The Spymaster - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Spymaster ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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A mystery novel with international intrigue set in London before World War Two. Sir Maurice Oldfield was one of the most important British spies of the Cold War era. A farmer’s son from a provincial grammar school who found himself accidentally plunged into the world of espionage, Sir Maurice was the first Chief of MI6 who didn’t come to the role via the traditional public school and Oxbridge route. Working his way to the top of the secret service, he took on the job of rebuilding confidence in the British Secret Service in the wake of the Philby, Burgess and Maclean spy scandals. This is the fascinating life story, told in detail for the first time, of a complex, likable character as well as a formidable intelligence chief.

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER I

Admiral Guy Cheshire, whose orders and decorations denoted an unusually distinguished career for a man of forty-five years, a very unwilling participant in the brilliant scene, was honoured by his old friend, Henry D. Prestley, host of the gathering, with a few minutes’ tête-à-tête in one of the smaller reception rooms of the great house in Regent’s Park. Prestley was a silent man; so also, except when he was talking nonsense, was the Admiral. A queer sort of friendship had sprung up between them during the last ten years. They played golf together at irregular intervals and bridge in the same little circle most evenings at the famous St. George’s Club.

“I was thinking, as I came up the stairs,” Cheshire confided, “that yours is really the first of the great diplomatic shows of the season. Sabine has evidently made up her mind to make the others seem like Cinderella dances.”

Prestley shrugged his shoulders slightly. From where they stood they had a fine view of the larger rooms through which a continual stream of men and women was flowing. The old days of tiaras had returned. The brilliant uniforms of the men assisted in providing a wonderful blaze of colour. The ballroom was banked with a forest of flowers. The strains of an Austrian waltz, played by an orchestra unsurpassed in the world, reached their ears faintly. It was all a gay and marvellous whirlpool of gorgeous and scintillating life.

“We are doing it for the Ambassador of Sabine’s country, of course,” Prestley observed. “I felt a little uncomfortable about it but Sabine was dead keen. Broccia has been summoned back to a conference and Count Patani is, after all, a distant connection of hers. My wife loves entertaining for her people and if this sort of thing gives her pleasure, so much the better.”

“I ask myself sometimes,” Cheshire meditated, “why you didn’t go in for the diplomatic life yourself.”

Prestley smiled. He had the fine delicate features, the long straight nose of all the men of his family, but he lacked the physique of his race. Notwithstanding his youthful successes at outdoor sports–he had played football for Harvard, and international polo–his complexion was pale and he had preserved the thoughtful air of a statesman or a man of great affairs. He was, as a matter of fact, head of the most famous banking firm in the world.

“Sometimes,” he confessed, “I ask myself the same question. Then I answer it and I am satisfied. There were reasons, my friend. Sabine, I think, so long as she married an American instead of a fellow-countryman, is quite as happy in her present position without the restraint of diplomatic life. The show to-night, of course, is given entirely for Patani. We can still unofficially step in, though, now and then, when we are asked to on behalf of our own people. Neither Broccia nor his wife have had any experience of this sort of thing. It gives Sabine pleasure and she has not the responsibilities.”

“An amazing woman,” Cheshire observed. “She knows as much about European politics as anyone with whom I ever talked–much more than I do. Then, of course, it isn’t my job. I am only a sailor.”

An urgent messenger came for the host. He departed with a little farewell nod to his friend. The latter, who was in a depressed frame of mind, had just decided to seek the solace of a glass of champagne when a very beautiful girl, with an only half-uttered word of apology, left her partner and came over to him.

“What have you done with my young man, Guy?” she complained. “Have you put him on night duty or something of that sort?”

“Which of your retinue are you talking about?” he demanded.

“Why, Ronnie Hincks, of course. Is he not one of your A.D.C.’s or something, tucked up with you indoors at the Admiralty for a month or two?”

“Ronnie Hincks? Oh, yes. Isn’t he here?”

The girl shook her head.

“I have been looking for him everywhere. Sabine was asking for him, too. We are both very sad. Godfrey Ryson is absent, also.”

“They’re pretty busy at the shop,” the Admiral confided. “I’ve come straight from there myself.”

“Heavens! No dinner?”

He shook his head:–

“I’m going to make up for it in a minute or two.”

She glanced regretfully at her partner.

