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Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 18059

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Hunterleys, in accordance with his request, followed the Commissioner downstairs into one of the small private rooms on the ground floor. The latter was very polite but very official.

"Now what is it that you want?" Hunterleys asked, a little brusquely, as soon as they were alone.

The representative of the law was distinctly mysterious. He had a brown moustache which he continually twirled, and he was all the time dropping his voice to a whisper.

"My first introduction to you should explain my mission, Sir Henry," he said. "I hold a high position in the police here. My business with you, however, is on behalf of a person whom I will not name, but whose identity you will doubtless guess."

"Very well," Hunterleys replied. "Now what is the nature of this mission, please? In plain words, what do you want with me?"

"I am here with reference to the affair of last night," the other declared.

"The affair of last night?" Hunterleys repeated, frowning. "Well, we all have to appear or be represented before the magistrates to-morrow morning. I shall send a lawyer."

"Quite so! Quite so! But in the meantime, something has transpired. You and the young American, Mr. Richard Lane, were the only two who offered any resistance. It was owing to you two, in fact, that the plot was frustrated. I am quite sure, Sir Henry, that every one agrees with me in appreciating your courage and presence of mind."

"Thank you," Hunterleys replied. "Is that what you came to say?"

The other shook his head.

"Unfortunately, no, monsieur! I am here to bring you certain information. The chief of the gang, Armand Martin, the man whom you attacked, became suddenly worse a few hours ago. The doctors suspect internal injuries, injuries inflicted during his struggle with you."

"I am very sorry to hear it," Hunterleys said coolly. "On the other hand, he asked for anything he got."

"Unfortunately," the Commissioner continued, "the law of the State is curiously framed in such matters. If the man should die, as seems more than likely, your legal position, Sir Henry, would be most uncomfortable. Your arrest would be a necessity, and there is no law granting what I believe you call bail to a person directly or indirectly responsible for the death of another. I am here, therefore, to give you what I may term an official warning. Your absence as a witness to-morrow morning will not be commented upon-events of importance have called you back to England. You will thereby be saved a very large amount of annoyance, and the authorities here will be spared the most regrettable necessity of having to deal with you in a manner unbefitting your rank."

Hunterleys became at once thoughtful. The whole matter was becoming clear to him.

"I see," he observed. "This is a warning to me to take my departure. Is that so?"

The Commissioner beamed and nodded many times.

"You have a quick understanding, Sir Henry," he declared. "Your departure to-night, or early to-morrow morning, would save a good deal of unpleasantness. I have fulfilled my mission, and I trust that you will reflect seriously upon the matter. It is the wish of the high personage whom I represent, that no inconvenience whatever should befall so distinguished a visitor to the Principality. Good day, monsieur!"

The official took his leave with a sweep of the hat and many bows. Hunterleys, after a brief hesitation, walked out into the sun-dappled street. It was the most fashionable hour of the afternoon. Up in the square a band was playing. Outside, two or three smart automobiles were discharging their freight of wonderfully-dressed women and debonair men from the villas outside. Suddenly a hand fell upon his arm. It was Richard Lane who greeted him.

"Say, where are you off to, Sir Henry?" he inquired.

Hunterleys laughed a little shortly.

"Really, I scarcely know," he replied. "Back to London, if I am wise, I suppose."

"Come into the Club," Richard begged.

"I have just left," Hunterleys told him. "Besides, I hate the place."

"Did you happen to notice whether Mr. Grex was in there?" Richard enquired.

"I didn't see him," Hunterleys answered. "Neither," he added significantly, "did I see Miss Grex."

"Well, I am going in to have a look round, anyway," Richard decided. "You might come along. There's nothing else to do in this place until dinner-time."

Hunterleys suffered himself to be persuaded and remounted the steps.

"Tell me, Lane," he asked curiously, "have you heard anything about any of the victims of our little struggle last night-I mean the two men we tackled?"

Richard shook his head.

"I hear that mine has a broken wrist," he said. "Can't say I am feeling very badly about that!"

"I've just been told that mine is going to die," Hunterleys continued.

The young man laughed incredulously.

"Why, I went over the prison this morning," he declared. "I never saw such a healthy lot of ruffians in my life. That chap whom you tackled-the one with the revolver-was smoking cigarettes and using language-well, I couldn't understand it all, but what I did understand was enough to melt the bars of his prison."

"That's odd," Hunterleys remarked drily. "According to the police commissioner who has just left me, the man is on his death-bed, and my only chance of escaping serious trouble is to get out of Monte Carlo to-night."

"Are you going?"

Hunterleys shook his head.

"It would take a great deal more than that to move me just now," he said, "even if I had not suspected from the first that the man was lying."

Richard glanced at his companion a little curiously.

"I shouldn't have said that you were having such a good time, Sir Henry," he observed; "in fact I should have thought you would have been rather glad of an opportunity to slip away."

Hunterleys looked around them. They had reached the top of the staircase and were in sight of the dense crowd in the rooms.

