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Title: Chance in Chains - A Story of Monte Carlo
Author: Gull, Cyril Arthur Edward Ranger
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: IN FRONT OF BASIL GREGORY WAS A PILE OF GOLD.]


CHANCE IN CHAINS

A Story of Monte Carlo

by

GUY THORNE

Author of "When It Was Dark," "The Drunkard," etc.

With Frontispiece from a Drawing by Howard T. Graves



New York
Sturgis & Walton Company
1914

Copyright, 1914
By Sturgis & Walton Company

Set up and electrotyped. Published March, 1914



CHANCE IN CHAINS



CHAPTER I


It was nine o'clock at night, and the thirty huge dynamos of the Société
Générale Electrique of Paris were nearly all at work. In the great
glass-roofed hall of the Mont Parnasse Central Power Station
blue-bloused workmen moved quietly over the shining floors of white
concrete, pausing now and then by this or that purring, spitting
monster, scrutinising the whirring, glittering copper drums, listening
with experienced ears for the slightest variation in the deep wasp-like
hum, touching a lever here, adjusting a screw there, or oiling a bearing
with tin cans beaked like a snipe.

Huge arc lamps hanging from the ceiling cast a steel-blue radiance over
the hall, a radiance so cruel and intense that the shadows of the
machinery which were thrown upon the floor were as black and sharply
defined as fretwork of ebony.

The incandescent lamps which showed above each of the three great
switchboards of brass and vulcanite, although they were burning at full
power, glowed orange in the stupendous light from above.

The monster dynamos were making light for half eastern Paris. The Gare
Mont Parnasse, from where trains were running every two minutes with
late business folk to Meudon, Sèvres and Versailles, was lit from this
room. The dinner tables of the foreign Ambassadors on the Quai
Austerlitz were illuminated by favour of these serene, relentless
marvels, and, across the Seine, many a glittering café upon the heights
of the pleasure city Montmartre were switching on hundreds of fresh
lights in the expectation of their supper custom--even as a new dynamo
was started to cope with the extra strain.

At one side of the hall a few concrete steps led into the little
glass-fronted room where the superintendent engineer on duty always sat.

The room was some twelve feet square, walled with white tiles like a
model dairy, and from where he sat at a deal table the engineer could
look out into every part of the hall. In the hall itself it was cold,
though the electricians felt but little of it owing to the fresh ozone
constantly liberated from the dynamos into the air. Outside, in Paris,
it was bitterly cold--a damp and foggy cold of late November. But in the
room of the superintendent engineer an electric stove burned brightly
and warmed it.

Two people were in the room now, Emile Deschamps and Basil Gregory, both
of them employed by the Société Générale.

Deschamps was a young man of about twenty-six. His jet black hair,
closely cropped to a rather large and well-shaped head, together with
the swarthy tint of his complexion, proclaimed him of the South, a
veritable son of the Midi from Orange, Avignon, or Marseilles. He wore a
small black moustache, and his long-fingered right hand was deeply
stained with the juice of cheap cigarettes.

The man who sat opposite to him, at the other end of the table, was
unmistakably English. He was smoking a briar pipe, and though his
clothes--neither new nor fashionably cut--were distinctly Parisian, his
fair hair, blue eyes and rather heavy yellow moustache were eloquent of
his nationality. He was bending over a large sheet of drawings on
tracing paper with strained and careful attention.

He looked up suddenly, removed the pipe from his mouth, and began
speaking in a torrent of French so perfect that he might very well have
passed for a Parisian.

"Emile, I think I have it at last. The position of neutrality varies
with the type of the machine owing to the fact of armature reaction,
which distorts the magnetic field. We must therefore connect the
commutating poles in series with the armature, when their windings will
carry the full armature current."

Deschamps nodded, thought for a moment, and a quick technical discussion
began between the two men, the sheet of drawings being pushed from one
to the other, marked and annotated in the margin with pencil.

Suddenly Deschamps leant back in his chair.

"Yes," he said, "there can be no doubt about it. We're on the track, if
we have not already discovered the most revolutionary theory in
wireless telegraphy that the world has known as yet! What we know now,
at nine o'clock on a November evening in a power station in Paris, might
alter the whole course of life and society all over the world."

The Englishman nodded, with less excited but perfectly sincere
agreement.

"Very well, then," cried Deschamps, "will the world ever benefit by our
three years' work, our marvellous discovery? No! We're two poor devils,
junior engineers of this company on two hundred and fifty francs a
month. In all France no one will listen to us, and in all England also,
as you have discovered. And why?"

"Oh, what is the use, Emile?" Gregory replied, cutting short his friend.
"We have talked it over too many times. It's no good making a song about
it. We have not got the money to carry out our experiments thoroughly
and to construct our models, twenty thousand pounds--five hundred
thousand francs, my friend! And as we shall never get that, no one will
listen to us and it will remain for someone else to make our discovery
when we're--either when we're dead or still nursing Thierry dynamos at a
few francs a day."

As he spoke he rolled up the sheet of drawings and, with a deep sigh,
thrust it into the inner pocket of his coat.

"Come along," he said; "we had better be getting home. It is more
comfortable there than here, at any rate; and there's still one bottle
of Maçon."

They left the little alcoved room, walked slowly down the hall, with a
word or two to the foreman, and passed out into the office, where the
engineer who was to succeed them and watch through the night was smoking
with the timekeeper.

Then, arm in arm, they passed into Paris.

They were a strange couple, these two. Basil Gregory was the son of a
Cambridge tutor, who early in his career had gone to Paris as the
English master of a famous Lycée. He had married a Frenchwoman, who had
died five years after Basil's birth. The boy had been brought up in
Paris until he was old enough to go to one of the lesser public schools
of England, which was all his father could afford for him. He won a
science scholarship from his school to Cambridge, had worked hard and
played hard at the University, until an unfortunate encounter with a
proctor during one of the evenings of the "May Week" had caused him to
be sent down for ever and a day. It was a stupid affair enough, but the
hot-headed young man's treatment of the guardian of University morals
had been too flagrant to be passed over.

Basil had returned to Paris, spent six months as a pupil in the school
for electrical engineers, and had finally been apprenticed to the
Société Générale. At the end of his apprenticeship his father had died,
leaving him his blessing and a couple of hundred pounds. From that time
to this, and he was now exactly the same age as his friend Deschamps,
the young man had worked as a junior engineer at the central power
station. His salary was ten pounds a month. There were innumerable
people before him, and his prospects seemed absolutely nil.

As for Deschamps, he was the son of a bankrupt wine merchant of
Marseilles. With a remarkable taste for science and an especial interest
in electricity, he had come to Paris--after an apprenticeship at the
electrical station of Monte Carlo--and was in precisely the same state
as Basil Gregory. The two young men had become friends at once. Each
recognised in the other a brain above the average. Both of them were
intensely interested in their work, both of them had the temper of mind
which flouts accepted theories and ever presses forward to new and
epoch-making discovery. They were pioneers, and knew it. Without
conceit, without any self-deception, they were quietly certain of their
own powers. They had worked together, spending every moment of their
spare time and every franc they could afford upon a new and original
development in wireless telegraphy. They had arrived at a point when
they were both convinced that they had wrested an entirely new secret
from Nature, and at this point they found, as so many inventors and
pioneers have found in the past, that the way was absolutely barred for
want of capital. In their hands they were sure they held the talisman of
fortune and undying renown. It was useless to them for want of money.

This night in Paris was bitter cold. Moreover, an infrequent and dreaded
occurrence in Paris, a dense fog lay over the city. These Parisian fogs
are not the sulphurous, pea-soup discomforts of London, but they are
almost as unpleasant, and quite as upsetting to ordinary life and
comfort. A dank, grey mist, opaque and wet, seems to rise from the
Seine, spread outwards in evergrowing density and chill, until all the
central quarter of Paris is hidden and throttled by it.

"_Diable!_" Deschamps said, coughing, as they left the power station
behind them. "_Une vraie brume Anglaise_."

Gregory shrugged his shoulders. "It is pretty bad," he said, "and we
can't see a yard in front of our noses. Still, if you had experienced a
London 'particular,' Emile--well, then you _would_ know!"

There was a silence between the young men as they tramped away to the
Latin Quarter, where they shared a room in a little fifth-rate hotel not
far from the Quai Voltaire. The night was bitterly cold, certainly not
inviting conversation, and the thoughts of the pair were cold and bitter
in harmony with the night. Genius is rarely unconscious of its power.
Basil Gregory and Emile Deschamps were not in the least conceited, but
each knew in his heart of hearts that already they approached those
heights upon which Tesla and Edison dwelt. They saw the top of the
mountain bathed in glorious sunshine, but between them and it there was
a great gulf only to be bridged by money.

Basil Gregory's case was, perhaps, the worse of the two, for Basil was
in love. Ethel McMahon, the pretty Irish girl, who was English mistress
in a young ladies' school in the Fauberg St. Honoré, held all his heart,
but she, like him, was poor and friendless, and out of her wretched
salary supported an invalid mother, who was a martyr to one of the
cruellest forms of arthritis.

The young man ground his teeth in fury against Fate, as he strode by his
companion's side. Suddenly he began to talk rapidly, and with a true
Parisian vehemence.

"I shouldn't mind so much, Emile, if we wanted money for the reason that
such a lot of fellows of our age want it. But we don't. We don't want to
play the giddy goat"--_faire la bête_ was the French he used--"we don't
want to enjoy ourselves in the usual silly way. We only want the world
to recognise us for what we are. We want to benefit the whole world,
Emile, and for ourselves all we ask is recognition and sufficient to
live in comfort."

"It's true," Deschamps replied. "For myself, a flat in central Paris, a
motor car to take me quickly to my experimental works, money to travel
to America to see all the developments of electricity there--that is all
I ask."

"It's much the same with me," the other returned, "except that I want to
get married as well and give poor dear Ethel a happy life, and her
mother the comforts that she needs. And yet--oh, I'd give anything,
_anything_, to get the money for our experiments."

Deschamps shrugged his shoulders. "Well, we cannot rob a church," he
said, "and the penalties for any sort of burglary are most unpleasant in
France. We must even wait upon Fortune. After all, _mon ami_, our chance
may yet come. Every day we read in the newspapers of strange strokes of
fortune coming to people. I cannot believe that we shall never have our
opportunity. Who knows!"--he threw out an arm with one of the theatrical
gestures habitual to men of the South--"who knows but that this very
night some very great thing will happen to us! Faith! faith! We must
believe, and Fortune will be kind to us. She ever turns away coldly from
a faint and despairing heart!"

He took his fancy and embroidered it in a stream of words so vivid,
hopeful and full of fancy that he half persuaded the more phlegmatic
Englishman by his side. Basil listened in silence, warmed a little, and
was not quite so hopeless as he had been. Then, out of mere shame at his
own feeling, he stemmed the other's torrent of words.

"That is all very well," he said grimly, "but meanwhile Dame Fortune
seems to have deserted us worse than ever. While we have been talking
nonsense we have missed our way, and if you can tell me where we are, or
whereabouts the Hotel Buonaparte may be lying, I shall be extremely
obliged to you, Monsieur Deschamps of the rosy hopes!"

The two men stopped. It was as Gregory had said. That they were near the
Seine was obvious, because of the intenser thickness of the fog, but
there was no doubt that they had entirely lost their direction. The
white mist was as thick as wool, wet, motionless, and icy. Where they
stood, upon the pavement, and half-way down a mean, narrow street, the
blurred contours of which were perfectly unfamiliar, hardly a sound
could be heard. Wheel traffic there was none. The hum of fog-gripped
Paris came to them as if from an incredible distance; there was not even
a footstep to be heard.

Once more Deschamps shrugged his shoulders. "_Bien_," he said; "yes, we
have certainly 'done it this time,' as you say. I have no notion where
we are. I am as cold as an iceberg and as hungry as a goat."

They stood looking at each other, though the face of each was an
indistinct, pale glimmer. They had gone a little too much to the west,
and had lost themselves in the narrow network of mean streets somewhere
behind the École Militaire. To reach the Latin Quarter would need
considerable ingenuity upon a clear evening when the lamps shone
brightly. At the moment it seemed a sheer impossibility.

"Shall we turn back?" Deschamps asked.

Gregory shook his head. "No," he replied. "You pretend to be so intimate
with the habits of Fortune, and yet you ask a question like that! Let us
go on. We are bound to find our way somehow into some street where there
is more life and movement. And if we meet a gang of Apaches--well, we
are neither of us weaklings, and we have got a couple of good
walking-sticks. Forward, Emile Deschamps! We go to seek our fortune!"
And as he said it he laughed with bitter cynicism.

They went on, but as they did so, and when they had walked a hundred and
fifty yards or more, the street in which they were grew even narrower
and more silent. Every now and then, at long distances, there was a gas
lamp, but its yellow light was so muffled by the fog that it hardly
penetrated for more than a yard or so, and if the prismatic colours the
light made upon the mist were beautiful, they were quite useless to two
young gentlemen hungry for supper and far from home.

Emile Deschamps took a box of matches from his pocket, wax ones, which
burned immediately without the spectral blue flame of the more general
Government article. He lit one--there was not a breath of wind--and held
it above his head. The two men walked onwards for a few yards while the
feeble light lasted, carefully scrutinising the tall houses which
abutted on the pavement. They seemed to consist of small workshops and
factories, now blind and deserted. Another match brought them to a
stretch of wide wood paling, beyond which rose dim objects seeming like
giant mounds or pyramids, and even as the match flickered out it threw
its light upon a painted sign.

"Ah!" Deschamps said suddenly. "Now I know! We are in the wood quarter!
This is a street of _chantiers de bois_."

Basil groaned. "Good heavens!" he said, "then we _have_ come out of our
way," for he knew instantly that they had penetrated to that part of
Paris where the huge wood-sheds were, where the firewood is cut and
stored, and timber for all other purposes is kept. All around them were
the great wood stacks and deserted yards. There was not a sound to be
heard, and doubtless the few watchmen that were on guard were
comfortably sleeping over the stoves in their huts.

"Go on, or turn back?" Deschamps said.

Gregory took a franc from his pocket, and spun it under a gas lamp to
which they had just come up. "Heads we go on," he said, and as the coin
fell upon the back of his hand, sure enough the figure of Liberty was
uppermost.

"That settles it," he said, and once again the boots of the friends rang
upon the pavement.

They had travelled for some fifty yards or so, when a rather brighter
light than usual came into their view.

"By Jove!" Gregory said, "an electric light at last! I know current is
supplied to this neighbourhood because there have recently been
representations in the Chamber of Deputies as to the necessity for
supplying current to all this part owing to the inflammable nature of
the wood. The Société is interested in the matter. I saw some
correspondence about it in the office, but the people in this part are
very conservative and none too well off, either. Let us have a look."

They came up to the light. It was not a street lamp, but projected from
above the door of an old and rather shabby building, and immediately
beneath it was a trade sign which could easily be read in the stronger
illumination. This was the sign:


           CARNET FRÈRES,

     GRAVEURS SUR BOIS BOISAGE.


"Well, here's something," Gregory said, "and by the fact that the light
is still on, one may suppose that there is someone inside. It is a
wood-engraver's and wood-turner's workshop, you see. Yes, the door's
actually open! We will go in and inquire where we are."

As he spoke he pushed open a swing door of wood, from which the paint
was peeling, and, followed by Deschamps, entered without further ado.



CHAPTER II


The two young men were conscious of a pleasant sensation of warmth as
the door swung to behind them.

They found themselves in a narrow passage, and immediately to their left
was a glass window like the window of a conciergerie, one panel of which
was open and looked into a dingy office lit by a single gas jet. There
was nothing in the office but a safe, a desk round the wall, and some
high stools, while a cheap French clock ticked from a bracket upon the
wall.

"At any rate, whoever they are, they have not gone," said Deschamps with
satisfaction. "Now we shall be all right," and as he said it he rapped
loudly with his knuckles upon the little counter in front of the glass
partition. They waited for nearly half a minute, but there was no
response. Finally Gregory took his walking stick and beat a tattoo upon
the counter. The sound of his knocking had hardly died away when
footsteps were heard in the distance. They grew nearer, and a door
leading into the office behind the partition was pushed open, and a
strange and rather startling figure entered.

This was a little man not more than four feet high, wearing a round
black cap of alpaca, a green baize apron, and a huge circular pair of
spectacles. His face was brown and shrivelled. A fine network of
wrinkles was all over it, and beneath the alpaca cap were straggling
locks of dingy white. The nose which supported the pair of grotesque
horn spectacles was large and bird-like, the mouth below was innocent
and kindly.

The little man, in short, looked exactly like the traditional toy or
clock maker of Nuremberg in a comic opera, stepping clean off the stage
to greet the new-comers.

He looked up at them with a courteous but inquiring glance as he turned
up the gas jet and they saw him more clearly. Then, placing two soiled
and wrinkled, but delicate and capable, hands upon the counter, he made
an odd bow.

"Messieurs?" he said, in a thin, piping voice.

Deschamps raised his hat. "I am sorry to say that my friend and I have
lost our way," he began. "The fog is very thick to-night, and it is
growing thicker and thicker. We have come quite out of our route, and do
not know where we are. We are trying to get to the Latin Quarter, where
we live."

The little man raised his hands, and as he did so, both young men
noticed how prehensile and delicate they were--the hands of a master
workman.

"_Mon Dieu!_" he said, "but you are very far out of your way, indeed,
gentlemen. This is the Rue Petite Louise. It is not a thoroughfare at
all. It is only a cul-de-sac, which winds among the wood-yards. Between
here and the Latin Quarter the district is very congested, and you might
walk about all night in a fog like this unless you could find a
taxi-cab."

"I am afraid there won't be any cabs abroad to-night in this part of
Paris," Gregory broke in. "Well, we must just take our chance. I thank
you very much, monsieur."

"But it is impossible!" the odd little creature said with a tiny
shriek. "The hour is already late, gentlemen; the fog, as you say, grows
thicker every moment. And, look you, on a night like this there will be
all sorts of robbers abroad. It is most unsafe."

Deschamps shrugged his shoulders. "Doubtless," he said, "but there is
nothing else for it."

