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   Chapter 36 CHECKMATE!

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10145

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Of the four men, Selingman was the first to recover himself.

"Who the hell are you, and how did you get up there?" he roared.

"I am Richard Lane," the young man explained affably, "and there's a way up from the music-room. You probably didn't notice it. And there's a way down, as you may perceive," he added, pointing to the spiral staircase. "I'll join you, if I may."

There was a dead silence as for a moment Richard disappeared and was seen immediately afterwards descending the round staircase. Mr. Grex touched Selingman on the arm and whispered in his ear. Selingman nodded. There were evil things in the faces of both men as Lane approached them.

"Will you kindly explain your presence here at once, sir?" Mr. Grex ordered.

"I say!" Richard protested. "A joke's a joke, but when you ask a man to explain his presence on his own boat, you're coming it just a little thick, eh? To tell you the truth, I had some sort of an idea of asking you the same question."

"What do you mean-your own boat?" Draconmeyer demanded.

He was, perhaps, the first to realise the situation. Richard thrust his hands into his pockets and sat upon the edge of the table.

"Seems to me," he remarked, "that you gentlemen have made some sort of a mistake. Where do you think you are, anyway?"

"On board Schwann's yacht, the Christabel," Selingman replied.

Richard shook his head.

"Not a bit of it," he assured them. "This is the steam-yacht, Minnehaha, which brought me over from New York, and of which I am most assuredly the owner. Now I come to think of it," he went on, "there was another yacht leaving the harbour at the same time. Can't have happened that you boarded the wrong boat, eh?"

Mr. Grex was icily calm, but there was menace of the most dangerous sort in his look and manner.

"Nothing of that sort was possible," he declared, "as you are, without doubt, perfectly well aware. It appears to me that this is a deliberate plot. The yacht which I and my friends thought that we were boarding to-night was the Christabel, which my servant had instructions to hire from Schwann of Monaco. I await some explanation from you, sir, as to your purpose in sending your pinnace to the landing-stage of the Villa Mimosa and deliberately misleading us as to our destination?"

"Well, I don't know that I've got much to say about that," Richard replied easily.

"You are offering us no explanation?" Selingman demanded.

"None," Richard assented coolly.

Selingman suddenly struck the table with his clenched fist.

"You were not alone up in that gallery!"

"Getting warm, aren't you?" Richard murmured.

Selingman turned to Grex.

"This young man is Hunterleys' friend. They've fixed this up between them. Listen!"

A door slammed above their heads. Some one had left the music gallery.

"Hunterleys himself!" Selingman cried.

"Sure!" Richard assented. "Bright fellow, Selingman," he continued amiably. "I wouldn't try that on, if I were you," he added, turning to Mr. Grex, whose hand was slowly stealing from the back of his coat. "That sort of thing doesn't do, nowadays. Revolvers belong to the last decade of intrigue. You're a bit out of date with that little weapon. Don't be foolish. I am not angry with any of you. I am willing to take this little joke pleasantly, but--"

He raised a whistle to his lips and blew it. The door at the further end of the saloon was opened as though by magic. A steward in the yacht's uniform appeared. From outside was visible a very formidable line of sailors. Grex, with a swift gesture, slipped something back into his pocket, something which glittered like silver.

"Serve some champagne, Reynolds," Richard ordered the steward who had come hurrying in, "and bring some cigars."

The man withdrew. Richard seated himself once more upon the table, clasping one knee.

"Look here," he said, "I'll be frank with you. I came into this little affair for the sake of a pal. It was only by accident that I found my way up yonder-more to look after him than anything. I never imagined that you would have anything to say that was interesting to me. Seems I was wrong, though. You've got things very nicely worked out, Mr. Selingman."

Selingman glared at the young man but said nothing. The others, too, were all remarkably bereft of words.

"Don't mind my staying for a little chat, do you?" Richard continued pleasantly. "You see, I am an American and I am kind of interested in the latter portion of what you had to say. I dare say you're quite right in some respects. We are a trifle too commercial and a trifle too cocksure. You see, things have always gone our way. All the same, we've got the stuff, you know. Just consider this. If I thought there was any real need for it, and I begin to think that perhaps there may be, I should be ready to present the United States with a Dreadnought to-morrow, and I don't know that I should need to spend very much less myself. And," he went on, "there are thirty or forty others who could and would do the same. Tidy little fleet

we should soon have, you see, without a penny of taxation. Of course, I know we would need the men, but we've a grand reserve to draw upon in the West. They are not bothering about the navy in times of peace, but they'd stream into it fast enough if there were any real need."

