“Precisely, my friend! You see, I use the epithet ‘my friend’ because at a time like this all Frenchmen must forget their differences and work together for the good and honour of their country. Is it not so, monsieur?”
“That is indeed true,” Monsieur Pailleton admitted slowly. “We may work in different ways but we work towards the same end.”
“No one has ever doubted your patriotism, Monsieur Pailleton,” the ambassador continued. “It is my privilege now to put it to the test. There is a little misunderstanding in Brazil, every particular concerning which, and the views of our Government, is contained in the little parcel of documents which you see upon this table. Put them in your pocket, Monsieur Pailleton. I am going to ask you to serve your country by leaving for Liverpool this afternoon and for Brazil to-morrow on the steamship Hermes.”
Monsieur Pailleton had been a little taken aback by the visit of the Baron. He sat now like a man temporarily stupefied. He was too amazed to find any sinister significance in this mission. He could only gasp. The ambassador’s voice, as he continued talking smoothly, seemed to reach him from a long way off.
“It may be a little contrary to your wishes, my friend,” the latter proceeded, “to find yourself so far from the throb of our great struggle, yet in these days we serve best who obey. It is the wish of those who stand for France that you should take that packet and board that steamer.”
Monsieur Pailleton began in some measure to recover himself. He was still, however, bewildered.
“Monsieur,” he protested, “I do not understand. This mission to Brazil of which you speak—it can have no great importance. Cannot it be entrusted to some other messenger?”
“Alas! No, my dear sir,” was the uncompromising reply. “It is you—Monsieur Pailleton—whom the President desires to travel to Brazil.”
The light was breaking in upon Pailleton. He clenched his fists.
“I am to be got out of the way!” he exclaimed. “The President fears me politically, he fears my following!”
The ambassador drew himself a little more upright, a stiff unbending figure. His words seemed suddenly to become charged with more weight.
“Monsieur Pailleton,” he said, “the only thing that France fears is treachery!”
Pailleton gripped at the back of his chair. The room for a moment swam before his eyes.
“Is this an insult, Monsieur l’Ambassadeur?” he demanded.
“Take it as an insult if in your heart there is no shadow of treachery towards the France that is today, towards the cause of the Allies as it is to-day,” was the stern answer.
“I refuse to accept this extraordinary mission,” Pailleton declared, rising to his feet. “You can send whom you will to Brazil. I have greater affairs before me.”
The ambassador shrugged his shoulders.
“I shall not press you,” he said. “I shall only put before you the alternative. You are at this present moment upon French soil. If you refuse this mission which has been offered to you, I shall detain you here until I have the means of sending you under escort to France.”