English basement entrance, trimmed with white marble and spotlessly clean.
Lindenberry at once telephoned to Colonel Wyatt, who said that Lord Rockstone was in and that if Edestone would come around at once he would see to it that his letters were presented. As to an appointment, he could promise nothing, but he did say to Lindenberry, not to be repeated, that the Department was not at that time very favourably disposed toward Americans.
With his usual promptness, Edestone jumped into his automobile and started for Downing Street, not stopping even to wash his face and hands nor to brush the dust from his clothes.
At the door he was met by an officer in khaki, was told that Colonel Wyatt was expecting him, and was asked if he would be so kind as to come up to the Colonel's office. There he was told that his credentials and letters could be presented that afternoon, but there was practically no chance of an interview, as Lord Rockstone was leaving the War Offices in a few minutes.
Word was finally brought in that Lord Rockstone would see Mr. Edestone and receive his letters, but regretted that he would be unable to give him an appointment, as he was leaving for the Continent in a few days and affairs of state required his entire time—which translated into plain English meant: "Come in, but get out as soon as you can."
Shown into a large room, he saw seated at a big desk the man who is said to have said that he did not know when the war would end, but he did know when it would begin, and fixed that date at about eight months after the actual declaration—after millions of pounds had been expended and hundreds of thousands of English dead.
Cold, powerful, relentless, and determined, Edestone knew that it was useless to appeal to a sense of humanity in this man who, sitting at his desk early and late, directed the great machine that slowly but surely was drawing to itself the youth and vigour of all England, there to feed and fatten, flatter and amuse these poor boys from the country, and with music and noise destroy their sensibilities before sending them across the Channel to live for their few remaining days in holes in the ground that no self-respecting beast would with his own consent occupy.
To appeal to a sense of duty so strong in him as applied to England, was one thing; but to convince him that Edestone as an American had a sense of duty to the nations of Europe was something quite different. This man of steel had no imagination, he was convinced, and to ask him to follow him in his flights would be as useless as to request him to whistle Yankee Doodle.
He had a chance to decide all this while Rockstone, who had risen and received him with courtesy, was reading the letters he presented. The great soldier's face never changed once as he read them all with care.
"Your credentials are satisfactory," he finally said, "but I do not quite understand what it is you wish. Your letters say that you do not want to sell anything, which is most extraordinary; I thought you Americans always wanted to sell something." And his face assumed the expression of a man who, having no sense of humour, thought that he had perhaps made a joke.
"If you have drawings and photographs of a new instrument of war," he caught himself up abruptly, "I should greatly prefer that you submit these to the Ordnance Department; but since your Secretary of State has been so insistent, I will look at them tomorrow. I will give you an appointment from 9 to 9:15."
And he rose and bowed.
THE FIRST REBUFF
At exactly a quarter past nine the following morning, Lord Rockstone with military precision rose from his desk.
"I fear that my time is up, Mr. Edestone," he said, glancing at his watch. "I have enjoyed this opportunity of meeting you and listening to your presentation of your theory. Your drawings are most interesting; your photographs convincing, if—" he paused, his lip curling slightly under his long tawny moustache,—"if one did not know of the remarkable optical illusions capable of being produced in photography. Our friends, the Germans, have become particularly expert in the art of double exposure."
Then, as if he thought he might have said too much, he added less crisply:
"Please do not understand that I doubt either your sincerity, or that of the Government at Washington in this matter; you may have both perhaps been deceived. I hope that your stay in England may be pleasant, and I regret that this war will prevent you from receiving the attention to which your letters and your accomplishments would entitle you."
With an expression on his face that said plainer than words: "This is the last minute of my most valuable time that I intend to give to this nonsense," he bowed formally, and reseating himself at his desk, took up papers.
Then without looking up, "Good morning, Mr. Edestone."
The American did not allow himself to show the slightest trace of annoyance at the brusque dismissal.
"You will at least permit me to thank you for your kind intentions, sir," he said; and standing perfectly still until he had forced Lord Rockstone to look up, he added with a smile, "We may meet again, perhaps."
There was something about his perfect ease of manner as he stood waiting which showed that although he would not condescend to notice it, he was both conscious of the War Minister's unpardonable rudeness and intended to make him acknowledge it.
Rockstone hesitated a moment; then with a belated show of courtesy came from behind his desk, and stiffly extended his hand.
"You Americans are the most extraordinary people," he said; "I must admit, I never quite understand you."
"Then you must grant us a slight advantage," rejoined Edestone evenly; "because we believe we do understand you Englishmen. If there had been the same clear understanding on your side in the present instance it would have been more to your interest, I am satisfied; for then instead of merely disturbing you I should have aroused you."
"It is not a question of arousing me as you call it. You are dealing with the Government of the Empire, and, as you know, England moves slowly. The suggestion that I invite His Majesty to see a lot of moving pictures of an impossible machine, if you will pardon me, is preposterous. If you really wish to sell something to the War Department, although I understand you to state that you do not, nothing is simpler. Ship one of your machines to England, give a demonstration, and whereas I cannot speak with authority, I am confident that England will pay all that any other Government will pay. As to our friends, the enemy, our ships will attend to it that nothing goes to them that can be used against us." His jaws snapped, and his cold greenish-grey eyes flashed, as he gave another curt bow of dismissal.
