Mr. Laxworthy’s Adventures - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Mr. Laxworthy’s Adventures ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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The man was awaiting the service of his dinner in the magnificent buffet of the Gare de Lyon. He sat at a table laid for three, on the right-hand side of the entrance and close to the window. From below came the turmoil of the trains. In appearance he was of somewhat less than medium height, of unathletic, almost frail, physique. His head was thrust a little forward, as though he were afflicted with a chronic stoop. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles with the air of one who has taken to them too late in life to have escaped the constant habit of peering, which had given to his neck an almost storklike appearance.

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Liczba stron: 266

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Contents

I. THE SECRET OF THE "MAGNIFIQUE"

II. THE TRAGEDY AT THE FLOWER FARM (A MATTER OF A THOUSAND POUNDS)

III. THE HOUSE OF THE WOMAN OF DEATH

IV. THE STRANGE MEETING AT THE VILLA DE CAP FRINET

V. THE VAGARIES OF THE PRINCE OF LIGURIA

VI. MYSTERY HOUSE

VII. THE FLOWERS OF DEATH

VIII. THE DESERTED HOTEL

IX. THE CASE OF MR. AND MRS. STETSON

X. MR. GREENLAW'S FORTY THOUSAND POUNDS

XI. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MR. COLSHAW

XII. MR. LAXWORTHY, DEBT COLLECTOR

I. THE SECRET OF THE “MAGNIFIQUE”

THE man was awaiting the service of his dinner in the magnificent buffet of the Gare de Lyon. He sat at a table laid for three, on the right-hand side of the entrance and close to the window. From below came the turmoil of the trains.

In appearance he was of somewhat less than medium height, of unathletic, almost frail, physique. His head was thrust a little forward, as though he were afflicted with a chronic stoop. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles with the air of one who has taken to them too late in life to have escaped the constant habit of peering, which had given to his neck an almost storklike appearance.

A maître d’hôtel, who was passing, paused and looked at the two as yet unoccupied places.

“Monsieur desires the service of his dinner?” he inquired.

John T. Laxworthy glanced up at the clock.

“In five minutes,” he declared, “my friends will have arrived. The service of dinner can then proceed.”

The man bowed and withdrew. Almost as he left the table the swinging doors opened once more to admit another traveller. His eyes fell upon the solitary figure, now deep in a book, seated at the table on his right. With the pleased smile of one who greets an old friend he approached the table at which Mr. John T. Laxworthy sat waiting.

The idiosyncrasies of great men are always worth noting, and Mr. John T. Laxworthy was. without a doubt, foredoomed from the cradle to a certain measure of celebrity. Even now. when his friend stood by his side, he did not at once look up. Slowly, and with his eyes still riveted upon the pages he was studying, he held out his left hand.

“I am glad to see you. Anderson,” he said. “Shall it be white or red?”

Mr. John T. Laxworthy closed his book with a little sigh of regret and placed a marker within it. He then carefully adjusted his spectacles and made a deliberate survey of his companion. Finally he nodded, slowly and approvingly.

A young man who had just completed a leisurely survey of the room dropped his monocle and came toward them. He was young, he was English. he was well bred, he was an athlete. He beamed upon the two men.

“How are you, Forrest? How do you do, Laxworthy?” he exclaimed. “Looking jolly fit, both of you,” he went on amiably. “What a necktie, chief! You ought to let me choose ‘em for you.”

Mr. Laxworthy raised his glass. Then he inclined his head in turn to each of his companions.

“I am glad to see you both,” he said. “On the whole, I think that I may congratulate you. You have done well. I drink to our success.”

There was a short pause. Presently Mr. Laxworthy commenced to peel an apple.

“A great portion of this last year,” be said. “which you two have spent apparently with profit in carrying out my instructions, I have given to the perfection of a certain scholarly tone which I feel convinced is my proper environment. Incidentally I have devoted myself to the study of various schools of philosophy. I have emerged from my studies with a clearer and more decisive outlook upon the general scheme of life.

