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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mischief Maker - Book 1 - Chapter 15. Behind Closed Doors
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The Mischief Maker - Book 1 - Chapter 15. Behind Closed Doors Post by :45875 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3478

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The Mischief Maker - Book 1 - Chapter 15. Behind Closed Doors

BOOK ONE CHAPTER XV. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Very soon after mid-day on the same morning, Herr Carl Freudenberg was the host at a small luncheon party given in a private room of the most famous restaurant in the Bois. His morning attire was a model of correctness, his eyes were clear, his manner blithe, almost joyous. There was no possible indication in his appearance of his misspent hours. He was at once a genial and courteous host. Monsieur Decheles sat at his right hand; Monsieur Felix Brant on his left; Monsieur Pelleman opposite to him. The three men had arrived in an automobile together and had entered the restaurant by the private way, but that they were guests of some distinction was obvious from their reception by the manager himself.

The luncheon was worthy of the great reputation of the place. It was swiftly and well served. With the coffee and liqueurs the waiters withdrew. Herr Freudenberg, with a smile, rose up and tried the door. Then he returned to his place, lit a cigarette, and leaned back in his chair.

"My dear friends," he announced, "now we can talk."

Monsieur Pelleman smiled.

"Yes," he admitted, "we can talk. In this excellent brandy, Monsieur Carl Freudenberg, I drink your very good health. Long may these little visits of yours continue."

Herr Freudenberg smiled his thanks.

"Monsieur Pelleman," he said, "and you, too, my dear friends, let me assure you that there is nothing in the world which I enjoy so much as these brief visits of mine to your delightful capital. No more I think of the pressures and cares of office. I let myself go, and on these occasions, as you know, I speak to you not in the language of diplomacy, but as good friends who meet together to enjoy an hour or two of one another's company, and who, because there is no harm to be done by it, but much good, open their hearts and speak true words with one another."

Monsieur Decheles smiled.

"It is a pleasure which we all share," he declared. "It is more agreeable, without a doubt, to take lunch with Monsieur Carl Freudenberg, and to speak openly, than to exchange long-winded interviews, the true meaning of which is too much concealed by diplomatic verbiage, with the excellent gentleman to whose good offices are intrusted the destinies of Herr Freudenberg's great nation."

"Monsieur," Herr Freudenberg said, "to-day shall be no exception. To-day I speak to you, perhaps, more openly than ever before. To-day I perhaps risk much--yet why not speak the things which are in my heart?"

Monsieur Felix Brant took a cigarette from the box by his elbow, but he felt for it only. His eyes never left the face of his host. Of the three men, he seemed the one least in sympathy with the state of affairs to which Herr Freudenberg had alluded so cheerfully. He watched the man at the head of the table all the time as though every energy of which he was possessed was devoted to the task of reading underneath that suave but impenetrable face.

"Gentlemen," Herr Freudenberg continued, "there have been many misapprehensions between your country and mine. Ten years ago we seemed indeed on the highroad to friendship. It was then--I speak frankly, mind--that your country made the one fatal mistake of recent years. Great Britain, isolated, left behind in the race for power, a weakened and decaying nation, having searched the world over for allies, held out the timorous hand of friendship to you. What evil genius was with your statesmen that day! When the history of these times comes to be written, it is my firm belief that it will be then acknowledged that the genius of the man who reigned over Great Britain at that time was alone responsible for the commencement of what has become a veritable alliance."

Herr Freudenberg paused.

"There is no doubt," Monsieur Decheles asserted calmly, "that the influence of the late king was immense among the people of France. He appealed somehow to their imaginations, a great monarch who was also a _bon viveur_, who had lived his days in Paris as the others."

Herr Freudenberg nodded thoughtfully.

"He is dead," he said, "and history will write him down as a great king. Do you know that it is one of my theories that morals have nothing to do with government? I doubt whether a more sagacious monarch has ever reigned over that unfortunate country than the one we speak of. So sagacious was he that he even saw the beginning of the end, he saw the things that must come when he looked across the North Sea; and notwithstanding his descent, notwithstanding all the ties which should have allied him with Germany, he hated our people and he hated our country with a prophetic hatred. But we gossip a little, gentlemen. Let me proceed. I want you to realize that the policy of Germany for the last five years has been wholly directed towards securing the friendship of your country. I want you to realize that but for the continual interference of Great Britain you would even now be in a far more favorable position with us than you are to-day. Germany wants nothing in Morocco. Germany's first and greatest wish is for a rich and prosperous France. On the other hand, Germany is loyal to her friendships, and fervent in her hatreds. The country whose humiliation is a solemn charge upon my people is Great Britain and not France."

