Chapter XXXVII. The Plot that Failed
 

The progress of the Czar from Buckingham Palace to the Mansion House, where he had, after all, consented to lunch with the Lord Mayor, witnessed a popular outburst of enthusiasm absolutely inexplicable to the general public. It was known that affairs in Central Europe were in a dangerously precarious state, and it was felt that the Czar's visit here, and the urgent summons which had brought from St. Petersburg his Foreign Minister, were indications that the long wished-for entente between Russia and this country was now actually at hand. There was in the Press a curious reticence with regard to the development of the political situation. One felt everywhere that it was the calm before the storm - that at any moment the great black headlines might tell of some startling stroke of diplomacy, some dangerous peril averted or defied. The circumstances themselves of the Czar's visit had been a little peculiar. On his arrival it was announced that, for reasons of health, the original period of his stay, namely a week, was to be cut down to two days. No sooner had he arrived at Windsor, however, than a change was announced. The Czar had so far recovered as to be able even to extend the period at first fixed for his visit. Simultaneously with this, the German and Austrian Press were full of bitter and barely veiled articles, whose meaning was unmistakable. The Czar had thrown in his lot at first with Austria and Germany. That he was going deliberately to break away from that arrangement there seemed now scarcely any manner of doubt.

Bellamy and Louise, from a window in Fleet Street, watched him go by. Prince Rosmaran had been specially bidden to the luncheon, but he, too, had been with them earlier in the morning. Afterwards they turned their backs upon the city, and as soon as the crowd had thinned made their way to one of the west-end restaurants.

"It seems too good to be true," declared Louise. Bellamy nodded.

"Nevertheless I am convinced that it is true. The humor of the whole thing is that it was our friends in Germany themselves who pressed the Czar not to altogether cancel his visit for fear of exciting suspicion. That, of course, was when there seemed to be no question of the news of the Vienna compact leaking out. They would never have dared to expose a man to such a trial as the Czar must have faced when the resume of the Vienna proceedings, in the Chancellor's own handwriting, was read to him at Windsor."

"You saw the telegram from Paris?" Louise interposed. "The special mission from St. Petersburg has been recalled."

Bellamy smiled.

"It all goes to prove what I say," he went on. "Any morning you may expect to hear that Austria and Germany have received an ultimatum."

"I wonder," she remarked, "what became of Streuss."

"He is hiding somewhere in London, without a doubt," Bellamy answered. "There's always plenty of work for spies."

"Don't use that word," she begged.

He made a little grimace.

"You are thinking of my own connection with the profession, are you not?" he asked. "Well, that counts for nothing now. I hope I may still serve my country for many years, but it must be in a different way."

"What do you mean?" she demanded.

"I heard from my uncle's solicitors this morning," Bellamy continued, "that he is very feeble and cannot live more than a few months. When he dies, of course, I must take my place in the House of Lords. It is his wish that I should not leave England again now, so I suppose there is nothing left for me but to give it up. I have done my share of traveling and work, after all," he concluded, thoughtfully.

"Your share, indeed," she murmured. "Remember that but for that document which was read to the Czar at Windsor, Servia must have gone down, and England would have had to take a place among the second-class Powers. There may be war now, it is true, but it will be a glorious war."

"Louise, very soon we shall know. Until then I will say nothing. But I do not want you altogether to forget that there has been something in my life dearer to me even than my career for these last few years."

Her blue eyes were suddenly soft. She looked across towards him wistfully.

"Dear," she whispered, "things will be altered with you now. I am not fit to be the wife of an English peer - I am not noble."

He laughed.

"I am afraid," he assured her, "that I am democrat enough to think you one of the noblest women on earth. Why should I not? Your life itself has been a study in devotion. The modern virtues seem almost to ignore patriotism, yet the love of one's country is a splendid thing. But don't you think, Louise, that we have done our work that it is time to think of ourselves?"

She gave him her hand.

"Let us see," she said. "Let us wait for a little time and see what comes."

That night another proof of the popular feeling, absolutely spontaneous, broke out in one of the least expected places. Louise was encored for her wonderful solo in a modern opera of bellicose trend, and instead of repeating it she came alone on the stage after a few minutes' absence, dressed in Servian national dress. For a short time the costume was not recognized. Then the music - the national hymn of Servia, and the recollection of her parentage, brought the thing home to the audience. They did not even wait for her to finish. In the middle of her song the applause broke like a crash of thunder. From the packed gallery to the stalls they cheered her wildly, madly. A dozen times she came before the curtain. It seemed impossible that they would ever let her go. Directly she turned to leave the stage, the uproar broke out again. The manager at last insisted upon it that she should speak a few words. She stood in the centre of the stage amid a silence as complete as the previous applause had been unanimous. Her voice reached easily to every place in the House.

"I thank you all very much," she said. "I am very happy indeed to be in London, because it is the capital city of the most generous country in the world - the country that is always ready to protect and help her weaker neighbors. I am a Servian, and I love my country, and therefore," she added, with a little break in her voice, - "therefore I love you all."

