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   Chapter 10 SIGNS OF TROUBLE

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 15274

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


At ten o'clock the next morning, Hunterleys crossed the sunlit gardens towards the English bank, to receive what was, perhaps, the greatest shock of his life. A few minutes later he stood before the mahogany counter, his eyes fixed upon the half sheet of notepaper which the manager had laid before him. The words were few enough and simple enough, yet they constituted for him a message written in the very ink of tragedy. The notepaper was the notepaper of the Hotel de Paris, the date the night before, the words few and unmistakable:

To the Manager of the English Bank. Please hand my letters to bearer.

Henry Hunterleys.

He read it over, letter by letter, word by word. Then at last he looked up. His voice sounded, even to himself, unnatural.

"You were quite right," he said. "This order is a forgery."

The manager was greatly disturbed. He threw open the door of his private office.

"Come and sit down for a moment, will you, Sir Henry?" he invited. "This is a very serious matter, and I should like to discuss it with you."

They passed behind into the comfortable little sitting-room, smelling of morocco leather and roses, with its single high window, its broad writing-table, its carefully placed easy-chairs. Men had pleaded in here with all the eloquence at their command, men of every rank and walk in life, thieves, nobles, ruined men and pseudo-millionaires, always with the same cry-money; money for the great pleasure-mill which day and night drew in its own. Hunterleys sank heavily into a chair. The manager seated himself in an official attitude before his desk.

"I am sorry to have distressed you with this letter, Sir Henry," he said. "However, you must admit that things might have been worse. It is fortunately our invariable custom, when letters are addressed to one of our clients in our care, to deliver them to no one else under any circumstances. If you had been ill, for instance, I should have brought you your correspondence across to the hotel, but I should not have delivered it to your own secretary. That, as I say, is our invariable rule, and we find that it has saved many of our clients from inconvenience. In your case," the manager concluded impressively, "your communications being, in a sense, official, any such attempt as has been made would not stand the slightest chance of success. We should be even more particular than in any ordinary case to see that by no possible chance could any correspondence addressed to you, fall into other hands."

Hunterleys began to recover himself a little. He drew towards himself the heap of letters which the manager had laid by his side.

"Please make yourself quite comfortable here," the latter begged. "Read your letters and answer them, if you like, before you go out. I always call this," he added, with a smile, "the one inviolable sanctuary of Monte Carlo."

"You are very kind," Hunterleys replied. "Are you sure that I am not detaining you?"

"Not in the least. Personally, I am not at all busy. Three-quarters of our business, you see, is merely a matter of routine. I was just going to shut myself up here and read the Times. Have a cigarette? Here's an envelope opener and a waste-paper basket. Make yourself comfortable."

Hunterleys glanced through his correspondence, rapidly reading and destroying the greater portion of it. He came at last to two parchment envelopes marked "On His Majesty's Service." These he opened and read their contents slowly and with great care. When he had finished, he produced a pair of scissors from his waistcoat pocket and cut the letters into minute fragments. He drew a little sigh of relief when at last their final destruction was assured, and rose shortly afterwards to his feet.

"I shall have to go on to the telegraph office," he said, "to send these few messages. Thank you very much, Mr. Harrison, for your kindness. If you do not mind, I should like to take this forged order away with me."

The manager hesitated.

"I am not sure that I ought to part with it," he observed doubtfully.

"Could you recognise the person who presented it-you or your clerk?"

The manager shook his head.

"Not a chance," he replied. "It was brought in, unfortunately, before I arrived. Young Parsons, who was the only one in the bank, explained that letters were never delivered to an order, and turned away to attend to some one else who was in a hurry. He simply remembers that it was a man, and that is all."

"Then the document is useless to you," Hunterleys pointed out. "You could never do anything in the matter without evidence of identification, and that being so, if you don't mind I should like to have it."

Mr. Harrison yielded it up.

"As you wish," he agreed. "It is interesting, if only as a curiosity. The imitation of your signature is almost perfect."

Hunterleys took up his hat. Then for a moment, with his hand upon the door, he hesitated.

