Wyndham Martyn.

The Secret of the Silver Car

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"But my lord," Trent reminded him, "I am a professional. I have never failed. I detest a brawl but I love danger, and life means less to me than you might suppose. If I fail you will never be compromised. I shall want no help nor send any plea for assistance. I work alone – always."

The earl did not answer him directly.

"The hounds met at Michaelstowe this morning," he said, "and I took the opportunity of sending off a wire in reply to this post card which came last night."

Trent looked at it. It was in a language unknown to him.

"It is in Hungarian," Lord Rosecarrel told him, "and it says, 'Please let me know that the report in today's Times that you have accepted office is incorrect.' The telegram I sent to the writer said: 'The report is wrong. I have refused.' There you have my secret. The man who sent the post card, in effect, threatened me with exposure if I came out of retirement."

"Then it is blackmail," Trent breathed.

"I am going to trust you," the earl said suddenly. "I am going to think of you as the chivalrous gentleman. The man who wrote the post card is a very big figure in the politics of what used to be called mittel Europa. Our interests clashed. He was on one side and I on the other. It happened that I was usually able to out man?uvre him because my training had been such that no man in public life knew the Balkans as I did, and do still, the wheels within wheels, the inner hidden things that make national sentiment so dangerous at times or so valuable as the case may be. In time he came to think me the one man who could comprehend his activities and check them. He set out to ruin me. He believed his ends justified other methods than I used. I was shot at on the Ferencz Jozsef rakpart for example and a companion killed."

"Do you still seem a menace to him?" Trent asked.

"More than ever if I take the position offered me in the near East. You see the rumour in the Times brings instant recognition. I knew he was in London."

Trent looked at the speaker and wondered what it could be which kept him from the work his country demanded of him. Assuredly it was not lack of courage.

"He was in London when he obtained the hold over me that keeps me buried here. Arthur was at the moment a secretary of Rudolph Castoon. One night he opened a strong box of mine and took some bank notes to pay a racing debt. It was a terrible blow to think he had fallen so low, but I was more alarmed to find a tentative draft of a treaty which was never made effective, a document in my own writing, had disappeared. At the time it might have incensed a country since allied with us almost to the point of a declaration of war. Arthur told me it was gibberish to him and he had thrown it on the fire. A month later I was summoned to a cabinet meeting. A friend told me I was to be asked to produce the treaty draft. I called Arthur to see me. I told him my honor was involved and that if he had not destroyed it or was holding it to sell another power I must know.

He gave me his solemn word of honor, uttered in the most convincing manner, that he had thrown it into the open fire.

"When the prime minister asked for the draft I told him I had destroyed it thinking its value gone and fearful of the danger of having it at my house in Grosvenor Place. At the moment I was absolutely convinced that my son had been honest with me. It was obvious I could not tell the cabinet I had caught him stealing money or that he had torn up the draft. I gave the cabinet my word of honor that it was destroyed and I allowed them to assume that I did it. It was a lie and I do not justify its use, but first and foremost my son's protection seemed necessary. It was less than three months later that I received a visit from the man who wrote that post card.

"It was in Paris where I was staying with my daughter. He said that at last he had a weapon which would wound me. Arthur had sold him the draft. He had it concealed where none could get it. Unless I retired from public life and activities he would show it to the same cabinet which had heard me swear I had destroyed it with my own hands. The inference would be that I had sold it. It was known that I had lost money through the failure of a London bank. No matter what the cabinet thought my honor was smirched and I should rightly be considered unfit for high office. There, Mr. Trent, is the real reason."

"Do you know where the draft of the treaty is hidden?"

"In his almost inaccessible castle in Croatia."

"You are certain?"

"Two men have died so that the knowledge might be mine."

"I should imagine he would keep it in the deposit box of a bank where he could get at it quickly."

"Banks can be broken into easier far than his strong room. He lives, despite the changes wrought by the war, in a style almost feudal. He owns and controls twenty square miles of the country where his home is. What chance, I ask you, has a stranger of getting near without incurring suspicion. There are many men who can speak German or French like natives but Hungarian is a different matter, a non-Aryan tongue."

"It should be done from the inside," Trent mused.