"Come and have a drink," he suggested. "A great many of these people will have cleared off presently."

"I'll have a drink, with pleasure," Richard answered, "but I still can't see why you're stuck on this place."

They strolled into the bar and found two vacant places.

"My dear young friend," Hunterleys said, as he ordered their drinks, "if you were an Englishman instead of an American, I think that I would give you a hint as to the reason why I do not wish to leave Monte Carlo just at present."

"Can't see what difference that makes," Richard declared. "You know I'm all for the old country."

"I wonder whether you are," Hunterleys remarked thoughtfully. "I tell you frankly that if I thought you meant it, I should probably come to you before long for a little help."

"If ever you do, I'm your man," Richard assured him heartily. "Any more scraps going?"

Hunterleys sipped his whisky and soda thoughtfully. There had been an exodus from the room to watch some heavy gambling at Trente et Quarante, and for a moment they were almost alone.

"Lane," he said, "I am going to take you a little into my confidence. In a way I suppose it is foolish, but to tell you the truth, I am almost driven to it. You know that I am a Member of Parliament, and you may have heard that if our Party hadn't gone out a few years ago, I was to have been Foreign Minister."

"I've heard that often enough," Lane assented. "I've heard you quoted, too, as an example of the curse of party politics. Just because you are forced to call yourself a member of one Party you are debarred from serving your country in any capacity until that Party is in power."

"That's quite true," Hunterleys admitted, "and to tell you the truth, ridiculous though it seems, I don't see how you're to get away from it in a practical manner. Anyhow, when my people came out I made up my mind that I wasn't going to just sit still in Opposition and find fault all the time, especially as we've a real good man at the Foreign Office. I was quite content to leave things in his hands, but then, you see, politically that meant that there was nothing for me to do. I thought matters over and eventually I paired for six months and was supposed to go off for the benefit of my health. As a matter of fact, I have been in the Balkan States since Christmas," he added, dropping his voice a little.

"What the dickens have you been doing there?"

"I can't tell you that exactly," Hunterleys replied. "Unfortunately, my enemies are suspicious and they have taken to watching me closely. They pretty well know what I am going to tell you-that I have been out there at the urgent request of the Secret Service Department of the present Government. I have been in Greece and Servia and Roumania, and, although I don't think there's a soul in the world knows, I have also been in St. Petersburg."

"But what's it all about?" Richard persisted. "What have you been doing in all these places?"

"I can only answer you broadly," Hunterleys went on. "There is a perfectly devilish scheme

afloat, directed against the old country. I have been doing what I can to counteract it. At the last moment, just as I was leaving Sofia for London, by the merest chance I discovered that the scene for the culmination of this little plot was to be Monte Carlo, so I made my way round by Trieste, stayed at Bordighera and San Remo for a few days to put people off, and finally turned up here."

"Well, I'm jiggered!" Lane muttered. "And I thought you were just hanging about for your health or because your wife was here, and were bored to death for want of something to do."

"On the contrary," Hunterleys assured him, "I was up all night sending reports home-very interesting reports, too. I got them away all right, but there's no denying the fact that there are certain people in Monte Carlo at the present moment who suspect my presence here, and who would go to any lengths whatever to get rid of me. It isn't the actual harm I might do, but they have to deal with a very delicate problem and to make a bargain with a very sensitive person, and they are terribly afraid that my presence here, and a meeting between me and that person, might render all their schemes abortive."

Richard's face was a study in astonishment.

"Well," he exclaimed, "this beats everything! I've read of such things, of course, but one only half believes them. Right under our very noses, too! Say, what are you going to do about it, Sir Henry?"

"There is only one thing I can do," Hunterleys replied grimly. "I am bound to keep my place here. They'll drive me out if they can. I am convinced that the polite warning I have received to leave Monaco this afternoon because of last night's affair, is part of the conspiracy. In plain words, I've got to stick it out."

"But what good are you doing here, anyway?"

Hunterleys smiled and glanced carefully around the room. They were still free from any risk of being overheard.

"Well," he said, "perhaps you will understand my meaning more clearly if I tell you that I am the brains of a counterplot. The English Secret Service has a permanent agent here under the guise of a newspaper correspondent, who is in daily touch with me, and he in his turn has several spies at work. I am, however, the dangerous person. The others are only servants. They make their reports, but they don't understand their true significance. If these people could remove me before any one else could arrive to take my place, their chances of bringing off their coup here would be immensely improved."

"I suppose it's useless for me to ask if there's anything I can do to help?" Richard enquired.

"You've helped already," Hunterleys replied. "I have been nearly three months without being able to open my lips to a soul. People call me secretive, but I feel very human sometimes. I know that not a word of what I have said will pass your lips."

"Not a chance of it," Richard promised earnestly. "But look here, can't I do something? If I am not an Englishman, I'm all for the Anglo-Saxons. I hate these foreigners-that is to say the men," he corrected himself hastily.

