From The Long Arm and other Detective Stories (Chapman & Hall, London: 1895)
More than one attempt has already been made to explain an incident which, at the time it took place, threw the whole diplomacy of Europe into a state of not unnatural consternation. The one prominent fact was as simple as it was astounding. Whilst a congress was sitting to settle the terms of a treaty between two belligerent powers, and the success of the assembled diplomatists was known to depend largely on their keeping their proceedings absolutely secret until they should have arrived at some definite result, a draft copy of the treaty suddenly appeared in the columns of a well-known London newspaper. A thunderbolt falling in their midst could not have startled the plenipotentiaries more. In fact, for the moment, this premature revelation threatened to put an end to the congress altogether, as it seemed to point inevitably to a breach of faith on the part of one of the members. Of course, an attempt was made to disavow the draft treaty, and, as a matter of fact, this premature publication rendered it absolutely necessary to modify some of its provisions, more especially those of the famous thirteenth clause. But none the less the draft treaty, as originally published, was known to be correct in all its main details, and the question arose how it had been possible for any newspaper to obtain a knowledge of these details while the congress was still sitting, and all its deliberations were veiled in the profoundest secrecy.
As I have already said, various attempts — more or less ingenious — have been made to solve the mystery, but these attempts have all stopped short of the actual solution. Many interesting details which have been given were false, and some less interesting which were true, but how that raptor quotidianus — the daily press — came to be able to carry off in its beak this most secret of secrets, has remained a puzzle to everybody (except myself and two other men) up to the present day.
It seems to me that the time has at length come when the long-desired revelation may be made without indiscretion. Originally, there were four persons more or less concerned in the mystery, though only three, if so many, were in full possession of the secret. Of these four, two are dead, another has entirely disappeared, and I, the fourth actor in the drama, have made up my mind to relate the circumstances of the extraordinary affair. However, even now I propose to proceed cautiously, and not to define too clearly either the individuals concerned, or the countries represented.
I should mention at the outset — for it is to this circumstance that I owe my connection with the mystery — that I was at one time myself in the diplomatic service, as unpaid attaché. Whilst acting in this capacity at a foreign court, I had the good fortune to render a great service to one of the ministers of state — a man of European reputation. He was more grateful than diplomatists are generally supposed to be, and honoured me ever afterwards with his affectionate regard. As I write I have on my finger a magnificent emerald, which he left to me when he died. It was owing to my intimacy with him that I came to be mixed up with the affair of the treaty. I will call him Prince Schatzenberg.
At the time congress assembled, I chanced to be staying at the capital where they were to hold their sittings. I was not alone; an English friend named Gresham was with me. He was one of those Englishmen who wander about without any very definite aim in life, but with plenty of money in their pocket, and who, suffering at times a little from the ennui of idleness, are generally ready to take up with any new fad to diversify the routine of their existence. In my friend's case, the latest of these fads was graphology, which he professed to have brought to a great pitch of perfection. This was a science in which, at that time, I hardly believed at all, but circumstances afterwards led me to think that in the hand of an acute and original observer it might be turned to good account.
The day before the congress was to commence its sittings, the diplomatists gathered together from every part of Europe. In all, seven powers were represented. Among the plenipotentiaries was Prince Schatzenberg, on whom I made a point of calling without delay.
The prince was staying at the Schweizerhof, and directly I sent up my card I was admitted to his presence. I found him lying on a couch, and looking older and frailer than when I had seen him last. But his manner was as charming as ever, and I could entertain no doubt that he was really glad to see me. He excused himself from getting up, but put out his delicate hand and grasped mine with a gentle but affectionate pressure. I noticed that it was the left hand that he gave me.
“So glad to see you again, mon cher,” he said. “Excuse my left hand, the right is crippled with the gout. I gave orders that no one was to be admitted, but of course that was not meant to apply to you. You are always welcome.”
“I have been longing to see you, prince,” I answered. “It is some time now since we met. But I am afraid you are not so well as I should like to see you.”
“Well, no, I am not quite so young as I was, and the long journey has knocked me up. Besides, I am tormented with my old enemy, neuralgia in the face. There, take that fauteuil. You won't mind my finishing a letter, I know, and then I can release my amanuensis.”
I had noticed the amanuensis as I entered the room, and it had puzzled me to define his exact position socially. He was a young man — about thirty, as I judged — neatly and quietly dressed, but he did not seem to be quite what we call in England a gentleman. This surprised me, as the prince's secretaries were generally men of aristocratic birth. I noticed also that when the prince resumed the dictation which my entrance had interrupted, the amanuensis bent his head very close to the paper as if he were short-sighted.
