Peter Ruff and the Double Four by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter VII. Major Kosuth's Mission
His host, very fussy as he always was on the morning of his big shoot, came bustling towards Peter, Baron de Grost, with a piece of paper in his hand. The party of men had just descended from a large brake and were standing about on the edge of the common, examining cartridges, smoking a last cigarette before the business of the morning, and chatting together over the prospects of the day's sport. In the distance, a cloud of dust indicated the approach of a fast traveling motor-car.
"My dear Baron," Sir William Bounderby said, "I want you to change your stand to-day. I must have a good man at the far corner as the birds go off my hand from there, and Addington was missing them shockingly yesterday. Besides, there is a new man coming on your left and I know nothing of his shooting - nothing at all!"
"Anywhere you choose to put me, Sir William," he assented. "They came badly for Addington yesterday, and well for me. However, I'll do my best."
"I wish people wouldn't bring strangers, especially to the one shoot where I'm keen about the bag. I told Portal he could bring his brother-in-law, and he 's bringing this foreign fellow instead. Don't suppose he can shoot for nuts! Did you ever hear of him, I wonder? The Count von Hern, he calls himself."
The motor-car had come to a standstill by this time. From it descended Mr. Portal himself, a large neighboring land owner, a man of culture and travel. With him was Bernadine, in a very correct shooting suit and Tyrolese hat. On the other side of Mr. Portal was a short, thick set man, with olive complexion, keen black eyes, black mustache and imperial, who was dressed in city clothes. Sir William's eyebrows were slightly raised as he advanced to greet the party. Peter was at once profoundly interested.
Mr. Portal introduced his guests.
"You will forgive me, I am sure, for bringing a spectator, Bounderby," he said. "Major Kosuth, whom I have the honor to present - Major Kosuth, Sir William Bounderby - is high up in the diplomatic service of a country with whom we must feel every sympathy - the young Turks. The Count von Hern, who takes my brother-in-law's place, is probably known to you by name."
Sir William welcomed his visitors cordially.
"You do not shoot, Major Kosuth?"he asked.
"Very seldom," the Turk answered. "I come to-day with my good friend, Count von Hern, as a spectator, if you permit."
"Delighted," Sir William replied. "We will find you a safe place near your friend."
The little party began to move toward the wood. It was just at this moment that Bernadine felt a touch upon his shoulder, and, turning around, found Peter by his side.
"An unexpected pleasure, my dear Count," the latter declared, suavely. "I had no idea that you took interest in such simple sports."
The manners of Count von Hern were universally quoted as being almost too perfect. It is a regrettable fact, however, that at that moment he swore - softly, perhaps, but with distinct vehemence. A moment later he was exchanging the most cordial of greetings with his old friend.
"You have the knack, my dear De Grost," he remarked, "of turning up in the most surprising places. I certainly did not know that among your many accomplishments was included a love for field sports."
Peter smiled quietly. He was a very fine shot, and knew it.
"One must amuse oneself these days," he said. "There is little else to do."
Bernadine bit his lip.
"My absence from this country, I fear, has robbed you of an occupation."
"It has certainly deprived life of some of its savor," Peter admitted, blandly. "By the bye, will you not present me to your friend? I have the utmost sympathy with the intrepid political party of which he is a member."
Von Hern performed the introduction with a reluctance which he wholly failed to conceal. The Turk, however, had been walking on his other side, and his hat was already lifted. Peter had purposely raised his voice.
"It gives me the greatest pleasure, Major Kosuth," Peter said, "to welcome you to this country. In common, I believe, with the majority of my country people, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the movement which you represent."
Maj or Kosuth smiled slowly. His features were heavy and unexpressive. There was something of gloom, however, in the manner of his response.
"You are very kind, Baron," he replied, "and I welcome very much this expression of your interest in my party. I believe that the hearts of your country people are turned towards us in the same manner. I could wish that your country's political sympathies were as easily aroused."
Bernadine intervened promptly.
"Major Kosuth has been here only one day," he remarked, lightly. "I tell him that he is a little too impatient. See, we are approaching the wood. It is as well here to refrain from conversation."
"We will resume it later," Peter said, softly. "I have interests in Turkey, and it would give me great pleasure to have a talk with Major Kosuth."