The little man on the other side of the counter peered at them anxiously
through his great round spectacles. "But, yes," he said, in a plaintive
bleat, "if affairs call you home, monsieur--doubtless madame will be
distressed--then, indeed you must go, but----"

Deschamps laughed. "No, we have no business; we have finished our work
for the day, and we are not married; still----"

"The matter is settled," said the old gentleman, with a child-like
smile. "You will do me the honour of coming into our workshop
immediately. We have a fire there, soup, bread, and _vin ordinaire_ are
ready, and there is enough for all. My brother will be as pleased as I
am to have the honour of offering you hospitality on such a night.
No"--he waved his hands in reply to a murmur of protest from
Deschamps--"we could not let you go. Stay with us until the morning, and
we will do our best to make you comfortable as may be."

Eager, chirping and twittering like an excited bird, the odd, old fellow
unlatched a half-door, pushed up the counter-flap and bowed them into
the little office. In a moment they had passed through it into a long,
narrow room with a high roof which seemed to be of glass.

The place was lit by a huge fire of coal and wood, which glowed in an
open hearth, and by the side of it was a small forge. The red light
streamed out in a mysterious radiance upon a workshop crowded with
tools, long tables, stacks of rare and polished woods, and here and
there an unfamiliar machine.

The only other light came from two candles stuck upon a bench in their
own grease, and the whole effect was startlingly curious and unexpected.
It was as picturesque as some carefully set scene upon the stage, and
seemed utterly removed from the modern life of a great city. The red
light of the fire left distant corners of the workshop in black,
impenetrable shadow, making it seem of vast extent.

Around the fire, however, the half-circle of light it threw out showed
everything with great distinctness.

Gregory and Deschamps looked round them with bewildered eyes, and then,
simultaneously, they gasped.

Rising from an old oak chair, emerging from its depths rather, there
came another little man towards them.

In every particular he was exactly like their guide. In that bizarre
light, at any rate, hardly anyone could have told them apart, and as he
stepped forward he peered at them through identical round spectacles.

"My brother, Edouard," said the old man who had welcomed them. "Edouard,
these gentlemen have lost their way in the fog. They are very far from
their home, and it would be dangerous for them to seek it to-night
without a proper guide. I have accordingly asked them to come in, and
begged of them to share our simple supper, and to wait till the fog
goes."

"But I am enchanted!" said the second little man, settling his round
alpaca cap upon his head and waving his right arm in an expressive
pantomime of welcome. "But this is most fortunate, gentlemen. Supper is
nearly ready; come to the fire. Charles and myself are delighted to be
of service."

The sudden transition from bitter cold and the grey blanket of the fog
to this extraordinary place bewildered both the engineers. It was almost
as if they moved among the scenes of some fantastic dream, as they sat
down upon a bench by the fire, removed their damp hats and overcoats,
and looked around them.

Was this really modern Paris? Who were these two kindly, dwarf-like
creatures who had welcomed them into this warm, secret place, which
seemed like a cavern of the gnomes?

Suddenly Basil Gregory became conscious that "my brother Charles" was
standing before him and speaking.

"We are the Carnet Frères," he was saying, "and twin brethren also! I
noticed, monsieur, you were startled as Edouard came to greet you. And,
_naturellement_, this old workshop of ours is something out of the
ordinary way. But we have lived and worked here for twenty years, my
brother and I--we have a sleeping-room at the back--and what we do for
our living is a small and specialised branch of the wood-worker's trade,
and we have the monopoly of it."

Basil bowed. "My comrade, Monsieur Emile Deschamps," he said. "I, myself
am an Englishman, and my name is Gregory."

The hands of Brother Charles flickered in front of him. "But it is
wonderful!" he said with the pleased surprise of a child with a new toy.
"You are English to look at, monsieur. There is nothing of the Latin
about you; and yet you speak French as well as I do."

"I have lived nearly all my life in Paris," Basil answered with a smile.

"That accounts for it," the other twittered. "And now I see Brother
Edouard is preparing the meal. _Mon Dieu_, Edouard, how hungry these
poor gentlemen must be!"

An iron pot was hooked over the fire--a steaming pot, a pot of fragrant
promise. From it into stout china bowls Brother Edouard was ladleing
thick brown soup.

Brother Charles wheeled round to the long work-bench and began to cut
thick slices of bread, to rattle spoons, parade a somewhat dingy cruet,
set flat-footed glasses by each bowl, and uncork two bottles of _vin
ordinaire_.

Overflowing with hospitality and the most charming child-like
excitement, the odd, bird-like hosts served the soup and poured out that
cheap table-wine of Paris, which is exactly the colour of permanganate
of potash and water.

Basil and Emile sat down without further ado, and for five minutes there
was a happy silence. The _pot-au-feu_ was rich and nourishing. The wine
was exactly that to which the friends themselves were accustomed. The
fog and the cold in the ridiculous, inhospitable outside world was quite
forgotten, and it seemed as if some malignant fog-curtain in their own
brains had now rolled up and disappeared.

The faces of the two young men lost their pinched and discontented look.
Anxiety faded from their eyes, and as they passed their cigarette cases
to their hosts, and four thin blue spirals of smoke rose out of the red
light to be lost in the shadows of the roof, Basil Gregory and Emile
Deschamps had lost all thought of care.

It seemed quite natural, perfectly in the order of things, to be sitting
there with their fantastic and courteous entertainers in a strange,
mediæval setting--two starving wayfarers upon a hillside, taken in to
the cave of the kindly gnomes, or the workshop of beneficent magicians.

"Your cigarettes are of the best tobacco, monsieur," said Charles
Carnet. "_Au bon fumeur!_ My brother and I had expected to spend a
lonely evening. Here's to the fortunate chance that brought us guests!"

He tossed off a thimbleful of the purple wine with a flourish.

"But I could wish, gentlemen," said his brother, "that we could have
entertained you better, I am afraid we are old-fashioned in our ways,
and prefer a simple menage. At any rate, there might have been more
light upon the scene. The fire is all very well, but these two candles
give hardly any illumination. As a rule, our workshop is lit with
electric light, and we also use the current for our lathe. An hour ago,
however, there was a 'fizz' and a 'spit' from that porcelain box there
in the casing of the electric wires, and, behold! the light went and the
lathe will not work. It has happened before, and we must now wait till
to-morrow for the electrician to come from the works and put it right
for us."

Basil Gregory laughed. "Fate hath many surprises, Monsieur Carnet," he
said, "and surely we have been specially sent to your assistance
to-night! My friend and I are both electrical engineers attached to the
superintending station of the Société Générale at Mont Parnasse. I
expect I know what has happened. And I shall be very much mistaken if I
cannot put it right for you in two or three minutes."

The little gentlemen were on their feet in a second, chirping and
twittering with pleasure.

"_Tiens!_ Edouard," said Brother Charles, "we have been entertaining
angels unawares!"

"You are right, Charles," said Brother Edouard. "Angels of light."

Gregory and Deschamps went to the opposite wall of the workshop, moving
cautiously among the benches, litter of wood-blocks and tools. Deschamps
held one of the candles while Gregory deftly unscrewed the round
porcelain cap of the cut-out. It was as he suspected, and he pulled out
the semi-circular china bridge from its brass clips and showed it to his
hosts.

"It is quite simple," he said. "Between this brass screw and this, there
is always a soft wire made of tin and lead--fusible metal, we call it.
All the current which lights your lamps and runs your lathes passes
through the insulated copper wires, but it has to pass through the
little lead wire as well. From some reason or other the current gets too
strong and might heat the wires and create a fire; the little lead wire
strung on this half-circle melts with the heat, and the current is shut
off. That was the spitting noise you heard."

He plunged his hand into a side pocket and withdrew a small coil of fuse
wire, which every practical engineer carries, and a screwdriver. In half
a minute he had fixed three inches of the soft lead wire into the
bridge, and snapped the bridge into its place in the box.

There was a click as the blocks came home, and then, in an instant, the
long workshop was flooded with white light, while at the far end of it
the motor, and the lathe it drove, began to hum and clatter with a
sudden, disconcerting noise.

Edouard Carnet ran to the lathe and pulled down the tumbler switch. The
noise stopped, but the brilliant illumination remained, and entirely
changed the aspect of the room.

The great fire glowed a dull red now. The shadows shrivelled up into the
corners and disappeared. Every object in the workshop was distinct and
well-defined.

"A thousand thanks, monsieur," said the little men. "Another glass of
wine! We will go back to the fireside and drink in light and comfort."

The four of them found their way back to their seats, and began to talk
again. The eyes of the newcomers, however, were straying round the
workshop with a curiosity they could hardly disguise. The place had been
mysterious before, and strangely picturesque in the half light. It was
mysterious no longer, but a picturesqueness lingered still, while there
was much that neither of them were able to understand.

Suddenly Deschamps gave an exclamation. His eye had fallen upon
something which interested and excited him, something which called up
golden visions.

"_Tiens!_" he cried, jumping up from his seat, and going over to the
adjacent table. "And what have we here?"

Upon the table was a circular basin--rather larger than an ordinary
washing basin--beautifully made of polished black ebony, and with a rim
that curved over upon the inside. Upon the inward curve of the basin, at
regular distances, were diamond-shaped bosses of bright metal, while the
whole of the bottom of the instrument consisted of a series of tin
compartments painted black and red alternately, each compartment having
a number painted upon it in white. These compartments were fixed to a
moving disc, which could be rapidly rotated by means of a silver upright
terminating in a sort of capstan, and rising above the sides of the
bowl in the exact centre.

Emile Deschamps knew very well what this was. He was of the South. He
had been born near that fairy city on the Mediterranean where the
Goddess of Chance rules supreme.

"Then you make roulette wheels?" he cried, turning excitedly to the two
little men. "But this one is superb! It is larger than you can buy in
the shops. It is full size indeed--exactly as they are used at Monte
Carlo!"

With fingers that actually trembled, the young man twirled the silver
capstan, and immediately the painted slots in the bowl became merged in
a trembling blur of colour, as the disc revolved noiselessly, but at
great speed.

"It is perfect!" Emile went on, with a chuckle of excitement and
delight. "It runs as sweetly and truly as those in the Casino itself!
Basil, look here! See how delicate and beautiful this work is!"

The brothers Carnet had risen to their feet also, and were standing side
by side. Their bird-like faces were wreathed with gratified smiles. They
bowed together like a grotesque toy.

"Messieurs," said Brother Edouard, "we thank you for what you have
said. The wheel is, indeed, as you say, a masterpiece! But it would be
odd if it were not so, for, for twenty years my brother and myself have
done nothing else than make just these wheels. Every single piece of it
is our handiwork. We forge the nickel for the pivot and capstan, and we
silver-plate it ourselves. We select the wood, we turn it--no other
hands but ours touch the wheels. Brother Charles here even turns the
ivory balls." He stepped up to the table, pulled out a long drawer, and
lifted from it a walnut box lined with green baize, in which were a
dozen small balls of ivory, the size of a large marble.

"See!" he cried; "these also!"

Basil had been examining the delicate and beautifully made machine with
great interest while the Carnets had been speaking. He also had an eye
for perfect workmanship, and it needed not the excited enthusiasm of his
friend for him to realise that he saw it here.

At the same time, he could not quite understand the sort of fever into
which the sight of the roulette wheel had thrown Deschamps. It seemed
exaggerated to the Englishman. Here was good workmanship, it was true.
But why this torrent of excited words?

"For twenty years!" Deschamps cried. "Then; indeed, monsieur, that
explains it! But surely it cannot pay you to devote your life to this
work, though it is certainly the finest I have ever seen, and far
superior to anything one can buy in the shops!"

The two brothers chuckled; and then Charles took up the tale.

"Our wheels are not for sale," he said. "I must let you into a little
secret, which, as our guests and men of honour, you will preserve. My
brother and I make all the roulette wheels for the Casino at Monte
Carlo. We have been employed by the Administration for many, many years.
As you may well conceive, it is important that these machines should be
perfect in every detail. Millions of francs depend upon it. We are
retained at a large figure to construct the wheels. Every two years all
the wheels at Monte Carlo are changed. There are twelve roulette tables
generally in use. Every two years we send twelve wheels and the old ones
are returned to us to be broken up. We can just make twelve within the
two years. This one is the last of the new batch which will be
dispatched to the south in three days in charge of two commissionaires
from Monaco, who will never leave them out of their sight until they
arrive at their destination."

Basil listened to this explanation with interest. He had never been to
Monte Carlo, though, in common with the rest of the world, he had heard
many fabulous tales of the great gambling centre of the world. He saw,
however, that Emile's imagination was profoundly stirred, and he
listened, half dreamily, to the quick fire of eager questions and
courteous answers which passed between Deschamps and his hosts.

When this had a little died down, Emile turned to him and noticed his
half-abstracted, half-amused expression.

"Ah, _mon ami_," he said, "you wonder at me! This leaves you cold. It
means nothing to you. To me, who have been, I myself, in those
glittering halls of Chance, upon the edge of the Mediterranean, this
machine brings intoxicating visions. It tells of men and women at the
last gasp of hope, ruined in fortune, friendless, and with the whole
face of the world set against them like a wall of polished brass. It
tells me of a man like this entering through the great doors and issuing
forth again within a few short hours, rich beyond his rosiest dreams,
able to command all that life has to offer, the divine sense of power
flowing in his veins, the cold brass wall gone and in its place a garden
of roses! See!"

With a swift motion of his hands he picked up one of the little ivory
balls and twirled the capstan in the disc. The painted slots began to
revolve, more slowly than before.

Then, and obviously with a practised hand, Emile Deschamps held the ball
between the thumb and two first fingers of his right hand, gave a swift
motion of his wrist, and the little ivory cylinder whirled round the top
of the basin under the overhanging lip, with that curious droning sound
that no one who has ever heard it can quite forget.

Click! crack! crack! The speed of the ball lessening, it was now
rattling upon the diamond-shaped bosses on the side of the bowl, losing
momentum with every moment, until it dropped upon the revolving disc
below--revolving in the opposite direction to itself.

And now there was a succession of sharp taps, as the little ball was
tossed by the edges of the slots hither and thither, furiously jumping
from one to the other, flung back for an instant upon the sloping side
of the basin, returning to its mad career over the slots.

And then--a sudden final click as it fell to rest. Silence!

Immediately Deschamps put his finger upon the top of the capstan and
stopped the revolutions of the slots.

"Seven--red!" he cried. "Ah! if I had put but nine little golden louis
upon that number, within a quarter of a minute I should have been richer
by six thousand three hundred francs, more than twice what I earn in a
whole year, Basil! In twenty little seconds! Now, do you see what this
thing may mean?"

Basil found himself strangely affected by his friend's enthusiasm. He
knew nothing of roulette. He had occasionally seen a small wheel in a
toy shop, but this so concrete illustration of the game startled him
more than he would have been willing to admit.

The thin voice of Edouard Garnet broke in. "Yes, monsieur," he said,
"that is one vision, but there are others. Who should tell of those
unhappy men who have followed the Goddess of Chance even to the very
gates of death, until they have opened and closed upon them at last.
Somewhere in the kingdom of Monaco there is a hidden graveyard; none
know where it is. And in that dishonoured plot lies hundreds of nameless
ones, who have yielded up their all--happiness, honour, life--to the
ebony basin."

Basil started. The words seemed to come strangely from the actual
artificer of the wheel of fortune. Deschamps also looked curiously at
the little man, whose face had suddenly gone grey and whose voice
trembled. "But, monsieur," he said, in a hesitating voice.

The other made a gesture with his hand. "Yes, yes," he replied, "I well
know what you would say--such words come strangely from me or from my
brother. But, monsieur"--he tapped the rim of the bowl with a thin
hand--"this is the very last of these engines of hell that I or Charles
will ever make!"

He paused, struggling with some deep emotion. "We had a nephew," he
continued, "my brother and I; the only relative left to us in the world.
We loved him as if he had been a son. We saved, invested, and worked
solely for him. We are rich, monsieur! Not only have our earnings been
large, but we have saved, and invested our savings in safe rents. All,
all was to have been his. Aristide was young, clever, and, backed by the
fortune we could leave him, would have taken a high place in the world.
He had gone to Marseilles on business for us, entrusted with a
considerable sum of money. Some friends took him to Monte Carlo--it was
only three months ago. He lost this money of ours at the tables--lost it
by means of one of the very wheels we had made--and in despair he killed
himself, though God knows how gladly we would have forgiven him. We have
now completed our last contract for the Administration. We have
resigned our position, and for the future others shall make the wheels.
We will touch them no more."

"Never again," Charles Carnet echoed his brother, but he looked lovingly
at the glittering thing upon the table nevertheless. "No one will make
the wheels like us again," he said with a sigh.

The four men, oddly assorted as they were, gathered round the fire once
more. There was but little conversation now. They gazed into the glowing
heart of coals and wood-blocks, each busily occupied with his own
troubled thoughts.

Basil Gregory, warmed and comfortable as he was in body, felt very low
in spirits. One of those moments had come to him when life seems a
spoilt and futile thing. The future stretched before him in imagination
like some great Essex marshland at evening, when the colour fades out of
everything, the leaden tides creep inwards from the sea, and the curlews
pipe to each other with melancholy voices, like souls sick for love.
There was nothing, nothing! A dreary round of ill-paid mechanical
duties, a long engagement which would probably never end in marriage,
one of the most epoch-making inventions the world could ever know,
locked up in his mind and that of his friend, Emile Deschamps.

Thus the thoughts of the poor Englishman, Basil Gregory, as he gazed
into the rose-pink and amethyst heart of the fire.

The two old men were sadly remembering the recent loss of the
bright-faced boy that had meant everything in their narrow, patient
lives.

Sadness lay like a veil upon the faces of all three.

But Emile Deschamps' face was not sad. It was set and rigid. Not a
feature of it moved. The brow was wrinkled and knotted with thoughts.
There was a fixed and smouldering fire in the eyes. Once Basil looked at
his friend and wondered what intense and concentrated thought was
burning and glowing in the great executive brain of the Southerner. Had
he known, had an inkling of it reached him, he would have leapt to his
feet in the wildest excitement he had ever known.

For, indeed, the fickle Goddess of Chance was abroad this night, and had
led their footsteps to this secluded workshop. Unseen, unfelt by any
save only Emile Deschamps, she was hovering in the room where the wheels
of her votaries were made.

About dawn a low wind arose and wailed around the quarter of the
wood-turners. The deep mist vanished as grey light began to filter in
through the glass roof of the workshop. With many thanks the two young
men bade their hosts farewell, and went out into the chill morning air.

A pressing invitation to come again whenever they liked, piped in unison
by Brother Charles and Brother Edouard, was the last sound they heard as
their feet echoed up the deserted street towards the great main
thoroughfares of Paris.



