Mysteries of the Riviera - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Mysteries of the Riviera ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



This connected series of stories chronicle the adventures of a young American graduate of Harvard college, M. Edmund Martin and the retired British soldier, Colonel Green on the Cote d’Azur in the period just to World War 1. The two meet at a casino, and manage to avoid many of the classic traps which await the idle wealthy of the time. Seemingly inadvertently, they foil crooks, rescue maidens, recover stolen jewels, help young lovers, assist spies against Germany, and foil the plans of German agents attempting to consolidate their power. British author E. Phillips Oppenheim achieved worldwide fame with his thrilling novels and short stories concerning international espionage and intrigue. Many of his more than 100 novels are still read today.

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AT about nine o’clock on a brilliant February morning, the motor-omnibus which had been down to meet the train de luxe from England came into sight, ascending the winding roadway to the Paradise Hotel. About a dozen of us were loitering in front to watch the new arrivals. It had become quite a source of amusement with some of the habitués of the place to watch the confident arrival of newcomers, and to see them pass through the various grades of doubt to despair when they inquired what accommodation could be offered them in this highly popular caravanserai.

On this occasion, the omnibus contained a single passenger only, a passenger, however, of singular and noteworthy appearance. I am forced to admit that when he stepped out of the omnibus and looked around him, we were none of us favourably impressed with the appearance of Mr. Martin–Mr. Edmund H. Martin, as he preferred to call himself. He was large, and abominably dressed in a suit of impossible checks. He wore bright yellow boots with bulgy toes. His tie seemed to have gathered together every colour of the rainbow into its motley mesh. As he stood there gazing around him, I heard a little titter from Mrs. Moggeridge and her daughters, and I caught the supercilious look exchanged between two of our young men who were lounging against the pillars.

The newcomer, it must be confessed, did not conform in any way to recognized standards, yet even in those first few moments I found something about his appearance which attracted me. Notwithstanding his great size–he was six feet three and very broad–his face was innocent of any beard or moustache. He seemed, indeed, to possess the fresh-complexioned visage of a boy. He stood there, an incipient smile struggling for the least encouragement to take formal possession of his good-humoured face, looking around him for someone to whom he could address the remark which it eventually fell to my lot to receive.

‘Say, this is a bully place!’ he exclaimed, appealing first to me and then to us all generally.

Mrs. Moggeridge and her daughters–very lady-like young persons–turned around and strolled away. The two young men were gazing over the tops of the trees. An old lady who was knitting seemed to find some cause for personal offence in this simple expression of contentment. Unfortunately, an elderly gentleman of kindly deposition who was sitting on a garden seat, and who might have made some response, was stone deaf. It remained for me, therefore, either to welcome this young man or to contribute to the somewhat chilling silence.

‘You see it quite at its best,’ I remarked. ‘With the wind in its favourable quarter, the climate here is almost perfection.’

‘Guess I’ll see about my room,’ the young man went on, unwillingly giving over what I believe he called a ‘grip’ to an insistent porter.

‘Are your rooms engaged?’ I asked.

‘Not yet,’ the newcomer replied. ‘I’ll soon fix that all right.’

He disappeared with an air of easy confidence. There was a little exchange of smiles. The hotel was not only always impossibly full, but the whole business of getting rooms was immensely complicated from the fact that no one was ever willing to leave. We watched the disappearance of this young man into the office, and I distinctly saw signs of ill-natured but pleasurable anticipation in the faces of several people standing around.

‘What an extraordinary person!’ Mrs. Moggeridge exclaimed.

‘American, of course,’ the elder daughter observed. ‘He may be very rich,’ the younger one added reflectively.

‘We don’t want that sort of person here,’ the dear old lady by my side snapped.

‘Did you ever see such a get-up!’ one of the young men yawned. ‘Bet you they’ll send him down to the Îles d’Or.’

Mr. Edmund H. Martin, however, was apparently possessed of some gifts of persuasion. When he finally emerged from the office, it was to superintend the collection of his baggage. He caught my eye and beamed upon me.

‘See you later,’ he promised amiably. ‘I’m going to see if I can get some breakfast.’