"Mr. Harrison," he said, "I am engaged just now, as you have doubtless surmised, in certain investigations on behalf of the usual third party whom we need not name. Those investigations have reached a pitch which might possibly lead me into a position of some-well, I might almost say danger. You and I both know that there are weapons in this place which can be made use of by persons wholly without scruples, which are scarcely available at home. I want you to keep your eyes open. I have very few friends here whom I can wholly trust. It is my purpose to call in here every morning at ten o'clock for my letters, and if I fail to arrive within half-an-hour of that time without having given you verbal notice, something will have happened to me. You understand what I mean?"

"You mean that you are threatened with assassination?" the manager asked gravely.

"Practically it amounts to that," Hunterleys admitted. "I received a warning letter this morning. There is a very important matter on foot here, Mr. Harrison, a matter so important that to bring it to a successful conclusion I fancy that those who are engaged in it would not hesitate to face any risk. I have wired to England for help. If anything happens that it comes too late, I want you, when you find that I have disappeared, even if my disappearance is only a temporary matter, to let them know in London-you know how-at once."

The manager nodded.

"I will do so," he promised. "I trust, however," he went on, "that you are exaggerating the danger. Mr. Billson lived here for many years without any trouble."

Hunterleys smiled slightly.

"I am not a Secret Service man," he explained. "Billson's successor lives here now, of course, and is working with me, under the usual guise of newspaper correspondent. I don't think that he will come to any harm. But I am here in a somewhat different position, and my negotiations in the east, during the last few weeks, have made me exceedingly unpopular with some very powerful people. However, it is only an outside chance, of course, that I wish to guard against. I rely upon you, if I should fail to come to the bank any one morning without giving you notice, to do as I have asked."

Hunterleys left the bank and walked out once more into the sunlight. He first of all made his way down to the Post Office, where he rapidly dispatched several cablegrams which he had coded and written out in Mr. Harrison's private office. Afterwards he went on to the Terrace, and finding a retired seat at the further end, sat down. Then he drew the forged order once more from his pocket. Word by word, line by line, he studied it, and the more he studied it, the more hopeless t

he whole thing seemed. The handwriting, with the exception of the signature, which was a wonderful imitation of his own, was the handwriting of his wife. She had done this thing at Draconmeyer's instigation, done this thing against her husband, taken sides absolutely with the man whom he had come to look upon as his enemy! What inference was he to draw? He sat there, looking out over the Mediterranean, soft and blue, glittering with sunlight, breaking upon the yellow stretch of sand in little foam-flecked waves no higher than his hand. He watched the sunlight glitter on the white houses which fringed the bay. He looked idly up at the trim little vineyards on the brown hill-side. It was the beauty spot of the world. There was no object upon which his eyes could rest, which was not beautiful. The whole place was like a feast of colour and form and sunshine. Yet for him the light seemed suddenly to have faded from life. Danger had only stimulated him, had helped him to cope with the dull pain which he had carried about with him during the last few months. He was face to face now with something else. It was worse, this, than anything he had dreamed. Somehow or other, notwithstanding the growing estrangement with his wife which had ended in their virtual separation, he had still believed in her, still had faith in her, still had hope of an ultimate reconciliation. And behind it all, he had loved her. It seemed at that moment that a nightmare was being formed around him. A new horror was creeping into his thoughts. He had felt from the first a bitter dislike of Draconmeyer. Now, however, he realised that this feeling had developed into an actual and harrowing jealousy. He realised that the man was no passive agent. It was Draconmeyer who, with subtle purpose, was drawing his wife away! Hunterleys sprang to his feet and walked angrily backwards and forwards along the few yards of Terrace, which happened at that moment to be almost deserted. Vague plans of instant revenge upon Draconmeyer floated into his mind. It was simple enough to take the law into his own hands, to thrash him publicly, to make Monte Carlo impossible for him. And then, suddenly, he remembered his duty. They were trusting him in Downing Street. Chance had put into his hands so many threads of this diabolical plot. It was for him to checkmate it. He was the only person who could checkmate it. This was no time for him to think of personal revenge, no time for him to brood over his own broken life. There was work still to be done-his country's work....

