The Secret of the Silver Car
скачать книгу бесплатно
Her father shook his head.
"That's just what it doesn't mean," he returned. "Mr. Trent says I am to tell Count Mich?l he has not the treaty. If Trent had it he would have told me so. I am to do this risky thing in order that he may ultimately succeed. You see, Daphne, my statement to the press that I have decided to take office is part of a move in the game that another man is playing."
"But he's playing it for you," she cried.
The earl smiled.
"Is he?" he returned, "I'll admit at all events that I am the one most to be benefited if he succeeds."
"But he will succeed," she persisted. "Does he look like the kind of man to be beaten?"
"Did Captain Hardcastle look the kind of man either?" Lord Rosecarrel asked. "And you remember poor Piers Edgcomb the best fencer in Europe, a man with nerves of steel? I firmly believe some of the count's men killed him."
It cost the girl an effort to say what she did.
"But, dad," she reminded him, "they had no experience at, at that sort of thing."
"And this one has? That, alone, comforts me. But the odds are so tremendously against him."
"He went there knowing it."
"I am not sure that it would not be safer for you for Arthur and for me if I did go back permanently to private life. If Mr. Trent should fail – "
"You won't be implicated," she reminded him. "He has gone just as a cockney chauffeur."
"But don't you see," the earl said patiently, "that I am here invited to throw down the gauntlet to the man who has in his power what can disgrace me? Hardcastle and Sir Piers failed but their failure did not drag me into it as this scheme will do."
"Who will be foreign secretary if you refuse it?" Daphne asked.
"That impossible nonconformist person Muir who has never been farther afield than Paris and has no knowledge of Eastern affairs at all. He will undo everything I have striven for. He will play into Count Mich?l's hands as a child might."
"Then isn't the chance worth taking?" Daphne asked, pointing to the cable.
"I've taken it already," the earl said, "I wanted you to reassure me. I felt a confidence utterly without logical foundation as to the ability of your Anthony Trent."
"That's splendid," she cried.
"I am not so sure," her father returned, "Daphne, you know what I mean when I say I hope Arthur's action in saving his life was not like those other actions of the poor lad which have brought dire trouble to us all. You must know that there can be no attachment between you and him."
"You'd better know it," she said quietly, "but there is what you call an attachment. As to marriage – he says like you it is impossible so I suppose it is. That's all over." She patted his gray hair affectionately. "I'm not going to marry anyone. I shall have my hands full in looking after the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."
"My dear," he said, "you are taking this wonderfully well.I'm grateful. I ought never to have let the thing drift along as I did. I blame myself."
"I'm glad," she whispered, "You couldn't possibly understand it, but even if I never see him again I shall always be thankful to have known him."
The earl looked at her and sighed. His daughter was one of the loveliest girls in England, highly accomplished, allied to some of the great families of her own land and continental Europe and had been sought after since her coming out ball. He had hoped to see her married to some honorable man of her own class and instead she had fallen in love with an adventurer whose past – according to his own admission – made a marriage impossible.
Of late he had suffered much. The death of his wife, the loss of two sons, the many troubles Arthur's past had brought, his enforced retirement and now Daphne's hopeless attachment. The only thing that offered him any relaxation was the possibility of getting into harness again. And that would only be attainable if Anthony Trent, that mysterious American he had grown to like, succeeded in a forlorn hope. At least he must do his part. A little wearily he took up the telephone and called a number in Downing Street where was the official residence of the prime minister, the man primarily in charge of the destinies of a great empire.
There was no telephone in Castle Radna. Every morning some one of Count Mich?l's men went to Agram and brought back letters and telegrams. It fell to Anthony Trent to fetch the mail that came twenty-four hours after the conversation over the telephone with the prime minister. Among the many pieces which the postmaster placed in the double locked mail bag was a trans-continental telegram. It was the function of this big letter pouch to guard its contents from the inquisitive by locks to which only the postmaster and Hentzi had keys.
When once Trent had established this he came by night to the room where the secretary snored and made impressions of the keys and so was able to open the pouch without any forcing of the locks.
Instead of going on to Radna direct Trent turned his car into a byroad of the oak forest and steamed open the wire. It was as he feared, in code which he might be able to decipher after long study. But if the language should be Croatian or Hungarian he would still be in the dark.
