MR. GREX OF MONTE CARLO
BY E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
AUTHOR OF "THE VANISHED MESSENGER," "A PEOPLE'S MAN," "THE MISCHIEF MAKER"
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY WILL GREFE
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1915
THE COLONIAL PRESS C. H. SIMONDS CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.
I. An Unexpected Meeting
II. By Accident or Design
III. A Warning
IV. Enter the American
V. "Who is Mr. Grex?"
VI. Cakes and Counsels
VII. The Effrontery of Richard
VIII. Up the Mountain
IX. In the Mists
X. Signs of Trouble
XI. Hints to Hunterleys
XII. "I Cannot Go!"
XIII. Miss Grex at Home
XIV. Dinner for Two
XV. International Politics
XVI. A Bargain with Jean Coulois
XVII. Duty Interferes Again
XVIII. A Midnight Conference
XIX. "Take Me Away!"
XX. Wily Mr. Draconmeyer
XXII. The Wrong Man
XXIII. Trouble Brewing
XXIV. Hunterleys Scents Murder
XXV. Draconmeyer is Desperate
XXVI. Extraordinary Love-Making
XXVII. Playing for High Stakes
XXVIII. To the Villa Mimosa
XXIX. For His Country
XXX. "Supposing I Take This Money"
XXXI. Nearing a Crisis
XXXII. An Interesting Meeting
XXXIII. The Fates Are Kind
XXXIV. Coffee for One Only
XXXV. A New Map of the Earth
XXXVII. An Amazing Elopement
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
She leaned across and with trembling fingers backed number fourteen en plein
"For the last time, then—to Monte Carlo!"
"Come on, you fellows!" he shouted
"What we ask of France is that she looks the other way"
"That two hundred shall be five hundred, but it must be a cemetery to which they take him!"
Mr. Grex, with his daughter and Lady Hunterleys on one side and Monsieur Douaille on the other, were in the van.
MR. GREX OF MONTE CARLO
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
The eyes of the man who had looked in upon a scene inordinately, fantastically brilliant, underwent, after those first few moments of comparative indifference, a curious transformation. He was contemplating one of the sights of the world. Crowded around the two roulette tables, promenading or lounging on the heavily cushioned divans against the wall, he took note of a conglomeration of people representing, perhaps, every grade of society, every nationality of importance, yet with a curious common likeness by reason of their tribute paid to fashion. He glanced unmoved at a beautiful Englishwoman who was a duchess but looked otherwise; at an equally beautiful Frenchwoman, who looked like a duchess but was—otherwise. On every side of him were women gowned by the great artists of the day, women like flowers, all perfume and softness and colour. His eyes passed them over almost carelessly. A little tired with many weeks' travel in countries where the luxuries of life were few, his senses were dulled to the magnificence of the scene, his pulses as yet had not responded to its charm and wonder. And then the change came. He saw a woman standing almost exactly opposite to him at the nearest roulette table, and he gave a noticeable start. For a moment his pale, expressionless face was transformed, his secret was at any one's mercy. That, however, was the affair of an instant only. He was used to shocks and he survived this one. He moved a little on one side from his prominent place in the centre of the wide-flung doorway. He stood by one of the divans and watched.
She was tall and fair and slight. She wore a high-necked gown of shimmering grey, a black hat, under which her many coils of hair shone like gold, and a necklace of pearls around her throat, pearls on which his eyes had rested with a curious expression. She played, unlike many of her neighbours, with restraint, yet with interest, almost enthusiasm. There was none of the strain of the gambler about her smooth, beautiful face. Her delicately curved lips were free from the grim lines of concentrated acquisitiveness. She was thirty-two years old but she looked much younger as she stood there, her lips a little parted in a pleased smile of anticipation. She was leaning a little over the table and her eyes were fixed with humorous intentness upon the spinning wheel. Even amongst that crowd of beautiful women she possessed a certain individual distinction. She not only looked what she was—an Englishwoman of good birth—but there was a certain delicate aloofness about her expression and bearing which gave an added charm to a personality which seemed to combine the two extremes of provocativeness and reserve. One would have hesitated to address to her even the chance remarks which pass so easily between strangers around the tables.
"Violet here!" the man murmured under his breath. "Violet!"
There was tragedy in the whisper, a gleam of something like tragedy, too, in the look which passed between the man and the woman a few moments later. With her hands full of plaques which she had just won, she raised her eyes at last from the board. The smile upon her lips was the delighted smile of a girl. And then, as she was in the act of sweeping her winnings into her gold bag, she saw the man opposite. The smile seemed to die from her lips; it appeared, indeed, to pass with all else of expression from her face. The plaques dropped one by one through her fingers, into the satchel. Her eyes remained fixed upon him as though she were looking upon a ghost. The seconds seemed drawn out into a grim hiatus of time. The croupier's voice, the muttered imprecation of a loser by her side, the necessity of making some slight movement in order to allow the passage of an arm from some one in search of change—some such trifle at last brought her back from the shadows. Her expression became at once more normal. She did not remove her eyes but she very slightly inclined her head towards the man. He, in return, bowed very gravely and without a smile.
The table in front of her was cleared now. People were beginning to consider their next coup. The voice of the croupier, with his parrot-like cry, travelled down the board.
"Faites vos jeux, mesdames et messieurs."
The woman made no effort to stake. After a moment's hesitation she yielded up her place, and moving backwards, seated herself upon an empty divan. Rapidly the thoughts began to form themselves in her mind. Her delicate eyebrows drew closer together in a distinct frown. After that first shock, that queer turmoil of feeling, beyond analysis, yet having within it some entirely unexpected constituent, she found herself disposed to be angry. The sensation had not subsided when a moment or two later she was conscious that the man whose coming had proved so disturbing was standing before her.
"Good afternoon," he said, a little stiffly.
She raised her eyes. The frown was still upon her forehead, although to a certain extent it was contradicted by a slight tremulousness of the lips.
"Good afternoon, Henry!"
For some reason or other, further speech seemed to him a difficult matter. He moved towards the vacant place.
"If you have no objection," he observed, as he seated himself.
She unfurled her fan—an ancient but wonderful weapon of defence. It gave her a brief respite. Then she looked at him calmly.
"Of all places in the world," she murmured, "to meet you here!"
"Is it so extraordinary?"
"I find it so," she admitted. "You don't at all fit in, you know. A scene like this," she added, glancing around, "would scarcely ever be likely to attract you for its own sake, would it?"
"It doesn't particularly," he admitted.
"Then why have you come?"
He remained silent. The frown upon her forehead deepened.
"Perhaps," she went on coldly, "I can help you with your reply. You have come because you are not satisfied with the reports of the private detective whom you have engaged to watch me. You have come to supplement them by your own investigation."
His frown matched hers. The coldness of his tone was rendered even more bitter by its note of anger.
"I am surprised that you should have thought me capable of such an action," he declared. "All I can say is that it is thoroughly in keeping with your other suspicions of me, and that I find it absolutely unworthy."
She laughed a little incredulously, not altogether naturally.
"My dear Henry," she protested, "I cannot flatter myself that there is any other person in the world sufficiently interested in my movements to have me watched."
"Are you really under the impression that that is the case?" he enquired grimly.
"It isn't a matter of impression at all," she retorted. "It is the truth. I was followed from London, I was watched at Cannes, I am watched here day by day—by a little man in a brown suit and a Homburg hat, and with a habit of lounging. He lounges under my windows, he is probably lounging across the way now. He has lounged within fifty yards of me for the last three weeks, and to tell you the truth I am tired of him. Couldn't I have a week's holiday? I'll keep a diary and tell you all that you want to know."
"Is it sufficient," he asked, "for me to assure you, upon my word of honour, that I know nothing of this?"
She was somewhat startled. She turned and looked at him. His tone was convincing. He had not the face of a man whose word of honour was a negligible thing.
"But, Henry," she protested, "I tell you that there is no doubt about the matter. I am watched day and night—I, an insignificant person whose doings can be of no possible interest save to you and you only."
The man did not at once reply. His thoughts seemed to have wandered off for a moment. When he spoke again, his tone had lost its note of resentment.
"I do not blame you for your suspicion," he said calmly, "although I can assure you that I have never had any idea of having you watched. It is not a course which could possibly have suggested itself to me, even in my most unhappy moments."
She was puzzled—at once puzzled and interested.
"I am so glad to hear this," she said, "and of course I believe you, but there the fact is. I think that you will agree with me that it is curious."
"Isn't it possible," he ventured to suggest, "that it is your companions who are the object of this man's vigilance? You are not, I presume, alone here?"
She eyed him a little defiantly.
"I am here," she announced, "with Mr. and Mrs. Draconmeyer."
He heard her without any change of expression, but somehow or other it was easy to see that her news, although more than half expected, had stung him.
