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Title: The Luckiest Young Man
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim
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Language: English
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The Luckiest Young Man

by

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Cover Image

A PETER HAMES STORY

ILLUSTRATED BY T.D. SKIDMORE

First published in Collier's Weekly, May 16, 1931
Reprinted in Sinners Beware, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1931



Dagger Rodwell meets a most lovely and beautiful lady—and Peter Hames, amateur student of crime, meets another thrilling adventure



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



EVERYONE in his particular set, and at the haunts which he was accustomed to frequent, had been telling "Dagger" Rodwell for the last two years that, with his luck, he ought to visit foreign gambling places, where real money was to be touched. Rodwell, however, who had led a precarious existence until some time before, when he had developed an amazing habit of winning at whatever game of chance he indulged in, was shy about the matter.

"You see, Jimmy," he explained to his own particular pal, Jimmy Dane, who had gained the security of a hotel in Bayswater, a share of a club in Notting Hill and an interest in a very wide-awake stable at Newmarket which had a habit of unexpectedly winning races, "I can't speak the lingo for one thing. Then, turning an honest penny at chemie as we play it in London, with always a mug or two at the table, is easy enough. One is up against a different class of play over there, and a mountain of money."

"Dagger, my lad," his friend persisted, "your luck would stand anything. If we weren't pals, and if I hadn't known you all my life, I should have said that you had taken to stacking 'em a bit when you drew that fourth ace the other night against Charlie's four kings. It seemed a bit too much to hope for."

"I'm lucky," Dagger Rodwell admitted, "and you know well enough I play on the level. One takes advantage of a mug now and then, naturally, but one does it honestly. If I know more about the game than he does, I've a right to win."

"It doesn't matter how much you know about any game, Roddie," his friend argued earnestly. "The fact is that today you're in what they call a 'streak.' It doesn't matter whether its horses, cards or a billiard match. You're in luck, and if you take my advice you'll play it while it lasts. Don't hang around here to pick up perhaps a thousand or two. Go for the big things before it stops. Then buy a small hotel, or something solid, and take life easy."

"I'll think it over," the other promised. "If I could get a pal to go with me I wouldn't hesitate."

Jimmy Dane sighed.

"My busy season, as you know, old chap," he regretted. "Besides, I'd spoil your luck. I can't touch a card now."

"I think I shall leave it alone," the fortunate young man decided.

Nevertheless, when, ten days later, he touched a fantastic double at Newmarket which very nearly sent his bookmaker into the bankruptcy court, and within a few days simply paralyzed the games at the two best-known haunts in London, Charles Rodwell changed his mind. With a new outfit, selected for him by a West End tailor, and a letter of credit of quite respectable proportions, he packed his bags and departed, for the first time in his life, upon foreign travel.

His destination had been subject to the spin of a coin. Rather to his joy, as the place had an alluring sound, fate consigned him to Monte Carlo. Accordingly on the first day of March, Charles Rodwell, with the London-wide nickname of Dagger, twenty-eight years old, tall, lean and blue-eyed, a touch of the colonial in his occasional awkwardness of speech and demeanour, descended upon the Hôtel de Paris, and in these days of greater latitude found no difficulty in adding a card of admission to the Sporting Club to his Salles Privées ticket.

The night of his arrival he devoted to watching the various games. On the following day he drew a thousand pounds from the bank and started operations. In the afternoon he lost six hundred pounds at roulette but won it back again at chemin de fer in the evening.

His first reverse was his last. At the end of a week he was six thousand pounds to the good, and should have been more—a fact which perplexed him not a little. He had made friends, too—a Frenchman who spoke excellent English, his lady companion, who also spoke English fluently and whose flirtations were apparently suffered gladly by her protector, and a French supporter of the turf, well known to him by name and reputation. There were frequent little supper parties after the gambling was over, and visits to the various bars.

Dagger Rodwell wrote home to his friends that he found Monte Carlo a very amusing place. This rather exceptional young man, who owed his peculiar nickname to the speed with which he accomplished everything which he set himself to achieve, had spent his youth in circles of dubious reputation. It was seldom, however, that he gave offence, owing to his swift and tactful appreciation of his own failings.

Established at a chemin de fer table in the Sporting Club, for instance, he rarely attempted to address any of his neighbours, and he even permitted himself an occasional smile at his own expense at the very fact of his presence there. He was accordingly very much surprised when, one night, while engaged in his usual pursuit, a very attractive young lady seated on his left followed his example of retaining her place during the making of the cards, and rather abruptly addressed him.

