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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMr. Grex Of Monte Carlo - Chapter 15. International Politics
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Mr. Grex Of Monte Carlo - Chapter 15. International Politics Post by :dmcloser Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3618

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Mr. Grex Of Monte Carlo - Chapter 15. International Politics


The Villa Mimosa flamed with lights from the top story to the ground-floor. The entrance gates stood wide-open. All along the drive, lamps flashed from unsuspected places beneath the yellow-flowering trees. One room only seemed shrouded in darkness and mystery, and around that one room was concentrated the tense life of the villa. Thick curtains had been drawn with careful hands. The heavy door had been securely closed. The French-windows which led out on to the balcony had been almost barricaded. The four men who were seated around the oval table had certainly secured for themselves what seemed to be a complete and absolute isolation. Yet there was, nevertheless, a sense of uneasiness, an indescribable air of tension in the atmosphere. The quartette had somehow the appearance of conspirators who had not settled down to their work. It was the last arrival, the man who sat at Mr. Grex's right hand, who was responsible for the general unrest.

Mr. Grex moved a little nervously in the chair which he had just drawn up to the table. He looked towards Draconmeyer as he opened the proceedings.

"Monsieur Douaille," he said, "has come to see us this evening at my own urgent request. Before we commence any sort of discussion, he has asked me to make it distinctly understood to you both--to you, Mr. Draconmeyer, and to you, Herr Selingman--that this is not in any sense of the word a formal meeting or convention. We are all here, as it happens, by accident. Our friend Selingman, for instance, who is a past master in the arts of pleasant living, has not missed a season here for many years. Draconmeyer is also an habitue. I myself, it is true, have spent my winters elsewhere, for various reasons, and am comparatively a stranger, but my visit here was arranged many months ago. You yourself, Monsieur Douaille, are a good Parisian, and no good Parisian should miss his yearly pilgrimages to the Mecca of the pleasure-seeker. We meet together this evening, therefore, purely as friends who have a common interest at heart."

The man from whom this atmosphere of nervousness radiated--a man of medium height, inclined towards corpulence, with small grey imperial, a thin red ribbon in his buttonhole, and slightly prominent features--promptly intervened. He had the air of a man wholly ill-at-ease. All the time Mr. Grex had been speaking, he had been drumming upon the table with his forefinger.

"Precisely! Precisely!" he exclaimed. "Above all things, that must be understood. Ours is a chance meeting. My visit in these parts is in no way connected with the correspondence I have had with one of our friends here. Further," Monsieur Douaille continued impressively, "it must be distinctly understood that any word I may be disposed to utter, either in the way of statement or criticism, is wholly and entirely unofficial. I do not even know what the subject of our discussion is to be. I approach it with the more hesitation because I gather, from some slight hint which has fallen from our friend here, that it deals with a scheme which, if ever it should be carried into effect, is to the disadvantage of a nation with whom we are at present on terms of the greatest friendship. My presence here, except on the terms I have stated," he concluded, his voice shaking a little, "would be an unpardonable offence to that country."

Monsieur Douaille's somewhat laboured explanation did little to lighten the atmosphere. It was the genius of Herr Selingman which intervened. He leaned back in his chair and he patted his waistcoat thoughtfully.

"I have things to say," he declared, "but I cannot say them. I have nothing to smoke--no cigarette, no cigar. I arrive here choked with dust. As yet, the circumstance seems to have escaped our host's notice. Ah! what is that I see?" he added, rising suddenly to his feet. "My host, you are acquitted. I look around the table here at which I am invited to seat myself, and I perceive nothing but a few stumpy pens and unappetising blotting-paper. By chance I lift my eyes. I see the parting of the curtains yonder, and behold!"

He rose and crossed the room, throwing back a curtain at the further end. In the recess stood a sideboard, laden with all manner of liqueurs and wines, glasses of every size and shape, sandwiches, pasties, and fruit. Herr Selingman stood on one side with outstretched hand, in the manner of a showman. He himself was wrapped for a moment in admiration.

"For you others I cannot speak," he observed, surveying the label upon a bottle of hock. "For myself, here is nectar."

With careful fingers he drew the cork. At a murmured word of invitation from Mr. Grex, the others rose from their places and also helped themselves from the sideboard. Selingman took up his position in the centre of the hearth-rug, with a long tumbler of yellow wine in one hand and a sandwich in the other.

"For myself," he continued, taking a huge bite, "I wage war against all formality. I have been through this sort of thing in Berlin. I have been through it in Vienna, I have been through it in Rome. I have sat at long tables with politicians, have drawn little pictures upon the blotting-paper and been bored to death. In wearisome fashion we have drafted agreements, we have quarrelled and bickered, we have yawned and made of ourselves men of parchment. But to-night," he added, taking another huge bite from his sandwich, "to-night nothing of that sort is intended. Draconmeyer and I have an idea. Mr. Grex is favourably inclined towards it. That idea isn't a bit of good to ourselves or any one else unless Monsieur Douaille here shares our point of view. Here we are, then, all met together--let us hope for a week or two's enjoyment. Little by little we must try and see what we can do towards instilling that idea into the mind of Monsieur Douaille. We may succeed, we may fail, but let us always remember that our conversations are the conversations of four friends, met together upon what is nothing more or less than a holiday. I hate the sight of those sheets of blotting-paper and clean pens. Who wants to make notes, especially of what we are going to talk about! The man who cannot carry notes in his head is no statesman."

