Husbands Are Useful
In which a susceptible male encounters romance and rogues
A. A. IRVINE
THE “Blue Train,” its opulent length stirred to sudden activity, was disembarking that portion of its freight of pleasure seekers which had booked no farther than Cannes.
In the corridor, outside his comfortable sleeping compartment, Sir Gregory Wimpole, attired in a smartly cut, light grey suit, his excellent cigar burning satisfactorily, genially surveyed the throng through the open carriage window. He was just beginning a well-earned fortnight’s holiday, and in less than two hours would reach Monte Carlo, where he would find his usual rooms ready for him at the Hôtel de Paris. He would be meeting many friends, would for a time forget the daily worries of a fashionable specialist with an extremely lucrative but onerous practice.
He was a short, spare man, well over fifty, cleanshaven except for two small strips of whisker. He was a bachelor and at his well-appointed house in Welbeck Street entertained lavishly during the season. One met there everyone worth knowing, politicians, writers, actors, the loveliest ladies in society—especially, the loveliest ladies in society!
As he stood gazing through the window, the look in his steady grey eyes deepened in interest. Upon the platform in front of him there had suddenly materialized a particularly lovely lady. She was tall, an ashblonde with a perfect figure and eyes the color of violets. Dressed in a dove-colored frock, from the crown of her close-fitting hat to the tips of her dainty suede shoes she appeared a true type of aristocrat. And Sir Gregory, besides being a devoted worshipper of feminine beauty, was the least little bit of a snob.
It was evident that the lady was involved in some difficulty with Jules, the smartly uniformed sleeping-car contrôleur. Polite but firm, he barred her passage, protesting against something that the lady was anxious to do. Their actual conversation, of course, Sir Gregory could not catch.
With a frown of vexation on her face, the lady turned, noticed Sir Gregory watching her and, after a moment’s hesitation, came close up to the carriage and 'addressed him. Her fluent English had an attractive soupçon of foreign accent.
“Please excuse me,” she apologized with a charming smile. “I am so verree anxious to go by thees train to Monte Carlo. But the contrôleur is so stupide. He says that it ees impossible.”
“It’s rather unusual, madame,” Sir Gregory explained, sympathetically. “For the Train Bleu, you see, there are special booking rules. But surely, it can be arranged by your paying a supplément?”
The lady laughed musically.
“Ah, but that ees the difficulty, monsieur! Last night I have played here at the tables and I have lost everything except enough to pay for the ordinary ticket. I tell the contrôleur that I am staying at the Hôtel Excelsior in Monte Carlo, that I will pay the difference after I arrive. But still he says, No!”
Sir Gregory’s chivalrous instincts were aroused. He would be only too delighted to help beauty in distress. “If that is all, madame,” he courteously offered, “you must allow me to become temporarily your banker. If you will accept a seat in my compartment. I think I can easily settle the matter with Jules.”
“Oh, but that ees too kind!”
He helped her in and went in search of the official. As the train steamed slowly out of the station, he reentered his compartment, where his fair companion gratefully awaited him.
“Well, that’s that,” he commented boyishly, seating himself beside her. He was too polite to enquire why she was in such a hurry that she could not wait for one of the ordinary trains. An anxious husband perhaps? An impatient lover? Possibly nothing more important than a luncheon engagement.
“I do not know how to thank you enough, Sir Gregoree,” the lady assured him.
Her benefactor looked his surprise.
“You know my name?” Then he chuckled. “Oh, from the label on my suitcase, of course.”
The lady laughed also.
“Not only from that,” she declared. “You must know
that I read often the English newspapers, Sir Gregoree.” “The newspapers?”
“Ah, yes. And I see also the pictures in the newspapers. You are not quite an unknown person, Sir Gregoree.”
He could not help feeling pleasantly flattered. His latest case had attracted a good deal of notice. A minor crowned head had been successfully treated for an obscure mental disorder. There had been complimentary paragraphs about his skill; • references to his learned treatises on brain lesions and the like. Even his departure to the Riviera on a holiday had been heralded.
“You are very kind, but I’m only too glad to have been of assistance,” he replied.
Time passed agreeably while the “Blue Train” progressed majestically through a succession of trim, flowerdecked little stations and rolled at length into Monte Carlo. It was only after he had ensconced her safely in the Hôtel Excelsior omnibus that it occurred to him that he was entirely in the dark as to her name.
At any rate, he reflected, he knew where she was staying. He would be certain to see her again at the Opera, at the Casino tables. He found himself eagerly hoping to do so.”
