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   Chapter 31 NEARING A CRISIS

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 15123

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


From the wilds of Scotland to Monte Carlo, as fast as motor-cars and train de luxe could bring him, came the right Honourable Meredith Simpson, a very distinguished member of His Majesty's Government. Hunterleys, advised of his coming by telegram from Marseilles, met him at the station, and together the two men made their way at once to Hunterleys' room across at the Hotel de Paris. Behind locked doors they spoke for the first time of important matters.

"It's a great find, this of yours, Hunterleys," the Minister acknowledged, "and it is corroborated, too, by what we know is happening around us. We have had all the warning in the world just lately. The Russian Ambassador is in St. Petersburg on leave of absence-in fact for the last six months he has been taking his duties remarkably lightly. Tell me how you first heard of the affair?"

"I got wind of it in Sofia," Hunterleys explained. "I travelled from there quite quietly, loitered about the Italian Riviera, and came on here as a tourist. The only help I could get hold of here was from Sidney Roche, who, as you know, is one of our Secret Service men. Roche, I am sorry to say, was shot last night. He may live but he won't be well enough to take any further hand in the game here, and I have no one to take his place."

"Roche shot!" Mr. Simpson exclaimed, in a shocked tone. "How did it happen?"

"They found him lying on the roof of the Villa Mimosa, just over the room where the meeting was taking place," Hunterleys replied. "They chased him round the grounds and we just got him off in a motor-car, but not before he'd been hit twice. He was just able to tell me a little. The first meeting was quite informal and very guarded. Douaille was most cautious-he was there only to listen. The second meeting was last night. Grex was in the chair, representing Russia."

"You mean the Grand Duke Augustus?" Mr. Simpson interrupted.

Hunterleys nodded.

"Grex is the name he is living under here. He explained Russia's position. Poor Roche was only able to falter a few words, but what he said was enough to give us the key-note to the whole thing. The long and short of it all is that Russia turned her face westward so long as Constantinople was possible. Now that this war has come about and ended as it has done, Russia's chance has gone. There is no longer any quid pro quo for her alliance with France. There is no friendship, of course, between Russia and Germany, but at any rate Russia has nothing to fear from Germany, and she knows it. Grex is quite frank. They must look eastward, he said, and when he says eastward, he means Manchuria, China, Persia, even India. At the same time, Russia has a conscience, even though it be a diplomatic conscience. Hence this conference. She doesn't want France crushed. Germany has a proposition. It has been enunciated up to a certain point. She confers Alsace and Lorraine and possibly Egypt upon France, for her neutrality whilst she destroys the British Fleet. Or failing her neutrality, she wants her to place a weak army on the frontier, which can fall back without much loss before a German advance. Germany's objective then will be Calais and not Paris, and from there she will command the Straits and deal with the British Fleet at her leisure. Meanwhile, she will conclude peace with France on highly advantageous terms. Don't you see what it means, Simpson? The elementary part of the thing is as simple as A B C. Germany has nothing to gain from Russia, she has nothing to gain from France. England is the only country who can give her what she wants. That is about as far as they have got, up to now, but there is something further behind it all. That, Selingman is to tell them to-night."

"The most important point about the whole matter, so far as we are concerned," Mr. Simpson declared, "is Douaille's attitude. You have received no indication of that, I suppose?"

"None whatever," Hunterleys answered. "I thought of paying my respects, but after all, you know, I have no official standing, and personally we are almost strangers."

The Minister nodded.

"It's a difficult position," he confessed. "Have you copies of your reports to London?"

"I have copies of them, and full notes of everything that has transpired so far, in a strong box up at the bank," Hunterleys assented. "We can stroll up there after lunch and I will place all the documents in your hands. You can look them through then and decide what is best to be done."

The Minister rose to his feet.

"I shall go round to my rooms, change my clothes," he announced, "and meet you presently. We'll lunch across at Ciro's, eh? I didn't mean to come to Monte Carlo this year, but so long as I am here, I may as well make the best of it. You are not looking as though the change had done you much good, Hunterleys."

"The last few days," Hunterleys remarked, a little drily, "have not been exactly in the nature of a holiday."

"Are you here alone?"