It chanced that the count was near the garage as he drove in. It was a frequent habit of Count Mich?l's to walk over to the great stables where formerly his thoroughbreds had been housed and now only a few riding horses remained. He greeted "Arlfrit" with the manner that proved him to be in a good temper. Hentzi was at his side and opened the mail pouch. Instantly he passed the telegram to his master. Tinkering at some pretended indisposition of his engines Trent watched the count's face as he read.
The man fell into a sudden and roaring rage. He gesticulated, he swore and he pummelled the cringing Hentzi. His talk was in Croatian but his meaning was plain. Suddenly he turned on Trent.
"Do not put your car away," he ordered him, "You must return to Agram."
No mail was ever entrusted to the Temesvar servants. Even what was sent to Agram was sealed so that the post master alone or his assistant could unlock the bag.
In the same secluded dell of the forest Trent opened the bag a second time and read the message addressed to the Earl of Rosecarrel. "I am informed," it said, "that you have accepted office. Deny this rumor instantly. Affirmation means danger to you. Mich?l Temesvar."
Trent chuckled. Things were beginning to move. Of late he had found his occupation boring. It seemed he was always acting as a mail carrier chosen over Sissek because he made so much better time. He had no chance at golf. Pauline was away. Hentzi told him so one day when he had driven three ladies up from Fiume and learned they were all high-born and that for a time the company at the castle was distinguished.
"You would not understand what I meant," Hentzi said, loftily, "if I told you many important things are going on. When our guests have gone there may be those of Pauline's sort you may drive from Fiume. Then the air is different. For myself I prefer such company as we have at present."
"The lords and ladies?" Trent said remembering that he had seen Hentzi acting as a sort of upper servant at such a dinner.
"Exactly," Hentzi agreed. "Pauline had been ill advised enough to disobey the count. There is a guest who admired her."
"Why didn't the guv'nor biff him one same as he does you when he's mad?" Trent demanded.
"There are some to whom even Count Mich?l may offer no violence," Hentzi returned in a shocked voice. "But you would not understand."
On the whole Anthony Trent was glad that the prince had been the cause of the temporary removal of Pauline. She was a menace to him. Also he rejoiced to think that the arbitrary Mich?l Temesvar had his own uneasy moments.
Because Anthony Trent was more concerned in the successful outcome of his present design than any other of his adventurous career he denied himself the pleasure of those nocturnal wanderings in the castle corridors and rooms. So that he might make Daphne happy by delivering her father from bondage he decided to take no risks which might lead to his capture. Particularly he wanted to secrete himself among the trees in green tubs and flowers of the courtyard. Although it was not to his immediate advantage to learn of the plotting which was going on under the roof which sheltered him a knowledge of it promised some interesting developments in the future.
But now that the exchange of telegrams commenced between the two old adversaries he found excitement enough in going to Agram and opening the wires. Lord Rosecarrel, he found, had acted on his instructions. He affirmed his intention to take office and when he received another more threatening telegram from Count Mich?l declared that he knew the treaty was not in his possession.
Count Mich?l's anger was reflected in the face of each scurrying servant of the many with whom Trent came into contact. Hentzi visited it vicariously upon one Alfred Anthony until that bellicose chauffeur reminded him that the fate of Peter Sissek was his for the asking. Later Hentzi grew confidential. He had the impression that this humble member of a dominant people looked up to him for his world knowledge and in order to impress Alfred Anthony the more made indiscreet revelations which were duly stored in the careful retentive memory of Anthony Trent.
It was from Hentzi that Trent learned of the sudden trip of their common employer to London.
"It is most inconvenient for us both," said the secretary. "For the count that he should have to leave his guests and for me that I should have to entertain them in his absence."
"I thought you liked the company of lords and ladies," Alfred Anthony said in simple tribute to his companion's parts.
"There is responsibility you could not comprehend," Hentzi returned, and left Trent to think over his plans.
So far things had travelled evenly. The test was now to come. He was reasonably certain that when Count Mich?l set out for London he would have in his possession the draft of the treaty. With this he would confront a prime minister and possibly the entire cabinet. He knew well of Buchanan's dislike of Lord Rosecarrel. Had Anthony Trent been in the count's place he would never have committed the error of taking so important a document with him. Trent invariably mailed what he had taken to himself and breathed freer when the responsibility was on another's shoulders. This, of course, only when a long journey was to be made. When he had stolen the Mount Aubyn ruby in San Francisco he had mailed it to his camp in Maine and thus confounded detectives who had searched his apartment.