Edestone had no alternative but to leave; but as he turned to rejoin Colonel Wyatt, who had stood stiffly at attention throughout the entire interview, he could not resist one parting shot.
"Do not forget, Lord Rockstone," he said, "that England six months ago spoke lightly of submarines."
The War Minister pretended not to hear; but no sooner had the door closed upon his offensive visitor than he caught up the telephone. "Get me the Admiralty, and present my compliments to Mr. Underhill," he directed sharply. "Tell him I would like to speak to him at once."
He turned back to a tray of letters left upon his desk to sign, but halted, his pen held arrested in air.
"Suppose," he muttered, "the fellow should actually have—? But, pshaw! It's simply a mammoth Yankee bluff. That Foreign Department at Washington is just silly enough to believe that it can frighten us with its manufactured photographs. They are so anxious over there to stop the war, that they would resort to any expedient—anything but fight."
The telephone tinkled.
"Ah! Are you there Underhill? Yes, this is Rockstone. I called you up to warn you against a madman who is now on his way to see you. You can't well refuse to give him an audience, for he has such strong letters from the American Government that one might imagine he was a special envoy sent to offer armed intervention and to end the war. But in my opinion he is merely a crank or an impostor, who has succeeded in obtaining the support and endorsement of their State Department.
"What is that? Oh yes; he's an American. His name? How should I remember! I wasn't interested either in him, or what he had to say. He pretends to have discovered some new agency or force, don't you know, and tries to prove by a lot of double-exposed photographs that he has broken down the fundamental laws of physics, neutralizing the force of gravity, or annihilating space by the polarization of light, or some such rot.
"Do not kick him out. He has letters not only from his Government, but from some of its most prominent men whom it would be unwise to offend at this time. Just listen to his twaddle about universal peace and that sort of thing, and then pass him on to Graves with a quiet warning such as I have given you."
Meanwhile Edestone, having taken leave of Colonel Wyatt, was making his way out of the building, when he found himself accosted in the dimly lighted corridor by a man in civilian clothes whom he recognized as a New York acquaintance of several years' standing.
"Well, look who's here!" he greeted Edestone lustily as he extended his hand. "What brings you into the very den of the lion? Is it that, like myself, you are helping dear old England get arms and ammunition with which to lick the barbarians on the Rhine?"
Glancing around cautiously he lowered his voice. "Make her pay well for them, my boy; she would not hesitate to turn them on us, if we got in her way."
Edestone laughingly disclaimed any interest in army contracts, but at the same time avoided divulging the actual mission upon which he was engaged.
There was something in his companion's manner that put him rather on his guard; he remembered smoking after dinner not more than three or four months before in the house of one of the most prominent German bankers in New York, and listening to this man, who had expressed himself in a way that might have suggested somewhat pro-German sympathies. Edestone had at the time attributed this to a consideration for their host and to the fact that the German Ambassador was present; but he recalled that, although the speaker was most violent in his protestations of neutrality, someone had suggested at the time that he was of a German family, his father having been born in Hesse-Darmstadt. He was a man of wealth, with establishments in New York and Newport, at both of which places Edestone had been entertained. His loud and hearty manner stamped him as a typical American, but his large frame, handsome face, and military bearing showed his Teutonic origin.
"You surprise me Rebener." Edestone's eyes twinkled slightly at these recollections. "I should have supposed, if you had anything of the kind to sell, that it would be to your friend, Count Bernstoff. However," he laid his hand on the other's arm, "it's an agreeable surprise to run across a fellow-countryman, no matter what the cause. Are you going my way?"
"No," Rebener told him, he had an appointment on hand with one of the bureau chiefs in the Ordnance Department.
"Well then suppose you dine with me tonight," suggested Edestone. "I am stopping at Claridge's and shall be awfully glad if you can come. I am entirely alone in London, you see; my cronies, I find, are all dead or at the front."
"Delighted, my boy. But listen! Don't have any of your English swells. Let's make this a quiet little American dinner just to ourselves, and forget for once this ghastly war."
"At eight o'clock, then," Edestone nodded.
"And a strict neutrality dinner, remember. That is the only safe kind for us Americans to eat in London."
"All right, Rebener, as neutral as you please. A bientot." And with a wave of the hand he passed on down the corridor and out of the building. His appointment with Underhill, Chief of the Admiralty, was not until 11:30, so he put in the time by sauntering rather slowly along the Thames Embankment.
He regretted now that, in talking with Lord Rockstone, he had not made a little more show of force, for had he assumed a more dictatorial manner he would have at least aroused the fighting spirit in his stern antagonist, who might then have taken some interest in crushing him under his heel; whereas now he saw plainly that Rockstone considered him beneath his notice, and thereby much valuable time had been lost. Yet he did not wish to make any show of force until he knew positively that his men were all at their stations, and that the Little Peace Maker was near at hand. He must be in a position to use force before playing his last card, and he had not as yet heard from "Specs." Although he knew that their instruments were perfectly attuned, he had not, up to twelve o'clock of the day before, received a single vibration.
At this point he was interrupted by encountering another American who also insisted upon stopping and shaking hands. This was a young architect from New York, who had from time to time done work for his father's estate and who had also made some alterations at the Little Place in the Country for Edestone himself. He was a tall, lank young man of about twenty-seven, with little rat-like eyes, placed so close to his hawk-like nose that one felt Nature would have been kinder to him had she given him only one eye and frankly placed it in the middle of his receding forehead. His small blonde moustache did not cover his rabbit mouth, which was so filled with teeth that he could with difficulty close his lips.
