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   Chapter 3 A WARNING

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 18792

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


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 Café 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 café, 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?"

Hunterleys nodded.

"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 habitué," 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.

She started.

"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."

"Certainly!"

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.

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