CHAPTER III


The next day was cold, but bright and sunny. From ten o'clock in the
morning until _déjeuner_ at twelve o'clock, Ethel McMahon endeavoured to
instil some rudimentary knowledge of English into the minds of the
fifteen-year-old daughters of prosperous tradesmen of the Luxembourg
district at the academy for young ladies of the Demoiselles de
Custine-Seraphin, two elderly ladies in whom parsimony and the
proprieties struggled for mastery.

With many a sigh and shrug of disgust her demure charges had struggled
with the intricacies of our language, had conjugated the verb "to love"
in unexpected fashions, had laboriously assimilated the information that
"ze weadder is going to be ver' fin to-day," and so forth.

At twelve, together with her fellow-teachers, Mademoiselle Marie and
Mademoiselle Augustine de Custine-Seraphin, Ethel had taken the second
breakfast of thin soup, pallid mutton, and stale _tartines au
confiture_. At one she was free--free till nine o'clock in the evening.
And as she came downstairs from her room dressed to go out, her face was
so radiant and changed in expression that Mademoiselle Marie de
Custine-Seraphin tossed her head as the girl passed, and gave it as her
undoubted opinion to her sister that _la jeune anglaise_ was certainly
going to do more than spend a quiet afternoon and evening with her
invalid mother.

"Figure to yourself, Augustine; her face was of the most beaming, her
eye had sparkle, her cheeks were colour of rose. _Ca fait un amant,
n'est-ce pas?_"

"_A la jeunesse, comme à la jeunesse,_" her sister replied with a shrug,
and went on making up the account of Mademoiselle Hortense Dubois, the
well-to-do butcher's daughter who was leaving school that quarter.

Ethel McMahon hurried out of the quiet street in which the school was
situated, walking towards the Luxembourg.

She was a typically Irish girl in feature, with those dark-blue eyes,
like hot Venetian water, that hair black as a bog-oak root, that
complexion of cream and roses that is hardly seen anywhere outside the
Isle of Unrest. She was tall and walked with a swing, as she threaded
her way among the _chic_ and mincing Parisiennes towards her mother's
tiny flat in the Rue Paczensky.

Dull as the girl's life was, hard as she worked all day, her youth and
vitality were stronger than the power of circumstances. Vivid and
impulsive in all she did, a constant spring of hope welled up within
her, and she was certain that sooner or later--she believed very
soon--everything in her life would come right. Dear Basil would get some
lucrative appointment, the great invention would be financed by some
kindly millionaire who would appear in the nick of time. They would get
married, her mother would be able to live in the far healthier air of
the Alps, as the doctor had ordered. Day in and day out Ethel was
convinced that all would be well, and whenever she saw her lover she
comforted and inspirited him as if they were indeed husband and wife.

Mrs. McMahon's flat of two rooms and a kitchen was high up in the great
drab block of buildings, and, small as it was, the rent, as is the case
with all flats in Paris, was proportionately high.

As she entered the hallway Ethel was handed a bundle of letters by the
concierge. She did not examine them at the moment, but ran lightly up
the stairs to the flat.

Mrs. McMahon was seated by the window of the sitting-room. A lace pillow
with its pins and reels of thread was upon the table before her, and her
thin hands were moving quickly and deftly over it hither and thither.

It was Mrs. McMahon's specialty to copy old Valenciennes lace, which she
did for a firm in the Rue de Rivoli. The labour was intense, the process
wearingly long, but the few hundred francs earned during the year by
this means helped to pay the rent.

She was a tall, faded woman. The hair, which had once been as black as
her daughter's, was now scanty and iron-grey. All the light had faded
from the blue eyes, and she was painfully thin. She returned her
daughter's caresses without much animation, and sat back in her
old-fashioned chair with her hands lying idly in her lap, gazing at the
girl in a lack-lustre way as she moved quickly about the room, taking
off her hat and stole of cheap fur, giving a touch to the furniture here
and there, and putting a little bunch of dark-red asters, which she had
bought, into a vase upon the dining-table.

"Well, Ethel, I suppose you have no news? I hope those old cats"--Mrs.
McMahon was accustomed to refer to the Demoiselles de Custine-Seraphin
in this way--"I hope those old cats have been behaving themselves
better. I cannot think why you stay with them. Surely a girl with your
knowledge of French as well as English, and with your appearance, could
get something better to do. The salary they pay you is disgraceful."

Ethel shook her head brightly; this was an old ground of debate between
herself and the querulous invalid. "My dear mother," she said, "I really
cannot afford to wait for anything better to turn up. If I could,
possibly I might get something better to do, but that would mean coming
home for perhaps three or four months, and you know we cannot possibly
afford that. While I am at the school, of course, I cannot go looking
after another post. So I must make the best of it, that's all."

Mrs. McMahon coughed fretfully. "How horrified your poor dear father
would have been," she said, "at the life you are leading now! It is my
one consolation that Providence has spared him that!"

Ethel said nothing in answer, though she had her doubts upon the
subject. The late Captain McMahon had retired from the Irish Guards soon
after getting his company and marrying pretty Miss Persse of county
Galway. There were not wanting those who said that his retirement was
more or less compulsory owing to rather too pronounced successes while
holding the bank at baccarat or chemin de fer. Be that as it may,
Ethel's memory of her childhood in various more or less shady
Continental resorts was by no means a pleasant one. Captain McMahon had
been one of those people whose whole philosophy is summed up in the
expression, "Hang it, the luck _must_ turn!" He had wooed fortune
wherever a casino or gambling hell was to be found upon the Continent
of Europe; he had wooed her in vain; the luck never did turn.

However, it was doubtless owing to this persistent optimism inculcated
by her father that Ethel herself was enabled to bear up against the drab
monotony of her life. She also felt instinctively that "the luck must
turn." As for Mrs. McMahon herself, while she affected a consistent
despair and the gloomiest outlook upon the future, she secretly
nourished the most extravagant hopes, and was as much a gambler in
temperament as her husband had been in action. Only the most limited
opportunities of exercising her passion were given her, but of these she
took advantage to the full.

"I cannot think," the elder lady went on, "what that lover of yours can
be about. Oh, I have nothing to say against Basil," she said hurriedly,
as she saw Ethel's colour begin to rise, and her mouth to harden into
mutiny. "Basil is a good fellow enough, and, of course, I know he is
very clever at his electricity, and so on. He and that young Frenchman,
Monsieur Deschamps, have no doubt got a fortune in their heads, as you
are always telling me. All that I can say is that it seems likely to
stay there. With your blood Ethel, for both the Persses and the McMahons
rode straight for anything they wanted, I wonder at your choosing a boy
like Basil, who seems to have no initiative, no dash. Ah, well! I
suppose there are no soldiers of fortune nowadays. But, still, with your
name and your appearance, I think you might have done better for
yourself."

Ethel knew it was useless to answer anything to this. She let her mother
run on until she was tired, and then began to make tea, with a little
spirit kettle.

As she was doing this, she noticed the little pile of letters that the
concierge had handed to her. The top one had not come by post, and was
unstamped. Ethel knew the writing very well. It was that of the clerk
who sent out demands and receipts for the rent at the office.

"Ah!" she said; "here is the receipt for the quarter's rent." She had
given her mother the money to pay it some time ago, and without thinking
what she was doing, she opened the envelope.

Mrs. McMahon rose from her seat in considerable agitation. Her hands
trembled a little, and a bright colour came into her wan face.

"Why, mother," Ethel said in alarm, "this is not a receipt at all! This
is a letter from the office saying that the rent is much overdue, and
pressing for immediate payment. I gave you the money!" The words died
away from her lips as she saw the old lady, a picture of embarrassment,
standing before her.

"My dear," said Mrs. McMahon, in a shaking voice, "you really must allow
me to manage the household finances in my own way. I am older and more
experienced in life than you. I have temporarily--er--well, _invested_
the rent money in the hopes, in the almost certainty, that in a day or
so I shall be repaid a hundred-fold."

Ethel sat down at the table with a deep sigh. "Oh, mother!" she said in
a pleading voice, "how could you, how could you really? I suppose that
it is one of those wretched lotteries again. I should not like to think
how many precious francs have been simply thrown away in the last year
or two. Hundreds and hundreds. It is simply madness to spend two or
three hundred francs on a ticket for one of the wretched things when we
have hardly money for the necessaries of life."

The old lady began to cry weakly. "I did it for the best, Ethel," she
said. "I am sure I thought that my bad luck could not go on much longer.
I had such hopes this time."

Ethel saw her opportunity. While her mother was in this state of
penitence she might perhaps make a lasting impression.

"Mother," she said, earnestly, "gambling nearly ruined my grandfather;
it quite ruined father. We could not be much worse off than we are, but
don't throw away the last thing that keeps us from absolute starvation.
Do not destroy the roof over our heads! If there were only something in
it, I should not so much mind. To win anything in these affairs robs
nobody. But there never _is_ anything in it, worse luck. From us, at any
rate, the spirit of Chance has turned her head; gambling of any sort is
ruin."

"It is--it is," the old lady sobbed, now thoroughly broken down. "Oh,
that I had never been drawn into it, had never had the poison instilled
into my blood! But this is the last time, Ethel, dear; it is the last
time, I promise you. And how to pay the rent I do not know."

Ethel sighed heavily. The rent could be paid this time, she knew. She
had been fortunate in securing some extra English lessons during the
last quarter--lessons which were given privately to a girl of about her
own age, and which had brought her in a few louis; but she had wanted
this money so badly for clothes. It was dreadful to go out with Basil on
their rather rare holidays and to look dowdy and shabby, as she was only
too conscious of being. She knew--what pretty girl does not?--how
important decent clothes are, and she longed that her lover should see
her dressed like other maidens in the restaurants and minor places of
amusement where he was able to take her. And now--that was another
little dream gone. The old brown coat and skirt and the imitation
astrachan muff and stole would have to do for the rest of the winter;
there was bitterness in the thought which no man can fathom.

"Oh, well," she said in a dull voice, "I have saved up a little, and I
suppose it will be enough for the rent. But, oh, mother, how could you
do it!"

"Never again! never again!" wailed the old lady, and with a dull pain at
her heart Ethel left the room and went into the little kitchen to fetch
the tea things.

She was a little longer in the kitchen than she had anticipated. Tears
were in her eyes also, and it required all her resolution and
self-control to keep them back, and to preserve her ordinary composure.
At last, with a heavy sigh and trying to twist her face into the
semblance of a smile, she took up the tray and went back into the
sitting-room, resolved to comfort her mother as well as she could.

Mrs. McMahon, to her daughter's immense surprise, was standing by the
window, very erect, with all traces of recent tears and penitence
absolutely gone from her face. There was a superior and almost haughty
smile upon the old lady's lips.

Ethel stared in wild astonishment at this transformation.

"Put the things down, my dear," said Mrs. McMahon, in a calm and
patronising voice. "Perhaps when you have heard what I have got to say,
you will realise the wisdom of trusting to older and more experienced
people. I do not blame you, Ethel; you are but a child after all and can
know nothing of the world. But I do ask you to trust to the wisdom and
judgment of your elders in future. If you do so, and allow yourself to
be guided by me in everything, then we shall very soon be relieved from
our present position, and be able to return to that place in society
which our birth and connections warrant."

Ethel dropped the tray some inches upon the table with a crash. Her
lower lip dropped. Her eyes were wide.

Mrs. McMahon looked down upon her daughter--she was slightly taller than
Ethel when she stood erect--with a kindly and compassionate smile, as
one looks at a beloved but tiresome and fretful child.

"I suppose," she said, "that a little sum of two thousand five hundred
francs would be sufficient to pay the rent?"

Ethel gasped.

"I suppose," Mrs. McMahon continued, "that you would regard a return of
a hundred pounds for an investment of ten fairly remunerative?"

Ethel murmured something or other, she hardly knew what.

Then Mrs. McMahon condescended to explain. Her eagerness burst through,
her high comedy manner vanished.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" she cried, "the luck has turned at last! After
all these years! Look! look!"

With shaking hands she held out some papers to Ethel. A typewritten
sheet was headed, "Königlich-Preussiche-Klassen-Lotterie," and stated in
French that Mrs. McMahon, who had purchased the eighth of a ticket in
the famous Berlin lottery, had thereby won a sum of 2,000 Marks German,
or--was added in parentheses--2,500 francs. A pink draft upon the Crédit
Lyonnais was enclosed for the sum.

"Oh, mother!" Ethel gasped, in the sudden shock, "two thousand five
hundred francs! A hundred pounds!" And, quite forgetful of her former
strictures, she hugged the trembling old lady again and again. "We are
rich! we are rich!" she cried, and a vision crossed her mind of an
inexpensive hat she had but lately seen in the Rue de Rivoli--a perfect
duck of a hat!

They sat down to tea, and never was there a happier meal. Ethel was to
meet Basil at six, and he was to take her out to dinner.

"Oh, mother," she said, "how delighted Basil will be to hear the news! I
am so sorry I spoke as I did, but it all seemed so hopeless. I see now
that I was wrong."

Mrs. McMahon smiled. "My dear," she said, "remember that it is a rule in
life that nothing venture, nothing have. This money seems a great deal,
no doubt, and it certainly more than repays all that I have spent to get
it, so that we are on the right side, after all, as your poor dear
father used to say. But it is a principle in these affairs--and you will
admit now that I know something about them--always to follow up your
luck. It is the people who do not do that who never deserve to have
any, and very rarely do have any."

Ethel did not quite understand what the elder lady meant, but she
nodded. "Go on, mother dear," she answered.

Mrs. McMahon, who for the last two or three minutes had been sitting
lost in thought, turned to her daughter. Her face was grave, but it
showed a strangely suppressed excitement, and there was an odd glimmer
in her eyes. "First of all, dear," she said, "we must pay the rent. Your
little savings will not be required, after all. You can renovate your
wardrobe, and I will add something to help you. More especially, you
will have to get a really good evening gown, and a smart hat to wear
with it."

Ethel stared. "But, mother," she said, "surely that is an extravagance?
I never go anywhere where a smart evening gown is wanted. And you know
what such things cost."

"A smart evening gown," Mrs. McMahon went on, almost as if she were
talking to herself. "We must spend as little as possible upon it, but it
must be decent. For myself, I have something that will do--that is, in
the first instance."

"What are you talking about, mother dear?" Ethel asked.

"Now listen, Ethel," her mother replied. "A chance has come to us. It
may well be our one and only chance. We must grasp it, or let it go by
for ever. Fortune always turns her face away from those who refuse to
follow when she beckons. I have a plan. We must take Fortune at the
flood, as I said. To begin with, we must tell Basil Gregory nothing
whatever of this little bit of good fortune which has befallen us. You
must not say a word to him about it, or even hint at it."

"Oh, but mother, he would be so delighted to know. I always share
everything with Basil."

"No doubt," said Mrs. McMahon, "but in this case I want you to do
nothing of the sort. You will know why in a moment. Basil, dear fellow
as he is--I am sorry I made some petulant remarks about your engagement
a few minutes ago--is an Englishman. Apart from his high scientific
attainments, which have yet to be proved, by the way, Basil has all the
Englishman's solidity and caution. He is not imaginative. He is not a
man to risk anything upon a supreme chance. Now, regard the situation in
which we are."

"We are free from all debt, at any rate," Ethel answered wonderingly;
"and we shall have a nice little surplus in hand."

"You must look farther than that, my dear," said her mother, with the
odd brightness in her eyes growing more marked than ever. "A hundred
pounds is all very well. We may buy shares in other lottery tickets. We
may even buy a whole ticket, but that is a single chance, and means a
great deal of waiting. Since Fortune is smiling upon us there is another
and surer way to court her favours. I have been thinking quickly, as I
generally do when there is something important to be decided. With this
money"--she began to speak slowly and impressively--"you and I can go to
Monte Carlo. We can go by the slow train, third class. It will take us
twenty-four hours, and not be very comfortable. But that I can endure,
and if I can, then so can you. I know the Principality of Monaco very
well. At Monte Carlo itself all the hotels and places are terribly
expensive, and far beyond our means, but only a quarter of a mile away,
in that part known as the Condamine, there are lots of quite inexpensive
_pensions_ which would serve our purpose very well."

"But what on earth are we to do in Monte Carlo? and how can I leave the
school?"

"The school, my dear Ethel, is of minor importance. Nothing venture,
nothing have. What we are to do at Monte Carlo is to turn what will
remain of our hundred pounds into such a sum as will make us independent
for the rest of our lives--a sum that will allow me to go to
Switzerland, as the doctor ordered, that will start you comfortably in
your married life with Basil Gregory."

The last shot told, and set the girl's pulses throbbing furiously.

"Oh, mother," she said, "if it were only possible!"

"It is perfectly possible, my dear Ethel," Mrs. McMahon returned, and
there was such calm certainty in her tone that the eager girl, carried
off her feet by the arrival of the lottery cheque, and the brilliant
vista which was beginning to unveil itself, hardly questioned her
mother's wisdom at all.

"I know Monte Carlo very well," said the old lady. "I was there often
enough with your poor dear father. On one occasion he lost every penny
he had at the tables there, and we were compelled to apply to the
Administration for what they call the _viatique_--that is, a sufficient
sum to pay our expenses back to Paris, from whence we had come. It is
never refused. But, on looking back, I see how foolish both your father
and I were. We played recklessly. We ignored the most elementary rules
of chance. We were rightly punished. For many months now I have been
dreaming of just such a chance as has come to us at last. I have been
studying the new book written by a professor, who won large sums of
money at Monte Carlo, in the interests of mathematics, on the Theory of
Probabilities. I have gained much knowledge from it. I propose to
utilise that knowledge very shortly."

"Then you have definite plans?" Ethel asked.

"Perfectly definite, my dear. I have only been waiting to put them into
execution. The time has now arrived. We will get the necessary
clothes--for in order to obtain the entrée to the Casino, one must be
decently dressed--and we will go to Monte Carlo at once. Three days'
careful play at roulette--for I do not intend to go near the
_trente-et-quarante_ tables--will either see us with a sufficient
fortune for our needs or take all we have got. Even if it does, we shall
be little worse off than we are at present. Nothing can take my hundred
a year from me, and you will easily find another post. It may even be
that you can obtain a week's leave of absence from those old cats. It is
worth while trying, at any rate. If not, you must resign the whole
thing. For my part, I feel fully confident that you will never have to
go back to such dreary drudgery."

Confidence expressed in an authoritative tone by an elder is infectious.
Confidence already backed up by an initial proof is more infectious
still. Ethel McMahon's scruples, doubts and hesitations vanished
utterly, and she threw herself wholeheartedly into her mother's scheme.



