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In the month of December, 1918, and on the very day that a British Cavalry Division marched into Cologne, with flags flying and bands playing as the conquerors of a beaten nation, the manager of the Hotel Nationale in Berne received a letter. Its contents appeared to puzzle him somewhat, for having read it twice he rang the bell on his desk to summon his secretary. Almost immediately the door opened, and a young French girl came into the room.
'Monsieur rang?' She stood in front of the manager's desk, awaiting instructions.
'Have we ever had staying in the hotel a man called le Comte de Guy?' He leaned back in his chair and looked at her through his pince–nez.
The secretary thought for a moment and then shook her head. 'Not so far as I can remember,' she said.
'Do we know anything about him? Has he ever fed here, or taken a private room?'
Again the secretary shook her head.
'Not that I know of.'
The manager handed her the letter, and waited in silence until she had read it.
'It seems on the face of it a peculiar request from an unknown man,' he remarked as she laid it down. 'A dinner of four covers; no expense to be spared. Wines specified, and if not in the hotel to be obtained. A private room at half–past seven sharp. Guests to ask for room X.'
The secretary nodded in agreement.
'It can hardly be a hoax,' she remarked after a short silence.
'No.' The manager tapped his teeth with his pen thoughtfully. 'But if by any chance it was, it would prove an expensive one for us. I wish I could think who this Comte de Guy is.'
'He sounds like a Frenchman,' she answered. Then after a pause: 'I suppose you'll have to take it seriously?'
'I must.' He took off his pince–nez and laid them on the desk in front of him. 'Would you send the maître d'hôtel to me at once?'