He felt the need of change of scene. The sight of the place with its placid, enervating beauty, its constant appeal to the senses, was beginning to have a curious effect upon his nerves. He turned back upon the Terrace, and by means of the least frequented streets he passed through the town and up towards the hills. He walked steadily, reckless of time or direction. He had lunch at a small inn high above the road from Cannes, and it was past three o'clock when he turned homewards. He had found his way into the main road now and he trudged along heedless of the dust with which the constant procession of automobiles covered him all the while. The exercise had done him good. He was able to keep his thoughts focussed upon his mission. So far, at any rate, he had held his own. His dispatches to London had been clear and vivid. He had told them exactly what he had feared, he had shown them the inside of this scheme as instinct had revealed it to him, and he had begged for aid. One man alone, surrounded by enemies, and in a country where all things were possible, was in a parlous position if once the extent of his knowledge were surmised. So far, the plot had not yet matured. So far, though the clouds had gathered and the thunder was muttering, the storm had not broken. The reason for that he knew-the one person needed, the one person for whose coming all these plans had been made, had not yet arrived. There was no telling, however, how long the respite might last. At any moment might commence this conference, whose avowed purpose was to break at a single blow, a single treacherous but deadly blow, the Empire whose downfall Selingman had once publicly declared was the one great necessity involved by his country's expansion....

Hunterleys quenched his thirst at a roadside café, sitting out upon the pavement and drinking coarse red wine and soda-water. Then he bought a packet of black cigarettes and continued his journey. He was within sight of Monte Carlo when for the twentieth time he had to step to the far side of the pathway to avoid being smothered in dust by an advancing automobile. This time, by some chance, he glanced around, attracted by the piercing character of its long-distance whistle. A high-powered grey touring car came by, travelling at a great pace. Hunterleys stood perfectly rigid, one hand grasping the wall by the side of which he stood. Notwithstanding his spectacles and the thick coating of dust upon his clothes, the solitary passenger of the car was familiar enough to him. It was the man for whom this plot had been prepared. It was Paul Douaille, the great Foreign Minister into whose hands even the most cautious of Premiers had declared himself willing to place the destinies of his country!

Hunterleys pursued the road no longer. He took a ticket at the next station and hurried back to Monte Carlo. He went first to his room, bathed and changed, and, passing along the private passage, made his way into the Sporting Club. The first person whom he saw, seated in her accustomed place at her favourite table, was his wife. She beckoned him to come over to her. There was a vacant chair by her side to which she pointed.

"Thank you," he said, "I won't sit down. I don't think that I care to play just now. You are fortunate this afternoon, I trust?"

Something in his face and tone checked that rush of altered feeling of which she had been more than once passionately conscious since the night before.

"I am hideously out of luck," she confessed slowly. "I have been losing all day. I think that I shall give it up."

She rose wearily to her feet and he felt a sudden compassion for her. She was certainly looking tired. Her eyes were weary, she had the air of an unhappy woman. After all, perhaps she too sometimes knew what loneliness was.

"I should like some tea so much," she added, a little piteously.

He opened his lips to invite her to pass through into the restaurant with him. Then the memory of that forged order still in his pocket, flashed into his mind. He hesitated. A cold, familiar voice at his elbow intervened.

"Are you quite ready for tea, Lady Hunterleys? I have been in and taken a table near the window."

Hunterleys moved at once on one side. Draconmeyer bowed pleasantly.

"Cheerful time we had last night, hadn't we?" he remarked. "Glad to see your knock didn't lay you up."

Hunterleys disregarded his wife's glance. He was suddenly furious.

"All Monte Carlo seems to be gossiping about that little contretemps," Draconmeyer continued. "It was a crude sort of hold-up for a neighbourhood of criminals, but it very nearly came off. Will you have some tea with us?"

"Do, Henry," his wife begged.

Once again he hesitated. Somehow or other, he felt that the moment was critical. Then a hand was laid quietly upon his arm, a man's voice whispered in his ear.

"Monsieur will be so kind as to step this way for a moment-a little matter of business."

"Who are you?" Hunterleys demanded.

"The Commissioner of Police, at monsieur's service."

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