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Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 13077

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Hunterleys remained in the hotel only long enough to change his straw hat for a cap, put on a long, light overcoat and take an ash stick from his wardrobe. He left the place by an unfrequented entrance and commenced at once to climb to the back part of the town. Once or twice he paused and looked around, to be sure that he was not followed. When he had arrived as far as the Hotel de Prince de Galles, he crossed the road. From here he walked very quickly and took three turns in rapid succession. Finally he pushed open a little gate and passed up a tiled walk which led between a little border of rose trees to a small white villa, covered with creepers. A slim, girlish figure came suddenly out from the porch and danced towards him with outstretched hands.

"At last!" she exclaimed. "At last! Tell me, my co-guardian, how you are going to excuse yourself?"

He took her outstretched hands and looked down into her face. She was very small and dark, with lustrous brown eyes and a very sensitive mouth, which just now was quivering with excitement.

"All the excuses have gone out of my head, Felicia," he declared. "You look such a little elf in the moonlight that I can't do more than say that I am sorry. But I have been busy."

She was suddenly serious. She clasped his arm with both her hands and turned towards the house.

"Of course you have," she sighed. "It seems too bad, though, in Monte Carlo. Sidney and David are like ghouls. I don't ask what it is all about-I know better-but I wish it were all over, whatever it is."

"Is Sidney back?" Hunterleys asked eagerly.

She nodded.

"He came in half-an-hour ago, looking like a tramp. David is writing as though he hadn't a moment to spare in life. They are both waiting for you, I think."

"And you?" he enquired. "How do the rehearsals go?"

"The rehearsals are all right," she admitted, looking up at him almost pathetically. "It's the night itself that seems so awful. I know every word, I know every note, and yet I can't feel sure. I can't sleep for thinking about it. Only last night I had a nightmare. I saw all those rows and rows of faces, and the lights, and my voice went, my tongue was dry and hard, not a word would come. And you were there-and the others!"

He laughed at her.

"Little girl," he said solemnly, "I shall have to speak to Sidney. One of those two young men must take you out for a day in the country to-morrow."

"They seem so busy," she complained. "They don't seem to have time to think of me. I suppose I had better let you go in. They'd be furious if they thought I was keeping you."

They passed into the villa, and with a farewell pat of the hand Hunterleys left her and opened a door on the left-hand side of the hall. The young man who had met him coming out of the Opera was standing with his hands in his pockets, upon the hearth-rug of an exceedingly untidy-looking apartment. There was a table covered with papers, another piled with newspapers. There were books upon the floor, pipes and tobacco laid about haphazard. A space had been swept clear upon the larger table for a typewriter, a telephone instrument stood against the wall. A man whose likeness to Felicia was at once apparent, swung round in his chair as Hunterleys entered. He had taken off his coat and waistcoat and his trousers seemed smothered with dust.

"Regular newspaper correspondent's den," Hunterleys remarked, as he looked around him. "I never saw such a mess in my life. I wonder Felicia allows it."

"We don't let her come in," her brother chuckled. "Is the door closed?"

"Fast," Hunterleys replied, moving away from it.

"Things are moving," the other went on. "I took the small car out to-day on the road to Cannes and I expect I was the first to see Douaille."

"I saw him myself," Hunterleys announced. "I was out on that road, walking."

"Douaille," Roche continued, "went direct to the Villa Mimosa. Grex was there, waiting for him. Draconmeyer and Selingman both kept out of the way."

Hunterleys nodded.

"Reasonable enough, that. Grex was the man to pave the way. Well?"

"At ten o'clock, Draconmeyer and Selingman arrived. The Villa Mimosa gets more difficult every day. I have only one friend in the house, although it is filled with servants. Three-quarters of them only speak Russian. My man's reliable but he is in a terrible minority. The conference took place in the library. It lasted about an hour and a half. Selingman and Draconmeyer came out looking fairly well satisfied. Half-an-hour later Douaille went on to Mentone, to the Hotel Splendide, where his wife and daughters are staying. No writing at all was done in the room."

"The conference has really begun, then," Hunterleys observed moodily.

"Without a doubt," Roche declared. "I imagine, though, that the meeting this evening was devoted to preliminaries. I am hoping next time," he went on, "to be able to pass on a little of what is said."

"If we could only get the barest idea as to the nature of the proposals," Hunterleys said earnestly. "Of course, one can surmise. Our people are already warned as to the long conferences which have taken place between Grex and Selingman. They mean something-there's no doubt about that. And then this invitation to Douaille, and his coming here so furtively. Everything points the same way, but a few spoken words are better than all the surmises in the world. It isn't that they are unreasonable at home, but they must be convinced."

"It's the devil's own risk," Roche sighed, "but I am hard at it. I was about the place yesterday as much as I dared. My plans are all ready now but things looked pretty awkward at the villa to-night. If they are going to have the grounds patrolled by servants every time they meet, I'm done. I've cut a pane of glass out of the dome over the library, and I've got a window-cleaning apparatus round at the back, and a ladder. The passage along the roof is quite easy and there's a good deal of cover amongst the chimneys, but if they get a hint, it will be touch and go."

Hunterleys nodded. He was busy now, going through the long sheets of writing which the other young man had silently passed across to him. For half-an-hour he read, making pencil notes now and then in the margin. When at last he had finished, he returned them and, sitting down at the table, drew a packet of press cable sheets towards him and wrote for some time steadily. When he had finished, he read through the result of his labours and leaned back thoughtfully

in his chair.

"You will send this off from Cannes with your own, Briston?" he asked.