“I wish I could take you into supper,” she sighed. “You know Tony Gresham, do you not, Admiral? Tony and I are going to forget all about our scrappy dinner. Come in with us.”

The two men exchanged nods.

“Do come, sir,” Gresham begged. “We would be delighted to have you.”

“Just what I should have said at your age,” Cheshire replied drily, “but I should have kicked myself for having to say it. No, I won’t come, thanks, Elida. To tell you the truth, I have not really paid my respects to your sister yet. I got mixed up with a little tangle of Royalties and, being a shy man, I fled.”

“You know where to find her,” the girl said as she rejoined her partner. “She is in what she calls the Tapestry Salon, taking a brief rest. She is easily got at, though.”

“I will present my apologies at once,” Cheshire declared as he took his leave.

Progress through the crowded rooms was difficult. Admiral Guy Cheshire was a popular man and found friends on every side. He came face to face with his hostess only when she was leaving her retreat. There was a touch of eagerness in her manner as she dismissed her cavalier and came towards him.

“I almost wondered,” she said quietly, “whether you were not keeping out of my way.”

He looked at her in very genuine admiration. He knew little about women’s clothes, but her ivory satin gown, so exquisitely classic a garment, those marvellous Pelucchi pearls, her beautifully coiled and smoothly coiffured chestnut-brown hair, and the flash of her brown eyes, seemed to reproduce one of those Florentine pictures of the Renaissance.

“You flatter me,” he remarked. “I have been laying my homage at the feet of the younger generation. Elida, too, looks beautiful to-night.”

Her imitation curtsy was a trick of the old days.

“I have just a quarter of an hour before the formal business of supper,” she confided. “I have not given you any special place, Guy. I know you are entitled to it but I also know that there is just truth enough in your affected shyness to make you like to look after yourself. Stay with me for a minute. Here–let us sit down inside this small room. Bring us some champagne,” she ordered one of the footmen.

“We will sit on that divan away from this blaze of lights.”

“I am very much honoured,” he murmured, as he followed her. . . .

“My friend,” she said, as soon as they had settled down. “I am still your friend, am I not?”

“I hope so,” he answered gravely. “Has my behaviour in any way led you to think differently?”

“No,” she admitted, “but you come no longer to my At Homes. You have the entrée to my private sessions. You do not come.”

“These are anxious times, as you know,” he reminded her. “So long as the wireless from the Continent works, my official duties keep me at my desk.”

“Is that quite honest with me–an old friend?” she asked. “You see, I, too, have information. I know that you occupy a wonderful post. I know that you are greatly engaged just now, but that is no reason why you should desert your friends altogether. It makes them just a little anxious.”

He smiled reassurance. He had thrown off some part of his dejection now. The sailor light was back in his eyes and some of the lines had gone from his sunburnt face. A cynical critic who knew him well might have declared that the mask was down.

“I flatter myself, really,” he told her, “when I pretend that my work is sufficiently important to keep me wholly from my pleasures. Thursday is your next day for receiving us who have the honour of being your intimates, isn’t it? I shall present myself.”

“And you will be very welcome,” she assured him. “The list grows no longer. I want to talk to you seriously.”

“A slight disappointment, that,” he smiled, “but it shall be seriously, if you will, so long as there are a few minutes for ourselves. I should like to talk of Washington with you–of Rome and the old days.”

She shook her head.

“Not Rome now,” she objected. “Washington always. You remember when we used to ride in the mornings?”

“I remember losing my heart to you.”

Her little pout was a delicate gesture.

“You are a sailor,” she reminded him. “You always told me that no one else would have got you on the back of a horse and when I saw you there I almost believed you–and now you stay away just when I need you most.”

“Why do you need me?”

“I want to understand,” she said. “It seems to me that all Europe is drifting into something very serious. One wishes to help. One wishes direction. They say,” she went on, raising her eyes and looking at him directly, “that a good deal of knowledge lies behind that still face of yours, Guy.”

“Everything that I know, I will share with you,” he promised. “With a few trifling exceptions, of course.”

“Such as the size of your latest battleship, I suppose, and the name of the little ballerina with whom you took supper last week?”

“Naturally, serious knowledge like that is kept in a secret chamber,” he admitted. “Still, it is rather fun to part with the key, sometimes!”

“I wonder how much you have changed, really, Guy,” she meditated.

