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   Chapter 8 UP THE MOUNTAIN

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10998

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Richard, passing the Hotel de Paris that evening in his wicked-looking grey racing car, saw Hunterleys standing on the steps and pulled up.

"Not going up to La Turbie, by any chance?" he enquired.

Hunterleys nodded.

"I'm going up to the dinner," he replied. "The hotel motor is starting from here in a few minutes."

"Come with me," Richard invited.

Hunterleys looked a little doubtfully at the long, low machine.

"Are you going to shoot up?" he asked. "It's rather a dangerous road."

"I'll take care of you," the young man promised. "That hotel 'bus will be crammed."

They glided through the streets on to the broad, hard road, and crept upwards with scarcely a sound, through the blue-black twilight. Around and in front of them little lights shone out from the villas and small houses dotted away in the mountains. Almost imperceptibly they passed into a different atmosphere. The air became cold and exhilarating. The flavour of the mountain snows gave life to the breeze. Hunterleys buttoned up his coat but bared his head.

"My young friend," he said, "this is wonderful."

"It's a great climb," Richard assented, "and doesn't she just eat it up!"

They paused for a moment at La Turbie. Below them was a chain of glittering lights fringing the Bay of Mentone, and at their feet the lights of the Casino and Monte Carlo flared up through the scented darkness. Once more they swung upwards. The road now had become narrower and the turnings more frequent. They were up above the region of villas and farmhouses, in a country which seemed to consist only of bleak hill-side, open to the winds, wrapped in shadows. Now and then they heard the tinkling of a goat bell; far below they saw the twin lights of other ascending cars. They reached the plateau at last and drew up before the club-house, ablaze with cheerful lights.

"I'll just leave the car under the trees," Richard declared. "No one will be staying late."

Hunterleys unwound his scarf and handed his coat and hat to a page-boy. Then he stood suddenly rigid. He bit his lip. His wife had just issued from the cloak-room and was drawing on her gloves. She saw him and hesitated. She, too, turned a little paler. Slowly Hunterleys approached her.

"An unexpected pleasure," he murmured.

"I am here with Mr. Draconmeyer," she told him, almost bluntly.

Hunterleys bowed.

"And a party?" he enquired.

"No," she replied. "I really did not want to come. Mr. Draconmeyer had promised Monsieur Pericot, the director here, to come and bring Mrs. Draconmeyer. At the last moment, however, she was not well enough, and he almost insisted upon my taking her place."

"Is it necessary to explain?" Hunterleys asked quietly. "You know very well how I regard this friendship of yours."

"I am sorry," she said. "If I had known that we were likely to meet-well, I would not have come here to-night."

"You were at least considerate," he remarked bitterly. "May I be permitted to compliment you upon your toilette?"

"As you pay for my frocks," she answered, "there is certainly no reason why you shouldn't admire them."

He bit his lip. There was a certain challenge in her expression which made him, for a moment, feel weak. She was a very beautiful woman and she was looking her best. He spoke quickly on another subject.

"Are you still," he asked, "troubled by the attentions of the person you spoke to me about?"

"I am still watched," she replied drily.

"I have made some enquiries," Hunterleys continued, "and I have come to the conclusion that you are right."

"And you still tell me that you have nothing to do with it?"

"I assure you, upon my honour, that I have nothing whatever to do with it."

It was obvious that she was puzzled, but at that moment Mr. Draconmeyer presented himself. The newcomer simply bowed to Hunterleys and addressed some remark about the room to Violet. Then Richard came up and they all passed on into the reception room, where two or three very fussy but very suave and charming Frenchmen were receiving the guests. A few minutes afterwards dinner was announced. A black frown was upon Richard's forehead.

"She isn't coming!" he muttered. "I say, Sir Henry, you won't mind if we leave early?"

"I shall be jolly glad to get away," Hunterleys assented heartily.

Then he suddenly felt a grip of iron upon his arm.

"She's come!" Richard murmured ecstatically. "Look at her, all in white! Just look at the colour of her hair! There she is, going into the reception room. Jove! I'm glad we are here, after all!"

Hunterleys smiled a little wearily. They passed on into the salle à manger. The seats at the long dining-tables were not reserved, and they found a little table for two in a corner, which they annexed. Hunterleys was in a grim humour, but his companion was in the wildest spirits. Considering that he was placed where he could see Mr. Grex and his daughter nearly the whole of the time, he really did contrive to keep his eyes away from them to a wonderful extent, but he talked of her unceasingly.