“In one very interesting treatise I found several obvious truths ingeniously put. A certain decadence in the material prosperity of an imaginary state is clearly proved to be due to a too blind following of the tenets of what is known as the hysterical morality, as against the decrees of what we might call expediency. A little sentiment, like garlic in cookery, is a good thing. Too much is fatal. A little–sufficient– morality is excellent; a superabundance disastrous.

“Society is divided into two classes, those who have and those who have desire to have. The one must always prey upon the other. They are therefore always changing places. It is this continued movement which lends energy to the human race. As soon as it is suspended, degeneration must follow as a matter of course. It is for those who recognize this great truth to follow and obey its tenets.”

Mr. Laxworthy was silent for several moments. He was glancing in meditative fashion through the pages of the book in which he had been engrossed before the arrival of his friends. Finally he closed it.

“There are some sentences there,” he remarked, “wonderfully illustrative of my meaning. Briefly the situation is this:

“Here am I, a man of singular intelligence and much energy, willing to associate myself with you two in any enterprise likely to lead us out of the common ruck of life, adventurous or mercenary, which may commend itself to us. For that purpose I have trained you both according to your capacities. What you are you owe, in some measure to me; in a lesser degree to yourselves. In any case you are now fit to take the floor.”

“May we not hear more definitely what it is that you propose?” Anderson asked.

“We stand,” Mr. Laxworthy replied, always upon the, threshold of the land off adventure. At no place are we nearer to it than in this room. It is our duty to use our energies to assist in the great principles of movement to which I have referred. We must take our part in the struggle,

“On which side?*” you naturally ask. “Are we to be among those who have, and who, through weakness or desire. must yield to others? Or shall we take our place among the more intellectual, the most highly gifted minority, those who assist the progress of the world by helping toward the redistribution of its wealth? Sydney, how much money have you?”

“Three hundred and ninety-five francs and a few coppers.”

“And you, Anderson?”

“"With the exception of a five franc piece,” he admitted. “I am worth exactly as much as I shall be able to borrow from you presently.”

“In that case,” Mr. Laxworthy said, “or position is preordained. We take our place among the aggressors.

“Our plans” he announced abruptly, “are not vet wholly made. We wait her for, shall we call it, an inspiration? Perhaps even at this moment, its is not far from us.”

Forrest Anderson and his vis-à-vis turned as though Instinctively, toward the door. At that moment two men who had just passed through were standing upon the threshold.

One was rather past middle age, corpulent, with red features of a coarse type. His companion, who was leading, was wasted almost to emaciation, his complexion was ghastly.

Slowly the two men came down the room. They took possession of an empty table close at hand. The young man sank into his chair with a little sigh of exhaustion.

“A liqueur brandy, quick,” the older man ordered. “My friend is fatigued.”

Sydney took the bottle which stood upon their table, poured out a wineglassful, and stepped across and accosted the young man.

“Do me the favor of drinking this, sir,” he begged. “I can see that you are in need of it.”

The young man accepted it with a smile of gratitude. His companion echoed his thanks.

Sydney stepped back and resumed his seat. In a few minutes he leaned across the table.

“The Paradise Hotel Hyères,” he said under his breath.

Mr. Laxworthy shrugged his shoulders.

“Even you, my friends, are not wholly deceived, I presume, by the young man’s appearance.”

They evidently were. Mr. Laxworthy sighed.

“Your powers of observation are, without doubt, exceedingly stunted. Let me assure you that your sympathy for that young man is entirely wasted.”

“You know who he is?” Sydney asked.

“I believe so,” Laxworthy admitted. “I can hazard a guess even as to his companion’s identity. But?the Paradise Hotel, Hyères! Anderson, watch the door. Sydney, watch your friends there.”

