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   Chapter 4 ENTER THE AMERICAN

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11033

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Lady Weybourne was lunching on the terrace of Ciro's restaurant with her brother. She was small, dark, vivacious. Her friends, of whom she had thousands, all called her Flossie, and she was probably the most popular American woman who had ever married into the English peerage. Her brother, Richard Lane, on the other hand, was tall, very broad-shouldered, with a strong, clean-shaven face, inclined by disposition to be taciturn. On this particular morning he had less even than usual to say, and although Lady Weybourne, who was a great chatterbox, was content as a rule to do most of the talking for herself, his inattention became at last a little too obvious. He glanced up eagerly as every newcomer appeared, and his answers to his sister's criticisms were sometimes almost at random.

"Dicky, I'm not at all sure that I'm liking you this morning," she observed finally, looking across at him with a critically questioning smile. "A certain amount of non-responsiveness to my advances I can put up with-from a brother-but this morning you are positively inattentive. Tell me your troubles at once. Has Harris been bothering you, or did you lose a lot of money last night?"

Considering that the young man's income was derived from an exceedingly well-invested capital of nine million dollars, and that Harris was the all too perfect captain of his yacht lying then in the harbour, whose worst complaint was that he had never enough work to do, Lady Weybourne's enquiries might have been considered as merely tentative. Richard shook his head a little gloomily.

"Those things aren't likely to trouble me," he remarked. "Harris is all right, and I've promised him we'll make up a little party and go over to Cannes in a day or two."

"What a ripping idea!" Lady Weybourne declared, breaking up her thin toast between her fingers. "I'd love it, and so would Harry. We could easily get together a delightful party. The Pelhams are here and simply dying for a change, and there's Captain Gardner and Frank Clowes, and lots of nice girls. Couldn't we fix a date, Dick?"

"Not just yet," her brother replied.

"And why not?"

"I am waiting," he told her, "until I can ask the girl I want to go."

"And why can't you now?" she demanded, with upraised eyebrows. "I'll be hostess and chaperone all in one."

"I can't ask her because I don't know her yet," the young man explained doggedly.

Lady Weybourne leaned back in her chair and laughed.

"So that's it!" she exclaimed. "Now I know why you're sitting there like an owl this morning! In love with a fair unknown, are you, Dick? Be careful. Monte Carlo is full of young ladies whom it would be just as well to know a little about before you thought of taking them yachting."

"This one isn't that sort," the young man said.

"How do you know that?" she asked, leaning across the table, her head resting on her clasped hands.

He looked at her almost contemptuously.

"How do I know!" he repeated. "There are just one or two things that happen in this world which a man can be utterly and entirely sure of. She is one of them. Say, Flossie," he added, the enthusiasm creeping at last into his tone, "you never saw any one quite like her in all your life!"

"Do I know her, I wonder?" Lady Weybourne enquired.

"That's just what I've asked you here to find out," her brother replied ingenuously. "I heard her tell the man she was with this morning-her father, I believe-about an hour ago, that she would be at Ciro's at half-past one. It's twenty minutes to two now."

Lady Weybourne laughed heartily.

"So that's why you dragged me out of bed and made me come to lunch with you! Dick, what a fraud you are! I was thinking what a dear, affectionate brother you were, and all the time you were just making use of me."

"Sorry," the young man said briskly, "but, after all, we needn't stand on ceremony, need we? I've always been your pal; gave you a leg up with the old man, you know, when he wasn't keen on the British alliance."

She nodded.

"Oh, I'll do what I can for you," she promised. "If she is any one in particular I expect I shall know her. What's happening, Dick?"

The young man's face was almost transformed. His eyes were bright and very fixed. His lips had come together in a firm, straight line, as though he were renewing some promise to himself. Lady Weybourne followed the direction of his gaze. A man and a girl had reached the entrance to the restaurant and were looking around them as though to select a table. The chief ma?tre d'h?tel had hastened out to receive them. They were, without doubt, people of importance. The man was of medium height, with iron-grey hair and moustache, and a small imperial. He wore light clothes of perfect cut; patent shoes with white linen gaiters; a black tie fastened with a pin of opals. He carried himself with an air which was unmistakable and convincing. The girl by his side was beautiful. She was simply dressed in a tailor-made gown of white serge. Her black hat was a miracle of smartness. Her hair was of a very light shade of golden-brown, her complexion wonderfully fair. Lady Weybourne glanced at her shoes and gloves, at the bag which she was carrying, and the handle of her parasol. Then she nodded approvingly.

"You don't know her?" Richard asked, in a disappointed whisper.

She shook her head.

"Sorry," she admitted, "but I don't. They've probably only just arrived."