"What has brought you to London, Schmidt? Aren't you afraid that these Englishmen will capture you and shoot you as a spy?"
"Sh! Not quite so loud please, Mr. Edestone; these English are such fools. They think that because a man has a German name he must be a fighting German, when you know that I am a perfectly good naturalized American citizen. My passport is made out in the name of Schmidt, and that's my name all right, but I call myself Smith over here to keep from rubbing these fellows the wrong way."
"Well, Mr. 'Smith,' you have not told me what you are doing in London."
"I have been sent over by a New York architectural paper to make a report upon the condition of the cathedral at Rheims. I stopped over in London to get my papers vised by the Royal Institute of Architects." Then, lowering his voice, and keeping his eyes on a policeman who was apparently watching them with interest: "I am sorry to see you here, Mr. Edestone. This is no place for us Americans, and my advice to you is to get out of here as soon as you can, and don't come back again until the war is over."
Edestone felt that he would have said more but they were interrupted by the policeman who said: "Excuse me, gentlemen, but these be war times, and me ordhers are to keep the Imbankment moving."
ECHOES FROM THE WILHELMSTRASSE
After leaving the War Offices, Rebener went directly to the nearest public telephone.
"Hello, Karlbeck," he called, after satisfying himself by mumbling a jumble of unintelligible words and numbers that he had the man he wanted on the wire. "Is Smith there? What? Thames Embankment? What did you say is the number of that officer? Oh, my old butler, Pat! That's all right. Now listen; if I should miss Smith and he comes in, tell him to call me at my hotel at once. I have made an engagement for dinner with our man for eight o'clock tonight, but you and H. R. H. need not be at my rooms until half-past eight. You understand, eh? Good-bye."
He strolled out, following Edestone's course with the air of a man wishing to enjoy this beautiful spring morning, and approaching the officer who had interrupted the interview between Edestone and Smith, he said, with a little twinkle in his eye: "Will you tell me which of these bridges is called the London Bridge?"
The blue-coated Pat, with Hibernian readiness, caught the humour of the situation. "Shure, I would gladly, but 'tis a strhanger I am here mesilf," he grinned as he smothered the entire lower part of his face with his huge paw of a hand, and significantly closed one eye.
"Pat, your fondness for joking will get you into trouble yet. Did Smith turn Edestone over to you?"
"He did, and I mesilf took him up to the Admiralty where he is now. 4782, I think they called him, takes him up from there, and will keep him until he hears from either you or Smith."
"Where has Smith gone?"
"Shure he's up at Claridge's, bein' shaved by Count von Hottenroth."
"Now, now, Pat, if you don't stop that joking of yours I'll certainly report you to the Wilhelmstrasse."
"And they said I was to be the first King of dear old Ireland!" as with a broad grin on his face he raised his hand as if drinking. "Der Tag!" he cried, thereby causing several passers-by to laugh at the idea of a London bobby giving the sacred German toast.
Rebener, leaving him, went directly to his rooms at The Britz where he was received with the greatest consideration by everybody about the place. He was shown to the royal suite by the proprietor himself, who after he had carefully closed the door upon them stood as if waiting for orders.
"Call Claridge's on the 'phone, and tell Smith who is being shaved," he smiled at the recollection of Pat's jest, "to meet me here at once. I do not want him seen in the hotel, so tell him to come in by the servants' entrance, and you bring him up on the service elevator and in here through my pantry and dining-room."
The proprietor retired to attend to this, but was soon back, and Rebener continued his instructions.
"Luckily Edestone invited me to dine with him tonight before I had a chance to invite him," he said, "but I will persuade him to come here and dine with me."
"So, Mr. Bombiadi," he turned to the proprietor, "I shall want dinner here for four at 8:30. See to it yourself, will you, that my guests are brought through my private entrance, and one especially—you know who—who will be incognito, must not be recognized. Not that there could be any objection to these men dining with me here—a common rich American, who loves to spend his money on princes and things—but by tonight this man Edestone will be watched by at least twenty men from Scotland Yard, and they suspect anyone of being a German spy, be he prince or pauper."
Their conversation was interrupted at this point by the arrival of Smith, who came in very much excited. Sniffling and rubbing his nose with the back of his forefinger, like a nervous cocaine fiend, he broke out agitatedly:
"Mr. Rebener, I'm getting sick of this job. When I undertook to find out for you what was going on at the Little Place in the Country, I was working for Germany as against the world, and anything that I can do for her I am glad and proud to do, but that Hottenroth talks like a damn fool. Excuse me, Mr. Rebener, but he don't want to stop at anything. He says that if he pulls off this thing the Emperor, when he gets to London, will make him Duke of Westminster, or something, and six months from now he will appoint me Governor-General of North America. I tell you, Mr. Rebener, that fellow is plumb nutty."
"Pardon me, Mr. Rebener," interposed the proprietor, "it is true that Hottenroth is excitable, but he is faithful to the Fatherland and an humble servant to His Imperial Majesty. He has been in charge of a fixed post in London for fifteen years. He was one of the very first to be sent here, and he was in Paris before that. He would die willingly for the Fatherland, as would I, and if this Schmidt, I mean Smith, thinks there is any sin too great to be committed for the Fatherland, he is not worthy of a place among us, and the sooner we get rid of him the better." And he looked at the unfortunate Smith in a way that showed he was willing to do this at any moment.
