The Yellow Document
Fantômas of Berlin
From the author of Fantômas, this World War I espionage thriller, first published in 1919, follows a group of French patriots as they struggle to prevent the the Kaiser and his dastardly “Boches” from recovering a certain yellow document containing the plans for a secret weapon that could decide the outcome of the war.
Prologue: A Monster
- A Joke
- A Tragic Appeal
- In Danger of Death
- Facing Contempt
- A Case of Conscience
- France Comes First
- A Mysterious Photograph
- Horrible Certainty
- A Dying Confession
- Silent Words
- Her Father
- Towards Forgetfulness
Second Part: Towards Victory
- The Head of the Service
- It Is a Lover
- Master and Valet
- Through Fear
- Between Traitors
- A Mysterious Disappearance
- The Price of Blood
- For France! For Colette!
- Monet’s Vengeance
- I’m Nobody
- Love’s Treachery
- 32 + 4 = 36
- For the Love of Monet
- The Trap
- The Last Battle
Prologue: A Monster
Dressed in a colonel’s uniform of the Death’s Head Hussars—the sixth uniform he had worn since the morning—William II left the card table. His mustache curled upward and a conquering air concealed the infirmity of his short left arm. With a Napoleonic gesture, he spoke with forced gaiety.
“Ambassadress, I have beaten you.”
“Your Majesty was pitiless.”
And moving away a step, he added:
“I do not hold with the French that one must never beat a woman, even with a flower.”
William II pushed aside the small card table upon which he had just concluded a well-fought battle with the wife of the Russian ambassador, and continued:
“My opinion is that every charming woman is a demon. I should not choose a flower, but a sword, to beat them with.”
The ambassadress bowed, smiling. William II turned on his heel and moved away, muttering, “A fool.”
That evening an intimate dinner had taken place at the Potsdam Court in honor of the Kaiser’s birthday anniversary.
It was in 1893. The emperor had just reached his thirty-fourth year. One glance at him would be enough to guess that he hoped great things of the future and believed in the promise of a glorious destiny.
Pride, daring, avidity—all the defects which stamp the soul of an adventurer, characterized his imperial features. One might also read there rascality and hypocrisy.
William II now leaned toward the empress, Augusta Victoria, and questioned her more than amiably:
“Does not the heat disturb you, my dear? You are very pale.”
In reality, the Kaiser was quite indifferent to the health of the empress, but this show of attention was part of the role he played. William II did not disdain from time to time to affect the virtues of a good bourgeois—at least before his guests—to give the impression of being an excellent husband.
What answer did the empress make? William II moved away from her chair without waiting to hear, and touched a Prussian general, one of his favorites, on the arm.
“Well, my dear fellow, and what about your soldiers? Do you think those recruits we were talking of the other day will maintain the prestige of our army? Are the troops of ’93 worth those of ’70?”
“Without doubt, Sire.”
The emperor’s question produced a chill in the big drawing room where the evening’s guests remained silent each time he deigned to utter a word. The French ambassador grew pale.
William II noticed it.
He frequently made “breaks” with a heaviness of wit which proved a total lack of savoir-vivre. He wasn’t disturbed, however, and shrugging his shoulders, he laughed and turned the conversation. It was his way of excusing himself. That day, however, he gave a slight shudder when he met the energetic and determined eyes of the French ambassador. He started to speak, stopped, and then questioned:
“What has happened to your military attaché, Ambassador—that Captain Bayen? Will he soon be back again?”
The ambassador articulated clearly:
“Very soon, I hope, Sire. He is finishing his studies in tactics—which enable the French army to remain what it has always been, the first army in the world.”
The reply was sharp, brutal even, and the ambassador, a courteous man, must have felt pushed beyond the limit by the insolence of William II to dare it.
The Kaiser appeared not to understand.
“By Jove, I was forgetting—I must leave you for a few moments. I have some work.”
And as nobody answered, the emperor, keeping up the pretense of middle-class virtue, added:
“I have my mail to sign. Ah, Germany & Co. is a great firm, and being emperor is a hard position.”
He went to the door, nodded ironically and condescendingly to his guests, then left the room, waving aside the chamberlains who were about to accompany him:
“Not necessary. I shall return in a moment.”
