Prodigals of Monte Carlo - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Prodigals of Monte Carlo ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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He might be almost forgotten now, but Mr. Oppenheim wrote an amazing 116 novels, including many bestsellers. Several are set amid the glamour of Monte Carlo, including this 1920s romantic thriller. The novel has an intriguing start, as handsome and charming Sir Hargrave Wendever gets a nasty shock from the doctor. Wealthy, handsome, intelligent, single, with the world at his feet – suddenly he finds his world crumbling. What will he do? He decides to do some good with his money in the time he has left, and offers a penniless young woman a free holiday at his villa, with no strings attached. The reader is transported from the grey fogs of London to the sunshine of Monte Carlo, where, along with the hero and some new friends, the real adventures begin.

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Liczba stron: 390

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER I

SIR HARGRAVE WENDEVER, Baronet, country gentleman, and for a brief space of time a noted figure in financial circles, lounged against the mantelpiece in the waiting room of a famous Harley Street physician on a wet January morning, amusing himself with an old copy of Punch. He was a tall man, inclined to thinness, with a long, lean face, bronzed complexion, and grey-blue eyes. The hair around his ears was greying a little; otherwise he scarcely looked his thirty-nine years. He was alone in the room–a somewhat alien figure in the sombre surroundings, for he had all the appearance of perfect health, and it was obvious that he shared none of the nervous anticipations which so many of Sir James Horridge’s patients experienced in that atmosphere of waiting. Nevertheless, it was with an air of content, as though relieved of a brief period of boredom, that he responded to the butler’s summons and passed into the consulting room. The physician–a thick-set, hard-jawed man, with keen eyes and heavy, bushy eyebrows–looked up at his entrance, nodded, and pointed to a chair.

“Sit down, Sir Hargrave,” he invited. “What can I do for you? You don’t look as though there were much wrong with you.”

“As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is,” Wendever replied, making himself comfortable in the patient’s chair. “I took a toss a fortnight ago hunting, chose the wrong place in a thick hedge, and came down rather heavily on my left side. I’ve had a queer spell or two since, and Dudley–our local man–thought I’d better see you.”

The physician nodded and reached for his stethoscope.

“Take off your coat and waistcoat,” he enjoined.

It was about half an hour later when Hargrave Wendever passed through the portals of the house in Harley Street and hesitated upon the steps.

“Would you like me to call you a taxicab, sir?” the butler, with immutable face, enquired.

“Thanks, I’ll pick one up,” was the careless reply.

Hargrave strolled down the street–the same street, the same houses on either side, the same heavy, grey atmosphere and slight drizzle of rain. Yet he seemed suddenly to be far removed from it all, to have stepped into some foreign land, to be surrounded with objects familiar enough in themselves but belonging to some other part of some one else’s life. The sort of shock which he had just received might possibly have happened to any one else, might have been discovered in the pages of fiction, might have flashed across the mind for a moment, conceived by the workings of a freakish imagination, but that it should have happened to him, a strong, well-living man in the prime of life, was incomprehensible. He walked mechanically along the broad pavement, and mechanically raised his stick as he came across a wandering taxicab. Leaning back in the corner, he tried to think. His mind, however, for the moment refused to go forward, or to dwell upon that brief period of drama from which he had just emerged. It fixed itself obstinately upon those few breathless moments which had immediately preceded his accident. He recalled the throbbing excitement of the run, the inspiring sensation of a fine horse moving under him, the sudden realisation that he was a little detached from the rest of the field. The fence ahead was unfamiliar, thicker than he cared about, and that stunted oak tree just in his line. Which side should he take it? He made up his mind and afterwards never hesitated, jammed his hat a little farther down upon his head, and went for it without doubt or fear.–Then came the sudden vision of that unexpected widening of the ditch, almost a pithole, on the other side–the crash, and darkness.–Yes, it had been a bad fall, but he had suffered worse. He had recovered consciousness within a few minutes, had almost decided to dine with friends that night, but had been dissuaded. And now–what was it the doctor had said of him–of no other man–of him, Hargrave Wendever? The thing was incredible!

*     *

*

THAT night, Hargrave Wendever gave a dinner party to three men, all, as it chanced, old school fellows, at his flat in Berkeley Square. On his right sat Philip Gorse, a clergyman of the most modern type, a miracle worker, who a few years previously had taken over a great barnlike church in the heart of London with an occasional congregation of a few score, which he now filled to overflowing three times on Sundays and twice a week. He had two great gifts–earnestness and eloquence–and he was possessed of a nervous, almost passionate hatred of all sorts of humbug. He was a fair, rather delicate-looking man, clean-shaven, with a lined face, a sensitive mouth and clear grey eyes. He wore ordinary dinner clothes, cut in the most correct fashion, and his tempered enjoyment of his host’s hospitality left nothing to be desired. On the latter’s other side sat Lord Edward Pellingham, a young man who had played at diplomacy and dabbled in politics, but was best known in his world by reason of a delightful disposition, and a philosophy which entailed a placid acceptance of the good things which fall to the lot of even the fourth son of a Duke with an adequate allowance. The concluding member of the party was John Marston–pink and white and prosperous, with flaxen hair brushed close to his head, a partner in the firm of stockbrokers which Hargrave’s great-grandfather had founded, and in which, for a short time, Hargrave himself had been a partner.

