Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo. The Mystery of the Suicide Tables - William Le Queux - ebook

Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo. The Mystery of the Suicide Tables ebook

William Le Queux

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”Yes! I’m not mistaken at all! It’s the same woman! „ whispered the tall, good-looking young Englishman in a well-cut navy suit as he stood with his friend, a man some ten years older than himself, at one of the roulette tables at Monte Carlo, the first on the right on entering the room–that one known to habitual gamblers as „The Suicide’s Table.” „Are you quite certain? „ asked his friend. „Positive. I should know her again anywhere.” „She’s very handsome. And look, too, by Jove! –how she is winning! „

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Liczba stron: 406

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Contents

I. THE SUICIDE'S CHAIR

II. CONCERNS A GUILTY SECRET

III. IN THE NIGHT

IV. WHAT THE DOSSIER CONTAINED

V. ON THE HOG'S BACK

VI. FACING THE UNKNOWN

VII. FROM DARK TO DAWN

VIII. THE WHITE CAVALIER

IX. CONCERNS THE SPARROW

X. A LESSON IN ARGOT

XI. MORE ABOUT THE SPARROW

XII. THE STRANGER IN BOND STREET

XIII. POISONED LIPS

XIV. RED DAWN

XV. THE NAMELESS MAN

XVI. THE ESCROCS OF LONDON

XVII. ON THE SURREY HILLS

XVIII. THE MAN WITH THE BLACK GLOVE

XIX. THE SPARROW

XX. THE MAN WHO KNEW

XXI. THE MAN WITH MANY NAMES

XXII. CLOSING THE NET

XXIII. WHAT LISETTE KNEW

XXIV. FRIEND OR ENEMY?

XXV. THE MAN CATALDI

XXVI. LISETTE'S DISCLOSURES

XXVII. THE INQUISITIVE MR. SHRIMPTON

XXVIII. THE SPARROW'S NEST

XXIX. THE STORY OF MADEMOISELLE

XXX. CONCLUSION

I. THE SUICIDE’S CHAIR

“Yes! I’m not mistaken at all! It’s the same woman!„ whispered the tall, good-looking young Englishman in a well-cut navy suit as he stood with his friend, a man some ten years older than himself, at one of the roulette tables at Monte Carlo, the first on the right on entering the room–that one known to habitual gamblers as “The Suicide’s Table.”

“Are you quite certain?” asked his friend.

“Positive. I should know her again anywhere.”

“She’s very handsome. And look, too, by Jove!–how she is winning!”

“Yes. But let’s get away. She might recognize me,” exclaimed the younger man anxiously. “Ah! If I could only induce her to disclose what she knows about my poor father’s mysterious end then we might clear up the mystery.”

“I’m afraid, if all we hear is true about her, Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo will never do that,” was the other’s reply as they moved away together down the long saloon towards the trente-et-quarante room.

“Messieurs! Faites vos jeux,” the croupiers were crying in their strident, monotonous voices, inviting players to stake their counters of cent-sous, their louis, or their hundred or five hundred franc notes upon the spin of the red and black wheel. It was the month of March, the height of the Riviera season, the fetes of Mi-Careme were in full swing. That afternoon the rooms were overcrowded, and the tense atmosphere of gambling was laden with the combined odours of perspiration and perfume.

Around each table were crowds four or five deep behind those fortunate enough to obtain seats, all eager and anxious to try their fortune upon the rouge or noir, or upon one of the thirty-six numbers, the columns, or the transversales. There was but little chatter. The hundreds of well-dressed idlers escaping the winter were too intent upon the game. But above the click of the plaques, blue and red of different sizes, as they were raked into the bank by the croupiers, and the clatter of counters as the lucky players were paid with deft hands, there rose ever and anon:

“Messieurs! Faites vos jeux!„

Here English duchesses rubbed shoulders with the most notorious women in Europe, and men who at home in England were good churchmen and exemplary fathers of families, laughed merrily with the most gorgeously attired cocottes from Paris, or the stars of the film world or the variety stage. Upon that wide polished floor of the splendidly decorated Rooms, with their beautiful mural paintings and heavy gilt ornamentation, the world and the half-world were upon equal footing.

