Submarine U93 Part 3

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"I think," said Rosencrantz, "I can explain. He was there by chance. He did not know that I intended to return to the office, and having deliberately disobeyed my orders, he had a natural desire to avoid me."

The Baron von Essling shrugged his shoulders. Rosencrantz turned sharply upon Jimmy and the girl, who now stood side by side.

"You will both leave this place at once," said he, "and you will not return. Understand, I never wish to see your faces again."

At that, he went to the door and threw it open, making a motion of the hand for them to go.

They were about to leave, when Stork seized Jimmy roughly by a shoulder.

He was a strong man, as the boy could tell from the iron grip that held him as if he were in a vice.

"Wait a bit," said he. "Easy now. We'd be blind fools to let you go like that. Listen here, my boy, and let what I've got to say sink into your memory. Breathe so much as a single word to any living soul of what you've heard to-night, and I'll find it out. You may set your mind at rest on that. I'm not a mild man, nor a plaster saint; some folk might say that sometimes I'm a little quick of temper. At any rate, I tell you this: I'll stick at nothing, if you neglect the advice I give you gratis. So, just beware, take warning; mum's the word."

And at that, he sent Jimmy flying headlong through the doorway.

As the boy recovered his balance--and indeed, he only just saved himself from stretching his length upon the floor--he found Peggy at his side, with a white face and trembling lips, and her hands clasped together.

"Oh, come," she cried, "we must go away from here. Jimmy, I never knew that I could be so frightened." Somehow she was breathless.

Very quickly, side by side, they ran down flight after flight of steps, until, at last, they found themselves upon the sidewalk of the famous street that traverses New York from end to end. A little after, they stood together at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Broadway.

It was night, and the great city was alive. The people were thronging to the theatres; the street-cars were crowded, their bells clanging incessantly; news-boys raced across the street. Broadway was a blaze of light; thousands of advertis.e.m.e.nts, brilliantly illumined with all the colours of the rainbow, caught the eye in all directions. Peggy drew near to Jimmy, and took his arm and pressed it.

"Whatever happened, Jimmy?" she asked. "I'm kind of dazed. I don't really understand."

"I don't know that I do," said the boy. "Even now, I can't believe that it wasn't all a dream."

For a little time, they walked along in silence. It was Peggy who spoke again.

"You had better come back with me," she said. "I must tell Aunt Marion I've been dismissed. Somehow I don't think we ought to leave each other now."

There was another pause; and then Peggy gave a shudder.

"That man was terrible," she said. "I can see him now. Do you know, Jimmy, he meant to kill you."

The boy laughed. Now that he was quit of the atmosphere of that room wherein had been disclosed the terrible, almost overpowering plot that was to shake to its very foundations the whole civilized world, it was easy enough to laugh. For all that, his boyish confidence in himself had not yet wholly returned. Quite apart from the fact that his life had been threatened, he had received a shock from which he was not likely to recover for some time to come.

It was quite late when they arrived at Peggy's home in Hoboken, where they found Peggy's aunt, Miss Daintree, laying the table for supper.

In a few brief words, Peggy told her aunt as much as she knew of what had happened; whereat Aunt Marion expressed neither surprise nor disappointment. She listened with a sweet smile, and rewarded Peggy with a kiss, saying that she was more glad than sorry, since the firm of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had never been to her liking. Besides, as she pointed out, Peggy was worth a great deal more than they paid her.

There were thousands of chances for a good stenographer in New York, so after all Peggy had no cause to despair.

Jimmy stayed to supper; but, despite the fact that both he and Peggy had been deprived of the illicit joys of a "picnic," he had neither any appet.i.te nor any wish to talk, but remained pensive and grave as a judge.

Afterwards, seated before the fire with those two women, one on either side, he told the whole truth, in defiance of Rudolf Stork. And that was surely a strange audience to listen to a story of such world-wide dimensions, fraught with such unheard-of possibilities. The one was a woman who had already reached middle age, whose hair was touched with grey, whose life had been spent for the most part in those simple, sunlit joys which are G.o.d's gift to the really good. And the other was a girl who might still have been at school.

They listened in still amazement, finding it all not easy to believe.

And when Jimmy had come to the end of his narrative, and his face was flushed and his eyes bright, he looked to Aunt Marion, as the eldest--and presumedly the wisest--for some practical advice. But that kind-hearted, loving lady knew, perhaps, even less of the world than he.

She thought at first that it would be best to go at once to the police; but, when Jimmy suggested that the New York police were notoriously corrupt, she agreed that, perhaps, the British consul was a more suitable person. Accordingly, after a long discussion, it was arranged that Jimmy and Peggy should go together to that gentleman's office the following day.

That night, the boy slept on a sofa; but Aunt Marion had made him promise that he would remain with them, as their guest, until he had obtained some new employment. There was a box-room which she could easily convert into a bedroom. She knew Jimmy well, and loved the boy; she even knew the story of "Swiftsure Burke." She knew that Jimmy was quite penniless, and would have to make his own way in the world; and she was anxious to do all she could to help him.