They had been speaking of Philip Gorse’s amazing success, and during a pause in the conversation, Hargrave asked him a question.

“Tell me, Philip,” he enquired, “did you ever try to account for the very strong hold you seem to have acquired over those astonishing congregations of yours? Of course we all know that you have the gift of speech–we realised that at Oxford–but there must be something more than that in it. Sheer eloquence only appeals to people who have imagination themselves, but they tell me that your congregations are drawn chiefly from the most difficult of all classes–small shopkeepers and clerks, and girls who work for their living in the City.”

“One of the sights of London is to see the people trying to get into the church on Sunday evening,” Marston remarked.

“I know a chap who’s given up dining on Sunday night and never misses,” Lord Edward Pellingham intervened.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of eloquence at all,” Philip Gorse declared thoughtfully. “There are other men preaching to-day to whom I couldn’t hold a candle. I don’t think it’s even earnestness alone. Earnestness, perhaps, coupled with sympathy. You see,” he went on, peeling a peach, “I am all the time trying to live in thought with my people. The series of sermons I am just finishing is a series which I call ‘Life’s Day by Day Problems’.”

“Pretty difficult to tackle some of them,” Lord Edward, who had never been called upon to face a problem in his life, sighed.

“And the smaller they are the more perplexing sometimes,” Marston observed.

“A man’s financial difficulties, for instance,” Gorse continued, “the difficulty of making both ends meet and putting a bit on one side on the average salary. That’s a subject they can all understand. Trouble with the wife–a little fed up with too much housekeeping and too little pleasure, perhaps. That’s another. Discipline of children who are growing up and have ideas of their own. You’ve no notion how many perfectly everyday problems there are with which a man in moderate circumstances can find himself confronted during the week.”

There was a little murmur of appreciation. Hargrave’s lips parted for a moment in what seemed to be a smile–a smile, however, which still contained more than a trace of bitterness.

“I will present you with a problem which occurred to me to-day,” he said. “You three represent entirely different points of view. You shall each give me your ideas. Supposing that for some reason or other a man like any one of us four, prosperous, healthy, in good odour with the world, were suddenly faced with the termination of his career, in say six or eight months’ time, how would you, supposing you were that man, spend the interval?”

“Do you mean if one knew that one were going to die?” Marston enquired.

“Not necessarily,” Hargrave replied. “I want you, if you can, to conceive the position in this way. To-day is the seventh of January, isn’t it? Say on the seventh of July you had to step into some utterly different condition of life or state of existence, and that nothing you could do between now and then could make any difference; exactly how should you spend that six months?”

“No problem at all about that for me,” Pellingham declared promptly. “Not having any one dependent upon me, I should raise every penny I had in the world, I should hire a villa–as beautiful as yours out at Monte Carlo, if I could find it, Hargrave–select the most agreeable companions from amongst my friends to bear me company, charter a yacht for short cruises, and imbibe so far as possible the spirit of Boccaccio’s charming puppets.”

“A characteristic start,” Hargrave observed. “What about you, Marston?”

Marston removed his eyeglass and scratched his chin thoughtfully.

“Well,” he said, “it’s a bit of a problem, but I think, if I were to yield to my natural inclinations, I should do what I’ve never had the courage to attempt yet–because of my partners for one thing, and because of my position on the Stock Exchange for another–I’d go in for an almighty and wonderful speculation. I’d select one of several stocks I know of, with a free market, and I wouldn’t go for it piecemeal either–I’d go for it as the Americans do–smash it to pieces or boost it to the skies. You fellows aren’t speculators, I know, and you’ve no idea what self-restraint a stockbroker has to exercise. There’s no fascination in the world like the fascination of the legitimate gamble if you once give way to it.”

“And you, Philip?” Hargrave asked, surprising the other’s eyes fixed upon him with a curious intentness.

Philip Gorse shrugged his shoulders.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know that there’s much I would change in my life. I’m as happy as any man ought to be. I love my work, but I couldn’t work any harder. I have enough to eat and drink and good friends. I think I should go on pretty well as I’m going now.”

“H’m! You’re all three more characteristic than illuminating,” Hargrave remarked, pouring himself out a glass of wine and passing the decanter.

“We’re logical, anyhow,” Marston rejoined. “As a matter of fact, if we were honest with ourselves I think we should find that half our conduct of life is influenced by the fear of results. If we were quite sure that there was no aftermath of life left for regrets we should at least for once in our lives be natural.”

Gorse dissented, and for a few minutes there was argument. Pellingham wound it up by a direct appeal to his host.

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