The Colossus of Arcadia - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Colossus of Arcadia ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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This late novel of E. Phillips Oppenheim begins as the „Train Bleu” pulls into the railroad station in Monaco. It’s a leisurely spy fiction tale set in Monaco as various members of aristocracy from different countries plus one vacationing American woman find themselves involved with international intrigue. The bulk of the book consists of members of the leisure class drinking cocktails, playing baccarat, and generally spending time in Monaco’s elite clubs. Oppenheim’s work often reflected the current political and social events he was living through. In the late 1930’s, Oppenheim was living in the South of France, near Monaco, as that playground of the wealthy slowly emptied out it wealthy and royal clientele in advance of the coming war.

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Liczba stron: 433

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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 I

THERE was nothing graceful or sinuous-like in the ponderous wheezing approach of the long train with its enormous engine into Monte Carlo station. It may have been, indeed it was, the famous Blue Train; but it came to its final standstill with a clanking of couplings and a succession of convulsive jerks which threw off their balance most of the passengers, who were standing in the corridors hanging out of the windows eager to attract the notice of porters. Whilst the majority of them were fumbling for their tickets and registered luggage slips, a quiet-looking man of indeterminate age, neatly dressed and showing no signs of the night journey, passed out of the barriers, gave up his ticket, and, followed by a porter carrying two suitcases, stepped into the nearest fiacre.

“Place one of the bags here beneath my feet,” he told the porter. “Give the other to the driver. Tell him to go to the Hôtel de Paris.”

The pourboire was adequate, his client’s accent proved him to be no stranger to the country, the sun was shining and there was plenty of time to get another job from the same train. The porter removed his hat with a broad smile and with a sweeping bow he stepped aside. The little carriage, with much cracking of the whip by the cocher, mounted the first steep grade, proceeded at a more moderate speed up the second, and entered the Place, with its gardens a blaze of flowers, and the white front of the Casino in the background dominating the busy scene. Again the pourboire offered by the new arrival was satisfactory; and the cocher, removing his hat, seasoned his word of thanks with a smile which was an obvious welcome to the Principality. The late occupant of his vehicle, followed at a respectful distance by the hotel bagagist, who had taken his suitcases, presented himself at the reception desk.

“My name,” he announced, producing a card, “is Stephen Ardrossen. I wrote you from the Travellers’ Club in Paris.”

“Quite so, sir,” the clerk replied, with a third smile which exceeded in graciousness and apparent sincerity any welcome which the newcomer had yet received. “We have reserved for you a small suite upon the third floor. If you will be so kind as to come this way . . .”

The newcomer hesitated.

“It occurred to me,” he said, “that since the removal of the Sporting Club, you might perhaps have some difficulty with regard to the rooms in the Nouvel Hôtel.”

The young man shrugged his shoulders.

“Later on,” he confided, “every room in the hotel will be taken. At present they are considered a little out of the way.”

“I am acquainted with the geography of the establishment,” the new arrival said. “I like the quiet, and I imagine they would be less expensive.”

The clerk, after a whispered consultation with a confrère, took down a couple of keys and led the way around the corner along a passage to the row of apartments on the ground floor opening out on the gardens, in the direction of the Nouvel Hôtel. He threw open a door which led into a small semicircular sitting room. The newcomer glanced casually at the bedroom and bathroom beyond, unfastened the French windows, and stepped out on the gravel walk.

“The price for this suite,” the clerk told him, “will be a hundred francs less than the one in the hotel.”

“I shall take it,” Mr. Ardrossen decided. “Will you kindly have my bags sent round?”

“Immediately, sir.”

The young man bowed and withdrew. The newly arrived traveller seated himself upon a bench a few feet away from the window and gazed lazily at the sun-bathed view. In the far distance he could see the train which had brought him from Calais winding its way around the bay towards Menton, below him the picturesque little harbour gay with shipping; and, on the other side, the rock of old Monaco, the Palace, the Cathedral, and the State buildings, strange and yet somehow impressive in their architecture. He looked upward to the hills dotted with red-roofed villas and beyond to the less clearly visible line of the snow-capped Alps. Below there were strains of music from the orchestra playing on the Terrace. Promenaders were crowding the streets, and back and forth an ever-flowing stream of cheerful, lighthearted holidaymakers entered or issued from the Casino.

It was, without a doubt, a place in which one might find amusement.