CHAPTER IV


At six o'clock Basil came for Ethel. Mrs. McMahon greeted him rather
more kindly than usual, and he noticed it with some surprise, for he was
always conscious that the old lady did not care much for him. A
humble-minded man, and bitterly conscious of his unsuccessful life, he
was certain that such a radiant being as Ethel was a thousand times too
good for him, and was even inclined to acquiesce in the old lady's
estimate in a way that provoked his fiancée enormously.

He noticed also that in addition to the access of kindliness, there was
a distinct patronage in Mrs. McMahon's manner. Her usual despondency
seemed to have disappeared. She spoke largely and vaguely of "the
future." He could not understand it at all.

"What on earth has happened to your mother?" he asked Ethel, as they
descended the stone stairs towards the street. "I never saw her so
chirpy, darling."

Ethel hesitated for a moment. She was bright and animated herself, and
she pressed his arm affectionately before replying. She was so
accustomed to share her every hope and thought with her lover that she
found it difficult to frame a suitable reply. "Oh, well, you know,
mother has ups and downs like the rest of us," she said at length.
"To-day she is in particularly good spirits."

Basil sighed. "I wish I had the recipe," he said; "try to get it from
her. It would be particularly useful just now."

"Are you depressed, dear?" the girl asked.

"Horribly; things seem worse than ever. Oh, Ethel, darling, it is
dreadful to say so, but I do not think we shall ever be married!"

"You are not to talk like that, Basil; it is perfectly ridiculous, and I
won't have it. Look at me. Am I depressed?"

"No," the man answered, looking wonderingly at her. "You have caught
your mother's mood. But the last time we were out together, if you
remember, you were as sad as I. We walked about the Luxembourg Gardens
for an hour bewailing our lot."

"Yes, and after dinner we were as happy as possible, and made all sorts
of plans. We furnished the drawing-room that evening, I think--or was it
the dining-room?"

Basil laughed, but there was no mirth in his laughter. "It doesn't
matter much," he replied, "but to-night I do not think I could take any
interest in the attics of our Castle in Spain. For that's what it is,
dearest, at present, and that's what I am sure it will remain."

"I have told you before, Basil, that you are not to talk like that. I
simply won't have it. _Entend-tu?_ Has anything happened to make you
feel more despondent than usual?"

"Well, not exactly, and yet in a way there has, though it is only a
little thing."

"Tell me, dear."

"Oh, only that Deschamps has suddenly grown quite extraordinary in his
manner. You know what absolute friends we were?"

"I know," she nodded. "Have I not been horribly jealous of you two at
times, sitting correcting exercises in that dreadful school in the
evening, and thinking of you two men talking away together without
anyone to interrupt?"

Man-like, Basil Gregory did not quite appreciate the underlying feeling
in this remark.

"It has simply kept me alive," he went on, "and kept hope burning within
me to be with Emile Deschamps. You see, our invention is just as much
his as mine. We have worked it out together as if with one mind. Our
interests are absolutely identical."

"But I don't exactly understand what has happened, Basil."

"His manner has absolutely changed ever since last night, when we had
quite an adventure, he and I."

"An adventure?" she asked quickly. "And what was that?"

In reply Basil told her the whole history of the fantastic night. He
told it well, warming to the work as he did so, and she saw the picture
unfold itself--the queer, bird-like little men, the huge workshop with
its strange implements, the welcome hospitality.

"And then," he concluded, "it turned out that they were hereditary
makers of the roulette wheels for the gambling at Monte Carlo. They have
made them for ever so many years, and they were just employed upon the
last wheel of all on that very night. They are going to resign their
position. They have made sufficient money upon which to live, and a
young nephew of theirs, who gambled at Monte Carlo with money that was
not his own, and afterwards committed suicide, has disgusted them, very
naturally, with the whole thing."

Ethel's reply amazed him.

They were approaching the Rue Crois de Petits Champs, and she stopped
upon the pavement and positively clutched his arm.

"And will the wheel you saw actually be used at Monte Carlo?" she asked
in a voice that had suddenly become almost breathless.

He nodded, too surprised to speak.

"And you touched it?"

"Oh, yes; I twirled the beastly thing round, if that's what you mean.
But why all this interest?"

Again for a moment she answered nothing, though her face had grown
suddenly pale from excitement.

"I cannot tell you," she said at length, "though it may seem strange to
you. It is a sudden thought, that is all. And, oh, Basil, dear, I
somehow believe that it is a good omen, that it means fortune for both
of us. Oh, I'm certain of it."

"What a queer little darling you are!" he said, with a laugh at her
earnest manner. "But we must not block up the pavement like this. Come
along."

They went onwards to their destination, a quaint little restaurant known
as the "Restaurant de l'Universe et Portugal," which they had discovered
some weeks before, and where one could get a really excellent dinner for
two francs fifty a head.

For the remaining three minutes of their walk neither of them said
anything. Every pulse in Ethel's body was leaping with excitement.

The coincidence was too strange. She was not more superstitious than
most people, though like most people she had an undefined though real
belief in premonitions and omens. And in this case the wish was indeed
father to the thought. She had been so carried away by the minor success
of the ticket in the first instance, and by her mother's plan in the
second, that Basil's story seemed almost a direct and miraculous
confirmation of her hopes. When they were seated at their accustomed
table in the corner of the quiet little restaurant, and a delicious _pot
au feu_ was before them, she began to ply her lover with eager
questions, making him recount every detail of the previous evening. He
told her all that she wished to know, but suddenly she noticed that his
face was still sad, and his eyes dreamy and introspective.

She remembered with a pang of accusation what he had been saying about
Emile Deschamps.

"Oh, Basil," she said with pretty penitence, "here am I bothering you
about last night, and you have not even told me what you were going to
about Monsieur Deschamps. You said something had depressed you--some
change in him?"

"Well, it has," the young man replied. "When we got home in the early
morning to our hotel we neither of us wanted to go to bed, so we lit the
stove and sat up in my room. I could not get Emile to say a word. He
absolutely refused to discuss the events in the Rue Petite Louise. He
scowled at me when I tried to draw him into conversation, as if I were
trying to do him some injury. I have never known him like that. After
about an hour I lay down on the bed and went to sleep, till they brought
our morning coffee.

"About ten we walked to the works together. We have been there all day
till just before I came to fetch you. Upon the way Emile was just as
moody and brusque as ever. As he did not want to talk about those two
kindly little men, I thought I would try another tack, and I began to
discuss a detail of our invention. It is an improvement upon what we
have already done, and at ordinary times such a thing would never fail
to interest him."

"And didn't he rise to that?" Ethel asked.

"Never a bit. And that disturbed me more than ever, for it is so unlike
him. All day he has been the same. We usually go to _déjeuner_ together
at a little café close to the works. This morning he positively refused
to come with me, and, when I asked why, he insulted me. He was like a
bear with a sore head."

"And you went alone?"

"Yes, and I have been alone ever since, and have been brooding over the
position and got myself into a thoroughly depressed state of mind."

"Well, never mind, dear," Ethel replied, "get out of it now. How good
this omelette is! And the wine, too; really, I think the _vin ordinaire_
here is better than anywhere else in Paris. Cheer up, old boy, because I
am perfectly certain that everything is going to come right, and more
quickly than you have any idea of."

She spoke the last words with meaning, and Basil looked at her, trying
to read her face.

"Have you got something at the back of your mind, sweetheart?" he asked.

She nodded. She could not help it.

"There is something," she said--"a little something. I cannot tell you
now, because it is not my secret, but wait and see. You will know more
before long. For my part, I feel more happy and hopeful than I have been
since our engagement."

For a moment he caught something of her gaiety. He lifted his glass, and
drank. "To the future," he said, but the momentary animation flickered
out, and it was a silent and sorrowful young man who kissed her farewell
about half-past nine, at the corner of the street in which was the
establishment for young ladies of the Demoiselles de Custine-Seraphin.



CHAPTER V


Gregory arrived at his hotel in the Latin Quarter about ten. Loneliness
oppressed him, and he went to the couple of attics upon the top floor
tenanted by himself and Deschamps. He hoped that the latter was in, and
in a better mood. He wanted an explanation from him, and he was haunted
by some half-formed fear that the Frenchman knew of some calamity that
might be about to overtake them--that something had gone wrong, perhaps,
with the great invention, or that their positions at the Société
Générale Electrique were jeopardised.

There was no one in Deschamps' room as he switched on the electric
light, so he crossed the landing and entered his own.

This room also was untenanted, but the light was full on. He started,
for it could not have been turned on by him, and electric lights burning
at unnecessary hours were viewed with great disfavour and the
subsequent result in the monthly bill by the hotel proprietor. Almost
immediately, however, he understood, for a note in Deschamps'
handwriting, and addressed to him, lay upon the table.

He picked it up, and tore open the flimsy envelope, his hand trembling
as he did so.

For some reason or other he felt strangely excited, and he experienced
the feeling that something is about to happen which comes to everyone at
certain times. The note was quite short. It stated that Deschamps had
gone again to the Rue Petite Louise to visit the Carnet brothers, and
told Basil, in terms that were imperative, to proceed there immediately
upon his return. That there might be no doubt whatever of Deschamps'
meaning, the letter concluded by saying, "The matter is most urgent. I
can say no more, but come."

As Basil walked the considerable distance towards the woods quarter, he
was ill at ease and also in a bad temper. It was impossible to disregard
such a summons, but he saw no use nor meaning in it, while it seemed to
him almost an impoliteness to trouble the kindly entertainers of the
night before so soon again. He found his way to the long, narrow street
of the wood-sheds and wood-workers without much difficulty, only once
having to ask the way. As before, the street was ill-lit, and perfectly
quiet, though this time he could see it much more plainly owing to the
absence of fog and the light of a watery moon. He entered the little
passage, and rapped on the counter. Almost immediately that he had done
so the door behind flew open and Brother Charles came out.

The little man was apparently delighted to see him. He was cordiality
itself.

"Monsieur Deschamps is within," he said. "Enter, monsieur. We have been
expecting you."

Greatly wondering what this might mean, Basil Gregory passed through
into the workshop, where he found Edouard Carnet and Deschamps sitting
by the fire.

On this occasion one of the principal workbenches had been cleared of
lumber, and a white cloth was spread upon it, with a salad and boned
chickens from some neighbouring restaurant, flanked by several bottles
of that execrable sweet champagne beloved by the unsophisticated
Parisian at times of festival--the Parisian being at once the most
accomplished gourmet, and the worst judge in Europe of sparkling wines.

Deschamps, who rose with his hosts as Basil entered, was no longer surly
or depressed. On the contrary, Gregory saw at once that he was in a
state of intense excitement. There was a high colour upon his swarthy
face, and the big black eyes were glittering.

In fact, there was an unusual atmosphere of excitement about everyone
present in the workshop, and insensibly, in the first few moments even,
it began to communicate itself to the Englishman.

"We were waiting for you to begin supper," said Brother Edouard in his
twittering voice. "Afterwards we will tell you--what we have to tell."

Basil was not hungry, but he sat down with the others. Both Deschamps
and the Carnets ate quickly and said very little. It was as though they
wished to be done with the meal, but when the first bottle of champagne
was opened and the sweet wine creamed in the glasses Brother Charles
rose and lifted his glass on high. "To the success of the greatest
scheme that human genius ever evolved!" he piped. "To the ruin and
overthrow of that vast and evil power whose slaves and victims we have
been!" With a sudden gesture, he drained his glass and flung it on the
floor, where it crashed into a hundred pieces.

Then he stood there trembling, his bird-like face twisted into a
grotesque mask of hatred, which was reflected by his brother.

Gregory looked at one and the other with amazement and then turned to
Deschamps. He saw that the latter's face was more deeply flushed than
before, the whole expression was one of quivering eagerness and almost
ferocious hope. Gregory leant back in his chair and very deliberately
lit a cigarette.

"I do not want to be unduly inquisitive," he said, in a quiet and
measured voice, "but if one of you gentlemen would kindly give me the
slightest inkling of what you are talking about, and why you are all so
excited, then perhaps I shall feel a little less bewildered than I do at
the moment."

At this Deschamps broke into a torrent of words.

"My friend," he said, "our troubles are at an end! As Monsieur Charles
has just said, one of the most stupendous schemes that has ever entered
the human brain has come to me. By its means we shall all become
fabulously wealthy in a short time if all goes well."

Basil was staring at his friend, wondering whether he had taken leave of
his senses, when Charles Carnet interposed. "We shall not _all_ become
wealthy," he said. "Edouard and I have enough; we want no more. You will
become wealthy, and we shall have our revenge."

"I am listening," said Gregory rather stolidly.

As if by common consent the other three rose from the table. "Come to
the fire," Deschamps said, speaking now in a low voice, "and you shall
hear everything."

They sat round the fire very close together, and, looking round as if to
be quite certain that there was no one lurking in the recesses of the
workshop, Deschamps began:

"_Mon ami_," he said, putting his hand upon Basil's arm, "we are going
to take a journey, you and I."

"A journey?" Gregory said.

"To Monte Carlo," Deschamps replied.

Then there was a silence; Basil felt his brain whirling. "What do you
mean?" he said at length.

"I mean this," Deschamps answered, "that fortune is within our grip at
last, that we can now make as much money as we like, enough to conduct
all our experiments and get out perfect models of our invention to place
before the world. I will explain."

He threw away the cigarette which he had been smoking and began to
outline a plan so novel, a conspiracy so absolutely without precedent in
the history of the world, that his three listeners remained spell-bound.

"Chance, and chance alone," he began, "has placed the opportunity for
the most sensational coup of modern times in our hands. In the first
place, chance--the Spirit of Fortune, or what you will--led us to this
room in which we are sitting. The Messieurs Carnet, as you know, have
for years been employed in making roulette wheels for the Casino at
Monte Carlo. As you have also heard, they have resolved to give up their
occupation. The tragedy which has saddened their lives has been directly
due to the existence of the great gambling establishment. Both our
friends would give anything to be revenged upon the organisation which
has wrecked their hopes, and owing to the existence of which their so
beloved nephew met his untimely death."

A low mutter of assent broke from both the little Frenchmen.

"Very well, then," Deschamps continued, "you have wondered at my
abstraction during the last twenty-four hours. I could not speak to you.
I was absorbed. I hardly heard anything you said. The whole forces of my
intellect were focussed upon one thought, one aim. The germ of an idea
came to me. It was like a lightning flash, illuminating with sudden
splendour the dark skies of night. The flash came and went, but the germ
of the idea remained behind. Since then I have been working unceasingly
at it, and now I believe I have it perfected. You, yourself, my dear
friend, will be able to seize on any flaw, to improve upon my original
idea. Very well, then; I came to our friends here, and told them that I
believed I could, if I would, deal the Administration of Monte Carlo an
almost fatal blow. It was, I explained to them, by means of science, and
more especially of your and my new invention, that this could be done. I
pointed out to them that it would require their co-operation. I think I
may say"--here he looked interrogatively at the Carnets--"that directly
I made my proposal they agreed."

"We welcomed it with joy," said Brother Edouard instantly. "To us also
it came as a lightning flash, illuminating the dark and showing the word
'Revenge' in letters of fire upon the horizon!"

Basil leant forward, deeply interested. As yet he had not the slightest
idea of what was coming. Nevertheless, he was so impressed by Deschamps'
firm and confident manner that hope was beginning to rise high within
him, and an excitement to which he had been a stranger for many days,
began to flow over him like a tide.

Moreover, he knew Deschamps so well that he was certain that this was
no vision. The Frenchman was a Southerner, it is true, given to
pictorial flights of fancy in many ways. But when he began to speak of
any matter connected with science or their invention, he never made the
slightest overstatement. Science was his life and his religion.

"As yet," Deschamps said, "Monsieur Edouard and Monsieur Charles know
nothing of the actual means I propose to employ. I am going to divulge
my plan in such a way that they, knowing nothing of electricity and its
powers, will be able to understand my project in every detail. I shall
not use any technicalities beyond what are absolutely necessary. But
you, _mon ami_, will understand everything from the scientific point of
view, and you will see how perfectly feasible and likely of success is
what I propose to do."

He paused, and going to the table, poured out a little water into a
glass and drank it off. He did not sit down again, but walked up and
down a measured beat of four yards, talking with intense earnestness.

"You know, gentlemen," he said to the two wood-carvers, "what wireless
telegraphy means?"

"But, yes," said Brother Charles, "have they not just installed the
Marconi system in the Eiffel Tower? Of course, we know, but not, I
think, more than any ordinary member of the public."

"Very well," said Deschamps. "Now I must tell you that Monsieur Gregory
here and myself have for years been at work upon a system of
transmitting messages without wires, which, we believe, and indeed are
certain, surpasses the invention of Signor Marconi as a modern
battleship surpasses an ancient wooden frigate. It is this system of
ours that I propose to employ in the secret war against the
Administration at Monte Carlo. By its means we shall be able to win an
enormous sum of money at roulette. We shall be able to win exactly how
much, and when, we please. Every detail is perfectly clear in my mind,
and discovery is almost impossible with the precautions I shall take.
You must remember that the capital of Monte Carlo is unlimited. You
know nothing of the place, Basil?"

Gregory shook his head.

"Then, pardon a short digression," Deschamps continued, looking at the
Carnets. "The gambling rooms of Monte Carlo pay the Prince of Monaco a
yearly subsidy of eighty thousand pounds for permission to carry on
their business in his territory. There are no rates and taxes in Monte
Carlo, the Casino pays them all. Education is free. The Casino itself is
a glittering white palace upon the edge of the Mediterranean, erected at
an enormous cost, and decorated with the most lavish splendour. Few
kings have such vast halls and salons in their palaces as those in the
temple of the Goddess of Chance. The Casino is free to all the world,
though, of course, the Administration reserves the right of declining
admission. The gardens that surround this palace are the most beautiful
in the world. Sometimes, as if by touch of an enchanter's wand, the
thousand gardeners steal out in the night, and in the morning vast
parterres of flowers, which had been all red and gold as the sun sank,
are changed to blue and white. In addition to this--and the expenses of
the Principality are incalculable--the company pays a revenue to its
shareholders of over twenty-five million francs!"

Basil had been listening with absorbed interest. He started now.
"Twenty-five million francs!" he said, in an awed voice. "Clear profit
after those colossal expenses? A million English pounds!"

