Read SECRET NUMBER SEVEN of The Secrets of Potsdam , free online book, by William Le Queux, on


“How completely we have put to sleep these very dear cousins of ours, the British!” His Imperial Highness the Crown-Prince made this remark to me as he sat in the corner of a first-class compartment of an express that had ten minutes before left Paddington Station for the West of England ­that much-advertised train known as the Cornish-Riviera Express.

The Crown-Prince, though not generally known, frequently visited England and Scotland incognito, usually travelling as Count von Gruenau, and we were upon one of these flying visits on that bright summer’s morning as the express tore through your delightful English scenery of the Thames Valley, with the first stopping-place at Plymouth, our destination.

The real reason for the visit of my young hotheaded Imperial Master was concealed from me.

Four days before he had dashed into my room at the Marmor Palace at Potsdam greatly excited.  He had been with the Emperor in Berlin all the morning, and had motored back with all speed.  Something had occurred, but what it was I failed to discern.  He carried some papers in the pocket of his military tunic.  From their colour I saw that they were secret reports ­those documents prepared solely for the eyes of the Kaiser and those of his precious son.

He took a big linen-lined envelope and, placing the papers in it, carefully sealed it with wax.

“We are going to London, Heltzendorff.  Put that in your dispatch-box.  I may want it when we are in England.”

“To London ­when?” I asked, much surprised at the suddenness of our journey, because I knew that we were due at Weimar in two days’ time.

“We leave at six o’clock this evening,” was the Crown-Prince’s reply.  “Koehler has ordered the saloon to be attached to the Hook of Holland train.  Hardt has already left Berlin to engage rooms for us at the ‘Ritz,’ in London.”

“And the suite?” I asked, for it was one of my duties to arrange who travelled with His Imperial Highness.

“Oh! we’ll leave Eckardt at home,” he said, for he always hated the surveillance of the Commissioner of Secret Police.  “We shall only want Schuler, my valet, and Knof.”

We never travelled anywhere without Knof, the chauffeur, who was an impudent, arrogant young man, intensely disliked by everyone.

And so it was that the four of us duly landed at Harwich and travelled to London, our identity unknown to the jostling crowd of Cook’s tourists returning from their annual holiday on the Continent.

At the “Ritz,” too, though we took our meals in the restaurant, that great square white room overlooking the Park, “Willie” was not recognized, because all photographs of him show him in elegant uniform.  In a tweed suit, or in evening clothes, he presents an unhealthy, weedy and somewhat insignificant figure, save for those slant animal eyes of his which are always so striking in his every mood.

His Imperial Highness had been on the previous day to Carlton House Terrace to a luncheon given by the Ambassador’s wife, but to which nobody was invited but the Embassy staff.

And that afternoon in the great dining-room, in full view of St. James’s Park and Whitehall, the toast of “The Day” was drunk enthusiastically ­the day of Great Britain’s intended downfall.

That same evening an Imperial courier arrived from Berlin and called at the “Ritz,” where, on being shown into the Crown-Prince’s sitting-room, he handed His Highness a sealed letter from his wife.

“Willie,” on reading it, became very grave.  Then, striking a match, he lit it, and held it until it was consumed.  There was a second letter ­which I saw was from the Emperor.  This he also read, and then gave vent to an expression of impatience.  For a few minutes he reflected, and it was then he announced that we must go to Plymouth next day.

On arrival there we went to the Royal Hotel, where the Crown-Prince registered as Mr. Richter, engaging a private suite of rooms for himself and his secretary, myself.  For three days we remained there, taking motor runs to Dartmoor, and also down into Cornwall, until on the morning of the fourth day the Crown-Prince suddenly said: 

“I shall probably have a visitor this morning about eleven o’clock ­a young lady named King.  Tell them at the bureau to send her up to my sitting-room.”

At the time appointed the lady came.  I received her in the lobby of the self-contained flat, and found her to be about twenty-four, well-dressed, fair-haired and extremely good-looking.  Knowing the Crown-Prince’s penchant for the petticoat, I saw at once the reason of our journey down to Plymouth.

