AGAINST the day when explorers and archaeologists rake over the junk of Britain's forgotten cities, as today they take the mounds where Tarquin lorded it, and reconstruct Etruscan history from her crockery-ware, against such a day when paper and parchment and even sheep-skins have perished with the writings and drawings thereon, I trust that Frank O. Miller will inscribe in permanent form the story of his supreme moment, when patriotism overcame sentiment, and duty elbowed his sense of drama into the background.
The loyalty of Frank Oscar Miller transcends all other stories of its kind, for it was loyalty shown long after the last shot was fired and when war was a subject abhorrent equally to the tax-payer and the magazine editor, and when you might expect a man of romantic character to take a lenient view of his responsibilities to that state in which it had pleased God to place him.
There was a time when Frank O. Miller was just plain Franz Oscar Müller. He had changed his name in the 'nineties, having acquired by marriage service and purchase the business of Sloane Miller, Limited. It was in deference to his father-in-law's wishes, who, having no son, desired the perpetuation of his name, that Franz O. became Frank O.
The company had prospered exceedingly. The Sloane Miller building, with its twelve floors and its gilded cupola is a monument to Millerian industry. The Miller demesne at Hampstead is a palace, and Mrs. Miller's emeralds, which are kept, according to all account, in a small safe between the twin beds in Mr. and Mrs. Miller's gorgeous bedroom, are worth a king's ransom.
Incidentally, many men who were in no ways interested in securing the liberty of distressed monarchs had attempted to prove that assertion. But Mr. Miller was a pretty handy man with a gun. His safe was electrically controlled, and after Pal Morris, Lew Jakobs, and "Flash" Joe had successively made their attempts, had failed, and had passed to their country homes, it was agreed in the circles whence they came that Mrs. Miller's emeralds were not perhaps worth trying for, Even "Snakie" Smith, Unelected President of the Guild, and swellest and cleverest of all the mobsmen, turned down the proposition without looking at it, though he might as well have tried because he was caught a few weeks later in compromising circumstances (and a bank vault) and went out of town. This was in the year of grace 1909, and the emeralds have increased in value and size and general magnificence, and the Sloane Miller building has risen, and Mr. Miller himself has grown stouter since then, and the first Mrs. Miller has died and has been succeeded by the second Mrs. Miller (born Stohwasser).
Miller was always British in sentiment, and genuinely so. No suspicion ever attached to him. He subscribed heavily for War stock, gave largely to all the war charities, and if he had had one son he would have sent him with the first divisions to fight for freedom. Unhappily, he was childless.
He was sitting in his library one night in the early part of this year, when Jackie Strauss came in, dropped his hat on the floor, hunched himself into the corner of a settee, and swore thickly through his cigar. Mr. Miller looked over his spectacles at his old friend.
"What's wrong, Jackie?" he asked.
Jackie growled something, and a slow smile spread over the placid face of the head of the Sloane Miller Corporation, for that day he had pulled off a business deal, beating his competitors to the wire, and the chief of his competitors was the Strauss Machinery Trust, Limited. But it was evidently not the successful rivalry of his friend which disturbed Mr. Strauss.
"We've won the war, haven't we?" he demanded, fiercely, and he was evidently speaking under the stress of a strong emotion. "We've got Germany like that." he put his big thumb down suggestively. "Ain't that so? Well, why don't we leave 'em alone? See here, Franz. I'm British. To me there isn't a country like this in the world—though they tried to intern me. The only time I have been in Germany in the last twenty years I was treated like a criminal. But you've got to admit, Franz, he's the Big Man. He may have made this war or he may not. But he did make Germany big."
Mr. Miller took off his glasses, folded them slowly, and put them in his waistcoat pocket. He looked at his companion dubiously and thoughtfully, and rubbed his nose with the knuckle of his forefinger, a sure sign of his perturbation. There was no need to ask who "he" was. He knew instinctively, and there was a little echo of approval in the secret deeps of his mind.
"Don't talk like that in front of Bertha," he said, after a while. "Bertha is—" he hesitated.
Loyalty to his wife prevented his completing the sentence.