Monsieur Decheles leaned back in his chair. Monsieur Felix Brant never moved.

"I want," Herr Freudenberg continued, "to have you think and consider and weigh this matter. Why do you, a great and prosperous country, link yourselves with a decaying power, against whom, before very long, Germany is pledged to strike? These are the plainest words that have ever been spoken by a citizen of one country to three citizens of another. Herr Freudenberg, the maker of toys, speaks to his three French friends as a thoughtful merchant of his country who has had unusual facilities for imbibing the spirit of her politicians. Gentlemen, you do not misunderstand me?"

"It is impossible, Herr Freudenberg," Monsieur Decheles said, "to misunderstand you for a single moment. Your hand is too clear and your methods too sagacious."

"Then let me repeat," Herr Freudenberg declared, "that before many years are passed--perhaps, indeed, before many months--it is the intention of my country either to inflict a scathing diplomatic humiliation upon Great Britain, or to engage in this war the fear of which has kept her in a state of panic for the last ten years. Keep that in your minds, my friends. Friendship is a great thing, honor is a great thing, generosity is a great thing, but I would speak to you three citizens of France to-day as I would speak to her rulers had I access to them, and I would say, 'Do you dare, for the sake of an alliance out of which you have procured no single benefit, do you dare to drag your country into unnecessary, fruitless and bloody war?' You have nothing to gain by it, you have everything to lose. Let Germany deal with her traditional enemy in her own way. And as for France, let France believe what is, without doubt, the truth--that she has nothing whatever to fear from Germany. I will not speak of the past, but the greatest thinkers in Germany to-day regret nothing so much in the history of her splendid rise as that unfortunate campaign of Bismarck's. It is the one blot upon her magnificent history. Let that go--let that go and be buried. I bring you timely warning. I come to the city I love, for her own sake, for the sake of her people whom I also love. I beg you to listen to these words of mine, to adjust your policy so that little by little you weaken the joints which bind you to England, so that when the time comes you yourself may not be dragged into a hopeless and pitiless struggle."

There was a moment's silence. Then Monsieur Decheles spoke.

"Herr Freudenberg," he began, "what you have said we have been in some measure prepared for. The more amicable tone of all the correspondence between our two countries has been marked of late. Yet there have been times, and not long ago, when your country has shown wonderful readiness to treat with a rough hand the claims of France in many quarters of the world. The more powerful your country, the greater she is to be feared. Supposing France stood on one side while Great Britain fell before your arms, what then would be the relations between France and Germany?"

Monsieur Brant spoke for the first time.

"Herr Freudenberg, you remind me of the fable of the Persian who had two men to fight, both as strong as himself. To the one he sent ambassadors, with the key of his favorite gardens; the other he fought. It is a great policy to deal with your enemies one at a time."

Herr Freudenberg stretched out his arms across the table.

"My friend," he pronounced, "without faith there is no genius. Without genius there is no government. I only ask you to believe this one thing. Germany is not and never has been the traditional enemy of France. I ask you to study the whole question for but one single half-hour, I ask you to read the commercial records of these days. Help yourself to all the statistics that throw light upon this question, and I swear that you will find that whereas Great Britain and Germany stand opposed to one another under every condition and in every quarter of the world, there is no single bone of contention anywhere between France and Germany. Their aims are different, their destinies are written. I ask you to apply only a reasonable measure of philosophy and common sense, a reasonable measure of faith, to the things I say."

There was a cautious tap at the door, a whispered message. Monsieur Pelleman rose.

"It is my secretary," he announced. "I fear, gentlemen, that we are due elsewhere."

"Herr Freudenberg, your luncheon has been delightful," Monsieur Decheles declared, holding out his hand. "You have given us, as usual, something to think of. These informal meetings between citizens of two great countries will do, I am sure, more than anything else in the world, to ripen our budding friendship."

"Your words," Herr Freudenberg replied, grasping the hand which had been offered to him, "are a happy augury. When we meet again, I shall be able to prove the coming of the things of which I have spoken."

They left him on the threshold of the room. The giver of the feast was alone. Very slowly he retraced his steps and stood for a moment with folded arms, looking down on the table at which they had lunched. His natural urbanity, the smile half persuasive, half humorous, which had parted his lips, had gone. His face seemed to have resolved itself into lines of iron. As he stood there, one seemed suddenly to realize the presence of a great man--a greater, even, than Carl Freudenberg, maker of toys!

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