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   Chapter 6 CAKES AND COUNSELS

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10691

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


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 éclair 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."

"It appears tolerably certain," Mr. Draconmeyer said calmly, "that we must get rid of Hunterleys."

Mr. Grex looked out of the window for a moment.

"To some extent," he observed, "I am a stranger here. I come as a guest to this conference, as our other friend from Paris comes, too. Any small task which may arise from the necessities of the situation, devolves, I think I may say without unfairness, upon you, my friend."

Selingman assented gloomily.

"That is true," he admitted, "but in Hunterleys we have to do with no ordinary man. He does not gamble. To the ordinary attractions of Monte Carlo he is indifferent. He is one of these thin-blooded men with principles. Cromwell would have made a lay preacher of him."

"You find difficulties?" Mr. Grex queried, with slightly uplifted eyebrows.

"Not difficulties," Selingman continued quickly. "Or if indeed we do call them difficulties, let us say at once that they are very minor ones. Only the thing must be done neatly and without ostentation, for the sake of our friend who comes."

"My own position," Mr. Draconmeyer intervened, "is, in a way, delicate. The unexplained disappearance of Sir Henry Hunterleys might, by some people, be connected with the great friendship which exists between my wife and his."

Mr. Grex polished his horn-rimmed eyeglass. Selingman nodded sympathetically. Neither of them looked at Draconmeyer. Finally Selingman heaved a sigh and brushed the crumbs from his waistcoat.

"If one were assured," he murmured thoughtfully, "that Hunterleys' presence here had a real significance-"

Draconmeyer pushed his chair forward and leaned across the table. The heads of the three men were close together. His tone was stealthily lowered.

"Let me tell you something, my friend Selingman, which I think should strengthen any half-formed intention you may have in your brain. Hunterleys is no ordinary sojourner here. You were quite right when you told me that his stay at Bordighera and San Remo was a matter of days only. Now I will tell you something. Three weeks ago he was at Bukharest. He spent two days with Novisko. From there he went to Sofia. He was heard of in Athens and Constantinople. My own agent wrote me that he was in Belgrade. Hunterleys is the bosom friend of the English Foreign Secretary. That I know for myself. You have your reports. You can read between the lines. I tell you that Hunterleys is the man who has paralysed our action amongst the Balkan States. He has played a neat little game out there. It is he who was the inspiration of Roumania. It is he who drafted the secret understanding with Turkey. The war which we hoped for will not take place. From there Hunterleys came in a gunboat and landed on

the Italian coast. He lingered at Bordighera for appearances only. He is here, if he can, to break up our conference. I tell you that you none of you appreciate this man. Hunterleys is the most dangerous Englishman living-"

"One moment," Selingman interrupted. "To some extent I follow you, but when you speak of Hunterleys as a power in the present tense, doesn't it occur to you that his Party is not in office? He is simply a member of the Opposition. If his Party get in again at the next election, I grant you that he will be Foreign Minister and a dangerous one, but to-day he is simply a private person."

"It is not every one," Mr. Draconmeyer said slowly, "who bows his knee to the shibboleth of party politics. Remember that I come to you from London and I have information of which few others are possessed. Hunterleys is of the stuff of which patriots are made. Party is no concern of his. He and the present Foreign Secretary are the greatest of personal friends. I know for a fact that Hunterleys has actually been consulted and has helped in one or two recent crises. The very circumstance that he is not of the ruling Party makes a free lance of him. When his people are in power, he will have to take office and wear the shackles. To-day, with every quality which would make him the greatest Foreign Minister England has ever had since Disraeli, he is nothing more nor less than a roving diplomatist, Emperor of his country's Secret Service, if you like to put it so. Furthermore, look a little into that future of which I have spoken. The present English Government will last, at the most, another two years. I tell you that when they go out of power, whoever comes in, Hunterleys will go to the Foreign Office. We shall have to deal with a man who knows, a man-"

"I am not wholly satisfied with these éclairs," Selingman interrupted, gazing into the dish. "Ma?tre d'h?tel, come and listen to an awful complaint," he went on, and, addressing one of the head-waiters. "Your éclairs are too small, your cream-cakes too irresistible. I eat too much here. How, I ask you in the name of common sense, can a man dine who takes tea here! Bring the bill."

The man, smiling, hastened away. Not a word had passed between the three, yet the other two understood the situation perfectly. Hunterleys and Richard Lane had entered the room together and were seated at an adjoining table. Selingman plunged into a fresh tirade, pointing to the half-demolished plateful of cakes.

"I will eat one more," he declared. "We will bilk the management. The bill is made out. I shall not be observed. Our friend," he continued, under his breath, "has secured a valuable bodyguard, something very large and exceedingly powerful."

Draconmeyer hesitated for a moment. Then he turned to Mr. Grex.

"You have perhaps observed," he said, "the young man who is seated at the next table. It may amuse you to hear of a very extraordinary piece of impertinence of which, only this afternoon, he was guilty. He accosted me upon the Terrace-he is a young American whom I have met in London-and asked me for information respecting a Mr. and Miss Grex."

Mr. Grex looked slowly towards the speaker. There was very little change in his face, yet Draconmeyer seemed in some way confused.

"You will understand, I am sure, sir," he continued, a little hastily, "that I was in no way to blame for the question which the young man addressed to me. He had the presumption to enquire whether I could procure for him an introduction to the young lady whom he knew as Miss Grex. Even at this moment," Draconmeyer went on, lowering his voice, "he is trying to persuade Hunterleys to let him come over to us."

"The young man," Mr. Grex said deliberately, "is ignorant. If necessary, he must be taught his lesson."

Selingman intervened. He breathed a heavy sigh.

"Well," he observed, "I perceive that the task at which we have hinted is to fall upon my shoulders. We must do what we can. I am a tender-hearted man, and if extremes can be avoided, I shall like my task better.... And now I have changed my mind. The loss of that six louis weighs upon me. I shall endeavour to regain it. Let us go."

They rose and passed out into the roulette rooms. Richard Lane, who remained in his seat with an effort, watched them pass with a frown upon his face.

"Say, Sir Henry," he complained, "I don't quite understand this. Why, I'd only got to go over to Draconmeyer there and stand and talk for a moment, and he must have introduced me."

Hunterleys shook his head.

"Let me assure you," he said, "that Draconmeyer would have done nothing of the sort. For one thing, we don't introduce over here as a matter of course, as you do in America. And for another-well, I won't trouble you with the other reason.... Look here, Lane, take my advice, there's a sensible fellow. I am a man of the world, you know, and there are certain situations in which one can make no mistake. If you are as hard hit as you say you are, go for a cruise and get over it. Don't hang around here. No good will come of it."

The young man set his teeth. He was looking very determined indeed.

"There isn't anything in this world, short of a bomb," he declared, "which is going to blow me out of Monte Carlo before I have made the acquaintance of Miss Grex!"

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