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The Foreign Office Despatch (Clifford Ashdown, 1902)


Happy New Decade!
Published by SLP
I encountered this as part of Clifford Ashdown's The Adventures of Romney Pringle - Clifford Ashdown is the collective pen name of R. Austin Freeman (of later Dr Thorndyke fame) and John Pitcairn, who was Medical Officer at Holloway Prison at the time. For context, Romney Pringle is an Edwardian con man who sees no con as being too big not to be an opportunity to line his pockets. This is only the second story in the collection, but the plot is, well, just read on...

Why am I posting it here? Well, it's technically AH (see the mention of the French annexing the Congo Free State, which may have been how the winds seemed to be blowing when the story was written). It was written in 1902 (originally published in Cassell's Magazine) yet it still refers to "Her Majesty" when Victoria had died in the meantime, so therefore we can declare it AH. Besides, the format does feel very "EdT vignette"...



"RIEN ne va plus—the ball rolls!"

The silence was only broken by the rattle of the ivory ball over the diamond-shaped studs around the circumference of the disc. Every now and then there was a sharp click, as it struck a partition between two numbers and was viciously jerked on to the studs again.
Round and round the ball went. It was only for a minute, but to the men gathered by the green cloth it seemed a century. Suddenly the noise ceased. The disc continued to revolve, but the ball lay snug in one of the little pens.

The tailleur placed his finger on the capstan and stopped the disc.

"Twelve—rouge—manque—pair" he intoned monotonously. Then he raked the stakes off the spaces painted on the green cloth. The table had won for the eighth time in succession, with payment to hardly a single player. A kind of suppressed groan ran round the board, and the fleeced ones crowded to the bar at the end of the room for consolation.

The life at the marble caravanserais which largely do duty now for clubs was repellent to Mr. Romney Pringle and, doubtless on Pope's principle that "the proper study of mankind is MAN," the "Chrysanthemum Club" had many attractions for him. As to the club itself, while election was a process rather more exacting than a mere scrutiny by the hall-porter, the "Chrysanthemum" was not too exclusive; and, although situated in a fashionable street off Piccadilly, the subscription was a nominal one.

As Romney Pringle inhaled his cigarette and watched the last disastrous success of the table, a young man got up from the board and flung himself abruptly into a low chair opposite. Presently a waiter placed on the marble table at his elbow a bottle of Moet and Chandon, to which he applied himself assiduously. There was nothing in his appearance to differentiate him from any of the thousands of well-dressed and well-groomed men who frequent Clubland, but somehow or other, as they sat opposite one another, his eye continually caught that of Pringle, who at length rose and crossed the room. The club was not so large that a member need consider himself insulted did a stranger address bim without a previous introduction, and the other displayed no emotion when Pringle sat down beside him and entered into conversation.

"The table seems to be having all the luck tonight," he remarked.

"That's true," agreed the youth frankly. "I never heard of such luck."

"Been playing long?" inquired Pringle sympathetically.

"I'm not a member, you know. I was introduced as a visitor for the first time tonight." Then, growing confidential as the wine circulated in his brain, he continued, "I cashed a check for eighty pounds when 1 began to play, and I staked ten every time."
"So you lost it all?"

"Lost it all," the youth echoed gloomily.

"But why not go on? Professor Bond calculates that the chances in favor of the Bank are only thirty-seven to thirty-five."

"Fact is, my last sovereign went there," he tapped the bottle. "Think I'd better go now." And he rose somewhat unsteadily. His libations to Fortune had evidently commenced very early in the evening.

"Try your luck again," persuaded Pringle. "Allow me the pleasure of helping you to get your revenge," and he produced a handful of gold from his pocket.
"You're really very good, but—"

"Not at all! The luck's sure to turn by this time," urged the tempter.

"Well, I'll take eight pounds, and thanks awfully, Mr— Really I don't know your name; mine's Redmile."

"Mine is James," said Pringle. "Now in and win!"

Once more Redmile took his seat at the green board and watched the play eagerly. The table was no longer winning, and the interest in the game had revived. After a few turns he ventured a sovereign on the pair or even numbers. "Twenty-six" was called, and he was richer by as much more.
Still cautious, he placed three sovereigns below the first column of figures. "Nineteen" was the winning number, and six more sovereigns were added to his three.
"I congratulate you!" whispered Pringle behind him. "Didn't I say the luck would change?"

