The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
The great room was dimly enough lit, for the windows looking out upon the street were high and heavily curtained, The man who sat at the desk was almost in the shadow. Yet every now and then a shaft of sunlight fell across his pale, worn face. A strange combination this of the worker, the idealist, the man of affairs. From outside came the hum of a great city. At times, too, there came to his ears as he sat here the roar of nations at strife, the fierce underneath battle of the great countries of the world struggling for supremacy. And here at this cabinet this man sat often, and listened, strenuous, romantic, with the heart of a lion and the lofty imagination of an eagle, he steered unswervingly on to her destiny a great people. Others might rest, hut never he.
He looked up from the letter spread out before him. Lucille was seated at his command, a few yards away. Mr. Sabin stood respectfully before him.
"Monsieur le Duc," he said, "this letter, penned by my illustrious father to you, is sufficient to secure my good offices. In what manner can I serve you?"
"Your Majesty," Mr. Sabin answered, "in the first place by receiving me here. In the second by allowing me to lay before you certain grave and very serious charges against the Order of the Yellow Crayon, of which your Majesty is the titular head."
"The Order of the Yellow Crayon," the Emperor said thoughtfully, "is society composed of aristocrats pledged to resist the march of socialism. It is true that I am the titular head of this organisation. What have you to say about it?"
"Only that your Majesty has been wholly deceived," Mr. Sabin said respectfully, "concerning the methods and the working of this society. Its inception and inauguration were above reproach. I myself at once became a member. My wife, Countess of Radantz, and sole representative of that ancient family, has been one all her life."
The Emperor inclined his head towards Lucille.
"I see no reason," he said, "when our capitals are riddled with secret societies, all banded together against us, why the great families of Europe should not in their turn come together and display a united front against this common enemy. The Order of the Yellow Crayon has had more than my support. It has had the sanction of my name. Tell me what you have against it."
"I have grave things to say concerning it," Mr. Sahin answered, "and concerning those who have wilfully deceived your Majesty. The influences to be wielded by the society were mainly, I believe, wealth, education, and influence. There was no mention made of murder, of an underground alliance with the 'gamins' of Paris, the dregs of humanity, prisoners, men skilled in the art of secret death."
The Emperor's tone was stern, almost harsh.
"Duc de Souspennier, what are these things which you are saying?" he asked.
"Your Majesty, I speak the truth," Mr. Sabin answered firmly. "There are in the Order of the Yellow Crayon three degrees of membership. The first, which alone your Majesty knows of, simply corresponds with what in England is known as the Primrose League. The second knows that beneath is another organisation pledged to frustrate the advance of socialism, if necessary by the use of their own weapons. The third, whose meetings and signs and whose whole organisation is carried on secretly, is allied in every capital in Europe with criminals and murderers. With its great wealth it has influence in America as well as in every city of the world where there are police to be suborned, or desperate men to be bought for tools. At the direction of this third order Lavinski died suddenly in the Hungarian House of Parliament, Herr Krettingen was involved in a duel, the result of which was assured beforehand, and Reginald Brott, the great English statesman, was ruined and disgraced. I myself have just narrowly escaped death at his hands, and in my place my servant has been driven to death. Of all these things, your Majesty, I have brought proofs."
The Emperor's face was like a carven image, but his tone was cold and terrible.
"If these things have been sanctioned," he said, "by those who are responsible for my having become the head of the Order; they shall feel my vengeance."
"Your Majesty," Mr. Sabin said earnestly, "a chance disclosure, and all might come to light. I myself could blazon the story through Europe. Those who are responsible for the third degree of the Order of the Yellow Crayon, and for your Majesty's ignorance concerning its existence, have trifled with the destiny of the greatest sovereign of modern times."
"The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer," the Emperor said, "is the acting head of the Order."