A tall, broad shouldered man, with fair mustache and wearing a long travelling coat, had entered the buffet. The majority of those present suffered his scrutiny unnoticing, indifferent. Not so these two men who had last entered. Every nerve of the young man’s body seemed to have become tense. His hand had stolen into the pocket of his travelling coat, and, with a little thrill, Sidney saw the glitter of steel half-shown for a moment between his interlocked fingers. No longer was this young man’s countenance the countenance of an invalid. It had become, instead, like the face of a wolf.

The man came slowly down the room, Laxworthy and his two associates watched. Their two neighbors at the next table sat in well simulated indifference. The newcomer made no secret of his destination. He advanced straight to their table and came to a standstill immediately in front of them.

Of all the words which passed between those three men, not one was audible. Only at the last the elder man touched the label attached to his bag, and they heard his words:

“The Paradise Hotel, Hyères. We shall be there for at least a month”

The newcomer stood perfectly still for several moments, as though deliberating Then this stranger raised his hat slightly and turned away.

“The Paradise Hotel at Hyères,” he repeated. “I shall know, then, where to find you.”

“One might be interested to know the meaning of these things,” Sydney murmured softly.

A woman, wrapped in magnificent furs, who was passing their table, was run into by a clumsy waiter and dropped a satchel from her finger. Sydney hastened to restore it to her and was rewarded by a gracious smile.

“You seem fated to be my good Samaritan to-day,” she remarked. “Perhaps we shall meet in the Luxe, if you are going south. I am going to Hyères–to the Paradise Hotel. Why do you smile?”

“My friends and I,” he explained, “were at that moment discussing a suggestion to proceed to the same place.”

“I congratulate you,” Laxworthy remarked dryly as Sydney resumed his seat. “A most interesting acquaintance, yours.”

“Do you know who she is?” the young man asked. “I only met her on the train.”

“She is Madame Bertrand. Her husband at one time held a post in the Foreign Office under Faure. For some reason or other, he was discredited, and since then he has died. There was some scandal about Madame Bertrand herself, but nothing definite ever came to light.”

“Madame seems to survive the loss of her husband,” Forrest Anderson remarked.

Laxworthy held up his hand.

“We have finished, for the moment, with the Madame Bertrands of the world,” he announced. “After all, they are for the pygmies. Here comes food for giants. You can both look. They are probably used to it. You will see the two greatest personages on earth.”

His companions gazed eagerly toward the door. Two men were standing there. One was middle aged, gray headed, with somewhat worn, but keen face. The other was taller, with black hair streaked with gray, a face half Jewish, half romantic, a skin like ivory.

“The one nearest you,” Laxworthy announced, “is Freeling Poignton. The newspapers will tell you that his fortune exceeds the national debt of any country in the world. He is, without doubt, the richest man that was ever born. There has never yet breathed an emperor whose upraised finger could provoke or stop a war, whose careless word could check the prosperity of the proudest nation that ever breathed. These things Freeling Poignton can do.”

“And the other?” Anderson whispered.

“It is chance,” Mr. Laxworthy said, “which placed a sceptre of unlimited power In the hands of Richard Freeling Poignton. It is his own genius which has made the Marquis Lefant the greatest power in the diplomatic world.”

“I never even heard of him,” Sydney admitted.

“These things are new to you,” Mr. Laxworthy continued. “The world’s history is marked for you by what you read in the daily papers. For every great happening there must be an obvious cause. You are one of the vast public, an acceptor of obvious causes.

“Yet look at that man. It was his decision which brought about war between Russia and Japan. It was he who stopped the declaration of war against Germany by our own Prime Minister at the time of the Algeciras difficulty. There is little that he cannot do.”

A maître d’hôtel paused and whispered confidentially in Mr. Laxworthy’s ear:

“The gray gentleman down there, sir,” he announced, “is Mr. Freeling Poignton, the great American multi-millionaire.”

Laxworthy nodded slowly. “Is he going to Monte Carlo?”

The attendant shook his head.

“I was speaking to them a moment ago, sir. Mr. Poignton and his friend are going for a fortnight’s quiet to the Paradise Hotel at Hyères.”

*     *

*

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