Into that stifling atmosphere–for the Administration of the Bains de Mer of Monaco seem as afraid of fresh air as of purity propaganda–the glorious afternoon sunlight struggled through the curtained windows, while over each table, in addition to the electric light, oil-lamps shaded green with a billiard-table effect cast a dull, ghastly illumination upon the eager countenances of the players. Most of those who go to Monte Carlo wonder at the antiquated mode of illumination. It is, however, in consequence of an attempted raid upon the tables one night, when some adventurers cut the electric-light main, and in the darkness grabbed all they could get from the bank.

The two English visitors, both men of refinement and culture, who had watched the tall, very handsome woman in black, to whom the older man had referred as Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo, wandered through the trente-et-quarante rooms where all was silence, and counters, representing gold, were being staked with a twelve-thousand franc maximum.

Those rooms beyond are the haunt of the professional gambler, the man or woman who has been seized by the demon of speculation, just as others have been seized by that of drugs or drink. Curiously enough women are more prone to gamble than men, and the Administration of the Etablissement will tell you that when a woman of any nationality starts to gamble she will become reckless until her last throw with the devil.

Those who know Monte Carlo, those who have been habitues for twenty years–as the present writer has been–know too well, and have seen too often, the deadly influence of the tables upon the lighter side of woman’s nature. The smart woman from Paris, Vienna, or Rome never loses her head. She gambles always discreetly. The fashionable cocottes seldom lose much. They gamble at the tables discreetly and make eyes at men if they win, or if they lose. If the latter they generally obtain a “loan” from somebody. What matter? When one is at “Monty” one is not in a Wesleyan chapel. English men and women when they go to the Riviera leave their morals at home with their silk hats and Sunday gowns. And it is strange to see the perfectly respectable Englishwoman admiring the same daring costumes of the French pseudo-"countesses” at which they have held up their hands in horror when they have seen them pictured in the papers wearing those latest “creations” of the Place Vendome.

Yes. It is a hypocritical world, and nowhere is canting hypocrisy more apparent than inside the Casino at Monte Carlo.

While the two Englishmen were strolling over the polished parquet of the elegant world-famous salles-de-jeu “Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo” was experiencing quite an extraordinary run of luck.

But “Mademoiselle,” as the croupiers always called her, was usually lucky. She was an experienced, and therefore a careful player. When she staked a maximum it was not without very careful calculation upon the chances. Mademoiselle was well known to the Administration. Often her winnings were sensational, hence she served as an advertisement to the Casino, for her success always induced the uninitiated and unwary to stake heavily, and usually with disastrous results.

The green-covered gaming table, at which she was sitting next to the end croupier on the left-hand side, was crowded. She sat in what is known at Monte as “the Suicide’s Chair,” for during the past eight years ten men and women had sat in that fatal chair and had afterwards ended their lives abruptly, and been buried in secret in the Suicide’s Cemetery.

The croupiers at that table are ever watchful of the visitor who, all unawares, occupies that fatal chair. But Mademoiselle, who knew of it, always laughed the superstition to scorn. She habitually sat in that chair–and won.

Indeed, that afternoon she was winning–and very considerably too. She had won four maximums en plein within the last half-hour, and the crowd around the table noting her good fortune were now following her.

It was easy for any novice in the Rooms to see that the handsome, dark-eyed woman was a practised player. Time after time she let the coups pass. The croupiers’ invitation to play did not interest her. She simply toyed with her big gold-chain purse, or fingered her dozen piles or so of plaques in a manner quite disinterested.

She heard the croupier announce the winning number and saw the rakes at work dragging in the stakes to swell the bank. But she only smiled, and now and then shrugged her shoulders.

Whether she won or lost, or whether she did not risk a stake, she simply smiled and elevated her shoulders, muttering something to herself.

Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo was, truth to tell, a sphinx to the staff of the Casino. She looked about thirty, but probably she was older. For five years she had been there each season and gambled heavily with unvarying success. Always well but quietly dressed, her nationality was as obscure as her past. To the staff she was always polite, and she pressed hundred-franc notes into many a palm in the Rooms. But who she was or what were her antecedents nobody in the Principality of Monaco could ever tell.

The whole Cote d’Azur from Hyeres to Ventimiglia knew of her. She was one of the famous characters of Monte Carlo, just as famous, indeed, as old Mr. Drewett, the Englishman who lost his big fortune at the tables, and who was pensioned off by the Administration on condition that he never gamble at the Casino again. For fifteen years he lived in Nice upon the meagre pittance until suddenly another fortune was left him, whereupon he promptly paid up the whole of his pension and started at the tables again. In a month, however, he had lost his second fortune. Such is gambling in the little country ruled over by Prince Rouge-et-Noir.

