Havoc by E. Phillips Oppenheim - HTML preview
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Late that afternoon the hall-porter at the Milan Hotel, the commissionaire, and the chief maitre d'hotel from the Caf‚, who happened to be in the hall, together with several others around the place who knew Stephen Laverick by sight, were treated to an unexpected surprise. A large closed motor-car drove up to the front entrance and several men descended, among whom was Laverick himself. He nodded to the hall-porter, whose salute was purely mechanical, and making his way without hesitation to the interior of the hotel, presented his receipt at the cashier's desk and asked for his packet. The clerk looked up at him in amazement. He did not, for the moment, notice that the two men standing immediately behind bore the stamp of plain-clothes policemen. He had only a few minutes ago finished reading the report of Laverick's examination before the magistrates and his remand until the morrow, upon the charge of murder. His knowledge of English law was by no means perfect, but he was at least aware that Laverick's appearance outside the purlieus of the prison was an unusual happening.
"Your packet, sir!" he repeated, in amazement. "Why, this is Mr. Laverick himself, is it not?"
"Certainly," was the quiet reply. "I am Stephen Laverick."
The clerk called the head cashier, who also stared at Laverick as though he were a ghost. They whispered together in the background for a moment, and their faces were a study in perplexity. Of Laverick's identity, however, there was no manner of doubt. Besides, the presence of what was obviously a very ample escort somewhat reassured them. The cashier himself came forward.
"We shall be exceedingly glad, Mr. Laverick," he said dryly, "to get rid of your packet. Your instructions were that we should disregard all orders to hand it over to any person whatsoever, and I may say that they have been strictly adhered to. We have, however, had two applications in your name this morning."
"They were both forgeries," Laverick declared.
The cashier hesitated. Then he leaned across the broad mahogany counter towards Laverick. One of the men who appeared to form part of the escort detached himself from them and approached a few steps nearer.
"This gentleman is your friend, sir?" the cashier asked, glancing towards him.
"He is my solicitor," Laverick answered, "and is entirely in my confidence. If you have anything to tell me, I should like Mr. Bellamy also to hear."
Bellamy, who was standing a little in the background, took his place by Laverick's side. The cashier, who knew him by sight, bowed.
"Beside these two forged orders, sir," he said, turning again to Laverick, "we have had a man who took a room in the hotel leave a small black bag here, which he insisted upon having deposited in our document safe. My assistant had accepted it and was actually locking it up when he noticed a faint sound inside which he could not understand. The bag was opened and found to contain an infernal machine which would have exploded in a quarter of an hour."
Bellamy drew his breath sharply between his teeth.
"We should have thought of that!" he exclaimed softly. "That's Kahn's work!"
"I seem to have given you a great deal of trouble," Laverick remarked quietly. "I gather, however, from what you say, that my packet is still in your possession?"
"It is, sir," the man assented. "We have two detectives from Scotland Yard here at the present moment, though, and we had almost decided to place it in their charge for greater security."
"It will be well taken care of from now, I promise you," Laverick declared.
The cashier and his clerk led the way into the inner office. At their invitation Laverick and his solicitor followed, and a few yards behind came the two plain-clothes policemen, Bellamy, and the superintendent. The safe was opened and the packet placed in Laverick's hands. He passed it on at once to Bellamy, and immediately afterwards the doorway behind was thronged with men, apparently ordinary loiterers around the hotel. They made a slow and exceedingly cautious exit. Once outside, Bellamy turned to Laverick with outstretched hand.
"Au revoir and good luck, old chap!" he said heartily. "I think you'll find things go your way all right to-morrow morning."
He departed, forming one of a somewhat singular cavalcade - two of his friends on either side, two in front, and two behind. It had almost the appearance of a procession. The whole party stepped into a closed motor-car. Three or four men were lounging on the pavement and there was some excited whispering, but no one actually interfered. As soon as they had left the courtyard, Laverick and his solicitor, with his own guard, re-entered the motor-car in which they had arrived, and drove back to Bow Street. Very few words were exchanged during the short journey. His solicitor, however, bade him good-night cheerfully, and Laverick's bearing was by no means the bearing of a man in despair.
In Downing Street, within the next half-an-hour, a somewhat remarkable little gathering took place. The two men chiefly responsible for the destinies of the nation - the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs - sat side by side before a small table. Facing them was Bellamy, and spread out in front were those few pages of foolscap, released from their envelope a few minutes ago for the first time since the hand of the great Chancellor himself had pressed down the seal. The Foreign Minister had just finished a translation for the benefit of his colleague, and the two men were silent, as men are in the presence of big events.
"Bellamy," the Prime Minister said slowly, "you are willing to stake, I presume, your reputation upon the authenticity of this document?"
"My honor and my life, if you will," Bellamy answered earnestly. "That is no copy which you have there. On the contrary, the handwriting is the handwriting of the Chancellor himself."
The Prime Minister turned silently towards his colleague. The latter, whose eyes still seemed glued to those fateful words, looked up.
"All I can say is this," he remarked impressively, "that never in my time have I seen written words possessed of so much significance. One moment, if you please."
He touched the bell, and his private secretary entered at once from an adjoining room.
"Anthony," he said, "telephone to the Great Western Railway Company at Paddington. Ask for the station master in my name, and see that a special train is held ready to depart for Windsor in half-an-hour. Tell the station-master that all ordinary traffic must be held up, but that the destination of the special is not to be divulged."
The young man bowed and withdrew.