"I came alone. I found my wife here by accident. She came through with the Draconmeyers. They were supposed to stay at Cannes, but altered their plans. Of course, Draconmeyer meant to come here all the time."

The Minister frowned.

"Draconmeyer's one man I should be glad to see out of London," he declared. "Under the pretext of fostering good-will, and that sort of thing, between the mercantile classes of our two countries, I think that that fellow has done about as much mischief as it is possible for any single man to have accomplished. We'll meet in an hour, Hunterleys. My man is putting out some things for me and I must have a bath."

Hunterleys walked up to the hospital, and to his surprise met Selingman coming away. The latter saluted him with a wave of the hat and a genial smile.

"Calling to see our poor invalid?" he enquired blandly.

Hunterleys, although he knew his man, was a little taken aback.

"What share in him do you claim?" he asked.

Selingman sighed.

"Alas!" he confessed, "I fear that my claim would sound a little cold-blooded. I think that I was the only man who held his gun straight. Yet, after all, Roche would be the last to bear me any grudge. He was playing the game, taking his risks. Uncommonly bad marksmen Grex's private police were, or he'd be in the morgue instead of the hospital."

"I gather that our friend is still alive?" Hunterleys remarked.

"Going on as well as could be expected," Selingman replied.

"Conscious?"

Selingman smiled.

"You see through my little visit of sympathy at once!" he exclaimed. "Unable to converse, I am assured, and unable to share with his friends any little information he may have picked up last night. By the way, whom shall you send to report our little conference to-night? You wouldn't care to come yourself, would you?"

"I should like to exceedingly," Hunterleys assured him, "if you'd give me a safe conduct."

Selingman withdrew his cigar from his mouth and laid his hand upon the other's shoulder.

"My dear friend," he said earnestly, "your safe conduct, if ever I signed it, would be to the other world. Frankly, we find you rather a nuisance. We would be better pleased if your Party were in office, and you with your knees tucked under a desk at Downing Street, attending to your official business in your official place. Who gave you this roving commission, eh? Who sent you to talk common sense to the Balkan States, and how the mischief did you get wind of our little meeting here?"

"Ah!" Hunterleys replied, "I expect you really know all these

things."

Selingman, with his feet planted firmly upon the pavement, took a fresh cigar from his waistcoat pocket, bit off the end and lit it.

"My friend Hunterleys," he continued, "I am enjoying this brief interchange of confidences. Circumstances have made me, as you see, a politician, a schemer if you like. Nature meant me to be one of the frankest, the most truthful, the best-hearted of men. I detest the tortuous ways of the old diplomacy. The spoken word pleases me best. That is why I like a few minutes' conversation with the enemy, why I love to stand here and talk to you with the buttons off our foils. We are scheming against you and your country, and you know it, and we shall win. We can't help but win-if not to-day, to-morrow. Your country has had a marvellously long run of good luck, but it can't last for ever."

Hunterleys smiled.

"Well," he observed, "there's nothing like confidence. If you are so sure of success, why couldn't you choose a cleaner way to it than by tampering with our ally?"

Selingman patted his companion on the shoulder.

"Listen, my friend," he said, "there are no such things as allies. An alliance between two countries is a dead letter so soon as their interests cease to be identical. Now Austria is our ally because she is practically Germany. We are both mid-Continental Powers. We both need the same protection. But England and France! Go back only fifty years, my dear Hunterleys, and ask yourself-would any living person, living now and alive then, believe in the lasting nature of such an unnatural alliance? Wherever you look, in every quarter of the globe, your interests are opposed. You robbed France of Egypt. She can't have wholly forgotten. You dominate the Mediterranean through Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus. What does she think of that, I wonder? Isn't a humiliation for her when she does stop to think of it? You've a thousand years of quarrels, of fighting and rapine behind you. You can't call yourselves allies because the thing isn't natural. It never could be. It was only your mutual, hysterical fear of Germany which drove you into one another's arms. We fought France once to prove ourselves, and for money. Just now we don't want either money or territory from France. Perhaps we don't even want, my dear Englishman, what you think we want, but all the same, don't blame us for trying to dissolve an unnatural alliance. Was that Simpson who came by the Luxe this morning?"

"It was," Hunterleys admitted.

