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   Chapter 33 THE FATES ARE KIND

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 16663

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The Bar de Montmartre was many steps under the level of the street, dark, smelly, and dilapidated. Its only occupants were a handful of drivers from the carriage-stand opposite, who stared at Hunterleys in amazement as he entered, and then rushed forward, almost in a body, to offer their services. The man behind the bar, however, who had evidently been forewarned, intervened with a few sharp words, and, lifting the flap of the counter, ushered Hunterleys into a little room beyond. Frenhofer was engaged there in amiable badinage with a young lady who promptly disappeared at Hunterleys' entrance. Frenhofer bowed respectfully.

"I must apologise," he said, "for bringing monsieur to such a place. It is near the end now, and with Monsieur Roche in the hospital I ventured to address myself to monsieur direct. Here I have the right to enter. I make my suit to the daughter of the proprietor in order to have a safe rendezvous when necessary. It is well that monsieur has come quickly. I have tidings. I can disclose to monsieur the meeting-place for to-night. If monsieur has fortune and the wit to make use of it, the opportunity I shall give him is a great one. But pardon me. Before we talk business we must order something."

He touched the bell. The proprietor himself thrust in his head, bullet-shaped, with black moustache and unshaven chin. He wore no collar, and the remainder of his apparel was negligible.

"A bottle of your best brandy," Frenhofer ordered. "The best, mind, Père Hanaut."

The man's acquiescence was as amiable as nature would permit.

"Monsieur will excuse me," Frenhofer went on, as the door was once more closed, "but these people have their little ways. To sell a whole bottle of brandy at five times its value, is to Monsieur le Propriétaire more agreeable than to offer him rent for the hire of his room. He is outside all the things in which we are concerned. He believes-pardon me, monsieur-that we are engaged in a little smuggling transaction. Monsieur Roche and I have used this place frequently."

"He can believe what he likes," Hunterleys replied, "so long as he keeps his mouth shut."

The brandy was brought-and three glasses. Frenhofer promptly took the hint and, filling one to the brim, held it out to the landlord.

"You will drink our health, Père Hanaut-my health and the health of monsieur here, and the health of the fair Annette. Incidentally, you will drink also to the success of the little scheme which monsieur and I are planning."

"In such brandy," the proprietor declared hoarsely, "I would drink to the devil himself!"

He threw back his head and the contents of his glass vanished. He set it down with a little smack of the lips. Once more he looked at the bottle. Frenhofer filled up his glass, but motioned to the door with his head.

"You will excuse us, dear friend," he begged, laying his hand persuasively upon the other's shoulder. "Monsieur and I have little enough of time."

The landlord withdrew. Frenhofer walked around the little apartment. Their privacy was certainly assured.

"Monsieur," he announced, turning to Hunterleys, "there has been a great discussion as to the next meeting-place between our friends-the next, which will be also the last. They are safe enough in reality at the villa, but Monsieur Douaille is nervous. The affair of last night terrified him. The reason for these things I, of course, know nothing of, but it seems that Monsieur Douaille is very anxious indeed to keep his association with my august master and Herr Selingman as secret as possible. He has declined most positively to set foot again within the Villa Mimosa. Many plans have been suggested. This is the one adopted. For some weeks a German down in Monaco, a shipping agent, has had a yacht in the harbour for hire. He has approached Mr. Grex several times, not knowing his identity; ignorant, indeed, of the fact that the Grand Duke himself possesses one of the finest yachts afloat. However, that is nothing. Mr. Grex thought suddenly of the yacht. He suggested it to the others. They were enthusiastic. The yacht is to be hired for a week, or longer if necessary, and used only to-night. Behold the wonderful good-fortune of the affair! It is I who have been selected by my master to proceed to Monaco to make arrangements with the German, Herr Schwann. I am on my way there at the moment."

"A yacht?" Hunterleys repeated.

"There are wonderful things to be thought of," Frenhofer asserted eagerly. "Consider, monsieur! The yacht of this man Schwann has never been seen by my master. Consider, too, that aboard her there must be a dozen hiding-places. The crew has been brought together from anywhere. They can be bought to a man. There is only one point, monsieur, which should be arranged before I enter upon this last and, for me, most troublesome and dangerous enterprise."

"And that?" Hunterleys enquired.

"My own position," Frenhofer declared solemnly. "I am not greedy or covetous. My ambitions have long been fixed. To serve an Imperial Russian nobleman has been no pleasure for me. St. Petersburg has been a prison. I have been moved to the right or to the left as a machine. It is as a machine only I have lived. Always I have longed for Paris. So month by month I have saved. After to-night I must leave my master's employ. The risk will be too great if monsieur indeed accepts my proposition and carries it out. I need but a matter of ten thousand francs to complete my savings."

The man's white face shone eagerly in the dim light of the gloomy little apartment. His eyes glittered. He waited almost breathlessly.