The little air of disappointment was almost apparent. The old lady picked up her knitting and went off into the office to complain of anyone having been given a room when a friend of her cousin’s, strongly recommended by herself, had been sent to another hotel only the day before. I nodded back to Mr. Edmund Martin as pleasantly as possible.

‘See you down at the golf links,’ I remarked.

‘Sure!’ he replied heartily. ‘So long, all,’ he added, as he moved steadily off in the direction of the restaurant.

I played my usual round of golf with an opponent of long standing. On looking up after successfully holing my putt on the last green, I found the horizon temporarily blotted out. Mr. Edmund H. Martin, looking larger than ever, was applauding my performance.

‘Say, that was a dandy putt,’ he declared, removing a large cigar from his mouth. ‘You come right along in with me and I’ll mix you a cocktail.’

Every natural instinct I possessed prompted me to refuse this–to me–somewhat extraordinary invitation. It was not my habit to take anything to drink in the morning except sometimes a little Dubonnet and soda, and I was already conscious of the somewhat supercilious interest aroused in my companion by the familiarity of this extraordinary young man. The refusal, however, seemed to wither away upon my lips.

‘Thank you very much,’ I replied. ‘I shall have to offer my opponent a little refreshment in exchange for his five francs.’

‘Why, that’s all right,’ the young man declared heartily, leading the way towards the pavilion. ‘I’ll mix for the whole crowd. I’ll give you something that will put a little sting into your carcass.’

I am convinced that this young man was possessed of certain mesmeric powers. My opponent, who was in a very bad temper, and who was also a retired colonel, but a soldier, as he was sometimes pleased to explain, followed meekly in my wake. We watched the little bar being turned upside down and we watched the preparation of a concoction which I, for my part, was perfectly certain must inevitably prove highly injurious.

In the end, however, we not only drank the wineglassful of yellow-white liquid which was tendered to us, but I am bound to say that we enjoyed it. My opponent crossed his legs and began to explain his defeat. I myself was conscious of a pleasant sense of good-fellowship. I inquired our new friend’s name and introduced him to several of the habitués.

‘What about a round with me this afternoon, Colonel?’ he suggested insinuatingly.

‘I shall be delighted,’ I assented promptly, abandoning without hesitation my principle of an hour’s sleep after luncheon.

Our new friend mixed cocktails for several of the people to whom I introduced him, and we left him there, looking hungrily around for a new victim.

‘Something about that drink,’ my companion remarked lazily, as we strolled up to the hotel, ‘which seems to have done me good, Green. You really did play a fine game this morning.’

‘I was very lucky to beat you,’ I declared modestly. ‘You were driving much straighter than I was ... I never thought that these American drinks were so pleasant. Let us sit down and watch the tennis for a few minutes. Most becoming costume these young ladies wear nowadays.’

We sat there for some time, basking in the sunshine and chatting amiably. I enjoyed my lunch none the less for finding our new friend only a few tables off and receiving a very hearty greeting from him. I found him, according to arrangement, waiting upon the tee at two o’clock.

‘What,’ I asked him, ‘is your handicap?’ He grinned.

‘Never mind about mine. What’s yours?’

‘I am twelve,’ I replied diffidently; ‘but I occasionally play a nine game.’

‘I am about the same myself,’ he announced. ‘We’ll start level, anyway.’

He insisted upon my taking the honour, and I drove what I considered to be an excellent ball, within forty yards of the green. My opponent, discarding the driver which the caddy offered him, took a light iron from his bag and hit a ball farther than I have ever seen it propelled by human means before. He carried the green and very nearly disappeared into the hedge beyond. As soon as I had recovered, I announced my intention of returning to the pavilion.

‘I am not going to play with a Braid in disguise,’ I told him. ‘If you can do that sort of thing, you ought to have told me.’

He took me by the arm almost affectionately. Against my will, but without any desire for resistance, I was led along the course.

‘Say, Colonel,’ he confided, ‘I’m a holy terror from the tee. You wait till you see me drive! But it’s those rotten little shots I can’t manage. And as to putting–well, you wait! I can’t seem to keep the ball on the green, even.’

