Her Majesty’s Minister - William Le Queux - ebook

Her Majesty’s Minister ebook

William Le Queux

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Opis

The Ambassador’s office was indeed a very thankless one, while my own position as second secretary of the Paris Embassy was a post not to be envied, even though it is popularly supposed to be one of the plums of the diplomatic service. With Paris full of spies endeavouring to discover our secrets and divine our instructions from Downing Street, and the cabinet noir ever at work upon our correspondence, it behoved us to be always on the alert, and to have resort to all manner of ingenious subterfuges in order to combat our persistent enemies.

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Liczba stron: 469

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Contents

I. HIS EXCELLENCY.

II. TWO ENIGMAS.

III. YOLANDE.

IV. A CURIOUS STORY.

V. LA COMTESSE.

VI. A PIECE OF PLAIN PAPER.

VII. BY A THREAD.

VIII. THE OLD LOVE.

IX. AT THE ELYSÉE.

X. CONFESSION.

XI. DEANE SPEAKS HIS MIND.

XII. THE ENGLISH TEA-SHOP.

XIII. THE SPY'S REPORT.

XIV. SMART PARIS.

XV. ACROSS THE CHANNEL.

XVI. DAWN.

XVII. EDITH AUSTIN.

XVIII. BY DAY AND BY NIGHT.

XIX. WHISPERED WORDS.

XX. FROM DOWNING STREET TO PARIS.

XXI. THE SISTER ARTS.

XXII. PERFUME AND POLITICS.

XXIII. PRINCESS LEONIE.

XXIV. IN THE FOREST OF FONTAINEBLEAU.

XXV. ENGLAND'S ENEMIES.

XXVI. A WOMAN'S HEART.

XXVII. THE UNEXPECTED.

XXVIII. ON THE CROOKED WAY.

XXIX. KAYE IS PUZZLED.

XXX. KNIGHTS OF INDUSTRY.

XXXI. THE RED ASS.

XXXII. BETRAYAL.

XXXIII. WHICH CONTAINS A SURPRISE.

XXXIV. AT BORDIGHERA.

XXXV. IN WHICH EDITH SPEAKS PLAINLY.

XXXVI. THE SECRET.

XXXVII. CONCLUSION.

I. HIS EXCELLENCY.

“THEN, plainly speaking, the whole thing remains a mystery?”

“Absolutely,” I responded. “All my efforts have unfortunately failed.”

“And you entertain no suspicion of anyone?”

“None whatever.”

“Not of that woman Yolande–or whatever her name is?”

“Certainly not of her,” I answered quickly. “She would assist us, if necessary.”

“Why are you so sure of that? She has only been in Paris a week.”

“Because I happen to know her.”

“You know her!” exclaimed His Excellency, unclasping his thin white hands and leaning across his big writing-table–a habit of his when suddenly interested. “Is she a personal friend of yours?”

I hesitated for a moment; then replied in the affirmative.

“Where did you know her?” he inquired quickly, fixing me with that sharp pair of black eyes that shone behind the zone of soft light shed by the green-shaded reading-lamp upon the table. He was sitting in the shadow, his thin, refined face ashen grey, his hair almost white. The one spot of colour was the fine star of Knight Grand Cross of the Bath glittering on the breast of his braided diplomatic uniform. Lord Barmouth, British Ambassador to the French Republic, had just returned from the President’s reception at the Elysée, and had summoned me for consultation.

“Well,” I responded, “I knew her in Rome, among other places.”

“H’m, I thought as much,” he remarked in a dry, dubious tone. “I don’t like her, Ingram–I don’t like her;” and I knew by the impatient snap of the Ambassador’s fingers that something had displeased him.

“You’ve seen her, then?”

“Yes,” he answered in an ambiguous tone, taking up a quill and making what appeared to be geometrical designs upon his blotting-pad. “She’s good-looking–uncommonly good-looking; but I mistrust her.”

“It is part of our creed to mistrust a pretty woman,” I remarked with a smile; for, as everyone knows, the fair sex plays a prominent part in the diplomacy of Europe. “But what cause have you for suspicion?”

He was silent for a moment; then he said:

“You were not at the ball at the Austrian Embassy the night before last, I believe?”

“No, I was not back from London in time,” I replied. “Was she there?”