"A good guess," laughed Redmile. "Only let me win enough to redeem that check, and I shall be contented."

"Try the twelves," Pringle suggested.

Redmile arranged five sovereigns on the space allotted to the first twelve numbers.

"Thirty-one!" the tailleur called.

Pringle shrugged his shoulders as the money was raked into the bank.

Without looking round, but breathing heavily, Redmile placed a sovereign on rouge, another on impair, and after a second's hesitation dropped two more on twenty-one. Even as he withdrew his hand the tailleur uttered his parrot-cry "Rien ne va plus," and, spinning the disc, reversed the ball against it. "Twenty-one—rouge—passe—impair" he droned, as the ball rested.

Redmile had won seventy-two pounds at one stroke! He rose from the table and vigorously shook hands with Pringle.

"I've got eighty-two pounds altogether with me, and I must get that check back from the manager," he said, "Do you mind coming round to my rooms? Only as far as Dover Street, and I'll give you a check for what you so kindly lent me."

"With pleasure," said Pringle, as Redmile, now flushed with success in addition to the wine, darted off to redeem his check.

"I've had as much as is good for me or we'd have had another bottle to celebrate the occasion," he remarked as they strolled down Piccadilly.
"Rather more," thought Pringle, adding politely, "I should not have noticed it."

"Perhaps not; but I must have a clear head tomorrow. I'm in the F.O., you know, and we're very busy just now."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Pringle, much interested. "You must have had a harassing time lately—over this Congo affair, for instance?"
"Yes, harassing isn't the word to describe it. Come in!"

He drew out his latchkey, and after some ineffectual efforts succeeded in opening the door. Then he insisted on writing the check in spite of all Pringle's protestations and, opening a box of cigars, put whisky and soda on the table. The fresh air had completed the work of the alcohol. He was evidently becoming very drunk, and laughed insanely when, missing the tumbler, he directed the cascade from a syphon over the table-cloth.

"We'll just have a nightcap before you go," he hiccoughed. "Yes, as you were saying, we've had a deuce of a time lately. I'm one of Lord Tranmere's secretaries, and the berth's not all beer and sk-skittles? Why, you mightn't think it, but I have to examine every blessed dispatch and telegram that passes between London and Paris every day, Sundays and all; and that means some work just now, I can tell you! Yesterday was no d-day of rest for me."

He unlocked a despatch-box and held up an official envelope for Pringle to see, The direction was printed in bold letters:

On Her Britannic Majesty's Service
His Excellency the Right Honble.
The Viscount Strathclyde, G.C.B.,
Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary,
Etc. Etc. Etc.
Foreign Office

"This is the finish to the whole business," he said. "Rather short and sweet. I only finished dr-drafting it this evening. It will be franked by the Secretary of State in the morning, and I think by this time to-to-morrow the F.O. officials will sleep sounder in both capitals."

"Will they, indeed!" exclaimed Pringle. "I am delighted to find that diplomacy is not a lost art in England. But, talking of that, I suppose you know the story of the Queen's Messenger and that affair of the Emperor of Austria's razors?"

Redmile had never heard of it, and settled himself comfortably to listen. But as the combined result of his potations and the lateness of the hour, his head began to nod, and long before Pringle arrived at the climax of the story a loud snore proclaimed that his audience was asleep.

After waiting a little while to make sure of his host's unconsciousness, Pringle cautiously reached towards the despatch-box which still lay open on the tabic, and possessed himself of an addressed envelope and several sheets of foolscap embossed with the Foreign Office stamp. He then turned his attention to the waste-paper basket, and after a search, as noiseless as possible, among its rustling contents, found a torn envelope bearing a nearly perfect Foreign Office seal in wax. Placing all the stationery carefully in his pocket, he gave vent to a loud sneeze.


[ Illustration: He then turned his attention to the waste-paper basket. ]​

Redmile woke up with a start, and Pringle, as if finishing the story, remarked calmly, "So that's how the affair ended."

"Dear me! I'm awfully sorry," apologized Redmile thickly. "I'm afraid I've been asleep. It must have been that whisky that did it!"