Jimmy spent the following morning bringing the few worldly goods he possessed from his old lodgings in New York itself to the other side of the harbour. He had enough money at home to pay the week's rent he owed, and the cab fare and the ferry-boat. And when he had done that, he found himself with nothing in the world--but "Swiftsure Burke's"

lucky, dented sixpence.

At about three o'clock in the afternoon, the boy and girl sallied forth together, to interview the British consul. They had an exceedingly vague notion of what they were going to say to that all-important personage when they met him; they had not even a very exact idea as to what the duties of a consul were. None the less, they were quite convinced that he would explain the whole affair.

As it turned out, the consul was on a holiday--as his Britannic Majesty's consuls frequently are. However, they were shown into the presence of a certain Mr. Ridgeway, who introduced himself as the consul's private secretary.

This Mr. Ridgeway listened to the boy's story with an expression of mingled astonishment and disgust. At one moment, he was really alarmed; at the next, he was perfectly convinced that the whole thing was a hoax.

But, towards the end, when Jimmy became very excited, and Peggy wrung her hands, he could scarcely fail to see that the boy was terribly in earnest. Moreover, he knew the Baron von Essling by reputation--which reputation was certainly not of the best. Still, he could hardly bring himself to believe either that such a cold-blooded, deliberate plot really did exist, or that a military attache could so abuse a position of the greatest trust.

He promised, however, to tell the whole story to the consul when he returned, and pointed out that in due course, no doubt, the Foreign Office would be informed. In the meantime, Jimmy was to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut. On no account whatsoever was he to say a word to any one of what he knew.

The boy was determined to remember this advice, which--strangely enough--coincided with that of Rudolf Stork. As he came down the front doorsteps of the consulate, though he was out of work and practically a pauper, though he was conscious of the fact that he was living on the charity of others who could not afford to support him and upon whom he had no claim, he walked with a lighter tread than ever in his life before. He could not but feel proud of the fact that, for some mysterious reason, he was, indeed, a person of importance.

A man was leaning against the railings, both hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets, a battered hat jammed over his eyes--one of the inevitable loafers who are to be found in the streets of every city in the world. As Jimmy reached the bottom step, this man looked at him sharply from over his shoulder, and then slouched away.

The boy stood stock still, staring after the man with the battered hat, with parted lips and widely opened eyes. He did not speak or move, until Peggy suddenly touched his arm.

"Did you see that man?" he whispered.

"What is it?" Peggy exclaimed. "What's the matter, Jimmy?"

Jimmy pointed to the receding figure which just then disappeared quite suddenly round a corner.

"That man," said he, "was Rudolf Stork. And he knows I saw him."

CHAPTER V--Dropping the Pilot

If we put away ghosts and such like--in which n.o.body nowadays believes--there is, perhaps, no more unpleasant experience in the world than to be shadowed. The fact that one's footsteps are dogged eternally, that at every sudden corner or darkened by-way a hidden foe may lurk, is the kind of thing that is well calculated to test the strongest nerves.

Stork, in his own words, was a man who would stick at nothing--a desperate blade who, no doubt, had already more than one crime upon his conscience. Peggy was terrified; and though Jimmy did his best to show a bold front, his heart was filled with misgivings.

Determined to get back to Hoboken as soon as possible, they quickened their footsteps, crossing the great avenues that traverse the entire length of this most wonderful of modern cities.

As all Yankees know, the offices of an exceedingly influential newspaper are situated in Fifth Avenue, which is the main thoroughfare of New York; and as the boy and girl pa.s.sed the entrance to this enormous block of buildings, they were almost swept from the pavement by a crowd of news-boys who came rus.h.i.+ng round a corner, shouting themselves hoa.r.s.e, like a party of dancing Dervishes or Bas.h.i.+-bazouks. In point of fact, they made so much noise among themselves that it was quite impossible to understand a single word they said, though it was manifest that some news had just come to hand of startling importance.

At that moment, a poster was pasted up in one of the windows on the ground floor, which contained the following announcement--

TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN EUROPE AUSTRIAN ARCHDUKE AND d.u.c.h.eSS MURDERED BY SERVIANS

Peggy and Jimmy stopped to read the notice, which--it must be confessed--conveyed little or nothing to either of them. They could not in any way a.s.sociate the murder of the heir to the throne of Austria with the colossal plot that von Essling had disclosed in the presence of Rosencrantz and Rudolf Stork. They did not realize that this was the spark that was destined to spread, within the s.p.a.ce of a few short weeks, into an almost universal conflagration; that the curtain had been rung up upon the greatest drama the world had ever known.

It was during the next few weeks that it gradually became apparent to the ordinary man in the street that the situation was serious. Nearly all that time Jimmy was looking about him for some new employment. Peggy had been almost immediately successful. She had secured quite a well-paid position with a large firm of s.h.i.+pping agents: Jason, Stileman and May, a British company whose house-flag is to be found on every ocean in the world.

Submarine U93 Part 3

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Submarine U93 Part 3 summary

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