"The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer," Mr. Sabin said firmly, "is responsible for the existence of the third degree. It is he who has connected the society with a system of corrupt police or desperate criminals in every great city. It is the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer, your Majesty, and his horde of murderers from whom I have come to seek your Majesty's protection. I have yet another charge to make against him. He has made, and is making still, use of the society to further his own private intrigues. In the name of the Order he brought my wife from America. She faithfully carried out the instructions of the Council. She brought about the ruin of Reginald Brott. By the rules of the society she was free then to return to her home. The Prince, who had been her suitor, declined to let her go. My life was attempted. The story of the Prince's treason is here, with the necessary proofs. I know that orders have been given to the hired murderers of the society for my assassination. My life even here is probably an uncertain thing. But I have told your Majesty the truth, and the papers which I have brought with me contain proof of my words."
The Emperor struck a bell and gave a few orders to the young officer who immediately answered it. Then he turned again to Mr. Sabin.
"I have summoned Saxe Leinitzer to Berlin," he said. "These matters shall be gone into most thoroughly. In the meantime what can I do for you?"
"We will await the coming of the Prince," Mr. Sabin answered grimly.
* * * * *
Lady Carey passed from her bath-room into a luxurious little dressing-room. Her letters and coffee were on a small table near the fire, an easy-chair was drawn up to the hearthrug. She fastened the girdle of her dressing-gown, and dismissed her maid.
"I will ring for you in half an hour, Annette," she said. "See that I am not disturbed."
On her way to the fireplace she paused for a moment in front of a tall looking-glass, and looked steadily at her own reflection.
"I suppose," she murmured to herself, "that I am looking at my best now. I slept well last night, and a bath gives one colour, and white is so becoming. Still, I don't know why I failed. She may be a little better looking, but my figure is as good. I can talk better, I have learnt how to keep a man from feeling dull, and there is my reputation. Because I played at war correspondence, wore a man's clothes, and didn't shriek when I was under fire, people have chosen to make a heroine of me. That should have counted for something with him - and it didn't. I could have taken my choice of any man in London - and I wanted him. And I have failed!"
She threw herself back in her easy-chair and laughed softly.
"Failed! What an ugly word! He is old, and he limps, and I - well, I was never a very bashful person. He was beautifully polite, but he wouldn't have anything to say to me."
She began to tear open her letters savagely.
"Well, it is over. If ever anybody speaks to me about it I think that I shall kill them. That fool Saxe Leinitzer will stroke his beastly moustache, and smile at me out of the corners of his eyes. The Dorset woman, too - bah, I shall go away. What is it, Annette?"
"His Highness the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer has called, milady."
"Called! Does he regard this as a call?" she exclaimed, glancing towards the clock. "Tell him, Annette, that your mistress does not receive at such an hour. Be quick, child. Of course I know that he gave you a sovereign to persuade me that it was important, but I won't see him, so be off."
"But yes, milady," Annette answered, and disappeared.
Lady Carey sipped her coffee.
"I think," she said reflectively, "that it must be Melton."
"Milady," she exclaimed, "His Highness insisted upon my bringing you this card. He was so strange in his manner, milady, that I thought it best to obey."
Lady Carey stretched out her hand. A few words were scribbled on the back of his visiting card in yellow crayon. She glanced at it, tore the card up, and threw the pieces into the fire.
"My shoes and stockings, Annette," she said, "and just a morning wrap - anything will do."
The Prince was walking restlessly up and down the room, when Lady Carey entered. He welcomed her with a little cry of relief.
"Heavens!" he exclaimed. "I thought that you were never coming."
"I was in no hurry," she answered calmly. "I could guess your news, so I had not even the spur of curiosity."
He stopped short.
"You have heard nothing! It is not possible?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"No, but I know you, and I know him. I am quite prepared to hear that you are outwitted. Indeed, to judge from your appearance there can be no doubt about it. Remember I warned you."
The Prince was pale with fury.
"No one could foresee this," he exclaimed. "He has walked into the lion's den."
"Then," Lady Carey said, "I am quite prepared to hear that he tamed the lion."
"If there was one person living whom I could have sworn that this man dared not visit, it was our Emperor," the Prince said. "It is only a few years since, through this man's intrigues, Germany was shamed before the world."
"And yet," Lady Carey said sweetly, "the Emperor has received him."
"I have private intelligence from Berlin," Saxe Leinitzer answered. "Mr. Sabin was in possession of a letter written to him by the Emperor Frederick, thanking him for some service or other; and the letter was a talisman."