"More likely the prosiness of my story," Pringle suggested with a smile. "But, anyhow, I must be moving."

"Come and look me up any time you're passing," said the other sleepily.

When he reached Furnival's Inn Pringle did not trouble to go to bed. He had a hard night's work before him and the dawn found him still busily engaged.

Drawing up the blinds he admitted the morning light. The Venetian mirror which hung above the mantel had seldom reflected such a scene of confusion as the usually neat room presented. Pringie's hat crowned one of the two choice pieces of delft which flanked the brass lantern-clock, while his overcoat sprawled limply across the reading-easel. On a table in one corner stood a glass vessel containing a chemical solution. In this, well coated with black-lead, was immersed the seal abstracted from the waste-paper basket, which, with a plate of copper, also hanging in the solution, was connected with the wires of a "Daniell's" chemical battery; in the course of the night the potent electricity had covered the wax with a deposit of copper sufficiently thick to form a perfect reverse intaglio of the seal. A centre-table was littered with pieces of paper, scrawled over with what appeared to be the attempts of a beginner in the art of writing. A closer inspection would have revealed a series of more or less successful reproductions of Redmile's handwriting—his check for eight pounds being pinned to a drawing-board and serving Pringle as a copy. With frequent reference to a Blue-book which lay open before him, Pringle penned a communication in a couple of short paragraphs, which he carefully copied onto one of the sheets of foolscap. Then, folding it into the envelope, he sealed it with a neat impression from the copper electrotype.

One thing only remained to complete the official appearance of the package; that was the "frank." Turning to the dado of dwarf bookcases which ran round the room, Pringle took down an album containing the portraits and autographs of celebrities of the day, and looked up that of the Foreign Secretary. Lord Tranmere's signature was a bold and legible one, and with the skill of an expert copyist he soon had a facsimile of it written in the lower left-hand corner of the envelope.

Eight o'clock was striking just as he had finished. He rose and stretched himself languidly, when his eye fell on the check. Unpinning it from the board, he attached a "y" to the written word "eight," and deftly inserted a cipher after the somewhat unsteady figure which sprawled in the corner, thus converting it into a check for eighty pounds.

His task was now done, and after swallowing a cup of chocolate brewed over a spirit-lamp, he made a hurried but careful toilet. Endowed by Nature with a fresh complexion which did much to conceal the ravages of a sleepless night, he presented his usual youthful appearance on leaving the Inn, and having chartered a passing cab, was swallowed up in the sea of traffic already beginning to surge down Holborn.

Work, as a general rule, begins later at the Foreign Office than elsewhere, but although it was only a little past nine when Pringle dismissed his cab in Downing Street and entered the portico of Lord Palmerston's architectural freak, several cabs and a miniature brougham were already waiting in the quadrangle. He inquired at the door for Redmile, and was directed up the magnificent staircase to a waiting-room on the first floor.

"I will not detain Mr. Redmile long if he is at all busy," he remarked to the messenger who took his name.

"Mr. Redmile is always busy, sir," was the man's reply.

Pringle sat down and devoted himself to a study of The Times, and it was fully a quarter of an hour before the messenger returned and led him along a dismal and vault-like corridor to an apartment overlooking the Horse Guards' Parade.

The room was empty, but he had scarcely had time to seat himself when a side-door, through which he caught a glimpse of a vast and lofty room beyond, suddenly opened, and Redmile entered with a packet in his hand.

"Good-morning, er—Mr. James," he said rather stiffly, and remained standing.

"I must apologize for intruding upon you when you are so busy," Pringle commenced.


[ Illustration: "I must apologize for intruding upon you when you are so busy," Pringle commenced. ]​

Redmile said nothing, but glanced at the paper he held, which Pringle at once recognized as the momentous despatch which the other in his vinous indiscretion had shown him the previous evening.

"I should not have troubled you so early," continued Pringle, "but on looking at your check when I got home I found that instead of repaying me my small loan you had drawn it for a much larger sum." And he handed the altered check to Redmile, who started when he saw the amount. He stared at it a second or two before he spoke, and then it was in a much more cordial tone.

