It has been said of the Talleyrand
Club that the only qualifications required for admittance
to its membership are a frock-coat and a glib tongue.
To explain the whereabouts of the Talleyrand Club were
only a work of supererogation. Many hansom cabmen
know it. Hansom cabmen know more than they are
The Talleyrand, as its name implies,
is a diplomatic club, but ambassadors and ministers
enter not its portals. They send their juniors.
Some of these latter are in the habit of stating that
London is the hub of Europe and the Talleyrand smoking-room
its grease-box. Certain is it that such men as
Claude de Chauxville, as Karl Steinmetz, and a hundred
others who are or have been political scene-shifters,
are to be found in the Talleyrand rooms.
It is a quiet club, with many members
and sparse accommodation. Its rooms are never
crowded, because half of its members are afraid of
meeting the other half. It has swinging glass
doors to its every apartment, the lower portion of
the glass being opaque, while the upper moiety affords
a peep-hole. Thus, if you are sitting in one of
the deep, comfortable chairs to be found in all these
small rooms, you will be aware from time to time of
eyes and a bald head above the ground glass.
If you are nobody, eyes and bald head will prove to
be the property of a gentleman who does not know you,
or knows you and pretends that he does not. If
you are somebody, your solitude will depend upon your
There are quite a number of bald heads
in the Talleyrand Club bald heads surmounting
youthful, innocent faces. The innocence of these
gentlemen is quite remarkable. Like a certain
celestial, they are “childlike and bland”;
they ask guileless questions; they make blameless
mistakes in respect to facts, and require correction,
which they receive meekly. They know absolutely
nothing, and their thirst for information is as insatiable
as it is unobtrusive.
The atmosphere is vivacious with the
light sound of many foreign tongues; it bristles with
the ephemeral importance of cheap titles. One
never knows whether one’s neighbor is an ornament
to the Almanac de Gotha, or a disgrace to a degenerate
colony of refugees.
Some are plain Messieurs, Senores,
or Herren. Bluff foreigners with upright hair
and melancholy eyes, who put up philosophically with
a cheaper brand of cigar than their souls love.
Among the latter may be classed Karl Steinmetz the
bluffest of the bluff innocent even of his
Karl Steinmetz in due course reached
England, and in natural sequence the smoking-room room
B on the left as you go in of the Talleyrand.
He was there one evening after an
excellent dinner taken with humorous resignation,
smoking the largest cigar the waiter could supply,
when Claude de Chauxville happened to have nothing
better or nothing worse to do.
De Chauxville looked through the glass
door for some seconds. Then he twisted his waxed
mustache and lounged in. Steinmetz was alone in
the room, and De Chauxville was evidently almost
obviously unaware of his presence.
He went to the table and proceeded to search in vain
for a newspaper that interested him. He raised
his eyes casually and met the quiet gaze of Karl Steinmetz.
“Ah!” he exclaimed.
“Yes,” said Steinmetz.
“You in London?”
Steinmetz nodded gravely.
“Yes,” he repeated.
“One never knows where one has
you,” Claude de Chauxville went on, seating
himself in a deep arm-chair, newspaper in hand.
“You are a bird of passage.”
“A little heavy on the wing now,”
He laid his newspaper down on his
stout knees and looked at De Chauxville over his gold
eye-glasses. He did not attempt to conceal the
fact that he was wondering what this man wanted with
him. The baron seemed to be wondering what object
Steinmetz had in view in getting stout. He suspected
some motive in the obesity.
“Ah!” he said deprecatingly.
“That is nothing. Time leaves its mark upon
all of us. It was not yesterday that we were in
“No,” answered Steinmetz.
“It was before the German Empire many
De Chauxville counted back with his
slim fingers on the table delightfully
“Yes,” he said, “the
years seem to fly in coveys. Do you ever see any
of our friends of that time you who are
“Who were our friends of that
time?” parried Steinmetz, polishing his glasses
with a silk handkerchief. “My memory is
a broken reed you remember?”
For a moment Claude de Chauxville
met the full, quiet, gray eyes.
“Yes,” he said significantly,
“I remember. Well for instance,
“Dead. I never see him thank
“I never see; she keeps a gambling house in
“And little Andrea?”
“Never sees me. Married
to a wholesale undertaker, who has buried her past.”
“Et en detail.”
“The Count Lanovitch,” pursued De Chauxville,
“where is he?”
“Banished for his connection with the Charity
“Catrina is living in the province
of Tver we are neighbors she
and her mother, the countess.”
De Chauxville nodded. None of
the details really interested him. His indifference
“Ah! the Countess Lanovitch,”
he said reflectively, “she was a foolish woman.”
M. de Chauxville laughed. This
clumsy German ex-diplomat amused him immensely.
Many people amuse us who are themselves amused in their
“And er the
Sydney Bamboroughs,” said the Frenchman, as if
the name had almost left his memory.
Karl Steinmetz lazily stretched out
his arm and took up the Morning Post.
He unfolded the sheet slowly, and having found what
he sought, he read aloud:
“’His Excellency the Roumanian
Ambassador gave a select dinner-party at 4 Craven
Gardens, yesterday. Among the guests were the
Baron de Chauxville, Feneer Pasha, Lord and Lady Standover,
Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, and others.’”
Steinmetz threw the paper down and
leant back in his chair.
“So, my dear friend,”
he said, “it is probable that you know more about
the Sydney Bamboroughs than I do.”
If Claude de Chauxville was disconcerted
he certainly did not show it. His was a face
eminently calculated to conceal whatever thought or
feeling might be passing through his mind. Of
an even white complexion verging on pastiness he
was handsome in a certain statuesque way. His
features were always composed and dignified; his hair,
thin and straight, was never out of order, but ever
smooth and sleek upon his high, narrow brow.
