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CHAPTER XXII

 

OF A CERTAIN DAWN UPON OUR OLD FRIEND THE BOULEVARD ARAGO; AND OF THE LOVES OF LISA LA GIUFFRIA AND ABDUL BEY, HOW THEY PROSPERED. OF THE CONCLUSION OF THE FALSE ALARM OF THE GREAT EXPERIMENT, AND OF A CONFERENCE BETWEEN DOUGLASS AND HIS SUBORDINATES.

 

     LORD ANTONY BOWLING was one of three men in the War Office who could speak French perfectly; despite this drawback, he had been selected to confer with the French headquarters in Paris. Here he met Cyril Grey, busy with his tailor. The young magician had once held a captaincy in a Hussar regiment, but a year of India had developed his native love of strange places and peoples. He had been tempted to resign his commission, and yielded. He had gone exploring in Central Asia, and the deadly districts beyond Assam. He could not stand gymkhanas, polo, and flirtation. Simon Iff had given him a hint now and again of what magick might effect if a war came, and the boy had profited. He had formed provisional plans.

     He encountered Lord Antony by chance one evening on the Boulevard des Italiens, dined him, and on finding that all amusements, even that of watching the world from the terrace of a cafe, were to end by order of the Military Governor of Paris, at eight o'clock, suggested that they should spend the evening smoking opium "chez Zizi," a delightful girl who lived with a brilliant young English journalist [307] on the Boulevard M Marcel. At midnight, serenely confident that God was in his heaven, as asserted by the late Robert Browning, they decided to finish the night at Cyril's studio. Here the young magician "reconstructed the crime" of the jumping balls of the mysterious countess, and recounted the episode of the Thing in the Garden, to the delectation of the "Merman of Mayfair." He then offered to amend Bowling's coat of arms by the introduction of twelve prawns couchant, gules,  gartered azure, and the substitution of Poltergeists for the Wild Men of the ducal escutcheon.

     Modestly disclaiming these heraldic glories, Lord Antony regaled his host with an ingenious account of a Swedish gentleman who materialized the most voluminous spectres from -- as subsequently appeared in circumstances which can only be qualified as dramatic -- the contents of a steel cylinder measuring twelve inches in length and three in diameter, which a search of the medium, stripped to the buff, had at first failed to disclose.

     But neither was honestly interested in his own remarks; the subconscious excitement of the War made all conversation on any other topic sound miserably artificial. Bowling's story made them both distrait; they fell into a heavy silence, pondering methods of concealing dispatches or detecting spies. Investigation of spiritualism makes a capital training-ground for secret service work; one soon gets up to all the tricks.

     Presently Cyril Grey began to preach magick.

     "Germany is on a pretty good wicket," he said. "She is at war; we have only taken a holiday to go fighting. The first condition of success in magick is purity of purpose. One must let no other consideration interfere with the business in hand. But we are hypocrites in England; consequently, [308] we compromise and fumble. When a magician does get in charge of an affair, all goes pretty well; look how Simple Simon has isolated Germany! Even there he has been thwarted by the Exchequer; five millions in the right place would have bought the Balkans. How much do you think that little economy will cost us before we're through? As for the foolishness of leaving Turkey doubtful, it's beyond all words!"

     "Yes," agreed Bowling "we ought to have supported Abdul Hamid from the first. The best kind of Englishman is blood brother to the best kind of Mussulman. He is brave, just, frank, manly and proud. We should always be in alliance Islam against the servile Hindus and so-called Christians. Where is the spirit of the Paladins and the Templars and the Knights of the Round Table? The modern Christian is the Bourgeois, whose character is based on fear and falsehood."

     "There are two kinds of animals, mainly: one whose defence is obscurity, shunning death, avoidance of danger; the other whose defence is attack."

     "Yes; we're all right so long as we make ourselves feared. But Victorian prudery turned our tigers into oxen; we found that it was wrong fight dangerous to drink beer, wicked to love; presently it was cruel to eat beef, immoral to laugh, fatal to breathe. We went in terror of the omnipresent germ. Hence we are fat, cowardly slaves. I hear that Kitchener is hard put to it to get his first 100,000 men. Only the public schools respond. Only gentlemen and sportsmen really love England -- the people that have been cursed these last few years as tyrants and libertines.

     "Only the men."

