Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo, page 1
Produced by Dagny; John Bickers
MADEMOISELLE OF MONTE CARLO
By William Le Queux
MADEMOISELLE OF MONTE CARLO
THE SUICIDE'S CHAIR
"Yes! I'm not mistaken at all! _It's the same woman!_" whispered thetall, good-looking young Englishman in a well-cut navy suit as he stoodwith his friend, a man some ten years older than himself, at one of theroulette tables at Monte Carlo, the first on the right on entering theroom--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 youngerman anxiously. "Ah! If I could only induce her to disclose what sheknows about my poor father's mysterious end then we might clear up themystery."
"I'm afraid, if all we hear is true about her, Mademoiselle of MonteCarlo will never do that," was the other's reply as they moved awaytogether down the long saloon towards the trente-et-quarante room.
"_Messieurs! Faites vos jeux_," the croupiers were crying in theirstrident, monotonous voices, inviting players to stake their countersof cent-sous, their louis, or their hundred or five hundred franc notesupon the spin of the red and black wheel. It was the month of March, theheight of the Riviera season, the fetes of Mi-Careme were in full swing.That afternoon the rooms were overcrowded, and the tense atmosphere ofgambling was laden with the combined odours of perspiration and perfume.
Around each table were crowds four or five deep behind those fortunateenough to obtain seats, all eager and anxious to try their fortune uponthe rouge or noir, or upon one of the thirty-six numbers, the columns,or the transversales. There was but little chatter. The hundreds ofwell-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 ofcounters as the lucky players were paid with deft hands, there rose everand anon:
"_Messieurs! Faites vos jeux!_"
Here English duchesses rubbed shoulders with the most notorious women inEurope, and men who at home in England were good churchmen and exemplaryfathers of families, laughed merrily with the most gorgeously attiredcocottes from Paris, or the stars of the film world or the varietystage. Upon that wide polished floor of the splendidly decorated Rooms,with their beautiful mural paintings and heavy gilt ornamentation, theworld and the half-world were upon equal footing.
Into that stifling atmosphere--for the Administration of the Bains deMer of Monaco seem as afraid of fresh air as of purity propaganda--theglorious afternoon sunlight struggled through the curtained windows,while over each table, in addition to the electric light, oil-lampsshaded green with a billiard-table effect cast a dull, ghastlyillumination upon the eager countenances of the players. Most of thosewho go to Monte Carlo wonder at the antiquated mode of illumination.It is, however, in consequence of an attempted raid upon the tables onenight, when some adventurers cut the electric-light main, and in thedarkness grabbed all they could get from the bank.
The two English visitors, both men of refinement and culture, who hadwatched the tall, very handsome woman in black, to whom the olderman had referred as Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo, wandered throughthe trente-et-quarante rooms where all was silence, and counters,representing gold, were being staked with a twelve-thousand francmaximum.
Those rooms beyond are the haunt of the professional gambler, the manor woman who has been seized by the demon of speculation, just as othershave been seized by that of drugs or drink. Curiously enough womenare more prone to gamble than men, and the Administration of theEtablissement will tell you that when a woman of any nationality startsto gamble she will become reckless until her last throw with the devil.
Those who know Monte Carlo, those who have been habitues for twentyyears--as the present writer has been--know too well, and have seentoo often, the deadly influence of the tables upon the lighter side ofwoman's nature. The smart woman from Paris, Vienna, or Rome never losesher head. She gambles always discreetly. The fashionable cocottes seldomlose much. They gamble at the tables discreetly and make eyes at men ifthey 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 aWesleyan chapel. English men and women when they go to the Riviera leavetheir morals at home with their silk hats and Sunday gowns. And it isstrange to see the perfectly respectable Englishwoman admiring the samedaring costumes of the French pseudo-"countesses" at which they haveheld up their hands in horror when they have seen them pictured in thepapers wearing those latest "creations" of the Place Vendome.
Yes. It is a hypocritical world, and nowhere is canting hypocrisy moreapparent than inside the Casino at Monte Carlo.
While the two Englishmen were strolling over the polished parquet of theelegant world-famous _salles-de-jeu_ "Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo" wasexperiencing quite an extraordinary run of luck.
But "Mademoiselle," as the croupiers always called her, was usuallylucky. She was an experienced, and therefore a careful player. When shestaked a maximum it was not without very careful calculation upon thechances. Mademoiselle was well known to the Administration. Often herwinnings were sensational, hence she served as an advertisement to theCasino, for her success always induced the uninitiated and unwary tostake heavily, and usually with disastrous results.