But Rebener, who had lived all his life in America, and like Smith did not thoroughly agree with the philosophy of German militarism—before which everything must bow—hurriedly raised his hand.
"Come, come, you are both getting unnecessarily excited. Don't let us try to cross our bridges until we get to them. What did von Hottenroth have to report?"
"It was not very satisfactory, to tell you the truth, Mr. Rebener," said Smith; "they searched through all of his things and they found nothing but a drawing of a Zeppelin of our 29-M type, with some slight changes, which Hottenroth said don't amount to anything, and some photographs of Mr. Edestone himself, doing some juggling tricks with heavy dumb-bells and weights, but we learned afterwards from the porter that an expressman had left two large and heavy trunks marked, 'A. M. Black and P. S. Stanton,' at No. 4141 Grosvenor Square East."
"Well what is the report," demanded Bombiadi, "on No. 4141 Grosvenor Square?"
Smith read from a memorandum book: "Lord Lindenberry, who is a widower, lives there with his mother, the Dowager. The old lady is now up at their country place, in Yorkshire, and the Marquis went on to Aldershot last night after having dined with Edestone at Brooks's and dropping him at Claridge's at 12:15 A.M. The house is only partially opened; there are only a few of the old servants there."
"And do you think these trunks contain the instrument which you reported to us from America was always kept in the safe at the Little Place in the Country?" snapped the hotel proprietor.
"I don't know," whined Smith. "Mr. Edestone probably has it with him."
"Well, we must get hold of it before he shows it to Underhill," frowned the proprietor, "that is, if it has not been shown already, and in that case we must get hold of Edestone himself."
"Now that is exactly what is troubling me," Smith's voice rose hysterically. "I'm not going to stand for any of that rough stuff, Mr. Rebener. Mr. Edestone and his father have both been mighty good to me, and if anything happens to him I'll blow on the whole lot of you."
"So?" The proprietor's pale fat face was convulsed with a look of hatred and contempt. "Then we are to understand, Smith, that if we find it necessary to do away with Edestone you wish to go first? You dirty little half-breed," he growled in an undertone. "Your mother must have been an English woman."
"Here, here, you two fools!" Rebener broke in with sharp authority, "there is no question of 'doing away' with Edestone, as you call it. What we're after is the invention and not the man himself, and we'll not get it by 'doing away' with him. I am, like Smith here, opposed to murder, even for the Fatherland."
"But it is not murder, Mr. Rebener," interrupted the proprietor, "if thereby we are instrumental in saving thousands of the sons of the Fatherland."
"That would not only not save the sons of the Fatherland, but would put an end to our usefulness, both here in London and in America, especially if Edestone has already turned the whole thing over to England. The very first thing for us to do is to find out how the matter stands. If the Ministry knows nothing, we must work to get him to Berlin, and then even you fire-eaters may safely trust it to the Wilhelmstrasse. If it should happen, however, that the British Government has the invention, His Royal Highness tonight will try to get enough out of Edestone to enlighten Berlin, and in that way we shall at least get an even break. That is, always provided that Edestone has not a lot of the completed articles, whatever they may be, at the Little Place in the Country. That would put us in bad again, and it will be up to Count Bernstoff to attend to it from the New York end."
"Of course, Mr. Rebener," said the proprietor, "we can do nothing until we hear from His Royal Highness, but I am satisfied that he will say Edestone must not be allowed to go to Downing Street tomorrow to continue his negotiations, unless in some way we can get hold of this secret tonight."
"Well, I'll be damned if I'll—!" started Rebener angrily, when he was interrupted by the proprietor, who holding his finger to his lip, said:
"Please, Mr. Rebener, please! Always remember that the service on which we are engaged has no soul and a very long arm." Then dropping into the persuasive and servile tone of the maitre d'hotel: "I propose, Mr. Rebener, that you allow me to send you up a nice little lunch, some melon, say, a salmon mayonnaise or a filet du sole au vin blanc and a noisette d'agneau and a nice little sweet, and you must try a bottle of our Steinberger Auslese '84.
"And Smith," he turned to the humbler agent, "you had better get in touch with 4782, who is reporting to His Royal Highness every hour. His last message was that Edestone is still with Underhill, so you get down to the Admiralty and report to me here as often as you can. Edestone will probably lunch quietly alone somewhere, as I know that all of his friends are at the front, but don't lose him until you turn him over to Mr. Rebener tonight at 8 o'clock." His eyes narrowed as they followed the skulking figure of the architect out of the room.
"That fellow needs watching," he muttered to Rebener. "He has lost his nerve. He is not a true German anyhow. But if he makes a false step, 4782 knows what to do and you can depend upon him to do it. We do not know who he is, but he is a gentleman, if not a nobleman, and he will kill or die for his Emperor."
Smith, in the meantime, had gone down the service stairs and out at the rear of the hotel. He was thoughtful, and when he was settled in his taxi, after having directed the chauffeur where to drive, he said to himself:
"They are going to kill him tonight unless they get that machine, or else can fix it so that Rockstone doesn't get it tomorrow, that is if Underhill hasn't got it already. I wish I'd never started this business; I never thought it would go so far, and what do I get out of it? A German decoration which I can't wear in America, and God knows I don't want to live in Germany, and seventeen dollars a week. I'm not going to stand for it, and that's settled."