I played a very nice approach within a couple of yards of the pin. My opponent overran the green about sixty yards, cheerfully missed his third, and was nearly back again in the hedge with his fourth. I won the hole and recovered my good humour.

‘It would be worth your while,’ I remarked, as I watched him drive nearly three hundred yards, ‘to give a little time to your short game.’

‘I always mean to practise,’ he agreed. ‘No chance in New York, though.’

We had a very interesting match, which I succeeded in winning. I was then initiated into the mysteries of a Scotch highball, after which I felt it advisable to go and have a nap before dinner. When I descended to the lounge, a little earlier than usual, I discovered Mr. Edmund H. Martin, attired, to my relief, in conventional if somewhat eccentric dinner garb, seated in an easy chair with a cigarette in his mouth, and a small memorandum book, which he was studying in a puzzled fashion, held up in front of him. The moment I appeared he held up two fingers to a waiter, who disappeared as though by magic.

‘That’s all right, Colonel,’ he exclaimed, as I watched the man’s hasty exit. ‘He’s got a couple of the right sort on ice for us. Just sit down for a moment, will you? What is this game all the nice old ladies here want me to play with them?’

I took the memorandum book from his hand. Down the engagement columns, at intervals for the next fortnight, were such entries as–‘Mrs. H.,’ ‘Mrs. A.,’ ‘Miss Fuzzy-Wuzzy,’ ‘Miss Giglamps,’ and various other fancy pseudonyms, some of which I readily recognized.

‘Had to put down something where I didn’t catch the names,’ he pointed out. ‘What is the game, anyway?’

‘Auction bridge, of course,’ I told him. ‘They are all crazy on it here. Can’t you play?’

‘Not that I know of,’ he replied evasively. ‘I never tried.’

‘Then what on earth did you accept all these invitations for?’

I had clearly cornered Mr. Edmund H. Martin. He scratched his chin reflectively.

‘What was I to do?’ he grumbled. ‘I like to be friendly with everyone, and I hate to say “No” when a lady comes up and asks me to join in a simple little game of cards.’

‘That’s all very well,’ I objected, ‘but you can’t play the game. You’ll spoil the rubber.’

‘Not I,’ he assured me cheerfully. ‘Between you and me, there’s nothing with cards I can’t do. Just you watch here.’

He took a pack of cards from his pocket and for several moments I watched him, almost stupefied. Cards came up from his neck, down his trousers legs, they fell in little showers upon the table, apparently from mid-air. He even produced an ace of spades from my shirt-front.

‘You see, I’m no mug,’ he declared modestly. ‘As for this particular game, why, I’ll just look into the rules. You haven’t got a book about it, have you?’

I sipped the most insinuating contents of one of the glasses which the waiter had just brought us, and afterwards I fetched him my Badsworth and left him studying it. That night I saw him, one of four solemn performers, seated, smileless and eager, at a card-table in a corner of the lounge. He joined me at about ten o’clock. He looked a little older and was glancing about feverishly for a waiter.

‘Get through all right?’ I inquired.

‘I guess so,’ he answered. ‘I fell a bit behind now and then, but as soon as I tumbled to it that we weren’t playing for money, I dealt my partner a hundred aces once or twice, and that made things all right because she kept on having to play the hands. They are talking about it all over the hotel. It seems that no one has had a hundred aces six times in one evening before.’

‘Look here,’ I begged him earnestly, ‘you mustn’t be up to any of those tricks here. The people wouldn’t understand it. Bridge is a very solemn function, and they wouldn’t take it as a joke, anyhow.’

‘Joke? It wasn’t a joke at all,’ he assured me. ‘I did it on purpose. If you’d seen my partner’s face as she kept on picking ‘em up–dear old thing about seventy, she was, with a blue ribbon in her hair–you’d have forgiven me fast enough. She clean forgot a kind of lapse I’d had, playing the hand before. Why, I tell you I made quite a hit. They’ve asked me to play with them every Tuesday till the hotel closes.’

‘But you’re only going to stay a fortnight,’ I reminded him.

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