"Financial interests?" the latter inquired, with some eagerness.
"I will explain after the first drive," he said, turning away.
Peter walked rather quickly until he reached a bend in the wood, and overtaking his host, paused for a moment.
"Lend me a loader for half an hour, Sir William," he begged. "I have to send my servant to the village with a telegram."
"With pleasure!" Sir William answered. "There are several to spare. I'll send one to your stand. There's Von Hern going the wrong way!" he exclaimed, in a tone of annoyance.
Peter was just in time to stop the whistle from going to his mouth.
"Do me another favor, Sir William," he pleaded. "Give me time to send off my telegram before the Count sees what I'm doing. He's such an inquisitive person," he went on, noticing his host's look of blank surprise. "Thank you ever so much."
Peter hurried on to his place. It was round the corner of the wood and for the moment out of sight of the rest of the party. He tore a sheet from his pocket-book and scribbled out a telegram. His man had disappeared and a substitute taken his place by the time von Hern arrived. The latter was now all amiability. It was hard to believe, from his smiling salutation, that he and the man to whom he waved his hand in so airy a fashion had ever declared war to the death!
The shooting began a few minutes later. Major Kosuth, from a campstool a few yards behind his friend, watched with somewhat languid interest. He gave one, indeed, the impression that his thoughts were far removed from this simple country party, the main object of whose existence for the present seemed to be the slaying of a certain number of inoffensive birds. He watched the indifferent performance of his friend and the remarkably fine shooting of his neighbor on the left, with the same lack-luster eye and want of enthusiasm. The beat was scarcely over before Peter, resigning his smoking guns, lit a cigarette and strolled across to the next stand. He plunged at once into a conversation with Kosuth, notwithstanding Bernadine's ill-concealed annoyance.
"Major Kosuth," he began, "I sympathize with you. It is a hard task for a man whose mind is centered upon great events, to sit still and watch a performance of this sort. Be kind to us all and remember that this represents to us merely a few hours of relaxation. We, too, have our more serious moments."
"You read my thoughts well," Maj or Kosuth declared. "I do not seek to excuse them. For half a life-time we Turks have toiled and striven, always in danger of our lives, to help forward those things which have now come to pass. I think that our lives have become tinged with somberness and apprehension. Now that the first step is achieved, we go forward, still with trepidation. We need friends, Baron de Grost."
"You cannot seriously doubt but that you will find them in this country," Peter remarked. "There has never been a time when the English nation has not sympathized with the cause of liberty."
"It is not the hearts of your people," Major Kosuth said, "which I fear. It is the antics of your politicians. Sympathy is a great thing, and good to have, but Turkey to-day needs more. The heart of a nation is big, but the number of those in whose hands it remains to give practical expression to its promptings, is few."
Bernadine, who had stood as much as he could, seized forcibly upon his friend.
"You must remember our bargain, Kosuth," he insisted no politics to-day. Until to-morrow evening we rest. Now I want to introduce you to a very old friend of mine - the Lord-Lieutenant of the county."
No man was better informed in current political affairs, but Peter, instead of joining the cheerful afternoon tea party at the close of the day, raked out a file of the Times from the library, and studied it carefully in his room. There were one or two items of news concerning which he made pencil notes. He had scarcely finished his task before a servant brought in a dispatch. He opened it with interest and drew pencil and paper towards him. It was from Paris, and in the code which he had learned by heart, no written key of which existed. Carefully he transposed it on to paper and read it through. It was dated from Paris a few hours back.
Kosuth left for England yesterday. Envoy from new Turkish Government. Requiring loan one million pounds. Asked for guarantee that it was not for warlike movement against Bulgaria, declined to give same. Communicated with English Ambassador and informed Kosuth yesterday that neither government would sanction loan unless undertaking were given that the same was not to be applied for war against Bulgaria. Turkey is under covenant to enter into no financial obligations with any other Power while the interest of former loans remains in abeyance. Kosuth has made two efforts to obtain loan privately, from prominent English financier and French Syndicate. Both have declined to treat on representations from government. Kosuth was expected return direct to Turkey. If, as you say, he is in England with Bernadine, we commend the affair to your utmost vigilance. Germany exceedingly anxious enter into close relations with new government of Turkey. Fear Kosuth's association with Bernadine proof of bad faith. Have had interview with Minister for foreign affairs, who relies upon our help. French Secret Service at your disposal, if necessary.
