"My God! you don't mean to put him in prison? or to shoot him?""As you may imagine, his fate is not in my hands alone.But in this instance my influence may perhaps be considerable, and it would certainly have weight if I threw it into the scale in your favour and his.Therefore I again ask you to consider whether, as things are, it would not be best for you to be perfectly frank with me.Those who are behind you can no longer protect you, and your only hope lies in the leniency of the German authorities.Do not reject the possibility of securing this leniency."The merchant was evidently carrying on a severe struggle with himself.After a few moments he raised his head, and in an altered, defiant tone replied--"Do what you like with me, I have nothing to confess."Heideck then assumed a sterner, official demeanour.
"Then you must not complain if I begin to search your house.""Do as you think fit.The victor can take what liberties he pleases."Heideck opened the door and summoned two of the Berlin criminal police, who at his request had been ordered to Antwerp on this affair with a large number of policemen.Certainly he felt sure in advance that they would find nothing, for Eberhard Amelungen would have been very foolish not to have reckoned long ago on the possibility of such a visit, and to have taken precautions accordingly.The Major, in bringing the police with him, had thought more of the moral impression of the whole procedure.His knowledge of men told him that it had its effect.
"One thing more, Herr Amelungen," said he."About the same time as the search begins here, another will take place in your private house.I expect the report of those entrusted with it at any moment."Amelungen breathed hard.He looked nervously at Heideck, as if trying to read his thoughts.Then, after a brief struggle with himself, he whispered--"Send these men out, Herr major! I should like to speak to you privately."When Heideck had complied with his request, Amelungen continued, speaking hastily, and bringing out his words with difficulty: "In me you see a man who deserves compassion, a man who has been, entirely against his will and inclination, compromised.If anyone is guilty in this matter, it is my brother-in-law Van Spranekhuizen and a lady correspondent of my wife in Brussels.Occasionally Ihave acted as agent, when it was a matter of forwarding letters, or of handing over sums of money to the Countess--to the lady; but Ihave never personally taken any part in the matters in question.""That statement is not enough for me.I do not doubt the truth of what you say, but I must be informed of all the details before Ican drop further proceedings against you.Who is the lady you speak of?""A former maid of honour to the late Queen.""Her name?"
"Countess Clementine Arselaarts."
"How did you come to know her?"
"She is a friend of my wife, who made her acquaintance last year when staying in Brussels.""And your wife is English?"
"Yes; her maiden name was Irwin."
At the sound of this name a flood of painful recollections rushed over Heideck's mind.
"Irwin?" he repeated."Has the lady by chance any relatives in the British army?""I had a brother-in-law, who was a captain in the Indian Lancers.
But, according to the news that has reached us, he was killed at the battle of Lahore."The Major found it hard to control his excitement, but as if he had already allowed himself to be too long diverted from his duty, he hastily returned to the real subject of his examination.
"You said that you have handed over certain sums of money to Countess Arselaarts.By whose order? and on whose account?""On account of the English Government and on the order of an English banking house with which I have had business dealings for many years.""Were the sums large?"
"Latterly, on an average about 10,000 francs a month.""And how were they paid?"
"Sometimes I sent the amount in cash, often by cheque on Brussels banks.""Have you any evidence on the point--a receipt signed by the Countess?"Amelungen hesitated.
"I strongly advise you to keep nothing back from me.So much is at stake for you and your relatives who are involved in this affair that it is of the utmost consequence that you should secure lenient treatment by a frank confession.""Well, then, I have some receipts."
"Please let me see them."
Amelungen pulled open a drawer in his writing-table, pressed a spring, and a secret compartment at the back flew open.
"There they are!" said he, handing a small bundle of sheets of paper to Heideck.But the Major's keen eye had noticed, as he glanced rapidly at the compartment, that it contained some other papers, which he politely but firmly demanded to see.
"They are private letters of no importance," objected Amelungen, "some of my wife's correspondence, which she accidentally left in my office.I don't know what they are about myself.""Be assured that harmless private correspondence will not be abused.But I must claim the absolute right to convince myself of the correctness of your assertions by examining them."The merchant could see that there was no chance of getting out of it, and, visibly excited, handed the little roll over to Heideck.
The Major took it, without examining the contents more closely at once.
"You definitely assure me, Herr Amelungen, that you have nothing else referring to this matter?""Nothing! I give you my word, Herr major."Heideck got up.
"I charge you not to attempt to leave the town or in any other way evade the German authorities.You will guarantee this not only as regards yourself, but also as regards your wife; and you will further promise me to break off at once all relations with the persons involved in this espionage affair, unless at our order, or in agreement with us."Eberhard Amelungen, whose powers of resistance seemed completely broken in this painful hour, nodded assent.
"I promise both, Herr major!"