With great ceremony the newcomers were conducted to the best table

upon the terrace. The man was evidently an habitué. He had scarcely taken his seat before, with a very low bow, the sommelier brought him a small wine-glass filled with what seemed to be vermouth. While he sipped it he smoked a Russian cigarette and with a gold pencil wrote out the menu of his luncheon. In a few minutes the manager himself came hurrying out from the restaurant. His salute was almost reverential. When, after a few moments' conversation, he departed, he did so with the air of one taking leave of royalty. Lady Weybourne, who was an inquisitive little person, was puzzled.

"I don't know who they are, Dick," she confessed, "but I know the ways of this place well, and I can tell you one thing-they are people of importance. You can tell that by the way they are received. These restaurant people don't make mistakes."

"Of course they are people of importance," the young man declared. "Any one can see that by a glance at the girl. I am sorry you don't know them," he went on, "but you've got to find out who they are, and pretty quickly, too. Look here, Flossie. I am a bit useful to you now and then, aren't I?"

"Without you, my dear Dick," she murmured, "I should never be able to manage those awful trustees. You are invaluable, a perfect jewel of a brother."

"Well, I'll give you that little electric coupé you were so keen on last time we were in London, if you'll get me an introduction to that girl within twenty-four hours."

Lady Weybourne gasped.

"What a whirlwind!" she exclaimed. "Dicky, are you, by any chance, in earnest?"

"In earnest for the first time in my life," he assured her. "Something has got hold of me which I'm not going to part with."

She considered him reflectively. He was twenty-seven years of age, and notwithstanding the boundless opportunities of his youth and great wealth he had so far shown an almost singular indifference to the whole of the opposite sex, from the fascinating chorus girls of London and New York to the no less enterprising young women of his own order. As she sat there studying his features, she felt a sensation almost of awe. There was something entirely different, something stronger in his face. She thought for a moment of their father as she had known him in her childhood, the founder of their fortunes, a man who had risen from a moderate position to immense wealth through sheer force of will, of pertinacity. For the first time she saw the same look upon her brother's face.

"Well," she sighed, "I shall do my best to earn it. I only hope, Dick, that she is-"

"She is what?" he demanded, looking at her steadfastly.

"Oh! not engaged or anything, I mean," Lady Weybourne explained hastily. "I must admit, Dick, although I don't suppose any sister is particularly keen upon her brother's young women, that I think you've shown excellent taste. She is absolutely the best style of any one I've seen in Monte Carlo."

"How are you going to manage that introduction?" he asked bluntly. "Have you made any plans?"

"I don't suppose it will be difficult," she assured him, lighting a cigarette and shaking her head at the tray of liqueurs which the sommelier was offering. "Get me some cream for my coffee, Dick. Now I'll tell you," she continued, as the waiter disappeared. "You will have to call that under-ma?tre d'h?tel. You had better give him a substantial tip and ask him quietly for their names. Then I'll see about the rest."

"That seems sensible enough," he admitted.

"And look here, Dick," she went on, "I know how impetuous you are. Don't do anything foolish. Remember this isn't an ordinary adventure. If you go rushing in upon it you'll come to grief."

"I know," he answered shortly. "I was fool enough to hang about the flower shops and that milliner's this morning. I couldn't help it. I don't know whether she noticed. I believe she did. Once our eyes did meet, and although I'll swear she never changed her expression, I felt that the whole world didn't hold so small a creature as I. Here comes Charles. I'll ask him."

He beckoned to the ma?tre d'h?tel and talked for a moment about the luncheon. Then he ordered a table for the next day, and slipping a louis into the man's hand, leaned over and whispered in his ear.

"I want you to tell me the name of the gentleman and young lady who are sitting over there at the corner table?"

The ma?tre d'h?tel glanced covertly in the direction indicated. He did not at once reply. His face was perplexed, almost troubled.

"I am very sorry, sir," he said hesitatingly, "but our orders are very strict. Monsieur Ciro does not like anything in the way of gossip about our clients, and the gentleman is a very honoured patron. The young lady is his daughter."

"Quite right," the young man agreed bluntly. "This isn't an ordinary case, Charles. You go over to the desk there, write me down the name and bring it, and there's a hundred franc note waiting here for you. No need for the name to pass your lips."

The man bowed and retreated. In a few minutes he came back again and laid a small card upon the table.

"Monsieur will pardon my reminding him," he begged earnestly, "but if he will be so good as to never mention this little matter-"

Richard nodded and waved him away.

"Sure!" he promised.

He drew the card towards him and looked at it in a puzzled manner. Then he passed it to his sister. Her expression, too, was blank.

"Who in the name of mischief," he exclaimed softly, "is Mr. Grex!"

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