Peter read the message three times with the greatest care. He was on the point of destroying it when Violet came into the room. She was wearing a long tea jacket of sheeny silk. Her beautiful hair was most becomingly arranged, her figure as light and girlish as ever. She came into the room humming gayly and swinging a gold purse upon her finger.
"Won three rubbers out of four, Peter," she declared, "and a compliment from the Duchess. Am I a pupil to be proud of?"
She stopped short. Her lips formed themselves into the shape of a whistle. She knew very well the signs. Her husband's eyes were kindling, there was a firm set about his lips, the palm of his hand lay flat upon that sheet of paper.
"It was true?" she murmured. "It was Bernadine who was shooting to-day?"
"He was on the next stand," he replied.
"Then there is something doing, of course," Violet continued. "My dear Peter, you may be an enigma to other people. To me you have the most expressive countenance I ever saw. You have had a cable which you have just transcribed. If I had been a few minutes later, I think you would have torn up the result. As it is, I think I have come just in time to hear all about it."
Peter smiled, grimly but fondly. He uncovered the sheet of paper and placed it in her hands.
"So far," he said, "there isn't much to tell you. Von Hern turned up this morning with a Major Kosuth, who was one of the leaders of the revolution in Turkey. I wired Paris and this is the reply."
She read the message through thoughtfully and handed it back. Peter lit a match, and standing over the fireplace calmly destroyed it.
"A million pounds is not a great sum of money," Violet remarked. "Why could not Kosuth borrow it for his country from a private individual?"
"A million pounds is not a large sum to talk about," Peter replied, "but it is an exceedingly large sum for any one, even a multi-millionaire, to handle in cash. And Turkey, I gather, wants it at once. Besides, considerations which might be a security from a government, are no security at all as applied to a private individual."
"Do you think that Kosuth means to go behind the existing treaty and borrow from Germany?"
Peter shook his head.
"I can't quite believe that," he said. "It would mean the straining of diplomatic relations with both countries. It is out of the question."
"Then where does Bernadine come in?"
"I do not know," Peter answered.
"What is it that you are going to try and find out?" she asked.
"I am trying to discover who it is that Bernadine and Kosuth are waiting to see," Peter replied. "The worst of it is, I daren't leave here. I shall have to trust to the others."
She glanced at the clock.
"Well, go and dress," she said. "I'm afraid I've a little of your blood in me, after all. Life seems more stirring when Bernadine is on the scene."
The shooting party broke up two days later and Peter and his wife returned at once to town. The former found the reports which were awaiting his arrival disappointing. Bernadine and his guest were not in London, or if they were they had carefully avoided all the usual haunts. Peter read his reports over again, smoked a very long cigar alone in his study, and finally drove down to the city and called upon his stockbroker, who was also a personal friend. Things were flat in the city, and the latter was glad enough to welcome an important client. He began talking the usual market shop until his visitor stopped him.
"I have come to you, Edwardes, more for information than anything," Peter declared, "although it may mean that I shall need to sell a lot of stock. Can you tell me of any private financier who could raise a loan of a million pounds in cash within the course of a week?"
The stockbroker looked dubious.
"In cash," he repeated. "Money isn't raised that way, you know. I doubt whether there are many men in the whole city of London who could put up such an amount with only a week's notice."
"But there must be some one," Peter persisted. "Think! It would probably be a firm or a man not obtrusively English. I don't think the Jews would touch it, and a German citizen would be impossible."
"It is rather that way," he admitted.
"Would your friend Count von Hern be likely to be concerned in it?"
"Why?"Peter asked, with immovable face.
"Nothing, only I saw him coming out of Heseltine-Wrigge's office the other day," the stockbroker remarked, carelessly.
"And who is Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge?"
"A very wealthy American financier," the stockbroker replied, "not at all an unlikely person for a loan of the sort you mention."
"American citizen?" Peter inquired.
"Without a doubt. Of German descent, I should say, but nothing much left of it in his appearance. He settled over here in a huff because New York society wouldn't receive his wife."