"Exactly," Deschamps returned, "and I have told you this so that you can
see that the resources of the company are practically unlimited. The
amount of their funds no one knows, but many a national bank could not
equal it. So you see, the authorities are pledged for the sake of their
own continuance to pay any player his winnings, however enormous they
may be. There have been several cases of players quite recently winning
sums of two and a half million francs--a hundred thousand pounds of your
English money. But we"--here his voice for the first time began to
tremble with excitement--"we can win whatever we please! And now to the
way in which it is to be done."

Deschamps stopped short in his walk up and down. He leant against the
work-table upon which were the remains of the supper.

The eyes of the other three were fixed upon him with an intense regard.

"You understand," he said to Basil, "the principle of roulette, do you
not?"

"Roughly," Basil answered; "the little ivory ball about the size of a
large marble is spun as you spun it the other night, and falls into a
numbered slot. The people who have placed their money upon a square of
the table with a number corresponding to that of the slot into which the
ball falls are the winners of varying amounts."

"That is more or less it," Deschamps replied. "I am not concerned at the
moment with anything but the bare mechanical operation. The whirling of
the wheel at the bottom, the opposite course of the ball, and the
triangular silver stars which break it, all make it a pure matter of
chance into which apartment upon the wheel the ball is going to fall. It
is obvious, therefore, that if by some means the player could determine
into which slot the ball is to fall, he would have the bank at his
mercy."

"Precisely," Basil said.

"Very well, then. It is a means by which this may be attained that I
have discovered. Of course, you, as an electrical engineer, can easily
see that a roulette wheel might easily be constructed by the bank by
which it could control the falling of the ball and so prevent players
who had backed a particular number from winning. This has often been
done by dishonest people who run private gambling hells. Upon the
surface everything appears all right, but, of course, an expert
examination would very speedily result in the discovery of the secret
mechanism--generally, by the way, electrical. Wires can be hidden in the
leg of the table upon which the wheel stands, and controlled by the foot
of the croupier who spins it. But never before--and I wish you to keep
this point most carefully in mind--has it been possible for the player
to control the wheel in action without the connivance of the croupier or
the bank. Now listen." He began to address himself now more particularly
to the Carnet Frères.

"The first detail in my plan is that the little ivory ball, while
remaining to all appearance a solid ball of ivory, is not really so. It
will contain a core or heart of steel. The very finest workmanship alone
could accomplish this without any possibility of detection. I assume--am
I right in assuming?--that our friends, Messieurs Charles and Edouard,
could make a ball or balls of this description."

The two little men, who had been listening with rigid attention, spoke
to one another rapidly for a moment or two, using technical terms which
the others could not understand.

Then Brother Charles looked up. "We can do it," he said proudly. "It
will be difficult, very difficult. First of all, there is the weight to
be considered, for the ball must not exceed a normal weight. Then there
must be a special quality of ivory, and work in turning and hollowing so
extraordinarily fine and delicate that perhaps only one of the Indian or
Chinese carvers could do it so that the operation showed no trace. I am
certain that no one in France but myself and my brother are capable of
this feat, but you may rest content--it is not beyond our powers!"

The little man concluded with quiet pride, and Deschamps showed
unmistakable relief.

"I was certain of it," he said, "but, naturally, I had some little
anxiety. Everything, in the first instance, depends upon that."

"We then have our prepared ball or balls--for a whole set must be made.
The next point is the peculiar construction of the rotating wheel upon
which the slots are fixed. Then, you, Basil, will immediately
understand, but I must explain it carefully to our friends, they will
have to work under my instructions, and with material which I supply.
The prepared wheel will be constructed quite differently from the
ordinary ones, though it will look exactly the same, when painted with
the numbers. Each slot, messieurs, will be constructed of metal varying
very slightly in composition. To all outward appearance the metal will
be just the ordinary tin amalgam generally employed. In reality, as far
as the metal goes, each slot will have, so to speak, a personality of
its own--a certain power of receptivity of certain influences which no
other slot has."

He stopped for a moment, and suddenly Basil Gregory rose from his
chair, and gave a great shout of excitement. A glimmering, a faint
glimmering, of the stupendous idea had come to him, and he trembled all
over with excitement.

The two little men were no less excited than he, though as yet they were
in the dark.

Deschamps made a movement with his hand, Basil sat down again, and the
Frenchman went on speaking.

"My colleague here," he said, "is already beginning to grasp the idea.
In a very few more words you will understand it also. I mentioned
wireless telegraphy to you just now. I also told you that my friend and
I had improved enormously upon the present system, though, owing to lack
of money, we have never been able as yet to place our invention upon the
market or get it recognised, while if we took it to quarters where it
would be appreciated and understood, we should be robbed of nearly all
the profits, as has happened with many another inventor.

"Well, then, messieurs, the invention of my friend and myself--I speak
purposely in non-technical terms--makes it possible for the mysterious
electrical power which sends messages over thousands of miles of
space--the Hertzian waves in short--to penetrate through any amount of
material resistance in the form of the walls of buildings, or barriers
of any kind. Marconi has already accomplished something of this; we have
perfected it. Now, in wireless telegraphy it is already possible to
'tune' sets of instruments so that the message sent at one end of the
transmitter will only be received at the other by a similarly tuned
receiver, this preventing the message being picked up by other receivers
as it flies through space. I am about to apply this principle, greatly
facilitated by our invention, to the slots of the roulette wheel. Each
slot will be tuned separately from its fellow. Having got thus far, let
me explain to you that, by means of the Hertzian waves, the operator
will be able to turn a slot into a temporary magnet of low power at any
moment he desires. That is to say, that when the prepared wheel is being
used upon the tables at Monte Carlo, an operator with his instrument may
be three or four hundred yards away in the upper room of a neighbouring
hotel, or, if necessary, two miles away up upon the mountains of the
Maritime Alps, and will be able to turn any slot he desires into a
magnet for just as long a period as he wishes it to remain so. There
will be no visible connection between the distant operator and the
wheel. It is absolutely impossible that the people clustered round the
wheel can know what is going on. The great secret, silent power of
electricity will be at work, and yet entirely unsuspected and unknown."

He paused again, and triumph dawned upon his face as he saw that now not
only did Basil Gregory thoroughly understand the plan, but that the
brothers Carnet also had grasped the idea. Their faces were blazing with
amazement, their bodies tense and rigid, there was no sound in the
workshop but that of his own voice.

"The rest is easy to explain," he said. "If, say, at a given moment, the
slot painted seven is converted into a low-power magnet directly the
wheel begins to revolve, then, as a natural consequence, as soon as the
velocity of the ball begins to die away, and the attractive power of the
magnet, which slot number seven has become, proves greater than the
impelling force of the ball, the ball which has a steel core will fall
into slot number seven.

"You will observe, then, that the unseen operator any distance from the
Casino is absolute master of the play at the particular table where the
prepared wheel is.

"His confederate will play at this table. He and the operator will carry
watches that are absolutely and utterly reliable, and which are
synchronised to a hundredth second of time. A course of play is
determined on. A sequence of certain numbers is agreed upon between the
two. Let us say that the player enters the rooms at twelve o'clock in
the morning and secures his place at the special table. At ten minutes
past twelve to the instant it is agreed that number seven, let us say,
is to receive the force of the Hertzian waves for a certain definite
period. As a usual thing, so rapid is the paying out and gathering in of
money at the tables at Monte Carlo, the wheel is spun every minute and a
half. Of course, if the stakes are very high, or if there is a dispute,
a coup may take a little longer. That, however, is a fair working
average. For a little less than a minute and a half, then, from the time
agreed upon, i.e., ten minutes past twelve, seven will remain a magnet.
For that particular spin seven must infallibly prove the winner. The
thing can be repeated over and over again."

"It is marvellous!" the brothers shouted out in chorus. "It will be
impossible to detect. Monsieur, you are the greatest mechanical genius
the world has ever seen!"

It was a great moment for Emile Deschamps. All the theatrical instincts
so deeply implanted within him were gratified. To watch the faces of his
audience, to see the dawn of understanding and admiration as he talked,
had been to him like cool water to one in the desert.

He stood still now, one hand upon his heart, and bowed. He had no
thought of mockery, the gesture was perfectly spontaneous and sincere.
He turned to Basil.

"And you, my friend, what do you think of it?" he asked.

Basil started. He had been thinking furiously, and the question came
unexpectedly.

"It is, of course, extremely brilliant," he said. "Naturally I can see
that even more readily than our friends here. I don't believe any brain
but yours, Emile, would ever have thought of it. Properly worked, and
there are a good many details I should like to discuss with you, it's
almost certain the scheme will succeed. But----"

"Ah," Deschamps burst in, "the usual English reservation! The invariable
'but' of caution! What is it now, you cold-blooded islander?"

"Oh, it is not caution," Basil answered. "Haven't I just told you that
the thing must succeed with a few modifications upon your original idea?
It is the morality of the thing I am thinking of."

Deschamps had sat down. He jumped up now like a Jack-in-the-box.
"_Tiens!_" he cried. "Morality? Morality?"

"I thought you had forgotten the meaning of the word," Basil answered
dryly. "It seems to me--I only offer the opinion for what it is
worth--that while this little plan is about as alluring a proposition as
I ever heard, one of the most elementary problems of life has been quite
lost sight of. We are going to steal--to put it quite frankly. It is an
iridium-pointed, hot-pressed, wire-wove, jewelled-in-every-hole sort of
steal, I know, but it is a steal all the same, isn't it? I am open to
conviction, of course, and, by the way, if anything goes wrong,
conviction is just what will occur. We have a little poem in England
which sums up the question in a nutshell--


     He who prigs what isn't his'n,
     When he's cotched will go to prison;


or, to put it in simpler form still, 'the penalty for abstracting quids
by electricity will be quod'--you are a Latin scholar, I believe,
Emile?"

The Frenchman made an impatient and angry gesture of his hands.

"There is no time for _blague_," he said, "with your quids and your
quods. I know nothing of your piggish English play upon words. Of
course, if it is the fear of discovery that deters you, and the
possibilities of arrest, well----"

He did not conclude, but shrugged his shoulders, and puffed out his lips
with a peculiarly French contempt.

Basil was quite unmoved. "It is not that," he said, "as you know very
well, Emile. I would risk anything upon any chance. Our lives at the
present moment are very like two puddings in a fog. Prison could not be
much worse. But I do not quite see how one is going to reconcile this
marvellously ingenious plan of yours with ordinary morals. There have
been lots of times when you and I have wanted a bottle of wine or a
packet of cigarettes very badly, and hadn't the money to pay for them.
If I had proposed to you to take a bottle of chambertin while the
wine-merchant was not looking--well!"

The two little Frenchmen had been listening with keen attention to this
dialogue. Basil's English irony had been lost upon them, but they
understood the main lines of his objections well enough.

It was Brother Edouard who came to the rescue.

"Permit me to say a word," he interrupted in his gentle, high-pitched
voice. "The cases of robbing a wine-merchant and the Administration of
Monte Carlo have not the slightest analogy. Your premises are false,
Monsieur Gregoire. This organisation at Monte Carlo is simply a soulless
machine for the making of money by exploiting one of the baser passions
of men. I and my brother--I freely confess it--have been parts of that
machine for years. But you know the sad event"--his voice trembled a
little--"which opened our eyes. We said to each other, 'If our hopes in
life have all been utterly swept away in an instant by the Casino at
Monte Carlo, how many other homes have been ruined, young lives
sacrificed, prospects blighted?' A soldier who assists to exterminate,
or, at any rate, to harass and injure a dangerous and unfriendly tribe
of savages is generally looked upon as doing a fine and meritorious
thing. Nor does he disdain to take the pay of his country for so doing.
You and Monsieur Deschamps will be in exactly the same case. You will be
seriously injuring the Casino. It may be that when the idea is developed
roulette will become impossible, though that is only a side issue, and
also--here you must listen to me carefully--you are not proposing to
obtain a large sum of money for the mere gratification of low
pleasures, to acquire a soulless ease and comfort. You have invented
something which will be of the highest benefit to mankind. Want of
fortune alone prevents you conferring that benefit upon the world. As
inventors, it is your duty--at least, so it appears to me--to take
advantage of the opportunity which the genius of Monsieur Deschamps has
provided. No one will be hurt except people who can well afford to
suffer."

His voice had gathered strength as he went on, and as he concluded there
was an almost prophetic note in it, a gravity and seriousness of
conviction which had an instant effect upon Basil Gregory's wavering
mind.

He thought for a minute, and then looked up.

"So be it," he said. "You have convinced me, though I will say I was
ready enough to be convinced. We will try it. Like all other gamblers,
we will risk everything upon a single throw."

As if by common consent, they all rose to their feet.

"And now," said Brother Charles, who had hitherto been silent, "let us
form ourselves into a committee of ways and means."

Deschamps' face grew pale. "_Mon Dieu!_" he cried, "fool that I am! I
have been carried away by the splendour of the prospect, and have
forgotten the most essential fact of all. Our friends here"--he was
speaking to Basil--"can prepare the wheel with my assistance. But how
about the apparatus, which, as you know, is costly enough for ordinary
purposes? The particular apparatus I shall want with all our own
modifications and specialities will cost about five thousand francs. And
then there is the getting to Monte Carlo, the putting up at an expensive
hotel to avoid suspicion--for the Administration has its spies and
detectives everywhere. It may be necessary to bribe, a thousand
emergencies may occur, which only money can overcome."

He dived one hand into the pocket of his trousers, and withdrew four
coins. He flung them on the floor with a curse.

"Three francs fifty!" he cried; "three francs fifty! Basil, I am a fool
and a dreamer! You can preserve your morality unspotted, after all!"

Basil looked blankly at his friend, who was now limp with an almost
ferocious dejection and self-contempt. He nodded slowly.

"Same old thing," he said; "we ought to have expected it. We are
stumped, old chap, for want of three or four hundred pounds."

An odd hissing noise, like the escape of steam from a very small pipe,
recalled him to his surroundings. The brothers Carnet were regarding the
two young men with pity. "Ah!" said Brother Charles, almost wringing his
hands, "What fools these men of genius are, Edouard! Messieurs!
Messieurs! my brother and I will, of course, provide the funds. Haven't
we already told you that we are quite well-to-do for people in our
position? You will draw on us for any money you may require. Nor must
you spare the francs. This is a great affair, conduct it greatly, and
you will earn our undying gratitude."

Once more the volatile Deschamps was transformed from limp dejection to
painful excitability. He leapt at both the little men, and embraced each
in turn. He called down blessings upon their heads, and then, in an
instant, assumed the manner of a calm business-like man.

He took a fountain-pen and an envelope from his pocket.

"You will, of course, take whatever proportion of our winnings you think
fit, gentlemen," he said, "and as far as the amount of the winnings is
concerned, you have only to say the word. It will be as well to make a
note of the terms at once, and we will have a proper agreement drawn
out."

The Carnets looked at Basil Gregory as much as to say, "What a hopeless
person this Southerner is!" Basil, far quicker than Deschamps to
understand the odd little men, changed the subject at once. "Never mind
about that now, Emile," he said. "Our friends have very kindly offered
to advance the money necessary for the great coup. We had now better go
into other details, so as not to lose time. Financial affairs can be
arranged later."

Deschamps nodded. "Very well, then," he said, "let us recapitulate what
is absolutely necessary to be done, immediately. In the first place, you
and I must give up our positions at the Société Générale."

Basil started at this. "Is that really necessary?" he asked. "Couldn't
we get leave?"

Deschamps shook his head. "I feel almost sure they won't give us leave,"
he said. "We are only members of the rank and file, remember. But
'nothing venture, nothing have,'--we must resign."

"Very well," Basil replied, "we will give them notice to-morrow." But as
he said it he had a curious heart-pang as he thought of Ethel, and that,
if anything went wrong, he must resign for ever any hopes of calling her
his own.

"Now, about experiments and the construction of the apparatus,"
Deschamps continued. "We must have a workshop, to begin with."

"This is at your service," the brothers said eagerly.

Deschamps bowed. "A thousand thanks," he said. "Nothing could be better
fitted for the purpose. Here we shall be absolutely secret. You have a
forge and many appliances which will be useful. To-morrow I must buy
other machinery and certain tools. Fortunately you have the electric
light here, and I can tap one of the plugs for all the current that I
shall require for experimental purposes."

Basil snapped his fingers as if an idea had just come to him. "By Jove,
Emile!" he said, "how on earth shall we manage at Monte Carlo? We cannot
work with batteries. First of all, we could never get them into the
hotel without being seen, and even if we did, we shouldn't have enough
power."

"You don't know the Principality," Emile answered. "All the hotels have
the completest installation of electric light possible. It will be the
simplest thing to tap one of the mains and connect it with our new
portable transformer. We can get exactly what current we require."

"Good," Basil said, realising how deeply his friend had gone into the
technical side of the great coup.

Edouard Carnet spoke. "If you will come here to-morrow at midday," he
said, "having already resigned your posts at the Société Générale, I
will have drawn a sufficient sum of money from the bank to enable you to
make all necessary purchases. Then we can go ahead as fast as we like."

"But don't forget this, brother," Charles Carnet interposed, "our new
wheels must be dispatched to Monaco. As a matter of fact, they are
expecting them immediately, but a telegram saying that we require
another fortnight will put that right. We have had to take a little
extra time before now, during the past years. A fortnight, however, is
as much grace as we shall be able to get and preserve our friendly
relations with the Administration. Will you be able to do all that is
necessary in the construction of the apparatus within a fortnight?"

"It will be quick work," Deschamps replied, "but it can be done. My
friend and myself can construct the necessary apparatus for sending the
waves, and we can also, with your co-operation, prepare the wheel and
tune the slots for the reception of the vibrations."

Then Basil spoke. "Look here, Emile," he said, "a thought strikes me. Of
course, I don't know anything about the Casino, and I have never been to
the South of France, but won't it look strangely suspicious if we win
day by day at the same table? Won't they change the wheel?"

"That is exactly what they will do, monsieur," Edouard Carnet replied to
him. "Of course, when a man wins a large sum at one table he always goes
to the same table to play. It is his lucky table. But there was a case
some years ago when a little syndicate of players--by means of the most
careful calculations--noticed that the wheel of the table where they
made their game had a slight bias. They traded on the fact for several
days, and won an enormous sum of money. It was one of our wheels, but
there must have been a flaw in the wood, or we had not allowed for the
expansion of the metal, owing to the greater heat of the South. At any
rate, as a result, the wheels have been constantly changed ever since."

"Then, how can we carry out our plan?" Basil asked.

