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   Chapter 7 THE EFFRONTERY OF RICHARD

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 13889

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hunterleys took leave of his companion as soon as they arrived at the roulette rooms.

"Take my advice, Lane," he said seriously. "Find something to occupy your thoughts. Throw a few hundred thousand of your dollars away at the tables, if you must do something foolish. You'll get into far less trouble."

Richard made no direct reply. He watched Hunterleys depart and took up his place opposite the door to await his sister's arrival. It was a quarter to five before she appeared and found him waiting for her in the doorway.

"Say, you're late, Flossie!" he grumbled. "I thought you were going to be here soon after four."

She glanced at the little watch upon her wrist.

"How the time does slip away!" she sighed. "But really, Dicky, I am late in your interests as much as anything. I have been paying a few calls. I went out to the Villa Rosa to see some people who almost live here, and then I met Lady Crawley and she made me go in and have some tea."

"Well?" he asked impatiently. "Well?"

She laid her fingers upon his arm and drew him into a less crowded part of the room.

"Dicky," she confessed, "I don't seem to have had a bit of luck. The Comtesse d'Hausson, who lives at the Villa Rosa, knows them and showed me from the window the Villa Mimosa, where they live, but she would tell me absolutely nothing about them. The villa is the finest in Monte Carlo, and has always been taken before by some one of note. She declares that they do not mix in the society of the place, but she admits that she has heard a rumour that Grex is only an assumed name."

"I begin to believe that myself," he said doggedly. "Hunterleys knows who they are and won't tell me. So does that fellow Draconmeyer."

"Sir Henry and Mr. Draconmeyer!" she repeated, raising her eyes. "My dear Dick, that doesn't sound very reasonable, does it?"

"I tell you that they do," he persisted. "They as good as told me so. Hunterleys, especially, left me here only half-an-hour ago, and his last words were advising me to chuck it. He's a sensible chap enough but he won't even tell me why. I've had enough of it. I've a good mind to take the bull by the horns myself. Mr. Grex is here now, somewhere about. He was sitting with Mr. Draconmeyer and a fat old German a few minutes ago, at the next table to ours. If I had been alone I should have gone up and chanced being introduced, but Hunterleys wouldn't let me."

"Well, so far," Lady Weybourne admitted, "I fear that I haven't done much towards that electric coupé; but," she added, in a changed tone, looking across the tables, "there is just one thing, Dicky. Fate sometimes has a great deal to do with these little affairs. Look over there."

Richard left his sister precipitately, without even a word of farewell. She watched him cross the room, and smiled at the fury of a little Frenchman whom he nearly knocked over in his hurry to get round to the other side of the table. A moment later he was standing a few feet away from the girl who had taken so strange a hold upon his affections. He himself was conscious of a curious and unfamiliar nervousness. Physically he felt as though he had been running hard. He set his teeth and tried to keep cool. He found some plaques in his pocket and began to stake. Then he became aware that the girl was holding in her hand a note and endeavouring to attract the attention of the man who was giving change.

"Petite monnaie, s'il vous pla?t," he heard her say, stretching out the note.

The man took no notice. Richard held out his hand.

"Will you allow me to get it changed for you?" he asked.

Her first impulse at the sound of his voice was evidently one of resentment. She seemed, indeed, in the act of returning some chilling reply. Then she glanced half carelessly towards him and her eyes rested upon his face. Richard was good-looking enough, but the chief characteristic of his face was a certain honesty, which seemed accentuated at that moment by his undoubted earnestness. The type was perhaps strange to her. She was almost startled by what she saw. Scarcely knowing what she did, she allowed him to take the note from her fingers.

"Thank you very much," she murmured.

Richard procured the change. He would have lifted every one out of the way if she had been in a hurry. Then he turned round and counted it very slowly into her hands. From the left one she had removed the glove and he saw, to his relief, that there was no engagement ring there. He counted so slowly that towards the end she seemed to become a little impatient.