Arriving in front of a little restaurant he entered and sat down at a table near a window looking out on Whitehall Place. The proprietor, who was another German, came over to him, and while ostensibly arranging the cloth spoke to him in an undertone in his own language.
"Edestone is still with Underhill," he said. "The taxi driver on the stand opposite, the one who looks as if he were asleep, is 4782. In that way he keeps the head of the line, you see, and when Edestone comes out, if he doesn't take that cab, 4782 can follow him until he alights again, and then he is to telephone His Royal Highness. So you sit here and have lunch, where you can see what is going on."
Then, turning to a group of his regular customers at another table, the jovial host in a loud voice and in perfect English took a violent pro-Ally part in the war discussion that was going on.
A RUSTY OLD CANNON-BALL
Edestone had met the Honorable Herbert Underhill before, both in America and in the country houses of England. The two were about the same age, and as Underhill's mother was an American, Edestone had hoped that he would not have quite so much trouble in getting him to look at the matter from an American point of view.
Underhill, however, was just on that account a little bit more formal with the cousins from across the sea than were most of the men of high position in Europe. He was undoubtedly taken aback and thrown off his guard when he found that Edestone was the dangerous American lunatic of whom he had been warned. In the first place, he knew that there was not the slightest chance of his being an impostor, and he also knew exactly how much of a lunatic he was. He knew, in fact, that he was a hard-riding, clear-thinking, high-minded Anglo-Saxon of the very best type to be found A Rusty Old Cannon-Ball anywhere, and he smiled as he thought of Rockstone's advice not to kick him out of the Admiralty.
With considerable show of cordiality, he invited his visitor into a small room adjoining his large office, and sat him down at the opposite side of a wide table.
"Lord Rockstone told me you were coming, but did not mention your name. He is quite a chap, that Rockstone. Not what you Americans would call a very chatty party, however. Now what can I do for you? Lord Rockstone tells me that you have some new invention, or something of the sort, that will help us to finish up this little scrimmage without the loss of a single Tommy. Well, that is exactly what we are looking for, and you American chaps are clever at thinking out new ideas. He tells me, however, that you do not wish to sell it. Now I can understand better than he why that part would be of no especial interest to you; but can't we deal with a Syndicate, or a Board of Underwriters, a Holding Company, or some of those wonderful business combinations that you Americans devise in order to do business without going to jail? Is the poor starving inventor some billionaire like yourself, who works only for honour and glory? In that case we might get an Iron Cross for him. In fact, we might get one blessed by the Emperor himself, by Jove!"
Edestone laughed. "Well, Mr. Underhill, you cannot deny inheriting a certain amount of American wit. I have so often heard the older members of the Union Club tell stories of Billy Travers's witty sayings. He must have gone the pace that kills. One of the old servants used to tell that whenever Travers and Larry Jerome and that set came in for supper, they expected the waiters to drink every fifth bottle; it made things more cheerful-like—but revenons a nos moutons. Lord Rockstone is right, I do not want to sell my discovery, for mine it is. I am the penniless inventor. I only want an opportunity of showing it to the heads of the Powers that are now at war, and of demonstrating to them the stupendous and overwhelming force that is now practically in the hands of the greatest of the neutral governments, and thus try, if possible, to convince them of the uselessness of continuing this loss of life and treasure.
"If I could demonstrate to you, Mr. Underhill, that I could, sitting here in your office, give an order that would set London on fire and send every ship in the English navy to the bottom in the course of a few weeks, would you not advocate opening negotiations for peace? And were I to show the Emperor of Germany that his great army could be destroyed in even less time, would he not be more receptive than we now understand him to be?"
"Why, Mr. Edestone, I most certainly should," the First Lord of the Admiralty granted with a smile, "and I think that perhaps the German Emperor would be amenable under the circumstances, but as they say in your great country, 'I am from Missouri, you must show me.'"
He changed his position and glanced at Edestone as if he were beginning to think that possibly Rockstone might be right in his estimate after all.
"Very well, Mr. Underhill; it is now five minutes to noon, and I think that I will be able to show you in exactly five minutes."
He took from his pocket a leather case, such as a woodsman might use to carry a large pocket compass, and removing the cover set out upon the table an instrument that was entirely enclosed in vulcanized rubber. On the top, under glass, was a dial, with a little needle which vibrated violently, but came to a standstill soon after being placed on the table. Two small platinum wires, about twelve inches long and carefully insulated, issued from opposite sides of the hard rubber casing.
Underhill's face at first bore only an expression of mild amusement, but as Edestone evidenced such a deadly earnestness, he showed more interest and said with a rather nervous laugh: "Look here, old chap, don't blow the entire English navy out of the water while you're closeted here with me. I must have some witness to prove that I didn't do it or I might have to explain to the House of Commons."
Edestone, a hard and drawn look about his mouth, paid no heed, but taking his watch out of his pocket fixed his eye on the little needle of the instrument and waited as the last few seconds of the hour ticked off. As the second hand made its last round, and the minute hand swung into position exactly at twelve, he leaned over the table as if trying by mental suggestion to make the instrument respond to his will. But it remained perfectly quiescent, and with a half sigh and a tightening of the lines about his mouth, he closed his watch. Could it be possible, he thought, that "Specs" had forgotten his instructions always to use Greenwich time?