It did not take long to finish the letter. When it was done the prince said —
“Thank you, Maubeuge; I need not keep you any longer. I shall not want you again before ten.”
The young man got up, bowed to the prince and to me, and left the room with a noiseless step.
“My new factotum,” said the prince, when the door had closed behind him, “and a perfect treasure.”
“I thought I did not remember him,” I said.
“No, I had François when you were with me last; but François was a Gaul of the Gauls. He was always sighing for his beloved France, and finding every other country triste in comparison. So at last I had to let him return home. When he went I thought I would get a valet who could do a little writing for me sometimes. François was no good at that. Assis sous and à six sous were the same to him so far as spelling went. Of course, one has one's secretaries, but only at stated hours. Besides, there are letters which it is not necessary that secretaries should see. And I am now quite unable to write a line myself, owing to this gout in my hand. So I find Maubeuge very useful. Not so good a valet as François, but far superior in other ways; and with no home-sickness. He is a Belgian, not a Frenchman. And he is really educated, so that, altogether, he suits me admirably. But what am I thinking of, to chatter in this way instead of asking you about yourself? No need to inquire after your health — your looks are sufficient. But how have you been getting on? Tell me about yourself.”
There was not much to tell. The prince knew already that my father was dead, and that I had succeeded to the family estates. Nor did I wish to prolong the conversation, for I could see that the prince needed rest. So after a few minutes I arose to go.
“Well,” he said, “I will not try to detain you now, for we shall have, I hope, many opportunities of meeting. You must come and see me whenever you can. Au plaisir. And now for a nap.”
As he spoke he took up a white silk handkerchief that lay beside him on the couch, shook it out, and poured over it some liquid from a bottle on the table. As he did so the smell of chloroform diffused itself through the room.
“I can get no sleep without it,” said the prince, catching my look. “Don't be alarmed. It is not a habit; it is only a temporary resource whilst the neuralgia troubles me.”
Where the carcase is, there will the vultures be gathered together; and whenever diplomatists assemble for a special purpose, there you will assuredly find a crowd of special correspondents also. This was conspicuously the case on the occasion of which I am writing. Every great newspaper in Europe had sent a representative to watch the proceedings of the congress. Of course, the watching had to be done from the outside, and very tedious and disappointing work it was. The plenipotentiaries were even more cautious and reticent than usual; they dropped none of those little crumbs of information on unimportant matters which keep the special correspondent from starvation. They were watched as they went into the sittings, and watched as they came out, but the keenest scrutiny was unavailing; an elusive smile baffled all observers.
Prominent among these special correspondents was a man of widespread fame. He represented a famous English journal, but whether he himself was an Englishman no one knew. He was pleased to call himself Le Grand, but it does not follow that this was his real name; he may have adopted it for the sake of the idea that it embodied. It was said that he was a native of the Channel Islands; his French, was, however, the purest Parisian. But, then, he spoke with equal purity English, German, and, I dare say, various other languages in which I was less able to judge of his proficiency. Never was there a man more thoroughly cosmopolitan, and never was there a correspondent who exhibited greater enterprise and audacity in securing tit-bits of early information for the paper he represented. He was personally acquainted with every prominent statesman in Europe, and had been admitted to confidential interviews with many monarchs. On one occasion he had travelled tête-à-tête with a king across France, and, on another, he had forced his advice upon the most masterful of continental statesmen. When he chose, he could decorate his breast with an array of orders sufficiently numerous and distinguished to excite the envy of any diplomatist.
Physically he was an immense man, but his appearance was not distinguished. His broad fat face was shaven, perhaps to favour the idea that he was an Englishman. The features, taken as a whole, were commonplace; the eyes small and cunning; the mouth wide; the upper lip stiff and strenuous; the chin determined; the nose long and flexible, as became such a seeker after news. The head was massive, and suggested great intellectual capacity. His manners were charming when he chose, but it belonged to the cosmopolitanism of his nature that they should be capable of great variation. He could at times be positively haughty. As a consequence of his great stature, he had acquired the habit of looking down on those with whom he conversed, and this physical necessity seemed to have engendered a corresponding moral attitude, for he affected to despise everybody, even crowned heads. His vanity was indeed egregious, and this failing went far sometimes toward neutralizing the effects of his extraordinary sagacity and enterprise, for when he had achieved some great success, it was difficult for him to refrain from boasting of it prematurely.
On the present occasion he appeared on the scene in his usual consequential way. He went about saying that the only point of real importance to be dealt with by the congress was how the various claims for compensation and indemnification were to be settled, and he boldly announced his intention to publish these provisions of the treaty as soon as the details should be settled. Of course this was mere brag; but if there was a man in Europe who could translate an idle boast into an actual performance, Le Grand was the man.