"Well, she's never been wholly with us, Jackie, as you well know."
Mr. Strauss nodded.
"I won't say that you're not right," Mr. Miller went on. "I don't like to see a man kicked when he's down, but I'm British first, Jackie."
"Ain't I?" demanded Jackie, truculently, his grey-shot moustache bristling; "but I've got something here," he pounded his spotted waistcoat with his fists, "right down inside me that makes me go just cold and sick when I hear these fools, who never had an original thought in their lives, talking about trying him and hanging him! I'm a Brandenburger, Franz. My relations for hundreds of years have been Brandenburgers. It's in my blood and soul, this feeling for—for him. I don't care if he's guilty as hell. I don't care if we suck Germany dry, if we chuck her fleet on the muck-heap—I'm for him!"
Mr. Miller shifted uneasily. He had his own feelings, for his ancestry went back to the Mark, and the best-known of his ancestors had been body-servant to the Great Elector himself.
"Don't say anything in front of Bertha about this," he repeated, mildly.
"Why not? And don't say anything about what?" asked a voice behind him, and he turned to meet the cold eye of Bertha Miller (née Stohwasser), who never called herself anything but Müller.
She was a good-looking woman in the early forties, dark, swarthy, cold of eye and manner, and now she looked from`her husband to his guest.
"Jackie's been talking politics," said Mr. Miller, feebly.
"I heard. Who is the 'he' you're speaking about?" she asked.
"Oh, never mind," said Mr. Strauss, loyally. "I hear you got that contract to-day, Franz—" "You were talking about the Emperor," said Mrs. Miller, not to be put off, "and I agree with you, Jackie. It's an abominable shame, the way people are talking. There isn't a worse-represented man in the world."
"Let's have some coffee," said Mr. Miller, hastily; "and for Heaven's sake, Bertha, get off that subject."
"You know it," she accused, "but you haven't the spirit of Jack Strauss. I can't understand how you can stand by and hear these people abuse him. I told that wretched woman, Sanderson, to-day just what I thought of her when she said they ought to hang him."
"Oh, lord," said Mr. Miller, in dismay, "why don't you keep your mouth shut? I'm a businessman, and I can't afford to have my business ruined, and ruined it will be if your views get about. People will say they are mine."
"Pah!" said the wife of his bosom, contemptuously, and addressed herself to Mr. Strauss. "It breaks my heart every time I think of it," she said, passionately; "I can hardly let my mind dwell on it. Think of it, Jackie! He who has had all the kings of Europe at his feet, who had only to lift his hand to have the world shake, who put Germany high amongst the nations, and is now an exile in a little Dutch village, lonely—"—her voice choked.
Mr. Miller, looking from her to his friend, saw a light in the eye of Jackie which he had not seen before, a suppressed eagerness which was more eloquent than speech—saw him lean forward and lay his hand on Mrs. Miller's arm.
"But is he?" he asked, softly.
"Is he what?" she answered, her handkerchief half-way to her eyes.
"Is he at Amerongen?"
She dropped her hands on her lap and stared at him.
"What do you mean?"
"I wasn't going to tell you," said Strauss, speaking quickly "but I guess it's got to come out, and I know I can trust you both. Who has seen the Kaiser at Amerongen? Nobody! The reporters have stood at the gates and have seen somebody in a grey cloak. But who has seen his face? A few villagers who have never seen the Emperor in their lives, and they only know it's him because they are told. Who, who has seen the Emperor in the life, has seen him at Amerongen? Nobody! We only know he's there because we are told he's there."
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Miller again, her breath coming faster.
Strauss drew his chair nearer to her and lowered his voice.
"I'll tell you," he said. "One of my cashiers, a man named Tells, embezzled nearly a thousand pounds from me. That was five years ago. He was arrested and sent to penal servitude for five years. He was a married man, and I did all I could for him, and I told him when he came out of prison he was to come and see me. He turned up last week—" He paused impressively.
"Well?" said Mr. Miller, not the least interested of the two.