"That is quite all right," she said. "It was very kind of you to trouble."

She spoke very correct English with the slightest of foreign accents. He looked once more into her eyes.

"It was a pleasure," he declared.

She smiled faintly, an act of graciousness which absolutely turned his head. With her hand full of plaques, she moved away and found a place a little lower down the table. Richard fought with his first instinct and conquered it. He remained where he was, and when he moved it was in another direction. He went into the bar and ordered a whisky and soda. He was as excited as he had been in the old days when he had rowed stroke in a winning race for his college boat. He felt, somehow or other, that the first step had been a success. She had been inclined at first to resent his offer. She had looked at him and changed her mind. Even when she had turned away, she had smiled. It was ridiculous, but he felt as though he had taken a great step. Presently Lady Weybourne, on her way to the baccarat rooms, saw him sitting there and looked in.

"Well, Dicky," she exclaimed, "what luck?"

"Sit down, Flossie," he begged. "I've spoken to her."

"You don't mean,-" she began, horrified.

"Oh, no, no! Nothing of that sort!" he interrupted. "Don't think I'm such a blundering ass. She was trying to get change and couldn't reach. I took the note from her, got the change and gave it to her. She said, 'Thank you.' When she went away, she smiled."

Lady Weybourne flopped down upon the divan and screamed with laughter.

"Dicky," she murmured, wiping her eyes, "tell me, is that why you are sitting there, looking as though you could see right into Heaven? Do you know that your face was one great beam when I came in?"

"Can't help it," he answered contentedly. "I've spoken to her and she smiled."

Lady Weybourne opened her gold bag and produced a card.

"Well," she said, "here is another chance for you. Of course, I don't know that it will come to anything, but you may as well try your luck."

"What is it?" he asked.

She thrust a square of gilt-edged cardboard into his hand.

"It's an invitation," she told him, "from the directors, to attend a dinner at La Turbie Golf Club-house, up in the mountains, to-night. It isn't entirely a joke, I can tell you. It takes at least an hour to get there, climbing all the way, and t

he place is as likely as not to be wrapped in clouds, but a great many of the important people are going, and as I happened to see Mr. Grex's name amongst the list of members, the other night, there is always a chance that they may be there. If not, you see, you can soon come back."

"I'm on," Richard decided. "Give me the ticket. I am awfully obliged to you, Flossie."

"If she is there," Lady Weybourne declared, rising, "I shall consider that it is equivalent to one wheel of the coupé."

"Have a cocktail instead," he suggested.

She shook her head.

"Too early. If we meet later on, I'll have one. What are you going to do?"

"Same as I've been doing ever since lunch," he answered,-"hang around and see if I can meet any one who knows them."

She laughed and hurried off into the baccarat room, and Richard presently returned to the table at which the girl was still playing. He took particular care not to approach her, but he found a place on the opposite side of the room, from which he could watch her unobserved. She was still standing and apparently she was losing her money. Once, with a little petulant frown, she turned away and moved a few yards lower down the room. The first time she staked in her new position, she won, and a smile which it seemed to him was the most brilliant he had ever seen, parted her lips. He stood there looking at her, and in the midst of a scene where money seemed god of all things, he realised all manner of strange and pleasant sensations. The fact that he had twenty thousand francs in his pocket to play with, scarcely occurred to him. He was watching a little wisp of golden hair by her ear, watching her slightly wrinkled forehead as she leaned over the table, her little grimace as she lost and her stake was swept away. She seemed indifferent to all bystanders. It was obvious that she had very few acquaintances. Where he stood it was not likely that she would notice him, and he abandoned himself wholly to the luxury of gazing at her. Then some instinct caused him to turn his head. He felt that he in his turn was being watched. He glanced towards the divan set against the wall, by the side of which he was standing. Mr. Grex was seated there, only a few feet away, smoking a cigarette. Their eyes met and Richard was conscious of a sudden embarrassment. He felt like a detected thief, and he acted at that moment as he often did-entirely on impulse. He leaned down and resolutely addressed Mr. Grex.