For seven days the congress continued its sittings, whilst the outside world waited in vain for any indication of the course which its proceedings were taking. On the evening of the eighth day I received a note from Prince Schatzenberg, asking me to go to him as soon as I possibly could.
I went at once, and found him, as I had found him on every previous occasion, reclining on a couch, and looking as if he were in great anxiety.
“I am afraid you are not so well, prince,” I said.
“The neuralgia still troubles me; but it is not that. I have been greatly worried. This business of the treaty has harassed me beyond measure. It has been on my mind night and day, and would have kept me awake without the neuralgia. But yesterday I really thought that we had at last got into smooth water. All was settled to my satisfaction. And now — would you believe it? — I greatly fear that all our labour has been in vain.”
“In vain!” I exclaimed; “how can that be?”
“You may well ask. I cannot imagine how it has happened, but it is a most serious business, especially for me. You know Le Grand? Well, he has just been here. I did not like to refuse to see him. One must keep on good terms with men like that. He came to ask me if he could be of any use to me, and reminded me how I had once availed myself of his services. Of course, no one knows better than you, mon cher, the value of a ballon d'essai. It is sometimes very desirable to ascertain the drift of public opinion before one commits one's self to a definite course. But this is not the case now. Absolute secrecy is our only chance of accomplishing our aim. There are certain provisions, which, if they were divulged prematurely, would no doubt stir up an amount of opposition which would render it impossible to persist in them. But if they are not made known until the treaty is actually signed and sealed, though, no doubt, there will be some grumbling, yet they will be allowed to stand.
“Well, now, Le Grand, who is always a dangerous man, has managed to excite the most uncomfortable suspicion in my mind. When he rose to take leave of me he said —
“‘I must thank you, prince, for your courtesy in receiving me, and am only sorry that you do not need my services — not even with respect to the provisions of the thirteenth clause.’
“I pretended not to have heard the last words, and kept my countenance until he had left the room. But, in reality, I was astounded and annoyed beyond measure.”
“I think I can guess why,” I said.
“Of course you see at once what it means. It is a fact that the clause which treats of the indemnifications, and which has given us almost all our trouble, is the thirteenth clause. Now, how could Le Grand possibly have discovered this fact?”
“It is indeed serious,” I said, “for it could not have been a mere guess.”
“Oh no, that is impossible. And his air of triumph and the significant emphasis which he laid upon the words were quite enough to convince me that he had some definite information. But if he knows this he probably knows a great deal more. And should he publish this information, as of course he will, all our efforts will have been in vain. It is really a fatal business. That man must be the devil!”
“But how could he possibly have got the information?”
“How, indeed? We have taken every possible precaution. We hold our sittings, as you know, at the Foreign Office, in an immense saloon upstairs. The walls and ceilings are prodigiously thick. We sit at a table in the middle of the room, and never raise our voices; there is no occasion for us to do so. Perhaps you suggest the chimney — something was once done in that way, or supposed to be done, for I never quite believed the story. But with us it is impossible, for we keep up a roaring fire. Neither is it through the blotting paper that our secret has been betrayed, for we do not use any; we powder our writing in the good old-fashioned style. In fine, it is absolutely impossible for any outsider to get sight or hearing of our proceedings. And what makes the incident all the more painful is, that, in the discussion of this particular clause, we decided, for the sake of greater security, to dispense with the attendance of the secretary.”
Of course I saw the significance of this. It seemed to point to treachery on the part of one of the diplomatists. I hinted as much to the prince; but he was staunch in the defence of his order.
“No doubt,” he said, “it looks like it. No other explanation seems possible, and yet that explanation is impossible. Diplomatists, as you and I know, are not considered a specially scrupulous class of people. But there is honour among thieves, and diplomacy itself would become impossible if there were not a certain background of confidence among diplomatists. Here, as in many other causes, a rigid professional etiquette serves as a succedaneum for conscience. When we act individually, no doubt, we are liable to do all sorts of queer things. But when we agree to act collectively, and mutually pledge our honour to keep our proceedings secret, we know we can trust each other.”
I was aware, from my experience, that there was a great deal of truth in what the prince said; still, my curiosity prompted me to ask him who had acted as secretary when the real secretary was absent.
“Oh, there need be no secret about that,” said the prince, “it is Shrievaljieff. How pleased he will be if Le Grand upsets the treaty. My chief difficulty has been with him.”