     "And few there are, in the crowd of canaille, old women, slackers, valetudinarians, eaters of nuts!" [309]

     "God rest the soul of Edward Seventh! I thought all would be well when Victoria died; but now ---"

     "This is no hour of the night to lapse into poetry! Anyhow, Germany is nearly as bad, with her Social Democratic Party."

     "Do you think that?" cried Cyril, sharply, sitting up. His gesture was indecipherably intense; it seemed utterly disproportionate to Bowling's casual commonplace.

     "I know it. It's one of the chief causes of the war. The Zabern incident showed the Junkers that they were safe only for a year or two; after that the people would start out to be too proud to fight," replied Lord Antony, anticipating a transpontine chameleon.

     "And so?" Cyril's voice trembled. A tense thrill ran through his body. He had become sober in an instant.

     "The Court Party wanted war, to bring back the manly spirit to the nation, and incidentally to keep their place in the sun."

     The boy sank with a large sigh into his seat. His tone changed to its old supercilious slurring.

     "Bloody Bill was afraid for his dynasty?"

     "Scared green."

     "Don't talk for five minutes, there's a good chap! I've a strange feeling come over me -- almost as if I were going to think!"

     Lord Antony obliged with silence. The five minutes became twenty. Then Cyril spoke.

     "I had better get to Cripps double quick," said he; "I'm his Intelligence Officer, and I think it my duty to inform him of the plans of the German Great General Staff!"

     "Yes, you should certainly do that!" answered Lord Antony, laughing. [310]

     "Then let's stroll up the Boulevard. Dawn's breaking. We'll get a cafe-brioche at the Rotonde, and then I'll tyrannize my tailor, and get off."

     They went out into the cold morning air. Three hundred yards away, outside the Sante prison, a small crowd had collected. The centre of attraction seemed to be a framework, two narrow uprights crowned with a cross-bar where a triangular piece of metal glittered in the pale twilight.

     "Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war!" drawled Cyril, cynically. "Confess that I have entertained you royally! Here is a choice savoury to wind up our feast."

     Lord Antony could not conceal his horror and repulsion. For he knew well enough what sight chance had prepared for them. But the fascination drew him far more surely than if his temperament had resembled that of his friend. They approached the crowd. A ring was kept about the framework by a cordon of police.

     Just then the gates of the prison opened, and a little procession came out. All eyes were drawn instantly to its central figure, an old, old man whose jaw was dropped, and from whose throat issued a hoarse howling, utterly monotonous and inhuman. His eyes were starting from his head, and their expression was one not to be described. His arms were bound tightly to his sides. Two men were half supporting him, half pushing him. Save for his horrible cry, there was no sound. There was no movement in the crowd -- no whisper. Like automata the officials did their duty. In a trice the prisoner was thrown forward on to a board, thrust up toward the framework. His caterwaul suddenly ceased. A moment later a sharp order rang out in the voice of one of the prison officials. The knife fell. From the crowd burst a most dreadful sound -- an "Ah!" so [311] low, so fierce, that it had no human quality. Lord Antony Bowling could never be sure whether it was after that or before it that he heard the head tumble into the basket.

     "Who was it?" asked Cyril of a bystander.

     "Un anglais," answered the man. "Le docteur Balloch."

     Cyril started back. He had not recognized his old enemy.

     But even at that moment he was accosted by one whom he would never fail to know, even dressed  as he was in the uniform of  French colonel -- Douglas. On his arm was a child whose eyes were blear already with debauchery, who staggered, her eyes rolling, her hair dishevelled, her mouth loose and wet, laughing with indecent and profane intoxication.

     "Good morning, Captain Grey; well met, well met indeed!" began Douglas, urbane in his triumph.

     "I trust you passed a pleasant time in Naples."

     "Very pleasant," returned Grey.

     "Dr. Balloch," continued Douglas, "crossed my path. I am glad you should have seen the end of him."

     "I am glad," said Cyril.

     "And what end do you think I have reserved for you?" said the sorcerer, with sudden foam of ferocity.