"I don't think he'll go straight. He's got into pretty bad company," Strauss went on; "in fact, he is already a member of a gang working under 'Snakie' Smith. You have heard of him! He's the biggest thing in the criminal world, and he came out of prison a week before Tells. Now, these criminals," he went on, speaking slowly and with emphasis, "have an intelligence organization of their own. There is hardly a Government secret that they're not up to, and lately some of them have been approached to shepherd a mysterious man who is coming from the Continent and is on his way to America."
Mr. Miller rose quickly.
"Pshaw!" he said. "Impossible! Why should they engage those kind of fellows to look after—Bah! It's ridiculous!"
He was agitated, and showed it.
Mrs. Miller sat with her bright eyes fixed upon Strauss. She was in a rosy dream of glory, in that glow of exaltation which the novice before the altar, or the Eastern bride meeting her lover for the first time face to face, might experience.
"Go on," she whispered.
"Who could better look after him than these men who spend their lives dodging the police?" said Mr. Strauss, speaking rapidly, "and I tell you that the Emperor is not in Holland. Tells hinted at it.
"Rubbish!" said Miller, his voice quavering. "Would they put him at the mercy of a bunch of crooks? Why, at any moment any one of them might go to the police!"
"And be dead in twenty-four hours," said Mr. Strauss grimly; "you know their code, that class of person. I have looked up Smith's record. He is the very man who would undertake this work; a daring, resourceful man, with a good manner. He has been in every big crime that has been committed in this city since he was a boy of fifteen."
Mrs. Miller sighed, the long happy sigh of a dreamer.
"He may come here—to London.... Wonderful! Wonderful!"
"Dam' stupid!" snapped Miller. "I tell you I'm not in this, Strauss. I am real genuine British. They've treated me decently. The laws of this country are my laws, the enemies of this country are my enemies."
His wife turned in a fury.
"And you can say that, you can say that!" she hissed, "you a Brandenburger at heart! Don't you feel—doesn't your heart leap at the very thought of it?"
"No," said Mr. Miller, truthfully.
This was the guilty secret which he carried to his office, which walked at his elbow in the crowded street, which sat at the opposite side of his desk in his suite on the eighth floor of the Sloane Miller building. He saw Jackie Strauss the next day and purposely avoided him. He gave up eating at his favourite restaurant in Piccadilly and patronized the less fashionable Soho, where he knew Jackie, with his luxurious taste, would not venture.
Mrs. Miller saw Jackie frequently. She had consultations with him, and they met at lunches and at teas. Once at dinner in the family mansion, when the servants had been dismissed, she started in to tell her husband.
"Jackie thinks—" she began, and Franz Miller dropped his knife and fork with a crash.
"I don't want to know what Jackie thinks," he said, sternly; "now, get that stuff out of your mind, Bertha. If you insist upon remaining a German, remember that a German woman's first duty is obedience to her husband."
"But I want to tell you—"
"I don't want to know," roared Mr. Miller, purple of face, and emphasizing his words with thunderous smacks on the table. "I tell you I don't want to know. You're mad, Bertha, stark, staring, raving mad."
"He's not at Amerongen," blurted his wife, triumphantly.
"He may be with the devil for all I care," roared Miller. "Perhaps you are right, perhaps that crazy story is true, but I tell you I don't want to know, and if you don't stop talking—I'll— I'll—"
He looked so ferocious, and his hand clutched the plate so convulsively, that his wife wilted. He apologized for his anger after dinner, and she received his apology meekly.
The Millers made a point of retiring for the night at 11.30, and Franz was smoking his last cigar and reading for the last time the closing prices, when the butler came into the room.
"There's a man who wishes to see you, sir."
Mr. Miller had a sinking sensation at the pit of his stomach.
"Er—a man," he stammered.
He did not look at his wife, for he could almost feel the emanation of her radiant mind.
"Rather a tough-looking fellow, sir. He wants to see you privately."
"Show him in here," he said.
"Perhaps—" whispered a voice at his elbow.
"Be silent, woman!" he thundered.
It was a relief to hear the sound of his own harsh, aggressive voice, and he found courage in his own violence.