I knew Count Shrievaljieff well, but did not care much for him. He was a tall, fine man, between fifty and sixty, exceptionally ugly, but with wonderfully supple, and if I may so speak, adjustable manners. And to match these he had an extraordinary command of the facial muscles. When in perfect repose, the clean-shaven skin looked very like a sheet of tight-drawn parchment, except that the colour was much browner than parchment. But, when he wished, he could wrinkle up the entire surface of his face into a series of concentric curves which seemed to represent the ne plus ultra of human suavity and benevolence. But they came so suddenly and disappeared so completely that it was impossible not to harbour a suspicion that they were wholly superficial, and that this many-wrinkled smile stood in no vital relation to the man's inner nature. In fact, it reminded me very much of the grimace of an indiarubber doll when you squeeze its plastic countenance.
It was said that the count had developed this talent for facial contortions to such an extent that he could, when he chose, make one side of his face assume a different expression from that of the other, so as to be able to present a sympathetic aspect to two different interlocutors at the same time. This was, of course, not literally true; but I always fancied that he turned a natural defect to such good account, that there was an element of truth in the statement. For whilst his right eye was in all respects normal, the lid of the left eye drooped permanently over the eyeball. This eye was, moreover, always suffused with an excess of moisture, which gave it a somewhat lachrymose appearance. This, no doubt, he sometimes turned to good account, when paying a visit of condolence. The explanation probably was that the left eye was an artificial one, as the irritation caused by artificial eyes is apt to over stimulate the lachrymal glands. At any rate it was generally believed in diplomatic circles that the count was blind of the left eye, though he himself never acknowledged the defect.
Whilst I was conjuring up in my mind this image of Count Shrievaljieff, the prince had been prodigal of lamentations over the stolen secret.
“It touches me more than any one,” he said, “for it is precisely this thirteenth clause in which my gracious master is most interested. And I have just succeeded in arranging matters as I knew he wished them to be arranged. It has given me a world of trouble, and now Le Grand is going to upset it all. It is monstrous that the press should have such power.”
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked; “if so, pray command me.”
“Well, I thought that, as you know Le Grand, you would not mind trying to sound him so as to find out, if possible, how much he really has discovered. He is such a braggart that he might commit himself.”
“I will see what I can do,” I said; “but I do not expect that I shall get much out of him.”
“Thank you so very much,” said the prince; “you are always doing something for me.”
Le Grand was staying at an hotel near the chief post-office, so I bent my steps in that direction. I did not wish to call on him if I could avoid it; it would be far better that any conversation we might have should spring up casually. I was therefore not a little pleased when, as I was drawing near the post-office, I saw my man a little distance in front of me. It was impossible to mistake his huge figure and curious shambling gait.
By an instinct he seemed to know that some one was watching him from the rear, for he suddenly looked around and, catching sight of me, turned back to meet me.
“Ah!” he said, in his grand manner, “going to the post-office, I suppose? It is the real centre of civilization.”
I thought it would be well to accompany him, so I said something about buying stamps.
We entered the post-office together. Le Grand prepared to write a telegram. As he unbuttoned his coat to take out his own special pencil — the gift of some monarch — I noticed the end of a blue official envelope sticking out of an inside breast pocket, and could not help wondering whether it contained the draft of the treaty.
When he had finished writing his telegram, he came up to me flourishing it in his hand.
“It is in one way lucky,” he said, “that we correspondents have absolutely no news to send, for the censorship is very strict. No cipher telegrams are allowed to be sent during the sitting of the congress, and the ordinary telegrams are detained, or suppressed, or mutilated, as it suits the authorities. I have no doubt, too, that the Black Cabinet is at its old work of opening letters. However, if you have no news to communicate, it makes no difference. They can hardly object to a telegram like this — can they?”
With that he handed me the telegram to read. It was very short, and was addressed to the office of his paper in London.
“Cannot obtain much information. No good waiting in the hope to-night.”
I have a trained memory, and when I read this telegram I took care to fix it indelibly in my mind. Then I returned it to Le Grand, and he handed it to the clerk, who accepted it without demur.
I had hoped that I might now get a little private conversation with the great man; but I was disappointed, for the moment we got outside, he made his adieux, and, hailing a drosky, was driven back to his hotel. There was nothing for me to do but to return to mine; but, meantime, I took out my notebook and wrote down his telegram word for word. Two or three things had already struck me with it. The first was that he had evidently wished me to see it. This by itself was suspicious, as Le Grand seldom did anything without an object. The second was, why should he telegraph at all, if he had no news to convey? The third was that, transparent as the telegram seemed, there was still something a little suspicious in its length. Why not have simply telegraphed: “No news?”