The young man assented.

"The car will be here at three," he announced. "They'll be on their way by eight."

"Press message, mind, to the Daily Post. If the operator wants to know what 'Number 1' means after 'Daily Post,' you can tell him that it simply indicates to which editorial room the message is to be delivered."

"That's a clever idea," Roche mused. "Code dispatches to Downing Street might cause a little comment."

"They wouldn't do from here," Hunterleys declared. "They might be safe enough from Cannes but it's better to run no risks. These will be passed on to Downing Street, unopened. Be careful to-morrow, Sidney."

"I can't see that they can do anything but throw me out, Sir Henry," Roche remarked. "I have my Daily Post authority in my pocket, and my passport. Besides, I got the man here to announce in the Monte Carlo News that I was the accredited correspondent for the district, and that David Briston had been appointed by a syndicate of illustrated papers to represent them out here. That's in case we get a chance of taking photographs. I had some idea of going out to interview Monsieur Douaille."

Hunterleys shook his head.

"I shouldn't. The man's as nervous as he can be now, I am pretty sure of that. Don't do anything that might put him on his guard. Mind, for all we know he may be an honest man. To listen to what these fellows have to say doesn't mean that he's prepared to fall in with their schemes. By the by, you've nothing about the place, I suppose, if you should be raided?"

"Not a thing," was the confident reply. "We are two English newspaper correspondents, and there isn't a thing to be found anywhere that's not in keeping, except my rather large make-up outfit and my somewhat mixed wardrobe. I am not the only newspaper correspondent who goes in for that, though. Then there's Felicia. They all know who she is and they all know that she's my sister. Anyhow, even if I do get into trouble up at the Villa Mimosa, I can't see that I shall be looked upon as anything more than a prying newspaper correspondent. They can't hang me for that."

Hunterleys accepted a cigarette and lit it.

"I needn't tell you fellows," he said gravely, "that this place is a little unlike any other in Europe. You may think you're safe enough, but all the same I wouldn't trust a living soul. By-the-by, I saw Felicia as I came in. You don't want her to break down, do you?"

"Good heavens, no!" her brother exclaimed.

"Break down?" David repeated. "Don't suggest such a thing!"

"It struck me that she was rather nervy," Hunterleys told them. "One of you ought to look after her for an hour or two to-morrow."

"I can't spare a moment," her brother sighed.

"I'll take her out," Briston declared eagerly. "There's nothing for me to do to-morrow till Sidney gets back."

"Well, between you, keep an eye on her," Hunterleys advised. "And, Sidney, I don't want to make a coward of you, and you and I both know that if there's danger ahead it's our job to face it, but have a care up at the Villa Mimosa. I don't fancy the law of this Principality would see you out of any trouble if they got an idea that you were an English Secret Service man."

Roche laughed shortly.

"Exactly my own idea," he admitted. "However, we've got to see it through. I sha'n't consider I've done my work unless I hear something of what Grex and the others have to say to Douaille the next time they meet."

Hunterleys found Felicia waiting for him outside. He shook his head reproachfully.

"A future prima donna," he said, "should go to bed at ten o'clock."

She opened the door for him and walked down the path, her hands clasped in his arm.

"A future prima donna," she retorted, "can't do always what she likes. If I go to bed too early I cannot sleep. To-night I am excited and nervous. There isn't anything likely to bring trouble upon-them, is there?"

"Certainly not," he replied promptly. "Your brother is full of enterprise, as you know. He runs a certain amount of risk in his eagerness to acquire news, but I never knew a man so well able to take care of himself."

"And-and Mr. Briston?"

"Oh, he's all right, anyway," Hunterleys assured her. "His is the smaller part."

She breathed a little sigh of relief. They had reached the gate. She still had something to say. Below them flared the lights of Monte Carlo. She looked down at them almost wistfully.

"Very soon," she murmured, "I shall know my fate. Sir Henry," she added suddenly, "did I see Lady Hunterleys to-day on the Terrace?"

"Lady Hunterleys is here," he replied.

"Am I-ought I to go and see her?" she enquired. "You see, you have done so much for me, I should like to do what you thought best."

"Just as you like, child," he replied, a little carelessly.

She clung to his arm. She seemed unwilling to let him go.

"Dear co-guardian," she murmured, "to-night I felt for a little time so happy, as though all the good things in life were close at hand. Then I watched you come up, and your step seemed so heavy, and you stooped as though you had a load on your shoulders."

He patted her hand.

"Little girl," he advised, "run away in and take care of your throat. Remember that everything depends upon the next few hours. As for me, perhaps I am getting a little old."

"Oh, la, la!" she laughed. "That's what Sidney says when I tease him. I know I am only the mouse, but I could gnaw through very strong cords. Look!"

Her teeth gleamed white in the moonlight. He swung open the gate.

"Sing your way into the hearts of all these strange people," he bade her, smiling. "Sing the envy and malice away from them. Sing so that they believe that England, after all, is the one desirable country."

"But I am going to sing in French," she pouted.

"Your name," he reminded her, "that is English. 'The little English prima donna,' that is what they will be calling you."

She kissed his hands suddenly as he parted from her and swung off down the hill. Then she stood at the gate, looking down at the glittering lights. Would they shine as brightly for her, she wondered, in twenty-four hours' time? It was so much to strive for, so much to lose, so wonderfully much to gain. Slowly her eyes travelled upwards. The symbolism of those higher lights calmed her fear. She drew a great sigh of happiness.


She turned around with a soft little laugh.


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