"Mr. and Mrs. Draconmeyer," he repeated, with slight emphasis on the latter portion of the sentence.
"Certainly! I am sorry," she went on, a moment late, "that my companions do not meet with your approval. That, however, I could scarcely expect, considering—"
"Considering what?" he insisted, watching her steadfastly.
"Considering all things," she replied, after a moment's pause.
"Mrs. Draconmeyer is still an invalid?"
"She is still an invalid."
The slightly satirical note in his question seemed to provoke a certain defiance in her manner as she turned a little sideways towards him. She moved her fan slowly backwards and forwards, her head was thrown back, her manner was almost belligerent. He took up the challenge. He asked her in plain words the question which his eyes had already demanded.
"I find myself constrained to ask you," he said, in a studiously measured tone, "by what means you became possessed of the pearls you are wearing? I do not seem to remember them as your property."
Her eyes flashed.
"Don't you think," she returned, "that you are a little outstepping your privileges?"
"Not in the least," he declared. "You are my wife, and although you have defied me in a certain matter, you are still subject to my authority. I see you wearing jewels in public of which you were certainly not possessed a few months ago, and which neither your fortune nor mine—"
"Let me set your mind at rest," she interrupted icily. "The pearls are not mine. They belong to Mrs. Draconmeyer."
"I am wearing them," she continued, "at Linda's special request. She is too unwell to appear in public and she is very seldom able to wear any of her wonderful jewelry. It gives her pleasure to see them sometimes upon other people."
He remained quite silent for several moments. He was, in reality, passionately angry. Self-restraint, however, had become such a habit of his that there were no indications of his condition save in the slight twitchings of his long fingers and a tightening at the corners of his lips. She, however, recognised the symptoms without difficulty.
"Since you defy my authority," he said, "may I ask whether my wishes have any weight with you?"
"That depends," she replied.
"It is my earnest wish," he went on, "that you do not wear another woman's jewelry, either in public or privately."
She appeared to reflect for a moment. In effect she was struggling against a conviction that his request was reasonable.
"I am sorry," she said at last. "I see no harm whatever in my doing so in this particular instance. It gives great pleasure to poor Mrs. Draconmeyer to see her jewels and admire them, even if she is unable to wear them herself. It gives me an intense joy which even a normal man could scarcely be expected to understand; certainly not you. I am sorry that I cannot humour you."
He leaned towards her.
"Not if I beg you?"
She looked at him fixedly, looked at him as though she searched for something in his face, or was pondering over something in his tone. It was a moment which might have meant much. If she could have seen into his heart and understood the fierce jealousy which prompted his words, it might have meant a very great deal. As it was, her contemplation appeared to be unsatisfactory.
"I am sorry that you should lay so much stress upon so small a thing," she said. "You were always unreasonable. Your present request is another instance of it. I was enjoying myself very much indeed until you came, and now you wish to deprive me of one of my chief pleasures. I cannot humour you."
He turned away. Even then chance might have intervened. The moment her words had been spoken she realised a certain injustice in them, realised a little, perhaps, the point of view of this man who was still her husband. She watched him almost eagerly, hoping to find some sign in his face that it was not only his stubborn pride which spoke. She failed, however. He was one of those men who know too well how to wear the mask.
"May I ask where you are staying here?" he enquired presently.
"At the Hotel de Paris."
"It is unfortunate," he observed. "I will move my quarters to-morrow."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Monte Carlo is full of hotels," she remarked, "but it seems a pity that you should move. The place is large enough for both of us."
"It is not long," he retorted, "since you found London itself too small. I should be very sorry to spoil your holiday."
Her eyes seemed to dwell for a moment upon the Spanish dancer who sat at the table opposite them, a woman whose name had once been a household word, dethroned now, yet still insistent for notice and homage; commanding them, even, with the wreck of her beauty and the splendour of her clothes.
"It seems a queer place, this," she observed, "for domestic disagreements. Let us try to avoid disputable subjects. Shall I be too inquisitive if I ask you once more what in the name of all that is unsuitable brought you to such a place as Monte Carlo?"
He fenced with her question. Perhaps he resented the slightly ironical note in her tone. Perhaps there were other reasons.
"Why should I not come to Monte Carlo?" he enquired. "Parliament is not particularly amusing when one is in opposition, and I do not hunt. The whole world amuses itself here."
"But not you," she replied quickly. "I know you better than that, my dear Henry. There is nothing here or in this atmosphere which could possibly attract you for long. There is no work for you to do—work, the very breath of your body; work, the one thing you live for and were made for; work, you man of sawdust and red tape."
"Am I as bad as all that?" he asked quietly.
She fingered her pearls for a moment.
"Perhaps I haven't the right to complain," she acknowledged. "I have gone my own way always. But if one is permitted to look for a moment into the past, can you tell me a single hour when work was not the prominent thought in your brain, the idol before which you worshipped? Why, even our honeymoon was spent canvassing!"
"The election was an unexpected one," he reminded her.
"It would have been the same thing," she declared. "The only literature which you really understand is a Blue Book, and the only music you hear is the chiming of Big Ben."
"You speak," he remarked, "as though you resented these things. Yet you knew before you married me that I had ambitions, that I did not propose to lead an idle life."
"Oh, yes, I knew!" she assented drily. "But we are wandering from the point. I am still wondering what has brought you here. Have you come direct from England?"
He shook his head.
"I came to-day from Bordighera."
"More and more mysterious," she murmured. "Bordighera, indeed! I thought you once told me that you hated the Riviera."
"So I do," he agreed.
"And yet you are here?"
"Yet I am here."
"And you have not come to look after me," she went on, "and the mystery of the little brown man who watches me is still unexplained."
"I know nothing about that person," he asserted, "and I had no idea that you were here."
"Or you would not have come?" she challenged him.
"Your presence," he retorted, nettled into forgetting himself for a moment, "would not have altered my plans in the slightest."
"Then you have a reason for coming!" she exclaimed quickly.
He gave no sign of annoyance but his lips were firmly closed. She watched him steadfastly.
"I wonder at myself no longer," she continued. "I do not think that any woman in the world could ever live with a man to whom secrecy is as great a necessity as the very air he breathes. No wonder, my dear Henry, the politicians speak so well of you, and so confidently of your brilliant future!"
"I am not aware," he observed calmly, "that I have ever been unduly secretive so far as you are concerned. During the last few months, however, of our life together, you must remember that you chose to receive on terms of friendship a person whom I regard—"
Her eyes suddenly flashed him a warning. He dropped his voice almost to a whisper. A man was approaching them.
"As an enemy," he concluded, under his breath.
BY ACCIDENT OR DESIGN
The newcomer, who had presented himself now before Hunterleys and his wife, was a man of somewhat unusual appearance. He was tall, thickly-built, his black beard and closely-cropped hair were streaked with grey, he wore gold-rimmed spectacles, and he carried his head a little thrust forward, as though, even with the aid of his glasses, he was still short-sighted. He had the air of a foreigner, although his tone, when he spoke, was without accent. He held out his hand a little tentatively, an action, however, which Hunterleys appeared to ignore.
"My dear Sir Henry!" he exclaimed. "This is a surprise, indeed! Monte Carlo is absolutely the last place in the world in which I should have expected to come across you. The Sporting Club, too! Well, well, well!"
Hunterleys, standing easily with his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows. The two men were of curiously contrasting types. Hunterleys, slim and distinguished, had still the frame of an athlete, notwithstanding his colourless cheeks and the worn lines about his eyes. He was dressed with extreme simplicity. His deep-set eyes and sensitive mouth were in marked contrast to the other's coarser mould of features and rather full lips. Yet there was about both men an air of strength, strength developed, perhaps, in a different manner, but still an appreciable quality.
"They say that the whole world is here," Hunterleys remarked. "Why may not I form a harmless unit of it?"
"Why not, indeed?" Draconmeyer assented heartily. "The most serious of us must have our frivolous moments. I hope that you will dine with us to-night? We shall be quite alone."
Hunterleys shook his head.
"Thank you," he said, "I have another engagement pending."
Mr. Draconmeyer was filled with polite regrets, but he did not renew the invitation.
"When did you arrive?" he asked.
"A few hours ago," Hunterleys replied.
"By the Luxe? How strange! I went down to meet it."
"I came from the other side."
Mr. Draconmeyer's ejaculation was interrogative, Hunterleys hesitated for a moment. Then he continued with a little shrug of the shoulders.
"I have been staying at San Remo and Bordighera."
Mr. Draconmeyer was much interested.
"So that is where you have been burying yourself," he remarked. "I saw from the papers that you had accepted a six months' pair. Surely, though, you don't find the Italian Riviera very amusing?"
"I am abroad for a rest," Hunterleys replied.
Mr. Draconmeyer smiled curiously.
"A rest?" he repeated. "That rather belies your reputation, you know. They say that you are tireless, even when you are out of office."
