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   Chapter 23 TROUBLE BREWING

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9455

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The ma?tre d'h?tel had presented his bill. The little luncheon party was almost over.

"So I take leave," Hunterleys remarked, as he sat down his empty liqueur glass, "of one of my responsibilities in life."

"I think I'd like to remain a sort of half ward, please," Felicia objected, "in case David doesn't treat me properly."

"If he doesn't," Hunterleys declared, "he will have me to answer to. Seriously, I think you young people are very wise and very foolish and very much to be envied. What does Sidney say about it?"

Felicia made a little grimace. She glanced around but the tables near them were unoccupied.

"Sidney is much too engrossed in his mysterious work to concern himself very much about anything," she replied. "Do you know that he has been out all night two nights this week already, and he is making no end of preparations for to-day?"

Hunterleys nodded.

"I know that he is very busy just now," he assented gravely. "I must come up and talk to him this afternoon."

"We left him writing," Felicia said. "Of course, he declares that it is for his beloved newspaper, but I am not sure. He scarcely ever goes out in the daytime. What can he have to write about? David's work is strenuous enough, and I have told him that if he turns war correspondent again, I shall break it off."

"We all have our work to do in life," Hunterleys reminded her. "You have to sing in A?da to-night, and you have to do yourself justice for the sake of a great many people. Your brother has his work to do, also. Whatever the nature of it may be, he has taken it up and he must go through with it. It would be of no use his worrying for fear that you should forget your words or your notes to-night, and there is no purpose in your fretting because there may be danger in what he has to do. I promise you that so far as I can prevent it, he shall take no unnecessary risks. Now, if you like, I will walk home with you young people, if I sha'n't be terribly in the way. I know that Sidney wants to see me."

They left the restaurant, a few minutes later, and strolled up towards the town. Hunterleys paused outside a jeweler's shop.

"And now for the important business of the day!" he declared. "I must buy you an engagement present, on behalf of myself and all your guardians. Come in and help me choose, both of you. A girl who carries her gloves in her hand to show her engagement ring, should have a better bag to hang from that little finger."

"You really are the most perfect person that ever breathed!" she sighed. "You know I don't deserve anything of the sort."

They paid their visit to the jeweler and afterwards drove up to the villa in a little victoria. Sidney Roche was hard at work in his shirt-sleeves. He greeted Hunterleys warmly.

"Glad you've come up!" he exclaimed. "The little girl's told you the news, I suppose?"

"Rather!" Hunterleys replied. "I have been lunching with them on the strength of it."

"And look!" Felicia cried, holding out the gold bag which hung from her finger. "Look how I am being spoiled."

Her brother sighed.

"Awful nuisance for me," he grumbled, "having to live with an engaged couple. You couldn't clear out for a little time," he suggested, "both of you? I want to talk to Hunterleys."

"We'll go and sit in the garden," Felicia assented. "I suppose I ought to rest. David shall read my score to me."

They passed out and Roche closed the door behind them carefully.

"Anything fresh?" Hunterleys asked.

"Nothing particular," was the somewhat guarded reply. "That fellow Frenhofer has been up here."

"Frenhofer?" Hunterleys repeated, interrogatively.

"He is the only man I can rely upon at the Villa Mimosa," Roche explained. "I am afraid to-night it's going to be rather a difficult job."

"I always feared it would be," Hunterleys agreed.

"Frenhofer tells me," Roche continued, "that for some reason or other their suspicions have been aroused up there. They are all on edge. You know, the house is cram-full of men-servants and there are to be a dozen of them on duty in the grounds. Two or three of these fellows are nothing more or less than private detectives, and they all of them know what they're about or Grex wouldn't have them."

Hunterleys looked grave.

"It sounds awkward," he admitted.

"The general idea of the plot," Roche went on, walking restlessly up and down the room, "you and I have already solved, and by this time they know it in London. But there are two things which I feel they may discuss to-night, which are of vital importance. The first is the date, the second is the terms of the offer to Douaille. Then, of course, more important, perhaps, than either of these, is the matter

of Douaille's general attitude towards the scheme."