"I remember all about it," Peter declared. "She was a chorus girl, wasn't she? Nothing particular against her, but the fellow had no tact. Do you know him, Edwardes?"
"Slightly," the stockbroker answered.
"Give me a letter to him," Peter said. "Give my credit as good a leg as you can. I shall probably go as a borrower."
Mr. Edwardes wrote a few lines and handed them to his client.
"Office is nearly opposite," he remarked. "Wish you luck, whatever your scheme is."
Peter crossed the street and entered the building which his friend had pointed out. He ascended in the lift to the third floor, knocked at the door which bore Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's name, and almost ran into the arms of a charmingly dressed little lady, who was being shown out by a broad-shouldered, typical American. Peter hastened to apologize.
"I beg your pardon," he said, raising his hat. "I was rather in a hurry and I quite thought I heard some one say 'Come in.'"
The lady replied pleasantly. Her companion, who was carrying his hat in his hand, paused reluctantly.
"Did you want to see me?" he asked.
"If you are Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, I did," Peter admitted. "I am the Baron de Grost, and I have a letter of introduction to you from Mr. Edwardes."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge tore open the envelope and glanced through the contents of the note. Peter, meanwhile, looked at his wife with genuine but respectfully cloaked admiration. The lady obviously returned his interest.
"Why, if you're the Baron de Grost," she exclaimed, "didn't you marry Vi Brown? She used to be at the Gaiety with me, years ago."
"I certainly did marry Violet Brown," Peter confessed, "and, if you will allow me to say so, Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge, I should have recognized you anywhere from your photographs."
"Say, isn't that queer?" the little lady remarked, turning to her husband. "I should love to see Vi again."
"If you will give me your address," Peter declared, promptly, "my wife will be delighted to call upon you."
The man looked up from the note.
"Do you want to talk business with me, Baron?" he asked.
"For a few moments only," Peter answered. "I am afraid I am a great nuisance, and if you wish it I will come down to the city again."
"That's all right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Myra won't mind waiting a minute or two. Come through here."
He turned and led the way into a quiet-looking suite of offices, where one or two clerks were engaged writing at open desks. They all three passed into an inner room.
"Any objections to my wife coming in?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge asked. "there's scarcely any place for her out there."
"Delighted," Peter answered.
She glanced at the clock.
"Remember we have to meet the Count von Hern at half past one at Prince's, Charles," she reminded him.
Her husband nodded. There was nothing in Peter's expression to denote that he had already achieved the first object of his visit!
"I shall not detain you," he said. "Your name has been mentioned to me, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, as a financier likely to have a large sum of money at his disposal. I have a scheme which needs money. Providing the security is unexceptionable, are you in a position to do a deal?"
"How much do you want?" Mr Heseltine-Wrigge asked.
"A million to a million and a half," Peter answered.
It was not Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's pose to appear surprised. Nevertheless, his eyebrows were slightly raised.
"Say, what is this scheme?" he inquired.
"First of all," Peter replied, "I should like to know whether there's any chance of business if I disclose it."
"Not an atom," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge declared. "I have just committed myself to the biggest financial transaction of my life and it will clean me out."
"Then I won't waste your time," Peter announced, rising.
"Sit down for a moment," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited, biting the end off a cigar and passing the box toward Peter. "that's all right. My wife doesn't mind. Say, it strikes me as rather a curious thing that you should come in here and talk about a million and a half, when that's just the amount concerned in my other little deal."
"As a matter of fact, it isn't at all queer," he answered. "I don't want the money. I came to see whether you were really interested in the other affair - the Turkish loan, you know."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge withdrew his cigar from his mouth and looked steadily at his visitor.
"Say, Baron," he declared, "you've got a nerve!"
"Not at all," Peter replied. "I'm here as much in your interests as my own."
"Whom do you represent, anyway?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge inquired.
"A company you have never heard of," Peter replied. "Our offices are in the underground places of the world, and we don't run to brass plates. I am here because I am curious about that loan. Turkey hasn't a shadow of security to offer you. Everything which she can pledge is pledged, to guarantee the interest on existing loans to France and England. She is prevented by treaty from borrowing in Germany. If you make a loan without security, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, I suppose you understand your position. The loan may be repudiated at any moment."