"How like him," Lady Carey murmured, "to have the letter."
"What a pity," the Prince sneered, "that such devotion should remain unrewarded."
Lady Carey sighed.
"He has broken my heart," she replied.
The Prince threw out his hands.
"You and I," he cried, "why do we behave like children! Let us start afresh. Listen! The Emperor has summoned me to Berlin."
"Dear me," Lady Carey murmured. "I am afraid you will have a most unpleasant visit."
"I dare not go," the Prince said slowly. "It was I who induced the Emperor to become the titular head of this cursed Order. Of course he knew nothing about the second or third degree members and our methods. Without doubt he is fully informed now. I dare not face him."
"What shall you do?" Lady Carey asked curiously.
"I am off to South America," he said. "It is a great undeveloped country, and there is room for us to move there. Muriel, you know what I want of you."
"My good man," she answered, "I haven't the faintest idea."
"You will come with me," he begged. "You will not send me into exile so lonely, a wanderer! Together there may be a great future before us. You have ambition, you love intrigue, excitement, danger. None of these can you find here. You shall come with me. You shall not say no. Have I not been your devoted slave? Have - "
She stopped him. Her lips were parted in a smile of good-natured scorn.
"Don't be absurd, Saxe Leinitzer. It is true that I love intrigue, excitement and danger. That is what made me join your Order, and really I have had quite a little excitement out of it, for which I suppose I ought to thank you. But as for the rest, why, you are talking rubbish. I would go to South America to-morrow with the right man, but with you, why, it won't bear talking about. It makes me angry to think that you should believe me capable of such shocking taste as to dream of going away with you."
He flung himself from the room. Lady Carey went back to her coffee and letters. She sent for Annette.
"Annette," she directed, "we shall go to Melton to-morrow. Wire Haggis to have the Lodge in order, and carriages to meet the midday train. I daresay I shall take a few people down with me. Let George go around to Tattershalls at once and make an appointment for me there at three o'clock this afternoon. Look out my habits and boots, too, Annette."
Lady Carey leaned back in her chair for a moment with half-closed eyes.
"I think," she murmured, "that some of us in our youth must have drunk from some poisoned cup, something which turned our blood into quicksilver. I must live, or I must die. I must have excitement every hour, every second, or break down. There are others too - many others. No wonder that that idiot of a man in Harley Street talked to me gravely about my heart. No excitement. A quiet life! Bah! Such wishy-washy coffee and only one cigarette."
She lit it and stood up on the hearthrug. Her eyes were half closed, every vestige of colour had left her cheeks, her hand was pressed hard to her side. For a few minutes she seemed to struggle for breath. Then with a little lurch as though still giddy, she stooped, and picking up her fallen cigarette, thrust it defiantly between her teeth.
"Not this way," she muttered. "From a horse's back if I can with the air rushing by, and the hot joy of it in one's heart ... Only I hope it won't hurt the poor old gee ... Come in, Annette. What a time you've been, child.
* * * * *
The Emperor sent for Mr. Sabin. He declined to recognise his incognito.
"Monsieur le Duc," he said, "if proof of your story were needed it is here. The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer has ignored my summons. He has fled to South America."
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"A most interesting country," he murmured, "for the Prince."
"You yourself are free to go when and where you will. You need no longer have any fears. The Order does not exist. I have crushed it."
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"Your Majesty," he said, "has shown exemplary wisdom."
"From its inception," the Emperor said, "I believe that the idea was a mistaken one. I must confess that its originality pleased me; my calmer reflections, however, show me that I was wrong. It is not for the nobles of the earth to copy the methods of socialists and anarchists. These men are a pest upon humanity, but they may have their good uses. They may help us to govern alertly, vigorously, always with our eyes and ears strained to catch the signs of the changing times. Monsieur le Duc, should you decide to take up your residence in this country I shall at all times be glad to receive you. But your future is entirely your own."
Mr. Sabin accepted his dismissal from audience, and went back to Lucille.
"The Prince," he told her, "has gone-to South America. The Order does not exist any longer. Will you dine in Vienna, or in Frankfort?"
She held out her arms.
"You wonderful man!" she cried.