Miss King, I learned, was an English girl who some years previously had gone to America with her people, and by the heavy travelling coat and close-fitting hat she wore I concluded that she had just come off one of the incoming American liners.

One thing which struck me as I looked at her was the brooch she wore.  It was a natural butterfly of a rare tropical variety, with bright golden wings, the delicate sheen of which was protected by small plates of crystal ­one of the most charming ornaments I had ever seen.

As I ushered her in she greeted the Crown-Prince as “Mr. Richter,” being apparently entirely unaware of his real identity.  I concluded that she was somebody whom His Highness had met in Germany, and to whom he had been introduced under his assumed name.

“Ah!  Miss King!” he exclaimed pleasantly in his excellent English, shaking hands with her.  “Your boat should have been in yesterday.  I fear you encountered bad weather ­eh?”

“Yes, rather,” replied the girl.  “But it did not trouble me much.  We had almost constant gales ever since we left New York,” she laughed brightly.  She appeared to be quite a charming little person.  But his fast-living Highness was perhaps one of the best judges of a pretty face in all Europe, and I now realized why we had travelled all the way from Potsdam to Plymouth.

“Heltzendorff, would you please bring me that sealed packet from your dispatch-box?” he asked, suddenly turning to me.

The sealed packet!  I had forgotten all about it ever since he had handed it me at the door of the Marmor Palace.  I knew that it contained some secret reports prepared for the eye of the Emperor.  The latter had no doubt seen them, for the Crown-Prince had brought them with him from Berlin.

As ordered, I took the packet into the room where His Highness sat with his fair visitor, and then I retired and closed the door.

Hotel doors are never very heavy, as a rule, therefore I was able to hear conversation, but unfortunately few words were distinct.  The interview had lasted nearly half an hour.  Finding that I could hear nothing, I contented myself in reading the paper and holding myself in readiness should “Mr. Richter” want me.

Of a sudden I heard His Highness’s voice raised in anger, that shrill, high-pitched note which is peculiar both to the Emperor and to his son when they are unusually annoyed.

“But I tell you, Miss King, there is no other way,” I heard him shout.  “It can be done quite easily, and nobody can possibly know.”

“Never!” cried the girl.  “What would people think of me?”

“You wish to save your brother,” he said.  “Very well, I have shown you how you can effect this.  And I will help you if you agree to the terms ­if you will find out what I want to know.”

“I can’t!” cried the girl, in evident distress.  “I really can’t!  It would be dishonest ­criminal!”

“Bah! my dear girl, you are looking at the affair from far too high a standpoint,” replied the man she knew as Richter.  “It is a mere matter of business.  You ask me to assist you to save your brother, and I have simply stated my terms.  Surely you would not think that I should travel from Berlin here to Plymouth in order to meet you if I were not ready and eager to help you?”

“I must ask my father.  I can speak to him in confidence.”

“Your father!” shrieked Mr. Richter in alarm.  “By no means.  Why, you must not breathe a single word to him.  This affair is a strict secret between us.  Please understand that.”  Then, after a pause, he asked in a lower and more serious voice: 

“Your brother is, I quite admit, in direst peril, and you alone can save him.  Now, what is your decision?”

The girl’s reply was in a tone too low for me to overhear.  Its tenor, however, was quickly apparent from the Crown-Prince’s words: 

“You refuse!  Very well, then, I cannot assist you.  I regret, Miss King, that you have had your journey to England for nothing.”

“But won’t you help me, Mr. Richter?” cried the girl appealingly.  “Do, do, Mr. Richter!”

“No,” was his cold answer.  “I will, however, give you opportunity to reconsider your decision.  You are, no doubt, going to London.  So am I. You will meet me in the hall of the Carlton Hotel at seven o’clock on Thursday evening, and we will dine together.”

“But I can’t ­I really can’t do as you wish.  You surely will not compel me to ­to commit a crime!”