He was about to replace the instrument in its case, when he was startled by a clock on the mantel, which began to strike the hour of twelve. Involuntarily he counted the strokes as they chimed slowly, and as the vibrations of the last stroke faded away the little needle swung an entire circuit of the dial, returning to its original position. This was repeated three times.
Underhill, although still interested in what was going on, seemed a bit relieved when nothing more startling happened.
"Oh, I say, you know, you gave me quite a start," he jested. "I thought that you were going to set London on fire, and you simply seem to be taking your blood-pressure."
Edestone still paid not the slightest attention to him, but after glancing about the room walked over to the mantelpiece where he picked up an old twelve-inch cannon-ball, which with considerable difficulty he brought back and placed on the table by the side of his instrument. His eyes once more roved about the room as if he were seeking something, and stepping deliberately to a passe-partout photograph of King George V., he ripped off the binding with his pocket-knife and tore from it the glass.
"Oh, I say, now, Mr. Edestone, those cow-boy methods don't go here in London, and if you cannot behave a bit more like a gentleman, I'll have you shown to the street."
"We have more important matters on our hands just now, Mr. Underhill, than whether or not I am a gentleman," snapped the American, his face set and serious as he with nervous fingers laid the glass on the table.
Rolling the cannon-ball to him, he lifted it very gently on to the glass plate, and then taking a key from his pocket he appeared to wind up on the inside of the instrument some mechanism which gave off a buzzing sound. Next he drew on a pair of rubber gloves with vulcanized rubber finger tips, and moistening with his lips the ends of the two platinum wires, pressed them to either side of the ball, first the one and then the other. A spark was given off when the second contact was made, and the room was filled with a pungent odour as of overheated metal which caused both men to cough violently.
Following this, with great care, and using only the tips of his fingers, he lifted the glass plate with the ball on it. When he had raised it his arm's length above the table, like a plum pudding on a platter, he took the glass away, leaving the ball hanging unsupported in the air.
He sat down and smiled across the table into the astonished, almost incredulous, face of his companion.
"And now, Mr. Underhill, I hope you will pardon my rudeness," he apologized lightly; "but I get so interested in these little tricks of mine that sometimes I forget myself. If you will permit me, I shall, when I go to Paris, order from Cartiers's a more befitting frame for His Majesty, and shall beg you to accept it from me as a little souvenir of our meeting today."
Underhill made no reply. His whole attention was riveted on that amazing ball, and Edestone, a trifle mischievously, added: "If you have a perfectly good heart, and think you can stand a bit of a shock, touch that ball lightly with your finger."
"My heart's all right, and I am prepared for anything," Underhill surrendered, as he reached up and touched the innocent looking rusty old cannon-ball, whose only peculiarity seemed to be its willingness to remain where it was without any visible means of support.
The room was suddenly filled with a greenish light, as if someone had just taken a flash-light photograph. Underhill was thrown violently back into his chair, and the ball crashed down on the table, splitting it from end to end.
Without moving a muscle of his face, and taking no notice of the gestures of pain made by Underhill as he sat rubbing his arm and shoulder, Edestone resumed:
"Mr. Underhill, I will not take any more of your valuable time to show you my drawings and photographs, but I beg you to say to Sir Egbert Graves that you do not think with Lord Rockstone that the American Secretary of State has been deceived, and that you hope he will, when he sees me tomorrow, try to forget for a while that he is an Englishman and be a little bit human. You know, Underhill, confidence and pigheadedness are not even connected by marriage; much less are they blood relations. By Jove," he grinned, "you can tell him I'll stick him up against the ceiling if he insists upon handling me with the ice tongs and leave him there until you take him down; that is, if you care to take another little shock."
Underhill, although he might have thought at another time that it was his duty to resent such light and frivolous reference to the heads of His Majesty's Government, was now, however, occupied with more serious reflections, and overlooked the offence.
"I am sure," he said, rousing himself, "that if Sir Egbert is convinced that you are working for the sake of humanity he will be most happy to make use of your talents."
"That is exactly what I want him to do," returned Edestone, "but not in the way in which you mean. I wish to be given authority to open negotiations for peace with the Emperor of Germany. Now, Mr. Underhill, do we understand one another?"
He rose to leave with this, but Underhill, stepping quickly forward, laid a hand upon his arm.
"You don't suppose for a moment, Mr. Edestone, that we will allow you to leave England and go to Germany to sell them your invention and have it used against us?"
"You have my word, Mr. Underhill, and that of the American Secretary of State, that it is not my intention to sell to any government. With that assurance, unless your Ministry wishes to risk the chances of war with the United States, I think it will allow me to leave England and go anywhere I please. Good-morning, Mr. Underhill. I am sorry to have taken up so much of your valuable time, even more sorry to have broken His Majesty's beautiful old oak table."
Underhill, left alone, sat for some moments looking from the broken table to the cannonball and then back again. Finally he picked up a fragment of glass, for the Royal face protector had likewise been broken, when the good old English oak had met its defeat at the hands of this Hun of the world of science, and with it, very gingerly, he tapped the iron ball—this rusty old barbarian which had set at naught the force of gravity, had violated all the established laws of nature, and had like the Germans in Belgium smashed through.
