Newspaper Page Text
o < ►
< ► o 4 ► < ► «fr 4 ► & 4 ► 4 ► ❖ - ► :: : > > * \ :: :: 3 ' ‘:* 4 ► V They call that situation improb able," observed the ambassador, turn ing round in his chair as the curtain fell on the first act of Sardou's “Chercfcez la Femme”—we were in his excellency's box at the Comedie Frau caise. “Yet in what is it more extraor dinary than some of the scenes which 1 have myself witnessed during my diplomatic career?" "For instance?” I suggested, seeing that be was in a communicative mood. ‘ For instance, in that affair of long ego which led to the downfall of the Bismarck family, regarding which so many absurd accounts appeared in the ilMnformed European press. Some of those accounts," the ambassador added, taking up his opera-giues, “were no doubt inspired by those who had their own reasons for not desiring the truth to be known; nevertheless, they ought not to have imposed on per sons of intelligence.” “It is tolerably well known that ever since the Prince von Bismarck per ceived the marvelous recovery of Prance from the disasters of 1870, he lived in perpetual terror of the re venge we might be inspired to take. It is this which caused him to cherish the idea of again attacking France at a disadvantage, and finally crushing her by a dismemberment which would reduce her to the rank of a second class power. me muj m. ue uiuwiu, mu iamous correspondent of the Loudon Times, and a man who was not to be de spised, had told the world of the scheme which this Prussian conceived for falling upon us in 1876, while we were still weak from the effects of the iformer crime, a calamity which was jonly averted by the personal interven tion in our favor of Alexander II of IRusBia. "The relations between the two countries were consequently still very istrained when, shortly after the acces laion of the present German kaiser, our iforeign office was agreeably surprised to receive an intimation that this pol icy of hatred inspired by fear was to be abandoned, and that the imperial government was now anxious to work cordially with ours in the field of Eu ropean politics. "The portfolio of foreign affairs was at that time in the hands of M. Fleu riot, a worthy and patriotic man, but liable to fits of imprudence. He has not held a post in any recent cabinet. "M. Fleuriot was charmed to re ceive the assurances tendered to him by the German ambassador, assur ances which were confirmed by Bis marck himself in a confidential inter view with our representative in Her lin. The German chancellor explained, with>characteristic bluntness, that this change of front must not be attributed to him, but to the personal initiative of Wilhelm II. "These admissions of the chancellor convinced M. Pleuriot that Bismarck's influence on the foreign policy of Ger many was on the decline. He there fore embraced, with all the more confi dence, the offers of friendship and alli ance which were made to him by the Imperial ambassador. This personage even want so far as to hint to our min ister that it was not intended that Bis marck should be privy to all the de tails of future negotiations between the two governments. "Matters having arrived at this stage, the ambassador commenced to throw out suggestions that the friendly understanding arrived at should be put upon a practical footing. He invited M. Pleuriot to indicate some object which Germany might co-operate in se curing for Prance, as the price of her definite abandonment of Alsace-Lor raine M. Pleuriot at once thought of Egypt, that prey so treacherously seized upon by the British lion. "You, my friend, aie well aware that 1 do not share in the general feeling of my fellow-countrymen towards Great Britain On the contrary, 1 la ment the hatred with which your na tion has pursued us ever since their defeat at Waterloo." “Defeat. M l'Ambassadeur’" 1 ven tured to interject "Defeat, without doubt," returned his excellency with firmness. "Do you pretend that if the Prussians had not arrived a single one of your country men would have been left alive?’ I preferred to waive this discussion "It is this recollection, so galling to a brave people, that has doubtless prompted the incessant intrigues ol your government against the greatness of France. Fortunately, a Frenchman knows how to be magnanimous in the face of provocation. Surrender Egypt to us, and we consent to overlook the other aggressions of Albion.’ The ambassador paused and glanced around the theater before resuming his narrative. "The English ambassador in Paris at this time was a close persona friend of mine. Being at the momen' unattached to any foreign mission, was living here, ana it was ray custon to dine every Sunday at the Englisl •■mbassy To tills circumstance li owing the salvation of Europe fron the most desolating war in history. "On a certain Sunday about the timi I have indicated, 1 was dining at the embassy as usual. During the meal 1 observed that my host was very dis tracted; and, as soon as it was over, he rose up and, taking me by the arm, led me into his private study. 1 at once guessed what was coming, and, while accepting a cigar, determined that nothing should be extracted from me respecting the negotiation I have described, and of which M. Fleuriot had kept me partly informed. " ‘My dear baron,' he commenced, 'you and I are old friends. We should both be equally distressed if war were to break out between our two coun tries.' " ‘Without doubt,’ I replied, affecting to consider the remark a mere chance observation. ‘Let us be thankful that such an event is not in the least likely to take place.’ And I added to myself: ‘Unless you refuse to give up Egypt.’ "He glanced at me with suspicion. “ 'How far you are in the confidence of your foreign office,’ he said, ‘I nei ther know, nor do I ask you to tell me. I desire to give you information, not to receive it.’ ‘“You are too good,’ I murmured, more on my guard than ever. ■' ’I hope, at the same time,’ he went on, ‘that w'hat I have to say to you may cause you to take action in what I believe to be the interest of both countries! I am sure that if you use this information you will not allow its source to be discovered.' ” ‘That is understood, of course/ I replied, beginning to be really inter ested. inanK you. Let me say at once, then, that I have reason to believe that your government has recently proposed to the court of Berlin an of fensive alliance against England, with a view to compelling us to evacuate Egypt In your favor.’ “I was thunderstruck at the accu racy of his information. “ ‘But, my lord, this is some chimera, delusion!’ I cried, affecting the utmost incredulity. ‘Such an idea is too ex travagant for a feuilleton!’ “Lord Soames smiled coldly. “ 'I have already said that 1 do not ask you to commit yourself, my dear baron,’ he replied. ‘I will assume, if you prefer it, that all this is news to you. But you have not yet heard what I wanted to tell you. Ae you know, Great Britain has hitherto steadfastly refused to join the triple alliance for fear of being dragged by Germany into a war against France. It is to your interest, I think you will admit, that we should continue to hold aloof.’ “I shrugged my shoulders without expressing any opinion on this point. “ ‘Now,’ pursued Lord Soames, ‘we suddenly find oureelves placed in this dilemma. Prince Bismarck has in formed our ambassador in Berlin that he will accept your proposal unless England accedes to the triple alliance within a week from today, and un dertakes to employ her navy in a blockade of the French coast as soon as war is declared.’ I was overwhelmed. The revela tion of this atrocious duplicity on the part of Bismarck completely etunned me. Knowing what I did of his char acter, it w'as impossible to doubt the truth of Lord Soames’ disclosure. It was evident that the whole of the negotiations with our foreign office had been a deliberate ruse In order to obtain the means of discrediting us in the eyes of Great Britain. It was the Belgian trick of 1870 over again! “I could have wept. It was with the utmost difficulty that 1 concealed my consternation from the keen eye« of tho Englishman. “‘You have been deceived, my friend,’ I answered, in a tone of great confidence. ‘That Bismarck should make such assertions does not sur prise me in the least. But it is a mere invention of his own, believe me. If such a thing had been on the carpet, 1 am the first person with whom M. Fleuriot would have communicated.’ “Lord Soames listened to me with an aii of indulgence, as if I had been a child. “ Again permit me to remind you that 1 am simply giving you a warning for your own benefit,’ he said. ‘I have only to add that the prince has prom ised .to show our ambassador the writ ten French proposal, signed by M. Fleuriot, next Saturday. Unless you can reclaim that document by then, England will join the alliance, and war will be declared within a fortnight.' "It was useless for me to make fur ther protests. They were wasted on this man of ice. " ‘I am obliged to you for your friendliness,’ I said, rising. ‘No doubt the whole story is some clumsy fabri cation of Prince von Bismarck's, w hich it w ill be easy to disprove. If I should chance to meet M. Fleuriot, however. 