It was nearly midnight before the audience was got rid of, and the streets of London had not been so impassable for years. Crowds made their way to the front of Buckingham Palace and on to the War Office, where men were working late. Everything seemed to denote that the spirit of the country was roused: The papers next morning made immense capital of the incident, and for the following twenty-four hours suspense throughout the country was almost at fever height. It was known that the Cabinet Council had been sitting for six hours. It was known, too, that without the least commotion, with scarcely any movements of ships that could be called directly threatening, the greatest naval force which the world had ever known was assembling off Dover. The stock markets were wildly excited. Laverick, back again in his office, found that his return to his accustomed haunts occasioned scarcely any comment. More startling events were shaping themselves. His own remarkable adventure remained, curiously enough, almost undiscussed.

He left the office shortly before his usual time, notwithstanding the rush of business, and drove at once to the little house in Theobald Square. Zoe was lying on the sofa, still white, but eager to declare that the pain had gone and that she was no longer suffering.

"It is too absurd," she declared, smiling, "my having this nurse here. Really, there is nothing whatever the matter with me. I should have gone to the theatre, but you see it is no use."

She passed him the letter which she had been reading, and which contained her somewhat curt dismissal. He laughed as he tore it into pieces.

"Are you so sorry, Zoe? Is the stage so wonderful a place that you could not bear to think of leaving it?" She shook her head.

"It is not that," she whispered. "You know that it is not that."

He smiled as he took her confidently into his arms.

"There is a much more arduous life in front of you, dear," he said. "You have to come and look after me for the rest of your days. A bachelor who marries as late in life as I do, you know, is a trying sort of person."

She shrank away a little.

"You don't mean it," she murmured.

"You know very well that I mean it," he answered, kissing her. "I think you knew from the very first that sooner or later you were doomed to become my wife."

She sighed faintly and half-closed her eyes. For the moment she had forgotten everything. She was absolutely and completely happy.

Later on he made her dress and come out to dinner, and afterwards, as they sat talking, he laid an evening paper before her.

"Zoe," he declared, "the best thing that could has happened. You will not be foolish, dear, about it, I know. Remember the alternative - and read that."

She glanced at the few lines which announced the finding of Arthur Morrison in a house in Bloomsbury Square. The police had apparently tracked him down, and he had shot himself at the final moment. The details of his last few hours were indescribable. Zoe shuddered, and her eyes filled with tears. She smiled bravely in his face, however.

"It is terrible," she whispered simply, "but, after all, he was no relation of mine, and he tried to do you a frightful injury. When I think of that, I find it hard even to be sorry.

There was indeed almost a pitiless look in her face as she folded up the paper, as though she felt something of that common instinct of her sex which transforms a gentle woman so quickly into a hard, merciless creature when the being whom she loves is threatened.

Laverick smiled.

"Let us go out into the streets," he said, "and hear what all this excitement is about."

They bought a late edition, and there it was at last in black and white. An ultimatum had been presented at Berlin and Vienna. Certain treaty rights which had been broken with regard to Austria's action in the East were insisted upon by Great Britain. It was demanded that Austria should cease the mobilization of her troops upon the Servian frontier, and renounce all rights to a protectorate over that country, whose independence Great Britain felt called upon, from that time forward, to guarantee. It was further announced that England, France, and Russia were acting in this matter in complete concert, and that the neutrality of Italy was assured. Further, it was known that the great English fleet had left for the North Sea with sealed orders.

Laverick took Zoe home early and called later at Bellamy's rooms. Bellamy greeted him heartily. He was on the point of going out, and the two men drove off together in the latter's car.

"See, my dear friend," Bellamy exclaimed, "what great things come from small means! The document which you preserved for us, and for which we had to fight so hard, has done all this."

"It is marvelous!" Laverick murmured.

"It is very simple," Bellamy declared. "That meeting in Vienna was meant to force our hands. It is all a question of the balance of strength. Germany and Austria together, with Russia friendly, - even with Russia neutral, - could have defied Europe. Germany could have spread out her army westwards while Austria seized upon her prey. It was a splendid plot, and it was going very well until the Czar himself was suddenly confronted by our King and his Ministers with a revelation of the whole affair. At Windsor the thing seemed different to him. The French Government behaved splendidly, and the Czar behaved like a man. Germany and Austria are left plante la. If they fight, well, it will be no one-sided affair. They have no fleet, or rather they will have none in a fortnight's time. They have no means of landing an army here. Austria, perhaps, can hold Russia, but with a French army in better shape than it has been for years, and the English landing as many men as they care to do, with ease, anywhere on the north coast of Germany, the entire scheme proved abortive. Come into the club and have a drink, Laverick. To-day great things have happened to me."

"And to me," Laverick interposed.

"You can guess my news, perhaps," Bellamy said, as they seated themselves in easy-chairs. "Mademoiselle Idiale has promised to be my wife."

Laverick held out his hand.

"I congratulate you heartily!" he exclaimed. "I have been an engaged man myself for something like half-an-hour."