Finding that nothing happened, he hesitated for a moment, and, then, bracing himself against the shock, he touched his finger gently to this rude old paradox. There was no shock, and, reassured, he leaned across the table and tried with both hands to lift the cannon-ball.
"That part is genuine there is no doubt," he granted. "That old cannon-ball must have been here since—?" He gave a start as his eyes caught the inscription pasted upon it, which was:
"A freak cannon-ball, made at the Forge and Manor of Greenwood, Virginia, 1778. Presented in 1889 to Lord Roberts by General George Bolling Anderson, Governor of the State of Virginia."
"How extraordinary!" he exclaimed. "These Americans are popping up at every turn."
He passed out into the large outer office, and, glancing at his watch, summoned an undersecretary.
"It is now just a quarter after twelve," he said, "and the Cabinet lunches at Buckingham Palace at two. Present my compliments to Lord Rockstone and Sir Egbert Graves, and say that I should like to see them both here for a few minutes on a matter of the greatest importance, and that much as I regret to trouble them it is absolutely necessary that this meeting be held in my office and before they go on to the Palace."
To another attendant who, moved by curiosity, was going in the direction of the smaller room, he said: "Place a sentry at that door when I leave. No one is to be allowed to enter that room until I give further orders."
A telephone orderly came in a few minutes later to say that his message had found Lord Rockstone and Sir Egbert Graves together, and that they both would be with him within the half-hour.
Underhill was now fully convinced that Edestone possessed some wonderful invention or discovery which the United States intended to use as a final argument for peace, and, with the aid of this discovery, render untenable any position in opposition to its will taken by England or any of the other Powers. Had he dreamed that the United States was as ignorant as to the nature of this invention as he himself was, the history of the world might have been changed.
When Graves and Rockstone arrived, he greeted them with serious face and at once drew them into private conference.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I am sorry to have to trouble you to come to me, but I am confident that you will forgive me when you understand my reasons for insisting upon a meeting here." Keeping both men still standing he continued: "I have a strange story to tell, so strange in fact, that you gentlemen would be justified in doubting not only my word but my sanity, had I nothing to show you in corroboration."
Both men stood like graven images; one like a soldier at attention; the other, his hat and cane in his right hand and the tips of his two first fingers resting lightly on the table behind which Underhill was standing, his thin, clean-shaven, mask-like face as expressionless as if it belonged to a head that had been stuck on the end of a pike and shoved out across the table for Underhill to look at, instead of to one well placed on his broad athletic shoulders. They both knew that Underhill was young and had inherited from his beautiful American mother a nervous and temperamental disposition. They also knew that this was tempered by the crafty cleverness of the blood of the hero of Blenheim. They had come prepared for one of his excitable outbursts, although they knew he would not have been so insistent had there not been good cause.
"Will you be so kind as to walk into this room with me?" He pointed toward the door of the small room.
Still with that show of utter imperturbability the two complied, continuing to gaze stolidly as their associate, closing the door behind them, called their attention to the cannon-ball and broken table.
"Exhibits A and B"; he waved his hand toward the two objects. "I wanted you to see these in order to convince you that I have neither been dreaming, nor am I the victim of an aberration."
Then with great care and endeavouring to maintain a semblance of self-possession, he described his recent experience, omitting no single detail that he could recall. He showed them exactly where and how he had been sitting, and followed every movement made by Edestone, even to the ripping of the glass from the portrait of the King, until finally, as if overcome by the strain that he had put upon himself to appear perfectly calm, he ended with a nervous little laugh.
"Will you look at the inscription on that blooming old cannon-ball? It really seems quite spooky."
Graves moved forward and thoughtfully examined the split table and the rusty old relic of Valley Forge, but Rockstone did not offer to stir. With what was almost a sneer on his face he met the challenging glance of his younger confrere.
"I would not have believed, Underhill," he said impatiently, "that you with your experience with the fakirs of India could have been taken in by so old a trick." He half-closed his eyes as if to indicate that for him at least the incident was closed.
Underhill frowned. "You are wrong, Rockstone," he exclaimed impulsively. "This man is no faker, nor am I so easily imposed upon as you seem to think. I tell you that we are called upon to deal with a new agency that can neither be disputed nor sneered away, and unless we can contrive some way to oppose it, the United States will step in and force a peace upon us—a peace that will leave Europe exactly where it was before the war—and keep it so, while she herself can go ahead unchecked and take possession of the whole Western Hemisphere. Don't you see the scheme?"
"Where is this extraordinary individual?" inquired the Foreign Minister, completing his inspection of the table. "What has become of him?" His thin voice was as evenly modulated as if he were asking where he had put his other glove.
"Oh, probably at Boodle's or Brookes's lunching with some of his friends," Underhill answered indifferently. "He left here only a short time ago. And you need not be afraid, Sir Egbert," with a significant glance. "A very careful eye is being kept upon his movements. We can get him at any moment if we want him."
Graves nodded, and then went on meditatively.
"It is of course entirely irregular," he said, "but from what both of you gentlemen tell me as to the nature of his credentials, there can be little doubt that the man is here with the approval of his Government, if not as an authorized representative. The sole question, therefore, is whether or not he does possess such an invention or discovery as he claims——"
"But can you doubt that?" demanded Underhill hotly.
"And whether," proceeded Sir Egbert without change of tone, "granting that the contrivance is of value, the United States will permit its purchase for use in the present war.
