General Besserley’s Puzzle Box - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

General Besserley’s Puzzle Box ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

General, his companion pronounced, „you are getting fat. Too many cocktails.” General Besserley, late of the Secret Service at Washington and now a very popular member of Monaco society, glanced downwards at his slightly increasing outline. He was rather a fine figure of a man and his carriage was beyond reproach, but it was certainly true that there was sometimes a little difficulty about the two bottom buttons of his waistcoat.

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Liczba stron: 301

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Contents

I. THE MAN WHO THOUGHT HE WAS A PAUPER

II. THE LADY IN THE GREY WIG

III. THE MAN WHO HARNESSED THE LAWS OF CHANCE

IV. THE PHANTOM FLEET

V. THE DEVIL’S WIND

VI. THE MYSTERIOUS PIRANDETTIS

VII. THE BUTTERFLY IN THE DEATH CHAMBER

VIII. GIANTS IN THE COUNTINGHOUSE

IX. THE BRIDE OF THE SHINING HOUR

I. THE MAN WHO THOUGHT HE WAS A PAUPER

“General,” his companion pronounced, “you are getting fat. Too many cocktails.”

General Besserley, late of the Secret Service at Washington and now a very popular member of Monaco society, glanced downwards at his slightly increasing outline. He was rather a fine figure of a man and his carriage was beyond reproach, but it was certainly true that there was sometimes a little difficulty about the two bottom buttons of his waistcoat.

“Gas, Nicolas,” he confided. “I have spoken to the doctor once or twice about it lately. Not an ounce of fat anywhere. Gas–that’s what it is. Purely a temporary affair.”

The General proved that there was truth in his universal reputation as an obstinate man by summoning a waiter and pointing to his empty glass. The two men were seated at the most desirable corner table of the Royalty Bar at Monte Carlo. They were sheltered from the full glare of the sun by the trees which overhung the picturesque little place, amongst whose broad tropical leaves a pleasant breeze from the Mediterranean was rustling. It was a very attractive spot in which to spend an idle hour and habitués were arriving every few moments.

“As for you, Nicolas,” he went on deliberately, “I would sooner burst my clothes every time I put them on than go about the world with a lank body and a dyspeptic, hangdog expression like yours. If you were not by way of being a pal, I would not even allow you to watch me drink a cocktail! I would make you take your lemon juice elsewhere. By-the-by, that reminds me–why have you come hunting me up this morning? Francis told me that you had telephoned.”

Mr. Nicolas Fox, Nickey to his very few cronies, coughed slightly.

“Yes, I did just want a word with you, General,” he acknowledged. “Any fresh taps upon the puzzle box?”

“Not a sign of one.” Mr. Fox pulled out his underlip. “Well,” he continued, “I am told you may have one before long. There is a young fellow here–been playing pretty high at trente et quarante and roulette the last few days. Last night in the Sporting Club he was playing maximums at trente et quarante and maximums at roulette at the same time.”

“Bad sign,” General Besserley agreed gloomily. “Shows the thing has got hold of him. I think I know the young fellow you mean, but I don’t seem to have heard his name.”

“Lavarie he calls himself. Guy Lavarie. I see he’s got ‘Bart.’ after his name in the visitors’ book in the Hotel de Paris.”

Mr. Nicolas Fox’s narrow eyes seemed to have drawn a trifle nearer to each other. It was obvious that he was watching his companion intently. The latter, however, evinced no evidence of familiarity with the name.

“What makes you imagine,” he inquired, “that this young fellow might be bringing his troubles to me?”

“Two things,” was the cautious reply. “First, I saw him talking pretty fiercely to Sichel–he’s the head of the credit department at the Sporting Club, as I expect you know. He didn’t seem to be getting on with him at all. Secondly, he is rather the type of young fellow you take an interest in.”

The General frowned.

“You are suggesting, I suppose, that I might help him financially,” he exclaimed indignantly.

“Well, you have the reputation here of putting your hand in your pocket pretty freely,” his friend rejoined.

“They will call me a moneylender next,” was the irate protest.

“They do now! I have heard more than one person wondering why the Establishment doesn’t give you a hint to leave Monte Carlo. If there’s any money-lending to be done that’s safe, they like to do it themselves.”

General Besserley chuckled. He knew his own business very well indeed, as also did the august members of the Societe, and he knew that no one was less likely to receive that polite little suggestion that other pleasure resorts might be the gainers by his presence. He was no gambler but he was a rich man and he never hesitated to pay for his amusements.

“It’s this dyspepsia of yours that makes you take an embittered outlook on life, Nickey,” he sympathised. “You don’t realise the privilege you possess in being entitled to call yourself my friend. I am an honoured citizen of this Principality and persona grata with the authorities.”

“No doubt the Prince will be inviting you to high tea at the Palace before the season’s over!” Nicolas Fox suggested.

“If an invitation should come from the Palace, as is by no means unlikely,” the General declared, his fingers caressing his perfectly tied cravat, “it will be an affair of dinner at nine o’clock, orders worn. Chaffing apart, though, my sick friend, what is it that you want this morning? You have paid for a drink for me and you yourself have drunk two of those foul lemon juices. You must be expecting to get something out of it.”

“Because I don’t throw my money away in reckless fashion and because I happen to have been a member of the legal profession, I believe you think that I am a miser,” his companion grumbled.

