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   Chapter 22 THE WRONG MAN

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12363

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Selingman came out into the sunlit streets very much as a man who leaves a dark and shrouded room. The shock of tragedy was still upon him. There was a little choke in his throat as he mingled with the careless, pleasure-loving throng, mostly wending their way now towards the Rooms or the Terrace. As he crossed the square towards the Hotel de Paris, his steps grew slower and slower. He looked at the building half-fearfully. Beautifully dressed women, men of every nationality, were passing in and out all the time. The commissionaire, with his little group of satellites, stood sunning himself on the lowest step, a splendid, complacent figure. There was no sign there of the horror that was hidden within. Even while he looked up at the windows he felt a hand upon his arm. Draconmeyer had caught him up and had fallen into step with him.

"Well, dear philosopher," he exclaimed, "why this subdued aspect? Has your solitary day depressed you?"

Selingman turned slowly around. Draconmeyer's eyes beneath his gold-rimmed spectacles were bright. He was carrying himself with less than his usual stoop, he wore a red carnation in his buttonhole. He was in spirits which for him were almost boisterous.

"Have you been in there?" Selingman asked, in a low tone.

Draconmeyer glanced at the hotel and back again at his companion.

"In where?" he demanded. "In the hotel? I left Lady Hunterleys there a short time ago. I have been up to the bank since."

"You don't know yet, then?"

"Know what?"

There was a momentary silence. Draconmeyer suddenly gripped his companion by the arm.

"Go on," he insisted. "Tell me?"

"It's all over!" Selingman exclaimed hoarsely. "Jean Coulois came to me a quarter of an hour ago. It is finished. Damnation, Draconmeyer, let go my arm!"

Draconmeyer withdrew his fingers. There was no longer any stoop about him at all. He stood tall and straight, his lips parted, his face turned upwards, upwards as though he would gaze over the roof of the hotel before which they were standing, up to the skies.

"My God, Selingman!" he cried. "My God!"

The seconds passed. Then Draconmeyer suddenly took his companion by the arm.

"Come," he said, "let us take that first seat in the gardens there. Let us talk. Somehow or other, although I half counted upon this, I scarcely believed.... Let us sit down. Do you think it is known yet?"

"Very likely not," Selingman answered, as they crossed the road and entered the gardens. "Coulois found him in his rooms, seated at the writing-table. It was all over, he declares, in ten seconds. He came to me-with the knife. He was on his way to the mountains to hide it."

They found a seat under a drooping lime tree. They could still see the hotel and the level stretch of road that led past the post-office and the Club to Monaco. Draconmeyer sat with his eyes fixed upon the hotel, through which streams of people were still passing. One of the under-managers was welcoming the newcomers from a recently arrived train.

"You are right," he murmured. "Nothing is known yet. Very likely they will not know until the valet goes to lay out his clothes for dinner.... Dead!"

Selingman, with one hand gripping the iron arm of the seat, watched his companion's face with a sort of fascinated curiosity. There were beads of perspiration upon Draconmeyer's forehead, but his expression, in its way, was curious. There was no horror in his face, no fear, no shadow of remorse. Some wholly different sentiment seemed to have transformed the man. He was younger, more virile. He seemed as though he could scarcely sit still.

"My friend," Selingman said, "I know that you are one of our children, that you are one of those who have seen the truth and worked steadfastly for the great cause with the heart of a patriot and the unswerving fidelity of a strong man. But tell me the honest truth. There is something else in your life-you have some other feeling about this man Hunterleys' death?"

Draconmeyer removed his eyes from the front of the hotel and turned slowly towards his companion. There was a transfiguring smile upon his lips. Again he gave Selingman the impression of complete rejuvenation, of an elderly man suddenly transformed into something young and vigorous.

"There is something else, Selingman," he confessed. "This is the moment when I dare speak of it. I will tell you first of any living person. There is a woman over there whom I have set up as an idol, and before whose shrine I have worshipped. There is a woman over there who has turned the dull paths of my life into a flowery way. I am a patriot, and I have worked for my country, Selingman, as you have worked. But I have worked, also, that I might taste for once before I die the great passion. Don't stare at me, man! Remember I am not like you. You can laugh your way through the world, with a kiss here and a bow there, a ribbon to your lips at night, thrown to the winds in the morning. I haven't that sort of philosophy. Love doesn't come to me like that. It's set in my heart amongst the great things. It's set there side by side with the greatest of all."

"His wife!" Selingman muttered.

"Are you so colossal a fool as only to have guessed it at this moment?" Draconmeyer continued contemptuously. "If he hadn't blundered across our path here, if he hadn't been my political enemy, I should still some day have taken him by the throat and killed him. You don't know what risks I have been running," he went on, with a sudden hoarseness. "In her heart she half loves him still. If he hadn't been a fool, a prejudiced, over-conscientious, stiff-necked fool, I should have lost her within the last twenty-four hours. I have had to fight and scheme as I have never fought and schemed before, to keep them apart. I have had to pick my way through shoals innumerable, hold myself down when I have been burning to grip her by the wrists and tell her that all that a man could offer a woman was hers. Selingman, this sounds like nonsense, I suppose."

"No," Selingman murmured, "not nonsense, but it doesn't sound like Draconmeyer."