Monsieur Douaille, who had chosen champagne and was smoking a cigarette, beamed approval. Much of his nervousness had departed.

"I agree," he declared, "I like well the attitude of our friend Selingman. There is something much too formal about this table. I am not here to talk treaties or to upset them. To exchange views, if you will--no more. Meanwhile, I appreciate this very excellent champagne, the cigarettes are delicious, and I remove myself to this easy-chair. If any one would talk world politics, I am ready. Why not? Why should we pretend that there is any more interesting subject to men like ourselves, in whom is placed the trust of our country?"

Mr. Grex nodded his head in assent.

"The fault is mine," he declared, "but, believe me, it was not intentional. It was never my wish to give too formal an air to our little meeting--in fact I never intended to do more than dwell on the outside edge of great subjects to-night. Unfortunately, Monsieur Douaille, neither you nor I, whatever our power or influence may be, are directly responsible for the foreign affairs of our countries. We can, therefore, speak with entire frankness. Our countries--your country and mine--are to-day bound together by an alliance. You have something which almost approaches an alliance with another country. I am going to tell you in plain words what I think you have been given to understand indirectly many times during the last few years--that understanding is not approved of in St. Petersburg."

Monsieur Douaille knocked the ash from his cigarette. He gazed thoughtfully into the fire of pine logs which was burning upon the open hearth.

"Mr. Grex," he said, "that is plainer speaking than we have ever received from any official source."

"I admit it," Mr. Grex replied. "Such a statement on my part may sound a little startling, but I make it advisedly. I know the feeling--you will grant that my position entitles me to know the feeling--of the men who count for anything in Russian politics. Perhaps I do not mean the titular heads of my Government. There are others who have even more responsibilities, who count for more. I honestly and truthfully assure you that I speak for the powers that are behind the Government of Russia when I tell you that the English dream of a triple alliance between Russia, England, and France will never be accepted by my country."

Monsieur Douaille sipped his champagne.

"This is candour," he remarked, "absolute candour. One speaks quite plainly, I imagine, before our friend the enemy?" he added, smiling towards Selingman.

"Why not?" Selingman demanded. "Why not, indeed? We are not fools here."

"Then I would ask you, Mr. Grex," Monsieur Douaille continued, "where in the name of all that is equitable are you to find an alliance more likely to preserve the status quo in Europe? Both logically and geographically it absolutely dovetails. Russia is in a position to absorb the whole attention of Austria and even to invade the north coast of Germany. The hundred thousand troops or so upon which we could rely from Great Britain, would be invaluable for many reasons--first, because a mixture of blood is always good; secondly, because the regular army which perforce they would have to send us, is of very fine fighting material; and thirdly, because they could land, to give away a very open secret to you, my friend Selingman, in a westerly position, and would very likely succeed thereby in making an outflanking movement towards the north. I presume that at present the German fleet would not come out to battle, in which case the English would certainly be able to do great execution upon the northern coast of Germany. All this, of course, has been discussed and written about, and the next war been mapped out in a dozen different ways. I must confess, however, that taking every known consideration into account, I can find no other distribution of powers so reasonable or so favourable to my country."

Mr. Grex nodded.

"I find no fault with any word of what you have said," he declared, "except that yours is simply the superficial and obvious idea of the man in the street as to the course of the next probable war. Now let us go a little further. I grant all the points which you urge in favour of your suggested triple alliance. I will even admit that your forecast of a war taking place under such conditions, is a fairly faithful one. We proceed, then. The war, if it came to pass, could never be decisive. An immense amount of blood would be shed, treasure recklessly poured out, Europe be rendered desolate, for the sake most largely of whom?--of Japan and America. That is the weakness of the whole thing. A war carried out on the lines you suggest would be playing the game of these two countries. Even the victors would be placed at a huge disadvantage with them, to say nothing of the losers, who must see slipping away from them forever their place under the sun. It is my opinion--and I have studied this matter most scientifically and with the help of the Secret Service of every country, not excepting your own, Herr Selingman--it is my opinion that this war must be indecisive. The German fleet would be crippled and not destroyed. The English fleet would retain its proportionate strength. No French advance into Germany would be successful, no German advance into France is likely. The war would languish for lack of funds, through sheer inanition it would flicker out, and the money of the world would flow into the treasuries of America. Russia would not be fighting for her living. With her it could be at best but a half-hearted war. She would do her duty to the alliance. Nothing more could be hoped from her. You could not expect, for instance, that she would call up all her reserves, leave the whole of her eastern frontier unprotected, and throw into mid-Europe such a force as would in time subjugate Germany. This could be done but it will not be done. We all know that."