Hunterleys turned from the speaker towards his wife.
"I have not tempted fortune myself yet," he observed. "I think that I shall have a look into the baccarat room. Do you care to stroll that way?"
Lady Hunterleys rose at once to her feet. Mr. Draconmeyer, however, intervened. He laid his fingers upon Hunterleys' arm.
"Sir Henry," he begged, "our meeting has been quite unexpected, but in a sense it is opportune. Will you be good enough to give me five minutes' conversation?"
"With pleasure," Hunterleys replied. "My time is quite at your disposal, if you have anything to say."
Draconmeyer led the way out of the crowded room, along the passage and into the little bar. They found a quiet corner and two easy-chairs. Draconmeyer gave an order to a waiter. For a few moments their conversation was conventional.
"I trust that you think your wife looking better for the change?" Draconmeyer began. "Her companionship is a source of great pleasure and relief to my poor wife."
"Does the conversation you wish to have with me refer to Lady Hunterleys?" her husband asked quietly. "If so, I should like to say a few preliminary words which would, I hope, place the matter at once beyond the possibility of any misunderstanding."
Draconmeyer moved a little uneasily in his place.
"I have other things to say," he declared, "yet I would gladly hear what is in your mind at the present moment. You do not, I fear, approve of this friendship between my wife and Lady Hunterleys."
Hunterleys was uncompromising, almost curt.
"I do not," he agreed. "It is probably no secret to you that my wife and I are temporarily estranged," he continued. "The chief reason for that estrangement is that I forbade her your house or your acquaintance."
Draconmeyer was a little taken back. Such extreme directness of speech was difficult to deal with.
"My dear Sir Henry," he protested, "you distress me. I do not understand your attitude in this matter at all."
"There is no necessity for you to understand it," Hunterleys retorted coolly. "I claim the right to regulate my wife's visiting list. She denies that right."
"Apart from the question of marital control," Mr. Draconmeyer persisted, "will you tell me why you consider my wife and myself unfit persons to find a place amongst Lady Hunterleys' acquaintances?"
"No man is bound to give the reason for his dislikes," Hunterleys replied. "Of your wife I know nothing. Nobody does. I have every sympathy with her unfortunate condition, and that is all. You personally I dislike. I dislike my wife to be seen with you, I dislike having her name associated with yours in any manner whatsoever. I dislike sitting with you here myself. I only hope that the five minutes' conversation which you have asked for will not be exceeded."
Mr. Draconmeyer had the air of a benevolent person who is deeply pained.
"Sir Henry," he sighed, "it is not possible for me to disregard such plain speaking. Forgive me if I am a little taken aback by it. You are known to be a very skilful diplomatist and you have many weapons in your armoury. One scarcely expected, however—one's breath is a little taken away by such candour."
"I am not aware," Hunterleys said calmly, "that the question of diplomacy need come in when one's only idea is to regulate the personal acquaintances of oneself and one's wife."
Mr. Draconmeyer sat quite still for a moment, stroking his black beard. His eyes were fixed upon the carpet. He seemed to be struggling with a problem.
"You have taken the ground from beneath my feet," he declared. "Your opinion of me is such that I hesitate to proceed at all in the matter which I desired to discuss with you."
"That," Hunterleys replied, "is entirely for you to decide. I am perfectly willing to listen to anything you have to say—all the more ready because now there can be no possibility of any misunderstanding between us."
"Very well," Mr. Draconmeyer assented, "I will proceed. After all, I am not sure that the personal element enters into what I was about to say. I was going to propose not exactly an alliance—that, of course, would not be possible—but I was certainly going to suggest that you and I might be of some service to one another."
"In what way?"
"I call myself an Englishman," Mr. Draconmeyer went on. "I have made large sums of money in England, I have grown to love England and English ways. Yet I came, as you know, from Berlin. The position which I hold in your city is still the position of president of the greatest German bank in the world. It is German finance which I have directed, and with German money I have made my fortune. To be frank with you, however, after these many years in London I have grown to feel myself very much of an Englishman."
Hunterleys was sitting perfectly still. His face was rigid but expressionless. He was listening intently.
"On the other hand," Mr. Draconmeyer proceeded slowly, "I wish to be wholly frank with you. At heart I must remain always a German. The interests of my country must always be paramount. But listen. In Germany there are, as you know, two parties, and year by year they are drawing further apart. I will not allude to factions. I will speak broadly. There is the war party and there is the peace party. I belong to the peace party. I belong to it as a German, and I belong to it as a devoted friend of England, and if the threatened conflict between the two should come, I should take my stand as a peace-loving German-cum-Englishman against the war party even of my own country."
Hunterleys still made no sign. Yet for one who knew him it was easy to realise that he was listening and thinking with absorbed interest.
"So far," Draconmeyer pointed out, "I have laid my cards on the table. I have told you the solemn truth. I regret that it did not occur to me to do so many months ago in London. Now to proceed. I ask you to emulate my frankness, and in return I will give you information which should enable us to work hand in hand for the peace which we both desire."
"You ask me," Hunterleys said thoughtfully, "to be perfectly frank with you. In what respect? What is it that you wish from me?"
"Not political information," Mr. Draconmeyer declared, his eyes blinking behind his glasses. "For that I certainly should not come to you. I only wish to ask you a question, and I must ask it so that we may meet on a common ground of confidence. Are you here in Monte Carlo to look after your wife, or in search of change of air and scene? Is that your honest motive for being here? Or is there any other reason in the world which has prompted you to come to Monte Carlo during this particular month—I might almost say this particular week?"
Hunterleys' attitude was that of a man who holds in his hand a puzzle and is doubtful where to commence in his efforts to solve it.
"Are you not a little mysterious this afternoon, Mr. Draconmeyer?" he asked coldly. "Or are you trying to incite a supposititious curiosity? I really cannot see the drift of your question."
"Answer it," Mr. Draconmeyer insisted.
Hunterleys took a cigarette from his case, tapped it upon the table and lit it in leisurely fashion.
"If you have any idea," he said, "that I came here to confront my wife, or to interfere in any way with her movements, let me assure you that you are mistaken. I had no idea that Lady Hunterleys was in Monte Carlo. I am here because I have a six months' holiday, and a holiday for the average Englishman between January and April generally means, as you must be aware, the Riviera. I have tried Bordighera and San Remo. I have found them, as I no doubt shall find this place, wearisome. In the end I suppose I shall drift back to London."
Mr. Draconmeyer frowned.
"You left London," he remarked tersely, "on December first. It is to-day February twentieth. Do you wish me to understand that you have been at Bordighera and San Remo all that time?"
"How did you know when I left London?" Hunterleys demanded.
Mr. Draconmeyer pursed his lips.
"I heard of your departure from London entirely by accident," he said. "Your wife, for some reason or other, declined to discuss your movements. I imagine that she was acting in accordance with your wishes."
"I see," Hunterleys observed coolly. "And your present anxiety is to know where I spent the intervening time, and why I am here in Monte Carlo? Frankly, Mr. Draconmeyer, I look upon this close interest in my movements as an impertinence. My travels have been of no importance, but they concern myself only. I have no confidence to offer respecting them. If I had, it would not be to you that I should unburden myself."
"You suspect me, then? You doubt my integrity?"
"Not at all," Hunterleys assured his questioner. "For anything I know to the contrary, you are, outside the world of finance, one of the dullest and most harmless men existing. My own position is simply as I explained it during the first few sentences we exchanged. I do not like you, I detest my wife's name being associated with yours, and for that reason, the less I see of you the better I am pleased."
Mr. Draconmeyer nodded thoughtfully. He was, to all appearance, studying the pattern of the carpet. For once in his life he was genuinely puzzled. Was this man by his side merely a jealous husband, or had he any idea of the greater game which was being played around them? Had he, by any chance, arrived to take part in it? Was it wise, in any case, to pursue the subject further? Yet if he abandoned it at this juncture, it must be with a sense of failure, and failure was a thing to which he was not accustomed.
"Your frankness," he admitted grimly, "is almost exhilarating. Our personal relations being so clearly defined, I am inclined to go further even than I had intended. We cannot now possibly misunderstand one another. Supposing I were to tell you that your arrival in Monte Carlo, accidental though it may be, is in a sense opportune; that you may, in a short time meet here one or two politicians, friends of mine, with whom an interchange of views might be agreeable? Supposing I were to offer my services as an intermediary? You would like to bring about better relations with my country, would you not, Sir Henry? You are admittedly a statesman and an influential man in your Party. I am only a banker, it is true, but I have been taken into the confidence of those who direct the destinies of my country."
Hunterleys' face reflected none of the other's earnestness. He seemed, indeed, a little bored, and he answered almost irritably.