"One of them was," the earl told him, "the man who tried was skillful, adroit and courageous. He had flirted with death a hundred times, just as you have done Mr. Trent, but they set a trap for him there which a fool would have passed by; a trap so skillfully baited that only a clever man would have tried to use it to further his cause. Yet he failed. You have no idea of the household at that fantastic castle in the mountains. You have no idea of the imperious temper and power of the man who owns it, the multitude of servitors who would kill did he but suggest it, the motley company he entertains there."

This mention of many visitors interested Trent.

"He entertains a great deal then?"

"Only those he knows, men and women. The life there as reported to me reads like a chronicle of medieval days."

"The other man who failed – what did he go as?"

"A steeple chase jockey. The count kept a great stud and raced all over Continental Europe. He owned Daliborka the great horse which won the Grand Prix."

"The horse that was stolen?"

"Exactly. Daliborka and three other thoroughbreds were missing from the stables. The man who pretended to be a jockey and was instead a man of lineage and wealth secreted the horses at intervals along the forest road that runs from the castle to the coast. It was his idea when he had obtained the draft to make his way by relays to the nearest harbour. The poor fellows never had the opportunity to throw a leg across any of them. You see, Mr. Trent, there is no chance at all."

"I will make one," the American said confidently, "I am going to enjoy this."

"After what I have said you still persist?"

"Because of it," laughed Anthony Trent. He had forgotten everything but the prospect of coming danger, the duel that was to be fought between him and this fabulous magnate. It was characteristic of Trent that he swept aside all other possible inmates of the lonely castle as beneath his notice. His business was with the superior.

"How do you know he is still in London?" Trent demanded.

"I keep myself informed," the earl said. "A newspaper clipping concern sends me every notice of him."

"I want them," the younger man observed, "I want everything that will help me."

He read through the brief notices eagerly and wished English papers discussed personalities with the detail American periodicals employed. The only item that interested him deeply was a notice that Count Mich?l Temesvar had visited the automobile show at the Crystal Palace and seemed interested in the new twelve cylinder Lion car.

"Rather humorous in its way," the earl said smiling, "since I own a great deal of stock in that company. That's why I have that inordinately high powered car in the garage which you and Arthur seem to like."

"Humorous!" Trent repeated, "I don't know that it isn't more humorous than you know. Do you think he has any idea you are interested in the company?"

"Few know it," the earl said, "and I don't see why he should when even my friends are ignorant."

"How much of it do you own?" Trent asked eagerly.

"More probably than any one stockholder."

"And a letter from you to the manager would make me solid." He explained the slang, "I mean if you wrote a letter to the manager asking that I be given certain powers would he honor it?"

"Most certainly," the earl answered. "There can be no doubt about it."

Chapter Eight

Count Mich?l Temesvar, when he left behind him the great estate where he ruled as absolute and tyrannical master and came to the fashionable, pleasure-loving London, was a different man.

In London he paid due regard to the conventions and was entertained at great houses and in return offered very splendid receptions to his hosts. Meanwhile he kept a skilled finger on the hardening arteries of new international affairs.

He knew very well that he was suspected of intriguing for monarchial restoration and the confusion of the country where he was so pleasantly entertained, by such men as the Earl of Rosecarrel. But for the main part England still clung to her habit of disbelieving that a man who could be so charming in society would commit the betise of plotting where he had played.

He was particularly interested in the Spring Automobile Show at the Crystal Palace. He had heard a great deal of late of the Lion motor and he wanted one. On his first visit to the show he told the manager that the silver model there exhibited was the one that he would buy. He was annoyed that the firm's representative would not allow it to be taken away until the show finished.

On his second visit he was irritated to find that the manager raised objections about selling it at all.

"You see, sir," said the manager, "a car like this demands careful driving and constant attention. Our ordinary model would suit you better."

"I want this because it is said to be the fastest car in the world," Count Mich?l returned. "To me the price is nothing."

"It isn't that at all, sir," the manager said. "In confidence it wouldn't do us any good if your own mechanics got it in such a condition it couldn't do its best work. Bad advertisement you understand."

"You think I should have a special chauffeur then? Good. Send me one. Send three if necessary but send me a man who has the nerve to drive along my mountain roads by day or night at any speed I choose."

"That's a tall order, sir," the manager returned.

"But I pay. I always pay better than others because I want better work."

Count Mich?l Temesvar beheld a blue-clad mechanic working under a car. He struck him a sharp blow on the leg with his cane. A grimy-faced man emerged rubbing the bruised limb.

"You," said the count peremptorily, "can you drive a car like this Lion?"