“No more asides. Get along with it, Nicolas. I guess by the clumsy way you led up to it that you have something to say about this young fellow Lavarie.”

“Singularly enough,” Nicolas Fox admitted, with a great show of candour, “I have. It’s just this, General. You know I always take an interest in you. I wouldn’t see you get a raw deal. I’ve got it sort of settled in my mind that he will be looking you up before the day’s over. They cleaned him up last night and he’s not said a word about giving up his room. I found that out at the reception bureau at the hotel this morning. It’s not likely he would stay here without gambling and I’m pretty sure that he’s come to the end of the ready. The Casino have done their little bit. They have nothing more to say to him in the way of cheques or loans. That’s why he will be coming to you.”

“I don’t dislike the look of the fellow,” Besserley remarked thoughtfully.

“You would dislike the look of his bank book if he showed it to you,” Nicolas Fox grunted.

“A man does not always keep his money in the bank,” was the General’s sententious comment. “To tell you the truth, I am not worrying so much about the young man just now. I am wondering why you thought it worth your while to track me down here to stop my lending him any money.”

It was obvious that Mr. Nicolas Fox was hurt. He called a waiter and demanded his bill.

“For everything except that last cocktail,” he directed.

He slowly picked up his gloves and Homburg hat.

“You think that you are very clever, Besserley,” he observed with dignity. “You can never give a friend credit for being disinterested.”

General Besserley, notwithstanding the strength of his face, was a man of jovial and kindly appearance and people sometimes forgot or overlooked his firm mouth and the shrewd though kindly light in his eyes. Mr. Nicolas Fox, on the other hand, “Foxy” as he had been called in his younger days, when he occupied a position in a well-known firm of Lincoln’s Inn lawyers, had little in his personality that was attractive. He suffered from an undue propinquity of his eyes. His complexion was certainly grey and unwholesome. Well tailored though he was, he had not his friend’s appearance–the appearance of a healthy man looking out upon a world which he liked and which liked him.

“Nicolas,” the latter said, “you are a cute fellow in your way, and honour bright, I do not dislike you or I would not be drinking with you. I would sooner keep friendly with you than have to make faces at you from the other side of the street. What you need is a little more candour. Why don’t you want me to lend this young man money?”

“He will only lose it.”

“Philanthropy, eh? That doesn’t go with me, Nickey. Try again.”

Mr. Fox shook his head.

“You are in one of your bright moods,” he said, as he rose to his feet. “Your brain is overactive. Suspicions stand out of you like feelers on a hypersensitive insect. I shall leave you alone.”

“It is the first time in my life,” Samuel Besserley, who was six feet two and broad in proportion, declared, “that I have been likened to an insect!”

Mr. Nicolas Fox stuck on his hat at what he considered a jaunty angle.

“We shall probably meet later on in the day,” was his valedictory remark. “If we do, be so good as not to refer to this morning’s conversation. I have changed my mind. I have no desire to save you pecuniary loss. A little bleeding will do you no harm. However, you can remember this. If you want to take an extremely wise precautionary step and incidentally to gratify the curiosity of a friend, let me know, if this man should come to you, the nature of the security he offers, if he should, by chance, plead for a loan. So long, General. You understand–the nature of the security he offers.”

He sauntered off. General Besserley leaned farther back in his chair, exchanged amenities with a neighbour and decided that life was good. At the farther end of the place a swarthy Neapolitan, with a tuneful guitar, was making pleasant and romantic music. Young women in pretty frocks bowed and smiled at the popular and generous American as they passed. Men in all conditions of life nodded to him knowingly, respectfully or in friendly fashion. He received many invitations to join other tables, to all of which he replied with the same excuse–“Waiting for a friend.” As a matter of fact, he was doing nothing of the sort. He was still pondering about the indefinite conversation with his friend. Why should Nicolas Fox be interested in the nature of the security which Sir Guy Lavarie might have to offer for a loan? His reflections were presently disturbed very much in the manner he had hoped for. A smart two-seater automobile, built so low that its chassis seemed almost to touch the ground, swung round the open space in front of the bar and was cleverly piloted to a narrow vacancy. A girl, so pretty that, although she was a familiar figure, there was a little buzz of admiration from the different tables in the place, sprang to the ground, followed by a young man who would himself have been good-looking enough if his face had possessed some of the healthy tan of his companion’s. Both were in tennis kit and had evidently come straight from the courts. The girl laid her hand upon his arm.

“Behold,” she pointed out, “there’s Uncle Sam–the large, good-natured-looking person with the carnation in his buttonhole, at the corner table.”

The young man glanced with covert curiosity in the direction indicated.

“Why, he looks more like an English country gentleman than a millionaire likely to help a fellow out of a hole,” he declared.

“The General is not a moneylender,” the girl assured him, a little indignantly. “He is a very dear friend of mine. Everyone in Monte Carlo loves him. He gives good advice sometimes to young idiots like you, who gamble more than they can afford to, and he may offer them a loan now and then, but moneylenders are not allowed in the Principality. You ought to know that.”

“I thought he did it on the quiet, perhaps,” the young man confessed. “You must introduce me, if you will, after we have had our cocktail.”

They turned into the flower-hung enclosure.

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