Altogether I was satisfied that there was some deception about this telegram, and I therefore proceeded to treat it as a cryptogram. Now the plan of such everyday cryptograms is not, as a rule, very complicated. Unless, as was the case with me, there is some ground of suspicion to start with, a very simple cryptogram will effectually conceal the meaning of the writer. But, knowing what I did, I had something to work upon; and, thus helped, I soon deciphered Le Grand's real meaning. At least, I felt morally certain I had done so. I merely took the initials out of the words in their order, and found that they made up this pregnant sentence —
“Coming with T.”
“T, of course, stood for treaty.”
This was not only a piece of information, but just the piece of information that might have been expected. For, if Le Grand had really secured a copy of the treaty, he would, of course, be most anxious to transmit it at once to London. But how? It was impossible to send it by telegraph. No cipher telegrams were allowed to pass, and any other, however ingeniously constructed, must needs betray itself through the proper names of persons and countries without which the treaty would be mere nonsense. Nor did I think it likely that Le Grand would commit such momentous secret to the post, knowing, as he did, the unscrupulousness of the Black Cabinet. There remained only one course of action, at once feasible and prudent, and that was for Le Grand to convey it in person to London. As he would travel by the mail, he would arrive just as soon as the letter, and would no doubt enjoy the ovation which he would assuredly receive.
I looked at my watch. It was already seven o'clock. The through train started at eight. I told my valet to pack my valise and put in some official paper and envelopes. This done, I drove to the station by myself. As yet there was no sign of Le Grand. I waited about on the platform in the hope that he would make his appearance, but I waited in vain. At last, at five minutes to eight, it suddenly occurred to me to make a thorough inspection of the train. It was well I did so, for there, huddled up in the corner of a first-class compartment, with a travelling cap drawn down over his face, and the collar of his overcoat pulled up to his eyes, was Le Grand. And he must have been there for nearly an hour. He had done his best to disguise himself, but there was no concealing those huge proportions. I jumped into the carriage just as the train began to steam slowly out of the station.
No doubt Le Grand saw at once that it would be impossible for him to maintain his incognito, so he made a virtue of necessity, and said —
“What! are you running away too?”
“Only for a day or so,” I said.
“That is just my case. I want a little change, and really there is nothing to be gained by dancing attendance on the congress. Never was there such a collection of dumb dogs.”
If I had still doubted that Le Grand had gained some valuable information, I could have doubted no longer. Nothing else would have justified this turning of his back upon the congress whilst it was still in the middle of its sittings. I determined to stick close to him, in the hope that I might gain some definite information. However, during our long journey he was very reticent, and it was not until we were actually aboard the steamer which was to convey us to Dover, that he allowed his habitual boastfulness to overcome his caution in even the smallest degree. Then, judging himself no doubt to be beyond the reach of any possible danger, he drew from his pocket the blue official envelope which I had once before caught sight of, and said with a triumphant smile —
“This is one of my surprise packets.”
“Indeed,” I said; “and what is the value inside?”
“Perhaps a crown,” he answered grandiloquently.
Then he returned it to his pocket, but not before I had noticed two things about it. The first was, that it was fastened; the second, that there was no writing upon it.
I had now to devise some plan to get possession of this envelope, and it was not long before I hit upon one.
I left Le Grand and went into another cabin. Here I opened my valise, and took out a precisely similar envelop. Then I folded a sheet of foolscap paper, and placing it inside, fastened the envelope. I had now a dummy package not to be distinguished externally from the one in Le Grand's pocket.
All this was simple enough. The difficulty was how to effect the change; but I had my own scheme.
The custom-house officials were, as usual, on board, and I went up to the chief of them and told him in confidence that there was a passenger on board whom it might be well for them to search for cigars or tobacco. “Of course,” I added, “I do not wish to be mixed up in this business; I just give you the hint for what it is worth. You cannot mistake the passenger in question, he is so immense, and I can hardly believe that all his bulk is genuine.”
The official was very much obliged to me for the hint, and it was arranged between us that the search should not take place till just as we were reaching Dover, and that I should then place myself close to the suspected passenger in order to avoid the possibility of a mistake.
All came off as we had arranged. As the steamer was on the point of entering the harbour, I went up to Le Grand to fetch my valise, which I had previously placed beside him. Then the revenue officer came up and asked if he had anything to declare.
“Nothing,” said Le Grand impatiently.
“Please to open your packages.”
These were duly examined, but nothing contraband was discovered.
“And now, sir,” said the chief official, “I must trouble you to turn out your pockets.”
“What!” exclaimed Le Grand, swelling with indignation.
“But it is unheard of. Do you know who I am?”
“That doesn't matter, sir; we have the right to search any passenger.”
“You will hear more of this,” said Le Grand.