The green-covered gaming table, at which she was sitting next to the endcroupier on the left-hand side, was crowded. She sat in what is known atMonte as "the Suicide's Chair," for during the past eight years ten menand women had sat in that fatal chair and had afterwards ended theirlives abruptly, and been buried in secret in the Suicide's Cemetery.
The croupiers at that table are ever watchful of the visitor who, allunawares, occupies that fatal chair. But Mademoiselle, who knew of it,always laughed the superstition to scorn. She habitually sat in thatchair--and won.
Indeed, that afternoon she was winning--and very considerably too. Shehad won four maximums _en plein_ within the last half-hour, and thecrowd 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 thecoups pass. The croupiers' invitation to play did not interest her. Shesimply toyed with her big gold-chain purse, or fingered her dozen pilesor so of plaques in a manner quite disinterested.
She heard the croupier announce the winning number and saw the rakes atwork dragging in the stakes to swell the bank. But she only smiled, andnow and then shrugged her shoulders.
Whether she won or lost, or whether she did not risk a stake, she simplysmiled and elevated her shoulders, muttering something to herself.
Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo was, truth to tell, a sphinx to the staffof the Casino. She looked about thirty, but probably she was older.For five years she had been there each season and gambled heavily withunvarying success. Always well but quietly dressed, her nationalitywas as obscure as her past. To the staff she was always polite, and shepressed hundred-franc notes into many a palm in the Rooms. But who shewas or what were her antecedents nobody in the Principality of Monacocould ever tell.
The whole Cote d'Azur from Hyeres to Ventimiglia knew of her. She wasone of the famous characters of Monte Carlo, just as famous, indeed, asold Mr. Drewett, the Englishman who lost his big fortune at the tables,and who was pensioned off by the Administration on condition that henever gamble at the Casino again. For fifteen years he lived in Niceupon the meagre pitt
As the two Englishmen slipped past the end table unseen on their way outinto the big atrium with its many columns--the hall in which playersgo out to cool themselves, or collect their determination for a finalflutter--Mademoiselle had just won the maximum upon the number four, aswell as the column, and the croupier was in the act of pushing towardsher a big pile of counters each representing a thousand francs.
The eager excited throng around the table looked across at her withenvy. But her handsome countenance was quite expressionless. She simplythrust the counters into the big gold-chain purse at her side, glancedat the white-gloved fingers which were soiled by handling the counters,and then counting out twenty-five, each representing a louis, gave themto the croupier, exclaiming:
Next moment a dozen persons followed her play, staking their cent-sousand louis upon the spot where she had asked the croupier at the end ofthe 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 ivoryball sent by the croupier's hand in the opposite direction was clickingquickly over the numbered spaces.
Six hundred or more eyes of men and women, fevered by the gamblingmania, watched the result. Slowly it lost its impetus, and afterspinning 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 ofthe croupier's rake another pile of counters, while all those who hadfollowed the remarkable woman's play were also paid.
"Mademoiselle is in good form to-day," remarked one ugly old Frenchwomanwho 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 thosequeer, mysterious old creatures who enter the Rooms each morning as soonas they are open, secure the best seats, occupy them all the luncheonhour pretending to play, and then sell them to wealthy gamblers for aconsideration--two or three louis--perhaps--and then at once go to theirease in their own obscure abode.
The public who go to Monte know little of its strange mysteries, or ofthe odd people who pick up livings there in all sorts of queer ways.
"Ah!" exclaimed a man who overheard her. "Mademoiselle has wonderfulluck! She won seventy-five thousand francs at the _Cercle Prive_ lastnight. She won _en plein_ five times running. _Dieu!_ Such luck! And itnever causes her the slightest excitement."
"The lady must be very rich!" remarked an American woman sitting next tothe old Frenchwoman, and who knew French well.
"Rich! Of course! She must have won several million francs from theAdministration. They don't like to see her here. But I suppose hersuccess attracts others to play. The gambling fever is as infectiousas the influenza," declared the old Frenchwoman. "Everyone tries todiscover who she is, and where she came from five years ago. But nobodyhas 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 Iasked 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 Frenchso well that nobody can tell her true nationality."
"And she makes money at the tables," said the American woman in thewell-cut coat and skirt and small hat. She came from Chelsea, Mass., andit was her first visit to what her pious father had always referred toas the plague spot of Europe.