"Kind of a philanthropist, aren't you, Baron?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge remarked quietly.
"Not in the least," Peter assured him. "I know there is some tricky work going on and I haven't brains enough to get to the bottom of it. That's why I've come blundering in to you, and why I suppose you'll be telling the whole story to the Count von Hern at luncheon in an hour's time."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge smoked in silence for a moment or two,
"This transaction of mine," he said at last, "Isn't one I can talk about. I guess I'm on to what you want to know, but I simply can't tell you. The security is unusual, but it's good enough for me."
"It seems so to you, beyond a doubt," Peter replied. "Still, you have to do with a remarkably clever young man in the Count von Hern. I don't want to ask you any questions you feel I ought not to, but I do wish you'd tell me one thing."
"Go right ahead," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited. "Don't be shy."
"What day are you concluding this affair?"
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge scratched his chin for a moment thoughtfully and glanced at his diary. "Well, I'll risk that," he decided. "A week to-day I hand over the coin."
Peter drew a little breath of relief. A week was an immense time! He rose to his feet.
"That ends our business, then, for the present," he said. "Now I am going to ask both of you a favor. Perhaps I have no right to, but as a man of honor, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, you can take it from me that I ask it in your interests as well as my own. Don't tell the Count von Hern of my visit to you."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge held out his hand.
"That's all right," he declared. "You hear, Myra?"
"I'll be dumb, Baron," she promised. "Say, when do you think Vi can come and see me?"
Peter was guilty of snobbery. He considered it quite a justifiable weapon.
"She is at Windsor this afternoon," he remarked.
"What, at the Garden-Party?" Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge almost shrieked.
"I believe there's some fete or other to-morrow," he said, "but we're alone this evening. Why won't you dine with us, say at the Carlton?"
"We'd love to," the lady assented, promptly.
"At eight o'clock," Peter said, taking his leave.
The dinner party was a great success. Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge found herself among the class of people with whom it was her earnest desire to become acquainted, and her husband was well satisfied to see her keen longing for society likely to be gratified. The subject of Peter's call at the office in the city was studiously ignored. It was not until the very end of the evening, indeed, that the host of this very agreeable party was rewarded by a single hint. It all came about in the most natural manner. They were speaking of foreign capitals."
"I love Paris," Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge told her host. "Just adore it. Charles is often there on business and I always go along."
Peter smiled. There was just a chance here.
"Your husband does not often have to leave London though," he remarked, carelessly.
"Not often enough," she declared. "I just love getting about. Last week we had a perfectly horrible trip, though. We started off for Belfast quite unexpectedly, and I hated every minute of it."
Peter smiled inwardly, but he said never a word. His companion was already chattering on about something else. Peter crossed the hall a few minutes later, to speak to an acquaintance, slipped out to the telephone booth and spoke to his servant.
"A bag and a change," he ordered, "at Euston Station at twelve o'clock, in time for the Irish mail. Your mistress will be home as usual."
An hour later the dinner party broke up. Early the next morning, Peter crossed the Irish Channel. He returned the following day and crossed again within a few hours. In five days the affair was finished, except for the denouement.
Peter ascended in the lift to Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's office the following Thursday, calm and unruffled as usual, but nevertheless a little exultant. It was barely half an hour since he had become finally prepared for this interview. He was looking forward to it now with feelings of undiluted satisfaction. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge was in, he was told, and he was at once admitted to his presence. The financier greeted him with a somewhat curious smile.
"Say, this is very nice of you to look me up again!" he exclaimed. "Still worrying about that loan, eh?"
Peter shook his head.
"No, I'm not worrying about that any more," he answered, accepting one of his host's cigars. "The fact of it is that if it were not for me, you would be the one who would have to do the worrying."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge stopped short in the act of lighting his cigar.
"I'm not quite on," he remarked. "What's the trouble?"
"There is no trouble, fortunately" Peter replied. "Only a little disappointment for our friends the Count von Hern and Major Kosuth. I have brought you some information which I think will put an end to that affair of the loan."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge sat quite still for a moment. He brows were knitted, he showed no signs of nervousness.
"Go right on," he said.
