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- The Secrets of the German War Office - 20/34 -
lap of the gods. I know these things, for I possess them in black and white.
Chapter IX. In the Balkan Country
After my mission in the Black Forest, I went to Albeck, a well-known seaside resort on the Baltic. For more than a year the gentlemen at the Wilhelmstrasse had kept me on the run, and a vacation at Albeck--much like your Atlantic City only smaller--was not only welcomed but needed. I was just settling down to a period of quiet in and around the Kurhaus when there came a wire for my attendance at the Wilhelmstrasse. "At your earliest convenience" was the phrase which, of course, meant at once. Germany's language to her Secret Agents is always polite.
I am very frank to confess that the message put me a little out of sorts. All my plans for resting at Albeck went to smash. I knew that something big must be in the air else I would never have been recalled from a vacation that was only beginning. Wiring a reply I stated that I would arrive in Berlin on the 7.30 train and that any further commands would receive attention at my standing quarters in the Mittelstrasse. In a few hours I had caught a train and was being whirled south.
During the three-hour run I speculated on what was likely to be required from me. An inside rumor then current among us Secret Service men gave me the clew. I marshaled past events and ran them over in my mind. I knew that the Kaiser's diplomatic master stroke undermining the _entente cordiale_ and tentatively holding off Great Britain, left the way clear for the execution of Austro-German policies in the Balkans.
As the express hurried me toward Berlin, I reflected that since the Russian-Japanese War, Russia, weakened as she was, felt her influence in European affairs waning. I knew it was about time for her to make a desperate effort to regain European prestige. I recalled that upon Russia's plight after the Japanese war, Austria immediately annexed Herzegovina and Bosnia. She did this with the tacit understanding and backing up of Germany. I knew that as a result of this, Russia was again at work in the Balkans. Greeks, Servians, Bulgarians, and Montenegrins, up till now suicidal enemies, were arriving at an understanding. There are as many differences of nationalities, castes and opinions in the Balkans as there are in India and it took clever manipulation, much money, and strenuous efforts on the part of Russia to unite these countries under Russian influence. The visit of the Crown Prince of Servia to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, was engineered by Russia, and was a triumphant success in bringing about an understanding between Bulgaria and Servia. It absolutely unified Servia and Bulgaria. Why then the completely changed attitude of Servia and Bulgaria after their mutual successes against the Turk? Presently I shall show you the vast undercurrent forces forever moving beneath the Balkan situation.
I recalled having heard high Servian officials speculate as to their chances of reviving the ancient empire, so with the Bulgarians. After the reunion of Wallachia and Moldadia, I heard Roumanian officials express the wish to gain Dacia through the addition of Transylvania, Bukovina and the Banate of Ternesvar. This longing can easily be understood when one remembers that each of these States maintains royal court legations and an army the quality of which in the case of the Allies has just been tested and shown in their splendid fighting and sacrifices, but which is all out of proportion to their individual sizes and resources.
I knew there were armies mobilizing in the Balkans at a high mark of efficiency. They were equipped in a way totally beyond the means of such little countries. Who was supplying this driving force, the money, officers? They were but pawns, the Balkan States on an international chessboard.
Now before I relate my mission, consider these test points: The alliance of States usually hereditary enemies; the downfall of an empire, a background of the world's powers pulling the strings; the success of the Balkan Allies. Then the most amazing part of it all. Turkey, well thrashed, lost little save a few islands in the Ægean Sea, some of which it has already regained. The Allies gained nothing but debts--debts and empty honor which leaves them so exhausted that they can be no real factor in the world's politics for decades to come--and there lies the key.
Arriving in Berlin I made my way to my quarters in the Mittelstrasse. It was about eight o'clock when I put my key in the door. I found Kim very much awake and somewhat excited. At this unseemly hour there was a visitor! This was all the more unusual for I was not in the habit of receiving my most intimate friends or acquaintances at my private quarters.
"_Koom_, massa!" (Salute, master!) "Gentleman him here to see you. Kim him don't know if he do right, maybe wrong; but gentleman said it all right that him come in."
