A Cabinet Secret
A Cabinet Secret
Night was falling, and Naples Harbour, always picturesque, appeared even more so than usual in the warm light of the departing day. The city itself, climbing up the hillside, almost from the water's edge, was coloured a pale pink by the sunset, and even old Vesuvius, from whose top a thin column of black smoke was issuing, seemed somewhat less sombre than usual. Out Ischiawards, the heavens were a mass of gold and crimson colouring, and this was reflected in the calm waters of the Bay, till the whole world was a veritable glow. Taken altogether, a more beautiful evening could scarcely have been desired. And yet it is not with the city, the mountain, or the sunset, that we have to do, but with the first movement of a conspiracy that was destined ultimately to shake one of the greatest Empires, the earth has ever seen, to the very foundations of its being.
Though the world was not aware of it, and would not, in all human probability, have concerned itself very much about it even if it had, the fact remains that for some hours past two men, from a house situated on one of the loftiest pinnacles of the city, had been concentrating their attention, by means of powerful glasses, upon the harbour, closely scrutinizing every vessel that entered and dropped her anchor inside the Mole.
"Can anything have happened that she does not come?" asked the taller of the pair, as he put down his glasses, and began to pace the room. "The cable said most distinctly that the steam yacht, Princess Badroulbadour passed through the Straits of Messina yesterday at seven o'clock. Surely they should be here by this time?"
"One would have thought so," his companion replied. "It must be borne in mind, however, that the Princess is a private yacht, and it is more likely, as the wind is fair, that the owner is sailing in order to save his fuel."
"To the devil with him, then, for his English meanness," answered the other angrily. "He does not know how anxious we are to see her."
"And, everything taken into consideration, it is just as well for us and for the safety of his passengers that he does not," his friend retorted. "If he did, his first act after he dropped anchor would be to hand them over to the tender mercies of the Police. In that case we should be ruined for ever and a day. Perhaps that aspect of the affair has not struck you?"
"It is evident that you take me for a fool," the other answered angrily. "Of course, I know all that; but it does not make me any the less anxious to see them. Consider for a moment what we have at stake. Never before has there been such a chance of bringing to her knees one of the proudest nations of the earth. And to think that if that vessel does not put in an appearance within the next few hours, all our preparations may be in vain!"
"She will be here in good time, never fear," his companion replied soothingly. "She has never disappointed us yet."
"Not willingly, I will admit," the other returned; "but in this matter she may not be her own mistress. She is a beautiful woman, and for all we know to the contrary, this English milord may be prolonging the voyage in order to enjoy her society. Who knows but that he may carry her off altogether?"
"In that case his country should erect a memorial to him, similar to the Nelson Monument," said the smaller man. "For it is certain he will have rendered her as great a service as that empty-sleeved Hero ever did."
The other did not reply, but, after another impatient glance at the Harbour, once more began to pace the room. He was a tall, handsome fellow, little more than thirty years of age, and carried himself with soldierly erectness. The most casual observer would have noticed that he was irreproachably dressed, and that his manners were those of one accustomed to good society. His companion