DURING the first few days of his stay, Sir Gregory was pleasantly occupied. There were rounds of golf on the Mont-Agel links, luncheons and dinners with friends, a cheery hour or two of baccarat or roulette after dinner at the “Sporting.” Yet although he kept his eyes open, he caught no sight of his beautiful train companion. The amount of her debt, be it said, had been sent round to his hotel on the very evening of his arrival, along with a charming note signed with absolutely undecipherable initials.
And then, one morning, as unexpectedly as she had appeared upon the platform of Cannes railway station, she reappeared again.
He had breakfasted in leisurely fashion, and from the window of his sitting room was idly contemplating the customary concourse in the Casino square. Away to his right a tiny white-sailed yacht was gaily dancing out of Monaco harbor. To his left he could catch a glimpse of the sunny, bright-flowered, palm-bordered lawns of the Casino gardens.
Lighting his second cigar, he glanced at his watch. There would be time before déjeuner for a stroll on the Casino terrace. And, just as he was about to equip himself for his stroll, a luxurious limousine rolled round the corner and halted in front of the hotel. From the limousine stepped a slim figure dressed in pale grey, a little scarlet hat partly concealing the ash-blonde hair— a figure which Sir Gregory could not fail to recognize.
Hastily he commenced a search for hat, stick and gloves. If he hurried downstairs, he would be certain to meet her in the hotel vestibule. But before he could complete his preparations there came a rap at the door.
A youthful chasseur entered, bearing a card. With an exclamation of annoyance at the interruption, Sir Gregory snatched it from him, looked at it, and an expression of satisfaction stole over his countenance.
She was the Princess Olga Marotsky, the daintily perfumed card informed him. Enriched by a five-franc note, the infant Mercury sped to escort her to Sir Gregory’s sitting room.
When, a minute or two later, she entered, it was evident that there was something amiss with her. There were shadows under the violet eyes, a downward droop of the corners of the exquisite mouth, anxiety in the smile with which she greeted him.
Pretending to notice nothing, he cheerily installed her on the sofa by the window.
“I’ve been searching for you everywhere, princess,” he said, with mock reproachfulness. “Though I’ve only just learned your name, I’d been hoping so much to meet you again; been wondering whether you would permit me the pleasure of entertaining you? A lunch at Caramello's? A little dinner at the Ambassadeurs before the Russian Ballet?”
She made a pathetic little gesture of refusal.
“Later, perhaps, dear Sir Gregoree. But today I am come to consult you professionally.” Her voice trembled. “To consult you about my husband.”
“Your husband? Is he ill? I’m sorry . . . ”
He could see how terribly she was on edge. Though there was no one else in the room, she looked nervously round her and lowered her voice.
“My husband does not know that I have come to you,” she continued. “He would be so angry! I must tell you that he ees suffering from—how do you say?— from illusions.”
“Delusions,” corrected Sir Gregory politely. He drew a chair closer and seated himself. “Come! Try to be quite calm and tell me about them.”
She drew a perfumed wisp of handkerchief across her lips and went on:
“I must first tell you a little of our history. Before that horrible war, Ivan, my husband, was in a famous regiment of the Tsar. We possessed in Russia many fine houses, many versts of land. Then suddenly came the debacle and we were forced to flee for our lives.” “And you lost everything?”
“The houses and the land, but not our jewels. Those we contrived to save. They are worth a great fortune. Since then we have lived in many other countries and been happy. And then, three months ago, Ivan fell ill. There came these attacks. During the last few weeks they have grown worse. A telegram recalled me from Cannes where I was visiting my friends. That was why I was so anxious to go by that train.”
The doctor nodded. *
“What form do these delusions take?” he asked.
“That we are beggars; that our jewels have been stolen.
Sometimes he will even cry out that I, his wife, have sold them, have given them away.
He raves, mon dieu!” Her voice broke hysterically.
Sir Gregory touched her arm soothingly.
“And all the time, the jewels are really safe?” he questioned.
“Quite safe. I shall show you them if you will come.”
Sir Gregory began, a little perplexedly:
“But surely when your husband sees them, handles them—?”
“Often that makes no difference. He will declare that they are not genuine, that they have been replaced by imitations.” She broke off, despairingly.
“And you wish me to examine him?”
“Oh, if you will, dear Sir Gregoree? I know that you are here merely for pleasure, ^ .
but it is because I know of your skill that I have come to you.”
Sir Gregory pondered. Then he said, thoughtfully:
“Sometimes such cases can be treated by suggestion. We must get rid of the delusion, of the complex. It would be advisable, if possible, that your husband should not know that he was being treated.”
The princess acquiesced.
“I understand. He must not suspect that you are a doctor.
I will think of some plan before your visit. I may count, then, on your coming?”
The doctor rose.