"Frenhofer," Hunterleys said slowly, "so far as I have been concerned indirectly in these negotiations with you, my instructions to my agent have been simple and definite. We have never haggled. Your name was known to me eight years ago, when you served us in St. Petersburg and served us well. You have done the same thing now and you have behaved with rare intelligence. Within the course of an hour I shall transfer ten thousand francs to the account of Fran?ois Frenhofer at the English Bank here."

The eyes of the man seemed suddenly like pinpricks of fire.

"Monsieur is a prince," he murmured. "And now for the further details. If monsieur would run the risk, I would suggest that he accompanies me to the office of this man Schwann."

Hunterleys made no immediate reply. He was walking up and down the narrow apartment. A brilliant idea had taken possession of him. The more he thought of it, the more feasible it became.

"Frenhofer," he said at last, "I have a scheme of my own. You are sure that Mr. Grex has never seen this yacht?"

"He has never set eyes upon it, monsieur, save to try and single it out with his field-glasses from the balcony of the villa."

"And he is to board it to-night?"

"At ten o'clock to-night, monsieur, it is to lie off the Villa Mimosa. A pinnace is to fetch Mr. Grex and his friends on board from the private landing-stage of the Villa Mimosa."

Hunterleys nodded thoughtfully.

"Frenhofer," he explained, "my scheme is this. A friend of mine has a yacht in the harbour. I believe that he would lend it to me. Why should we not substitute it for the yacht your master imagines that he is hiring? If so, all difficulties as to placing whom I desire on board and secreting them are over."

"It is a great scheme," Frenhofer assented, "but supposing my master should choose to telephone some small detail to the office of the man Schwann?"

"You must hire the yacht of Schwann, just as you were instructed," Hunterleys pointed out. "You must give orders, though, that it is not to leave the harbour until telephoned for. Then it will be the yacht which I shall borrow which will lie off the Villa Mimosa to-night."

"It is admirable," Frenhofer declared. "The more one thinks of it, the more one appreciates. This yacht of Schwann's-the Christable, he calls it-was fitted out by a millionaire. My master will be surprised at nothing in the way of luxury."

"Tell me again," Hunterleys asked, "at what hour is it to be off the Villa Mimosa?"

"At ten o'clock," Frenhofer replied. "A pinnace is to be at the landing-stage of the villa at that time. Mr. Grex, Monsieur Douaille, Herr Selingman, and Mr. Draconmeyer will c

ome on board."

"Very good! Now go on your errand to the man Schwann. You had better meet me here later in the afternoon-say at four o'clock-and let me know that all is in order. I will bring you some particulars about my friend's boat, so that you will know how to answer any questions your master may put to you."

"It is admirable," Frenhofer repeated enthusiastically. "Monsieur had better, perhaps, precede me."

Hunterleys walked through the streets back to Ciro's Restaurant, filled with a new exhilaration. His eyes were bright, his brain was working all the time. The luncheon-party at the next table were still in the midst of their meal. Mr. Simpson was smoking a meditative cigarette with his coffee. Hunterleys resumed his place and ordered coffee for himself.

"I have been to see a poor friend who met with an accident last night," he announced, speaking as clearly as possible. "I fear that he is very ill. That was his sister who fetched me away."

Mr. Simpson nodded sympathetically. Their conversation for a few minutes was desultory. Then Hunterleys asked for the bill and rose.

"I will take you round to the Club and get your carte," he suggested. "Afterwards, we can spend the afternoon as you choose."

The two men strolled out of the place. It was not until after they had left the arcade and were actually in the street, that Hunterleys gripped his companion's arm.

"Simpson," he declared, "the fates have been kind to us. Douaille has a fit of the nerves. He will go no more to the Villa Mimosa. Seeking about for the safest meeting-place, Grex has given us a chance. The only one of his servants who belongs to us is commissioned to hire a yacht on which they meet to-night."

"A yacht," Mr. Simpson replied, emptily.

"I have a friend," Hunterleys continued, "an American. I am convinced that he will lend me his yacht, which is lying in the harbour here. We are going to try and exchange. If we succeed, I shall have the run of the boat. The crew will be at our command, and I shall get to that conference myself, somehow or other."

Mr. Simpson felt himself left behind. He could only stare at his companion.

"Tell me, Sir Henry," he begged, almost pathetically, "have I walked into an artificial world? Do you mean to tell me seriously that you, a Member of Parliament, an ex-Minister, are engaged upon a scheme to get the Grand Duke Augustus and Douaille and Selingman on board a yacht, and that you are going to be there, concealed, turned into a spy? I can't keep up with it. As fiction it seems to me to be in the clouds. As truth, why, my understanding turns and mocks me. You are talking fairy-tales."

Hunterleys smiled tolerantly.

"The man in the street knows very little of the real happenings in life," he pronounced. "The truth has a queer way sometimes of spreading itself out into the realms of fiction. Come across here with me to the hotel. I have got to move heaven and earth to find my friend."