“Hush!” he cried.  “I have shown you these papers, and you know my instructions.  Remember that your father must know nothing.  Nobody must suspect, or you will find yourself in equal peril with your brother.”

“You ­you are cruel!” sobbed the girl.  “Horribly cruel!”

“No, no,” he said cheerfully.  “Don’t cry, please.  Think it all over, Miss King, and meet me in London on Thursday night.”

After listening to the appointment I discreetly withdrew into the corridor on pretence of summoning a waiter, and when I returned the pretty English girl was taking leave of “Mr. Richter.”

Her blue eyes betrayed traces of emotion, and she was, I saw, very pale, her bearing quite unlike her attitude when she had entered there.

“Well, good-bye, Miss King,” said His Highness, grasping her hand.  “It was really awfully good of you to call.  We shall meet again very soon ­eh?  Good-bye.”

Then, turning to me, he asked me to conduct her out.

I walked by her side along the corridor and down the stairs, but as we went along she suddenly turned to me, remarking: 

“I wonder if all men are alike?”

“Alike, why?” I asked, surprised.

“Mr. Richter ­ah! he has a heart of stone,” she declared.  “My poor brother!” she added, in a voice broken in emotion.  “I have travelled from America in order to try and save him ere it is too late.”

“Mr. Richter is your friend ­eh?” I asked as we descended.

“Yes.  I met him at Frankenhausen two years ago.  I had gone there with my father to visit the Barbarossa Cavern.”

“Then you have lived in Germany?”

“Yes, for several years.”

By this time we were at the door of the hotel, and I bowed to her as she smiled sadly and, wishing me adieu, passed out into the street.

On returning to the Crown-Prince, I found him in a decidedly savage mood.  He was pacing the floor impatiently, muttering angrily to himself, for it was apparent that some deeply-laid plan of his was being thwarted by the girl’s refusal to conform to his wishes and obtain certain information he was seeking.

The Crown-Prince, when in a foreign country, was never idle.  His energy was such that he was ever on the move, with eyes and ears always open to learn whatever he could.  Hence it was at two o’clock that afternoon Knof brought round a big grey open car, and in it I sat beside the Emperor’s son while we were driven around the defences of Plymouth, just as on previous occasions we had inspected those of Portsmouth and of Dover.

On the following Thursday evening we had returned to London, and the Crown-Prince, without telling me where he was going, left the Ritz Hotel, merely explaining that he might not be back till midnight.  It was on that occasion, my dear Le Queux, you will remember, that I dined with you at the Devonshire Club, and we afterwards spent a pleasant evening together at the “Empire.”

I merely told you that His Highness was out at dinner with a friend.  You were, naturally, inquisitive, but I did not satisfy your curiosity.  Secrecy was my duty.

On returning to the hotel I found the Crown-Prince arranging with Knof a motor run along the Surrey hills on the following day.  He had a large map spread before him ­a German military map, the curious marks upon which would have no doubt astonished any of your War Office officials.  The map indicated certain spots which had been secretly prepared by Germany in view of the projected invasion.

To those spots we motored on the following day.  His Imperial Highness, at the instigation of the Emperor, actually made a tour of inspection of those cunningly-concealed points of vantage which the Imperial General Staff had, with their marvellous forethought and bold enterprise, already prepared right beneath the very nose of the sleeping British lion.

From the Crown-Prince’s jaunty manner and good spirits I felt assured that by the subtle persuasive powers he possessed towards women ­nearly all of whom admired his corseted figure and his gay nonchalance ­he had brought the mysterious Miss King into line with his own cunningly-conceived plans ­whatever they might be.

We lunched at the Burford Bridge Hotel, that pretty old-fashioned house beneath Box Hill, not far from Dorking.

After our meal in the long public room, newly built as an annexe, we strolled into the grounds for a smoke.

“Well, Heltzendorff,” he said presently, as we strolled together along the gravelled walks, “we will return to the Continent to-morrow.  Our visit has not been altogether abortive.  We will remain a few days in Ostend, before we return to Potsdam.”

