Of Royal Blood. A Story of the Secret Service - William Le Queux - ebook

Of Royal Blood. A Story of the Secret Service ebook

William Le Queux

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Opis

„It is imperative that active steps must be taken to preserve England’s supremacy, and at the same time frustrate this aggressive policy towards us which is undoubtedly growing. I need not tell you that the outlook is far from reassuring. As a diplomatist you know that as well as I do. The war-cloud which rose over Europe at the end of the last Administration is still darkening. It therefore behoves us to avoid a repetition of the recent fiasco at St. Petersburg with regard to Port Arthur, and strive to prevent foreign diplomacy from again getting the better of us. You quite follow me? „

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Liczba stron: 372

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Contents

I. UNDER ORDERS

II. JUDITH

III. THE SHADOW

IV. THE FACE AND THE MASK

V. THE STATEMENT OF ANN PRIMROSE

VI. IN CYPHER

VII. HER MAJESTY'S AMBASSADOR

VIII. A MASTER STROKE

IX. AT THE STATE BALL

X. HER HIGHNESS'S CONFIDENCE

XI. WILES AND WISDOM

XII. A DESPATCH FROM DOWNING-STREET

XIII. THE ROSE OF LOVE

XIV. THE EVIL OF THE HAPSBOURGS

XV. AN AFFINITY OF SOULS

XVI. SECRET SERVICE

XVII. THE KING'S MESSAGE

XVIII. A VOICE IN THE NIGHT

XIX. MELANIE'S FEAR

XX. AT THE BRITISH LEGATION

XXI. WHAT JUDITH KNEW

XXII. THE PRINCESS ASKS A FAVOUR

XXIII. EVEN MORE CURIOUS

XXIV. CONFESSION

XXV. CONCLUSION

I. UNDER ORDERS

“YOU understand?”

"Perfectly,” I answered.

"And you entirely follow my argument?”

"Entirely.”

"It is imperative that active steps must be taken to preserve England’s supremacy, and at the same time frustrate this aggressive policy towards us which is undoubtedly growing. I need not tell you that the outlook is far from reassuring. As a diplomatist you know that as well as I do. The war-cloud which rose over Europe at the end of the last Administration is still darkening. It therefore behoves us to avoid a repetition of the recent fiasco at St. Petersburg with regard to Port Arthur, and strive to prevent foreign diplomacy from again getting the better of us. You quite follow me?”

"I have always striven to do my utmost towards that end,” I answered.

"I know, Crawford. I’m perfectly conscious of that, otherwise I should not have spoken so plainly as I have now done. Recollect that I’ve taken you into my confidence in this matter. You did well–exceedingly well–in Vienna, and showed most creditable tact and forethought. Because of that I have recalled you and selected you for this particular duty.” And the speaker, the Most Honourable the Marquess of Macclesfield, K.G., her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, paused with his dark expressive eyes fixed upon me. Under those eyes many a foreign diplomatist had quivered, for so keen was he of perception that he could divine one’s inmost thoughts. This calm, thin, gray-faced, rather shabbily attired man, the great statesman upon whose actions and decisions the prosperity and integrity of the British Empire depended, had, from the earliest moment when I had entered the Foreign Office, treated me with friendly consideration and kindly regard, and now as, late on that dull afternoon in February, I sat in his private room in Downing street, whither I had been summoned from the Embassy at Constantinople, he spoke to me not as my master, but as my friend and counsellor.

As an attache at Vienna, at Rome, and at the Porte I had worked under Ambassadors of various moods, but by this feeling of friendliness which the Marquess had extended towards me, I had, in my duties, always felt that I was serving the great statesman personally, and not merely the particular chief which for the time I chanced to be under. Undoubtedly the secret of the success of the Macclesfield Ministry in the management of foreign affairs was in great measure due to the amicability of his lordship towards the staff.

"I cannot disguise from myself that this duty is extremely difficult,” he went on, leaning back in his chair after a pause, and glancing around the fine room, with its life-sized portrait of her Majesty upon the green painted wall. “Nevertheless, secret services must sometimes be performed, and I have sufficient confidence in your diplomatic instinct to know that you will never act rashly, nor display any ill-advised zeal. The secret of England’s greatness is her smart diplomacy, and in this affair you have, Crawford, every chance of distinction.”

"You may rely upon me to do my very best to fulfil this important appointment to your satisfaction,” I replied. “I shall act with care and discretion.”

"And to you is due our peace with honour,” I remarked.

"Act with that caution combined with dignity, as though you were directly serving her Majesty herself. Remember, I am only her servant.”