As the two Englishmen slipped past the end table unseen on their way out into the big atrium with its many columns–the hall in which players go out to cool themselves, or collect their determination for a final flutter–Mademoiselle had just won the maximum upon the number four, as well as the column, and the croupier was in the act of pushing towards her a big pile of counters each representing a thousand francs.

The eager excited throng around the table looked across at her with envy. But her handsome countenance was quite expressionless. She simply thrust the counters into the big gold-chain purse at her side, glanced at the white-gloved fingers which were soiled by handling the counters, and then counting out twenty-five, each representing a louis, gave them to the croupier, exclaiming:

“Zero-trois!„

Next moment a dozen persons followed her play, staking their cent-sous and louis upon the spot where she had asked the croupier at the end of the table to place her stake.

“Messieurs! Faites vos jeux!„ came the strident cry again.

Then a few seconds later the croupier cried:

“Rien ne vas plus!„

The red and black wheel was already spinning, and the little ivory ball sent by the croupier’s hand in the opposite direction was clicking quickly over the numbered spaces.

Six hundred or more eyes of men and women, fevered by the gambling mania, watched the result. Slowly it lost its impetus, and after spinning about unevenly it made a final jump and fell with a loud click.

“Zer-r-o!„ cried the croupier.

And a moment later Mademoiselle had pushed before her at the end of the croupier’s rake another pile of counters, while all those who had followed the remarkable woman’s play were also paid.

“Mademoiselle is in good form to-day,” remarked one ugly old Frenchwoman who had been a well-known figure at the tables for the past ten years, and who played carefully and lived by gambling. She was one of those queer, mysterious old creatures who enter the Rooms each morning as soon as they are open, secure the best seats, occupy them all the luncheon hour pretending to play, and then sell them to wealthy gamblers for a consideration–two or three louis–perhaps–and then at once go to their ease in their own obscure abode.

The public who go to Monte know little of its strange mysteries, or of the odd people who pick up livings there in all sorts of queer ways.

“Ah!” exclaimed a man who overheard her. “Mademoiselle has wonderful luck! She won seventy-five thousand francs at the Cercle Prive last night. She won en plein five times running. Dieu! Such luck! And it never causes her the slightest excitement.”

“The lady must be very rich!” remarked an American woman sitting next to the old Frenchwoman, and who knew French well.

“Rich! Of course! She must have won several million francs from the Administration. They don’t like to see her here. But I suppose her success attracts others to play. The gambling fever is as infectious as the influenza,” declared the old Frenchwoman. “Everyone tries to discover who she is, and where she came from five years ago. But nobody has yet found out. Even Monsieur Bernard, the chief of the Surveillance, does not know,” she went on in a whisper. “He is a friend of mine, and I asked him one day. She came from Paris, he told me. She may be American, she may be Belgian, or she may be English. She speaks English and French so well that nobody can tell her true nationality.”

“And she makes money at the tables,” said the American woman in the well-cut coat and skirt and small hat. She came from Chelsea, Mass., and it was her first visit to what her pious father had always referred to as the plague spot of Europe.

“Money!” exclaimed the old woman. “Money! Dieu! She has losses, it is true, but oh!–what she wins! I only wish I had ten per cent of it. I should then be rich. Mine is a poor game, madame–waiting for someone to buy my seat instead of standing the whole afternoon. You see, there is only one row of chairs all around. So if a smart woman wants to play, some man always buys her a chair–and that is how I live. Ah! madame, life is a great game here in the Principality.”

Meanwhile young Hugh Henfrey, who had travelled from London to the Riviera and identified the mysterious mademoiselle, had passed with his friend, Walter Brock, through the atrium and out into the afternoon sunshine.

As they turned upon the broad gravelled terrace in front of the great white facade of the Casino amid the palms, the giant geraniums and mimosa, the sapphire Mediterranean stretched before them. Below, beyond the railway line which is the one blemish to the picturesque scene, out upon the point in the sea the constant pop-pop showed that the tir-aux-pigeons was in progress; while up and down the terrace, enjoying the quiet silence of the warm winter sunshine with the blue hills of the Italian coast to the left, strolled a gay, irresponsible crowd–the cosmopolitans of the world: politicians, financiers, merchants, princes, authors, and artists–the crowd which puts off its morals as easily as it discards its fur coats and its silk hats, and which lives only for gaiety and without thought of the morrow.