"On the first proposition, I can only say that if he has this invention, as my young friend of the Navy stands so firmly convinced, it is tantamount to admitting that the United States has a new and terrible instrument of war, in which case it would be most unwise to offend her. If he has not, there certainly can be no objection to allowing him the opportunity of offering to our enemies something that is of no value. Therefore, that seems to settle the question as to the advisability of detaining him, as has been suggested. I should strongly favour letting him go when and where he pleases.
"Assuming that he has in his possession facts or mechanisms that would give to one nation such stupendous advantages over the others as he claims, we must not forget that the United States has had these facts and mechanisms for some time. Therefore, it would be ill-advised to detain him forcibly, for the United States' answer to this would be a declaration of war in which the superiority of her position would be overwhelming.
"I'm inclined to believe that the reason he does not wish to sell his discovery is because he has not obtained permission from his Government to do so. They intend to dispose of it to the country with whom they can make the most favourable bargain. I think indeed that under all circumstances the best policy for this Government is to treat this man with the greatest possible consideration. If he has the power to do us harm, we must put him in such a position that he will not wish to do it; and if he has not, our treatment of him will have a tendency to draw the United States nearer to us than she is at present. We must, at least, pretend to take the American Secretary of State at his word. Whereas I do not think that there is any doubt that America is influenced entirely by selfish motives, she is now our friend, and as long as this war goes on it is to the interest of Great Britain to keep her so."
"A very good idea, Sir Egbert," agreed Underhill. "That is absolutely the only way to deal with this man. He says that he is almost a pure Anglo-Saxon, you know, and he is as proud of it as if he were an Englishman. He is the ninth in direct line from the original old chap, or rather young chap, who went from England to Virginia in 1642. Think of it! Say what you may, blood is thicker than water. That fellow is at heart an Englishman; he has been away from home nearly three hundred years."
Graves gave a little bow of comprehension. "When Mr. Edestone calls on me tomorrow," he said, "I shall not even touch on the question of the purchasing of this alleged invention, but shall offer to facilitate in every way his mission as peacemaker. I shall take him at his word that he does not intend to sell to any one, and try to persuade him that, if he is bent on coercing any people, the English are not the ones that require this, as they are in perfect accord with him, and that he would accomplish his purpose much more quickly if he would bring force to bear upon the German Emperor."
"But, Sir Egbert," broke in Underhill excitedly, "he says that he wants us to authorize him to open peace negotiations with the Kaiser, and I think he rather intimated that if we should refuse he would use force, which of course means the United States."
"Well upon my word!" Rockstone's eyes flashed, and an indignant expression took the place of the rather bored look with which he had been listening. "That is pretty strong language to use to His Imperial Majesty's Government, and for my part I think that this young gentleman and his little trick box should be shipped back home with a very polite but emphatic note to the effect that when England wishes the good offices of the United States in bringing this war to a close, she will call for them. As to the young man himself, I should say to him that if he were caught trying to get into Germany he would be looked upon as a spy endeavouring to render assistance to the enemy, and would be treated accordingly."
"But wait a moment, Rockstone," said Sir Egbert. "You are forgetting that this Mr. Edestone is in some measure at least the representative of his country. We cannot afford to offend the United States of America, even though his manners are bad."
"To the contrary," muttered Underhill, "his manners are surprisingly good."
Sir Egbert slightly inclined his head in acknowledgment of the correction. "There is the point too," he went on, "as to whether or not he is an impostor. If he is, why should we allow the American comic papers to put us in the same category with their own Secretary of State, at whom they have been poking fun for years, when they discover that this exceedingly clever young man has taken us in also?
"No, no, to me the matter seems very simple. Uncle Sam has got something he wants to sell. Good or bad it makes no difference; he wants to sell, and sell it he will to the highest bidder. Why refuse to consider his offer on the one hand, or why appear to be too anxious to close with him on the other? Let him offer it to the enemy; he will certainly come back for our bid before closing with them."
"Do you know, Sir Egbert," Lord Rockstone somewhat reluctantly allowed himself to be won over, "since you put it that way I think that perhaps you are right. Diplomacy is probably the strongest weapon with which to deal with this young man. He did not impress me as one to be easily bluffed by show of force."
"Nor should I be bluffed, even by you, Rockstone," said Underhill somewhat ruefully, rubbing his arm, "if I had the power that this chap has locked up in that little rubber box and stored away in that long head of his."
"Well, let us make a decision: does His Majesty go to Washington or shall the Chautauqua lecturer extend his professional tours to include London?" Graves gave his sly secretive laugh. Then as if ashamed of his momentary levity, and changing his entire manner, he said: "Well, gentlemen, what do you propose?"
"I rather think we are unanimous," said Underhill, "in considering that Mr. Edestone should be given a fair hearing. The final answer to his proposition can be given, of course, only after it has been discussed in full cabinet."
"That would perhaps be the best way to leave the matter," approved Rockstone.
"We are agreed then, it seems," said Graves, and they left together for Buckingham Palace.
THE SPY-DRIVEN TAXI
On coming out of the Admiralty, Edestone, a trifle preoccupied, was about to take the taxi with the rather sleepy driver which stood at the head of the line. But the thought came to him, where shall I go? As he had told Rebener, none of his pals were in town and he had absolutely nothing to do until dinner at eight o'clock. Why not take lunch at some quiet little place in the neighbourhood?