"The security upon which you were going to advance a million and a half to the Turkish Government," Peter continued, "consisted of two Dreadnoughts and a cruiser, being built to the order of that country by Messrs. Shepherd & Hargreaves at Belfast."
"Quite right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge admitted, quietly. "I have been up and seen the boats. I have seen the shipbuilders, too."
"Did you happen to mention to the latter," Peter inquired, "that you were advancing money upon those vessels?"
"Certainly not," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Kosuth wouldn't hear of such a thing. If the papers got wind of it, there'd be the devil to pay. All the same, I have got an assignment from the Turkish Government."
"Not worth the paper it's written on," Peter declared, blandly.
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge rose unsteadily to his feet. He was a strong, silent man, but there was a queer look about his mouth.
"What the devil do you mean?" he demanded.
"Briefly, this," Peter explained. "The first payment, when these ships were laid down, was made not by Turkey but by an emissary of the German Government, who arranged the whole affair in Constantinople. The second payment was due ten months ago, and not a penny has been paid. Notice was given to the late government twice and absolutely ignored. According to the charter, therefore, these ships reverted to the shipbuilding companies who retained possession of the first payment as indemnity against loss. The Count von Hern's position was this. He represents the German Government. You were to find a million and a half of money with the ships as security. You also have a contract from the Count von Hern to take those ships off your hands provided the interest on the loan became overdue, a state of affairs which I can assure you would have happened within the next twelve months. Practically, therefore, you were made use of as an independent financier to provide the money with which the Turkish Government, broadly speaking, have sold the ships to Germany. You see, according to the charter of the shipbuilding company, these vessels cannot be sold to any foreign government without the consent of Downing Street. That is the reason why the affair had to be conducted in such a roundabout manner."
"All this is beyond me," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge said, hoarsely. "I don't care a d-n who has the ships in the end so long as I get my money!"
"But you would not get your money," Peter pointed out, "because there will be no ships. I have had the shrewdest lawyers in the world at work upon the charter, and there is not the slightest doubt that these vessels are, or rather were, the entire property of Messrs. Shepherd & Hargreaves. To-day they belong to me. I have bought them and paid two hundred thousand pounds deposit. I can show you the receipt and all the papers."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, said only one word, but that word was profane.
"I am sorry, of course, that you have lost the business," Peter concluded, "but surely it's better than losing your money?"
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge struck the table fiercely with his fist. There was a gray and unfamiliar look about his face.
"D-n it, the money's gone!" he declared, hoarsely. "They changed the day. Kosuth had to go back. I paid it twenty-four hours ago."
Peter whistled softly.
"If only you had trusted me a little more!" he murmured. "I tried to warn you."
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge snatched up his hat.
"They don't leave till the two-twenty," he shouted. "We'll catch
them at the Milan. If we don't, I'm ruined! By God, I'm ruined!"
They found Major Kosuth in the hall of the hotel. He was wearing a fur coat and was otherwise attired for traveling. His luggage was already being piled upon a cab. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge wasted no words upon him.
"You and I have got to have a talk, right here and now," he declared. "Where's the Count?"
Major Kosuth frowned gloomily.
"I do not understand you," he said, shortly. "Our business is concluded and I am leaving by the two-twenty train."
"You are doing nothing of the sort," the American answered, standing before him, grim and threatening.
The Turk showed no sign of terror. He gripped his silver-headed cane firmly.
"I think," he said, "that there is no one here who will prevent me."
Peter, who saw a fracas imminent, hastily intervened. "If you will permit me for a moment," he said, "there is a little explanation I should perhaps make to Major Kosuth."
The Turk took a step towards the door.
"I have no time to listen to explanations from you or any one," he replied. "My cab is waiting. I depart. If Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge is not satisfied with our transaction, I am sorry, but it is too late to alter anything."
For a moment it seemed as though a struggle between the two men was inevitable. Already people were glancing at them curiously, for Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge came of a primitive school, and he had no intention whatever of letting his man escape. Fortunately, at that moment Count von Hern came up and Peter at once appealed to him.
"Count," he said, "may I beg for your good offices? My friend, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge here, is determined to have a few words with Major Kosuth before he leaves. Surely this is not an unreasonable request when you consider the magnitude of the transaction which has taken place between them! Let me beg of you to persuade Major Kosuth to give us ten minutes. There is plenty of time for the train, and this is not the place for a brawl."