Next afternoon we had taken up our quarters at a small but very select hotel on the Digue at Ostend, a place called the “Beau Séjour.”  It was patronized by old-fashioned folk, and “Herr Richter” was well known there.  There may have been some who suspected that Richter was not the visitor’s real name, but they were few, and it always surprised me how well the Crown-Prince succeeded in preserving his incognito ­though, of course, the authorities knew of the Imperial visit.

Whenever “Willie” went to Ostend his conduct became anything but that of the exemplary husband.  Ostend in the season was assuredly a gay place, and the Crown-Prince had a small and select coterie of friends there who drank, gambled and enjoyed themselves even more than they did at Nice in winter.

But his mind was always obsessed by the coming war.  Indeed, on that very evening of our arrival, as we strolled along the gaily-illuminated Digue towards the big, bright Kursaal, he turned to me suddenly and said: 

“When the hour comes, and Prussia in her greatness strikes them, this place will soon become German territory.  I shall make that building yonder my headquarters,” and he jerked his thumb in the direction of the summer palace of the King of the Belgians.

The following day, about three o’clock, while the Crown-Prince was carelessly going through some letters brought by courier from Potsdam, a waiter came to me with a message that a Miss King desired to see Mr. Richter.

In surprise I received her, welcoming her to Ostend.  From the neat dress of the pretty English girl I concluded that she had just crossed from Dover, and she seemed most anxious to see His Highness.  I noted, too, that she still wore the beautiful golden butterfly.

When I entered his room to announce her his slant brows knit, and his thin lips compressed.

“H’m!  More trouble for us, Heltzendorff, I suppose!” he whispered beneath his breath.  “Very well, show her in.”

The fair visitor was in the room for a long time ­indeed, for over an hour.  Their voices were raised, and now and then, curiously enough, I received the impression that, whatever might have been the argument, the pretty girl had gained her own point, for when she came out she smiled at me in triumph, and walked straight forth and down the stairs.

The Crown-Prince threw himself into a big arm-chair in undisguised dissatisfaction.  Towards me he never wore a mask, though, like his father, he invariably did so in the presence of strangers.

“Those accursed women!” he cried.  “Ah!  Heltzendorff, when a woman is in love she will defy even Satan himself!  And yet they are fools, these women, for they are in ignorance of the irresistible power of our Imperial house.  The enemies of the Hohenzollerns are as a cloud of gnats on a summer’s night.  The dew comes, and they are no more.  It is a pity,” he added, with a sigh of regret.  “But those who are either conscientious or defiant must suffer.  Has not one of our greatest German philosophers written:  ’It is no use breathing against the wind’?”

“True,” I said.  Then, hoping to learn something further, I added:  “Surely it is a nuisance to be followed and worried by that little English girl!”

“Worried!  Yes.  You are quite right, my dear Heltzendorff,” he said.  “But I do not mind worry, if it is in the interests of Prussia, and of our House of Hohenzollern.  I admit the girl, though distinctly pretty, is a most irritating person.  She does not appeal to me, but I am compelled to humour her, because I have a certain object in view.”

I could not go further, or I might have betrayed the knowledge I had gained by eavesdropping.

“I was surprised that she should turn up here, in Ostend,” I said.

“I had written to her.  I expected her.”

“She does not know your real rank or station?”

“No.  To her I am merely Herr Emil Richter, whom she first met away in the country.  She was a tourist, and I was Captain Emil Richter, of the Prussian Guards.  We met while you were away on holiday at Vienna.”

I was anxious to learn something about Miss King’s brother, but “Willie” was generally discreet, and at that moment unusually so.  One fact was plain, however, that some secret report presented to the Emperor had been shown to her.  Why?  I wondered if His Highness had been successful in coercing her into acting as he desired.

Certainly the girl’s attitude as she had left the hotel went to show that, in the contest, she had won by her woman’s keen wit and foresight.  I recollected, too, that she was British.

A fortnight afterwards we were back again at Potsdam.