"Pray sit down, Mr. James. Excuse my not having offered you a chair. I am really greatly obliged to you. As a man of honor, which I see you are, may I ask you to do what I shall regard as an even greater service—that is, to forget that you saw me at that infernal club? I had only been there once before with Lord Netherfield"—he named a well-known man-about-town—"and I should not have gone there again had I not dined rather too freely with an old friend last night. I remember very little of what occurred, and I need not tell you how fatal the events of last night would be to my official position if they became known."

"You may rely on me implicitly, Mr. Redmile. I do not play myself, and indeed I only regard the 'Chrysanthemum' as an interesting place to pass an idle hour. One can study there emotions more realistic than any which are travestied on the stage."

The whole time he was speaking Pringle's eyes never left the packet which Redmile had placed on the table. It was duly sealed and franked by the Secretary of State, the latter operation having evidently just been concluded when Redmile brought it into the room; and Pringlc, mentally comparing it with the one reposing in his coat pocket, decided that they bore a sufficient family likeness to render them practically indistinguishable. Suddenly starting up and turning to the window, he exclaimed, as he pointed to something outside, "Extraordinary!"


[ Illustration: Turning to the window, Pringle exclaimed, as he pointed to something outside, "Extraordinary!" ]​

"What is the matter?" exclaimed Redmile, going up to the window and looking over the Park.

"Excuse me, but that man walking along there is the very image of Karazoff, the accomplice of Grenevitsky, who assassinated the Czar of Russia in '81'

"Is he, indeed?" said Redmile, gazing with much interest at an innocent-looking pedestrian who was approaching from the direction of the Mall.

"I never saw a more astounding likeness. You may remember that Grenevitsky shared the same fate as the Czar by the explosion of the bomb, but Karazoff, who was standing a little farther back, was unhurt, and was at once arrested."

"Did you see the assassination, then?"

"No; but I was in St. Petersburg afterwards, and saw Karazoff and the other accomplices hanged. I shall never forget his face as long as I live—he went to his death with the air of a martyr. How it snowed, too, that day!"

"Marvellous fanaticism," murmured Redmile, as the Nihilist's double, who was in point of fact a Congregationalist minister, ascended the steps leading to Downing Street. He continued to stare out of the window until the imperative whirr of an electric bell made him turn with a start.

"I must really ask you to excuse me," he said. "I have a most important despatch to send off to Paris, and there isn't a moment to lose. I'll send you another check as soon as I have some time to spare. Will you give me your address?"

"Don't let such a small matter as that trouble you. I will look in at your chambers again one evening—if I may."

"Pray do! Excuse me, but the Queen's messenger is waiting. I haven't a moment—good-morning—good-morning!"

Descending the grand staircase, Pringlc hurried into Parliament Street and, hailing a cab, drove back to his chambers. To resume the artificial port-wine mark was but the work of a moment after which he strolled leisurely into the City.

Making the circuit of the Bank, he turned into Throgmorton Street and entered a large doorway whose passage-walls were plastered with names from floor to ceiling. Opening a door on the ground floor, "Is Mr. Hedsor in?" he inquired.

"Just gone over to the House," replied a smart clerk.

"Would you kindly let him know Mr. Pringle would like to speak to him."

It was a band-boxed gentleman in morning costume, wearing a tall hat of effulgent glossiness, who entered the office soon after.
"How do you do, Mr. Pringle? How's literature?" was his greeting.

"Very quiet just now."

"Same here!"

"Nothing doing?"

"Ab-so-'lute-ly nothing!"

"Really?" And Pringle, with a smile, glanced round the office. A clerk was sitting ankle-deep in a pile of wrappers and envelopes, which gradually submerged his legs as he attacked a heap of letters and circulars; beside him another incessantly tapped correspondence out of a typewriter; while a third divided his attention between responses to the calls of a telephone and the sundering of a tape disgorged in endless snaky coils from the unresting little machine in one corner.

"Fact!" asseverated the broker, leading the way to a little den separated from the office by a glazed window-frame partition. "Truth is, Paris has got the blues, and ditch-water's sparkling compared to the present state of things."

"What about Consols today?"

"Consols? Not much in my line, you know."

"But I suppose you're open to do business?"

"Oh, of course it can be done. Depends what you want to do, though."

"Will you sell for me?"

"How much?" inquired the broker, producing a little book.

"What do you say to fifty thousand?"