"The wheels are not taken away entirely," Edouard went on; "they are
simply changed from table to table. The prepared wheel will have some
distinguishing mark by which you will know it. We must think that out;
it must be some very slight thing--a knot in the wood, a mere scratch on
the outside, would do."

A dry little chuckle came from Brother Charles.

"We are getting on! We are getting on!" he said, with a grotesque mirth.
"My brother, what is to prevent us preparing three wheels? They should
be 'tuned'--as Monsieur Deschamps calls it--exactly alike. Each will be
marked in some way, so that our friends can distinguish them from the
unprepared wheels. There are twelve roulette wheels in all used in the
Salle des Jeux."

"_Bien!_" Edouard replied; "your brain moves quickly. By this means our
friends will be able to move from table to table as they wish."

"And I would suggest," Deschamps broke in, "that we do not play for more
than a week in all. In a week's time we shall be able to win an enormous
sum of money, without unduly exciting suspicion. Great runs of luck, I
have observed, generally last for about seven or eight days. If, as
Monsieur Charles suggests, we move from table to table, a week should
be sufficient. We can go away with enormous sums, and no one will be any
the wiser."

"And another thing," Edouard Carnet said, "which of you is going to be
the actual operator of the telegraphic instrument, and which the player
at the tables?"

"Oh, I'd much better play," Deschamps answered, "and Basil work the
instrument."

Both the Carnets shook their heads at this.

"No," they said together, "that will be unwise. Monsieur Gregoire is
typically English. It is always best for a foreigner to make these great
coups. Moreover, the luck of the English and the Americans is
proverbial. Monsieur Gregoire must be thought an English millionaire. No
one thinks it strange when a millionaire wins another million! But, to
safeguard the future, it would be as well that monsieur were disguised."

Basil shook his head. "Disguised!" he cried. "Oh, I don't like that idea
at all!"

"It is necessary," Edouard Carnet said firmly; "but all that you have to
do, monsieur, is to shave off that blonde moustache, darken your skin a
little, and wear pince-nez. It is only ordinary caution, after all.
When you return with the spoils of war and grow your moustache again,
nobody will ever connect you with the winner of millions upon the Côte
d'Azur."

"And I have another idea," twittered Brother Charles, his little face
beaming with joy. "Monsieur Deschamps shall go to Monte Carlo as the
valet of Monsieur Gregoire. It will all seem so natural--the assiduous
valet, the heavy luggage, which the man-servant must guard! You see it?"

The situation struck Basil as humorous. He threw back his head and
laughed aloud. "Emile," he said.

Deschamps entered into the spirit of the thing. "_Bien_, monsieur," he
answered.

"Sit down at the table and teach me the rules of the game of roulette!"



PART II



CHAPTER VI


Two men sat alone in a first-class compartment of the Riviera
train-de-luxe.

The night before the most luxurious train in Europe had left the Gare de
Lyon at Paris. The night had been bitterly cold, and as the vast machine
swung out of the station all the suburbs of Paris and, indeed, the
plains of mid-France, were seen through the dark windows of the
corridors to be covered with a white sprinkling of snow.

A special carriage was reserved for a Monsieur Montoyer and his valet,
and the two persons mentioned upon the ticket had spent the whole night
in the luxurious cabin, with its beds and little tables, talking
earnestly.

Monsieur Charles Edouard Montoyer was an athletic, burly looking young
man, dressed in the height of French fashion, clean-shaved,
dark-complexioned, and wearing gold-rimmed spectacles, which only
partially concealed a pair of blue eyes which seemed oddly at variance
with his otherwise Southern appearance. His hair also was a dead black,
and in certain lights it had an almost metallic lustre.

The valet presented no very extraordinary appearance, except that he
seemed markedly intelligent and alert. His black hair was closely
cropped to a large and well-shaped head. His complexion was of the true
Southern swarthy tint, glowing out below the skin, as it were. He wore a
small black moustache, and the long first finger of his right hand was
deeply stained with the juice of cigarettes.

Once, about an hour after the start, the valet went to the restaurant
car, and brought back two bowls of soup, and a bottle of Pomard,
explaining to the waiter who gave them that his master was very hungry
and one tureen would be insufficient. But when the door of the
sleeping-car was locked, the blinds looking on the corridor drawn down,
the table set, and all the electric lights switched on, a spectator--had
there been one there--would have seen with some surprise that master and
man shared the meal equally. And perhaps he would have thought it a
touching testimony of the theoretical equality of Republican France that
master and man addressed each other by their Christian names.

In short, the great enterprise was begun, Basil and Emile, their
apparatus made, their plan of campaign concluded, were roaring and
crashing through France to the fairy-like shores of the Mediterranean.

It was now close upon nine o'clock in the morning. The blinds of the
sleeping-car were still drawn upon the corridor side, but the two men
were dressed. Their hand luggage was strapped and they were smoking
cigarettes.

"In a moment more, Basil," said Emile, his voice trembling with
excitement, "in a moment more you shall have your first vision of the
South! I would not let you look before and, indeed, as we went through
Avignon it was too dark to see much, but Marseilles--my beloved native
city--is the Gate of the South. You will see little of it, as within an
hour we shall be pulling out again for the Côte d'Azur, but you will see
something; you will at least breathe the enchanted air!"

Deschamps' voice was most powerfully affected. For a moment he had
forgotten the enterprise entirely. He was only consumed with an
over-mastering eagerness that his dearest friend and partner should
breathe with him that subtle, intoxicating air, and realise for the
first time in his life what the South means.

There was a long grinding of the brakes, and the train stood still.
Emile drew up the blinds, opened the door into the corridor, and led
Basil to the end of the car. Then they stepped down to the low platform.

They had left Paris in sullen bitter winter weather. Here, early as it
was, the sun was shining brilliantly in the cool, quiet station. Exactly
facing them was a huge stall of flowers, masses of purple violets,
delicate ivory-coloured roses from Grasse, the pale golden plumes of the
mimosa.

But the air! the air was the thing! So warm and sweet it was, it came
upon them with such a veritable caress, it so bathed them with golden
light and sweet odours, that tears started into Deschamps' eyes, and
Basil forgot his disguise.

"How wonderful! how wonderful!" he said in English, breathing like a man
who had been stifled all his life.

And that was their first glimpse of the enchanted country to which they
had come.

Through all the morning until mid-afternoon the train moved, slowly and
sleepily now, through scenes of loveliness such as the Englishman, at
any rate, had never dreamed of. Everywhere the Mediterranean gleamed
like an immense sapphire, flecked here and there with white fire. The
low cliffs of sandstone were crimson. The sky was an inverted bowl of
glowing turquoise, and everywhere tall, feathery palms were silhouetted
against it in brilliant green. And there were flowers, flowers
everywhere! Every station with its familiar name was full of
flowers--Grasse, Cannes, Nice, Villefranche--there were flowers
everywhere; flowers, exotic trees, and great white hotels that gleamed
jewel-like in terrace after terrace from the sea till they were lost in
the high places of the Maritime Alps.

And then--at last--Monaco, a few tunnels cut in the cliffs, and the
long, low station of Monte Carlo at last!

During the whole period of the slower journey along the seashore Basil
Gregory's excitement had been gradually growing. He and Deschamps had
talked but little, but both of them had been obsessed by the great idea
that they were getting nearer and nearer to the world-famous theatre of
their colossal enterprise.

Monte Carlo! Monte Carlo! The words had beaten themselves into a rythm
in Basil's brain, a rythm in tune with the regular pulsing of the
engine.

They were to stay at the Hôtel Malmaison, for the brothers Carnet had
insisted that the two young men should lack nothing, and that Basil
should appear to be a person of great wealth and consequence. There was
to be no hole-and-corner business about the great coup. Suspicion was to
be averted by every possible means. "_Il fait aller en regal_," Brother
Charles had insisted, and so it was to be. Rooms had been engaged in
advance, a sitting-room and bedroom for Monsieur Charles Edouard
Montoyer, and a bedroom for his valet. It had been stipulated, however,
that the valet's bedroom should be at the very top storey of the hotel,
as that personage suffered from asthma.

The Malmaison was only some four hundred yards from the station, and in
consequence some three hundred from the Casino. They drove there in the
waiting omnibus, however, and at five o'clock were installed in their
rooms.

It was a little difficult to account for two large boxes among the
luggage, of extraordinary heaviness, which were placed in the
sitting-room of Monsieur Montoyer. But the ready Deschamps in his rôle
of valet explained that monsieur was a great student, and always
travelled with many books.

"I go now, _mon ami_" Emile said, "to my own room. All your clothes are
unpacked. I must not stay here too long at present. I shall have to meet
all the other servants and gossip with them, but I will come at seven to
assist you to dress, and then we can make our plans."

Basil was left alone in the brightly furnished sitting-room. He looked
down into a terraced garden, brilliant still with the declining rays of
the sun. Somewhere near by a band of guitars was playing accompanied by
voices as sweet and passionate as they.

He strolled up and down the room thinking deeply. But it was not of the
fairyland in which he found himself, it was not of the glories he was
soon to witness, it was not even of the great hazard he was to try--the
bold and reckless bid for fortune. It was of Ethel he was thinking.



CHAPTER VII


About ten o'clock in the morning of the day on which Basil Gregory and
Emile Deschamps had arrived at Monte Carlo, another train had pulled
into the long low station on the Mediterranean shore.

This train was very different from the huge, luxurious machine that
brought the adventurers to the City of Fortune earlier in the day. It
was the ordinary slow train, the third class, not even a _rapide_, and
only a few second-class carriages were included in its make-up.
Moreover, it had taken two whole days, and nights in its journey from
Paris, being everywhere shunted aside for the _rapides_ and _trains de
luxe_ to pass through.

From this train of poorer people two English ladies, quietly dressed,
and pale and stained with travel under none too pleasant conditions, had
descended.

They were driven at once with their trunks to a modest _pension_ in the
Rue Grimaldi in Monaco, and spent some hours in sleep.

Ethel McMahon had told her lover in Paris that she had obtained a
fortnight's leave of absence from her school, had saved a little money,
and was about to take her mother to Switzerland for a change of air.

Basil had accepted the statement implicitly, glad to hear that the girl
he loved was to have a short respite from her labours, and, for his own
part, finding that the proposed holiday would coincide with his own
absence from Paris, he said nothing of his plans. So it had been
arranged, and the two lovers were mutually ignorant of each other's
purposes and without the slightest idea that they were bound for the
same destination. Mrs. McMahon had absolutely refused to allow Ethel to
communicate a word of their project to Gregory, and the girl was all the
more ready because by now she was thoroughly infected with her mother's
enthusiasm, and was absolutely convinced in her own mind that they were
to gain a small fortune at the tables.

How splendid it would be to come to Basil and to tell him that they
could be married at once! That funds for the launching of the great
invention were forthcoming, that all was to end as happily as some old
song!

About six o'clock Ethel went into her mother's room. The rest had
refreshed her. Her eyes were glowing with excitement, and with her long
hair falling over her dressing-gown she seemed the personification of
radiant hope.

"Now, what are we to do, mother?" she said excitedly. "How do you feel?"

The older woman was seated in the one arm-chair the little bedroom of
the _pension_ boasted, and was anxiously scrutinising a bundle of faded
papers covered with figures and bold masculine handwriting.

"It is certain, Ethel!" she said. "I have been going through your
father's figures for the hundredth time. I am sure it can't fail. You
know he only invented this particular system just before he died, and we
never had an opportunity to try it properly."

Ethel nodded. "I feel just as you do, mother, dear," she answered. "It
_can't_ fail. But what are we to do? Are you thoroughly rested?"

"I feel in better health," the old lady answered, "than I have felt for
years. Excitement would keep me up if nothing else would, but, as it is,
I have no trace of fatigue. What's the use of spending the evening in
this dull _pension_ with these third-rate people, for such of the guests
as I have seen are rather a seedy-looking lot, and Madame de Bonville is
just the ordinary Southern Frenchwoman who keeps a place of this sort?
No! We will dress, have dinner, and take a cab to the Casino. There will
be no difficulty about obtaining our tickets for this evening. We shall
have to renew them each day, until we have been here for some time--if,
indeed, it is necessary to remain here. After a week or two they give
you a ticket for a month, but I don't suppose we shall need that."

"Then we are to begin to-night!" Ethel cried, a flush mounting in her
cheeks and her voice ringing with anticipation.

The elder lady smiled. "We will not begin the system to-night," she
answered. "That, I do think, would be unwise. We will take a louis or
two and get a place at one of the tables, if we can, and just see what
happens. I want you to get accustomed to a scene which will seem
extraordinarily strange to you. We will take it that we are merely
reconnoitring this evening, and begin serious play upon the morrow.
Dinner is at half-past seven, so go and prepare yourself, my child, and
then come and help me."

Ethel left the room and crossed the passage to her own, singing for
sheer lightness of heart. Already the beauty of the South had caught
hold of her, and such glimpses of it as she had seen only intensified
her mood. In her innocence she had not the slightest misgiving. She
would have laughed to scorn anyone who had told her that there was a
chance of losing the little unexpected capital that had come to them
from the lottery.

Dinner at the _pension de Bonville_ was the ordinary polyglot affair. An
English major--no regiment specified--some stolid Germans, three
shrill-voiced American girls, and some nondescript and rather haggard
looking young men made up the company. Doings at the Casino during the
day were compared and discussed. The little cards, printed in red and
black, which are provided by the Casino authorities for recording the
play, and pricked each time the wheel is spun, were handed about, and in
this atmosphere, so familiar to her in the past, old Mrs. McMahon seemed
like a changed being. She talked with the rest, in English or fluent
French; she was like some old war horse once more snuffling the breeze
of battle, and Ethel was no less interested and entranced, though her
knowledge of roulette--for none of the _pensionnaires_ seemed to indulge
in the more expensive _trente-et-quarante_--was purely theoretical.

After dinner the major gallantly offered to escort the ladies to the
Casino and to obtain their tickets. Shortly afterwards, muffled in opera
cloaks, for between eight and nine is often the coldest hour of the day
on the Riviera, the three walked up the steep, winding way towards the
Palace of Chance.

A full moon hung in the sky; everywhere were brilliant illuminations;
the air as it proved was not at all cold upon this night, but soft and
odorous of flowers.

The gardens of the Casino were like enchantment to Ethel McMahon. It was
indeed a scene from the "Arabian Nights." The tall palms clicked faintly
in the breeze with a sound like distant castanets. The electric lights
shone down upon enormous beds of flowers which everywhere studded the
lawns. Faint music was heard on every side, and gaudily painted and
luxurious automobiles flitted noiselessly along the polished roadways.

Here was the great Hôtel de Paris, its long façade glowing with colour,
full of the wealthiest people in the world, dining very differently from
the way in which the major and his new friends had dined in the Rue
Grimaldi. Beyond, on the other side of the square, were the gardens of
the Métropole, and the glass Café de Paris at its side winked and
glittered like a gigantic topaz.

"That, my dear," said Mrs. McMahon, pointing to a modest looking
restaurant in an arcade, "that is Ciro's."

Ethel's sense of humour was tickled by the calm patronage of the
information. She knew, of course, that she was looking upon the most
famous restaurant in the whole world, but her mother's tone amused her.

And then, in a moment, she had no thought but one.

Before her was a magnificent building of white marble with many steps
leading to a wide entrance, glistening against the background of dark
sky, spangled with golden stars.

Mrs. McMahon clutched her daughter's arm. "There!" she said, almost in
an awed whisper. "Now you see it for the first time. That is the
Casino!"

For a moment all three were silent. The spirit of chance, the terrible
fever of the gambler was in their blood, and even the tough old major,
an _habitué_ of every gambling hell in Europe, shared for a moment the
emotion of his companions as they surveyed the supreme Temple of Chance.

They went up the steps, Ethel alert to everything she saw, and turned
into a long office to the left, rather more like a small bank than
anything else.

Two or three civil, quickly glancing Frenchmen, in black frock coats,
were standing in this room before the counter. Ethel was conscious of a
quick all-embracing scrutiny from three pairs of dark eyes, she heard
her name spoken in French by one of the officials, and shortly
afterwards two purple cards, bearing the mystic words:


     "_Cercle des Etrangers,_
     _Valable pour un jour,_"


and with their names written upon the back in thin clerkly script, were
handed to them.

From there, into a vestibule where cloaks were exchanged for metal discs
with a number upon them, and then in their evening frocks, but still
wearing their hats, the two ladies passed with their cavalier into the
Atrium.

The huge hall, with its galleries, marble columns and tesselated floor,
its gleaming lights in the roof, and its little groups of people dotted
here and there under the galleries or in the centre space, reminded
Ethel of a dance she had once attended in England at the magnificent
town hall of a great Northern city. Everyone was in evening dress,
everyone talked animatedly, new arrivals kept constantly pouring in. But
at one end of this enormous hall, where the huge marble pillars
clustered more thickly, was a series of great swing doors of an abnormal
height, doors which constantly opened noiselessly and closed again. And
round the doors were innumerable officials in their long frock coats,
standing there watching and waiting as the votaries of Chance pressed
inwards to the very sanctum of the Temple.

Mrs. McMahon nodded. "Come, Ethel," she said in a voice that was
positively hoarse with excitement, "the rooms are in there; let us go."

The two ladies walked up the long hall, presented their cards to an
official who glanced at them and bowed, and then one of the great doors
swung open and they entered. Although it was early yet, the rooms were
fairly full.

Ethel found herself in an enormous salon of great height, and with a
polished parquet floor. It resembled nothing so much as an immense
ball-room in some royal palace. The walls were covered by huge pictures
let into the gilded panelling, separated from each other by pilaster
after pilaster of gold. The ceilings, also, where electric lights
glowed brilliantly, were painted, and the general effect was one of
almost overpowering magnificence. Beyond this huge salon she saw, under
an immense archway, there was another and even larger one crossing it at
right angles, and beyond that still another. The size and splendour of
the place made her catch her breath and dazzled her eyes. "How
wonderful!" she whispered to her mother.

Her next impression was that she was in some church! Despite the
gorgeous decoration certainly not in the least ecclesiastical, the size
and shape, the curious hush and silence that pervaded everything, helped
the impression. There was only the very lowest murmur of conversation
perceptible. Women in astonishingly gorgeous toilets, with gold purses
hanging from their wrists by jewel-studded chains, moved slowly up and
down the parquet floor with a rustling of skirts. The air was full of
mingled perfume and suggested that odour of incense in a cathedral.

