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   Chapter 32 AN INTERESTING MEETING

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12027

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hunterleys leaned suddenly forward across the little round table.

"The question of whether or no you shall pay your respects to Monsieur Douaille," he remarked, "is solved. Unless I am very much mistaken, we are going to have an exceedingly interesting luncheon-party on our right."

"Monsieur Douaille--" Mr. Simpson began, a little eagerly.

"And the others," Hunterleys interrupted. "Don't look around for a moment. This is almost historical."

Monsieur Ciro himself, bowing and smiling, was ushering a party of guests to a round table upon the terrace, in the immediate vicinity of the two men. Mr. Grex, with his daughter and Lady Hunterleys on one side and Monsieur Douaille on the other, were in the van. Draconmeyer followed with Lady Weybourne, and Selingman brought up the rear with the Comtesse d'Hausson, one of the most prominent leaders of the French colony in Monte Carlo, and a connection by marriage of Monsieur Douaille.

* * *

Mr. Grex, with his daughter and Lady Hunterleys on one side and Monsieur Douaille on the other, were in the van.

* * *

"A luncheon-party for Douaille," Hunterleys murmured, as he bowed, to his wife and exchanged greetings with some of the others. "I wonder what they think of their neighbours! A little embarrassing for the chief guest, I am afraid."

"I see your wife is in the enemy's camp," his companion observed. "Draconmeyer is coming to speak to me. This promises to be interesting."

Draconmeyer and Selingman both came over to greet the English Minister. Selingman's blue eyes were twinkling with humour, his smile was broad and irresistible.

"This should send funds up in every capital of Europe," he declared, as he shook hands. "When Mr. Meredith Simpson takes a holiday, then the political barometer points to 'set fair'!"

"A tribute to my conscientiousness," the Minister replied, smiling. "I am glad to see that I am not the only hard-worked statesman who feels able to take a few days' holiday."

Selingman glanced at the round table and beamed.

"It is true," he admitted. "Every country seems to have sent its statesmen holiday-making. And what a playground, too!" he added, glancing towards Hunterleys with something which was almost a wink. "Here, political crises seem of little account by the side of the turning wheel. This is where the world unbends and it is well that there should be such a place. Shall we see you at the Club or in the rooms later?"

"Without a doubt," Mr. Simpson assented. "For what else does one live in Monte Carlo?"

"How did you leave things in town?" Mr. Draconmeyer enquired.

"So-so!" the Minister answered. "A little flat, but then it is a dull season of the year."

"Markets about the same, I suppose?" Mr. Draconmeyer asked.

"I am afraid," Mr. Simpson confessed, "that I only study the city column from the point of view of what Herr Selingman has just called the political barometer. Things were a little unsteady when I left. Consols fell several points yesterday."

Mr. Draconmeyer frowned.

"It is incomprehensible," he declared. "A few months ago there was real danger, one is forced to believe, of a European war. To-day the crisis is passed, yet the money-markets which bore up so well through the critical period seem now all the time on the point of collapse. It is hard for a banker to know how to operate these days. I wish you gentlemen in Downing Street, Mr. Simpson, would make it easier for us."

Mr. Simpson shrugged his shoulders.

"The real truth of the matter is," he said, "that you allow your money-market to become too sensitive an affair. A whisper will depress it. A threatening word spoken in the Reichstag or in the House of Parliament, magnified a hundred-fold before it reaches its destination, has sometimes a most unwarranted effect upon markets. You mustn't blame us so much, Mr. Draconmeyer. You jump at conclusions too easily in the city."

"Sound common sense," Mr. Draconmeyer agreed. "You are perfectly right when you say that we are over-sensitive. The banker deplores it as much as the politician. It's the money-kings, I suppose, who find it profitable."

They returned to their table a moment later. As he passed Douaille, Selingman whispered in his ear. Monsieur Douaille turned around at once and bowed to Simpson. As he caught the latter's eye he, too, left his place and came across. Mr. Simpson rose to his feet. The two men bowed formally before shaking hands.

"Monsieur Simpson," the Frenchman exclaimed, "it is a pleasure to find that I am remembered!"

"Without a doubt, monsieur," was the prompt reply. "Your last visit to London, on the occasion when we had the pleasure of entertaining you at the Guildhall, is too recent, and was too memorable an event altogether for us to have forgotten. Permit me to assure you that your speech on that occasion was one which no patriotic Englishman is likely to forget."

Monsieur Douaille inclined his head in thanks. His manner was not altogether free from embarrassment.

"I trust that you are enjoying your holiday here?" he asked.

"I have only this moment arrived," Mr. Simpson explained. "I am looking forward to a few days' rest immensely. I trust that I shall have the pleasure of seeing something of you, Monsieur Douaille. A little conversation would be most agreeable."

"In Monte Carlo one meets one's friends all the time," Monsieur Douaille replied. "I lunch to-day with my friend-our mutual friend, without a doubt-who calls himself here Mr. Grex."

Mr. Simpson nodded.

"If it is permitted," he suggested, "I should like to do myself the honour of paying my respects to you."

Monsieur Douaille was flattered.

"My stay here is short," he regretted, "but your visit will be most acceptable. I am at the Riviera Palace Hotel."