“Certainly, princess. At six o’clock this evening at your hotel.”
Impulsively she seized his hand and kissed it. Coloring a little, she asked:
“Shall we not speak about the fee?”
“Princess,” said Sir Gregory courteously, “I do not like discussing such matters when I am on a holiday. At six o’clock, then?”
She held out her prettily gloved hand. “I shall be anxiously expecting you. And please, at the hotel you will enquire for me, not for my husband?”
Sir Gregory bowed, and held the door open for her. At six o’clock precisely Sir Gregory entered the spacious vestibule of the Hôtel Excelsior. His enquiry for
the Princess Olga Marotsky brought Monsieur le directeur bustling obsequiously from his office.
Yes, Madame la princesse was in her apartments. She had a double suite, number seventeen and eighteen on the first floor, connected by a small corridor. Monsieur le docteur should be at once taken up in the elevator.
The attendant knocked on the door of number seventeen and ushered him into a sitting room. The princess was sitting writing by lamplight at a small table close to the window. She had evidently recently returned from a walk or a drive, for she was wearing a smart tailor-made costume and her sable coat hung over the back of a sofa.
“It ees so verree kind of you,” she said warmly. “Presently you shall see my husband. His nerves have again been troublesome, but I have persuaded him to take some rest. He ees in bed in the next room.”
Sir Gregory expressed his approval.
“That was wise. But when you speak of nerve trouble, what exactly do you mean? Has he . . . has he shown any signs of violence?”
She bent her head dejectedly.
“Alas, yes! But now he ees quiet. I have given him a soothing draught. Early this afternoon the attacks were terrible. He would cry, over and over again, ‘My jewels! My diamonds! Where are they? Who has taken them?’ Is it not pitiful, for, as I told you, they are here quite safe? I shall show you them. You shall be able to swear that you yourself have seen them. Afterward, I will take you to his room.”
Sir Gregory agreed:
“Whenever you are ready, princess/
She moved toward the door leading to the adjoining suite, then stopped and turned to him.
“One thing I have forgotten, Sir Gregoree,” she said. “You are not a doctor, you understand? You are a well-known jeweller come to inspect the ornaments, to guarantee that they are genuine? Ees it not so?”
Sir Gregory nodded.
“I quite understand, princess.”
A moment later he heard the muffled tones of her voice speaking to someone next door.
AS THE princess entered number eighteen, Monsieur Lautrec, the world-famous Riviera jeweller, sprang from his chair and bowed deeply. He was a huge, stout gentleman with fiercely bristling mustachios.
“Good evening, Monsieur Lautrec! You have brought the ornaments for my inspection?” she enquired with languid curiosity,.
Sans doute, he had brought some of the finest. It was an honor to his establishment that Madame la princesse should deign to inspect them. He hoped to show madame at least a few ornaments which she might care to purchase.
He placed on a table a leather case and unfastened the strap. Inside the leather case was one of steel, which he unlocked, throwing back the lid. He commenced to arrange the contents upon the table.
As if by magic, the princess’s languor vanished. In ecstatic appreciation, she cried:
“O-oh! Qu’ils sont beaux! Qu’ils sont magnifiques!”
It was, indeed, a magnificent collection. The electric light flashed and sparkled from bracelets of diamonds, rubies and sapphires. There were collarettes of emeralds; a dazzling pendant of diamonds set round one gigantic pearl. A veritable fortune lay spread out before her.
For a moment she stood silent. She seemed entranced, gloating over the dazzling display upon the table. Then the violet eyes were raised to those of the fascinated jeweller with the covetous longing of a child.
“Oh, Monsieur Lautrec,” she breathed. “I must have all of them. I must make my husband give them all to me.” Monsieur Lautrec beamed. “They are almost worthy of beauty such as that of Madame la princesse,” he affirmed gallantly. He twirled his mustachios. “And when Monsieur le prince has seen madame wearing them—”
She broke in impulsively: “You are right. He shall see them now—this minute! We dine tonight with the Duc de. Chantres. My husband is in the next room making his toilette.” Her laughter rippled musically. “Listen, monsieur: It is while he makes his toilette that he partakes of his three cocktails. And oh, monsieur, after his three cocktails he is always so aimable ! I shall show the jewels to him now, and then I will bring him to you.” Monsieur Lautrec, more and more enthusiastic, saw no reason to demur to the proposal. This very lovely lady was the sort of customer whom he held in the highest esteem. Tonnerre de bonsoir de sac à papier! How could a husband help giving her whatever she might desire? Saperlipopette! If he, Monsieur Lautrec, were her husband, it would not require three cocktails to render him aimable.