"Do with me as you like," Mr. Simpson sighed resignedly. "In a plain political discussion, or an argument with Monsieur Douaille-well, I am ready to bear my part. But this sort of thing lifts me off my feet. I can only trot along at your heels."

They entered the Hotel de Paris. Hunterleys made a few breathless enquiries. Nothing, alas! was known of Mr. Richard Lane. He came back, frowning, to the steps of the hotel.

"If he is up playing golf at La Turbie," Hunterleys muttered, "we shall barely have time."

A reception clerk tapped him on the shoulder. He turned abruptly around.

"I have just made an enquiry of the floor waiter," the clerk announced. "He believes that Mr. Lane is still in his room."

Hunterleys thanked the man and hurried to the lift. In a few moments he was knocking at the door of Lane's rooms. His heart gave a great jump as a familiar voice bade him enter. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Richard, in light blue pyjamas, sat up in bed and looked at his visitor with a huge yawn.

"Say, old chap, are you in a hurry or anything?" he demanded.

"Do you know the time?" Hunterleys asked.

"No idea," the other replied. "The valet called me at eight. I told him I'd shoot him if he disturbed me again."

"It's nearly three o'clock!" Hunterleys declared impressively.

"Can't help it," Richard yawned, throwing off the bed-clothes and sitting on the edge of the bed. "I am young and delicate and I need my rest. Seriously, Hunterleys," he added, "you take a chap out and make him drive you at sixty miles an hour all through the night, you keep him at it till nearly six in the morning, and you seem to think it a tragedy to find him in bed at three o'clock in the afternoon. Hang it, I've only had eight hours' sleep!"

"I don't care how long you've had," Hunterleys rejoined. "I am only too thankful to find you. Now listen. Is your brain working? Can you talk seriously?"

"I guess so."

"You remember our talk last night?"

"Every word of it."

"The time has come," Hunterleys continued,-"your time, I mean. You said that if you could take a hand, you'd do it. I am here to beg for your help."

"You needn't waste your breath doing that," Richard answered firmly. "I'm your man. Go on."

"Listen," Hunterleys proceeded. "Is your yacht in commission?"

"Ready to sail at ten minutes' notice," the young man assured him emphatically, "victualled and coaled to the eyelids. To tell you the truth, I have some idea of abducting Fedora to-day or to-morrow."

"You'll have to postpone that," Hunterleys told him. "I want to borrow the yacht."

"She's yours," Richard assented promptly. "I'll give you a note to the captain."

"Look here, I want you to understand this clearly," Hunterleys went on. "If you lend me the Minnehaha, well, you commit yourself a bit. You see, it's like this. I've one man of my own in Grex's household. He came to me this morning. Monsieur Douaille objects to cross again the threshold of the Villa Mimosa. He fears the English newspapers. There has been a long discussion as to the next meeting-place. Grex suggested a yacht. To that they all agreed. There is a man named Schwann down in Monaco has a yacht for hire. Mr. Grex knows about it and he has sent the man I spoke of into Monaco this afternoon to hire it. They are all going to embark at ten o'clock to-night. They are going to hold their meeting in the cabin."

Lane whistled softly. He was wide awake now.

"Go on," he murmured. "Go on. Say, this is great!"

"I want," Hunterleys explained, "your yacht to take the place of the other. I want it to be off the Villa Mimosa at ten o'clock to-night, your pinnace to be at the landing-stage of the villa to bring Mr. Grex and his friends on board. I want you to haul down your American flag, keep your American sailors out of sight, cover up the Stars and Stripes in your cabin, have only your foreign stewards on show. Schwann's yacht is a costly one. No one will know the difference. You must get up now and show me over the boat. I have to scheme, somehow or other, how we can hide ourselves on it so that I can overhear the end of this plot."

The face of Richard Lane was like the face of an ingenuous boy who sees suddenly a Paradise of sport stretched out before him. His mouth was open, his eyes gleaming.

"Gee, but this is glorious!" he exclaimed. "I'm with you all the way. Why, it's wonderful, man! It's a chapter from the Arabian Nights over again!"

He leapt to his feet and rang the bell furiously. Then he rushed to the telephone.

"Blue serge clothes," he ordered the valet. "Get my bath ready."

"Any breakfast, monsieur?"

"Oh, breakfast be hanged! No, wait a moment. Get me some coffee and a roll. I'll take it while I dress. Hurry up!... Yes, is that the enquiry office? This is Mr. Lane. Send round to my chauffeur at the garage at once and tell him that I want the car at the door in a quarter of an hour. Righto! ... Sit down, Hunterleys. Smoke or do whatever you want to. We'll be off to the yacht in no time."

Hunterleys clapped the young giant on the shoulders as he rushed through to the bathroom.

"You're a brick, Richard," he declared. "I'll wait for you down in the hall. I've a pal there."

"I'll be down in twenty minutes or earlier," Lane promised. "What a lark!"

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