“Let’s sit down,” suggested Hugh wearily. “I’m sure that she’s the same woman–absolutely certain!”

“You are quite confident you have made no mistake–eh?”

“Quite, my dear Walter. I’d know that woman among ten thousand. I only know that her surname is Ferad. Her Christian name I do not know.”

“And you suspect that she knows the secret of your father’s death?”

“I’m confident that she does,” replied the good-looking young Englishman. “But it is a secret she will, I fear, never reveal, unless–unless I compel her.”

“And how can you compel her?” asked the elder of the two men, whose dark hair was slightly tinged with grey. “It is difficult to compel a woman to do anything,” he added.

“I mean to know the truth!” cried Hugh Henfrey fiercely, a look of determination in his eyes. “That woman knows the true story of my father’s death, and I’ll make her reveal it. By gad–I will! I mean it!”

“Don’t be rash, Hugh,” urged the other.

“Rash!” he cried. “It’s true that when my father died so suddenly I had an amazing surprise. My father was a very curious man. I always thought him to be on the verge of bankruptcy and that the Manor and the land might be sold up any day. When old Charman, the solicitor, read the will, I found that my father had a quarter of a million lying at the bank, and that he had left it all to me–provided I married Louise!”

“Well, why not marry her?” queried Brock lazily. “You’re always so mysterious, my dear Hugh.”

“Why!–because I love Dorise Ranscomb. But Louise interests me, and I’m worried on her account because of that infernal fellow Charles Benton. Louise poses as his adopted daughter. Benton is a bachelor of forty-five, and, according to his story, he adopted Louise when she was a child and put her to school. Her parentage is a mystery. After leaving school she at first went to live with a Mrs. Sheldon, a young widow, in an expensive suite in Queen Anne’s Mansions, Westminster. After that she has travelled about with friends and has, I believe, been abroad quite a lot. I’ve nothing against Louise, except–well, except for the strange uncanny influence which that man Benton has over her. I hate the fellow!”

“I see! And as you cannot yet reach Woodthorpe and your father’s fortune, except by marrying Louise–which you don’t intend to do–what are you going to do now?”

“First, I intend that this woman they call ‘Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo,’ the lucky woman who is a decoy of the Administration of the Bains de Mer, shall tell me the true circumstance of my father’s death. If I know them–then my hand will be strengthened.”

“Meanwhile you love Lady Ranscomb’s daughter, you say?”

“Yes. I love Dorise with all my heart. She, of course, knows nothing of the conditions of the will.”

There was a silence of some moments, interrupted only by the pop-pop of the pigeon-shots below.

Away across the white balustrade of the broad magnificent terrace the calm sapphire sea was deepening as the winter afternoon drew in. An engine whistled–that of the flower train which daily travels express from Cannes to Boulogne faster than the passenger train-deluxe, and bearing mimosa, carnations, and violets from the Cote d’Azur to Covent Garden, and to the florists’ shops in England.

“You’ve never told me the exact circumstances of your father’s death, Hugh,” remarked Brock at last.

“Exact circumstances? Ah! That’s what I want to know. Only that woman knows the secret,” answered the young man. “All I know is that the poor old guv’-nor was called up to London by an urgent letter. We had a shooting party at Woodthorpe and he left me in charge, saying that he had some business in London and might return on the following night–or he might be away a week. Days passed and he did not return. Several letters came for him which I kept in the library. I was surprised that he neither wrote nor returned, when, suddenly, ten days later, we had a telegram from the London police informing me that my father was lying in St. George’s Hospital. I dashed up to town, but when I arrived I found him dead. At the inquest, evidence was given to show that at half-past two in the morning a constable going along Albemarle Street found him in evening dress lying huddled up in a doorway. Thinking him intoxicated, he tried to rouse him, but could not. A doctor who was called pronounced that he was suffering from some sort of poisoning. He was taken to St. George’s Hospital in an ambulance, but he never recovered. The post-mortem investigation showed a small scratch on the palm of the hand. That scratch had been produced by a pin or a needle which had been infected by one of the newly discovered poisons which, administered secretly, give a post-mortem appearance of death from heart disease.”

“Then your father was murdered–eh?” exclaimed the elder man.

“Most certainly he was. And that woman is aware of the whole circumstances and of the identity of the assassin.”

“How do you know that?”

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