About three months passed.  The Crown-Prince had accompanied the Emperor to shoot on the Glatzer Gebirge, that wild mountainous district beyond Breslau.  For a week we had been staying at a great, high-up, prison-like schloss, the ancestral home of Prince Ludwig Lichtenau, in the Woelfelsgrund.

The Emperor and his suite had left, and our host had been suddenly called to Berlin by telegram, his daughter having been taken ill.  Therefore, the Crown-Prince and we of the suite had remained for some further sport.

On the day after the Emperor’s departure I spent the afternoon in a small panelled room which overlooked a deep mountain gorge, and which had been given up to me for work.  I was busy with correspondence when the courier from Potsdam entered and gave me the battered leather pouch containing the Crown-Prince’s letters.  Having unlocked it with my key, I found among the correspondence a small square packet addressed to His Imperial Highness, and marked “Private.”

Now, fearing bombs or attempts by other means upon his son’s precious life, the Emperor had commanded me always to open packets addressed to him.  This one, however, being marked “Private,” and, moreover, the inscription being in a feminine hand, I decided to await His Highness’s return.

When at last he came in, wet and very muddy after a long day’s sport, I showed him the packet.  With a careless air he said: 

“Oh, open it, Heltzendorff.  Open all packets, whether marked private or not.”

I obeyed, and to my surprise found within the paper a small leather-covered jewel-case, in which, reposing upon a bed of dark blue velvet, was the beautiful ornament which I had admired at the throat of the fair-haired British girl ­the golden butterfly.

I handed it to His Highness just as he was taking a cigarette from the box on a side table.

The sight of it electrified him!  He held his breath, standing for a few seconds staring wildly at it as though he were gazing upon some hideous spectre, sight of which had frozen his senses.

He stood rigid, his thin countenance as white as paper.

“When did that arrive?” he managed to ask, though in a hoarse voice, which showed how completely sight of it had upset him.

“This afternoon.  It was in the courier’s pouch from Potsdam.”

He had grasped the back of a chair as though to steady himself, and for a few seconds stood there, with his left hand clapped over his eyes, endeavouring to collect his thoughts.

He seemed highly nervous, and at the same time extremely puzzled.  Receipt of that unique and beautiful brooch was, I saw, some sign, but of its real significance I remained in entire ignorance.

That it had a serious meaning I quickly realized, for within half an hour the Crown-Prince and myself were in the train on our two-hundred-mile journey back to Berlin.

On arrival His Imperial Highness drove straight to the Berlin Schloss, and there had a long interview with the Emperor.  At last I was called into the familiar pale-green room, the Kaiser’s private cabinet, and at once saw that something untoward had occurred.

The Emperor’s face was dark and thoughtful.  Yet another of the black plots of the Hohenzollerns was in process of being carried out!  Of that I felt only too confident.  The Crown-Prince, in his badly-creased uniform, betraying a long journey ­so unlike his usual spick-and-span appearance ­stood nervously by as the Kaiser threw himself into his writing-chair with a deep grunt and distinctly evil grace.

“I suppose it must be done,” he growled viciously to his son.  “Did I not foresee that the girl would constitute a serious menace?  When she was in Germany she might easily have been arrested upon some charge and her mouth closed.  Bah! our political police service grows worse and worse.  We will have it entirely reorganized.  The Director, Laubach, is far too sentimental, far too chicken-hearted.”

As he spoke he took up his pen and commenced to write rapidly, drawing a deep breath as his quill scratched upon the paper.

“You realize,” he exclaimed angrily to his son, taking no notice of my presence there, because I was part and parcel of the great machinery of the Court, “you realize what this order means?” he added, as he appended his signature.  “It is a blow struck against our cause ­struck by a mere slip of a girl.  Think, if the truth came out!  Why, all our propaganda in the United States and Britain would be nullified in a single day, and the ‘good relations’ we are now extending on every hand throughout the world in order to mislead our enemies would be exposed in all their true meaning.  We cannot afford that.  It would be far cheaper to pay twenty million marks ­the annual cost of the whole propaganda in America ­than to allow the truth to be known.”