The suitcases were presently brought in by one of the porters. The traveller rose from his place, dispensed a satisfactory recompense, unlocked his bags and rang for the valet. He ordered a bath and handed the man a large sponge-bag and a peignoir. Then he pushed back the lid of the other suitcase, and lifted from it a heavy metal coffer which he placed upon the writing table.

The valet reappeared. Behind him was the pleasing sound of running water.

“Your bath is ready, sir,” he announced.

Ardrossen pointed to the first valise.

“You will find a suit of flannels there,” he said, “with linen and a change of underclothes. Put them out in the bedroom.”

The man disappeared with the case. As soon as he had left the room, but without undue haste, Ardrossen took off his coat, turned back the cuff and, rolling up the left sleeve of his shirt, disclosed a small band of gold fashioned like the modern bracelets in vogue amongst a certain type of young Frenchman. Touching apparently a spring from underneath, he drew from the interior a small key of curious design with which he unlocked the coffer. The latter contained several bundles of documents, all neatly secured by rubber bands. There were also two small books bound in Morocco leather, each having a lock after the style of a private ledger. Ardrossen, having checked its contents with great care, closed the coffer, relocked it, replaced the key in the aperture of the bracelet; and, sniffing up the warm steam with an air of content, he made his way into the bathroom.

The second person to pass the barrier leading from the station platform to the paradise beyond was of a very different type from her predecessor. She was a girl–slim, with a healthy, intelligent face, brown eyes dancing with happiness, soignée in her neat travelling suit, and with the air of one already feverishly anxious to drink in the unusualness of her surroundings. She, too, scorned the bus but handed to the porter a crumpled-up registration ticket.

“For myself,” she declared, speaking French fluently and with a tolerable accent, “I take a little carriage. I drive to the Hôtel de Paris. You will get my luggage and bring it right along–yes?”

“With great pleasure, Mademoiselle,” the man answered, standing hat in hand. “Mademoiselle will stay at the Hôtel de Paris?”

“Mademoiselle intends to do so,” she told him, handing over a more than adequate pourboire.

She stepped gaily into the voiture, and at the very sight of her happiness the porter smiled as he received his bénéfice with a sweeping bow.

“Welcome to Monte Carlo, Mademoiselle. It is the first visit–yes?” he asked, as he drew on one side.

“The first visit,” she admitted, waving her adieux.

Again the cocher cracked his whip, the vehicle rattled up the hill, and she looked about her with the eager interest of the young woman who has ventured into a new world. She laughed aloud with happiness as the voiture crossed the Place. Everything was as she had fancied it–the fantastic façade of that nightmare of architecture, the Casino, the wide-flung door of the Hôtel de Paris flanked with its huge pots of scarlet geraniums, even the black Senegalese in his marvellous livery. There were the flowers, the music, the sunshine, the soft air, the snow-capped mountains in the distance–everything of which she had dreamed. She almost ran up the steps of the hotel into the arms of the Chief of the Reception, who was waiting to welcome her.

“I wrote from Paris,” she told him. “My name is Haskell–Miss Joan Haskell.”

The man bowed.

“Everything is as you have desired, Mademoiselle,” he declared. “You have one of our best rooms on the second floor. If Mademoiselle will give herself the trouble to come this way–”

Mademoiselle was perfectly content to follow her guide. She passed lightly across the hall into the lift.

“Tell me, does the sun always shine like this in February?” she asked.

“Very nearly always,” her companion assured her. “To-day it is with pleasure to welcome your arrival. Mademoiselle has been long in Europe?”

“Some years,” the girl answered. “In Paris only long enough to do a little shopping.”

“Mademoiselle is alone?”

“Quite alone. American girls are used to travelling alone, you know,” she added as the lift stopped and her guide stood back for her to pass out.

“We have many of your country people here always,” he confided. “We are very pleased to see them. They are good clients. We shall endeavour to make your stay an agreeable one, Mademoiselle. To begin with–this room–it is to your taste–yes?” he asked, throwing open the door of a very delightful apartment.

The girl drew a little breath of pleasure as she looked out of the window towards Mont Agel and down into the gardens bright with colour and bathed in sunshine.

“It is very much to my taste–this apartment,” she laughed; “but what about my pocket?”

“It is one of the best,” the man pointed out. “We will quote a low price to Mademoiselle, though. Shall we say two hundred and fifty francs?”

“There is a bathroom, of course?” she enquired.

“But Mademoiselle!” he expostulated, throwing open the inner door. “A bathroom of the best, with shower. We have rooms at a lower price, of course.”

The girl sighed.

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