The man who followed the butler was certainly not the man Mr. Miller dreaded to see. He was a short, bull-necked fellow, with keen, intelligent eyes, and a straight line of mouth. He waited till the butler had retired.
"I've got a message for you," he said, gruffly. "I dare say you've seen me before."
"I don't know—who are you?" asked Mr. Miller, suspiciously.
The man looked round to see that the door was closed.
"I am 'Snakie' Smith," he said.
"Yes, yes," broke in Mrs. Miller, impetuously; "have you a message?"
The man searched his pockets, produced a large white envelope and handed it to the reluctant Mr. Miller.
"Say," he said, confidentially, "I'm not in this. You don't know me. See? If anybody asks you whether 'Snakie' Smith has been, you have never heard of me!"
"No, of course not," said the woman, eagerly.
"Will you be quiet, Bertha?" demanded Mr. Miller, angrily. "Why should I compromise myself? What is this letter about?"
He did not open it, he dared not open it, and the messenger, noting his agitation, grinned.
"So long," he said, with a familiar nod of his head and, swinging round, stepped quickly into the hall, where the butler was awaiting him, and they heard the thud of the street door close behind him.
Mr. Miller turned the letter over and over. It was addressed to him in a large, sprawling, and unmistakably German hand.
"Open it, Franz," said his wife, in an agony of suspense.
Mr. Miller took a long breath and opened the envelope. The sheet which he extracted was of heavy paper, and on the top left-hand corner was a double-eagle, embossed in black. He adjusted his glasses with trembling fingers and read:
"At 11.30 to-night there will arrive one who has no home but the hearts of his people. Give him your hospitality for three nights before he passes on."
He read it three times and handed the letter to his wife. She stood rapt, transfigured, her eyes fixed upon the page.
"It's true," she whispered. "My God! It's true! How wonderful!"
Miller stood, a helpless, ludicrous figure, his mouth agape, his pale blue eyes wandering about the room, then—
"I've got to do it!" he said, hoarsely, "I've got to do it!"
He turned his pale face to his wife.
"Send the servants to bed." he said: "tell them we have a guest. He must have the best mom in the house. Will you—"
"I'll see to it. I'll see to it." she said, in a choked voice, and flew from the room.
He sat heavily down in a low chair, his head between his hands, bewildered, crushed. It seemed that the whole direction of his orderly life had been taken from his hands, He was in the grip of a force and a power stronger, more infallible than reason. This was Fate, Kismet, the Inevitability which was more tremendous than his will could harness. It crept over him, this new spirit of servitude, this atavistic impulse to obey. The blood of dead generations of Müllers who had buckled on their swords and tramped to the red West as the word of their sovereign lord sung through his veins, but to him the song was a dirge.
It was a quarter to twelve when the sound of a motor-car coming up the drive brought him to his feet. The car stopped before the house. There was a little interval and then a bell tinkled. He himself went to the hall and threw open the door.
The car was moving on as he did so, but a man was standing in the entrance, a medium-sized man, covered from shoulder to heel in a long black cloak, a soft felt hat of the same hue was pulled over his eyes, and in one hand he carried a battered portmanteau.
Mr. Miller mumbled something and bowed from his hip downward. He had never bowed like that before, but he knew that he must do so. The stranger stepped into the hall without a word and the door was closed and bolted behind him.
Mrs. Miller was in the open doorway of the library. She stumbled forward, caught the stranger's hand and, bending, kissed it.
"This is the way," she said, huskily, and went before him, Mr. Miller bringing up the rear.
The stranger stripped his cloak with his right hand—they noticed that he kept his left in his pocket—and with the same motion took off his hat. Tears blinded the woman. She could only see the dim outlines of a well-beloved face. Mr. Miller, though his pulse was beating a tattoo, noted the sallowness, the trim up-turned moustache, less exaggerated than he had expected, the tired eyes, the firm chin, the hair brushed straight back from the forehead.
"Is—would you like something to take?" he asked, shakily; "would your Majesty—"
The stranger raised his hand.
"You will please not use that word," he said, and his voice was gentle and sad. "I fear I am embarrassing you."
