The Great Secret

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan, and the Project
Online Distributed Proofreading Team

THE GREAT SECRET

BY E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. ROOM No. 317

II. A MIDNIGHT RAID
III. MISS VAN HOYT
IV. A MATCH AT LORD’S
V. ON THE TERRACE
VI. “MR. GUEST”
VII. A “TÊTE-À-TÊTE” DINNER
VIII. IN THE TOILS
IX. AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
X. “WORTLEY FOOTE—THE SPY”
XI. A LEGACY OF DANGER
XII. OLD FRIENDS
XIII. THE SHADOW DEEPENS
XIV. GATHERING JACKALS
XV. A DYING MAN
XVI. I TAKE UP MY LEGACY
XVII. NAGASKI’S INSTINCT
XVIII. IN THE DEATH CHAMBER
XIX. AN AFFAIR OF STATE
XX. TRAVELLING COMPANIONS
XXI. “FOR YOU!”
XXII. “LOVED I NOT HONOR MORE”
XXIII. THE PRETENDER
XXIV. A PRACTICAL WOMAN
XXV. A CABLE FROM EUROPE
XXVI. FOR VALUE RECEIVED
XXVII. INTERNATIONAL POLITICS
XXVIII. DOUBLE DEALING
XXIX. I CHANGE MY NATIONALITY
XXX. THE “WAITERS’ UNION”
XXXI. IN THE ENEMY’S CAMP
XXXII. SIR GILBERT HAS A SURPRISE
XXXIII. A REUNION OF HEARTS
XXXIV. RIFLE PRACTICE
XXXV. “HIRSCH’S WIFE”
XXXVI. AN URGENT WARNING
XXXVII. THE BLACK BAG
XXXVIII. A LAST RESOURCE

XXXIX. WORKING The Oracle

XL. The Oracle SPEAKS

CHAPTER I

ROOM NO. 317

I laid my papers down upon the broad mahogany counter, and exchanged
greetings with the tall frock-coated reception clerk who came smiling
towards me.

“I should like a single room on the third floor east, about the middle
corridor,” I said. “Can you manage that for me? 317 I had last time.”

He shook his head at once. “I am very sorry, Mr. Courage,” he said, “but
all the rooms in that corridor are engaged. We will give you one on the
second floor at the same price.”

I was about to close with his offer, when, with a word of excuse, he
hurried away to intercept some one who was passing through the hall. A
junior clerk took his place, and consulted the plan for a moment
doubtfully.

“There are several rooms exactly in the locality you asked for,” he
remarked, “which are simply being held over. If you would prefer 317, you
can have it, and I will give 217 to our other client.”

“Thank you,” I answered, “I should prefer 317 if you can manage it.”

He scribbled the number upon a ticket and handed it to the porter, who
stood behind with my dressing-case. A page caught up the key, and I
followed them to the lift. In the light of things which happened
afterwards, I have sometimes wondered what became of the unfortunate
junior clerk who gave me room number 317.

* * * * *

It was six o’clock when I arrived at the Hotel Universal. I washed,
changed my clothes, and was shaved in the barber’s shop. Afterwards, I
spent, I think, the ordinary countryman’s evening about town—having some
regard always to the purpose of my visit. I dined at my club, went on to
the Empire with a couple of friends, supped at the Savoy, and, after a
brief return visit to the club, a single game of billiards and a final
whisky and soda, returned to my hotel contented and sleepy, and quite
prepared to tumble into bed. By some chance—the history of nations, as
my own did, will sometimes turn upon such slight events—I left my door
ajar whilst I sat upon the edge of the bed finishing a cigarette and
treeing my boots, preparatory to depositing them outside. Suddenly my
attention was arrested by a somewhat curious sound. I distinctly heard
the swift, stealthy footsteps of a man running at full speed along the
corridor. I leaned forward to listen. Then, without a moment’s warning,
they paused outside my door. It was hastily pushed open and as hastily
closed. A man, half clothed and panting, was standing facing me—a
strange, pitiable object. The boots slipped from my fingers. I stared at
him in blank bewilderment.

“What the devil—” I began.

He made an anguished appeal to me for silence. Then I heard other
footsteps in the corridor pausing outside my closed door. There was a
moment’s silence, then a soft muffled knocking. I moved towards it, only
to be met by the intruder’s frenzied whisper—

“For God’s sake keep quiet!”

The man’s hot breath scorched my cheek, his hands gripped my arm with
nervous force, his hysterical whisper was barely audible, although his
lips were within a few inches of my ear.

“Keep quiet,” he muttered, “and don’t open the door!”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They will kill me,” he answered simply.

I resumed my seat on the side of the bed. My sensations were a little
confused. Under ordinary circumstances, I should probably have been
angry. It was impossible, however, to persevere in such a sentiment
towards the abject creature who cowered by my side.

Yet, after all, was he abject? I looked away from the door, and, for the
second time, studied carefully the features of the man who had sought my
protection in so extraordinary a manner. He was clean shaven, his
features were good; his face, under ordinary circumstances, might have
been described as almost prepossessing. Just now it was whitened and
distorted by fear to such an extent that it gave to his expression a
perfectly repulsive cast. It was as though he looked beyond death and saw
things, however dimly, more terrible than human understanding can fitly
grapple with. There were subtleties of horror in his glassy eyes, in his
drawn and haggard features.

Nothing, perhaps, could more completely illustrate the effect his words
and appearance had upon me than the fact that I accepted his
extraordinary statement without any instinct of disbelief! Here was I,
an Englishman of sound nerves, of average courage, and certainly
untroubled with any superabundance of imagination, domiciled in a
perfectly well-known, if somewhat cosmopolitan, London hotel, and yet
willing to believe, on the statement of a person whom I had never seen
before in my life, that, within a few yards of me, were unseen men bent
upon murder.

From outside I heard a warning chink of metal, and, acting upon impulse,
I stepped forward and slipped the bolt of my door. Immediately afterwards
a key was softly inserted in the lock and turned. The door strained
against the bolt from some invisible pressure. Then there came the sound
of retreating footsteps. We heard the door of the next room opened and
closed. A moment later the handle of the communicating door was tried. I
had, however, bolted it before I commenced to undress.

“What the mischief are you about?” I cried angrily. “Can’t you leave my
room alone?”

No answer; but the panels of the communicating door were bent inwards
until it seemed as though they must burst. I crossed the room to where my
portmanteau stood upon a luggage-rack, and took from it a small revolver.
When I stood up with it in my hand, the effect upon my visitor was almost
magical. He caught at my wrist and wrested it from my fingers. He grasped
it almost lovingly.

“I can at least die now like a man,” he muttered. “Thank Heaven for
this!”

I sat down again upon the bed. I looked at the pillow and the unturned
coverlet doubtfully. They had obviously not been disturbed. I glanced at
my watch! it was barely two o’clock. I had not even been to bed. I could
not possibly be dreaming! The door was straining now almost to bursting.
I began to be annoyed.

“What the devil are you doing there?” I called out.

Again there was no answer, but a long crack had appeared on the panel. My

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