"No, no,” he laughed deprecatingly. “True, I am the figure-head, but it is men such as you who man the ship. No Secretary has been more fortunate in his staff than I am to-day, for I am vain enough to think that although they are scattered in all quarters of the globe, yet a cordiality exists among them which is quite as strong as their patriotism. I am proud to think that in all our Embassies and Ministries we have no traitor.”

"The esprit de corps has been engendered by your lordship’s personal interest in us, one and all,” I remarked. “It was not so during the late Ministry.”

He merely raised his grey eyebrows, and tapped the edge of the table with the quill in his thin bony hand. I know that I had made a mistake in uttering that sentence, for he did not like ill things said of his political opponents.

"Ten years ago, Crawford,” he exclaimed, after a few moments’ reflection, “it is just ten years ago this month if my memory serves me aright, when, in this very room I first made your acquaintance–you, the son of one of our most trusted and valued man who had ever served his Queen at a foreign Court, followed your father’s footsteps, and entered the Foreign Office. You remember the advice and maxims I then gave you. That you have remembered them is evidenced by the discretion and ingenuity you have displayed in the various posts you have occupied. I only ask you still to recollect them while performing the difficult and important duties before you; duties in which I wish you every success and good fortune.”

Then his lordship rose, as a sign that our conference was at an end. He shook my hand warmly, with that cordiality which endeared him to every member of the Foreign Office staff, and simultaneous with the re-entry of Menton, his private secretary, who had been dismissed while we had talked, I went out and down the great staircase, that magnificent flight of stairs up which representatives of every country in the world climb to have audience of the grey-haired, refined statesman, whom Bismarck once referred to as “the ruler of Europe.” The most tactful, alert, far-seeing Foreign Minister that England had had during the present century, to him was due the extension of the British Empire in all parts of the world during recent years, notably the acquisition of new countries in Africa with their untold mineral wealth, the occupation of Egypt, the firm policy in the Soudan, and the clever checkmating of Russia in the Far East. To his intimates he was mild-mannered, soft-voiced, and essentially a pleasant man, but to those highly ingenious and unscrupulous diplomats of the Powers who were ever striving to undermine England’s prestige he was so dry, hard, and matter-of-fact that they feared him, and dreaded entering his presence, because in any argument they were invariably worsted, while if they attempted diplomacy they were very quickly confounded.

Upon the Marquess of Macclesfield’s tact and farsightedness depended the prosperity of England, the lives of her millions, and the peace of Europe. A single stroke of the pen, a hasty or ill-advised action, and a war might result which would cost our Empire millions in money and millions of valuable lives; an ill-worded Note might, he know, cause England’s prestige to be wrecked, and thus precipitate her from her present proud position of first among the great nations of the world. Truly his position was no enviable one, and his salary of five thousand a year inadequate for the eternal anxiety ever upon him day and night for the preservation of his country’s greatness and the honour of his Sovereign. Restless, whether at his country seat down in Hampshire, or at his town house in Grosvenor-square, he lived ever at the end of a telegraph wire, which brought him hour by hour information or inquiries from the various Embassies abroad, all of which demanded his personal attention and reply.

In the dead of night Paterson, his faithful valet, would awaken him and hand him one of those red despatch-boxes with which a Foreign Service messenger had posted across Europe from Vienna, Constantinople, Berlin, or Petersburg, with orders to deliver it with all possible speed. Indeed, in such a life of terrible brain-tear, it was not surprising that the years of statesmanship had aged him prematurely, that his eyes were sunken, that he had developed a restless nervous habit of pacing the room while talking, or that insomnia would frequently seize him, and at such times he would go forth in the dead of night into the deserted streets of London, and walk miles and miles for recreation. For the faithful discharge of his difficult duties he had received many times the personal thanks of her Majesty, but, truth to tell, it was the applause and cries of “Good Old Macclesfield!” which fell spontaneously from the lips of those monster audiences he at rare intervals addressed in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and other provincial centres, which pleased him most of all. He had been heard to say that those hearty ringing cheers which greeted him when he rose to speak, and again when he re-seated himself, were in themselves sufficient repayment for the constant and terrible strain ever upon him.

At the foot of the great staircase, just as I was passing out into the courtyard wherein the lamps were already lit, as the short day had ended and the yellow twilight was fast fading into night, a cheery voice behind me exclaimed:–

"What, Crawford? Is that you old chap, back from Constant?”