The man grinned. The idea seemed to tickle him. He spoke with the cockney accent of his kind.

"Me drive a Lion?" he said. "Ask Mr. King 'ere what I can do."

"I couldn't let him go," said Mr. King quickly. "He is my best demonstrator and a wonder at tuning up an engine."

Count Mich?l ignored the protesting manager.

"What is your wage?"

"I get five pound a week."

"I give you ten. You are my man. You leave for my place in Croatia when the show is over. My secretary will see you are looked after. Serve me well and you will never regret it. I am generous, when I am pleased." He turned to his companion. "See that all arrangements are made. If he has a wife and children bring them if he desires it. If he will be happier without them let them remain here. I must have him. He has intelligence and industry. Look you, he has gone back to his work. He loves his engine as a good groom does his horse."

The mechanic had indeed crawled again under the huge car. The count could have added that he was cautious for he drew his legs well into cover.

The count and the secretary went off. The secretary was to call at the office next day and arrange things. The manager was deferential, but when they had left the glass-roofed hall he permitted himself to laugh. Then he crossed to the car and bent down.

"It's all right, Mr. Trent," he said, "they've gone now; you can come out."

Anthony Trent looked up at him and grinned.

"You can always get a job as an actor," he said.

"Your accent is a bit of all right," the manager returned, gratified.

"If it's etiquette for a manager to have a drink with a mere oil-stained mechanic as I am, lead on to the nearest place."

"Well," said the manager later, "what do you think of him?"

Anthony Trent rubbed his leg.

"He struck me," said Trent in a curious, musing way. There was something in his tone which made the manager look at him quickly. Anthony Trent's face was grim and set.

"I don't think he meant it that way," Mr. King replied. He had visions of assault and battery.

"Some day I shall give him the opportunity to apologize," said the American.

Mr. King had received personal instructions from the chairman of the Lion Motor, Ltd., to obey Mr. Anthony Trent in every particular. Mr. Trent was to be allowed to have the run of the shops and the most expert mechanics in the firm were to put all they knew at his disposal.

Anthony Trent started by giving the manager the best dinner he had ever eaten. Then he coached him in the r?le of a manager anxious not to lose his best demonstrator. King was delighted that Count Mich?l walked into the trap set for him eagerly. He liked Trent but thought poorly of his chances in a tussle with this big girthed foreigner.

"Must be fifty inches round the chest," he observed, sipping his drink delicately, "and most of it muscle. One of the most powerful men I've ever laid eyes on, Mr. Trent. Built like a wrestler. About five feet ten I judge, a couple of inches less than you but five stone heavier."

"What was the big car on the aisle opposite us at the show?" Trent asked, as King thought, irrelevantly.

"The 'Amazon,'" King answered scornfully. "All varnish and silver plate and upholstery with a motor that isn't worth a tinker's dam."

"That's like the count," Trent smiled, "champagne, high living and general dissipation have made a shell of him. He looks well enough to the eye, like that Amazon car, but call on the motor and you'll see 'em both hang out distress signals."

"Maybe," King conceded, "I'll put my bet on the Lion," he smiled in a friendly fashion at the other, "and the Eagle."

They fell to talking technicalities and kept it up till the hour when Mich?l, Count Temesvar went to dine at a house in Bruton street. He told his host that as a compliment to this country, his second home, he had just bought an English car and engaged an English chauffeur. The other guests thought it so broad-minded of him. He further endeared himself to his company by deploring the retirement of his old adversary, that eminent diplomat, the Earl of Rosecarrel.

His old adversary's occupation at the moment would have surprised him. The earl was devising an ingenious cipher code having, it would seem to the uninitiated, the various parts of a Lion motor which might need replacing by telegram to the London factory. Anthony Trent would take a copy with him, carefully concealed, and any telegram sent by him to the works would instantly be forwarded to the code's inventor.

"What makes you so cheerful?" his daughter asked as she bade him goodnight.

"That amazing American of yours," he answered.

"'Of mine,'" she repeated. But even in the grip of her unhappiness she was not sure that the dim future did not hold some alleviation.

Few people were more careful of appearances than Anthony Trent. He was always dressed with quiet distinction. In the early days of a profession where it is not well to be too prominent, he chafed at this restraint. Later he saw that it was the sign of sartorial eminence.