Suddenly the Crown-Prince’s face brightened, as though he had had some sudden inspiration.

“The truth will not be known, I promise you,” he said, with a strange, evil grin.  I knew that expression.  It meant that he had devised some fresh and devilish plan.  “The girl is defiant to-day, but she will not remain so long.  I will take your order, but I may not have occasion to put it in force.”

“Ah!  You have perhaps devised something ­eh?  I hope so,” said the Emperor.  “You are usually ingenious in a crisis.  Good!  Here is the order; act just as you think fit.”

“I was summoned, Your Majesty,” I said, in order to remind him of my presence there.

“Ah!  Yes.  You know this Miss King, do you not?”

“I received her in Plymouth,” was my reply.

“Ah! then you will again recognize her.  Probably your services may be very urgently required within the next few hours.  You may go,” and His Majesty curtly dismissed me.

I waited in the corridor until His Imperial Highness came forth.  When he did so he looked flushed and seemed agitated.

There had, I knew, occurred a violent scene between father and son, for to me it seemed as though “Willie” had again fallen beneath the influence of a pretty face.

He drove me in the big Mercedes over to Potsdam, where I had a quantity of military documents awaiting attention, and, after a change of clothes, I tackled them.

Yet my mind kept constantly reverting to the mystery surrounding the golden butterfly.

After dinner that night I returned again to my workroom, when, upon my blotting-pad, I found a note addressed to me in the Crown-Prince’s sprawling hand.

Opening it, I found that he had scribbled this message: 

I have left.  Tell Eckardt not to trouble.  Come alone, and meet me to-morrow night at the Palast Hotel, in Hamburg.  I shall call at seven o’clock and ask for Herr Richter.  I shall also use that name.  Tell nobody of my journey, not even the Crown-Princess.  Explain that I have gone to Berlin. ­WILHELM, KRONPRINZ.”

I read the note through a second time, and then burned it.

Next day I arrived at the Palast Hotel, facing the Binnenalster, in Hamburg, giving my name as Herr Richter.

At seven o’clock I awaited His Highness.  Eight o’clock came ­nine ­ten ­even eleven ­midnight, but, though I sat in the private room I had engaged, no visitor arrived.

Just after twelve, however, a waiter brought up a note addressed to Herr Richter.

Believing it to be meant for me, I opened it.  To my great surprise, I found that it was from the mysterious Miss King, and evidently intended for the Crown-Prince.  It said: 

My brother was released from the Altona Prison this evening ­I presume, owing to your intervention ­and we are now both safely on our way across to Harwich.  You have evidently discovered at last that I am not the helpless girl you believed me to be.  When your German police arrested my brother Walter in Bremen as a spy of Britain I think you will admit that they acted very injudiciously, in face of all that my brother and myself know to-day.  At Plymouth you demanded, as the price of Walter’s liberty, that I should become attached to your secret service in America and betray the man who adopted me and brought me up as his own daughter.  But you never dreamed the extent of my knowledge of your country’s vile intrigues; you did not know that, through my brother and the man who adopted me as his daughter, I know the full extent of your subtle propaganda.  You were, I admit, extremely clever, Herr Richter, and I confess that I was quite charmed when you sent me, as souvenir, that golden butterfly to the hotel in Frankenhausen ­that pretty ornament which I returned to you as a mark of my refusal and defiance of the conditions you imposed upon me for the release of my brother from the sentence of fifteen years in a fortress.  This time, Herr Richter, a woman wins!  Further, I warn you that if you attempt any reprisal my brother will at once expose Germany’s machinations abroad.  He has, I assure you, many good friends, both in Britain and America.  Therefore if you desire silence you will make no effort to trace me further.  At Frankenhausen you called me ‘the golden-haired butterfly,’ but you regarded me merely as a moth!  Adieu!

Twelve hours later I handed that letter to the Crown-Prince in Potsdam.  Where he had been in the meantime I did not know.  He read it through; then, with a fierce curse upon his thin, curled lips, he crushed it in his hand and tossed it into the fire.