"I am much obliged to you," he said, "but Monte Carlo seems scarcely the place to me for political discussions, added to which I have no official position. I could not receive or exchange confidences. While my Party is out of power, there is nothing left for us but to mark time. I dare say you mean well, Mr. Draconmeyer," he added, rising to his feet, "but I am here to forget politics altogether, if I can. If you will excuse me, I think I will look in at the baccarat rooms."
He was on the point of departure when through the open doorway which communicated with the baccarat rooms beyond came a man of sufficiently arresting personality, a man remarkably fat, with close-cropped grey hair which stuck up like bristles all over his head; a huge, clean-shaven face which seemed concentrated at that moment in one tremendous smile of overwhelming good-humour. He held by the hand a little French girl, dark, small, looking almost like a marionette in her slim tailor-made costume. He recognised Draconmeyer with enthusiasm.
"My friend Draconmeyer," he exclaimed, in stentorian tones, "baccarat is the greatest game in the world. I have won—I, who know nothing about it, have won a hundred louis. It is amazing! There is no place like this in the world. We are here to drink a bottle of wine together, mademoiselle and I, mademoiselle who was at once my instructress and my mascot. Afterwards we go to the jeweler's. Why not? A fair division of the spoils—fifty louis for myself, fifty louis for a bracelet for mademoiselle. And then—"
He broke off suddenly. His gesture was almost dramatic.
"I am forgotten!" he cried, holding out his hand to Hunterleys,—"forgotten already! Sir Henry, there are many who forget me as a humble Minister of my master, but there are few who forget me physically. I am Selingman. We met in Berlin, six years ago. You came with your great Foreign Secretary."
"I remember you perfectly," Hunterleys assured him, as he submitted to the newcomer's vigorous handshake. "We shall meet again, I trust."
Selingman thrust his arm through Hunterleys' as though to prevent his departure.
"You shall not run away!" he declared. "I introduce both of you—Mr. Draconmeyer, the great Anglo-German banker; Sir Henry Hunterleys, the English politician—to Mademoiselle Estelle Nipon, of the Opera House. Now we all know one another. We shall be good friends. We will share that bottle of champagne."
"One bottle between four!" mademoiselle laughed, poutingly. "And I am parched! I have taught monsieur baccarat. I am exhausted."
"A magnum!" Selingman ordered in a voice of thunder, shaking his fist at the startled waiter. "We seat ourselves here at the round table. Mademoiselle, we will drink champagne together until the eyes of all of us sparkle as yours do. We will drink champagne until we do not believe that there is such a thing as losing at games or in life. We will drink champagne until we all four believe that we have been brought up together, that we are bosom friends of a lifetime. See, this is how we will place ourselves. Mademoiselle, if the others make love to you, take no notice. It is I who have put fifty louis in one pocket for that bracelet. Do not trust Sir Henry there; he has a reputation."
As usual, the overpowering Selingman had his way. Neither Draconmeyer nor Hunterleys attempted to escape. They took their places at the table. They drank champagne and they listened to Selingman. All the time he talked, save when mademoiselle interrupted him. Seated upon a chair which seemed absurdly inadequate, his great stomach with its vast expanse of white waistcoat in full view, his short legs doubled up beneath him, he beamed upon them all with a smile which never failed.
"It is a wonderful place," he declared, as he lifted his glass for the fifth time. "We will drink to it, this Monte Carlo. It is here that they come from all quarters of the world—the ladies who charm away our hearts," he added, bowing to mademoiselle, "the financiers whose word can shake the money-markets of the world, and the politicians who unbend, perhaps, just a little in the sunshine here, however cold and inflexible they may be under their own austere skies. For the last time, then—to Monte Carlo! To Monte Carlo, dear mademoiselle!—messieurs!"
They drank the toast and a few minutes later Hunterleys slipped away. The two men looked after him. The smile seemed gradually to leave Selingman's lips, his face was large and impressive.
"Run and fetch your cloak, dear," he said to the girl.
She obeyed at once. Selingman leaned across the table towards his companion.
"What does Hunterleys do here?" he asked.
Draconmeyer shook his head.
"Who knows?" he answered. "Perhaps he has come to look after his wife. He has been to Bordighera and San Remo."
"Is that all he told you of his movements?"
"That is all," Draconmeyer admitted. "He was suspicious. I made no progress."
"Bordighera and San Remo!" Selingman muttered under his breath. "For a day, perhaps, or two."
"What do you know about him?" Draconmeyer asked, his eyes suddenly bright beneath his spectacles. "I have been suspicious ever since I met him, an hour ago. He left England on December first."
"It is true," Selingman assented. "He crossed to Paris, and—mark the cunning of it—he returned to England. That same night he travelled to Germany. We lost him in Vienna and found him again in Sofia. What does it mean, I wonder? What does it mean?"
"I have been talking to him for twenty minutes in here before you came," Draconmeyer said. "I tried to gain his confidence. He told me nothing. He never even mentioned that journey of his."
Selingman was sitting drumming upon the table with his broad fingertips.
"Sofia!" he murmured. "And now—here! Draconmeyer, there is work before us. I know men, I tell you. I know Hunterleys. I watched him, I listened to him in Berlin six years ago. He was with his master then but he had nothing to learn from him. He is of the stuff diplomats are fashioned of. He has it in his blood. There is work before us, Draconmeyer."
"If monsieur is ready!" mademoiselle interposed, a little petulantly, letting the tip of her boa play for a moment on his cheek.
Selingman finished his wine and rose to his feet. Once more the smile encompassed his face. Of what account, after all, were the wanderings of this melancholy Englishman! There was mademoiselle's bracelet to be bought, and perhaps a few flowers. Selingman pulled down his waistcoat and accepted his grey Homburg hat from the vestiaire. He held mademoiselle's fingers as they descended the stairs. He looked like a school-boy of enormous proportions on his way to a feast.
"We drank to Monte Carlo in champagne," he declared, as they turned on to the terrace and descended the stone steps, "but, dear Estelle, we drink to it from our hearts with every breath we draw of this wonderful air, every time our feet touch the buoyant ground. Believe me, little one, the other things are of no account. The true philosophy of life and living is here in Monte Carlo. You and I will solve it."
Hunterleys dined alone at a small round table, set in a remote corner of the great restaurant attached to the Hotel de Paris. The scene around him was full of colour and interest. A scarlet-coated band made wonderful music. The toilettes of the women who kept passing backwards and forwards, on their way to the various tables, were marvellous; in their way unique. The lights and flowers of the room, its appointments and adornments, all represented the last word in luxury. Everywhere was colour, everywhere an almost strained attempt to impress upon the passerby the fact that this was no ordinary holiday resort but the giant pleasure-ground of all in the world who had money to throw away and the capacity for enjoyment. Only once a more somber note seemed struck when Mrs. Draconmeyer, leaning on her husband's arm and accompanied by a nurse and Lady Hunterleys, passed to their table. Hunterleys' eyes followed the little party until they had reached their destination and taken their places. His wife was wearing black and she had discarded the pearls which had hung around her neck during the afternoon. She wore only a collar of diamonds, his gift. Her hair was far less elaborately coiffured and her toilette less magnificent than the toilettes of the women by whom she was surrounded. Yet as he looked from his corner across the room at her, Hunterleys realised as he had realised instantly twelve years ago when he had first met her, that she was incomparable. There was no other woman in the whole of that great restaurant with her air of quiet elegance; no other woman so faultless in the smaller details of her toilette and person. Hunterleys watched with expressionless face but with anger growing in his heart, as he saw Draconmeyer bending towards her, accepting her suggestions about the dinner, laughing when she laughed, watching almost humbly for her pleasure or displeasure. It was a cursed mischance which had brought him to Monte Carlo!
Hunterleys hurried over his dinner, and without even going to his room for a hat or coat, walked across the square in the soft twilight of an unusually warm February evening and took a table outside the Cafe de Paris, where he ordered coffee. Around him was a far more cosmopolitan crowd, increasing every moment in volume. Every language was being spoken, mostly German. As a rule, such a gathering of people was, in its way, interesting to Hunterleys. To-night his thoughts were truant. He forgot his strenuous life of the last three months, the dangers and discomforts through which he had passed, the curious sequence of events which had brought him, full of anticipation, nerved for a crisis, to Monte Carlo of all places in the world. He forgot that he was in the midst of great events, himself likely to take a hand in them. His thoughts took, rarely enough for him, a purely personal and sentimental turn. He thought of the earliest days of his marriage, when he and his wife had wandered about the gardens of his old home in Wiltshire on spring evenings such as these, and had talked sometimes lightly, sometimes seriously, of the future. Almost as he sat there in the midst of that noisy crowd, he could catch the faint perfume of hyacinths from the borders along which they had passed and the trimly-cut flower-beds which fringed the deep green lawn. Almost he could hear the chiming of the old stable clock, the clear note of a thrush singing. A puff of wind brought them a waft of fainter odour from the wild violets which carpeted the woods. Then the darkness crept around them, a star came out. Hand in hand they turned towards the house and into the library, where a wood fire was burning on the grate. His thoughts travelled on. A wave of tenderness had assailed him. Then he was awakened by the waiter's voice at his elbow.