Monsieur Douaille smoked thoughtfully for several moments.

"Very well," he pronounced at last, "I am rather inclined to agree with all that you have said. Yet it seems to me that you evade the great point. The status quo is what we desire, peace is what the world wants. If, before such a war as you have spoken of is begun, people realise what the end of it must be, don't you think that that itself is the greatest help towards peace? My own opinion is, I tell you frankly, that for many years to come, at any rate, there will be no war."

Herr Selingman set down his glass and turned slowly around.

"Then let me tell you that you are mistaken," he declared solemnly. "Listen to me, my friend Douaille--my friend, mind, and not the statesman Douaille. I am a German citizen and you are a French one, and I tell you that if in three years' time your country does not make up its mind to strike a blow for Alsace and Lorraine, then in three years' time Germany will declare war upon you."

Monsieur Douaille had the expression of a man who doubts. Selingman frowned. He was suddenly immensely serious. He struck the palm of one hand a great blow with his clenched fist.

"Why is it that no one in the world understands," he cried, "what Germany wants? I tell you, Monsieur Douaille, that we don't hate your country. We love it. We crowd to Paris. We expand there. It is the holiday place of every good German. Who wants a ruined France? Not we! Yet, unless there is a change in the international situation, we shall go to war with you and I will tell you why. There are no secrets about this sort of thing. Every politician who is worth his salt knows them. The only difficulty is to know when a country is in earnest, and how far it will go. That is the value of our meeting. That is what I am here to say. We shall go to war with you, Monsieur Douaille, to get Calais, and when we've got Calais--oh, my God!" Selingman almost reverently concluded, "then our solemn task will be begun."

"England!" Monsieur Douaille murmured.

There was a brief pause. Selingman had seemed, for a moment, to have passed into the clouds. There was a sort of gloomy rapture upon his face. He caught up Douaille's last word and repeated it.

"England! England, and through her...."

He moved to the sideboard and filled his tumbler with wine. When he came back to his place, his expression had lightened.

"Ah, well! dear Monsieur Douaille," he exclaimed, patting the other's shoulder in friendly fashion, "to-night we merely chatter. To-night we are here to make friends, to gain each the confidence of the other. To ourselves let us pretend that we are little boys, playing the game of our nation--France, Germany, and Russia. Germany and Russia, to be frank with you, are waiting for one last word from Germany's father, something splendid and definite to offer. What we would like France to do, while France loses its money at roulette and flirts with the pretty ladies at Ciro's, is to try and accustom itself not to an alliance with Germany--no! Nothing so utopian as that. The lion and the lamb may remain apart. They may agree to be friends, they may even wave paws at one another, but I do not suggest that they march side by side. What we ask of France is that she looks the other way. It is very easy to look the other way. She might look, for instance--towards Egypt."

(Illustration: "What we ask of France is that she looks the other way.")

There was a sudden glitter in the eyes of Monsieur Douaille. Selingman saw it and pressed on.

"There are laurels to be won which will never fade," he continued, setting down his empty tumbler, "laurels to be won by that statesman of your country, the little boy France, who is big enough and strong enough to stand with his feet upon the earth and proclaim--'I am for France and my own people, and my own people only, and I will make them great through all the centuries by seeing the truth and leading them towards it, single-purposed, single-minded.' ... But these things are not to be disposed of so readily as this wonderful Berncastler--I beg its pardon, Berncastler Doctor--of our host. For to-night I have said my say. I have whims, perhaps, but with me serious affairs are finished for the night. I go to the Sporting Club. Mademoiselle keeps my place at the baccarat table. I feel in the vein. It is a small place, Monte Carlo. Let us make no appointments. We shall drift together. And, monsieur," he concluded, laying his hand for a moment upon Douaille's shoulder, "let the thought sink into your brain. Wipe out that geographical and logical map of Europe from your mind; see things, if you can, in the new daylight. Then, when the idea has been there for just a little time--well, we speak again.... Come, Draconmeyer. I am relying upon your car to get me into Monte Carlo. My bounteous host, Mr. Grex, good night! I touch your hand with reverence. The man who possesses such wine and offers it to his friends, is indeed a prince."

Mr. Grex rose a little unwillingly from his chair.

"It is of no use to protest," he remarked, smiling. "Our friend Selingman will have his way. Besides, as he reminded us, there is one last word to arrive. Come and breathe the odours of the Riviera, Monsieur Douaille. This is when I realise that I am not at my villa on the Black Sea."

They passed out into the hall and stood on the terrace while the cars drew up. The light outside seemed faintly violet. The perfume of mimosa and roses and oleander came to him in long waves, subtle and yet invigorating. Below, the lights of Monte Carlo, clear and brilliant, with no northern fog or mist to dull their radiance, shone like gems in the mantle of night. Selingman sighed as he stepped into the automobile.

"We are men who deserve well from history," he declared, "who, in the midst of a present so wonderful, can spare time to plan for the generations to come!"

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