“You shall ask me on Thursday.”

She rose to her feet. She was either a wonderful actress or she was reluctant to go.

“Our few minutes have drifted away,” she complained, “and there are heaps of things I really wanted to ask you, I really wanted to understand. On Thursday you must give me a whole hour. Listen, I will get rid of one or two people first. You shall come at seven o’clock. Everyone leaves about then to go on to cocktail parties. You shall have yours with me.”

He bent over her fingers.

“Nothing,” he promised, “shall keep me away.”

She summoned one of the young secretaries who had been waiting for her with a list in his hand, and passed out into the crowded room with him at her side. Cheshire watched her steadily, almost stonily. He watched her until she had disappeared, then he turned to the champagne which the footman had brought and which they had forgotten. He drank his wine thoughtfully. The wife of his friend Henry Prestley, the playmate of his own younger days, had given him something to think about. He found himself wondering… .

“Cheshire, the one man I was looking for!”

There was a note of eagerness in the tone of the very magnificent personage who had almost pushed his way through a little throng on the other side of the great staircase. General Lord Robert Mallinson, for many years considered the handsomest man in the British Army, presented still a fine figure, in his full-dress uniform with his long row of marvellous decorations. His black hair was streaked with grey but his movements and a certain innate alertness kept him well within the bounds of early middle age.

“Are you going to feed with the lions?” he asked.

Cheshire shook his head.

“Not I. I was prowling about looking for the buffet.”

“I’m with you,” the General exclaimed. “What a stroke of luck! Come along. I can show you the way. No one seems to have found it out yet.”

They descended to the ground floor and secured an absolutely retired corner in a huge room occupied for the moment only by a small crowd of attentive waiters.

“Caviar, with cold chicken, ham and salad to follow, for me,” the General ordered. “Not too much of that mayonnaise stuff. There’s no champagne here that isn’t good. We’ll have a bottle, eh, Cheshire?”

“Rather!”

“A cocktail first,” Mallinson insisted. “Look here, old chap, this is a stroke of luck. If I present myself at your bureau and ask for an interview, though I know your fellows are well trained, it is jolly hard work to keep it away from the gossip paragraphist. The same trouble if you came to see me. And to have a little tête-à-tête lunch in the coffee-room of the club would be madness. We are just the two men in London who ought not to meet, I suppose, and here we are doing it without a soul to wonder what we are talking about.”

“What are we going to talk about?” Cheshire enquired.

Mallinson moved his chair slightly. They now commanded a view of the room but were themselves almost unseen. Anyone approaching would be visible whilst they were still out of hearing.

“I want you,” the General proposed, “to come and see the Chief with me as soon as an appointment can be arranged.”

“Anything fresh?”

“No, it’s an idea,” was the rather sombre reply. “I’ll tell you what I based it upon.”

The cocktails were brought and there was an interlude of several moments. Then Mallinson continued.

“We all know the position. A month or so ago it looked as though trouble were inevitable, and we are not ready for it, you know, Cheshire. We are not ready for it yet,” he added emphatically.

“Go on!” Cheshire begged. “Don’t shout.”

“The Chief, all on his own, took a bold step,” the General said in a slightly lower voice. “He gave diplomacy and a certain prominent official the go-by. He personally approached the three countries who make Europe. He asked that they should each receive a Special Envoy from here to discuss some of these difficult matters and if necessary he offered a meeting with himself, supposing an impasse was reached. It meant trouble with some of the small fry, of course, and one or two of them have had to go. Has anything struck you, Cheshire, about our progress since those offers were courteously received by the various great men concerned?”

The Admiral’s eyes glittered for a moment.

“It has,” he admitted. “I have come to the conclusion, within the last three days, that although every one of them is keeping the thing open, they are placing every possible obstacle in the way of these discussions. They are playing for time.”

“God knows you’re right,” the General declared. “That’s exactly the conclusion I have come to. You are with me so far, then?”

“Absolutely.”

“Now I’m going to move a step further,” his companion continued. “We neither of us talk about our jobs. There are millions of English people who do not know that I am the head of the real Secret Service so far as the Army is concerned, and that you occupy exactly the same position with regard to the Navy. We have exchanged confidences at various times during the last few years. Just lately we have not come together. It’s time we did. I have something to say to you, Cheshire.”

“Go ahead.”

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