The other looked dubiously at him, and sucked the top of his pencil. "There's always a large bear account open—I shall want good cover," he remarked after a pause.
"Will you take one per cent?"

"Why, yes, I'll take that. From anyone else I should ask two—indeed, I don't like it much at any price. They're high enough, goodness knows, now; but who's to say they won't go higher?"

"What are they at?"

Mr. Hedsor went into the outer office and consulted the board on which the tapes were impaled.

"A hundred and ten and an eighth," said he, returning. "Lord! what a price!"

"Well, I think I'll trust my luck," Pringle remarked quietly.

"You need something better to trust to than luck in these hard times."

"Did you ever hear of a company called the 'Lobatsi Consolidated'?"

"Yes, you were lucky there, I own, for a mere bit of stagging."

"And wasn't there another called the 'Bokfontein Development* ?"

"By Jove! I never thought you'd get out of that as well as you did."

"And the Topsipitsi Deep Level'?"

"Oh, hang it all! Your proper place is inside the House. I'd forgotten the 'Topsipitsi.' Come out and have a drink."

The world was rather less tranquil when Mr. Hedsor awoke the next morning. Indeed, it was many years since the newspapers had offered the public such a sensational bill-of-fare as their posters promised. In the journals themselves the news was displayed in startling headlines, The Times so far forgetting its dignity as to double-lead its leader on the momentous news.

Towards one a.m. the previous night there had come over the wires from the matter-of-fact Reuter the following piece of news, which dislocated the "make-up" of the papers, reducing the sub-editors to a condition of frenzy:

"Paris.—In accordance, it is understood, with instructions from London, Lord Strathclyde leaves for Calais tomorrow, diplomatic relations having been abruptly broken off between the two countries."

Further particulars from "our own" correspondents confirmed the news, adding that crowds were parading the streets of Paris, singing patriotic songs, and smashing the windows of every shop which bore an English name. Troops were being held in readiness in case of emergencies with which the police would be unable to cope, as it was feared the opponents of the settled order of things would foment disturbances, which in the electric condition of the public mind might have serious results.

The news, although startling, was not altogether unexpected. For some time past the relations between France and England had been in the condition euphemistically described by diplomatists as "strained." Events in Africa had constituted a chronic source of friction, and the annexation of the Congo Free State by the French, who claimed rights of preemption, had brought matters to a crisis. Nevertheless, it seemed as if the resources of diplomacy would heal the breach, and the public, lulled to a sense of tranquillity, were simply paralyzed by the morning's news, which burst on the nation like a thunderclap.

Some of the papers accused the Government of precipitancy, alleging that England was quite unprepared for war with such a Power as France, others preferred to look upon the war as having been inevitable, and only regretted that a more favorable opportunity had not been selected to commence hostilities; but they were unanimous in the opinion that we were about to enter upon a life-and-dceath struggle, which it would be impossible to confine to the two Powers chiefly concerned.
In every place where men congregated there was the wildest commotion. At the London railway stations, in the trains and omnibuses hastening to disgorge their daily suburban load, the tidings dwarfed every other topic.

Naturally it was at the Stock Exchange that the greatest excitement prevailed, and "Gorgonzola Hall" was in a delirious ferment. There had been a feeling of uneasiness for some days past, and even the most intensely aureate of gilt-edged securities had shown jelly-like movements. But on this eventful morning the bears carried all before them, and five minutes after the springing of the rattle which announces the commencement of business, prices had begun to crumble away like snow beneath the sun.
As the day wore on, and the news spread, the crowd outside the Exchange became a surging mob, which was swollen every second by the cabs depositing perspiring clients in search of absent brokers. Those privileged to pass the janitors had literally to fight their way in. One of the glass panels in the Shorter 's Court doorway was shivered early in the day, and its fellow had to be boarded over to protect it from a similar fate. Round in Capel Court half a dozen policemen had been posted as a breakwater, against which the uninitiated broke in impotent waves. And ever, as the glass doors swung to and fro, a dull, drumming, persistent roar, like the whirring of distant factory looms, reverberated down the passages, and mingled with the noise of the traffic on the clattering asphalt roadway.