"Le cafe, monsieur."
He sat up in his chair. His dreaming moments were few and this one had passed. He set his heel upon that tide of weakening memories, sipped his coffee and looked out upon the crowd. Three or four times he glanced at his watch impatiently. Precisely at nine o'clock, a man moved from somewhere in the throng behind and took the vacant chair by his side.
"If one could trouble monsieur for a match!"
Hunterleys turned towards the newcomer as he handed his matchbox. He was a young man of medium height, with sandy complexion, a little freckled, and with a straggling fair moustache. He had keen grey eyes and the faintest trace of a Scotch accent. He edged his chair a little nearer to Hunterleys.
"Much obliged," he said. "Wonderful evening, isn't it?"
"Have you anything to tell me, David?" he asked.
"We are right in the thick of it," the other replied, his tone a little lowered. "There is more to tell than I like."
"Shall we stroll along the Terrace?" Hunterleys suggested.
"Don't move from your seat," the young man enjoined. "You are watched here, and so am I, in a way, although it's more my news they want to censor than anything personal. This crowd of Germans around us, without a single vacant chair, is the best barrier we can have. Listen. Selingman is here."
"I saw him this afternoon at the Sporting Club," Hunterleys murmured.
"Douaille will be here the day after to-morrow, if he has not already arrived," the newcomer continued. "It was given out in Paris that he was going down to Marseilles and from there to Toulon, to spend three days with the fleet. They sent a paragraph into our office there. As a matter of fact, he's coming straight on here. I can't learn how, exactly, but I fancy by motor-car."
"You're sure that Douaille is coming himself?" Hunterleys asked anxiously.
"Absolutely! His wife and family have been bustled down to Mentone, so as to afford a pretext for his presence here if the papers get hold of it. I have found out for certain that they came at a moment's notice and were not expecting to leave home at all. Douaille will have full powers, and the conference will take place at the Villa Mimosa. That will be the headquarters of the whole thing.... Look out, Sir Henry. They've got their eyes on us. The little fellow in brown, close behind, is hand in glove with the police. They tried to get me into a row last night. It's only my journalism they suspect, but they'd shove me over the frontier at the least excuse. They're certain to try something of the sort with you, if they get any idea that we are on the scent. Sit tight, sir, and watch. I'm off. You know where to find me."
The young man raised his hat and left Hunterleys with the polite farewell of a stranger. His seat was almost immediately seized by a small man dressed in brown, a man with a black imperial and moustache curled upwards. As Hunterleys glanced towards him, he raised his Hamburg hat politely and smiled.
"Monsieur's friend has departed?" he enquired. "This seat is disengaged?"
"As you see," Hunterleys replied.
The little man smiled his thanks, seated himself with a sigh of content and ordered coffee from a passing waiter.
"Monsieur is doubtless a stranger to Monte Carlo?"
"It is my second visit only," Hunterleys admitted.
"For myself I am an habitue," the little man continued, "I might almost say a resident. Therefore, all faces soon become familiar to me. Directly I saw monsieur, I knew that he was not a frequenter."
Hunterleys turned a little in his chair and surveyed his neighbour curiously. The man was neatly dressed and he spoke English with scarcely any accent. His shoulders and upturned moustache gave him a military appearance.
"There is nothing I envy any one so much in life," he proceeded, "as coming to Monte Carlo for the first or second time. There is so much to know, to see, to understand."
Hunterleys made no effort to discourage his companion's obvious attempts to be friendly. The latter talked with spirit for some time.
"If it would not be regarded as a liberty," he said at last, as Hunterleys rose to move off, "may I be permitted to present myself? My name is Hugot? I am half English, half French. Years ago my health broke down and I accepted a position in a bank here. Since then I have come in to money. If I have a hobby in life, it is to show my beloved Monte Carlo to strangers. If monsieur would do me the honour to spare me a few hours to-night, later on, I would endeavour to see that he was amused."
Hunterleys shook his head. He remained, however, perfectly courteous. He had a conviction that this was the man who had been watching his wife.
"You are very kind, sir," he replied. "I am here only for a few days and for the benefit of my health. I dare not risk late hours. We shall meet again, I trust."
He strolled off and as he hesitated upon the steps of the Casino he glanced across towards the Hotel de Paris. At that moment a woman came out, a light cloak over her evening gown. She was followed by an attendant. Hunterleys recognised his wife and watched them with a curious little thrill. They turned towards the Terrace. Very slowly he, too, moved in the same direction. They passed through the gardens of the Hotel de Paris, and Hunterleys, keeping to the left, met them upon the Terrace as they emerged. As they came near he accosted them.
"Violet," he began.
"I beg your pardon," she said. "I did not recognise you."
"Haven't you been told," he asked stiffly, "that the Terrace is unsafe for women after twilight?"
"Very often," she assented, with that little smile at the corners of her lips which once he had found so charming and which now half maddened him. "Unfortunately, I have a propensity for doing things which are dangerous. Besides, I have my maid."
"Another woman is no protection," he declared.
"Susanne can shriek," Lady Hunterleys assured him. "She has wonderful lungs and she loves to use them. She would shriek at the least provocation."
"And meanwhile," Hunterleys observed drily, "while she is indulging in her vocal exercises, things happen. If you wish to promenade here, permit me to be your escort."
She hesitated for a moment, frowning. Then she continued her walk.
"You are very kind," she assented. "Perhaps you are like me, though, and feel the restfulness of a quiet place after these throngs and throngs of people."
They passed slowly down the broad promenade, deserted now save for one or two loungers like themselves, and a few other furtive, hurrying figures. In front of them stretched an arc of glittering lights—the wonderful Bay of Mentone, with Bordighera on the distant sea-board; higher up, the twinkling lights from the villas built on the rocky hills. And at their feet the sea, calm, deep, blue, lapping the narrow belt of hard sand, scintillating with the reflection of a thousand lights; on the horizon a blood-red moon, only half emerged from the sea.
"Since we have met, Henry," Lady Hunterleys said at last, "there is something which I should like to say to you."
She glanced behind. Susanne had fallen discreetly into the rear. She was a new importation and she had no idea as to the identity of the tall, severe-looking Englishman who walked by her mistress's side.
"There is something going on in Monte Carlo," Lady Hunterleys went on, "which I cannot understand. Mr. Draconmeyer knows about it, I believe, although he is not personally concerned in it. But he will tell me nothing. I only know that for some reason or other your presence here seems to be an annoyance to certain people. Why it should be I don't know, but I want to ask you about it. Will you tell me the truth? Are you sure that you did not come here to spy upon me?"
"I certainly did not," Hunterleys answered firmly. "I had no idea that you were near the place. If I had—"
She turned her head. The smile was there once more and a queer, soft light in her eyes.
"If you had?" she murmured.
"My visit here, under the present circumstances, would have been more distasteful than it is," Hunterleys replied stiffly.
She bit her lip and turned away. When she resumed the conversation, her tone was completely changed.
"I speak to you now," she said, "in your own interests. Mr. Draconmeyer is, of course, not personally connected with this affair, whatever it may be, but he is a wonderful man and he hears many things. To-night, before dinner, he gave me a few words of warning. He did not tell me to pass them on to you but I feel sure that he hoped I would. You would not listen to them from him because you do not like him. I am afraid that you will take very little more heed of what I say, but at least you will believe that I speak in your own interests. Mr. Draconmeyer believes that your presence here is misunderstood. A person whom he describes as being utterly without principle and of great power is incensed by it. To speak plainly, you are in danger."
"I am flattered," Hunterleys remarked, "by this interest on my behalf."
She turned her head and looked at him. His face, in this cold light before the moon came up, was almost like the face of some marble statue, lifeless, set, of almost stonelike severity. She knew the look so well and she sighed.
"You need not be," she replied bitterly. "Mine is merely the ordinary feeling of one human creature for another. In a sense it seems absurd, I suppose, to speak to you as I am doing. Yet I do know that this place which looks so beautiful has strange undercurrents. People pass away here in the most orthodox fashion in the world, outwardly, but their real ending is often never known at all. Everything is possible here, and Mr. Draconmeyer honestly believes that you are in danger."
They had reached the end of the Terrace and they turned back.
"I thank you very much, Violet," Hunterleys said earnestly. "In return, may I say something to you? If there is any danger threatening me or those interests which I guard, the man whom you have chosen to make your intimate friend is more deeply concerned in it than you think. I told you once before that Draconmeyer was something more than the great banker, the king of commerce, as he calls himself. He is ambitious beyond your imaginings, a schemer in ways you know nothing of, and his residence in London during the last fifteen years has been the worst thing that ever happened for England. To me it is a bitter thing that you should have ignored my warning and accepted his friendship—"
"It is not Mr. Draconmeyer who is my friend, Henry," she interrupted. "You continually ignore that fact. It is Mrs. Draconmeyer whom I cannot desert. I knew her long before I did her husband. We were at school together, and there was a time before her last illness when we were inseparable."