"I should be glad, sir, if you would allow me to speak to you for a moment."

Mr. Grex's expression was one of cold surprise, unmixed with any curiosity.

"Do you address me?" he asked.

His tone was vastly discouraging but it was too late to draw back.

"I should like to speak to you, if I may," Richard continued.

"I am not aware," Mr. Grex said, "that I have the privilege of your acquaintance."

"You haven't," Richard admitted, "but all the same I want to speak to you, if I may."

"Since you have gone so far," Mr. Grex conceded, "you had better finish, but you must allow me to tell you in advance that I look upon any address from a perfect stranger as an impertinence."

"You'll think worse of me before I've finished, then," Richard declared desperately. "You don't mind if I sit down?"

"These seats," Mr. Grex replied coldly, "are free to all."

The young man took his place upon the divan with a sinking heart. There was something in Mr. Grex's tone which seemed to destroy all his confidence, a note of something almost alien in the measured contempt of his speech.

"I am sorry to give you any offence," Richard began. "I happened to notice that you were watching me. I was looking at your daughter-staring at her. I am afraid you thought me impertinent."

"Your perspicuity," Mr. Grex observed, "seems to be of a higher order than your manners. You are, perhaps, a stranger to civilised society?"

"I don't know about that," Richard went on doggedly. "I have been to college and mixed with the usual sort of people. My birth isn't much to speak of, perhaps, if you count that for anything."

Something which was almost like the ghost of a smile, devoid of any trace of humour, parted Mr. Grex's lips.

"If I count that for anything!" he repeated, half closing his eyes for a moment. "Pray proceed, young man."

"I am an American," Richard continued. "My name is Richard Lane. My father was very wealthy and I am his heir. My sister is Lady Weybourne. I was lunching with her at Ciro's to-day when I saw you and your daughter. I think I can say that I am a respectable person. I have a great many friends to whom I can refer you."

"I am not thinking of engaging anybody, that I know of," Mr. Grex murmured.

"I want to marry your daughter," Richard declared desperately, feeling that any further form of explanation would only lead him into greater trouble.

Mr. Grex knocked the ash from his cigarette.

"Is your keeper anywhere in the vicinity?" he asked.

"I am perfectly sane," Richard assured him. "I know that it sounds foolish but it isn't really. I am twenty-seven years old and I have never asked a girl to marry me yet. I have been waiting until-"

The words died away upon his lips. It was impossible for him to continue, the cold enmity of this man was too chilling.

"I am absolutely in earnest," he insisted. "I have been endeavouring all day to find some mutual friend to introduce me to your daughter. Will you do so? Will you give me a chance?"

"I will not," Mr. Grex replied firmly.

"Why not? Please tell me why not?" Richard begged. "I am not asking for anything more now than just an opportunity to talk with her."

"It is not a matter which admits of discussion," Mr. Grex pronounced. "I have permitted you to say what you wished, notwithstanding the colossal, the unimaginable impertinence of your suggestion. I request you to leave me now and I advise you most heartily to indulge no more in the most preposterous and idiotic idea which ever entered into the head of an apparently sane young man."

Richard rose slowly to his feet.

"Very well, sir," he replied, "I'll go. All the same, what you have said doesn't make any difference."

"Does not make any difference?" Mr. Grex repeated, with arched eyebrows.

"None at all," Richard declared. "I don't know what your objection to me is, but I hope you'll get over it some day. I'd like to make friends with you. Perhaps, later on, you may look at the matter differently."

"Later on?" Mr. Grex murmured.

"When I have married your daughter," Richard concluded, marching defiantly away.

Mr. Grex watched the young man until he had disappeared in the crowd. Then he leaned hack amongst the cushions of the divan with folded arms. Little lines had become visible around his eyes, there was a slight twitching at the corners of his lips. He looked like a man who was inwardly enjoying some huge joke.

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