I turned quickly and saw before me a tall slim figure in overcoat and silk hat, whom I recognised as my old whilom colleague Gordon Clunes, of the Treaty Department; a dark-haired, spruce, easy-going fellow with whom I had lived in chambers in the Albany eight years ago, before being nominated attache.

"By Jove! Gordon!” I cried, grasping his hand, “I thought you always went at three, so I meant to look in and see you to-morrrow.”

"Busy, old chap,” he laughed, in explanation. “But why are you home? What’s occurred?”

"I was recalled by the Chief,” I answered.

"Recalled? Nothing wrong, I hope?”

"Not at all. I’m appointed to Brussels,” I laughed.

"To Brussels!” he echoed in a strange tone of surprise, I thought. Then for a few moments he was silent in contemplation.

"Yes, but why are you surprised?” I inquired, puzzled. It seemed as though he begrudged me my advancement.

"It will be a pleasant change to you,” he responded, with that air of irresponsibility I had known so well in the old days. “Brussels is a much better post than Constantinople, and only a few hours from London. Why, Henky, when he was attache there, used to keep on his rooms in London and run over about once a fortnight–sometimes oftener.”

"Poor Henky wasn’t very remarkable for his attention to duty,” I laughed, remembering how when he was attache with me at Vienna he used often to receive a mild reprimand from the Ambassador. But the Honourable Alfred Henniker was a merry Guardsman, and such a renowned lady-killer that we at the Embassy nicknamed him the Fly-paper because all the girls stuck to him.

Brussels was, as my friend Clunes had pointed out, a much more desirable diplomatic post than Constantinople, where society is so mixed, and where leave is almost unobtainable.

"When do you go?” my friend inquired.

I told him that it was uncertain, and that having only arrived from Turkey the night before, after an absence of eighteen months, I hoped to get a few weeks’ leave in England. I was staying with a maiden aunt–a very prim and proper old lady who lived in Warwick Gardens, Kensington, and who had long ago given me to understand that in the event of her decease I should fall in for a very fair share of this world’s goods. Therefore, as diplomacy is an expensive profession, and further, as my income was a decidedly limited one, I felt in duty bound to pay the old lady a visit whenever I came to town, while on her part she seemed to be proud of talking to her friends of the advancement and success of her ‘nephew in the Diplomatic Service.’

As we walked together along Downing-street, gloomy and deserted save for the solitary detective on guard against anarchist outrages who wished us “Good evening, gentlemen,” as we passed, we spoke of mutual friends, and I referred to his own recent marriage which I had seen announced in the papers.

"Yes,” he laughed. “Couldn’t stand bachelor life any longer, my dear fellow, so having let our old chambers, I took a wife, and am now settled down as a respectable citizen. I live at Richmond. Come down and dine to-morrow night. My wife will be delighted to meet you. I’ve told her long ago of our menage, and of the five years we spent together. Those were merry days, weren’t they–eh?”

"Yes,” I replied, smiling at some amusing remembrances which at that moment crossed my mind. “They were. Thank you for your invitation. I’ll be pleased to come.”

"Then, here’s a card,” he said. “You’ll easily find the house. It’s one of those new ones on the way up to the Terrace Gardens. But I must take this cab to Waterloo, or I shan’t catch my tram. Good-bye till to-morrrow, old fellow,” and with a cordial hand-grip, he sprang into a hansom, while I, full of thoughts of my new appointment, turned and strolled on towards that centre whither all diplomats drift, the St. James’s Club, in Piccadilly.

Glad of an opportunity to escape from the terrible formality of dining at my aunt’s, where old Bateson waited upon one with the air of a funeral mute, I dressed next evening and took train to Richmond, where I had no difficulty in finding Gordon’s place, a large new house about halfway up Richmond Hill. It was a decidedly pleasant place, built in artistic early English style, the interior being mostly decorated in dead white, with a square hall and oak staircase, and rooms with high oak wainscoting and wrought iron electric light brackets. In the hall where he welcomed me a fire burnt brightly, and in his little den beyond, with its high-backed antique chairs, everything was decidedly cosy. Indeed I envied him, and remarked upon the perfectly artistic arrangement of his abode.

"Yes,” he laughed. “It’s my wife’s fancy to have a house like this. She is fond of having things different to other people–a woman’s weakness for the distinct, I suppose.”

My train had brought me there about a quarter of an hour too early; therefore, when I had removed my coat, we sat chatting in my old friend’s little study, lounging lazily before the fire and enjoying a quiet few minutes.

"By Jove!” Gordon exclaimed, after a pause. “It’s really a stroke of good fortune, old fellow, to be appointed to Brussels. The Chief has indeed been generous. I only wish I could get a post abroad, but somehow I’m always passed over.”