"Say, I'm sorry for you, Sir Henry!" he declared. "It's just your bad luck, being here with me while I've got this fit on, but I've got to talk to some one, so you may as well make up your mind to it. There never was anything like that girl upon the earth. There never was anything like the feeling you get," he went on, "when you're absolutely and entirely convinced, when you know-that there's just one girl who counts

for you in the whole universe. Gee whiz! It does get hold of you! I suppose you've been through it all, though."

"Yes, I've been through it!" Hunterleys admitted, with a sigh.

The young man bit his lip. The story of Hunterleys' matrimonial differences was already being whispered about. Richard talked polo vigorously for the next quarter of an hour. It was not until the coffee and liqueurs arrived that they returned to the subject of Miss Grex. Then it was Hunterleys himself who introduced it. He was beginning to rather like this big, self-confident young man, so full of his simple love affair, so absolutely honest in his purpose, in his outlook upon life.

"Lane," he said, "I have given you several hints during the day, haven't I?"

"That's so," Richard agreed. "You've done your best to head me off. So did my future father-in-law. Sort of hopeless task, I can assure you."

Hunterleys shook his head.

"Honestly," he continued, "I wouldn't let myself think too much about her, Lane. I don't want to explain exactly what I mean. There's no real reason why I shouldn't tell you what I know about Mr. Grex, but for a good many people's sakes, it's just as well that those few of us who know keep quiet. I am sure you trust me, and it's just the same, therefore, if I tell you straight, as man to man, that you're only laying up for yourself a store of unhappiness by fixing your thoughts so entirely upon that young woman."

Richard, for all his sublime confidence, was a little staggered by the other's earnestness.

"Look here," he said, "the girl isn't married, to start with?"

"Not that I know of," Hunterleys confessed.

"And she's not engaged because I've seen her left hand," Richard proceeded. "I'm not one of those Americans who go shouting all over the world that because I've got a few million dollars I am the equal of anybody, but honestly, Sir Henry, there are a good many prejudices over this side that you fellows lay too much store by. Grex may be a nobleman in disguise. I don't care. I am a man. I can give her everything she needs in life and I am not going to admit, even if she is an aristocrat, that you croakers are right when you shake your heads and advise me to give her up. I don't care who she is, Hunterleys. I am going to marry her."

Hunterleys helped himself to a liqueur.

"Young man," he said, "in a sense I admire your independence. In another, I think you've got all the conceit a man needs for this world. Let us presume, for a moment, that she is, as you surmise, the daughter of a nobleman. When it suits her father to throw off his incognito, she is probably in touch with young men in the highest circles of many countries. Why should you suppose that you can come along and cut them all out?"

"Because I love her," the young man answered simply. "They don't."

"You must remember," Hunterleys resumed, "that all foreign noblemen are not what they are represented to be in your comic papers. Austrian and Russian men of high rank are most of them very highly cultivated, very accomplished, and very good-looking. You don't know much of the world, do you? It's a pretty formidable enterprise to come from a New York office, with only Harvard behind you, and a year or so's travel as a tourist, and enter the list against men who have had twice your opportunities. I am talking to you like this, young fellow, for your good. I hope you realise that. You're used to getting what you want. That's because you've been brought up in a country where money can do almost anything. I am behind the scenes here and I can assure you that your money won't count for much with Mr. Grex."

"I never thought it would," Richard admitted. "I think when I talk to her she'll understand that I care more than any of the others. If you want to know the reason, that's why I'm so hopeful."

Monsieur le Directeur had risen to his feet. Some one had proposed his health and he made a graceful little speech of acknowledgment. He remained standing for a few minutes after the cheers which had greeted his neat oratorical display had died away. The conclusion of his remarks came as rather a surprise to his guests.

"I have to ask you, ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "with many, many regrets, and begging you to forgive my apparent inhospitality, to make your arrangements for leaving us as speedily as may be possible. Our magnificent situation, with which I believe that most of you are familiar, has but one drawback. We are subject to very dense mountain mists, and alas! I have to tell you that one of these has come on most unexpectedly and the descent must be made with the utmost care. Believe me, there is no risk or any danger," he went on earnestly, "so long as you instruct your chauffeurs to proceed with all possible caution. At the same time, as there is very little chance of the mist becoming absolutely dispelled before daylight, in your own interests I would suggest that a start be made as soon as possible."

Every one rose at once, Richard and Hunterleys amongst them.

"This will test your skill to-night, young man," Hunterleys remarked. "How's the nerve, eh?"

Richard smiled almost beatifically. For once he had allowed his eyes to wander and he was watching the girl with golden hair who was at that moment receiving the respectful homage of the director.

"Lunatics, and men who are head over heels in love," he declared, "never come to any harm. You'll be perfectly safe with me."

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