As all these impressions crowded into her mind, the girl's eyes became
more used to the surroundings, and she saw, at intervals under the high
dome-like roof, long tables were set, each one as long as two billiard
tables. There were four of them in this first salon, and many more
stretched away in the vista of brilliance. The air was quite clear,
nobody was smoking, and she could see everything very distinctly.

Around each table was a thick cluster of people, men and women, almost
entirely hiding it from view.

She turned to the table nearest her.

Around it, without any intervals, people were sitting in chairs. Behind
them stood other people, at some tables two deep. Above the tables were
suspended huge lamps with green shades--like the lights over a billiard
table, though not so brilliant.

"Why, they are oil lamps!" Ethel said in a low voice to her mother. "How
strange and antiquated!"

Mrs. McMahon smiled.

"If they had electric lights immediately over the tables," she said, "or
even gas, some of the gangs of bad characters who infest Monte Carlo
would find means to cut the pipes or wires, and in the confusion anybody
could take what money he pleased." She clutched her daughter's arm
tightly. "Child," she said, in an impressive voice, "at any one of these
tables at the present moment, lying about, unprotected, in notes and
gold, there is at least fifty thousand pounds!"

At that moment the major drew their attention to the fact that at a
table immediately ahead of them there was a little stir and movement.

A very tall and handsome young man had risen from his chair. His face
was a little flushed and his eyes sparkled, while he tried in vain to
conceal the smile of pleasure and excitement upon his lips. Several of
the other people at this table, who all appeared to know him, rose also
and began to congratulate him in low voices.

"That is the Archduke Theodore," the major said in a husky whisper. "He
is a cousin of the Tsar. For the last week he has been winning enormous
sums, and apparently he has done so again to-night. His pockets are
simply bulging with notes!"

Mrs. McMahon looked significantly at Ethel. Then she saw her chance.
"Come," she said, "we can sit down at this table. This is a very
fortunate chance." They went to the table and found two chairs
unoccupied, slipping into them quickly in the momentary diversion
created by the Archduke's success, and for the first time Ethel McMahon
sat actually a guest of the unknown goddess of Fortune, and about to woo
her.

To the girl's unaccustomed eyes the scene was bewilderingly strange. The
long expanse of green baize cloth stretched away on either side of her.
It was marked with numbered squares and triangles, while at one end were
two huge diamonds of red and black in either corner. She faced a row of
people, men and women in correct evening costume, save that the women,
like herself, wore the large hats which are _de rigueur_ in the Casino.
Jewels gleamed bewilderingly almost everywhere. Exactly opposite her was
a woman who was simply plastered with diamonds, and yet next this
gorgeous vision with the painted face and laughing eyes, with a king's
ransom round her throat and in her hair, sat an elderly yellow-faced
woman in a black dress and without a single ornament--more quietly and
even shabbily dressed than Mrs. McMahon herself. There were two
fresh-faced English boys, who looked like soldiers, there was an
enormous black-bearded Bulgarian, with eyes like black velvet and hands
like fat claws.

And all these people, on the green baize before them, had wads of notes
or piles of gold, save only the old lady, before whom were only a few
five-franc pieces--the minimum stake allowed at Monte Carlo.

And on the numbers themselves money was already beginning to be placed
from every part of the table. Sometimes the people pushed it themselves
on the chosen numbers, sometimes, when they were too far away, they
gave it to one of the silent croupiers who sat round among the
people and pushed the coins to the destined spot with their long
india-rubber-tipped rakes.

Dividing the long table in the centre was the wheel itself, and the
croupier in charge of it was already fingering the ivory ball. Behind
him, on a higher seat, sat the official in charge of all the others
engaged at this table, and from his lips came the occasional croak of
the famous "_Faites vos jeux, messieurs: faites vos jeux_."

Ethel had three golden louis in her purse. It was all the money that
they had brought with them.

Her mother had told her that beginners nearly always won the first time
they played--a very common superstition among gamblers, and one which,
for some reason or other, seems to be amply justified.

"What shall I do, mother?"

"Do whatever you like," Mrs. McMahon answered quickly. "I mustn't
influence you or it will spoil the luck."

Ethel hesitated, and as she did so the croupier swung the capstan and
spun the ball.

A low, humming whirr broke the silence.

"Quick! quick!" whispered Mrs. McMahon, "make your stake or it will be
too late."

Hardly knowing what she did, Ethel pushed her three louis on to the
green cloth, and as she did so the ball began to rattle on the
diamond-shaped pieces of silver at the side of the bowl, and the
croupier called out sharply, "_Rien ne va plus_," announcing that no
more stakes could be put upon the table.

Ethel had pushed her three golden louis exactly upon the edge of the
line which divided six numbers, from 13 to 18, unconsciously played what
is called a _transversale simple_.

If any of these six numbers turned up she would win five times her
original stake. And now--it all passed in a few seconds--the ball
was rattling among the compartments, clicking like a pair of
castanets. There was a final click as it fell into the slot, the
croupier put out his finger and stopped the capstan, announcing the
number--"_Rouge--dix-huit!_"

Red had turned up, but with that Ethel had no concern as she had not
backed the colour, but 18 had won, though for a moment she did not
realise it.

Then followed what to her was an extraordinary scene. The long rakes of
the croupiers shot out from every part of the table, threading their way
in and out among the masses of gold, silver and bank notes with
extraordinary rapidity and the most delicate manipulation.

A small fortune was swiftly swept away into the bank until the table
was comparatively bare. It was all done with the precision of a machine,
without a single mistake, and hardly was it completed when the stakes of
those who had won were being added to in a golden shower.

It takes a croupier at Monte Carlo a whole year to learn his business,
but when he has learnt it no juggler upon the stage can provide a more
startling exhibition. Coins flew from rapidly moving hands in a
continuous stream, as if liquid gold was being squirted from a hose. No
single coin rolled off its appointed square, but fell flat and
motionless within an inch of the stake at which it was aimed. And now
the rakes were pushing money towards the fortunate, not gathering it in
any more, and, almost ere eager or indifferent hands had gathered up
what Fortune had sent them, stakes were again being spread over the
board for the next coup. To Ethel, who had not in the least known what
had happened, there suddenly came a shower of gold falling just before
her upon her original three louis.

She stared at it bewildered, and the big Bulgarian opposite smiled at
her ignorance.

Not so Mrs. McMahon. "That is yours, Ethel," she said; "that is yours.
You've won, after all." And as if in a dream the girl drew the
glittering pile towards her. Fifteen louis, and her own three coins back
again! Fifteen louis! More than thirteen English pounds--come to her as
if by magic in less than a minute; her own, her very own to do as she
liked with.

"I can't believe it!" she whispered to her mother. "It can't be
true--all this--more than a quarter's salary in a minute!"

Old Mrs. McMahon was trembling with excitement, but there was triumph in
her voice.

"My dear," she said, in those very tones of calm superiority which she
had used when the lottery ticket had at last turned up trumps, "this is
nothing. What did I tell you!"

"What shall I do now?" was Ethel's only answer. "Perhaps it would be
better to do nothing."

Mrs. McMahon caught at the word with the true gambler's instinct. "My
dear," she said, "put one of those louis upon zero."

There was a croupier three or four seats away from the girl. She leant
forward, being now a little more accustomed to what she was doing,
"_Zero, s'il vous plait, monsieur_," she said, tossing the coin to him.

"_En plein, mademoiselle?_" he asked.

Ethel turned to her mother. "What does he mean?" she said. Mrs. McMahon
interposed. "_Oui, en plein_," she replied to the man. "You see, Ethel,
it is rather unusual to stake a coin upon a single number, because you
have thirty-five chances against you. Most people do what you did just
now--cover several numbers and be content with smaller winnings. But you
said 'nothing,' and it may be an omen."

Again the ball spun, and now, in full consciousness of what was
happening, Ethel knew excitement so fierce and keen, so utterly
overpowering and absorbing, that it burned within her like a flame, and
frightened her by its intensity.

Her coin was the only one upon zero, which is the bank's number, for
when it turns up all the stakes upon the board are taken by the bank,
except those placed upon red or black, or the other even chances.

Dame Fortune was very kind to-night, for with a slight emphasis the
croupier at the wheel called out "Zero," and several people within her
vicinity turned to look with envy or amusement, as the case might be, at
the beautiful girl who had alone staked upon the big white "O."

They paid her in notes this time, and Mrs. McMahon leant back in her
chair with a gasp. "Fool! Fool that I was," she whispered, her hands
clasping and unclasping themselves. "You had the money; you might have
put on the maximum of nine louis, and you would have won, my dear, you
would have won, and you would have won 6,300 francs--£252!"

"But, mother," Ethel whispered back, "I have won seven hundred francs
already, and three hundred with the first spin, that is a thousand
francs--almost my year's salary at the school!"

"You have been very fortunate" said the old lady. "And now let us go."

"Let us go, mother? No, look; they are beginning to spin again. Let me
try once more?"

Mrs. McMahon gathered up the gold and crisp notes of the Bank of France
and placed them in her chain purse.

"My dear," she replied, "I am almost as keen as you are to go on, but
let us be content with our great good fortune. We shall have all the
more money to play with when we begin upon the system to-morrow."

They vacated their seats, which were immediately occupied by people who
had been standing behind them, and moved slowly through the great hall
towards the doors. By this time the rooms were thronged with people of
all nationalities.

The wealthiest millionaires of London, Paris and Vienna rubbed shoulders
with well-dressed scoundrels known to the police of all three capitals.
There was a reigning king present--a tall, elderly man with a long white
beard--half the nobilities of Europe were represented. The most
expensive and extravagant toilets to be found anywhere in the world at
that hour were seen on either side, and yet there was a proportion of
the players as poor in worldly goods as Ethel McMahon and her mother
themselves; retired army men in whom the gambling fever burned and would
burn until their death, young spendthrifts who had come to spend their
all upon a last chance, financial defaulters who hoped by one smile of
the goddess Fortune to restore money which was not theirs, and to yet
preserve their honour in the eyes of the world.

And through this motley and brilliant crowd--the strangest crowd in
Europe, in the strangest place--Ethel and her mother moved as if in a
dream.

In the mind of the old lady a fierce and feverish greed flared like a
naphtha lamp. In the mind of the girl there was but one thought,
crystallised into a name--Basil! Basil! Basil!

They were near the end of the last salon and coming up to the long swing
doors when Ethel started violently and half stopped.

Standing at one of the tables, within two or three yards of her, was a
tall, well-built man in evening dress. His back was towards her, and
there was something so absolutely familiar in the shoulders, the poise
of the stranger, that she gasped.

For a moment she thought she saw Basil Gregory again--dear Basil, who
was far away at the electric light works in Paris.

Then the stranger made a half turn. He was clean shaved, his complexion
was swarthy, his hair was black. He was dressed also in the height of
the French fashion.

No! It was not Basil, though even now there was something strangely
reminiscent of her lover to the girl's eyes.

With a sigh, she passed out of the Atrium with her mother. They got
their cloaks and walked slowly down the hall to the Condamine. The air
was "all Arabia." A huge moon rode high in the heavens and washed the
Mediterranean with silver. The flowers of the gardens sent forth an
overpowering perfume--the night was sweet and dear.

"_Basil! Basil! Basil!_"

" ... To-morrow, my dear, we will get properly to work on the system.
To-morrow!"



CHAPTER VIII


It was six o'clock on the following evening.

In a tiny room high up in the Hôtel Malmaison, above the servants'
quarters, and on the roof, indeed--for the valet of Monsieur Montoyer
was asthmatic and must breathe the freshest air possible--Emile
Deschamps was standing.

The blinds were drawn, the room was lit by candles stuck in bottles, and
presented the air more of a workshop than a bedroom.

The bed was littered with pliers, coils of insulated wire, strips of
thin india-rubber, and a tube of vulcanised paste for making joints.
Upon a large mahogany table close to the window stood a complicated
apparatus.

At one end there was a battery of Leyden jars, then came the intricate
induction coil upon a polished stand, its brass terminals glittering in
the light of the candles. Beyond was the interrupter magnet and beyond
that again the stout "seven-sixteens" wire which led to the electric
light casing in the wall, where the hotel current had been tapped to
take the place of a dynamo.

Upon that part of the table where the interrupter magnet was, there was
an apparatus which in some degree resembled the keyboard of a
typewriter. No letters were on these keys however. They bore numbers
only, from one to thirty-six, with the addition of a nought to represent
zero.

Deschamps, in list slippers, was walking nervously up and down the room.
Perspiration shone upon his face. His eyes had a fixed introspective
stare. He was obviously in a state of the highest possible tension.

Up and down the room he paced, like some caged animal, and every now and
again he rolled a cigarette, lit it, and inhaled a few whiffs of pungent
blue smoke, and threw it away. Now and then he poured himself out a cup
of strong coffee from a little _cafetière_ which stood upon the
mantelshelf. On the hearth burned a small glowing fire of the mountain
wood and fir cones which are used upon the Riviera, and beside it stood
a soldering "iron" of copper, a file, and a bottle of zinc chloride
solution.

Deschamps looked at his watch.

"Basil is late," he muttered to himself, mopping his brow as he did so
with a very dingy handkerchief. "_Mon Dieu_, if only this were over!"

He resumed his walk, thinking deeply, checking off each incident of the
great adventure, the great fight of science against the precautions and
wariness of the most complete and cunning organisation in Europe.

The plans of the partners had been altered and modified. As the
preparations continued in Paris and the scheme was discussed a thousand
times, and with an infinity of detail which crystallised more and more
into definiteness, the most important thing that was at length
determined on--and the Carnet brothers had been in thorough
agreement--was that play should only last for one night. The
confederates had thought that phenomenal winnings, protracted over two
or three days, would inevitably give rise to suspicion. These suspicions
would, in all human probability, be absolutely wide of the real mark.
But, at any rate, they would be certain to result in the wheel at the
table where Monsieur Charles Edouard Montoyer made his colossal coups
being changed for another.

It was resolved, therefore, that Basil should play, with the aid of the
unseen electric influences, for one evening only. The whole thing had
been worked out, and it had been found that it would be easy, if nothing
went wrong, for him to win an enormous sum even within a few hours.
Directly that was accomplished Deschamps would pack his apparatus and
return to Paris. Basil would remain at Monte Carlo for a few days and
venture a few small sums to avoid suspicion. After that he would rejoin
his friend.

There was a low knock at the door, an interval of silence, and then five
more distinct taps.

Deschamps knew that Basil was without, and he quietly unlocked the door
and let in his friend.

Basil, tall, foreign looking, and in the most scrupulously chosen
evening dress, entered the dingy little bedroom with its litter of
machinery and tools. The door was locked behind him and the partners
were alone together.

Deschamps started. "_Mon Dieu!_" he said, "your _sang froid_ is
admirable. You are--how do you call it?--cool as a cucumber. _Froid
comme un concombre._ Look at me; I tremble all over, _moi_!"

Basil shrugged his shoulders. "What is the use?" he said briefly. "I
have been nervous enough up to the present, but now the moment has
arrived I have just _got_ to keep cool. The biggest strain is on me, and
if I fail now all our plans are over and it means"--he threw out his
hands with a foreign gesture--"well, we won't talk of what it means."

"You are marvellous!" said the excitable little Frenchman. "You have no
tremor, no compunction."

Basil shook his head. "I am strung up to go through with it," he
answered, "and take what comes--fortune or prison. As for compunction,
it seems to me a good deed to rob the proprietors of this hell if one
can, considering all the stories I have heard during the few hours I
have been here, and the evil passions I have seen displayed on all
sides. And, moreover, we do it for the sake of science, to confer an
inestimable benefit on the world!"

"_Bien_," Deschamps answered. "Now, have you got the card absolutely
safe? Let's compare it with mine for the last time."

From out of his pocket Basil drew an oblong slip of card. Upon it,
written in a cypher invented by himself and Deschamps, in which they had
perfected themselves during the last week or two, were a series of
numbers. Above each number was marked the time--9:5, 9:15, etc., etc.

They went through the cards together finding them to correspond in every
detail.

"And now for the watches," said Deschamps. From a kit bag in the corner
of the room he produced a leather case, containing two handsome gold
chronometers. "I have kept them there until now," he said, "in order
that they might not become magnetised by the electric work I have been
doing."

With the utmost care and nicety he adjusted the timepieces so that they
did not vary, one from the other, by a single second. Then he gave one
chronometer to Basil, and returned the other to the portmanteau.

"I have been playing all the day," Basil said, "with the hundred and
fifty louis we reserved for that. Sometimes I lost, sometimes I won. But
I spread my money about with supreme indifference. Always I put down a
maximum stake, and I played upon a number. Of course, I lost many times,
but I am sure I gave the desired impression to the croupiers at our
table where the marked wheel is, that I was a wealthy gambler
indifferent as to whether I won or lost. Towards the end I had a stroke
of luck. I had put nine louis on 7, and 7 turned up. So that I won 6,300
francs. I had heard that the rule forbidding all tips to the croupiers
had been recently abrogated; so that I feed the men in my neighbourhood
magnificently. I shall get a seat at our table all right if I am
punctual when the Casino opens for the evening play."

"And what are you going to do now?" Emile asked anxiously. "Will you
stay here with me?"

"I don't think so, _mon ami_," Basil returned. "We have worked out every
possible detail. The more we talk about it, the more nervous we shall
become. I shall go to my room, have a little fish and a single glass of
wine, and then stroll round the gardens in the fresh night air until it
is time to go in." He held out his hand. "Good luck, old fellow!"

Deschamps grasped it and nodded, too full of emotion and excitement to
answer.

Then Gregory quietly left the room and descended to his own.

As he walked down the passage he heard the click of the lock being shot
into its place and knew that Deschamps would be alone with his machinery
till midnight.



CHAPTER IX


Into the glittering rooms Basil Gregory strolled.

He had left the Hôtel Malmaison but five minutes before. The metal check
for his light coat and opera hat was in his waistcoat pocket, and as he
walked slowly up the Atrium, smoking a cigarette, he seemed--even in an
environment where some of the most important people in the world
congregate--a very distinguished person indeed.

As he came up to the doors quick-eyed officials in their black frock
coats--carrion-crows people have called them--made their bows and pushed
open one of the great cedar portals.

Already the word had gone round that this tall and cool gentleman was an
unknown millionaire, who was pleased to amuse himself for an hour or two
at the tables.

Basil entered. People were still dining. The rooms were full--they
always are full--but of the ordinary and hungry crowd who do little
more than venture a few francs, and hardly dare take a chair at any
table when one is vacant.