"No, no, certainly not," gasped Mr. Miller; "would you like some wine?"
The stranger shook his head.
"I am very tired," he said; "perhaps you would show me to my room. I am afraid I have not a servant."
His smile was very sweet. As he stooped to pick up the bag Mrs. Miller made a movement to forestall him.
"No, no," he said, gently, "I can manage myself. I must not be a greater trouble to you than I can help."
"It is no trouble, oh, I assure you it is no trouble," she cried. "If Exzellenz—"
"You must give me no title—please," he said, and he inclined his head toward the door.
She led the way up the stairs, though her knees were shaking under her, and again Mr. Miller brought up the rear.
"I could ask no better than this," said the man. He had been wearing under his cloak a stained grey uniform that fitted him like a glove. It was plain, without any ornament or decoration, but it was unmistakable.
"I came on a tramp steamer," he said; "it was rather—uncomfortable."
He dismissed them with a bow, and with no further word, and they went down together and sat for two hours facing one another, speechless.
At 2.30 Mr. Miller rose.
"I am going to bed," he said, heavily; "you have arranged—"
"I will see to his breakfast myself; nobody is to go into the room. I have told Parker and he will tell the servants that it is a friend who is ill."
"So?" said Mr. Miller, and mounted to bed, but not to sleep.
He went to his office the next morning, a criminal in mind and, if truth be told, in appearance. He lunched at a restaurant even more remote than any he had yet patronized. Somehow he dreaded returning to his secret, and, dismissing his car, he made a leisurely way homeward by motor bus.
Mrs. Miller was a very subdued, silent woman, but the fit of exaltation was still on her. She walked and moved as one who had seen a vision; was laconic but humble. When she spoke of the stranger her voice dropped to a pitch of reverence.
"I have only seen him tor a little while," she said; "I took his lunch and breakfast to him. To-night when the servants are in bed he wishes to take a stroll in the grounds. Will you—will you accompany him?"
"No," said Mr. Miller, shortly. He gulped. "No," he repeated. Then the grip of the old service fastened about his neck. "Yes, I will," he said.
It was a melancholy exercise, for neither spoke. The stranger walked a little in advance, his head bowed, his mind evidently occupied. As for Mr. Miller, he was torn between his old devotion and his new allegiance.
"I'm British!" he kept muttering to himself, as though it were some magic incantation which, repeated often enough, would restore his equilibrium.
The second day was a repetition of the first, but at nine o'clock came a diversion. Another stranger called, a clean-shaven, alert-looking man, who craved a private interview, and was ushered into the library, Mr. Miller quaking with apprehension.
"Sorry to bother you at this`hour of the night, Mr. Miller," said the stranger, briskly. "My name is Floyd. I am from Scotland Yard."
Franz did not faint. He stretched out an unsteady hand and caught the back of a chair for support.
"Oh, yes," he said, faintly; "a detective?"
"That's it, sir," said the brisk stranger. "It has been reported to me that an old friend of mine was seen giving your house a look-over the other day."
"The other day?" repeated Mr. Miller, mechanically.
"Four or five days ago," said the detective, and Mr. Miller breathed more freely. "He's a well-known thief named Smith—'Snakie' Smith: you may have heard of him."
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Miller; "Smith—er-did come to the house at—er—my invitation."
"At your invitation?"
"Yes," said the other. "The fact is, Mr. Floyd, I am—er—trying to reform him, getting him to go straight."
Floyd smiled indulgently as a father might smile at the fancies of her child.
"Reforming him, eh? Well, you've got some job! He's a bad boy, Mr. Miller. He's the man who got away with Mabel Joyce's tiara, the actress, you know. He was in the same company."
"I've heard about it," said the desperate Mr. Miller, "but I really think he is reforming now."
"You'll find it an expensive process," said Floyd, grimly.
He took his leave, but the relief at his departure was nothing like the relief that Mr. Miller felt that the police had noted the arrival of "Snake" Smith but had not observed The Man. He must be warned. If the police were watching "Snake," sooner or later they would hit upon their greatest discovery.