But he had to submit, and he laid a motley collection of articles on the table. Amongst them was the blue envelope. This was my opportunity. I felt very nervous, but in reality the risk of detection was very slight, as every one's eyes were riveted on Le Grand. In fine I made the exchange without difficulty. Then I quietly withdrew and went on deck. The gangway had already been placed in position. As I was crossing it, Le Grand, foaming with impotent anger, came up behind me.
“Did you ever hear of such insolence?” he said. “I shall have the matter brought forward in Parliament.”
I let him pass me when we got on shore, and then made my way, not to the Lord Warden, but to a much smaller hotel, where I knew I should be unmolested by enemies or friends. Here I opened the packet. True enough, it contained the draft treaty, in French, with the thirteenth clause obtrusively marked with red ink.
“So the prince was right in his suspicions,” I said to myself. “But how on earth did Le Grand manage to get hold of it?”
I knew that, though I had secured the draft, which might be useful for the detection of the traitor, whoever he might be, Le Grand was much too sagacious to allow himself to be dependent on any document. I did not doubt that he had learnt off the principal clauses by heart, and that we should, in spite of his loss, see the main provisions of the treaty in the next day's Dial. So I sent the following telegram to the prince: —
“I have recovered the missing parcel, but I am pretty sure that most of its contents have been forwarded to London.”
I stayed at Dover only until the next boat left for Calais. Then I retraced my route, and in due course found myself again in the capital where the congress was sitting. My first visit was, of course, to the prince. I found him greatly agitated.
“How good of you,” he said, taking both my hands in his, “to put yourself to all this trouble on my account. And so you have really discovered the document? I will not ask how you managed it. In whatever way it was done, it was a righteous act, for Le Grand could have obtained it only by fraud of some kind. But the modus operandi is utterly beyond me. As I said before, Le Grand must be the devil!”
I drew out the envelope, and handed him the paper on which the draft treaty was written.
“Perhaps,” I said, “this will help you to detect the traitor.”
The prince took the paper, and ran his practised eye over the several paragraphs.
“It is as I feared,” he said at last, with something very like a groan. “Some of it is, no doubt, mere clever guess-work; but much is evidently amplified from significant hints given by some one who is familiar with our proceedings. And the thirteenth clause — the most important of all — is almost word for word as we finally agreed that it should stand. This makes it certain that we have been betrayed. And if it once gets into the papers, as you think it will, there will be such an outcry that we shall have to modify it. It is a terrible blow, especially for me, as it will be impossible for me now to secure anything like favourable terms for my sovereign. No misfortune so great has ever befallen me in the whole course of my official career. And all through that unscrupulous Le Grand!”
Sympathizing with the prince, I did my best to soothe and comfort him, but his chagrin was too profound for my efforts to have much success.
Then I tried to turn his attention to the document as a possible means of identifying the traitor.
“Do you know the handwriting?” I asked.
“Not in the least; it seems to be a disguised hand.”
“So I thought. And there is nothing about the document to suggest to you any one in particular as the writer?”
We had a little further conversation, and then I left him, taking the document with me. I had an idea that possibly Gresham might help me. At any rate it was a good opportunity of putting his boasted science to the test.
When I brought the subject before him, he smiled a little sarcastically.
“So the scoffer has come to pray,” he said.
Then he carefully scrutinized the writing, at first with the naked eye, and afterwards with a pocket lens. At last he said —
“Now I think I have mastered it. Pray ask me any question you like. I will not undertake to answer them all; but, if I do not know, I will say so frankly.”
“Very well, then. First, Is this handwriting natural or disguised?”
“Secondly, Is it a man's hand or a woman's?”
“Thirdly, Is the writer educated, or uneducated?”
“Can you fix approximately the age of the writer?”
“Only in the roughest way. He is certainly not a child — not even a youth — for the hand is perfectly formed. And he cannot be very old, for the writing is quite firm. But he might be any age between, say twenty-five and fifty — or even sixty.”
I could think of only one more question. As yet Gresham's science had done but little to help us.
“Is there any peculiarity about the writing which enables you to give any further information respecting the writer?”
“Ah,” he said, “that is a crucial question; the rest was mere child's play. I answer it by saying that there is something very peculiar about the writing which does enable me to give a piece of information about the writer. Only — only you will not believe me when I tell you what it is.”
“Tell me, nevertheless,” I said.
“The writer is blind of one eye.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
“Oh, it is easy enough, if you only take the trouble to observe. I know, too, that it is the left eye of which he is blind, and that the sight of the right eye is not good.”
“It is very remarkable, if true.”
“It is perfectly true. You can judge for yourself. Did you ever see ‘i's’ dotted as these are?”