That Count Mich?l had not adopted this plan he knew because for the past week he alone had fetched and carried mail matter. The time he had taken in opening the mails had to be made up by faster travelling and the Lion engine never failed him. The peasants used to point out the racing car with pride and give him road room gladly. On those tablets of memory he inscribed many interesting details that occurred in letters written by other than the count. He could read in French, German, Italian and Spanish and the letters which most interested him were in German.
Sometimes in the lonely night he wondered whether or not this knowledge might not be sufficiently important to at least three governments to win him a pardon should he ever be found out for crimes of other days. And if there should come a time when he were free from the ever haunting fear of arrest might there not be the fulfilment of his dearest wishes? He was sure Daphne would drop her title if he thought it best.
Then he put the thought from him resolutely. That was in the future and he was immediately concerned with the success of this thing he had sworn to accomplish.
Hentzi told him that Count Mich?l would travel by night to Fiume there to board a Venice bound boat and catch the continental express for Paris. As none but he drove the Lion and the count preferred it and its driver the assumption was that Alfred Anthony would take him. It was on this hypothesis that the success of Trent's scheme depended. He would probably be alone. At most some servant or valet would be chosen to travel with his master and he would of course sit next to the chauffeur.
Trent had long ago picked out a suitable spot where such a luckless person could be dumped. There was a steep grassy bank some twenty miles along the road where a man hit sufficiently deftly would roll out of reach with small possibility of injury. A little stream ran at the bottom which would revive him if stunned or drown him as the fates saw best. Stored in the Lion car was a change of apparel, some food and other necessaries.
It was Hentzi who broke the bad news. The secretary came upon the eager mechanic tuning up his engine lovingly. So engrossed was he that he neither saw Hentzi nor noticed that Peter Sissek was polishing the brass work on his Panhard.
"Getting things shipshape and Bristol fashion," Trent said, when he saw Hentzi.
"It is Peter who takes the count," the secretary said idly, "You are to go to Budapesth tomorrow. You see what it is to be considered so skillful that Count Mich?l offers you to his guests and goes more slowly himself."
Then Trent noticed the grinning and triumphant Sissek. It was a black moment for him.
"Yes, Peter takes the count," Hentzi repeated.
"I think he'll have to," Trent said slowly, "for the second time."
This alteration in the schedule which for the moment promised utter disruption to his plans might have been brought about by reasons other than those suggested by Hentzi. It was curious that at just this critical moment Sissek should be entrusted with his master's safety and Trent given a mission which Peter Sissek with his wider knowledge of the country could better have filled.
But it was time wasting to ponder on this now. In three hours Trent would have started with his Lion. Sissek a slower driver and using an older and less speedy car must get away earlier. Almost frightened out of his accustomed calm Trent learned that the count was leaving in a little over an hour, just as the darkness would set in. What plans he could make must be made instantly. Failure was now almost at his side.
Failure! Anthony Trent groaned at thought of it; Lord Rosecarrel would be publicly humiliated. Daphne would blame him for it. With what assurance and headstrong confidence he had plunged into an adventure which had brought death to those other men! He could never face her if he failed and failure was in sight.
For a moment he thought of forcing a quarrel on Peter Sissek. Before Hentzi or others could intervene he could with his boxer's skill most certainly damage one eye if not two of a man who, to drive down dark and dangerous roads, must possess unclouded vision.
But he hesitated. If Count Mich?l had chosen Sissek because Alfred Anthony was under suspicion an assault on the Croatian at the present moment might tend to confirm these doubts and he might find himself overpowered and under guards he could not overwhelm. To put the car out of commission was hardly possible with Sissek guarding it and another man cleaning it. And these two, it seemed to Trent, were watching suspiciously.
By some trick of fate it was Sissek himself who contributed to Trent's success. Peter was arrogant now and motioned to Trent to aid him in lifting some baggage to the top of the Panhard limousine. Like most of the continental cars it had a deep luggage rail around the top on which trunks or lesser baggage could be carried. There was a cabin trunk, a bundle of rugs and a dressing bag. Peter Sissek was astonished when Trent cheerfully obeyed him and even helped to strap the cabin trunk securely.
Hentzi was amazed at the sudden change that had taken place in the English chauffeur's attitude. He was now lively who had been gloomy, and loquacious when he had been taciturn.
"Why do you laugh," he asked.
"At the idea of Peter taking the count," said Trent. "Someday you'll know what that means."
"I know now," Hentzi insisted, "I speak perfectly and my English vocabulary is wider than could be that of a man of your position."