"It will not take us long, Kosuth, to hear what our friend has to say," he remarked. "We shall be quite quiet in the smoking-room. Let us go in there and dispose of the affair."
The Turk turned unwillingly in the direction indicated. All four men passed through the café, up some stairs, and into the small smoking-room. The room was deserted. Peter led the way to the far corner, and standing with his elbow leaning upon the mantelpiece, addressed them.
"The position is this," he said. "Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge has parted with a million and a half of his own money, a loan to the Turkish Government, on security which is not worth a snap of the fingers."
"It is a lie!" Major Kosuth exclaimed.
"My dear Baron, you are woefully misinformed," the Count declared.
Peter shook his head slowly.
"No," he said, "I am not misinformed. My friend here has parted with the money on the security of two battleships and a cruiser, now building in Shepherd & Hargreaves' yard at Belfast. The two battleships and cruiser in question belong to me. I have paid two hundred thousand pounds on account of them, and hold the shipbuilder's receipt."
"You are mad!" Bernadine cried, contemptuously.
Peter shook his head and continued.
"The battleships were laid down for the Turkish Government, and the money with which to start them was supplied by the Secret Service of Germany. The second installment was due ten months ago and has not been paid. The time of grace provided for has expired. The shipbuilders, in accordance with their charter, were consequently at liberty to dispose of the vessels as they thought fit. On the statement of the whole of the facts to the head of the firm, he has parted with these ships to me. I need not say that I have a purchaser within a mile from here. It is a fancy of mine, Count von Hern, that those ships will sail better under the British flag."
There was a moment's tense silence, The face of the Turk was black with anger. Bernadine was trembling with rage.
"This is a tissue of lies!" he exclaimed.
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"The facts are easy enough for you to prove," he said, "and I have here," he added, producing a roll of papers, "copies of the various documents for your inspection. Your scheme, of course, was simple enough. It fell through for this one reason only. A final notice, pressing for the second installment and stating the days of grace, was forwarded to Constantinople about the time of the recent political troubles. The late government ignored it. In fairness to Major Kosuth, we will believe that the present government was ignorant of it. But the fact remains that Messrs. Shepherd & Hargreaves became at liberty to sell those vessels, and that I have bought them. You will have to give up that money, Major Kosuth."
"By God, he shall!" the American muttered.
Bernadine leaned a little towards his enemy.
"You must give us a minute or two," he insisted. "We shall not go away, I promise you. Within five minutes you shall hear our decision."
Peter sat down at the writing-table and commenced a letter. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge mounted guard over the door and stood there, a grim figure of impatience. Before the five minutes was up, Bernadine crossed the room.
"I congratulate you, Baron," he said, dryly. "You are either an exceedingly lucky person or you are more of a genius than I believe. Kosuth is even now returning his letters of credit to your friend. You are quite right. The loan cannot stand."
"I was sure," Peter answered, "that you would see the matter correctly."
"You and I," Bernadine continued, "know very well that I don't care a fig about Turkey, new or old. The ships I will admit that I intended to have for my own country. As it is, I wish you joy of them. Before they are completed, we may be fighting in the air.
Peter smiled, and, side by side with Bernadine, strolled across to Heseltine-Wrigge, who was buttoning up a pocket-book with trembling fingers.
"Personally," Peter said, "I believe that the days of wars are over."
"That may or may not be," Bernadine answered. "One thing is very certain. Even if the nations remain at peace, there are enmities which strike only deeper as the years pass. I am going to take a drink now with my disappointed friend Kosuth. If I raise my glass 'To the Day!' you will understand."
"My friend Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge and I are for the same destination," he replied, pushing open the swing door which led to the bar. "I return your good wishes, Count. I, too, drink 'To the Day!'"
Bernadine and Kosuth left, a few minutes afterwards. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, who was feeling himself again, watched them depart with ill-concealed triumph.
"Say, you had those fellows on toast, Baron," he declared, admiringly. "I couldn't follow the whole affair, but I can see that you're in for big things sometimes. Remember this. If money counts at any time, I'm with you."
Peter clasped his hand.
"Money always counts," he said, "and friends!"