Basil sauntered up to the right hand table in the large central salon.
Some people call this table the "suicides' table," others give that
sinister designation to another. Be that as it may, Basil found a chair
and sat down--on the left of the croupier who spins the wheel and his
colleague who sits behind him on a higher chair and directs the whole
operations of the table.

Basil sat down, took out his watch and placed it upon the space of green
baize before him. Then he drew twenty or thirty gold coins from his
pocket, and a couple of five hundred franc notes.

The official who sat above the man who turned the wheel smiled down at
the newcomer. It was a slack time. The table was half deserted, the rush
of the diners had not yet begun.

Basil took out his cypher card and placed it carefully behind a little
rampart of gold coins.

The croupier spun, and before the "_Rien ne va plus_" was uttered Basil
had shoved his usual maximum of nine louis upon number 3--sitting as he
did close to the wheel which divided the two long tables.

Twenty-eight turned up. Basil saw his money raked away, with the few
other stakes that were adventured, with a broad smile.

No one could possibly have noticed the quick glance he gave at his
watch. But that glance signified to him that for the next five minutes
number "11" would be certain to win.

He put the maximum upon number 11.

He glanced again at his watch, as the croupiers began to croak their
"_Faites vos jeux_" and gazed moodily round the table, which was now
beginning to fill up. At that moment--a supreme moment to him--he was
conscious of no particular emotion at all.

When asked about it afterwards by a certain intimate friend he always
said, "Really, I felt nothing whatever."

The weary yellow-faced slave of the wheel did his duties.

All the money upon the table, at that moment, was upon even chances,
upon the dozens, the _transversales_, or the columns. No single person
had played direct upon a number--a thirty-five to one chance.

The big triangles of red and black at the far end of the table were both
piled with gold and notes, the borders of several numbers were covered
with adventurous stakes.

There was a swift "click" as the ball went home.

Number 11 had turned up.

Basil Gregory had the impulse to rise from his seat and go striding up
and down those glittering halls, hugging his secret, spurning those
other players who knew nothing.

Everything had occurred exactly as he had planned with Emile Deschamps.
At the precise moment arranged between them the wireless message had
come to the spinning ball and it had fallen, as it was directed,
obedient to the unseen and unsuspected powers of science.

He drew towards him six thousand three hundred francs--two hundred and
fifty two English pounds!

He looked at his watch again. The next slot in the wheel that was to be
magnetised was 33. But it was not yet time. It had been arranged that
he was to lose occasionally in order to divert suspicion.

He placed the maximum of nine louis upon zero. To his consternation,
zero won. Again he received the enormous sum of six thousand and odd
francs. He leant back in his chair, outwardly indifferent and calm, but
throbbing in every nerve and pulse with wild excitement. It was true
then!

A few hundred yards away, in the little bedroom on the roof, Emile
Deschamps was pressing key after key with absolute precision. And as he
pressed the little spinning ball, flung from the hand of the croupier,
must perforce obey the invisible power that vibrated through the air.

That he had won upon zero--when he meant to lose--seemed only a minor
incident in the riot of his progress.

The one man in the crowded halls of that palace--the one and only
man--who could control Fortune herself, he sat there outwardly cold and
impassive, while his mind and nerves were torn and wrenched as by
opposing forces.

He was now more than five hundred pounds to the good, and as yet he had
only played one coup of the many agreed upon by the secret code.

Already the people at the table were glancing at each other and at the
impassive young man who staked a maximum each time, and had already won
twice _en plein_--so unprecedented a thing to do.

He was a Russian prince, it was whispered. His French was so
perfect--though it was not absolutely the French of a Frenchman--that
the whispering people round the table thought he could be none other
than a Russian. That he was English never occurred to anyone, for no
Englishman speaks French as Basil Gregory spoke it.

The wheel was turning again, and everyone watched to see what the
unperturbed figure by the croupier would do.

This time, with a glance at his cypher card, and also at his watch,
Basil backed red and not a number.

Each number in the wheel has its corresponding colour, red or black, and
it was as easy for him to win on an even chance as it was upon a chance
of thirty-five to one. He backed red, and, far away at the top of the
Hôtel Malmaison, Emile Deschamps pressed the key which magnetised the
slot 18 in the wheel upon the green table--18 being a red number.

Basil placed the maximum upon red--that is, two hundred and forty
pounds.

Red turned up. He had now won nearly eight hundred pounds, and round his
chair were grouped a crowd of people three feet deep.

People were flocking from other tables, drawn by that nameless unknown
mental telegraphy which tells the whole Casino when big wins are being
made.

The whole of the great rooms became electric with an atmosphere of
excitement. There was not a sound as the people thronged to Basil's
table--at Monte Carlo the greatest successes, the most disastrous
failures, happen in silence.

But, in that tense atmosphere, there was more than sound--there was a
pressing together and focussing of human minds, converging upon one spot
to witness the battle.

"_Faites vos jeux, messieurs._"

"_Le jeu est fait._"

"_Rien ne va plus._"

A rattle, a hushed silence--the player who had put a maximum of nine
louis upon number 13 had lost!

Men and women nodded and whispered, whispered and nodded. "Monsieur's
luck was about to change, _n'est-ce 'pas_?" "It is not going to be a big
run after all, _hein_?"

Once more the wheel spun.

Monsieur, with extraordinary daring, placed the maximum upon 6.

Six turned up.

In front of Basil Gregory was a pile of gold, still more important and
significant a bundle of crinkled blue and white notes.

He took the notes up with cool deliberation, folded many of them, and
put them into the breast pocket of his coat, stretched out his hand, and
put the maximum upon black.

"_Noir, dix-neuf_," the croupier croaked, and another two hundred and
forty pounds was pushed over by the rakes to add to Basil's store.

By this time almost everyone at the table was playing as Basil played.

If he staked upon an 8, the number was plastered and covered with gold
and notes.

Each time he won and by now a rumour of something utterly unique had
spread through the whole vast building, other and lesser punters won
with him. When he was up three thousand pounds against the Bank, the
Bank had lost quite seventeen thousand.

The air was electric. The word had gone round. _Habitués_ of the Casino
crowded to watch one of those extraordinary nights of play which occur
now and then--far more rarely than is supposed--and which are talked
about for long afterwards. New-comers joined the throng, and still Basil
Gregory sat impassive in his place, conscious that he was the centre of
attention, but allowing nothing whatever to divert him from his purpose.

He glanced at his watch.

Stakes were being put upon the table timidly. The players were waiting
to see what he was going to do.

He glanced at his cypher-card. The moment was marked with a tiny cross.
He was now to adventure a bigger coup than ever before.

He placed the maximum of nine louis upon number 20--standing to win six
thousand francs. He placed the maximum of sixty louis upon the line that
covered the six figures from 16 to 21, including 20. Here also he stood
to win 6,000 francs if 20 turned up.

Then he staked on black. Number 20 upon the roulette wheel is a black
number, so here, again, he played the maximum and stood to win the
highest possible. Finally he backed the middle dozen of the 36 numbers,
here also staking the maximum of 150 louis, again making it possible to
win 6,000 francs.

In that quiet place, where any outward expression of excitement or
emotion is instantly suppressed, there came a low, sighing sound like
the fluttering of leaves in the wind.

It was the spectators whispering to each other.

Such high play as this was beyond the experience of almost everyone.
This time, getting more cautious, the other players wagered heavily
against Basil. They thought such phenomenal luck as he had had could
not possibly continue, and for the first time during the evening a
slight sardonic smile came upon the young man's face.

He knew, they did not, with what certainty number 20 would turn up.

The wheel swung, the ball spun. "_Noir et vingt_," croaked the croupier.

And now, as the rakes pursued their remorseless way, and swept in all
the stakes upon the table except Basil's maximums, there was a low
murmur of surprise and consternation. Anywhere else but in the Casino it
would have been a babel of tongues.

In one single minute Basil Gregory had won the huge sum of 24,000
francs--960 English pounds.

Standing by the director of the table, who sat above and behind the
croupier who spun the wheel, there was now seen a tall and unobtrusive
man with a pale face, a short black beard, and wearing evening dress. It
was one of the heads of the permanent staff of the Administration--a
mysterious being who only entered the rooms upon special occasion, a
person invested with unknown powers--one of the gods!

Basil had emptied his mind of thought.

He had focussed his whole being upon what he was doing. The huge pile of
wealth before him affected him no more than if the notes and gold--and
by now there were many notes and but little gold--were but so many
counters. Mechanically he folded bundle after bundle of thousand franc
notes and placed them in the inner pocket of his coat.

And then, in the stir and rustle, he heard a sharp
exclamation--unremarked by the crowd around in that moment of tension,
but like an arrow through his own consciousness.

He looked up.

Opposite him, down towards the end of the table, two ladies were
sitting. He had been vaguely conscious of them before, but, during all
his play, he had made a point of not allowing his thoughts or glances to
be distracted by the other players.

It was from one of those ladies, the young one, that he, and he alone,
heard a little gasping cry.

It was the girl he loved! It was Ethel McMahon!

A mist seemed to rise up from the table as if water had been poured upon
a heated plate of steel. For a moment it swayed and blotted out
everything. His mind seemed to be a turning wheel. He felt little
needles pricking at the back of his eyes, his blood congealed into a
jelly, and the palms of his hands suddenly became covered with a film of
perspiration.

Ethel!... It was Ethel! And as the mist cleared away and his mind came
to attention, he knew that this was no illusion, but that in very flesh
and blood Ethel and her mother were sitting almost opposite to him
playing at this table, playing roulette in the world's greatest gambling
hell!

The impulse to call out was almost unbearable, but he restrained it with
an iron effort.

He stared hungrily at the two women, and as he did so he saw Ethel and
Mrs. McMahon look up and meet his gaze. He saw this also--in their eyes
was envy and consternation, but not the slightest glint of recognition.

And then he remembered his disguise--the spectacles, the shaved
moustache, the foreign clothes, and swarthy complexion--and he realised
that their interest in him was no more than that of any of the others.

The whole crowd, the croupiers also, were waiting to see what he would
do.

The "_faites vos jeux_" was rapping out at him from all sides of the
table.

He knew that he must have an instant to think or else go mad. With
careless gesture he threw a couple of louis upon the table before him,
not caring where they fell, and once again the wheel of chance revolved.

What did this mean? There was no answer to his agonised mental inquiry.

He saw Ethel and her mother bending over a card covered with
figures--one of those system cards so frequently seen at the tables, so
certain to end in disaster.

He saw also the pallor of their faces. He realised in a flash of
intuition that they were losing heavily.

How to warn them, how to tell them that he and he only possessed the
secret key to Fortune to-night he could not think, he could not divine.

Again he glanced at his card. Habit had become mechanical. His watch
pointed to ten minutes past the hour. His directions stood clear and
plain in the cypher before him.

He sorted out his notes and did what was directed.

Up there, on the top of the Hôtel Malmaison, Emile Deschamps was even at
that moment pressing a certain key. The result was as inevitable as sure
as Fate.

And as Fate or, rather, the cunning of science, the immense trickery of
the two young geniuses, spoke, Basil saw that Ethel McMahon and her
mother were very hard hit.

He watched them slant-wise from the ends of his spectacles, realising,
more definitely than ever, that they were playing upon some fallacious
scheme, and being sure--with a jerk of memory--that old Mrs. McMahon had
unearthed one of her late husband's systems, and was pursuing it to her
own ruin.

Again he won, and by now he was a rich man. The excitement was
tremendous, when suddenly the tall man in evening dress announced a
suspension of play.

Basil Gregory had "broken the bank."

There is a prevalent idea, among those who do not know much about Monte
Carlo, that breaking the bank means that the whole play of the Casino is
stopped for the night on which it occurs.

This is quite wrong.

"Breaking the bank" simply means that the resources of a particular
table, out of the dozen or so tables on which roulette is played, are
exhausted for a moment. In five minutes new money is brought and play
goes on.

It was so now. There was a hurried consultation, and in no time lackeys
were bearing oak coffers bound with brass, filled with money, to Basil's
table, accompanied by three or four frock-coated officials.

The money was spread out in rows before the principal paying croupier,
and six minutes had hardly passed when once more the calm, passionless
voice of the director was calling upon the players to "make their game."

But in the interim, as Basil Gregory leant back in his chair, he had
heard, with ears quickened by anxiety and love, these words from Ethel
to her mother--words spoken in English:

"But, mother, we _cannot_ go on."

Then the answer, in a sort of wail of despair: "We must go on, Ethel.
This next coup is certain to put us right. We must pay no attention to
the extraordinary luck of that young Russian nobleman opposite. We must
adhere to your father's system. If this coup goes wrong, then we can
only play twice again, and all our money will be exhausted. But I have
every faith in your father's system."

Then Basil heard something about "courage," and, finally, a whispered
lamentation that "our capital is so small."

Three numbers upon his cypher-card had passed by during the rebringing
of money to the table.

Glancing at his watch, he saw that the time was ripe for him to play
upon 16.

He was gathering up the necessary money to put upon the board, when the
sallow man from the Administration pushed through the people surrounding
him and whispered in his ear.

If he liked, the official did not press it at all, monsieur should have
the opportunity of playing three coups against the bank. That is to say,
that the ordinary maximum should be entirely abrogated in favour of
monsieur, and any sum he cared to wager upon an even chance, the
Administration would be pleased to meet.

The colloquy was very rapid. Deschamps had told Basil that such a thing
might happen--such an offer be made to him. When a player has
temporarily suspended the game at a certain table--or, in common
parlance, "broken the bank"--the authorities are nearly always ready for
a final sensational coup.

Basil nodded. "Certainly," he said, pulling out bundle after bundle of
notes. "I will play 200,000 francs on red."

The number 16 is a red number. Basil wagered almost his whole winnings
of that night without a tremor.

There was now a dead silence round the table. People clustered about it
ten deep in the vain effort to see what was going on. Yet, while the
wheel was turned and the ball spun, the only unconcerned person about
this gigantic stake was Basil Gregory himself.

No one else put a single coin upon the table, save only a trembling old
lady who sat by a young and lovely girl--an obstinate old lady, clinging
to a hope.

Basil was given notes to the value of £16,000.

The most notable thing about the Casino, with its enormous resources, is
the absolute impassibility of its officials.

Again Basil wagered £8,000--this time upon black.

He won, and as his money was being paid to him a loud murmur rose from
the crowd--a loud murmur, broken by a sharp and pulsing cry.

A tall and beautiful girl had risen from her feet and had fallen in a
deep swoon into the arms of the bystanders behind her.

There was an immediate struggle. The electric tension of the moment was
over. The well-dressed crowd surged and almost fought in a panic of
snapped nerves and suddenly relaxed excitement.

People came surging from all sides. The other tables were deserted,
and, far away through the great halls, those who were playing
_trente-et-quarante_ rose from their cards with listening ears.

In that supreme moment Basil Gregory did not lose his head. He gathered
up his enormous winnings. The pockets of his coat bulged with wealth.
And Ethel McMahon was being carried out into the Atrium, followed by her
mother in a state of wild hysteria, before he rose from his seat.

He took six thousand-franc notes from one of his pockets. To each of the
six croupiers he gave a note.

Then he sauntered quietly out into the huge hall.

Under the brilliant electric lights which gleamed upon the marble he saw
little groups of people--each group seeming quite small in the
immensity--talking earnestly together.

As he came out among them every head was turned, though of Ethel and her
mother he saw not a trace.

But as he went to the cloak-room, and delivered his metal ticket, two or
three commissionaires came up to him with awed and respectful faces.

"That young lady?" he said, "and the elder one with her?"

"It was nothing, monsieur," one of the men hastened to say. "They are
two English ladies staying at the _pension_ in the Rue Grimaldi. Your
success, monsieur, unnerved them. They have been sent home in a
_voiture_."

Basil nodded as he was helped into his long, dark coat.

With a smile he distributed a few gold coins, and then, alone,
unattended, he walked out into the warm, aromatic night, and strolled to
his adjacent hotel among flower-bordered paths, under the twin lights of
electricity and the great, red moon of the South.

At the Hôtel de Paris, at the Métropole, at Ciro's, people were
gathering for gay supper parties.

As he entered the huge, brilliantly decorated lounge of the Malmaison,
groups of wealthy people were smoking a preliminary cigarette before
supper. Some of them--many of them--recognised him, and nodded and
whispered to each other, but he entered the lift and went straight to
his own room.

He turned up the electric lights, and locked the door. And then, from
pocket and pocket, he poured out crackling, crumpled heaps of notes,
heavy handfuls of gold--the wealth of which he had dreamed.

After a minute or two, without even locking the door of his
sitting-room, he stumbled out of it and up the stairs to the servants'
quarters.

He gave the signal knocks.

He was at once admitted to the dingy little bedroom-workshop.

Emile Deschamps was there. The Frenchman's face was as grey as evening
ice.

He was staring at his apparatus in a sort of stupor, and by his side the
chronometer ticked.

Emile gave a loud shout as Basil tumbled into the place.

"It is done, then?" he gasped. "_Mon ami_, it is a thing done?"

All grimy as he was Basil led his friend down into his sitting-room.

       *       *       *       *       *       *

At two o'clock on the afternoon of the next day two English ladies,
accompanied by a little, swarthy Frenchman, with a dressing-case which
never left his hands, rolled out of the station of Monte Carlo, _en
route_ for Paris.

For two days after this Monsieur Montoyer was observed to walk
distractedly through the salons and occasionally to place a maximum upon
a single number. Monsieur Montoyer did not repeat his successes, and
those who followed his play cursed him and their own credulity deeply
and silently.

The great night when Fortune smiled upon the "young Russian nobleman" is
still remembered by the assiduous acolytes of Chance. It is talked
about, and given as an instance to new-comers of what bold, indifferent
play can accomplish.

Nobody connects Sir Basil Gregory, Bart., the head of the great firm of
Deschamps, Gregory and Co., which has revolutionised wireless
telegraphy, with the spectacled, clean-shaven young gentleman who made
such a sensation one night in the Casino at Monte Carlo.

Sir Basil and Lady Gregory spend almost all their days in the charming
old house they have bought near Falmouth.

But on the Riviera there is an old, old lady--the well-known Madame
McMahon--who still haunts the gambling hells of the Continent. She is a
recognised figure. She has a marvellous system which never comes off,
but when she gets into difficulties with the proprietors of her
_pension_, mysterious telegraphic drafts upon the local bank always
arrive in the nick of time, either from Cornwall or from Quimperlé, in
Brittany, where Monsieur Edouard and Monsieur Charles Carnet have a
house, and are churchwardens of the unique cathedral.





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