"You've been winning a great deal of money the last few days, haven't you?" she asked.

"I—yes, I suppose I have," he admitted.

"Do you come to Monte Carlo often?"

"I have never been in France before in my life," he told her.

"Where did you learn to play chemie then?"

"In London."

"I thought it wasn't allowed there."

He grinned.

"If you know the ropes," he assured her, "there's a game every night."

"You play very well," she reflected. "You are also very lucky."

"There isn't much in the way you play," he said modestly. "Unless, of course, you've got a lot of mugs at the table. I'm lucky. That's why I came out here."

"Are you here alone?" she asked him.

He nodded.

"My friends aren't used to travelling much," he confided. "I shouldn't have dared to take this on myself if they hadn't bothered me into it."

"Luck," she meditated. "Yes, one hears that word very often at Monte Carlo. Of course no one really believes in it."

He looked at her in blank astonishment.

"You don't believe in luck?" he exclaimed.

She shook her head.

"I'm afraid I don't," she confessed.

"What about that last hand," he demanded, "when the gentleman took no cards against me? I drew to a five, and got a three—eight against his seven."

"Such things happen occasionally."

"You don't believe in luck!" he repeated. "Will you let me show you something?"

She felt that he had only just saved himself from saying "miss," but she nodded pleasantly.

"Will you give me a chip, or as much as you care to risk, and walk with me to that roulette table?" he suggested. "We shall just have time."

She hesitated for a single moment, and then laughed at herself. In the thraldom of Monte Carlo she was becoming a snob!

"Of course I will," she assented, rising to her feet. "Here's five hundred francs. Now, what are you going to do with it?"

"I'll show you," he promised.

During their brief progress, Dagger Rodwell almost lost his nerve. His companion curtsied to a minor royalty, and exchanged greetings with many of the people whom his French acquaintances had pointed out to him as being among the great ones of the earth, none of whom, however, they had seemed to know themselves. He set his teeth, and pushed his way a little ruthlessly to the table. Again he justified his nickname. He scarcely glanced at the numbers, and placed the five hundred francs which had been entrusted to him, and one of his own, upon the cheval of fourteen to seventeen. Seventeen turned up. He fought his way back to the outside circle where the young lady had loitered, his hands full of counters.

"Eight thousand five hundred," he counted out, "and five hundred for your stake. Now, do you believe in luck?"

He looked at her triumphantly. Notwithstanding a certain quaintness of deportment, he was quite handsome in his well-cut dinner clothes which accented his long, lean body and thin face. His blue eyes were sparkling with pleasure.

"Well, I must believe in yours at any rate," she acknowledged, smiling. "Do you mind keeping the counters until we get back to the table?"

They returned to their places. He was becoming more voluble.

"I just can't help it," he confided. "Perhaps it won't last. I don't know. If it doesn't, I shall leave off playing, but I haven't been a loser a single day since I've been here, or a single week in London during the last two or three months. It isn't only cards. It's racing. I touched a bookie just before I left London for a double at two hundred and eighty to one."

She looked at him thoughtfully.

"Do you gamble every night in London?" she inquired.

"Pretty nearly. Gamble or play billiards."

"Won't you get tired of it?"

"I don't think so," he replied doubtfully. "There isn't much else to do."

"Haven't you a business of any sort?"

He shook his head.

"I meant to be a jockey when I was young. I was at Newmarket for two years, but I grew so fast I couldn't keep my weight down. Later I used to help my father, who was a bookmaker. Then this luck began, and I haven't been doing anything since."

The game claimed their attention for a few minutes. A short, dark man and a very chic but somewhat obvious young woman sauntered up, and stood at the other side of the table. Dagger Rodwell exchanged greetings with them eagerly.

"Do you know that gentleman?" he asked his companion, complacently. "That's the Marquis de Verrais, and his lady friend."

She looked across the table and studied the two with thoughtful eyes. "The Marquis de Verrais," she repeated softly. "Is he one of your friends here?"

"We have supper together most nights," Dagger Rodwell confided. "Lucky for me—coming across him and a chap named Ambrose, a racing fellow. I don't speak a word of French."

"Your luck seems to extend itself in strange directions," she murmured.

Dagger Rodwell felt there was something in this speech which he didn't quite understand, so he passed it by.

"Do you find that your supper excursions cost you a great deal of money?" she inquired.

He flashed a look of quick surprise at her.

"In a way," he admitted. "To tell you the truth, I'd begun to wonder whether there were any pickpockets about, or whether the waiters were quite honest at the hotel. I never count my money carefully, but I always seem each morning to have a lot less than I expected."