“Yes. She was dancing with Hartmann, and they were speaking of you. I was chatting with Olsoufieff, and distinctly overheard your name mentioned.”

“With Hartmann!” I repeated. “That’s curious. He is scarcely a friend of ours.”

“I consider the circumstance suspicious, judged by the light of recent events,” he said. “Remember that the cause of our piece of ill-fortune still remains a mystery, and the stroke of diplomacy that we intended to effect as a coup against our enemies has, by the dastardly betrayal of our secret, placed us in a very unenviable position. This untoward incident has entirely checkmated us.”

“I fully realise our critical position,” I said seriously, “and I have done my utmost to discover the truth. Kaye has been active night and day.”

“Nevertheless, I fear that at Downing Street they will say hard things of us, Ingram;” and Her Majesty’s representative sighed heavily, resting his weary head upon his hand.

The Ambassador’s office was indeed a very thankless one, while my own position as second secretary of the Paris Embassy was a post not to be envied, even though it is popularly supposed to be one of the plums of the diplomatic service. With Paris full of spies endeavouring to discover our secrets and divine our instructions from Downing Street, and the cabinet noir ever at work upon our correspondence, it behoved us to be always on the alert, and to have resort to all manner of ingenious subterfuges in order to combat our persistent enemies.

The war-cloud hangs over Europe always. The mine is laid, and the slightest spark may fire it. The duty of the diplomatist is to intrigue so as to prevent that spark. It is the intrigue that is difficult, for counter-plots are met with everywhere. The power of England is feared; hence her isolation.

Those who live at home at ease think little of the small band of Englishmen in each of the capitals who, living ever upon the edge of a volcano, are straining every nerve to preserve the peace of Europe. How often the stability of empires trembles in the balance the British public little dreams. “The European Situation” is a stock heading in the London newspapers, but fortunately the journalists never know the secrets of our embassies, otherwise the world would very often be scared. Many a time in my own diplomatic career in Rome, in Brussels, and in Vienna, had I remained awake at night, fearing on the morrow a declaration of war; yet the chiefs under whom I have worked–those honest, upright, valiant servants of Queen and country–had skilfully evaded the threatened danger, and Europe remained in ignorance of how terribly near it had been to the clash of arms.

That night, as I sat with the chief, a trusted servant of Her Majesty, in his handsome private room in the Embassy, I knew that war was in the air. The responsibility resting upon him was of a sort to involve the prestige of the Queen’s Empire and the lives of thousands of her valiant sons. An ill-advised despatch, a hasty word, or an injudicious attitude would inevitably mean the disastrous explosion so long feared–the great European war that prophets have been predicting ever since the downfall of the French Empire.

Paris that July night was stifling. To us the tension of the day had been terrible. The catastrophe so long feared seemed now upon us. There was a breathless calm in the air outside, foreboding a storm.

“Has Kaye absolutely nothing to report?” asked His Excellency, at last breaking the silence.

“He returned from Madrid at nine o’clock to-night. His journey there was futile.”

“Ah!” exclaimed His Excellency, whose thin lips closed tightly again.

Through the years that I had served under him in Rome and afterwards in Paris I had never before seen him outwardly betray the slightest apprehension. So skilled was he as a diplomatist that his sangfroid was always perfect. His motto–one that he had often impressed upon me–was that the British lion should always remain fearless of his enemies. But now, for the first time, he was plainly agitated, dreading that war might result.

“Get me out the special cipher-book,” he said hoarsely at last. “I must telephone to Downing Street.”

In obedience I rose, opened with the key upon my chain the big safe, and took out the small morocco-bound volume containing the secret cipher by means of which His Excellency could communicate with Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs–a book supplied only to ambassadors themselves; and, because it is kept locked, its contents are never seen even by the staff of an embassy.

His Excellency unlocked it with his own key, took up his quill, and after searching here and there through the pages, commenced writing a bewildering row of letters and numerals intermingled, while in the meantime I had gone to the telephone instrument at the opposite end of the room and “rung up” London, until there came an answering voice from one of the night staff of the Foreign Office.

“Hulloa! I’m Ingram, of the Paris Embassy. Who are you?” I asked.

In response came a password by which I knew I was actually speaking with Downing Street.

“Is the Marquess in London, or at Alderhurst, to-night?”

“Alderhurst. He left town this afternoon.”

“Then put me on there for an important despatch.”