     "Something charming, I am sure," said Cyril, silkily. "I always admired your work, you know. That translation of 'The Book of the Sacred Magick of Abramelin the Mage,' in particular. You remember the passage about the wicked Antony of Prague," he went on, with sudden force and solemnity, "the marvellous things he did, and how he prospered -- and how he was found by the roadside, his tongue torn out, and the dogs at feast upon his bowels! Do you know what has saved you so far? Only one [312] bar between you and destruction -- the love of your wife, whom you have murdered!" With that Cyril cried aloud three words in a strange tongue, and giving the other no chance to reply, marched rapidly away with his friend.

     Douglas could not have recovered, in any case. He was as one stunned. How did this boy know of the death of his wife? Well, that might be understood; but how did he know his most secret fear, the fact that since the crime his demons had lost their courage? He shook the feeling off, and turned again to gloat over the death of Balloch.

     "Who was that?" asked Bowling.

     "The Grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button on top! That's Douglas!"

     "The Black Lodge man?"

     "Ex-man."

     "I see daylight. Balloch was condemned, you know, for a crime done twenty years ago. Douglas must have known about it and betrayed him."

     "That's the regular thing."

     "How does he come to be a colonel in the French Army?"

     "Don't know. He was close in with one or two ministers; Becasseux, I think, in particular. There's a lot of politics in Occultism, as you know."

     "I'll think that over. I might ask the minister this morning. But I tell you it's no time for trifles. Ever since all the mobilization plans were scrapped by the failure of Liege and Namur to hold out, distraction has reigned supreme, no casual mistress, but a wife, and procuress to the Lords of Hell at that!"

     "Do not quote Tennyson, even mixed, under the shadow of the Lion de Belfort! As to trifles, there are none in war. Ask the Germans if you don't believe me." [313]

     A little later, after the Rotonde Cafe' in the Boulevard Montparnasse had refreshed them with its admirable coffee, and those brioches which remind one of boyhood's earliest kisses, they walked down to the Place de la Concorde, and parted.

     Cyril went on to the Opera, to his tailor in the Rue de la Paix. His mind was full of meditations upon the details of the great idea that had come to him, the divination of the enemy's objective. His suggestion had made Lord Antony laugh. He himself had never felt less like laughing; he was on fire with creative genius -- and terrified lest his work should fall upon barren soil. Well he knew how hard it is to get Power to listen to Reason!

     At the corner of the Place de l'Opera he lifted his eyes to assure himself of a free crossing.

 

*                  *                   *                  *                  *

 

     The mind of Abdul Bey was in turmoil. His first night upon the yacht had been mere wallowing in debauch; but he woke with a clear head, acutely alive to the complexity of his situation. He was personally triumphant; there was nothing in his private affairs to worry him. But in charge, as he was, of the Turkish Secret Service in Paris, he knew the political situation well enough. He knew that Turkey would throw in her lot with Germany, sooner or later; and he was doubtful as to the wisdom of returning to France. On the other hand, duty called him with clarion voice; and he wanted to have as many fingers as possible in the pie. After much consideration, he thought he would land at Barcelona, and get through with his American passport -- for he had papers from most nations -- as a distracted millionaire. His companions -- both American citizens -- would aid the illusion. Supposing that there was already trouble or suspicion, this subterfuge [314] would serve; once in Paris, he could find out how the land lay, and act accordingly.

     He gave orders to the captain to make for Catalonia. The voyage was uneventful, save for the brief visit of a cruiser which discovered nothing contraband; in fact, Abdul and Lisa remained drunk the whole time. Only, just off the Spanish coast, a capful of wind once again interfered with Lisa's enjoyment of the honeymoon. It had another consequence, more serious. No sooner had they landed at Barcelona, than Lisa became suddenly and terribly ill. After a week, the doctors decided upon a radical remedy-operation. The next day a girl child entered the world, very much alive, despite the irregularity of her entrance. No ordinary child, either. She was a beautifully made baby, with deep blue eyes; and she was born with four teeth, and with hair six inches long, so fair as to be silvery white. Like a tattoo-mark, just over the heart, was a faint blue crescent.