"Money!" exclaimed the old woman. "Money! _Dieu!_ She has losses, it istrue, but oh!--what she wins! I only wish I had ten per cent of it. Ishould then be rich. Mine is a poor game, madame--waiting for someone tobuy my seat instead of standing the whole afternoon. You see, there isonly 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 theRiviera and identified the mysterious mademoiselle, had passed withhis friend, Walter Brock, through the atrium and out into the afternoonsunshine.
As they turned upon the broad gravelled terrace in front of the greatwhite facade of the Casino amid the palms, the giant geraniums andmimosa, the sapphire Mediterranean stretched before them. Below, beyondthe railway line which is the one blemish to the picturesque scene,out upon the point in the sea the constant pop-pop showed that thetir-aux-pigeons was in progress; while up and down the terrace, enjoyingthe quiet silence of the warm winter sunshine with the blue hills ofthe Italian coast to the left, strolled a gay, irresponsible crowd--thecosmopolitans of the world: politicians, financiers, merchants, princes,authors, and artists--the crowd which puts off its morals as easily asit discards its fur coats and its silk hats, and which lives only forgaiety and without thought of the morrow.
"Let's sit down," suggested Hugh wearily. "I'm sure that she's the samewoman--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 onlyknow 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 youngEnglishman. "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 darkhair was slightly tinged with grey. "It is difficult to compel a womanto do anything," he added.
"I mean to know the truth!" cried Hugh Henfrey fiercely, a look ofdetermination in his eyes. "That woman knows the true story of myfather'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 hadan amazing surprise. My father was a very curious man. I always thoughthim to be on the verge of bankruptcy and that the Manor and the landmight be sold up any day. When old Charman, the solicitor, read thewill, I found that my father had a quarter of a million lying at thebank, and that he had left it all to me--provided I married Louise!"
"Well, why not marry her?" queried Brock lazily. "You're always somysterious, my dear Hugh."
"Why!--because I love Dorise Ranscomb. But Louise interests me, and I'mworried on her account because of that infernal fellow CharlesBenton. Louise poses as his adopted daughter. Benton is a bachelor offorty-five, and, according to his story, he adopted Louise when she wasa child and put her to school. Her parentage is a mystery. After leavingschool she at first went to live with a Mrs. Sheldon, a young widow, inan expensive suite in Queen Anne's Mansions, Westminster. After that shehas travelled about with friends and has, I believe, been abroad quitea lot. I've nothing against Louise, except--well, except for thestrange uncanny influence which that man Benton has over her. I hate thefellow!"
"I see! And as you cannot yet reach Woodthorpe and your father'sfortune, except by marrying Louise--which you don't intend to do--whatare you going to do now?"
"First, I intend that this woman they call 'Mademoiselle of MonteCarlo,' the lucky woman who is a decoy of the Administration of theBains 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 ofthe conditions of the will."
There was a silence of some moments, interrupted only by the pop-pop ofthe pigeon-shots below.
Away across the white balustrade of the broad magnificent terrace thecalm sapphire sea was
"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 womanknows the secret," answered the young man. "All I know is that thepoor old guv'-nor was called up to London by an urgent letter. We hada shooting party at Woodthorpe and he left me in charge, saying that hehad some business in London and might return on the following night--orhe might be away a week. Days passed and he did not return. Severalletters came for him which I kept in the library. I was surprised thathe neither wrote nor returned, when, suddenly, ten days later, we had atelegram from the London police informing me that my father was lying inSt. George's Hospital. I dashed up to town, but when I arrived I foundhim dead. At the inquest, evidence was given to show that at half-pasttwo in the morning a constable going along Albemarle Street found him inevening dress lying huddled up in a doorway. Thinking him intoxicated,he tried to rouse him, but could not. A doctor who was called pronouncedthat he was suffering from some sort of poisoning. He was taken toSt. George's Hospital in an ambulance, but he never recovered. Thepost-mortem investigation showed a small scratch on the palm of thehand. That scratch had been produced by a pin or a needle which hadbeen infected by one of the newly discovered poisons which, administeredsecretly, 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 wholecircumstances and of the identity of the assassin."
"How do you know that?"
"By a letter I afterwards opened--one that had been addressed to him atWoodthorpe in his absence. It was anonymous, written in bad English,in an illiterate hand, warning him to 'beware of that woman youknow--Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo.' It bore the French stamp and thepostmark of Tours."
"I never knew all this," Brock said. "You are quite right, Hugh! Thewhole affair is a tangled mystery. But the first point we must establishbefore we commence to investigate is--who is Mademoiselle of MonteCarlo?"
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