About noon the tall slim figure of Romney Pringle joined the crowd around the Capel Court entrance, and after an arduous struggle succeeded in getting within hailing distance of the blue-coated porter, who as a rule reposes majestically in the leather chair by the door. The present was no time for repose, however, and in response to a fervent appeal from Pringle he condescended to transmit his inquiry for Mr. Hedsor through a speaking-tube to the arcana of the House.

Pringle had a weary wait of over half an hour before the broker appeared, and even then, so dense was the pressure of the crowd, mostly passing inward, that after a few ineffectual struggles Mr. Hedsor, whose stature was not of the bulkiest, was reduced to a desperate squirm at short intervals, with the sole purpose of retaining bis position, quite apart from any idea of making progress. How long this captivity might have lasted, or whether it might not have terminated in the incontinent collapse of the broker is uncertain, had not the janitor at length caught sight of him and, clearing a passage through the mob with an authoritative "By your leave," extracted him by the remnants of his coat collar.

"Whatever do you want?" gasped the palpitating broker, as he pettishly endeavored to adjust his tattered garments. "I'm frightfully busy." And, mopping his brow, he edged towards a clear space at the side, left by the eddying crowd.

"I'm sorry to trouble you, but I came to ask your advice as to what I had better do," apologized Pringle, as he dusted him down.

"Advice!" repeated the broker. "Why, I tell you, you ought to be one of us! You've got the luck of Old Nick himself! Who on earth would have thought this was going to happen? And I don't believe it would either, if you hadn't taken it into your head to do a bear."

"You see I have faith in my luck, as I told you yesterday. But what are Consols standing at now?"

"Standing do you call it? They're falling—falling, man!" The broker grinned sardonically; he was too breathless to laugh.
"Well, what have they fallen to?"

"Why, they were ninety-seven ten minutes ago, and the Lord only knows when they'll touch bottom! They were eighty-five in the Crimea, and this little show'll be worse than half a dozen Crimcas before it's done with."

"I suppose I ought to buy, then?"

"Oh, the innocence of the man! As if you didn't know the game to play! Lucky dog that you are." Mr. Hedsor sighed enviously and began to work a little sum in his notebook. "Look here: I sold fifty thou' for you yesterday at a hundred and nine three-eighths. If you buy another fifty at ninety-seven—or suppose we say ninety-six or thereabouts, you'll make thirteen per cent, more or less. Now I can't come out here again. You must just go round to the office and wait, and I'll telephone through to you as soon as the job's done. You can amuse yourself by figuring out how much you've made in the last twenty-four hours. Oh, you lucky dogl"

"Delighted, I'm sure," smiled Pringle sweetly. "And in that case you can hold over my check till the settlement."

"Right you are, my boy! And, look here, next time you've got a good thing you might give me the tip, and let's get in on the ground floor."

Pringle shook his head in deprecation as the broker, with a knowing wink, dived once more into the crowd, and was borne inwards with the stream.

Coasting along the outskirts of the turmoil, Pringle got safely down Throgmorton Street, only taking ten minutes over a journey which under ordinary circumstances he could have accomplished in as many seconds, and was about to enter the office when a tremendous hubbub arose, distinctly audible above the all-pervading uproar. From the height of the three or four steps up to the doorway he commanded a view of the scene. Looking back, he saw a newsboy crying the evening paper, surrounded by a yelling mob, which struggled and fought madly for the sheets. Presently a small group detached itself from the rest and frantically rushed towards the entrance to the Exchange in the wake of a hatless individual, who had seized a contents-bill which he waved triumphantly above his head. As it floated like a banner in the air Pringle with some little difficulty spelled out:


He turned abruptly and entered the office, and even as he shut the door behind him the telephone gong whirred. He sprang to the receiver, and before the clerk could reach it twirled the bell-handle.

"Are you there?"


"Is it Mr. Barker?"

"No; Pringle,"

"Oh, all serene! Fifty thou' at ninety-six and a half."

"Thank you. How much do you make it?"