His eyes had that dulness which is characteristic
of many Frenchmen, and may perhaps be attributed to
the habitual enjoyment of too rich a cuisine and too
De Chauxville waved aside the small
contretemps with easy nonchalance.
“Not necessarily,” he
said, in cold, even tones. “Mrs. Sydney
Bamborough does not habitually take into her confidence
all who happen to dine at the same table as herself.
Your confidential woman is usually a liar.”
Steinmetz was filling his pipe; this
man had the evil habit of smoking a wooden pipe after
“My very dear De Chauxville,”
he said, without lookup, “your epigrams are
lost on me. I know most of them. I have heard
them before. If you have anything to tell me
about Mrs. Sydney Bamborough, for Heaven’s sake
tell it to me quite plainly. I like plain dishes
and unvarnished stories. I am a German, you know;
that is to say, a person with a dull palate and a
De Chauxville laughed again in an unemotional way.
“You alter little,” he
said. “Your plainness of speech takes me
back to Petersburg. Yes, I admit that Mrs. Sydney
Bamborough rather interested me. But I assume
too much; that is no reason why she should interest
“She does not, my good friend,
but you do. I am all attention.”
“Do you know anything of her?”
asked De Chauxville perfunctorily, not as a man who
expects an answer or intends to believe that which
he may be about to hear.
“You are likely to know more?”
Karl Steinmetz shrugged his heavy
shoulders, and shook his head doubtfully.
“I am not a lady’s man,”
he added gruffly; “the good God has not shaped
me that way. I am too d d fat.
Has Mrs. Sydney Bamborough fallen in love with me?
Has some imprudent person shown her my photograph?
I hope not. Heaven forbid!”
He puffed steadily at his pipe, and
glanced quickly at De Chauxville through the smoke.
“No,” answered the Frenchman
quite gravely. Frenchmen, by the way, do not
admit that one may be too middle-aged, or too stout,
for love. “But she is au mieux
with the prince.”
The Frenchman snapped out the word,
watching the other’s benevolent countenance.
Steinmetz continued to smoke placidly and contentedly.
“My master,” he said at length. “I
suppose that some day he will marry.”
De Chauxville shrugged his shoulders.
He touched the button of the electric bell, and when
the servant appeared, ordered coffee. He selected
a cigarette from a silver case with considerable care,
and having lighted it smoked for some moments in silence.
The servant brought the coffee, which he drank thoughtfully.
Steinmetz was leaning back in his deep chair, with
his legs crossed. He was gazing into the fire,
which burnt brightly, although it was nearly May.
The habits of the Talleyrand Club are almost continental.
The rooms are always too warm. The silence was
that of two men knowing each other well.
“And why not Mrs. Sydney Bamborough?”
asked Steinmetz suddenly.
“Why not, indeed?” replied
De Chauxville. “It is no affair of mine.
A wise man reduces his affairs to a minimum, and his
interest in the affairs of his neighbor to less.
But I thought it would interest you.”
The tone of the big man in the arm-chair
was not dry. Karl Steinmetz knew better than
to indulge in that pastime. Dryness is apt to
parch the fount of expansiveness.
De Chauxville’s attention was
apparently caught by an illustration in a weekly paper
lying open on the table near to him. Your shifty
man likes something to look at. He did not speak
for some moments. Then he threw the paper aside.
“Who was Sydney Bamborough,
at any rate?” he asked, with a careless assumption
of a slanginess which is affected by society in its
“So far as I remember,”
answered Steinmetz, “he was something in the
“Yes, but what?”
“My dear friend, you had better
ask his widow when next you sit beside her at dinner.”
“How do you know that I sat beside her at dinner?”
“I did not know it,” replied
Steinmetz, with a quiet smile which left De Chauxville
in doubt as to whether he was very stupid or exceedingly
“She seems to be very well off,” said
“I am glad, as she is going to marry my master.”
De Chauxville laughed almost awkwardly,
and for a fraction of a second he changed countenance
under Steinmetz’s quiet eyes.
“One can never know whom a woman
intends to marry,” said he carelessly, “even
if they can themselves, which I doubt. But I do
not understand how it is that she is so much better
off, or appears to be, since the death of her husband.”
“Ah, she is much better off,
or appears to be, since the death of her husband,”
said the stout man, in his slow Germanic way.
De Chauxville rose, stretched himself
and yawned. Men are not always, be it understood,
on their best behavior at their club.
“Good-night,” he said shortly.
“Good-night, my very dear friend.”
After the Frenchman had left, Karl
Steinmetz remained quite motionless and expressionless
in his chair, until such time as he concluded that
De Chauxville was tired of watching him through the
glass door. Then he slowly sat forward in his
chair and looked back over his shoulder.
“Our friend,” he muttered,
“is afraid that Paul is going to marry this
woman. Now, I wonder why?”
These two had met before in a past
which has little or nothing to do with the present
narrative. They had disliked each other with a
completeness partly bred of racial hatred, partly the
outcome of diverse interests. But of late years
they had drifted apart. There was no reason why
the friendship, such as it was, should not have lapsed
into a mere bowing acquaintance. For these men
were foreigners, understanding fully the value of
the bow as an interchange of masculine courtesy.
Englishmen bow badly.
Steinmetz knew that the Frenchman
had recognized him before entering the room.
It was to be presumed that he had deliberately chosen
to cross the threshold, knowing that a recognition
was inevitable. Karl Steinmetz went farther.
He suspected that De Chauxville had come to the Talleyrand
Club, having heard that he was in England, with the
purpose in view of seeking him out and warning him
against Mrs. Sydney Bamborough.
“It would appear,” murmured
the stout philosopher, “that we are about to
work together for the first time. But if there
is one thing that I dislike more than the enmity of
Claude de Chauxville it is his friendship.”