On assuming the name and characteristics of Alfred Anthony he also had to dress the part and talk the part. From the men in the Lion shop he had, with his mimic's cleverness, taken on their peculiar intonations and slang until he certainly could deceive a foreigner. And since he was thorough he forced himself to smoke the part.

He accompanied his great silver car across the channel to Ostend dressed as the men in the shop dressed. And he moved with their brisk, perky quickness and he alternated between shag in a bull-dog pipe and Woodbine cigarettes. He was glad that Mr. Hentzi, the count's secretary observed his altercation at the Belgian port with a customs official who made him pay duty on an excess number of cigarettes.

"Ah," said Mr. Hentzi with condescension, "the cigarette of the Briteesh Tommee!"

At Ostend, Trent superintended the despatch of his charge by fast freight and then took the trans-continental express to Budapest. He was to wait for the car and drive it to its new home. During the few days he was forced to idle in the Hungarian capital he deplored the fact that new status prevented him from going to the Bristol or the Grand Hotel Royal. He stayed, instead, at an hotel of the second class and encountered little friendliness. English or Americans, it seemed, were still regarded as enemies.

He was saved from any violence by Hentzi's announcement that he must be fitted for the Temesvar livery. It was no use to rebel. With incredible swiftness the tailor turned it out. Trent looked at himself in the glass with the utmost distaste. The color scheme was maroon and canary yellow. He likened himself to those who stood before the fashionable stores on Fifth avenue and opened limousine doors.

"With that livery," Hentzi said impressively, "you will be safe; you will be respected."

Anthony Trent was too much overwhelmed to answer him. Certainly the Anthony Trent who stared back at him from the mirror was a stranger. He was wearing his hair longer than usual and a small moustache was already sprouting. The hawklike look was not evident. He wore, instead, an air of innocence that was Chaplinesque. Hentzi took this look of scrutiny to be one of pride.

"You must have your photograph taken and send it to your best girl," he laughed, "she will make all the other ones jealous."

"Yes," said the man who suddenly remembered he was Alfred Anthony of Vauxhall Bridge Road, "she'll be fair crazy about it. Just like me."

But he did not wear it much. He preferred the chance of a row with the populace to his unwished for splendor. The days of delay gave him leisure to think over coming difficulties. He conceded he had been led away by emotion and enthusiasm when he was betrayed into boasting of his prowess. The two men who had failed had been good men no doubt and they were dead.

Such a man as Temesvar must know that the brain who originated the attempt at recovery of the draft was still scheming. The count must constantly be on the watch. And if so, why had he engaged Alfred Anthony with so little investigation? Like most high grade criminals, Anthony Trent was apt to suspect simple actions when performed by men of the Temesvar type and impute to them subtle motives. He wished he had been able to take a longer look at the count instead of his momentary talk.

He reminded Trent very much of the celebrated painting of Francis the First, that sensual monarch who was devoted to the chase, masquerades, jewelry and the pursuit of the fair. But Francis, for all his accomplishments, was weak and frivolous while Temesvar was ruthless and a power, if Lord Rosecarrel was to be believed.

Before he left London Trent had secured what road maps he could of Hungary and particularly the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia and Croatia. At his hotel he spread them out on the table and spent hours poring over them.

He ventured to ask Mr. Hentzi some particulars of the place, and why Count Mich?l had gone to the expense of importing the chauffeur and the car when he had many machines in his garage and so many men at his command.

Hentzi told him the count needed a clear-eyed, temperate man who could make great speed and make it safely.

"Most of our men," Hentzi declared, "drink shlivovitza, a brandy made of plums, and there are people who visit the count whose lives must not be imperilled by recklessness."

"What about the roads?" Trent asked thinking of the weight of the Lion and its tremendous wheel-base.

"From Karlstadt to Fiume runs the Maria Louise road which is superb. It is one over which you will pass many times. Then there is the Josephina road from Zengg and many fine highways built not for the Croatian peasants but for strategic purposes. You have seen in this war which is passed what good roads mean, eh?"

"You 'it it on the 'ed, Guv'ner," Trent said cheerfully. "What do I go down to Fiume for?"

"To meet passengers from the steamers or from the count's yacht. It is one hundred and twenty miles from Fiume to Radna Castle. What could you do that distance in? The road down the mountain to Karlstadt is good but narrow."

Alfred Anthony spat meditatively.

"The old girl will do it in three hours," he said, "she'll shake 'em up a bit inside but if there aren't no traffic cops or big towns I can do it in three hours or bit more."

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