"The marquis and his companion might be expensive guests," she remarked.

"I generally pay the bills," he confessed frankly, "but they don't come to much. The marquis only gets his money four times a year, and he lost a hundred thousand francs gambling a week or two ago."

"Really," she murmured. "Now we must both pay more attention to the game."

He accepted the hint, and relapsed into silence. Presently his companion picked up her winnings, and, with a pleasant little nod of farewell to her neighbour, took her leave. Dagger Rodwell gazed after her wistfully. He had come into indirect contact with people of her class before, in the gambling rooms of London.

"If only I had dared to ask her to have a drink!" he sighed.

THE lady friend of the Marquis de Verrais watched the departure of Dagger Rodwell's new acquaintance with anxious eyes. She drew her companion into the background.

"Francois," she asked, "do you know who that woman was—that girl—there she is—talking to the duke?"

"Never saw her before in my life," the marquis replied.

"You have. You've seen her often," the girl went on. "That is the woman who comes sometimes to the Régal and calls herself Mademoiselle Anna."

"Imbécile!" the marquis declared scornfully. "There is a slight likeness, but I tell you—I, who am a judge—that young woman is a person of consequence. Her jewels are real. She—"

"I know all about that," the girl interrupted, "and her dress came from Worth, but I tell you she was Mademoiselle Anna, and she was talking to Monsieur Charles—how is it you call him?—Monsieur Dagger Rodwell. She recognized me, too."

Her companion remained incredulous.

"If one listened to you," he observed, "one would have nerves all the time. You mistake a maître d'hôtel for a detective, and a commissionaire for a gendarme. Listen. We will prove this."

The Marquis de Verrais had a large and catholic acquaintance among the frequenters of the place. He stopped a well-known English bookmaker who was passing.

"Monsieur Jackson," he said, "you are acquainted with all the world. Please tell us the name of the lady in the pearl-coloured dress and rubies, talking to the duke there."

Monsieur Jackson glanced down the room, and nodded.

"One of our English beauties," he replied. "The Honourable Sybil Christian, her name is, the daughter of Lord Farrowdale."

"I am obliged to you," the marquis acknowledged. "Well, Fifine?"

Fifine was looking a little dazed, but her eyes were fixed upon that departing figure.

"That was Mademoiselle Anna," she repeated. "She was talking with the boy who wins the money, with whom you wish me to take supper tonight."

"Imbécile!" the marquis repeated wearily.

Peter Hames, the young American painter and seeker after adventure, in a lazy fit had gone to bed at ten o'clock. At midnight he was awakened suddenly to find the telephone buzzing by his side.

"Is that Mr. Peter Hames?" a soft voice inquired.

"That's right," was the electrified reply. "I want you to come down and join me at the Régal."

"I'll be there in a quarter of an hour," Peter promised cheerfully.

"Say half an hour. It won't be necessary tonight, I'm sure, but just in case—you'd better bring your—flask."

"I understand."

In less than the appointed time, Peter Hames had achieved a satisfactory toilette, and made his way down the hill to Beausoleil. He found a retired spot for his car, and entered the Café Régal. The place as yet was almost empty, but Mademoiselle Anna was seated upon her accustomed stool, smoking a cigarette in a long holder, and talking confidentially to the barman. She beckoned Peter Hames to her side.

"Sit close to me, please," she invited, "and listen. I ought to have told you before. I owe you all the confidence in the world. However, I tell you now. Since the affair of monsieur the chemist, and the death of old madame, this place has belonged to me. Madame Lapouge is my woman; John here does as I tell him. That is why now and then I have been able to pick up scraps of interesting information."

"You might have told me," Peter Hames said simply.

She recognized the hurt in his tone, laid her hand impulsively upon his, and pressed it.

"Forgive me," she begged. "Reticence has become almost a vice with me. This little world here is so small."

"Go on, please," he enjoined. "I am pacified. You have some work for me, I hope?"

"There may be," she admitted. "There is a young Englishman over here—an amorous young man, very simple, who has been winning a great deal of money. Legrande has got hold of him—Legrande, if you please, posing as the Marquis de Verrais—and Fifine, my little neighbour at the bar, posing as his mistress and an actress at the Opéra Comique. The little beast very nearly recognized me this evening. I never dreamed of her getting into the Sporting Club.