He helped her to repack the ornaments in their case, considering the while with what other gewgaws he might tempt her in the future? His last client who had dealt thus lightheartedly in thousands had been an Indian potentate, who had topped off a kingly order with a gross of jewelled matchboxes.
As she left the room with the case, she cast an alluring look at him over her shoulder.
“In a few minutes, Monsieur Lautrec,” she promised, “you shall meet my husband.”
He heard the door of the adjoining room open and close, and the murmur of her voice in conversation.
Sir Gregory took from her the heavy casket and set it upon a table. It was unlocked, and he exclaimed with astonishment as she threw back the lid.
“I am showing you some of the best of them,” she
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Husbands Are Useful
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“They are, indeed, marvellous,” he acknowledged. “I’m no expert, of course,” he went on, picking up and examining the gorgeous pendant, “but it does not require expert knowledge to realize their value.”
“Ah, doctor, if you can manage to convince my husband of that! In a few moments I will take you to him. I must first replace the ornaments in their safe.” She took up the case and went out, closing the door.
FOR more than a quarter of an hour Sir Gregory sat waiting. The princess had not returned. Not a sound came from the adjoining room. It was strange. Still, she might be ministering to the needs of the sick man.
At length, unable any longer to curb his impatience, he rose and turned the handle of the door leading into the outer passage. At the same instant there emerged from number eighteen a tall, stout man with bristling mustachios. Sir Gregory conjectured that he must be the prince.
“Pardon, monsieur,” began the tall man; then stopped and stared at him, puzzled. This dapper, whiskered little gentleman was obviously an Englishman. He began in English:
“With regard to my jewels, monsieur? My diamonds, my—”
Sir Gregory interjected quickly:
“Your jewels are quite safe, I assure you, monsieur. Swawyay tronqueel, I beg.”
The information appeared to render the tall man anything but tranquil.
“Ha! You know, then, of them?” he retorted suspiciously, taking a few steps forward. “They are where, then? Please to tell me, they are where?”
Immediately the doctor realized what had happened. This unfortunate nobleman was once more under the influence of one of his nerve attacks. But the princess? What dreadful event might not have occurred behind the closed door of number eighteen? The only thing to do was to gain time.
He held up a monitory finger and spoke authoritatively, his gaze fixed steadily upon the menacing visage of his questioner.
“Swawyay tronqueel!” he repeated, in his execrable French. “Sivawyay absolumong tronqueel!"
“Ma foi! Mais, c’est vraiment trop!” His interrogator, bellowing, thrust out a huge paw and gripped him by the shoulder. “My jewels! My diamonds! Voleur! Misérable! For the last time, I say you, tell me they are where?”
Sir Gregory was desperate. Adroitly wrenching himself free from the grasp of this formidable lunatic, he dashed across the passage and frantically pressed the knob of the elevator bell. The lunatic dashed after him.
Roused by the uproar, two chambermaids appeared suddenly from the floor above and started screaming. In obedience to the summons, the elevator soared rapidly from the basement. Monsieur le directeur came bounding upward from his office three steps at a time.
He gaped aghast at the spectacle presented to his vision. Upon the red-carpeted passageway there revolved an aweinspiring monster. Its two heads were jammed closely together; its writhing arms and legs were inextricably entangled. He had seen something like it before in a nightmare.
The monster resolved itself into two human beings fast locked in a death grapple. Now and again, as the countenance of the bulkier contortionist came uppermost, there exploded from its jaws weird expletives. The smaller contortionist uttered never a word, battling manfully, silently. „
With the help of the elevator attendant, the manager separated the combatants, who struggled, panting, to their feet amid the wreckage of their clothing.
Sir Gregory was the first of them to recover breath.
“Monsieur le directeur,” he gasped, pointing to his late antagonist, “I regret to inform you that Monsieur le prince is a dangerous madman ! I am Sir Gregory Wimpole, a doctor. At the request of the princess I came here to examine her husband.”
“Monsieur le directeur,” boomed the tall man, pointing in his turn. “I accuse this scélérat of stealing my ornaments. I am Lautrec, jeweller of Cannes. At the invitation of Madame la princesse I brought them for her husband’s inspection.”
The manager flung up his hands in bewilderment.
“Parbleu! I know not of what you both speak,” he cried. “But this I know. It is not yet half an hour since Madame la princesse departed in her limousine, saying that she would be spending the night with certain of her friends in Nice.”
A terrible suspicion shot into Sir Gregory’s mind.
“Was anyone with her?” he demanded.
“Mais, certainement,” reluctantly replied the manager. In his own mind there had grown suddenly a hideous doubt. “Monsieur le prince was with her —Monsieur le prince, her husband.”