“All right,” was the response; and some five minutes later the tiny bell rang, with an inquiry from the private secretary of the great statesman as to what I wanted.

I answered; then, His Excellency having risen and handed me the slip of official paper on which he had printed the cipher figures heavily with his quill, I prefaced the message by the usual formal announcement:

“From Lord Barmouth, Paris, to the Most Noble the Marquess of Malvern, London. July 12th, 1:30 a.m.”

Then in continuation I read slowly and distinctly each letter and numeral, the secretary at Alderhurst afterwards repeating the whole message, so that there should be no possibility of mistake.

Nearly a quarter of an hour elapsed, during which time His Excellency, with his hands behind his back, paced feverishly up and down the room. Of the nature of that despatch I was in utter ignorance, but from his manner it was evident that the problem was one vital to the interests of the British Empire. By night, as well as by day, those responsible for the maintenance of the prestige of England as the first Empire of the world are always active. How little the public knows of the stealthy, treacherous ways of modern diplomacy, of the armies of spies seeking always to plot and counter-plot, of the base subterfuges employed by certain noted foreign diplomatists, or of the steady perseverance of the Queen’s representatives at the Courts of Europe! And how little, I fear, they care!

To most people the diplomatic career is synonymous with an easy occupation in which the wearing of a uniform and the attendance at brilliant functions are the greatest inconveniences. The newspapers flippantly criticise our actions in leading articles, and declare that our diplomacy is utterly worthless beside that of Germany, Russia, or France. Those who write, as well as those who read, never reflect that our chief duty is to foil the provocations offered to us by the Powers who are anxious for war. Every British Ambassador at a foreign Court had been told from the lips of his beloved Sovereign–now, alas! deceased–that he must prevent war. That instruction was to him as sacred as a religion.

“The President talked for twenty minutes to-night with de Wolkenstein,” observed His Excellency, halting suddenly and facing me. “I wonder if they know anything in Vienna?”

“I think not,” I replied. “I met Count Berchtold in the Grand Café purposely this evening, and he made no mention of anything to lead me to believe that the secret was out in that direction.”

“If it is out, then it has been circulated by our friends in the Rue de Lille,” he said, meaning the German Embassy.

“Perhaps,” I responded. “But I hardly think that Count de Hindenburg would care to imperil his position by so doing. He would rather endeavour to assist us in this affair, because the interests of England and Germany are entirely mutual in this matter.”

“I tell you, Ingram,” he cried angrily–“I tell you that this dastardly piece of trickery is some woman’s work!”

As he spoke, the door suddenly opened, and there burst into the room a tall girlish figure in a pretty toilette of turquoise chiffon, wearing an open cape of handsome brocade about her shoulders.

“O father!” she cried merrily, “we’ve had such an awfully good time at the Baroness’s!” Then, next instant, astonished by his words, she drew back in quick surprise.

“What trickery is a woman’s work?” she asked, glancing inquiringly at me.

“Nothing, my dear,” His Excellency hastened to reply, placing his thin hand tenderly upon her shoulder–“nothing, at least, that concerns you.”

“But you are not well!” she cried in alarm. Then, turning to me, said: “Look, Mr. Ingram, how pale he is!”

“Your father is rather overburdened by important business,” I replied.

Her face assumed a puzzled expression. Sibyl, the pretty, dark-haired daughter of Lord Barmouth, was acknowledged on all sides to be more than usually beautiful, and was the pet of diplomatic Paris. With her mother she went everywhere in that dazzling vortex of gaiety, in which the diplomatist accredited to France is bound to move. Ah! that glare and glitter, that constant whirl, that never-ceasing music! How weary I was of it all, and how it jarred upon me!

And why? Well, to speak the truth, I myself had an affair of the heart, and my thoughts were always far from those brilliant spectacles in which I was merely an official in a braided uniform.

“What has occurred, Mr. Ingram?” asked the Ambassador’s daughter anxiously. “Father is certainly not himself to-night.”

“Another political complication,” I responded; “that is all.”

“Sibyl, my dear,” exclaimed her father, gently taking her hand, “you know that I forbid any inquiries to be made into matters which must be secret, even from you.”

“I came to tell you all about the ball,” she said, pouting. “I was introduced to a most pleasant man named Wolf, and danced with him several times.”

“Wolf!” I cried quickly. “Rodolphe Wolf?”

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