"Most nights, to wind up with, they come here. They make this young man pretty well drunk—you know how clever Legrande is at it—and they help themselves to his loose banknotes. I have sat there and seen Legrande take the notes from him whilst Fifine has been gazing into his eyes. However, enough of that. They are planning a much bigger thing. What it is I don't know, but they have sent for the three men we know as the Three Musketeers, who will rob or murder anybody for a thousand francs, and the three are now upstairs in the salon."


Illustration

"Looks like a dirty business," Peter Hames commented.

"I am afraid it is," she agreed. "Now presently, the marquis, as he calls himself, and the young man and Fifine will be here. I cannot be certain if Fifine recognized me tonight, but I am absolutely sure that she was suspicious. I meant to use the microphone from the small bedroom, but if they did recognize me, of course the whole thing is finished. Will you take that on?"

"Rather," he assented.

"I'm afraid I'm leaving you all the work," she sighed, "but I know that little cat will never let me out of her sight. If you wouldn't mind just having one more whisky, and getting up to the salon, I shall clear out quietly. Legrande will go upstairs to meet these three desperadoes, and you will listen to his orders. I'll tell you one thing: I'm sure it won't be for tonight. They'll want to have all the young man's money. Meet me tomorrow morning at the bar of the Hôtel de Paris at eleven o'clock, and tell me what you have discovered."

Peter Hames had discovered a great deal when he met Sybil Christian at eleven o'clock the next morning in the Hôtel de Paris bar. Her face grew graver all the time as she listened.

"The one weak point about it that I can see," he remarked, as he drew to an end of his story, "is this: what would happen if, instead of winning tomorrow night at Nice, this young man, Dagger Rodwell, should lose his money? It seems to me they're risking the whole grab."

Sybil shook her head.

"Legrande is no fool," she declared. "If he sees that the luck has changed there, he will make Fifine stop the play, and take Rodwell out to supper. Then they'll bring him back, and everything will proceed according to program."

Peter Hames meditated for a few minutes.

"Are these Three Musketeers really clever fellows?" he asked.

"They're slippery, treacherous, and diabolically cunning," she assured him.

"Then I have an amendment to propose. Listen, please."

Sybil listened, and the amendment was carried.


AT ABOUT twenty past two in the morning, a large and comfortable limousine was driven out of Nice onto the slopes of the most picturesque road in the world. Inside, Fifine was sitting with one arm around Dagger Rodwell's neck, and his arm, it must be confessed, was round her waist. She had thrown off her hat, and her head rested upon his shoulder. Outside, Monsieur le Marquis, by the side of the chauffeur, was apparently enjoying the view so much that, notwithstanding the jealousy insisted upon by Fifine, he never once looked round.

"I say," Dagger Rodwell asked once, as he ventured to snatch a willingly returned kiss, "is this all right with the marquis there?"

"Of course it is, you stupid," she answered. "He has to let me do what I like, or I wouldn't stay with him."

"What became of Mr. Ambrose?"

"He went home with some friends," she replied

carelessly. "Aren't you glad? We didn't want him in here."

The young man demonstrated his satisfaction at this information, and their heads remained only a few inches apart.

"Such luck as yours," she murmured, "I have never seen. What was it you took with you?"

"Five thousand pounds."

"And how much did you win?"

"Just about another five thousand," he confided, his eyes alight with the joy of his success.

"You will give me a little present, dear, will you not?" she begged. "Nothing much. I dare not accept anything valuable. Something that costs only a little. Just a souvenir."

"You wait," he promised. "We will go to Janesich tomorrow."

"It must not be anything elaborate," she reiterated. "I dare not accept presents from anyone, and the marquis will give me all I want when he has some money."

"Darling!"

They mounted higher and higher. Now the bluff and lights of Cap Ferrat stretched out beneath them. The high lights of Eze, few but clear, confronted them on the right. Fifine was glancing from side to side with eager eyes.

"Why are you trembling?" he asked.

"I don't want to get back to Monte Carlo too quickly," she sighed.

"Hullo, what's this?" her companion remarked, looking out of the window. "A car broken down?"

The events of the next few seconds were amazing and speedy. A dark form, swinging a flashlight, stepped out into the road, the brakes were put on their car, and it was brought to a standstill. Through the window they caught a momentary glimpse of a strange little scene.

They saw the chauffeur leap from the car, saw him roll for a moment in the dusty road, spring up and run for the sheltering woods upon the left. Monsieur le Marquis, looking very dazed, made a brave show of tackling the aggressor, but received a blow which placed him almost immediately hors de combat. There was no time to watch more, for their own troubles had begun. The door had been thrown open, and the muzzle of a very ugly-looking gun was plainly visible.