“I do not know. What is there peculiar about them?”
“Perhaps you have never noticed how people generally dot them. No one, except, perhaps, a schoolboy over his round-hand, ever dots an ‘i’ at the time he forms a letter; he always waits at least until he has reached the end of the word. Well, now a man who has lost the use of his left eye, and whose sight is generally defective, bends over his paper, and his nose gets in his way when he wants to dot his ‘i's.’ The consequence is that it is all done haphazard. Now look at the dots of these ‘i's’; they are here, there, and everywhere; sometimes — but rarely — before the letter; more often behind it; sometimes too high up; sometimes too low down. You can see at once that it is all done by faith and not by sight.”
I looked more carefully at the writing; it was indeed as Gresham had said. I thought at once of Count Shrievaljieff. Every one knew that he was blind of the left eye. He had acted as secretary to the congress. If, as seemed certain, it was one of the plenipotentiaries who had betrayed the secret, Count Shrievaljieff must be the man. I hastened with my new piece of information to the prince, but I had to wait till the evening before I could see him, as he had just gone back to the congress.
When we met, I told him what Gresham had said about the handwriting. The prince was no great believer in graphology, and said so.
“Still,” I said, “just consider the actual position of affairs. Some one has divulged the main provisions of the treaty. That some one must be one of the plenipotentiaries, for no one else has had an opportunity of knowing them. And if it is one of them, the cui bono question arises: which of them has the greatest interest in upsetting the thirteenth clause?”
“Undoubtedly,” said the prince, “Shrievaljieff is the man most interested in upsetting that clause. So much must be patent to everybody. Still, I say again, it is impossible that he can have betrayed us. He may not be over-scrupulous, but, still, he would not violate the essential principles of diplomacy.”
“But, consider again,” I said, “the count is the man to whom the cui bono test applies. A man between twenty-five and sixty — that is nothing; but also a man blind of the left eye — that is really significant. Is there any other of the plenipotentiaries blind of the left eye?”
“It is very strange,” said the prince, shaking his head mournfully. “This business will kill me; I can think of nothing else but that unlucky thirteenth clause.”
Whilst we were thus discussing the affair, the post came, and from among the pile of letters and papers the prince picked out the London Dial. His delicate jewelled hand trembled visibly as he opened it. One glance was sufficient, and he passed it on to me with a doleful expression.
“There it is,” he said. “The most sacred of secrets published ubi et orbi, and all my labour thrown away. It is monstrous!”
As I said at the beginning, this audacious publication of the treaty whilst the congress was still sitting caused the most profound sensation throughout Europe. Even Le Grand, ambitious as he was, must have been satisfied. His name was in every one's mouth. How had he possibly managed to pluck from the diplomatists their secret?
For no one doubted — or, indeed, could doubt — that, in the main, the treaty, as published in the Dial, was genuine. To the initiated it was clear that it could not be a mere clever invention.
The diplomatists themselves were in despair. True, they maintained an appearance of serenity, but they were really at their wits' end to know how to account for the trick that had been played upon them, and how to repair the mischief that had been done.
Of course, they did what diplomatists always do in such cases — they disavowed the treaty as published. They could do this safely, as it was now a certainty that some of the most important provisions would have to be modified. But this disavowal is such a stereotyped resource of embarrassed diplomacy that it did not deceive even the outside world. And, of course, it could have no effect on their own state of mind. They looked askance at each other. They felt themselves betrayed by one of their own number. It seemed as if any further sitting would be useless. Yet, for the sake of appearances, they continued to meet and discuss the clauses of the treaty. But, as Count Shrievaljieff said to the prince, as far as secrecy was concerned, it seemed as if they might as well meet in the marketplace as in the Foreign Office.
Here, however, I may at once say, that these fears proved unfounded. The secrecy of their proceedings was not again violated, and in due course they pieced together another treaty, which did not suffer from premature publication, and which holds good to the present day.
It was generally thought that their success at the second attempt was due to Le Grand's absence. He had brought off his great coup, and he took care not to return. It might have been even dangerous for him to do so, for it was certainly through his agency that the draft treaty, however obtained, had been published. Whether he ever suspected me of having tricked him in the matter of the envelope I do not know. He never made any suggestion to that effect. In fact, he was not at all the man to allow that he could by any possibility be outwitted. And in everything connected with the treaty he kept up an air of mystery, content with the evident fact that in some way or other he had accomplished what had seemed to be impossible.
And yet, great though his triumph seemed to be, I doubt whether to the day of his death he knew exactly how he had been enabled to achieve it. And it was by the merest chance that I lighted upon the discovery.