As Peter Sissek unaccompanied by valet or assistant drove down the hill, after leaving the pavilion at the first tee on his left, he was horrified to find a tree across his path. He dismounted, moved it aside with difficulty and proceeded on his way.
But this time he carried two passengers.
The motor had come to an abrupt stop under a big oak tree whose spreading arms reached across the mountain road.
Lying along one of those rigid oak limbs Anthony Trent, after nicely adjusting the fallen tree so that Peter Sissek's eyes would see it at the proper moment, had waited anxiously for the approach of the Panhard.
He was not sure that the powerful headlights would not pierce his leafy shelter and discover him to the watchful driver. He could imagine vividly the chauffeur warning his employer. And as Count Mich?l always went armed and might even now be suspicious of his cockney servant he would very likely have no hesitation in picking him off the boughs as Anthony Trent, years before in his New Hampshire hills, had shot squirrels. If by any chance he could get to the ground, only twelve feet beneath, before he was aimed at he would have to trust to the moment's inspiration for his next move. He knew almost certainly that Count Mich?l carried the document he wanted in a flat leather case which fitted into his breast pocket.
If by any chance the men did not see him and the car passed him on its seaward way his errand would be unaccomplished, his boasts vain and the humiliation of his friends certain. He had determined if this happened to send a telegram to the earl admitting defeat, and warning of the count's visit.
The Panhard came to a grinding stop a foot from the barrier. Sissek removed it as quickly as he could but it was heavy enough to have taxed Anthony Trent's superior strength! and the count grew so impatient at the time taken that he sprang down to the road and urged his man to greater activities.
The two were jabbering in Croatian when Anthony Trent lowered himself to the top of the limousine and nestled down in the shadow of the baggage.
Trent had often been incensed in reading newspaper accounts of his exploits to find that their success was so often ascribed to mere luck. He supposed it would be so this time if it were known. People would say that owing to two boulders in the side of the road Sissek pulled up so that Trent could drop directly down on to the car. In most cases the greatest luck comes to the best player and Anthony Trent had placed the rocks on the road with the same care that he would play a stroke in golf or cast along the edge of lily pads where the big trout lay in graceful ease. There was only one place where Sissek could halt his machine.
It was while the car travelled along a poor and rough section of the route before reaching the Marie Louise road that Trent unstrapped a bundle and selected a dark travelling-rug to cover him from observant eyes in the infrequent towns through which they must pass.
Half a hundred schemes raced through his quick, fertile brain only to be rejected. He wondered, for instance, if it were possible to cut through the top of the car and get at the count who was certain to be sleeping a goodly portion of the journey. He decided that to lean over the rails and try to peer through the oval glass window in the rear would also be unwise. At most he would only catch a glimpse of the count and might just as easily be seen himself. Then he wondered if it might not be possible to drop down on Peter Sissek's shoulders and strangle him into quietness.
But Peter Sissek was taking his car along at a steady rate of twenty-five miles the hour and with his hands off the steering wheel – a certain contingency if Trent's strong fingers closed around his throat – a bad accident was inevitable. A precipice on one side and a wall of rock on the other, he would be between the deep sea and the devil.
He saw that Sissek must be eliminated at all costs. A match for either of them singly Trent would certainly be overpowered in a tussle with both; although they lacked the cat-like quickness of the American they were both of uncommon strength. The immediate problem was to get rid of Sissek and leave his master none the wiser.
There was a part of the road through which they must presently pass which promised aid to the schemer. It was a gentle rise through a very dense section of beech forest and Peter would go slowly fearing that the uneven surface would jolt his lord into unwelcome anger.
Peter Sissek, straining his eyes to see that his way was clear, was startled when one of the pieces of baggage on the top of the car was jolted off. It fell on the Panhard's bonnet and then bounded into the side of the road. He had run past it fifty yards before he brought his machine to a stop.
When he backed up to the fallen bag Count Mich?l was aroused from slumber and ascribed the accident to Peter's carelessness. In the chauffeur's apology Anthony Trent heard his assumed name brought in. Plainly Peter was making him the culprit. He had pitched the bundle from the roof with some skill. It bounded far into the shadow. Finally Peter Sissek stumbled over it. And as he stooped to retrieve it, Alfred Anthony swung at him. For the second time Peter had taken the count. To hit a defenceless, unsuspecting man was not a thing to give Trent any pleasure, but it was not a moment in which to hesitate. With Peter's livery cap and duster on, Trent took the bundle on his shoulder and carried it at such an angle that in case of scrutiny his face would be shielded from gaze.
скачать книгу бесплатно