"Why, surely you don’t want to give this up?” I said. “How long have you been here?”

"About a year.”

"And yet you want to go abroad!” said I. “I tell you, Gordon, you wouldn’t be half so happy, living in a foreign town, with your wife snubbed by some of the women with whom you have, for diplomatic purposes, to be nice to. It’s all very well to be an attache while you’re a bachelor, but afterwards–well, the thing’s impossible.”

"And you’ve had a rattling good time of it–eh?” he asked, smiling.

"Well, on the whole, yes,” I responded.

"At any rate you’ve earned distinction, and I congratulate you,” he said earnestly. He was a good fellow, one of my best friends and I had always kept up a weekly or fortnightly correspondence with him ever since I had been appointed abroad. The post he held was one of greatest trust. Indeed, perhaps no one in the whole Department of Foreign Affairs, excepting the Minister himself, knew so many secrets of State as did Gordon Clunes. He was a free, merry, open-hearted fellow, but was discretion itself. With regard to those secret drafts which daily passed through his hands, and were seen by no other eyes than those of Lord Macclesfield, he was a veritable sphinx. There are a good many drones in the Foreign Office hive, but Gordon was by no means an idler. I had often regretted that he had not been appointed to one of the Embassies, but it seemed as though the Marques reposed such perfect confidence in him that his presence at headquarters was much more valuable.

"I know I have your best wishes old chap,” I remarked, “and I believe that Brussels is a very pleasant Embassy. Lots of life, and within easy distance of London.”

"My dear fellow, Dick Crouch, who was nominated there three years ago, once told me that it was gayer than Vienna. Old Drummond is a brick, and you can get leave almost at any time. When Crouch couldn’t get it he used to bring over despatches, and save the messenger a journey.”

"Perhaps I can do the same,” I said.

"No doubt you will,” he replied. “The Chief was talking with the Permanent Secretary in my room to day, and mentioned that you had been appointed on secret service. You didn’t tell me so.”

"I really didn’t think it necessary,” I said, slightly annoyed. “I understood from the Chief that this fact was entirely between ourselves. Truth to tell, I don’t like the expression secret service.”

"Savours too much of spy, doesn’t it, old fellow?” he laughed. “But,” he added, “that’s the very essence of diplomacy. The successful Diplomat is the man who keeps his weather-eye constantly upon his opponent’s doings, and presents elaborate reports to headquarters. Isn’t every Ambassador a spy, more or less?”

"Certainly,” I responded, “But I’m not an Ambassador yet.”

"But you’re a deal more shrewd than some of the old fossils, who potter over trifles and send along screeds to the Chief over every vice-consul’s worry.”

"Then you think I’ll make a good spy?” I asked, laughing.

"My dear, old fellow,” he said, slapping me on the hack as he rose, “there are few of those blanked foreigners who’ll be able to get the better of you. The way in which you got at that secret in Vienna is sufficient proof of that.”

"How did you know?” I inquired, starting in surprise that he should be aware of a matter which I fully believed was private between Lord Macclesfield and myself.

"By the alteration in the treaty,” my friend responded promptly. “The alteration was in your handwriting, and not in the Ambassador’s. Your tact and shrewdness in that affair avoided a very ugly difficulty. Of course,” he added, confidentially, “I’m not such a fool as to breathe a single word of it. Not a soul in the office knows that you are on secret service besides myself.”

There was a pause, broken only by the low ticking of the clock.

"And you will preserve my secret?” I said, looking him straight in the face. “Remember that there are secret agents around us even here; and if the truth of my real position leaked out I should no doubt find all my efforts thwarted. Upon secrecy alone my success depends.”

"I know, Philip,” he replied, in deep earnestness. “You have trusted me before–you can trust me now–can’t you?”

"Of course, I know I can,” I answered, reassured, and the strange sense of misgiving which had suddenly crept upon me a few moments before was at once succeeded by a feeling of reassurance in my old friend’s fidelity.

Just at that moment the door opened and my hostess entered, a dainty figure in pale coral, sweet-faced, fair-haired, and wearing a beautiful collar of amethysts and pearls around her white slender throat. She was not more than twenty-three, graceful, with large expressive eyes of deep blue, and a figure almost perfect in its symmetry. Gordon introduced me as his “old friend and fellow bachelor, Phil,” and as I took the slim white hand she extended our eyes met in a quick glance of recognition.

I held a suspicion that I felt her hand tremble in mine.

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