Hunterleys smiled.

"Well, I was coming to that," he said. "I do feel hideously alone here, and what I would like you to do is just this. I would like you to call at my room at the Hotel de Paris, number 189, every morning at a certain fixed hour-say half-past ten. Just shake hands with me-that's all. Nothing shall prevent my being visible to you at that hour. Under no consideration whatever will I leave any message that I am engaged or have gone out. If I am not to be seen when you make your call, something has happened to me."

"And what am I to do then?"

"That is the point," Hunterleys continued. "I don't want to bring you too deeply into this matter. All that you need do is to make your way to the English Bank, see Mr. Harrison, the manager, and tell him of your fruitless visit to me. He will give you a letter to my wife and will know what other steps to take."

"Is that all?" Richard asked, a little disappointed. "You don't anticipate any scrapping, or anything of that sort?"

"I don't know what to anticipate," Hunterleys confessed, a little wearily. "Things are moving fast now towards the climax. I promise I'll come to you for help if I need it. You can but refuse."

"No fear of my refusing," Richard declared heartily. "Not on your life, sir!"

Hunterleys rose to his feet with an appreciative little nod. It was astonishing how cordially he had come to feel towards this young man, during the last few hours.

"I'll let you off now," he said. "I know you want to look around the tables and see if any of our friends of last night are to be found. I, too, have a little affair which I ought to have treated differently a few minutes ago. We'll meet later."

Hunterleys strolled back into the rooms. He came almost at once face to face with Draconmeyer, whom he was passing with unseeing eyes. Draconmeyer, however, detained him.

"I was looking for you, Sir Henry!" he exclaimed. "Can you spare me one moment?"

They stood a little on one side, out of the way of the moving throng of people. Draconmeyer was fingering nervously his tie of somewhat vivid purple. His manner was important.

"Do you happen, Sir Henry," he asked, "to have had any word from the prison authorities to-day?"

Hunterleys nodded.

"I have just received a message," he replied. "I understand that the man with whom I had a struggle last night has received some internal injuries and is likely to die."

Draconmeyer's manner became more mysterious. He glanced around the room as though to be sure that they were not overheard.

"I trust, Sir Henry," he said, "that you will not think me in any way presumptuous if I speak to you intimately. I have never had the privilege of your friendship, and in this unfortunate disagreement between your wife and yourself I have been compelled to accept your wife's point of view, owing to the friendship between Mrs. Draconmeyer and herself. I trust you will believe, however, that I have no feelings of hostility towards you."

"You are very kind," Hunterleys murmured.

His face seemed set in graven lines. For all the effect the other's words had upon him, he might have been wearing a mask.

"The law here in some respects is very curious," Draconmeyer continued. "Some of the statutes have been unaltered for a thousand years. I have been given to understand by a person who knows, that if this man should die, notwithstanding the circumstances of the case, you might find yourself in an exceedingly awkward position. If I might venture, therefore, to give you a word of disinterested advice, I would suggest that you return to England at once, if only for a week or so."

His eyes had narrowed. Through his spectacles he was watching intently for the effect of his words. Hunterleys, however, only nodded thoughtfully, as though to some extent impressed by the advice he had received.

"Very likely you are right," he admitted. "I will discuss the matter with my wife."

"She is playing over there," Draconmeyer pointed out. "And while we are talking in a more or less friendly fashion," he went on earnestly, "might I give you just one more word of counsel? For the sake of the friendship which exists between our wives, I feel sure you will believe that I am disinterested."

He paused. Hunterleys' expression was now one of polite interest. He waited, however, for the other to continue.

"I wish that you could persuade Lady Hunterleys to play for somewhat lower stakes."

Hunterleys was genuinely startled for a moment.

"Do you mean that my wife is gambling beyond her means?" he asked.

Draconmeyer shrugged his shoulders.

"How can I tell that? I don't know what her means are, or yours. I only know that she changes mille notes more often than I change louis, and it seems to me that her luck is invariably bad. I think, perhaps, just a word or two from you, who have the right to speak, might be of service."

"I am very much obliged to you for the hint," Hunterleys said smoothly. "I will certainly mention the matter to her."

"And if I don't see you again," Draconmeyer concluded, watching him closely, "good-bye!"

Hunterleys did not appear to notice the tentative movement of the other's hand. He was already on his way to the spot where his wife was sitting. Draconmeyer watched his progress with inscrutable face. Selingman, who had been sitting near, rose and joined him.

"Will he go?" he whispered. "Will our friend take this very reasonable hint and depart?"

Draconmeyer's eyes were still fixed upon Hunterleys' slim, self-possessed figure. His forehead was contorted into a frown. Somehow or other, he felt that during their brief interview he had failed to score; he had felt a subtle, underlying note of contempt in Hunterleys' manner, in his whole attitude.

"I do not know," he replied grimly. "I only hope that if he stays, we shall find the means to make him regret it!"

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