     Lisa recovered rapidly from her illness, but not too quickly for the amorous Turk; though he was surprised and annoyed to find that she had recovered her early grace and activity. The fat had gone from her in the three weeks of illness; and when she began to be able to move about, and drive in the city, she looked once more almost as she did on the night when Cyril first saw her, a gay, buxom, vigorous woman. The change cooled Abdul's ardour, and her own feelings altered with it. Her lover's sloppiness began to disgust her. As to the child, it was a source of irritation to both of them. Cremers, again, was hardly a boon companion; she would have depressed a hypochondriac going to the funeral of a beloved uncle who had left him nothing. Before Lisa had been out of bed three days, a crisis arose; she felt instinctively that Paris would be "no fun," and [315] wanted to go to America. Abdul felt that he must lose no time in getting to Paris. Cremers, for some reason, had changed her mind about reporting to Douglas; she was homesick for West 186th Street, so she said. The explosion came at lunch, the Spanish nurse having failed to muffle the baby with due adequacy.

     "Oh hell!" said Abdul Bey.

     "God knows, I don't want the little beast!" said its proud mother.

     "Look'e here!" remarked Cremers. "I do want it. Sure some baby!"

     "Oh hell!" repeated Abdul Bey.

     "Look'e here! You gimme the rocks, an' I'll take her across the pond. There's ships. Gimme three thousand bucks and expenses, and three thousand every year, and I'll fix it. You folks get off and paint Paree pink. Is it a go?"

     Abdul Bey brightened immediately. Only one thought chilled him. "What about Douglas?" he said.

     "I'll `tend to that."

     "It's a good scheme," muttered Lisa.

     "Let's get away to-night; I'm sick of this hole." She caressed the Turk warmly.

     But Paris was no longer the Paris of her dreams, no longer the Paris of idleness and luxury "where good Americans go when they die"; it was a Paris of war, of stern discipline, of patriotic enthusiasm, nothing less than a nightmare for the compatriots of the lady who didn't raise her boy to be a soldier. She blamed Abdul, who shrugged his shoulders, and reminded her that she was lucky to get dinner at all, that the Germans were likely to be in the city in a week or so. She taunted him; he let loose his ancestral feelings about women, those which lie deep-buried in all of us who are at least not utterly [316] degenerate in soul, however loose morality may have corrupted us upon the surface. She rose in the automobile, just as they crossed the Place de l'Opera, and broke her parasol over his head; then turned her nails loose on his eyes. He fisted her in the abdomen, and she collapsed into the seat of the car with a scream. It was this that diverted the attention of Cyril Grey from his contemplation of the designs of Germany.

     The boy made a leap, and had Abdul by the throat in a moment, dragging him out of the car, and proceeding to administer summary castigation with his boot. But the police interfered; three men rode up with drawn sabres, and put an end to the affair. They arrested all parties, and Cyril Grey only escaped by the exhibition of that paper which had won him such respect months earlier on the shambles of Moret railway station.

     "I have to go to my tailor: service of the minister," he remarked with a cynical smile; and was dismissed with the profoundest respect.

     "After all, it was no business of mine," he muttered as he wriggled into his new tunic, to the immense admiration of the tailor, a class whose appreciation of manly beauty depends so largely upon the price of the suit. "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The trouble comes when you can't lose `em. Poor old Lisa! Poor old Abdul! Well, as I said, it's none of my business. My business is to divine the thoughts of the enemy, and -- oh Lord! how long? -- to get the powers that be to understand that I am right. Considering that they needed eight million marching men to persuade them that Bloody Bill meant war, I fear that my task may be no sinecure."

     He went to the barracks, where a military automobile was waiting for him, and told the chauffeur, with bitter wit, to go out to meet General Cripps. [317] As to Lisa and the Turk, it was twenty-four hours before they were set at liberty. The sight of Cyril, his prompt intervention in her defence, relit the flames of her half crazy passion. She rushed over to the studio to see him; it was shut up, and the concierge could give her no news. She drove wildly to the Profess-House in Montmartre. There they told her that he had gone to join the British army. Various excited enquiries in official quarters led her at last to Lord Antony Bowling. He was genuinely sympathetic: he had liked the girl at first sight; but he could hold out no hopes of arranging for her to see him.

     "There's only one way for you to get to the front," said he. "Join the Red Cross. My sister's here forming a section. I'll give you a note to her, if you like."

     Lisa jumped at the suggestion. She saw, more vividly than if it were actual, the obvious result. Cyril would be desperately wounded, leading the last victorious charge of the dragoons against the walls of Berlin; she would interestingly nurse him back to life, probably by means of transfusion of blood; then, raised to the peerage, Marshal Earl Grey of Cologne (where he had swum the Rhine, and, tearing the keys of the city from the trembling hands of the astonished burgomaster, had flung them back across the river to his hesitating comrades) would lead her, with the Victoria Cross in gold and diamonds on his manly bosom, to the altar at St. Margaret's, Westminster.