"So far," Hunterleys remarked reflectively, "we haven't the slightest indication of what that may be. Douaille came pledged to nothing. He may, after all, stand firm."

"For the honour of his country, let us hope so," Roche said solemnly. "Yet I am sure of one thing. They are going to make him a wonderful offer. He may find himself confronted with a problem which some of the greatest statesmen in the world have had to face in their time-shall he study the material benefit of his country, or shall he stand firm for her honour?"

"It's a great ethical question," Hunterleys declared, "too great for us to discuss now, Sidney. Tell me, do you really mean to go on with this attempt of yours to-night?"

"I must," Roche replied. "Frenhofer wants me to give up the roof idea, but there is nothing else worth trying. He brought a fresh plan of the room with him. There it lies on the table. As you see, the apartment where the meeting will take place is almost isolated from the rest of the house. There is only one approach to it, by a corridor leading from the hall. The east and west sides will be patrolled. On the south there is a little terrace, but the approach to it is absolutely impossible. There is a sheer drop of fifty feet on to the beach."

"You think they have no suspicion about the roof?" Hunterleys asked doubtfully.

"Not yet. The pane of glass is cut out and my entrance to the house is arranged for. Frenhofer will tamper with the electric lights in the kitchen premises and I shall arrive in response to his telephonic message, in the clothes of a working-man and with a bag of tools. Then he smuggles me on to the spiral stairway which leads out on to the roof where the flag-staff is. I can crawl the rest of the way to my place. The trouble is that notwithstanding the ledge around, if it is a perfectly clear night, just a fraction of my body, however flat I lie, might be seen from the ground."

Hunterleys studied the plan for a moment and shook his head.

"It's a terrible risk, this, Roche," he said seriously.

"I know it," the other admitted, "but what am I to do? They keep sending me cipher messages from home to spare no effort to send further news, as you know very well, and two other fellows will be here the day after to-morrow, to relieve me. I must do what I can. There's one thing, Felicia's off my mind now. Briston's a good fellow and he'll look after her."

"In the event of your capture-" Hunterleys began.

"The tools I shall take with me," Roche interrupted, "are common housebreaker's tools. Every shred of clothing I shall be wearing will be in keeping, the ordinary garments of an ouvrier of the district. If I am trapped, it will be as a burglar and not as a spy. Of course, if Douaille opens the proceedings by declaring himself against the scheme, I shall make myself scarce as quickly as I can."

"You were quite right when you said just now," Hunterleys observed, "that Douaille will find himself in a difficult position. There is no doubt but that he is an honest man. On the other hand, it is a political axiom that the first duty of any statesman is to his own people. If they can make Douaille believe that he is going to restore her lost provinces to France without the shedding of a drop of French blood, simply at England's expense, he will be confronted with a problem over which any man might hesitate. He has had all day to think it over. What he may decide is simply on the knees of the gods."

Roche sealed up the letter he had been writing, and handed it to Hunterleys.

"Well," he said, "I have left everything in order. If there's any mysterious disappearance from here, it will be the mysterious disappearance of a newspaper correspondent, and nothing else."

"Good luck, then, old chap!" Hunterleys wished him. "If you pull through this time, I think our job will be done. I'll tell them at headquarters that you deserve a year's holiday."

Roche smiled a little queerly.

"Don't forget," he pointed out, "that it was you who scented out the whole plot. I've simply done the Scotland Yard work. The worst of our job is," he added, as he opened the door, "that we don't want holidays. We are like drugged beings. The thing gets hold of us. I suppose if they gave me a holiday I should spend it in St. Petersburg. That's where we ought to send our best men just now. So long, Sir Henry."

They shook hands once more. Roche's face was set in grim lines. They were both silent for a moment. It was the farewell of men whose eyes are fixed upon the great things.

"Good luck to you!" Hunterleys repeated fervently, as he turned and walked down the tiled way.

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