"Your pocketbook—quick as hell!" a gruff voice demanded.

Dagger Rodwell clenched his fist. In another moment, he would have been upon his assailant, gun or no gun, but Fifine's arms were around his neck.

"Don't hurt him!" she shrieked. "He shall not be hurt. Here! The pocket- book is nothing. Take it!"

Before he could recover from his amazement, she had thrust her hand into his pocket, brought out the pocketbook, and tossed it toward the open door to the man whom they could now see dimly. Without a word the door was slammed, the man joined his companion and both disappeared. Dagger Rodwell shook himself free from the girl's arms.


Illustration

"Here, I say!" he cried. "I'm not going to stand this. That's every penny I've got in the world, Fifine."

"He would have killed you," she sobbed. "There was a man murdered here last year. He would have killed you! We can do without money."

"I'm going after mine anyway," Dagger Rodwell declared, pushing her away.

He sprang into the centre of the road. Almost immediately another car came rushing round the turn and pulled up. Before he knew where he was, there were more automatics, and a chorus of cries and exclamations. Monsieur le Marquis came staggering into the little circle of light thrown by the headlights of the newly arrived automobile. He tackled one of the newcomers with much apparent courage. The other two were within a few feet of Dagger Rodwell, a villainous- looking pair and obviously meaning business.

"Throw up your hands!" Fifine shrieked from the car. "What does it matter?"

Dagger Rodwell did as he was bidden. After all, what did it matter?


THE luckiest young man in the world received the shock of his life when, on arriving at the Hôtel de Paris, at four o'clock in the morning, scratched, bruised, dishevelled and practically penniless, he was taken charge of by the night concièrge, to whom he had begun to tell his story, and ushered into a sitting-room on the second floor. There he saw, in the order of their importance to him at that moment, two bottles of whisky upon the sideboard, some opened bottles of Perrier, ice and glasses, the aristocratic young lady who had vouchsafed to talk to him at the gaming table, and two good-humoured looking giants of men, both of whom were strangers to him.

"I say," he began—

Peter Hames mixed a generous whisky-and-soda, and handed it to the dazed newcomer. The latter drained half its contents, and set it down. Once more he looked round the room, and this time he saw, also, upon the table, his bulging pocketbook. He gave a little gasp. Peter Hames nodded as he saw the direction in which his eyes had travelled.

"That's your pocketbook all right," he assured him. "Miss Christian, I think it would be best if you explained to our young friend."

Sybil smiled and thrust a cigarette into her holder.

"You remember my speaking to you at the Sporting Club?" she asked him.

"Of course I do," he answered.

"Well, that man whom you told me was the Marquis de Verrais was, as I knew, a rogue and an adventurer. The woman with him was a little cocotte of the place—never been near the Opéra Comique in her life. What they were after was your money.

"It is rather a hobby of mine," she went on, "and of my two friends here, to interfere where it is possible in affairs like yours. I shall not tell you how, and you must never ask me, but Mr. Hames and I got to know that you were to be taken to Nice with all the money you possessed, and induced to gamble. If you showed signs of losing, they would bring you home; if you won, so much the better. Then they arranged a little hold-up and robbery, on the Corniche Road."

"But there were two sets of robbers!" the young man pointed out, raising his glass once more to his lips, and draining its contents.

"Quite so," Sybil agreed. "Our first idea was to wait until the three men who work for your sham marquis had robbed you of the pocketbook, and then interfere ourselves, and get it back for you. Mr. Hames, however, had a better idea. He pointed out that these three thieves were absolutely reckless, and would use knives as freely as an Englishman does his fists and, however clever and quick my two friends here were, might very easily get away with the pocketbook. If we called in the police, who, by the by, never pay much attention to these affairs unless they have direct information themselves, they were very unlikely to patrol the Corniche Road just on the strength of our word.

"Accordingly, we changed our idea. My two friends here held up your car, robbed you first, and the three men who were hired to take the pocketbook away from you at any price, arrived a few minutes too late. There is your pocketbook, and all you have to do is to shake hands with Mr. Peter Hames and Mr. Paddy Collins here, and thank them very prettily for looking after you."

The young man stood up, and those blue eyes of his were very bright. He wrung the hands of the two men, and he held out his tumbler willingly at Paddy Collins' suggestion. This time habit was too strong for him, and the "miss" slipped out.

"You aren't going to tell me after this, miss," he remarked, looking across at her, with a twinkle in his eyes, "that I'm not the luckiest young man in the world?"


THE END

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