     It was worth while learning magick to become clairvoyant like this! She dashed off, still at top speed, to enroll herself with Lady Marcia Bowling.

     She gave no further thought to Abdul. He would never have attracted her, had she not perceived a difficulty in getting him.

     As to that gentleman himself, if grief tore at his [318] heart strings, he showed it that night in an unusual way. It may have been but simulation of philosophical fortitude; there is no need to enquire. His actions are of more interest: they consisted of picking up a cocotte on the Boulevard des Italiens, and taking her to dinner at the Cafe de Paris. At the conclusion of a meal which would have certainly been prescribed as a grief-cure to any but a dyspeptic, the maitre d'hotel approached their table, and tendered, with a bow, an envelope. Abdul opened it -- it was a summons from Douglas to appear immediately in his presence at the apartment in the Faubourg St. Germain.

     The Turk had no choice but to comply. He excused himself to his fair guest, at the cost of a hundred-franc note, and drove immediately to the rendezvous.

     Douglas received him with extreme heartiness.

     "A thousand congratulations, dear young man, upon your brilliant victory! You have succeeded where older and more learned men failed badly. I called you here to-night to tell you that you are now eligible for a place in the Fourteen, the Ghaagaael, for a seat is vacant since this morning."

     "They executed Balloch?"

     Douglas nodded with a gloating smile.

     "But why did you not save him, master?"

     "Save him! It was I that destroyed him when he tried to betray me. Candidates take notice!"

     Abdul protested his loyalty and devotion.

     "The supreme test," continued Douglas, "cannot conveniently be imposed in time of war. There is too much to do just now. But -- as a preliminary -- ?" how do you stand with Germany?"

     Abdul shrank back, startled out of his presence of mind.

     "Germany!" he stammered at last. "Why, [319] Colonel," (he emphasized the title) "I know nothing. I have no instructions from my Government."He met the eye of his master, and read its chill contempt. "I--er--er--"

     "Dare you play with me?"

     The young man protested that no such thought had crossed his mind.

     "In that case," pursued the sorcerer, "you won't know what that means?"

     Douglas took from his pocket a fifty-franc note. The Turk caught it up, his eyes grown momentarily wider with surprise.

     "Examine it!" said Douglas, coldly.

     The Turkish agent held it to the light. In the figures numbering the note were two small pinpricks.

     "Allah!" he cried. "Then you are ---"

     "I am. You may as well know that my colleague in the Lodge, 'A.B.', is going to stir up trouble for the British in India. Her influence with certain classes of Hindus is very great. For your part, you may try discreetly to tamper with the Mussulman section of the French troops, the Africans. But be careful -- there is more important work to your hand, no less than the destruction of the French armies in the field. Now let us see what you can do. I am going to send you to my little garden hermitage, where I occasionally appear in the character of a great ascetic; there is an old lady there, devoted to me. Have your best man there to play Yogi. In the garden -- here's the plan -- is the terminal of a wire. There's another in that house where you got baptized and married -- remember? Thence there's a cable up Seine to another cottage where that old Belgian mystic lives -- the friend of Maeterlinck! ha! ha! He's really von Walder, a Dresdener. And he is in charge of another cable -- underground three hundred [320] miles, thanks to Becasseux, who helped us with the road squads, to a place which by now is firmly in the hands of the Crown Prince. So all you have to do is to tell your man to sit and pretend to meditate -- and tap. I shall send you plenty of information from the front. You will know my agents by a nick filed in a trouser-button. Each message will have a number, so that you will know if any go astray. All clear?"

     "Admirable. I need not say how proud I am to find that we are on the same side. I was very frightened of that uniform!"

     "L'habit ne fait pas le moine," replied Douglas gaily. "And now, sir, let us spend the night discussing our plans in detail -- and some very excellent whisky which I happen to have by me."

     The spies pursued their double task, with pitiless energy, till morning was well broken. Later in the day Douglas left for Soissons. He was attached to the French army as chief of a corps of signallers -- thanks, once again, to the good offices of Becasseux. His plans were perfect: they had been cut and dried for over fifteen years. [321]