"It is one of my theories," Mr. Simpson remarked, "that politicians are at a serious disadvantage compared with business men, inasmuch as, with important affairs under their control, they have few o

pportunities of meeting those with whom they have dealings. It would be a great pleasure to me to discuss one or two matters with you."

Monsieur Douaille departed, with a few charming words of assent. Simpson looked after him with kindling eyes.

"This," he murmured, leaning across the table, "is a most extraordinary meeting. There they sit, those very men whom you suspect of this devilish scheme, within a few feet of us! Positively thrilling, Hunterleys!"

Hunterleys, too, seemed to feel the stimulating effect of a situation so dramatic. As the meal progressed, he drew his chair a little closer to the table and leaned over towards his companion.

"I think," he said, "that we shall both of us remember the coincidence of this meeting as long as we live. At that luncheon-table, within a few yards of us, sits Russia, the new Russia, raising his head after a thousand years' sleep, watching the times, weighing them, realising his own immeasurable strength, pointing his inevitable finger along the road which the Russia of to-morrow must tread. There isn't a man in that great country so much to be feared to-day, from our point of view, as the Grand Duke Augustus. And look, too, at the same table, within a few feet, Simpson, of you and of me-Selingman, Selingman who represents the real Germany; not the war party alone, intoxicated with the clash of arms, filled with bombastic desires for German triumphs on sea and land, ever ready to spout in flowery and grandiloquent phrases the glory of Germany and the Heaven-sent genius of her leaders. I tell you, Simpson, Selingman is a more dangerous man than that. He sits with folded arms, in realms of thought above these people. He sits with a map of the world before him, and he places his finger upon the inevitable spots which Germany must possess to keep time with the march of the world, to find new homes for her overflowing millions. He has no military fervour, no tinselly patriotism. He knows what Germany needs and he will carve her way towards it. Look at him with his napkin tucked under his chin, broad-visaged, podgy, a slave, you might think, to the joys of the table and the grosser things of life. You should see his eyes sometimes when the right note is struck, watch his mouth when he sits and thinks. He uses words for an ambush and a barricade. He talks often like a gay fool, a flood of empty verbiage streams from his lips, and behind, all the time his brain works."

"You seem to have studied these people, Hunterleys," Simpson remarked appreciatively.

Hunterleys smiled as he continued his luncheon.

"Forgive me if I was a little prolix," he said, "but, after all, what would you have? I am out of office but I remain a servant of my country. My interest is just as keen as though I were in a responsible position."

"You are well out of it," Simpson sighed. "If half what you suspect is true, it's the worst fix we've been in for some time."

"I am afraid there isn't any doubt about it," Hunterleys declared. "Of course, we've been at a fearful disadvantage. Roche was the only man out here upon whom I could rely. Now they've accounted for him, we've scarcely a chance of getting at the truth."

Mr. Simpson was gloomily silent for some moments. He was thinking of the time when he had struck his pencil through a recent Secret Service estimate.

"Anyhow," Hunterleys went on, "it will be all over in twenty-four hours. Something will be decided upon-what, I am afraid there is very little chance of our getting to know. These men will separate-Grex to St. Petersburg, Selingman to Berlin, Douaille to Paris. Then I think we shall begin to hear the mutterings of the storm."

"I think," Mr. Simpson intervened, his eyes fixed upon an approaching figure, "that there is a young lady talking to the ma?tre d'h?tel, who is trying to attract your attention."

Hunterleys turned around in his chair. It was Felicia who was making her way towards him. He rose at once to his feet. There was a little murmur of interest amongst the lunchers as she threaded her way past the tables. It was not often that an English singer in opera had met with so great a success. Lady Hunterleys, recognising her as she passed, paused in the middle of a sentence. Her face hardened. Hunterleys had risen from his place and was watching Felicia's approach anxiously.

"Is there any news of Sidney?" he asked quickly, as he took her hand.

"Nothing fresh," she answered in a low voice. "I have brought you a message-from some one else."

He held his chair for her but she shook her head.

"I mustn't stay," she continued. "This is what I wanted to tell you. As I was crossing the square just now, I recognised the man Frenhofer, from the Villa Mimosa. Directly he saw me he came across the road. He was looking for one of us. He dared not come to the villa, he declares, for fear of being watched. He has something to tell you."

"Where can I find him?" Hunterleys asked.

"He has gone to a little bar in the Rue de Chaussures, the Bar de Montmartre it is called. He is waiting there for you now."

"You must stay and have some lunch," Hunterleys begged. "I will come back."

She shook her head.

"I have just been across to the Opera House," she explained, "to enquire about some properties for to-night. I have had all the lunch I want and I am on my way to the hospital now again. I came here on the chance of finding you. They told me at the Hotel de Paris that you were lunching out."

Hunterleys turned and whispered to Simpson.

"This is very important," he said. "It concerns the affair in which we are interested. Linger over your coffee and I will return."

Mr. Simpson nodded and Hunterleys left the restaurant with Felicia. His wife, at whom he glanced for a moment, kept her head averted. She was whispering in the ear of the gallant Monsieur Douaille. Selingman, catching Draconmeyer's eye, winked at him solemnly.

"You have all the luck, my silent friend," he murmured.

* * *

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