But he had no opportunity of warning. He could only tell his wife, and somehow he had got out of the habit of discussing things with his wife and had hardly spoken to her since the stranger had arrived. Yet he managed to convey something of his fears to her. He came back earlier the next day, and if she had been exalted before she was now so beyond recognition. She hardly waited for the door to close on him before she told her news.
"He is leaving to-night, Franz," she whispered. "A car will call for him at eleven. He is going West... on to America. He has friends there. Oh, and Franz, don't think that everything is lost. He has loyal friends. They are working for him, Franz, and he will come to his own. He will wrest from their hands everything they have stolen from him. In a few years, Franz, he will be great again, and you and I—"
"Great again?" said Mr. Miller, dully; "great! That is war!"
She babbled more news, but he did not hear it. All that he realized was war and what it meant, the wrecked lives, the maimed bodies, the sufferings, and a coming again of that hideous nightmare—war!
He did not speak through dinner. He sat hunched up in his chair while she talked in low, fierce tones, and the hands of the clock went round. Why, it was a crime! It was a sin, the most damnable sin that had ever been committed, and he was a participant in the villainy! There would be more war, more dead, more poor maimed, blind souls groping and groaning through the world!
He leapt up with a strangled cry and stumbled across the table to the telephone. His wife stared at him.
"What are you doing?"
He did not reply to her; his trembling hands turned the pages of the Telephone Directory, and presently he called for a number.
"What are you doing?" she asked again.
"Is that Scotland Yard?" he asked. "It is Mr. Miller speaking, of Sloane Miller, Limited. Yes, I am speaking from my house. I have got a man here you want."
She leapt up at him like a tigress and knocked the telephone from his hand.
"You sssha'n't, you sha'n't!" she screamed. "You traitor! You traitor! I'm going to warn him!"
She took two steps, but he was after her, had swung her round and had thrown her sprawling on to the couch.
"You stay here," he said, breathlessly. "You stay with me here. Don't you move!"
"I'll scream!" she whimpered. "You traitor! Your name will be execrated—"
She moved on, but he stood between her and the door to the hall.
He looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. It showed ten minutes to eleven. Then there came to his strained ears the "Chuff! Chuff!" of two motor bicycles.
His wife was as white as death. She sat glaring at him till he almost collapsed under the strain of her fanatical hate. Then the door opened, and it was Floyd who came in.
Mr. Miller tried to speak but could not. He raised his hand to his trembling lips to steady them.
"There's a man you want," he said, and got no farther, for at that moment the second door to the room opened and the stranger came in.
He was carrying his bag, his cloak was on his shoulders, and at the sight of Floyd he stood stock still.
"I want you, 'Snakie,'" said Floyd, and his automatic pistol covered the other.
"Well, well, well," said the Kaiser, "if it isn't Floyd!"
Both his hands were in the air now as he walked calmly toward them. He gazed benevolently from the shaking Mr. Miller to his speechless wife.
"And which of you unpatriotic devils put your Kaiser away?" he asked, in elegant English.
Mr. Floyd saw a bulge in the stranger's pocket, and unceremoniously put in his hand and drew forth that which restored Mrs. Miller to speech. It was a large handful of priceless emeralds.
"You nearly got away with it, too," said Floyd, admiringly. "Well, you are certainly the boy!"
The Kaiser smiled pleasantly.
"Have you got a friend outside?" he asked. Floyd nodded.
"I'm sorry," said the man. "Do you mind if I take my moustache off?—it tickles. I am afraid you owe me an apology, Mr. Miller," he said; "that you should imagine the bull-necked tough I sent to you was me hurts my pride."
There was a sound of motor wheels.
"Stocky Jones and Tells, I suppose?" suggested Mr. Floyd, with an inquiring jerk of his head to the sound; "they've been working with you. That car will come in handy." he added. "Pick up your bag, 'Snakie,' you don't suppose I'm going to valet you, do you?"
They went out together, leaving a very silent couple.
It was Mr. Miller who spoke first.
"Bertha," he said, clearing his voice, "You didn't kiss his hand before he went!"
He felt he was entitled to that one.