The Kaiser gained his private apartments. Certainly, it was not an ordinary worry that made him leave the drawing rooms. William II, in fact, appeared very upset. Two porters stood like statues at the door of the imperial rooms.
The emperor questioned sharply:
“Where is the officer of the portfolio?”
“In his office, Sire.”
“What orders has he given you?”
“His excellency has charged us to notify his majesty’s ministers that his majesty will grant no audience today.”
William II entered the room which was softly lighted by an electric lamp encased in an alabaster vase.
“Nobody here yet?” he murmured.
But at this moment from the shadows of the room, a dim figure emerged, seemingly from the wall, and advanced with a deep bow.
William II grew so pale that he seemed about to collapse.
“Ah!” he cried in a hoarse voice. “You are here already, my private counselor?”
The emperor waved to a seat and continued:
“The porters did not announce your arrival, Doctor Krampft. You nearly frightened me.”
“I beg your majesty to forgive the servants,” the man replied slowly. “Nobody saw me enter.”
“Did you come in through the walls then?”
The emperor nodded:
“After all, that would not be impossible to you.”
He raised a warning finger:
“Do you know what they call you, Krampft?”
“Will your majesty deign to tell me?”
“My household calls you ‘Fantômas of Berlin.’”
The Kaiser dropped onto a sofa and continued:
“And the title is deserved. You have the audacity and the cunning of the man they designate as ‘The Genius of Crime.’ The master of frightfulness.”
“Is this a reproach, Sire?”
“It’s a compliment, Krampft.”
A grim laugh followed and the Kaiser added:
“That’s enough. Fantômas, since you are Fantômas, what have you learned?”
The Kaiser started and his voice grew violent.
“The yellow document? That cursed document. Are you going to get it for me?”
“No, Sire, it is in the hands of Captain Bayen.”
“Do you know at least, if it is complete?”
“I am sure it is not, Sire.”
With a gesture, silencing his master, the emperor, the mysterious individual called Fantômas of Berlin, pronounced slowly:
“Sire, your majesty will allow me to define the situation which you do not quite understand. A man, an Austrian, has invented a machine of such power that the country owning it would be assured of world supremacy. This man offered his secret to your government. Your government did not believe in him. So without hesitation, he offered it elsewhere. It was then that Captain Bayen, attaché of the French embassy, sacrificed his private fortune and bought the secret.”
“Alas!” sighed the Kaiser.
“Sire, do not despair,” murmured the enigmatical individual. “This man sold his secret, but he did not sell the whole of it. Captain Bayen has only the description of a machine. He has not the method of using it to get the full results. The inventor asks for millions; Captain Bayen has applied to his government for the money. We shall not have lost until Captain Bayen possesses the whole secret.”
Herr Krampft folded his arms and added calmly:
“Now Captain Bayen will never know the whole secret.”
“Why not? France is rich…”
“I ask your majesty’s pardon. Captain Bayen will never know the secret because the inventor cannot tell him. He is dead.”
“Dead, Sire. He died yesterday, poisoned by his dinner.”
Herr Krampft did not shudder in announcing the poisoning of the inventor, which might be called murder.
The Kaiser rose, agitated.
He took the hands of his counselor and pressed them:
“Krampft, you have saved Germany.”
“No? Why not?”
“The man can no longer speak, Sire, but perhaps he has already spoken.”
A glance from the Kaiser forced Fantômas of Berlin to explain further. And truly Doctor Krampft must have ben daring indeed to retain such complete calm in the presence of his master’s anxiety.
“Sire, the man is dead. But he died in Captain Bayen’s very house. That is where he lived. It was Mme. Bayen, the young wife of this cursed French officer, who was with him at the end.”
Krampft, in a low tone, admitted:
“I am afraid, Sire—terribly afraid.”
Nervously the Kaiser paced up and down the huge room where so many state secrets had been discussed, where so many infamous plans had received his royal seal. He walked and walked with half shut eyes, apparently oblivious to the presence of his private counselor.