"Well, it's finished," Draconmeyer declared, with a great

sigh of content. "You know now. I enter upon the final stage. I had only one fear. Jean Coulois has settled that for me. I wonder whether they know. It seems peaceful enough. No! Look over there," he added, gripping his companion's arm. "Peter, the concierge, is whispering with the others. That is one of the managers there, out on the pavement, talking to them."

Selingman pointed down the road towards Monaco.

"See!" he exclaimed. "There is a motor-car coming in a hurry. I fancy that the alarm must have been given."

A grey, heavily-built car came along at a great pace and swung round in front of the Hotel de Paris. The two men stood on the pavement and watched. A tall, official-looking person, with black, upturned moustache, in somber uniform and a peaked cap, descended.

"The Commissioner of Police," Selingman whispered, "and that is a doctor who has just gone in. He has been found!"

They crossed the road to the hotel. The concierge removed his hat as they turned to enter. To all appearances he was unchanged-fat, florid, splendid. Draconmeyer stepped close to him.

"Has anything happened here, Peter?" he asked. "I saw the Commissioner of Police arrive in a great hurry."

The man hesitated. It was obvious then that he was disturbed. He looked to the right and to the left. Finally, with a sigh of resignation, he seemed to make up his mind to tell the truth.

"It is the English gentleman, Sir Henry Hunterleys," he whispered. "He has been found stabbed to death in his room."

"Dead?" Draconmeyer demanded, insistently.

"Stone dead, sir," the concierge replied. "He was stabbed by some one who stole in through the bathroom-they say that he couldn't ever have moved again. The Commissioner of Police is upstairs. The ambulance is round at the back to take him off to the Mortuary."

Selingman suddenly seized the man by the arm. His eyes were fixed upon the topmost step. Violet stood there, smiling down upon them. She was wearing a black and white gown, and a black hat with white ospreys. It was the hour of five o'clock tea and many people were passing in and out. She came gracefully down the steps. The two men remained speechless.

"I have been waiting for you, Mr. Draconmeyer," she remarked, smiling.

Draconmeyer remembered suddenly the packet of notes which he had been to fetch from the bank. He tried to speak but only faltered. Selingman had removed his hat but he, too, seemed incapable of coherent speech. She looked at them both, astonished.

"Whatever is the matter with you both?" she exclaimed. "Who is coming with me to the Club? I decided to come this way round to see if I could change my luck. That underground passage depresses me."

Draconmeyer moved up a couple of steps. He was quite himself now, grave but solicitous.

"Lady Hunterleys," he said, "I am sorry, but there has been a little accident. I am afraid that your husband has been hurt. If you will come back to your room for a minute I will tell you about it."

All the colour died slowly from her face. She swayed a little, but when Draconmeyer would have supported her she pushed him away.

"An accident?" she muttered. "I must go and see for myself."

She turned and re-entered the hotel swiftly. Draconmeyer caught her up in the hall.

"Lady Hunterleys," he begged earnestly, "please take my advice. I am your friend, you know. I want you to go straight to your room. I will come with you. I will explain to you then-"

"I am going to Henry," she interrupted, without even a glance towards him. "I am going to my husband at once. I must see what has happened."

She rang the bell for the lift, which appeared almost immediately. Draconmeyer stepped in with her.

"Lady Hunterleys," he persisted, "I beg of you to do as I ask. Let me take you to your rooms. I will tell you all that has happened. Your husband will not be able to see you or speak with you."

"I shall not get out," she declared, when the lift boy, in obedience to Draconmeyer's imperative order, stopped at her floor. "If I may not go on in the lift, I shall walk up the stairs. I am going to my husband."

"He will not recognise you," Draconmeyer warned her. "I am very sorry indeed, Lady Hunterleys-I would spare you this shock if I could-but you must be prepared for very serious things."

They had reached the next floor now. The boy opened the gate of the lift and she stepped out. She looked pitifully at Draconmeyer.

"You aren't going to tell me that he is dead?" she moaned.

"I am afraid he is," Draconmeyer assented.

She staggered across the landing, pushing him away from her. There were four or five people standing outside the door of Hunterleys' apartment. She appealed to them.

"Let me go in at once," she ordered. "I am Lady Hunterleys."

"The door is locked," one of the men declared.

"Let me go in," she insisted.

She pushed them on one side and hammered at the door. They could hear voices inside. In a moment it was opened. It was the Commissioner of the Police who stood there-tall, severe, official.

"Madame?" he exclaimed.

"I am his wife!" she cried. "Let me in-let me in at once!"

She forced her way into the room. Something was lying on the bed, covered with a sheet. She looked at it and shrieked.

"Madame," the Commissioner begged, "pray compose yourself. A tragedy has happened in this room-but we are not sure. Can you be brave, madame?"

"I can," she answered. "Of what are you not sure?"

The Commissioner turned down the sheet a few inches. A man's face was visible, a ghastly sight. She looked at it and shrieked hysterically.

"Is that your husband, madame?" the Commissioner asked quickly.

"Thank God, no!" she cried. "You are sure this is the man?" she went on, her voice shaking with fierce excitement. "There is no one else-hurt? No one else stabbed? This is the man they told me was my husband?"

"He was found there, sitting at your husband's table, madame," the Commissioner of Police assured her. "There is no one else."

She suddenly began to cry.

"It isn't Henry!" she sobbed, groping her way from the room. "Take me downstairs, please, some one."

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