"The Right Honourable John William Meredith Simpson!" Selingman recited, waving his cigar. "Well, well, we certainly have made a stir with our little meetings here. An inspired English Cabinet Minister, travel-stained and dusty, arrives with his valet and a black dispatch-box, to foil our schemes. Send him along, my friend. We are not at all afraid of Mr. Simpson. Perhaps we may even ask him to join us this evening."

"I fancy," Hunterleys remarked grimly, "that the Englishman who joins you this evening will find a home up on the hill here."

"Or down in the morgue there," Selingman grunted, pointing down to Monaco. "Take care, Hunterleys-take care, man. One of us hates you. It isn't I. You are fighting a brave fight and a losing fight, but you are good metal. Try and remember, when you find that you are beaten, that life has many consolations for the philosopher."

He passed on and Hunterleys entered the hospital. Whilst he was waiting in the little reception-room, Felicia came in. Her face showed signs of her night's anxiety.

"Sidney is still unconscious," she announced, her voice shaking a little. "The doctors seem hopeful-but oh! Sir Henry, it is terrible to see him lying there just as though he were dead!"

"Sidney will pull through all right," Hunterleys declared, encouragingly. "He has a wonderful constitution and he is the luckiest fellow born. He always gets out of trouble, somehow or other."

She came slowly up to him.

"Sir Henry," she said piteously, "I know quite well that Sidney was willing to take his risks. He went into this thing, knowing it was dangerous. I want to be brave. What happens must be. But listen. You won't-you won't rob me of everything in life, will you? You won't send David after him?"

Hunterleys smiled reassuringly.

"I can promise you that," he told her. "This isn't David's job at all. He has to stick to his post and help out the bluff as a press correspondent. Don't be afraid, Felicia. You shall have your David."

She seized his hand and kissed it.

"You have been so kind to me always, Sir Henry," she sighed. "I can't tell you how thankful I am to think that you don't want David to go and run these horrible risks."

"No fear of that, I promise you," he assured her once more. "David will be busy enough pulling the strings another way."

The doctor entered the room and shook hands with Hunterleys. There was no news, he declared, nothing to be done. The patient must continue in his present condition for several more hours at least. The symptoms were, in their way, favourable. Beyond that, nothing could be said. Felicia and Hunterleys left the hospital together.

"I wonder," she began, as they turned out of the white gates, "whether you would mind very much if I told you something?"

"Of course not!"

"Yesterday," she continued slowly, "I met Lady Hunterleys. You know, I have seen her twice when I have been to your house to sing for your guests. She recognised me, I feel sure, but she didn't seem to want to see me. She looked surprised when I bowed. I worried about it at first and then I wondered. You are so very, very secretive just now. Whatever this affair may be in which you three are all concerned, you never open your lips about it. Lady Hunterleys probably doesn't know that you have had to come up to the villa at all hours of the night just to see Sidney. You don't suppose that by any chance she imagined-that you came to see me?"

Hunterleys was struck by the thought. He remembered several chance remarks of his wife. He remembered, too, the coincidence of his recent visits to the villa having prevented him in each case from acceding to some request of Violet's.

"I am glad you've mentioned this, child," he said frankly. "Now I come to think of it, my wife certainly did know that I came up to the villa very late one night, and she seemed upset about it. Of course, she hasn't the faintest idea about your brother."

"Well," Felicia declared, with a sigh of relief, "I felt that I had to tell you. It sounded horribly conceited, in a way, but then she wouldn't know that you came to see Sidney, or that I was engaged to David. Misunderstandings do come about so easily, you know, sometimes."

"This one shall be put right, at any rate," he promised her. "Now, if you will take my advice, you will go home and lie down until the evening. You are going to sing again, aren't you?"

"If there is no change," she replied. "I know that he would like me to. You haven't minded-what I've said?"

"Not a bit, child," he assured her; "in fact I think it was very good of you. Now I'll put you in this carriage and send you home. Think of nothing except that Sidney is getting better every hour, and sing to-night as though your voice could reach his bedside. Au revoir!"

He waved his hand to her as she drove off, and returned to the Hotel de Paris. He found a refreshed and rejuvenated Simpson smoking a cigarette upon the steps.

"To lunch!" the latter exclaimed. "Afterwards I will tell you my plans."

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