The Dial with its unwelcome contents had reached the prince on Saturday. On the Sunday evening I visited him again. He was lying on the couch, as usual, and looked very wretched.
“Do you mind writing a letter or two for me?” he said, after the first preliminary greetings. “You are always so good and kind. And I have been obliged to give Maubeuge a holiday to-day.”
Of course I was delighted to be of any service. He dictated one or two short notes, and, when I had written them, he said —
“I hope you will dine with me this evening. I am really dependent on you to cheer me up a little. This fatal business of the treaty has been such a grievous blow to me.”
I accepted his invitation.
“Now don't run away meanwhile,” he added. “I generally take a little nap, as you know, at this time, but I shan't be asleep more than half an hour. Meanwhile there are the journals, or perhaps you have some letters to write.”
“Thank you,” I said, “that will suit me admirably. I will plunge into my correspondence while you take a dive into oblivion.”
The prince answered with a smile.
Then he poured some chloroform on the handkerchief, threw the latter over his face, and was asleep almost instantly. Meanwhile, I had taken a sheet of paper and had written a few lines, when, to my great astonishment, I heard a muffled voice in the room. For the moment I did not realize that it was the prince who was speaking. When I did realize it, I pricked up my ears involuntarily. What was he babbling about in his narcotic slumber? Heavens! It was all about the one subject that dominated his mind at the moment — the treaty. Some of the phrases were confused, inconsequent, fragmentary; but over and over came from beneath the handkerchief the words, “thirteenth clause” (in French, of course), and then in fashion, more or less disconnected, the actual provision of the unlucky clause.
I sat there paralyzed with astonishment; the pen had fallen from my hand; I sat as one in a dream. Here, then, at last, was the solution of the mystery. Nor was the villain far to seek. Maubeuge, sitting where I sat now, had taken down these unconscious and involuntary confidences, had pieced them cunningly together, and then had sold the secret to Le Grand.
How strange, how touching, it was that the most experienced diplomatist in Europe should thus have babbled like a child — that the man of all others who was most anxious to keep the treaty secret should have been the very one to divulge its most important provisions!
I was still sitting lost in wonder, when I heard a slight noise behind me. I turned sharply round; the door was open, and Maubeuge was standing on the threshold. The prince was still innocently prattling of things that meant the ruin or salvation of empires. Maubeuge, from under his heavy eyebrows, cast a dull and yet most anxious glance first at him, then at me. As he did so I noticed that his complexion turned to lead, and the whole fashion of his face was altered. No doubt he had taken in the whole situation at a glance, and knew that his villainy had been detected, for without a single word he turned round and withdrew, closing the door behind him.
I followed him at once. My anger was keen against him. I should have liked to take him by the throat and hand him over to the police. But for the sake of my dear friend, the prince, I could not do this. He must never know what he had done. The knowledge that he had betrayed himself and the sovereign he loved so well would have overwhelmed him. In all probability he would never have recovered from the shock. It was for this reason that I waited till his death before publishing this revelation.
So I reined in my anger as I went in pursuit of Maubeuge. I followed so swiftly on his heels that I caught him in the corridor.
“Monsieur Maubeuge,” I said, “I must ask you to favour me with an interview.”
He did not venture to decline the invitation, but followed me submissively into another room belonging to the prince's suite of apartments.
There I came to the point at once.
“Monsieur Maubeuge,” I said, “I think it would be well for you to retire at once from the prince's service.”
He was far too clever to bluster in a tête-à-tête. He knew that in my eyes he was irretrievably degraded, and there was no one else present whose opinion he could influence. So he took my remarks in a simple, business-like fashion.
“I must give some excuse,” he said.
“Is it not the case,” I asked, suddenly remembering what Gresham had told me, “that your eyes are very bad, and that you have altogether lost the sight of your left eye?”
He looked greatly surprised.
“It is true,” he said, “but I did not know that any one knew it except myself.”
“Well, that is excuse enough. Say that your eyes are so bad that you must at any sacrifice resign your position at once. At once — you understand me. On that condition I will refrain from communicating with the police. You will have to sacrifice a month's wages, but you will be able to afford that now. Besides, Monsieur Le Grand may find you employment. I recommend you not to remain in this country.”
“I shall be pleased to carry out your wishes, sir,” said the rascal suavely.
“That will do, then,” I said. “You can go now. I hope that your eyesight will improve, and that your hearing may be dulled a little in the interest of honesty.”
He disappeared, and I never saw or heard of him again. If he is still alive, he passes probably under an assumed name.
As I have already said, the prince is dead, and Le Grand is dead; I alone remain of those who were mixed up in the affair, and I am glad to have this opportunity of clearing up one of the most curious episodes in modern history.