All apologies, Kim was fretting himself almost into a nervous collapse over the visitor. Rather curious, I walked into the sitting-room and found a man I had seen pretty often at the Wilhelmstrasse. I knew him to be Herr von Stammer, the right hand man of von Wedel. Although we were well known to each other by sight, we hardly conversed ten words outside of official business. At the time I thought it a little odd that the usual procedure was not observed, that someone came to my room instead of my going to the Wilhelmstrasse, seemed a bit unusual. As things developed, however, I saw a possible reason why.
"Your quarters are pretty well guarded here, Doctor," said Herr von Stammer. "Your Cerberus didn't want to let me in."
I half smiled. I could imagine what a battle a stranger must have to get by Kim.
"We received your wire from Albeck and as the Count is inaccessible, your orders will come through me this time."
There was an interruption, for Kim had appeared with cigarettes.
"The Count," continued von Stammer, driving direct to the point, "wishes you to go to Belgrade and get in close touch with existing conditions there. We wish you to ascertain the undercurrent situation. The official status is, of course, well known to us. But we want definitely to find out just how far Russian influences are at work in Bucharest and Sofia, just how far they have progressed and how far they are prepared to go in this Balkan affair. If you cannot get in Belgrade the wanted information--and absolute accuracy is imperative--go to the Bulgarian capital. But--and this is important--no time must be lost. A definite insight into the inner workings of the situation must be in my hands at the earliest possible moment."
Here indeed was a task.
"Understand," continued von Stammer, "you will have the assistance in this case of Austrian Secret employees. But, as I need not point out to you, it is inadvisable to take any of them with you, as all the Austrian agents are known to the Russian agents down in the Balkans. I suggest that you stop at Budapest and get all connecting links of possible help to you. You will obtain these from Kasimir Kowalsky, an Austrian agent whom you will find at Donaustrasse 24. By the way, do you know him?"
I said no.
"In this case," went on von Stammer, "I shall give instructions to facilitate matters. It is necessary for you to have passports. Have you any reason to fear your previous mission to the Balkans?"
He referred to that incident in 1903, current with the assassination of King Alexander and Queen Draga of Servia--an incident I don't like to think of, for it landed me on a blank wall looking into twelve ugly Mauser tubes, as you will recall from a previous chapter.
I considered that there were only two men in the Balkans who could have placed me from the 1903 incident. One Colonel Niglitch was dead, slain at the time of the Alexander assassination; the other was Stamboul and he was no doubt moving in the circles where my mission would take me. Were I to meet him it would mean recognition, a possible knife in the back. No, I was in no way keen to undertake this mission. My previous experience in the Balkans and all that ilk had given me a thorough distaste of the people there. There is no mixture of races so dangerous. Nearly every man is for a small sum a traitor and potential assassin. I had had a taste of their methods and I didn't want another. Von Stammer must have noticed my hesitation, for he grinned and said:
"Nervous about it?"
I frankly was. I told him so.
"Yes, I understand your attitude." [I had been on the go for over five months solid and I wanted a rest.] "I beg of you to consider though that you are the only man we have at our disposal who can see this thing through."
He then began to hint in such a way that it became obvious to me that refusal on my part would not be at all to the liking of the Wilhelmstrasse. Refusal would mean loss of favor and with it the choice jobs. As an added inducement, von Stammer promised double the usual remuneration. Frankly this was a point. I considered that the mission would not take me over three or four weeks and he had agreed to pay me $2,500, aside from the bonus always attached to successful and quick work. Still, I wasn't sure that I wanted to go. I knew there was the danger of recognition, and I knew the kind of irresponsible, hotheaded, temperamental people I was going among. It was far more difficult, far more hazardous, than any mission I had ever undertaken, in England or France; even the tremendous responsibilities of the affair in the Black Forest carried with them none of the personal dangers that this did. When he pressed me for a decision I requested some little time to think things over. Asking me to telephone his home before midnight and let him know what I was going to do, he departed.
I hope I am still a Christian, but contact and intercourse with the mysticism of Africa and India has made me superstitious. I have a curious habit at momentous times of indecision of taking two full packages of cards and playing Napoleon's solitaire. If I get it out once in three times, I generally go into the matter in hand without question. It never has failed me. Twice in my life I went against it; twice I had bitter cause of regret.
Well, I didn't give von Stammer his decision on the moment because I wanted to try the old test. Kim produced the cards and I began to play. I got it out the second time. Going to the 'phone I called von Stammer and told him I would undertake the mission. He asked me to
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