"I said about thirteen per cent, didn't I? Roughly, it's six thousand five hundred that you've made. I say, were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth? It's settlement day next week and I'll send you the full account. Ta-Ta!" Out in Throgmorton Street Pringle managcd to secure a paper and this was what he read:


When the House of Commons assembled today at noon there was an unusual attendance of members, and hardly a seat on the floor of the chamber was vacant, except on the Treasury Bench, whose sole tenant was the Foreign Under- Secretary. Immediately after prayers Mr. Grammaty rose and said:

"Sir, I have to crave the indulgence of the House for the purpose of making a statement on behalf of the Government in view of the very serious news published in the morning papers. The Government has never had any intention of breaking off diplomatic relations with France, and Lord Strathclyde, while doing so in all good faith, appears to have acted on misleading and unauthorized instructions. I can assure the House that the matter will form the subject of the most searching investigation, and in the meantime Lord Strathclyde has been requested to offer the amplest apologies to the French Government. 1 am happy to inform the House that the relations of this country with France have never been more friendly than they are at the present moment."

This statement was received with profound silence, only broken by the cheers which arose on all sides at the conclusion. Immediately Mr. Grammaty resumed his seat the House rapidly emptied, and the lobby was thronged with members eagerly discussing the situation.

We understand that Lord Tranmere was in attendance at the Foreign Office at an unprecedented hour, and that a brisk exchange of telegrams between London and the Paris Embassy has been in progress all morning.

It is stated that our relations with France have within the last few days assumed a most amicable complexion, and no one was more surprised at the morning's news than the officials at the Foreign Office. Although the utmost reticence is being observed by the Department in question, we are in a position to state that the despatch in accordance with which Lord Strathclyde acted was nothing less than a clever forgery, which was mysteriously substituted for a genuine one of quite a different complexion. How or by what means the exchange was effected, and how the spurious document was allowed to reach the Paris Embassy undetected, appears to be an unsolved mystery pending the result of the investigation promised by the Government.

Pringle folded the paper and glanced at the scene around him. The individual so hotly denounced was not likely to stand in the pillory—the Chrysanthemum Club's cellar had insured that!

He walked on past the entrance to the Exchange. The murmur of the crowd which filled every approach was answered by a roar from the Temple of Mammon, deeper and more thunderous than any that had hitherto escaped the swing-doors, now wedged wide open by the surging mass.

The pendulum had swung back. The bulls were triumphantly rushing prices up again.


I like how this plan is reminiscent of a more audacious version of Moriarty's plan from the second Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes film, and Pringle apparently just makes it up on the spur of the moment!


Rootless Rōnin
I like how this plan is reminiscent of a more audacious version of Moriarty's plan from the second Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes film, and Pringle apparently just makes it up on the spur of the moment!
It was actually pointed out by someone at the time of the second Guy Richie movie that, you know, Moriarty's plan in that movie is basically identical to Moriarty's plan in the The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-movie.


Happy New Decade!
Published by SLP
It was actually pointed out by someone at the time of the second Guy Richie movie that, you know, Moriarty's plan in that movie is basically identical to Moriarty's plan in the The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-movie.
Not aware of that, but I've always thought that sort of plan is a very post-Victorian looking back on that era thing and not one that someone at the time would right, so I amused to see I was quite wrong - though Pringle "only" stages the run-up to a world war in order to profit on the stock market.

This is particularly strange because in the other stories he's often one of those sympathetic con men who mostly cons other con men and occasionally helps out people who've been conned by others. And he carries on with schemes in later studies that net him £500 or so, which is surely small potatoes when he's got away with something like this...


Rootless Rōnin
Not aware of that, but I've always thought that sort of plan is a very post-Victorian looking back on that era thing and not one that someone at the time would right, so I amused to see I was quite wrong - though Pringle "only" stages the run-up to a world war in order to profit on the stock market.
I was quite surprised when I found this future history novel written in Sweden in the 1890s that features a world war. The author gets it sort of correct when it comes to the sides (Frace+Russia+Denmark on the one side, Germany+Austria-Hungary+Italy on the other, with the British Empire opting to stay neutral), so I cannot help but wonder to what extent people really were considering it a foregone conclusion that "eventually, there will be a war between X and Y, and we're just waiting for the inevitable spark that ignites the explosion".

If many people thought it was a given that World War I would come (in the same way that people 1945-1990 thought it was a given that an atomic war between the United States and the Soviet Union would eventually come) then I don't really see it as that implausible that some author would come up with a "let's make money off of this!"-scheme.

But the idea of making money off of disinformation regarding wars was hardly new at this point in history. Just consider the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 when it was falsely reported in London that Napoleon had been killed in battle.