The chief steward appeared, followed by two or three of his subordinates. A tray of wine was placed upon the table. Bottles were opened, but no one made any attempt to drink. Richard filled his own glass and motioned the men to withdraw.

"Prefer your own wine?" he remarked. "Well, now, that's too bad. Hope I'm not boring you?"

No one spoke or moved. Richard settled himself a little more comfortably upon the table.

"I can't tell you all," he proceeded, "how interested I have been, listening up there. Quite a gift of putting things clearly, if I may be allowed to say so, you seem to possess, Mr. Selingman. Now here's my reply as one of the poor Anglo-Saxons from the West who've got to make room in the best parts of the world for your lubberly German colonists. If you make a move in the game you've been talking so glibly about, if my word counts for anything, if my persuasions count for anything-and I've facts to go on, you know-you'll have the American fleet to deal with at the same time as the English, and I fancy that will be a trifle more than you can chew up, eh? I'm going back to America a little earlier than I anticipated. Of course, they'll laugh at me at first in Washington. They don't believe much in these round-table conferences and European plots. But all the same I've got some friends there. We'll try and remember this amiable little statement of policy of yours, Mr. Selingman. Nothing like being warned, you know."

Mr. Grex rose from his place.

"Sir," he said, "since we have been and are your unwilling guests, will you be so good as to arrange for us at once to relieve you of our presence?"

"Well, I'm not so sure about that," Richard remarked, meditatively. "I think I'd contribute a good deal to the comfort and happiness of this generation if I took you all out to sea and dropped you overboard, one by one."

"As I presume you have no such intention," Mr. Grex persisted, "I repeat that we should be glad to be allowed to land."

Richard abandoned his indolent posture and stood facing them.

"You came on board, gentlemen, without my invitation," he reminded them. "You will leave my ship when I choose-and that," he added, "is not just at present."

"Do you mean that we are to consider ourselves your prisoners?" Draconmeyer asked, with an acid smile.

"Certainly not-my guests," Richard replied, with a bow. "I can assure you that it will only be a matter of a few hours."

Monsieur Douaille hammered the table with his fist.

"Young man," he exclaimed, "I leave with you! I insist upon it that I am permitted to leave. I am not a party to this conference. I am merely a guest, a listener, here wholly in my private capacity. I will not be associated with whatever political scandal may arise from this affair. I demand permission to leave at once."

"Seems to me there's something in what you say," Richard admitted. "Very well, you can come along. I dare say Hunterleys will be glad to have a chat with you. As for the rest of you," he concluded, as Monsieur Douaille rose promptly to his feet, "I have a little business to arrange on land which I think I could manage better whilst you are at sea. I shall therefore, gentlemen, wish you good evening. Pray consider my yacht entirely at your disposal. My stewards will be only too happy to execute any orders-supper, breakfast, or dinner. You have merely to say the word."

He turned towards the door, closely followed by Douaille, who, in a state of great excitement, refused to listen to Selingman's entreaties.

"No, no!" the former objected, shaking his head. "I will not stay. I will not be associated with this meeting. You are bunglers, all of you. I came only to listen, on your solemn assurance of entire secrecy. We are spied upon at the Villa Mimosa, we are made fools of on board this yacht. No more unofficial meetings for me!"

"Quite right, old fellow," Richard declared, as they passed out and on to the deck. "Set of wrong 'uns, those chaps, even though Mr. Grex is a Grand Duke. You know Sir Henry Hunterleys, don't you?"

Hunterleys came forward from the gangway, at the foot of which the pinnace was waiting.

"We are taking Monsieur Douaille ashore," Richard explained, as the two men shook hands. "He really doesn't belong to that gang and he wants to cut adrift. You understand my orders exactly, captain?" he asked, as they stepped down the iron gangway.

"Perfectly, sir," was the prompt reply. "You may rely upon me. I am afraid they are beginning to make a noise downstairs already!"

The little pinnace shot out a stream of light across the dark, placid sea. Douaille was talking earnestly to Hunterleys.

"Pleasantest few minutes I ever spent in my life," Richard murmured, as he took out his cigarette case.

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