"The more I consider this matter," the Foreign Minister went on, "the more miraculous does the appearance of this document seem. We know now why the Czar is struggling so frantically to curtail his visit - why he came, as it were, under protest, and seeks everywhere for an opportunity to leave before the appointed time. His health is all right. He has had a hint from Vienna that there has been a leakage. His special mission only reached Paris this morning. The President is in the country and their audience is not fixed until to-morrow. Rawson will go over with a copy of these papers and a dispatch from His Majesty by the nine o'clock train. It is not often that we have had the chance of such a 'coup' as this."
He drew his chief a few steps away. They whispered together for several moments. When they returned, the Foreign Minister rang the bell again for his secretary.
"Anthony," he said, "Sir James and I will be leaving in a few minutes for Windsor. Go round yourself to General Hamilton, telephone to Aldershot for Lord Neville, and call round at the Admiralty Board for Sir John Harrison. Tell them all to be here at ten o'clock tonight. If I am not back, they must wait. If either of them have royal commands, you need only repeat the word 'Finisterre.' They will understand."
The young man once more withdrew. The Prime Minister turned back to the papers.
"It will be worth a great deal," he remarked, with a grim smile, "to see His Majesty's face when he reads this."
"It would be worth a great deal more," his fellow statesman answered dryly, "to be with his August cousin at the interview which will follow. A month ago, the thought that war might come under our administration was a continual terror to me. To-day things are entirely different. To-day it really seems that if war does come, it may be the most glorious happening for England of this century. You saw the last report from Kiel?"
Sir James nodded.
"There isn't a battleship or a cruiser worth a snap of the fingers south of the German Ocean," his colleague continued earnestly. "They are cooped up - safe enough, they think - under the shelter of their fortifications. Hamilton has another idea. Between you and me, Sir James, so have I. I tell you," he went on, in a deeper and more passionate tone, "it's like the passing of a terrible nightmare - this. We have had ten years of panic, of nervous fears of a German invasion, and no one knows more than you and I, Sir James, how much cause we have had for those fears. It will seem strange if, after all, history has to write that chapter differently."
The secretary re-entered and announced the result of his telephone interview with the superintendent at Paddington. The two great men rose. The Prime Minister held out his hand to Bellamy.
"Bellamy," he declared, "you've done us one more important service. There may be work for you within the next few weeks, but you've earned a rest for a day or two, at any rate. There is nothing more we can do?"
"Nothing except a letter to the Home Secretary, Sir James," Bellamy answered. "Remember, sir, that although I have worked hard, the man to whom we really owe those papers is Stephen Laverick."
The Prime Minister frowned thoughtfully.
"It's a difficult situation, Bellamy," he said. "You are asking a great deal when you suggest that we should interfere in the slightest manner with the course of justice. You are absolutely convinced, I suppose, that this man Laverick had nothing to do with the murder?"
"Absolutely and entirely, sir," Bellamy replied.
"The murdered man has never been identified by the police," Sir James remarked. "Who was he?"
"His name was Rudolph Von Behrling," Bellamy announced, "and he was actually the Chancellor's nephew, also his private secretary. I have told you the history, sir, of those papers. It was Von Behrling who, without a doubt, murdered the American journalist and secured them. It was he who insisted upon coming to London instead of returning with them to Vienna, which would have been the most obvious course for him to have adopted. He was a pauper, and desperately in love with a certain lady who has helped me throughout this matter. He agreed to part with the papers for twenty thousand pounds, and the lady incidentally promised to elope with him the same night. I met him by appointment at that little restaurant in the city, paid him the twenty thousand pounds, and received the false packet which you remember I brought to you, sir. As a matter of fact, Von Behrling, either by accident or design, and no man now will ever know which, left me with those papers which I was supposed to have bought in his possession, and also the money. Within five minutes he was murdered. Doubtless we shall know sometime by whom, but it was not by Stephen Laverick. Laverick's share in the whole thing was nothing but this - that he found the pocket-book, and that he made use of the notes in his business for twenty-four hours to save himself from ruin. That was unjustifiable, of course. He has made atonement. The notes at this minute are in a safe deposit vault and will be returned intact to the fund from which they came. I want, also, to impress upon you, Sir James, the fact that Baron de Streuss offered one hundred thousand pounds for that letter."
Sir James nodded thoughtfully. He stooped down and scrawled a few lines on half a sheet of note-paper.
"You must take this to Lord Estcourt at once," he said, "and tell him the whole affair, omitting all specific information as to the nature of the papers. The thing must be arranged, of course."
Half-a-dozen reporters, who had somehow got hold of the fact that the Prime Minister and his colleague from the Foreign Office were going down to Windsor on a special mission, followed them, but even they remained altogether in the dark as to the events which were really transpiring. They knew nothing of the interview between the Czar and his August host - an interview which in itself was a chapter in the history of these times. They knew nothing of the reason of their royal visitor's decision to prolong his visit instead of shortening it, or of his autograph letter to the President of the French Republic, which reached Paris even before the special mission from St. Petersburg had presented themselves. The one thing which they did know, and that alone was significant enough, was that the Czar's Foreign Minister was cabled for that night to come to his master by special train from St. Petersburg. At the Austrian and German Embassies, forewarned by a report from Baron de Streuss, something like consternation reigned. The Russian Ambassador, heckled to death, took refuge at Windsor under pretence of a command from his royal master. The happiest man in London was Prince Rosmaran.