A strange man this Krampft. Scarcely thirty years of age, he wore the court dress, but wore it badly. Beneath it he had a common air. Slender, he gave the impression of size on account of his thick and knotted limbs. The squareness of his head, added to an abundant mustache and beard, enlarged his face and hid his mouth and the most of his cheeks.
William II stopped abruptly.
“That woman must never be able to speak.”
“Yet she must live so that if ever we secure the yellow document from her husband, she may be able to explain to us how it can be utilized.”
“That is true, Sire.”
“It is necessary.”
William II placed both hands on the doctor’s shoulders.
“Krampft, do you recall the mission I entrusted you with three weeks ago?”
“I recall it, if your majesty orders me to do so.”
“Krampft, I advised you that a child would be put into your charge. I told you that you would have the bringing up of that child. I told you the child is my child, my bastard. Krampft, I gave to you then a proof of my confidence.”
“Sire, I hope I have and will always deserve it.”
“Undoubtedly, Krampft—well, I have another mission for you… as serious a one—”
“I am at your majesty’s orders.”
“Krampft, this is what I have decided: Mme. Bayen must die!”
“Apparently die, Krampft.”
“I don’t understand, your majesty.”
“And yet it is quite simple. Captain Bayen is guilty of espionage in buying the yellow document here… Krampft, I shall see his wife and say to her: ‘Madame, your husband will get twenty years of prison if you refuse to save him. You can save him by giving up the secret confided to you by the inventor who died yesterday. Until then, you will be my prisoner.’ Madame Bayen is French. She is a woman in love—she will speak and save her husband.”
“And you would release her, Sire?”
There was a moment of silence.
Krampft dared to break it.
“If your majesty thinks to force this woman to speak, your majesty is mistaken. She is not only French, she is Alsatian. She will hold her tongue. Or else she will provoke a scandal. She will write—telegraph—she will escape!”
The Kaiser shook his head.
“Krampft,” he murmured, “you forget my agents who open all letters, my police who arrest those who try to escape—you forget that I am the master and that I shall say to this woman: ‘If you attempt to escape, Captain Bayen will run the risk of a mortal accident.’ You forget something else, Krampft.”
“That Mme. Bayen is enceinte, that she expects a child—and that the child will serve as a hostage. We shall steal it from her if necessary!”
Another silence reigned.
The emperor began his pacing again. He finally spoke:
“Krampft, a terrible struggle is about to take place for this yellow document. Captain Bayen has won the first point, I shall win the second. I hold him through his wife, and I hold his wife through her child.”
But Krampft shook his head.
“You are not convinced?” asked the Kaiser.
“No,” replied the counselor calmly.
Ah! It was not a question of fright or horror for the infamous plan which William II dared to expose.
But he foresaw redoubtable consequences of that plan, and these consequences alarmed him.
“Sire, your majesty seems to me too daring,” he ventured, at length. “Your majesty may possibly hold Mme. Bayen prisoner by reason of her child, but consider, it is not only a question of Mme. Bayen—what will your majesty say to the captain when he returns?”
“That his wife is dead, Krampft.”
“And if he doesn’t believe you?”
“He will believe me, Krampft, for he will mourn at her tomb—without suspecting that his wife is in confinement, perhaps not far away. Such things are easily brought about when one is who I am—the emperor. You know that very well.”
Certainly William II would have been well served had his counselor seized him by the throat and strangled him as one strangles the most odious criminal.
But Krampft merely smiled:
“May I put a question to your majesty?”
“Has your majesty already chosen Mme. Bayen’s jailer?”
“Certainly,” replied the emperor. “That jailer will be you.” And he added jeeringly:
“It is a position which belongs of right to Fantômas of Berlin.”
An hour later, Krampft left the imperial palace.
But in spite of the high confidence which the Kaiser had shown in him by making him his associate in crime, Krampft appeared anxious. He muttered to himself in a low tone: “The emperor is mistaken! His majesty does not know French hearts. Hate blinds him! Whether he tortures the wife or the mother, Mme. Bayen is Alsatian and will not speak. And as for Captain Bayen, the soldier, even though he think his wife dead, even though he be condemned to silence, he will not forget—he will have his revenge.”
Krampft felt chilled from head to feet.
(End of excerpt from The Yellow Document)