"That may have been so at first," Hunterleys agreed, "but how about since then? You cannot deny, Violet, that this man Draconmeyer has in some way impressed or fascinated you. You admire him. You find great pleasure in his society. Isn't that the truth, now, honestly?"
Her face was a little troubled.
"I do certainly find pleasure in his society," she admitted. "I cannot conceive any one who would not. He is a brilliant, a wonderful musician, a delightful talker, a generous host and companion. He has treated me always with the most scrupulous regard, and I feel that I am entirely reasonable in resenting your mistrust of him."
"You do resent it still, then?"
"I do," she asserted emphatically.
"And if I told you," Hunterleys went on, "that the man was in love with you. What then?"
"I should say that you were a fool!"
Hunterleys shrugged his shoulders.
"There is no more to be said," he declared, "only, for a clever woman, Violet, you are sometimes woefully or wilfully blind. I tell you that I know the type. Sooner or later—before very long, I should think—you will have the usual scene. I warn you of it now. If you are wise, you will go back to England."
"Absurd!" she scoffed. "Why, we have only just come! I want to win some money—not that your allowance isn't liberal enough," she added hastily, "but there is a fascination in winning, you know. And besides, I could not possibly desert Mrs. Draconmeyer. She would not have come at all if I had not joined them."
"You are the mistress of your own ways," Hunterleys said. "According to my promise, I shall attempt to exercise no authority over you in any way, but I tell you that Draconmeyer is my enemy, and the enemy of all the things I represent, and I tell you, too, that he is in love with you. When you realise that these things are firmly established in my brain, you can perhaps understand how thoroughly distasteful I find your association with him here. It is all very well to talk about Mrs. Draconmeyer, but she goes nowhere. The consequence is that he is your escort on every occasion. I am quite aware that a great many people in society accept him. I personally am not disposed to. I look upon him as an unfit companion for my wife and I resent your appearance with him in public."
"We will discuss this subject no further," she decided. "From the moment of our first disagreement, it has been your object to break off my friendship with the Draconmeyers. Until I have something more than words to go by, I shall continue to give him my confidence."
They crossed the stone flags in front of the Opera together, and turned up towards the Rooms.
"I think, perhaps, then," he said, "that we may consider the subject closed. Only," he added, "you will forgive me if I still—"
He hesitated. She turned her head quickly. Her eyes sought his but unfortunately he was looking straight ahead and seeing gloomy things. If he had happened to turn at that moment, he might have concluded his speech differently.
"If I still exhibit some interest in your doings."
"I shall always think it most kind of you," she replied, her face suddenly hardening. "Have I not done my best to reciprocate? I have even passed on to you a word of warning, which I think you are very unwise to ignore."
They were outside the hotel. Hunterleys paused.
"I have nothing to fear from the mysterious source you have spoken of," he assured her. "The only enemy I have in Monte Carlo is Draconmeyer himself."
"Enemy!" she repeated scornfully. "Mr. Draconmeyer is much too wrapped up in his finance, and too big a man, in his way, to have enemies. Oh, Henry, if only you could get rid of a few of your prejudices, how much more civilised a human being you would be!"
He raised his hat. His expression was a little grim.
"The man without prejudices, my dear Violet," he retorted, "is a man without instincts.... I wish you luck."
She ran lightly up the steps and waved her hand. He watched her pass through the doors into the hotel.
ENTER THE AMERICAN
Lady Weybourne was lunching on the terrace of Ciro's restaurant with her brother. She was small, dark, vivacious. Her friends, of whom she had thousands, all called her Flossie, and she was probably the most popular American woman who had ever married into the English peerage. Her brother, Richard Lane, on the other hand, was tall, very broad-shouldered, with a strong, clean-shaven face, inclined by disposition to be taciturn. On this particular morning he had less even than usual to say, and although Lady Weybourne, who was a great chatterbox, was content as a rule to do most of the talking for herself, his inattention became at last a little too obvious. He glanced up eagerly as every newcomer appeared, and his answers to his sister's criticisms were sometimes almost at random.
"Dicky, I'm not at all sure that I'm liking you this morning," she observed finally, looking across at him with a critically questioning smile. "A certain amount of non-responsiveness to my advances I can put up with—from a brother—but this morning you are positively inattentive. Tell me your troubles at once. Has Harris been bothering you, or did you lose a lot of money last night?"
Considering that the young man's income was derived from an exceedingly well-invested capital of nine million dollars, and that Harris was the all too perfect captain of his yacht lying then in the harbour, whose worst complaint was that he had never enough work to do, Lady Weybourne's enquiries might have been considered as merely tentative. Richard shook his head a little gloomily.
"Those things aren't likely to trouble me," he remarked. "Harris is all right, and I've promised him we'll make up a little party and go over to Cannes in a day or two."
"What a ripping idea!" Lady Weybourne declared, breaking up her thin toast between her fingers. "I'd love it, and so would Harry. We could easily get together a delightful party. The Pelhams are here and simply dying for a change, and there's Captain Gardner and Frank Clowes, and lots of nice girls. Couldn't we fix a date, Dick?"
"Not just yet," her brother replied.
"And why not?"
"I am waiting," he told her, "until I can ask the girl I want to go."
"And why can't you now?" she demanded, with upraised eyebrows. "I'll be hostess and chaperone all in one."
"I can't ask her because I don't know her yet," the young man explained doggedly.
Lady Weybourne leaned back in her chair and laughed.
"So that's it!" she exclaimed. "Now I know why you're sitting there like an owl this morning! In love with a fair unknown, are you, Dick? Be careful. Monte Carlo is full of young ladies whom it would be just as well to know a little about before you thought of taking them yachting."
"This one isn't that sort," the young man said.
"How do you know that?" she asked, leaning across the table, her head resting on her clasped hands.
He looked at her almost contemptuously.
"How do I know!" he repeated. "There are just one or two things that happen in this world which a man can be utterly and entirely sure of. She is one of them. Say, Flossie," he added, the enthusiasm creeping at last into his tone, "you never saw any one quite like her in all your life!"
"Do I know her, I wonder?" Lady Weybourne enquired.
"That's just what I've asked you here to find out," her brother replied ingenuously. "I heard her tell the man she was with this morning—her father, I believe—about an hour ago, that she would be at Ciro's at half-past one. It's twenty minutes to two now."
Lady Weybourne laughed heartily.
"So that's why you dragged me out of bed and made me come to lunch with you! Dick, what a fraud you are! I was thinking what a dear, affectionate brother you were, and all the time you were just making use of me."
"Sorry," the young man said briskly, "but, after all, we needn't stand on ceremony, need we? I've always been your pal; gave you a leg up with the old man, you know, when he wasn't keen on the British alliance."
"Oh, I'll do what I can for you," she promised. "If she is any one in particular I expect I shall know her. What's happening, Dick?"
The young man's face was almost transformed. His eyes were bright and very fixed. His lips had come together in a firm, straight line, as though he were renewing some promise to himself. Lady Weybourne followed the direction of his gaze. A man and a girl had reached the entrance to the restaurant and were looking around them as though to select a table. The chief maitre d'hotel had hastened out to receive them. They were, without doubt, people of importance. The man was of medium height, with iron-grey hair and moustache, and a small imperial. He wore light clothes of perfect cut; patent shoes with white linen gaiters; a black tie fastened with a pin of opals. He carried himself with an air which was unmistakable and convincing. The girl by his side was beautiful. She was simply dressed in a tailor-made gown of white serge. Her black hat was a miracle of smartness. Her hair was of a very light shade of golden-brown, her complexion wonderfully fair. Lady Weybourne glanced at her shoes and gloves, at the bag which she was carrying, and the handle of her parasol. Then she nodded approvingly.
"You don't know her?" Richard asked, in a disappointed whisper.
She shook her head.
"Sorry," she admitted, "but I don't. They've probably only just arrived."
With great ceremony the newcomers were conducted to the best table upon the terrace. The man was evidently an habitue. He had scarcely taken his seat before, with a very low bow, the sommelier brought him a small wine-glass filled with what seemed to be vermouth. While he sipped it he smoked a Russian cigarette and with a gold pencil wrote out the menu of his luncheon. In a few minutes the manager himself came hurrying out from the restaurant. His salute was almost reverential. When, after a few moments' conversation, he departed, he did so with the air of one taking leave of royalty. Lady Weybourne, who was an inquisitive little person, was puzzled.
"I don't know who they are, Dick," she confessed, "but I know the ways of this place well, and I can tell you one thing—they are people of importance. You can tell that by the way they are received. These restaurant people don't make mistakes."