1 will inform him of these slanders.’ “We returned to the drawing-room, and 1 chatted with Lady Soamee for twenty minutes, in order to show that i my mind was at ease. I then an i nounced that I had a headache and i took my leave. i “l refused to allow the servants of the embassy to call me a cab, lest ‘ they should overhear my destination. I walked down the street for a hun dred yards, jumped into the first empty one I met, and drove furiously to the Quai d’Orsay. “I was lucky enough to find M. Fleu riot there, and at once communicated to him the terrible news which I had juet. heard. “The minister was absolutely stupa flea. "‘Did Lord Soames tell you this?’ was his first question. " ‘Lord Soames! No, I have not seen him for days,’ 1 answered^ remember ing the caution I had received. The intelligence reached me direct from Berlin, by a channel which I am not permitted to disclose. But you may rely upon its absolute truth.’, "M. Fleuriot tore his hair. “'Beaet that I am!’ he cried de spairingly, ‘I ought to have suspected that this pretended alliance was one of Bismarck's traps. And 1 believed in the faith of that Prussian!’ “ ‘Then there is such a document?’ I exclaimed, little less dismayed than he was. “‘Alas, yes! Their ambassador in sisted that the first written proposal should come from us. 1 placed it in his hands four days ago, and doubtless it is by this time in Bismarck’s pos session. I have betrayed my country to that wretch!’ “I exerted myself to soothe him. Finally 1 said: “ ‘Give me a letter to our ambassa dor in Berlin, and I will go there my self and regain this paper from Bis marck’s clutches.' “You will? Baron, you are an angel! Do this, and you shall have the grand cross of the legion. 1 swear it. Your Fleuriot will regard you as his savior!’ “On the second day I arrived in Ber lin. My first step was to see our am bassador there, an upright and pains taking diplomatist, but a man who was by no means a match for the infernal craft of Bismarck. “My sudden appearance naturally caused him the greatest astonishment, which was changed into chagrin as I explained to him how he, like M. Fleu riot, had been duped by the perfidious chancellor. uui w utu /uu ttrii iu« la | sible,’ he exclaimed. 'I know the char acter of Wilhelm II too well. That he should conceive the Idea of trans forming the foreign policy of Germany does not surprise me, but that he should have the cunning to contrive a plot of this kind is incredible. He is a Charles XII, not a Machiavelli.’ "This was the very point on which I desired to sound the ambassador. I fixed on him an ironical smile. “ ‘And what part has the kaiser in this affair, then?’ I asked him. "He gazed at me in bewilderment. *' ‘Why, Prince von Bismarck in formed me’—he began, and stopped short, chilled by the sarcasm of my look. “ ‘Bismarck informed you that he was acting under the kaiser's instruc tions. But what assurance have you that this was not part of the trick?’ “ ‘You must be right,’ he exclaimed at length. ‘The kaiser never has re ferred to the matter, though I have twice conversed with him since it was broached.' "I was satisfied. It only remained for me to put in execution the design which I had conceived. “The following morning found me at the imperial palace. ’’As soon as I had 6ent up my name, I was ushered up the great main stair case of the palace to the first landing stage and brought into his majesty's private cabinet. The kaiser, as I en tered. started up from a table on which lay the design of a battleship, and welcomed me with effusion. ‘‘I thought it well to commence by administering a compliment. “ ‘My government,’ I observed, ‘en tertains sentiments of the most pro found respect for your majesty, and it believes that you cherish no hostile feeling toward France.' ‘“Your government ie right,’ he in terjected. ’So long as France con ducts herself with propriety, and re frains from indulging in disturbing projects, she may assure herself of my good will.' i anectea to receive tms condescen sion with delight. “ ‘Ah, sire,’ 1 exclaimed, "if my coun trymen could only hear those gracious words! Such kindness makes my present mission easy. It is no doubt an irregular thing for my government to communicate with your majesty, except through the official channels. Our excuse is the high regard in which France holds your majesty personally, and the belief that, in matters of for eign policy it is no longer the Friace von Bismarck who exercises sole con trol.’ "The emperor drew himself up “ ‘I am the only person who exer cises sole control in my empire,' he remarked with haughtiness. 'My chan cellor simply acts under my instruc tions.' " 'So my government was assured, sire, and that being so, it entertained a negotiation which, had it proceeded from the initiative of Herr von Bis marck, we should have unhesitatingly declined.' ‘"What negotiation do you refer to?' asked the emperor, surprised. "I assumed my most innocent ex pression. “ ‘To your majesty’s proposal of a Joint war against England, with the object of restoring Egypt to France.' "The kaiser bounded in his seat. ‘"I propose a war with England! To restore Egypt to you! 1 never heard of such madness! Who has dared—’ "He broke off, evidently realizing that he was committing himself. I affected to be equally astounded with his majesty. "‘But this is incredible!’ 1 j ‘Can the prince have dared to cuminn Germany to this undertaking without even consulting you? Thi« is worse than the time of the old kaiser. And my government was assured that this new policy was due to your majesty's direct initiative.' “The kaiser sat like one thunder struck. “I had now, of course, satisfied my self that Bismarck was acting without his master’s knowledge. It remained for me to secure the emperor’s confi dence and deprive the prince of any chance of winning his approval for this audacious intrigue. “I turned to Wilhelm II with an ex pression of deep regret. “ 'Sire, I am overwhelmed to think that you, as well as my government, have been deceived by this minister, who has acquired the habit of over stepping his powers. But I know my government too well to believe it ca pable of taking advantage of this situ ation. I was sent here to obtain your majesty's personal confirmation of this treaty. I learn that the entire negotiation has been without your sanction, and, however disappointing to France this may be, I have no hesi tation in saying, on behalf of my gov ernment, that it will consent to treat the affair as if it had not taken place.’ “ 'You are very good, M. le Baron,’ murmured the emperor, evidently re lieved by this declaration, but still embarrassed by the consideration that I had penetrated the state of his rela tions with the chancellor. “ ‘It only remains for me to satisfy you of the truth of my words,’ I re sumed, 'and to afford you an opportu nity of terminating a scandalous situa tion. Let me propose to you, sire, a little conspiracy against this genHe man, who has so nearly made us dance to his music.’ “The kaiser smiled and listened with approval while I unfolded the plan which I had formed. “During the time of my connection with our embassy in Berlin I had be come well acquainted with the chan cellor’s habits. Among other things, I was aware that when he had any torn open at the end. I snatched it up, and the next moment the fatal docu ment was in my hands. “While I was drawing it. out of the envelope the key turned in the door, and the kaiser burst in. As had been arranged between us, he had left the chancellor half-way up the stairs, in the confidence that the old man s movements would not be quick enough for him to intercept us for a minute. The emperor’s pretext for returning was that he had forgotten his musical manuscript. “I had just time to unfold the paper and point to the words by which it was headed: ‘Proposal for an Offen sive Alliance between France and Ger many,’ and to the signature, ‘Jules Fleuriot,’ at the foot, when we heard the ponderous footsteps of Prince Bis marck outside. “Now was the time for my great stroke. Before the astonished kaiser could tell what I was about to do I had swiftly crumpled the all-important document into one pocket, while from another I drew a paper similar in ap pearance, and coolly slipped it into the envelope, which 1 restored to the dis patch-box under his very eyes. There was just time for me to regain my hiding place before the door was burst open and the old chancellor stalked in. “He was panting from the exertions he had made, and looked angry and disgusted. By this time Wilhelm II was busily turning over some papers in a drawer at the other end of the apartment. Casting an indignant glance at hie back, the prince went straight up to the precious yellow box, locked it, and restored the keys to his pocket, at the same time tucking the box under his arm. Then, and not be fore, he growled out to the absorbed kaiser: “‘If your majesty can’t find the mu sic, I will come to hear it another time.’ “The kaiser turned round. “ ‘Do not do that, prince. Go up to the empress, who has not seen you for some time. I shall join you in two minutes.’ “The chancellor could not well re fuse, and stumped away, pretending to . “Do Not Do That, Prince. Go Up to the Empress, Who Has Not Seen You for Some Time. I Shall Join You in Two Minutes.” documents to which he attached spe cial importance he did not leave them in the safe at the chancellery, but car ried them about in a certain yellow dispatch-box, which never left him day or night. "As soon as he understood what I proposed, he requested me to ring the bell, and dispatched a messenger to request the instant attendance of the chancellor at the palace. "The old chancellor came puffing into the room carrying hie eternal yel low dispatch-box under his arm. He carefully deposited his yellow box up on a table, before advancing to greet his majesty. “ ‘Well, prince, how is the rheuma tism today?' inquired the kaiser. “ ‘Bad, very bad, sire,’ grumbled the old minister *‘He then, without inviting the prince to be seated, put a question to him about some pending commercial treaty with Russia, which necessitated a reference to the contents of the yel low box. The prince fumbled for his keys, unlocked the box and took out the paper which his master had in quired for. The kaiser, after barely glancing at it, suddenly took the old man by the arm, and commenced to draw him out of the room. “Come upstairs for a moment,’ he cried; 'you must positively hear the empress play my last composition. The court are enraptured with it, and the royal organist tells me it will re place the "Wacht am Rhein" ae the national anthem of Germany." "The prince hesitated, and glanced at his dispatch-box. which still lay un locked on the table. “ ‘That w ill be all right,’ said the kaiser impatiently. ‘See, I will lock the door of the room from outside.’ "The instant the door closed behind them 1 darted from my hiding-place and pounced on the yellow box There, lying close to the top, was an envelope bearing the French official seal, and groan at his rheumatic pains as he went. "Now the time had come for an ex planation with the kaiser, my abstrac tion of the document having been an unrehearsed effect for which I had not prepared him He directed a stern look at me as I came out into his presence. “'Sir,' he began angrily, ‘why did you take that paper?' ‘ I gazed at him as if pained surprise. “ ‘But. sire,’ I exclaimed, ’you have just repudiated the treaty which Prince von Bismarck proposed in your name, and I have agreed that my gov ernment shall accept your decision. Naturally It ie my duty to reclaim the document, obtained from my govern ment by fraud, and to which your chancellor is no longer entitled.’ ‘“That is all very well, M. le Baron, but it is not the way to go to work,' returned the kaiser, still angry, “ Perhaps not, sire. But, if it comes to that, neither of us has much to gain by proclaiming this morning’s work,’ I replied boldly. And seeing that the shaft had gone home, I continued: The document which I have substi tuted bears a similar heading and is equally in the writing of M. Pleuriot, so that the exchange is not likely to be detected just at present. In the meantime if you, sire, will overlook my having possessed myself of this pa per, I will tell you beforehand of an other little measure on which, per haps, this faithful Bismarck has for gotten to consult you.’ “The kaiser's face flushed darkly. '“I will say no more about that pa per. What elee do you refer to?” “'Simply this, sire, that on Satur day next the prince expects to receive England's adherence to the triple alli ance. In that I have reason to think he will find himself deceived "And before Wilhelm II had time to take in the bearing of this piece of news, evidently unwelcome to him, I had bowed myself out and left th$ palace. “I drove straight to the telegraph office, whence I dispatched the follow ing message to Lord Soames “ 'You have been misinformed. Thera is no such letter.’ “And I was right. For on the way from the palace I had torn up the pa per into a hundred fragments, and had swallowed them every one. The ambassador stopped abrupt}* and made as if he would turn his at tention to the stage. “Surely that is not all?” I said “Can you not tell me what occurred on the Saturday?” ' His excellency smiled pleasantly “I had the account some time after through my friend Soames, who got ft from his colleague in Berlin, it ap. pears that Bismarck never once looked inside the envelope till he and the Eng lish ambassador met in the kaiser’s presence at the time appointed. “The old chancellor had not in formed his master of the precise na ture of the business to be transacted "Prince Bismarck opened the inter view, therefore, by explaining to the kaiser the purpose fo: which he had summoned the meeting. Then turn ing to the British envoy, he added with confidence: “ ‘Well, sir, what is your answer? Will England join us?’ “The Englishman kept perfectly cool. He had, of course, been warned by Lord Soames how’ matters stood. “‘Before you have any right to de mand my answrer,’ he said, ‘you must fulfill your undertaking to produce some evidence that France contem plates an attack on us.’ “Thereupon the prince tapped his i famous yellow box. | ” ‘I have here,’ he returned, a writ j ten proposal from the French govern ment for an offensive alliance against 1 you.’ “This was the first hint to the kaiser of the real significance of the mysteri ous document he had allowed me to recover. He drew back in his chair and began to gnaw his mustache. “But the Englishman merely smiled. “ ‘Excuse me, prince, but I really think you have been imposed upon,’ he replied quietly. ‘I cannot believe that the government of the republic would be guilty of such folly.’ “Bismarck now smiled In his turn, and with an air of triumph took out the paper from its envelope, and passed it to the other. The kaiser looked on, helpless, and divided, no doubt, between anger at the manner in which I had outwitted him, and pleasure at the mortification in store for his overbearing minister. “The Englishman unfolded the pa per and read aloud: “ ’Proposal for an Offensive Alliance Between France and Germany—' “‘Ha! What did I say!” interrupted the chancellor. “'—The French government, after according due consideration to the pro posal laid before it on behalf of the German government, has decided to absolutely decline entering into any such alliance as—’ “He had got to there when the over whelmed chancellor, uttering a cry of rage, snatched the paper from his hand and fastened upon its contents, with his eyes starting from his head, and his features wrinkled up in a look of positively ludicrous consternation. "Then Wilhelm II saw his chance. “ ‘Herr. Prince,’ he said sternly, 'what is the meaning of this comedy? What are these proposals which you have made without my authority, for an alliance against the government of a country which I regard with friend ship?’ “The prince flung down the paper with a growl like that of an infuriated mastiff. ror tne nrsi time m my me, sire, my dispatch-box has been tampered with,’ he rapped out in surly tones. 'At this moment I can only assure you and the ambassador here that the pro posal came, not from me, but from the French government.’ "At this point the kaiser turned away and ceased to listen. The Eng lishman shrugged his shoulders with an incredulous air, and rose to go. “The audience broke up. England remained outside the triple alliance, and before a month was over all Eu rope was astonished to bear that Prince Bismarck was no longer chan cellor of the German empire. “You understand,’’ added my friend, after a minute, “that it is only because of the years that have passed since the death of poor Soames that I am able to tell you all thie/ "I understand perfectly." As I was helping his excellency on with hts overcoat at the conclusion of the performance my eye happeued to fall upon the decorated buttonhole. “By-the-by, M. l’Ambassadeur, did M. Fleuriot fulfil his promise about the grand cross?” The ambassador turned round with a momentary look of annoyance. "My friend, you should restrain your too great curiosity. Believe me, it in a detestable vice. No, unfortunately, he did not. But it was scarcely his fault. The fact is that, during the few days I was absent in Berlin there occurred a change of government. Poor Fleuriot lost his portfolio, and my services were forgotten.” He sighed with a noble air of resig nation. Suddenly his glance became fixed on a point on the other side of the crowded corridor into which we had just plunged. "Ah!” he exclaimed, beginning to detach himself from my side and take an oblique course through the mov ing throng. "Pardon my leaving you so abruptly, but I see a friend coming out to whom it is imperative that 1 . should speak.’ (Copyright, in U. S and Great Britain!