"Of course they are people of importance," the young man declared. "Any one can see that by a glance at the girl. I am sorry you don't know them," he went on, "but you've got to find out who they are, and pretty quickly, too. Look here, Flossie. I am a bit useful to you now and then, aren't I?"
"Without you, my dear Dick," she murmured, "I should never be able to manage those awful trustees. You are invaluable, a perfect jewel of a brother."
"Well, I'll give you that little electric coupe you were so keen on last time we were in London, if you'll get me an introduction to that girl within twenty-four hours."
Lady Weybourne gasped.
"What a whirlwind!" she exclaimed. "Dicky, are you, by any chance, in earnest?"
"In earnest for the first time in my life," he assured her. "Something has got hold of me which I'm not going to part with."
She considered him reflectively. He was twenty-seven years of age, and notwithstanding the boundless opportunities of his youth and great wealth he had so far shown an almost singular indifference to the whole of the opposite sex, from the fascinating chorus girls of London and New York to the no less enterprising young women of his own order. As she sat there studying his features, she felt a sensation almost of awe. There was something entirely different, something stronger in his face. She thought for a moment of their father as she had known him in her childhood, the founder of their fortunes, a man who had risen from a moderate position to immense wealth through sheer force of will, of pertinacity. For the first time she saw the same look upon her brother's face.
"Well," she sighed, "I shall do my best to earn it. I only hope, Dick, that she is—"
"She is what?" he demanded, looking at her steadfastly.
"Oh! not engaged or anything, I mean," Lady Weybourne explained hastily. "I must admit, Dick, although I don't suppose any sister is particularly keen upon her brother's young women, that I think you've shown excellent taste. She is absolutely the best style of any one I've seen in Monte Carlo."
"How are you going to manage that introduction?" he asked bluntly. "Have you made any plans?"
"I don't suppose it will be difficult," she assured him, lighting a cigarette and shaking her head at the tray of liqueurs which the sommelier was offering. "Get me some cream for my coffee, Dick. Now I'll tell you," she continued, as the waiter disappeared. "You will have to call that under-maitre d'hotel. You had better give him a substantial tip and ask him quietly for their names. Then I'll see about the rest."
"That seems sensible enough," he admitted.
"And look here, Dick," she went on, "I know how impetuous you are. Don't do anything foolish. Remember this isn't an ordinary adventure. If you go rushing in upon it you'll come to grief."
"I know," he answered shortly. "I was fool enough to hang about the flower shops and that milliner's this morning. I couldn't help it. I don't know whether she noticed. I believe she did. Once our eyes did meet, and although I'll swear she never changed her expression, I felt that the whole world didn't hold so small a creature as I. Here comes Charles. I'll ask him."
He beckoned to the maitre d'hotel and talked for a moment about the luncheon. Then he ordered a table for the next day, and slipping a louis into the man's hand, leaned over and whispered in his ear.
"I want you to tell me the name of the gentleman and young lady who are sitting over there at the corner table?"
The maitre d'hotel glanced covertly in the direction indicated. He did not at once reply. His face was perplexed, almost troubled.
"I am very sorry, sir," he said hesitatingly, "but our orders are very strict. Monsieur Ciro does not like anything in the way of gossip about our clients, and the gentleman is a very honoured patron. The young lady is his daughter."
"Quite right," the young man agreed bluntly. "This isn't an ordinary case, Charles. You go over to the desk there, write me down the name and bring it, and there's a hundred franc note waiting here for you. No need for the name to pass your lips."
The man bowed and retreated. In a few minutes he came back again and laid a small card upon the table.
"Monsieur will pardon my reminding him," he begged earnestly, "but if he will be so good as to never mention this little matter—"
Richard nodded and waved him away.
"Sure!" he promised.
He drew the card towards him and looked at it in a puzzled manner. Then he passed it to his sister. Her expression, too, was blank.
"Who in the name of mischief," he exclaimed softly, "is Mr. Grex!"
"WHO IS MR. GREX?"
Lady Weybourne insisted, after a reasonable amount of time spent over their coffee, that her brother should pay the bill and leave the restaurant. They walked slowly across the square.
"What are you going to do about it?" he asked.
"There is only one thing to be done," she replied. "I shall speak to every one I meet this afternoon—I shall be, in fact, most sociable—and sooner or later in our conversation I shall ask every one if they know Mr. Grex and his daughter. When I arrive at some one who does, that will be the first step, won't it?"
"I wonder whether we shall see some one soon!" he grumbled, looking around. "Where are all the people to-day!"
She laughed softly.
"Just a little impetuous, aren't you?"
"I should say so," he admitted. "I'd like to be introduced to her before four o'clock, propose to her this evening, and—and—"
"Never mind," he concluded, marching on with his head turned towards the clouds. "Let's go and sit down upon the Terrace and talk about her."
"But, my dear Dicky," his sister protested, "I don't want to sit upon the Terrace. I am going to my dressmaker's across the way there, and afterwards to Lucie's to try on some hats. Then I am going back to the hotel for an hour's rest and to prink, and afterwards into the Sporting Club at four o'clock. That's my programme. I shall be doing what I can the whole of the time. I shall make discreet enquiries of my dressmaker, who knows everybody, and I sha'n't let a single acquaintance go by. You will have to amuse yourself till four o'clock, at any rate. There's Sir Henry Hunterleys over there, having coffee. Go and talk to him. He may put you out of your misery. Thanks ever so much for my luncheon, and au revoir!"
She turned away with a little nod. Her brother, after a moment's hesitation, approached the table where Hunterleys was sitting alone.
"How do you do, Sir Henry?"
Hunterleys returned his greeting, a little blankly at first. Then he remembered the young man and held out his hand.
"Of course! You are Richard Lane, aren't you? Sit down and have some coffee. What are you doing here?"
"I've got a little boat in the harbour," Richard replied, as he drew up a chair. "I've been at Algiers for a time with some friends, and I've brought them on here. Just been lunching with my sister. Are you alone?"
"Yes, I am alone."
"Wonderful place," the young man went on. "Wonderful crowd of people here, too. I suppose you know everybody?" he added, warming up as he approached his subject.
"On the contrary," Hunterleys answered, "I am almost a stranger here. I have been staying further down the coast."
"Happen to know any one of the name of Grex?" Lane asked, with elaborate carelessness.
Hunterleys made no immediate reply. He seemed to be considering the name.
"Grex," he repeated, knocking the ash from his cigarette. "Rather an uncommon name, isn't it? Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I've seen an elderly man and a young lady about once or twice," Lane explained. "Very interesting-looking people. Some one told me that their name was Grex."
"There is a person living under that name, I think," Hunterleys said, "who has taken the Villa Mimosa for the season."
"Do you know him personally?" the young man asked eagerly.
"Personally? No, I can scarcely say that I do."
Richard Lane sighed. It was disappointment number one. For some reason or other, too, Hunterleys seemed disposed to change the conversation.
"The young lady who is always with him," Richard persisted, "would that be his daughter?"
Hunterleys turned a little in his seat and surveyed his questioner. He had met Lane once or twice and rather liked him.
"Look here, young fellow," he said, good humouredly, "let me ask you a question for a change. What is the nature of these enquiries of yours?"
Lane hesitated. Something in Hunterleys' face and manner induced him to tell the truth.
"I have fallen head over heels in love with the young lady," he confessed. "Don't think I am a confounded jackass. I am not in the habit of doing such things. I'm twenty-seven and I have never gone out of my way to meet a girl yet. This is something—different. I want to find out about them and get an introduction."
Hunterleys shook his head regretfully.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I can be of no use to you—no practical use, that is. I can only give you one little piece of advice."
"Well, what is it?" Richard asked eagerly.
"If you are in earnest," Hunterleys continued, "and I will do you the credit to believe that you are, you had better pack up your things, return to your yacht and take a cruise somewhere."
"Take a cruise somewhere!"
"Get out of Monte Carlo as quickly as you can, and, above all, don't think anything more of that young lady. Get the idea out of your head as quickly as you can."
The young man was sitting upright in his chair. His manner was half minatory.
"Say, what do you mean by this?" he demanded.
"Exactly what I said just now," Hunterleys rejoined. "If you are in earnest, and I have no doubt that you are, I should clear out."
"What is it you are trying to make me understand?" Richard asked bluntly.
"That you have about as much chance with that young lady," Hunterleys assured him, "as with that very graceful statue in the square yonder."
Richard sat for a moment with knitted brows.
"Then you know who she is, any way?"
"Whether I do or whether I do not," the older man said gravely, "so far as I am concerned, the subject is exhausted. I have given you the best advice you ever had in your life. It's up to you to follow it."
Richard looked at him blankly.
"Well, you've got me puzzled," he confessed.
Hunterleys rose to his feet, and, summoning a waiter, paid his bill.
"You'll excuse me, won't you?" he begged. "I have an appointment in a few minutes. If you are wise, young man," he added, patting him on the shoulder as he turned to go, "you will take my advice."
Left to himself, Richard Lane strolled around the place towards the Terrace. He had no fancy for the Rooms and he found a seat as far removed as possible from the Tir du Pigeons. He sat there with folded arms, looking out across the sun-dappled sea. His matter-of-fact brain offered him but one explanation as to the meaning of Hunterleys' words, and against that explanation his whole being was in passionate revolt. He represented a type of young man who possesses morals by reason of a certain unsuspected idealism, mingled with perfect physical sanity. It seemed to him, as he sat there, that he had been waiting for this day for years. The old nights in New York and Paris and London floated before his memory. He pushed them on one side with a shiver, and yet with a curious feeling of exultation. He recalled a certain sensation which had been drawn through his life like a thin golden thread, a sensation which had a habit of especially asserting itself in the midst of these youthful orgies, a curious sense of waiting for something to happen, a sensation which had been responsible very often for what his friends had looked upon as eccentricity. He knew now that this thing had arrived, and everything else in life seemed to pale by the side of it. Hunterleys' words had thrown him temporarily into a strange turmoil. Solitude for a few moments he had felt to be entirely necessary. Yet directly he was alone, directly he was free to listen to his convictions, he could have laughed at that first mad surging of his blood, the fierce, instinctive rebellion against the conclusion to which Hunterleys' words seemed to point. Now that he was alone, he was not even angry. No one else could possibly understand!
Before long he was once more upon his feet, starting out upon his quest with renewed energy. He had scarcely taken a dozen steps, however, when he came face to face with Lady Hunterleys and Mr. Draconmeyer. Quite oblivious of the fact that they seemed inclined to avoid him, he greeted them both with unusual warmth.
"Saw your husband just now, Lady Hunterleys," he remarked, a little puzzled. "I fancied he said he was alone here."
"We did not come together," she explained; "in fact, our meeting was almost accidental. Henry had been at Bordighera and San Remo and I came out with Mr. and Mrs. Draconmeyer."
The young man nodded and turned towards Draconmeyer, who was standing a little on one side as though anxious to proceed.
"Mr. Draconmeyer doesn't remember me, perhaps. I met him at my sister's, Lady Weybourne's, just before Christmas."
"I remember you perfectly," Mr. Draconmeyer assured him courteously. "We have all been admiring your beautiful yacht in the harbour there."
"I was thinking of getting up a little cruise before long," Richard continued. "If so, I hope you'll all join us. Flossie is going to be hostess, and the Montressors are passengers already."
They murmured something non-committal. Lady Hunterleys seemed as though about to pass on but Lane blocked the way.
"I only arrived the other day from Algiers," he went on, making frantic efforts to continue the conversation. "I brought Freddy Montressor and his sister, and Fothergill."
"Mr. Montressor has come to the Hotel de Paris," Lady Hunterleys remarked. "What sort of weather did you have in Algiers?"
"Ripping!" the young man replied absently, entirely oblivious of the fact that they had been driven away by incessant rain. "This place is much more fun, though," he added, with sudden inspiration. "Crowds of interesting people. I suppose you know every one?"
Lady Hunterleys shook her head.
"Indeed I do not. Mr. Draconmeyer here is my guide. He is as good as a walking directory."
"I wonder if either of you know some people named Grex?" Richard asked, with studious indifference.
Mr. Draconmeyer for the first time showed some signs of interest. He looked at their questioner steadfastly.
"Grex," he repeated. "A very uncommon name."
"Very uncommon-looking people," Richard declared. "The man is elderly, and looks as though he took great care of himself—awfully well turned out and all that. The daughter is—good-looking."
Mr. Draconmeyer took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and rubbed them with his handkerchief.
"Why do you ask?" he enquired. "Is this just curiosity?"
"Rather more than that," Richard said boldly. "It's interest."
Mr. Draconmeyer readjusted his spectacles.
"Mr. Grex," he announced, "is a gentleman of great wealth and illustrious birth, who has taken a very magnificent villa and desires for a time to lead a life of seclusion. That is as much as I or any one else knows."
"What about the young lady?" Richard persisted.
"The young lady," Mr. Draconmeyer answered, "is, as you surmised, his daughter.... Shall we finish our promenade, Lady Hunterleys?"
Richard stood grudgingly a little on one side.
"Mr. Draconmeyer," he said desperately, "do you think there'd be any chance of my getting an introduction to the young lady?"
Mr. Draconmeyer at first smiled and then began to laugh, as though something in the idea tickled him. He looked at the young man and Richard hated him.
"Not the slightest in the world, I should think," he declared. "Good afternoon!"
Lady Hunterleys joined in her companion's amusement as they continued their promenade.
"Is the young man in love, do you suppose?" she enquired lightly.
"If so," her companion replied, "he has made a somewhat unfortunate choice. However, it really doesn't matter. Love at his age is nothing more than a mood. It will pass as all moods pass."
She turned and looked at him.
"Do you mean," she asked incredulously, "that youth is incapable of love?"
They had paused for a moment, looking out across the bay towards the glittering white front of Bordighera. Mr. Draconmeyer took off his hat. Somehow, without it, in that clear light, one realised, notwithstanding his spectacles, his grizzled black beard of unfashionable shape, his over-massive forehead and shaggy eyebrows, that his, too, was the face of one whose feet were not always upon the earth.
"Perhaps," he answered, "it is a matter of degree, yet I am almost tempted to answer your question absolutely. I do not believe that youth can love, because from the first it misapprehends the meaning of the term. I believe that the gift of loving comes only to those who have reached the hills."
She looked at him, a little surprised. Always thoughtful, always sympathetic, generally stimulating, it was very seldom that she had heard him speak with so much real feeling. Suddenly he turned his head from the sea. His eyes seemed to challenge hers.
"Your question," he continued, "touches upon one of the great tragedies of life. Upon those who are free from their youth there is a great tax levied. Nature has decreed that they should feel something which they call love. They marry, and in this small world of ours they give a hostage as heavy as a millstone of their chances of happiness. For it is only in later life, when a man has knowledge as well as passion, when unless he is fortunate it is too late, that he can know what love is."
She moved a little uneasily. She felt that something was coming which she desired to avoid, some confidence, something from which she must escape. The memory of her husband's warning was vividly present with her. She felt the magnetism of her companion's words, his compelling gaze.
"It is so with me," he went on, leaning a little towards her, "only in my case—"
Providence was intervening. Never had the swish of a woman's skirt sounded so sweet to her before.
"Here's Dolly Montressor," she interrupted, "coming up to speak to us."
CAKES AND COUNSELS
The Sporting Club seemed to fill up that afternoon almost as soon as the doors were opened. At half-past four, people were standing two or three deep around the roulette tables. Selingman, very warm, and looking somewhat annoyed, withdrew himself from the front row of the lower table, and taking Mr. Grex and Draconmeyer by the arm, led them towards the tea-room.
"I have lost six louis!" he exclaimed, fretfully. "I have had the devil's own luck. I shall play no more for the present. We will have tea together."
They appropriated a round table in a distant corner of the restaurant.
"History," Selingman continued, heaping his plate with rich cakes, "has been made before now in strange places. Why not here? We sit here in close touch with one of the most interesting phases of modern life. We can even hear the voice of fate, the click of the little ball as it finishes its momentous journey and sinks to rest. Why should we, too, not speak of fateful things?"
Mr. Draconmeyer glanced around.
"For myself," he muttered, "I must say that I prefer a smaller room and a locked door."
Selingman demolished a chocolate eclair and shook his head vigorously.
"The public places for me," he declared. "Now look around. There is no one, as you will admit, within ear-shot. Very well. What will they say, those who suspect us, if they see us drinking tea and eating many cakes together? Certainly not that we conspire, that we make mischief here. On the other hand, they will say 'There are three great men at play, come to Monte Carlo to rest from their labours, to throw aside for a time the burden from their shoulders; to flirt, to play, to eat cakes.' It is a good place to talk, this, and I have something in my mind which must be said."
Mr. Grex sipped his pale, lemon-flavoured tea and toyed with his cigarette-case. He was eating nothing.
"Assuming you to be a man of sense, my dear Selingman," he remarked, "I think that what you have to say is easily surmised. The Englishman!"
Selingman agreed with ponderous emphasis.
"We have before us," he declared, "a task of unusual delicacy. Our friend from Paris may be here at any moment. How we shall fare with him, heaven only knows! But there is one thing very certain. At the sight of Hunterleys he will take alarm. He will be like a frightened bird, all ruffled feathers. He will never settle down to a serious discussion. Hunterleys knows this. That is why he presents himself without reserve in public, why he is surrounded with Secret Service men of his own country, all on the qui vive for the coming of Douaille."