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   Chapter 12 I CANNOT GO!

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12859

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hunterleys stood for several minutes, watching his wife's play from a new point of view. She was certainly playing high and with continued ill-fortune. For the first time, too, he noticed symptoms which disturbed him. She sat quite motionless, but there was an unfamiliar glitter in her eyes and a hardness about her mouth. It was not until he had stood within a few feet of her for nearly a quarter of an hour, that she chanced to see him.

"Did you want me?" she asked, with a little start.

"There is no hurry," he replied. "If you could spare me a few moments later, I should be glad."

She rose at once, thrusting her notes and gold into the satchel which she was carrying, and stood by his side. She was very elegantly dressed in black and white, but she was pale, and, watching her with a new intentness, he discovered faint violet lines under her eyes, as though she had been sleeping ill.

"I am rather glad you came," she said. "I was having an abominable run of bad luck, and yet I hated to give up my seat without an excuse. What did you want, Henry?"

"I should like," he explained, "to talk to you for a quarter of an hour. This place is rather crowded and it is getting on my nerves. We seem to live here, night and day. Would you object to driving with me-say as far as Mentone and back?"

"I will come if you wish it," she answered, looking a little surprised. "Wait while I get my cloak."

Hunterleys hired an automobile below and they drove off. As soon as they were out of the main street, he thrust his hand into the breast-pocket of his coat and smoothed out that half-sheet of notepaper upon his knee.

"Violet," he said, "please read that."

She read the few lines instructing the English Bank to hand over Sir Henry Hunterleys' letters to the bearer. Then she looked up at him with a puzzled frown.

"I don't understand."

"Did you write that?" he enquired.

She looked at him indignantly.

"What an absurd question!" she exclaimed. "Your correspondence has no interest for me."

Her denial, so natural, so obviously truthful, was a surprise to him. He felt a sudden impulse of joy, mingled with shame. Perhaps, after all, he had been altogether too censorious. Once more he directed her attention to the sheet of paper. There was a marked change in his voice and manner.

"Violet," he begged, "please look at it. Accepting without hesitation your word that you did not write it, doesn't it occur to you that the body of the letter is a distinct imitation of your handwriting, and the signature a very clever forgery of mine?"

"It is rather like my handwriting," she admitted, "and as for the signature, do you mean to say really that that is not yours?"

"Certainly not," he assured her. "The whole thing is a forgery."

"But who in the world should want to get your letters?" she asked incredulously. "And why should you have them addressed to the bank?"

He folded up the paper then and put it in his pocket.

"Violet," he said earnestly, "for the disagreements which have resulted in our separation I may myself have been to some extent responsible, but we have promised one another not to refer to them again and I will not break our compact. All I can say is that there is much in my life which you know little of, and for which you do not, therefore, make sufficient allowance."

"Then you might have treated me," she declared, "with more confidence."

"It was not possible," he reminded her, "so long as you chose to make an intimate friend of a man whose every interest in life is in direct antagonism to mine."

"Mr. Draconmeyer?"

"Mr. Draconmeyer," he assented.

She smiled contemptuously.

"You misunderstand Mr. Draconmeyer completely," she insisted. "He is your well-wisher and he is more than half an Englishman. It was he who started the league between English and German commercial men for the propagation of peace. He formed one of the deputation who went over to see the Emperor. He has done more, both by his speeches and letters to the newspaper, to promote a good understanding between Germany and England, than any other person. You are very much mistaken about Mr. Draconmeyer, Henry. Why you cannot realise that he is simply an ordinary commercial man of high intelligence and most agreeable manners, I cannot imagine."

"The fact remains, my dear Violet," Hunterleys said emphatically, "that it is not possible for me to treat you with the confidence I might otherwise have done, on account of your friendship with Mr. Draconmeyer."

"You are incorrigible!" she exclaimed. "Can we change the subject, please? I want to know why you showed me that forged letter?"

"I am coming to that," he told her. "Please be patient. I want to remind you of something else. So far as I remember, my only request, when I gave you your liberty and half my income, was that your friendship with the Draconmeyers should decrease. Almost the first persons I see on my arrival in Monte Carlo are you and Mr. Draconmeyer. I learn that you came out with them and that you are staying at the same hotel."

"Your wish was an unreasonable one," she protested. "Linda and I were school-girls together. She is my dearest friend and she is a hopeless invalid. I think that if I were to desert her she would die."

"I have every sympathy with Mrs. Draconmeyer," he said slowly, "but you are my wife. I am going to make one more effort-please don't be uneasy-not to re-establish any relationship between us, but to open your eyes as to the truth concerning Mr. Draconmeyer. You asked me a moment ago why I had shown you that forged letter. I will tell you now. It was Draconmeyer who was the forger."

She leaned back in her seat. She was looking at him incredulously.

"You mean to say that Mr. Draconmeyer wrote that order-that he wanted to get possession of your letters?"

"Not only that," Hunterleys continued, "but he carried out the business in such a devilish manner as to make me for a moment believe that it was you who had helped him. You are wrong about Draconmeyer. The man is a great schemer, who under the pretence of occupying an important commercial position in the City of London, is all the time a secret agent of Germany. He is there in her interests. He studies the public opinion of the country. He dissects our weaknesses. He is there to point out the best methods and the opportune time for the inevitable struggle.

He is the worst enemy to-day England has. You think that he is here in Monte Carlo on a visit of pleasure-for the sake of his wife, perhaps. Nothing of the sort! He is here at this moment associated with an iniquitous scheme, the particulars of which I can tell you nothing of. Furthermore, I repeat what I told you on our first meeting here-that in his still, cold way he is in love with you."

"Henry!" she cried.

"I cannot see how you can remain so wilfully blind," Hunterleys continued. "I know the man inside out. I warned you against him in London, I warn you against him now. This forged letter was designed to draw us further apart. The little brown man who has dogged your footsteps is a spy employed by him to make you believe that I was having you watched. You are free still to act as you will, Violet, but if you have a spark of regard for me or yourself, you will go back to London at once and drop this odious friendship."

She leaned back in the car. They had turned round now and were on the way back to Monte Carlo by the higher road. She sat with her eyes fixed upon the mountains. Her heart, in a way, had been touched, her imagination stirred by her husband's words. She felt a return of that glow of admiration which had thrilled her on the previous night, when he and Richard Lane alone amongst that motley company had played the part of men. A curious, almost pathetic wistfulness crept into her heart. If only he would lean towards her at that moment, if she could see once more the light in his eyes that had shone there during the days of their courtship! If only he could remember that it was still his part to play the lover! If he could be a little less grave, a little less hopelessly correct and fair! Despite her efforts to disbelieve, there was something convincing about his words. At any moment during that brief space of time, a single tremulous word, even a warm clasp of the hand, would have brought her into his arms. But so much of inspiration was denied him. He sat waiting for her decision with an eagerness of which he gave no sign. Nevertheless, the fates were fighting for him. She thought gratefully, even at that moment, yet with less enthusiasm than ever before, of the devout homage, the delightful care for her happiness and comfort, the atmosphere of security with which Draconmeyer seemed always to surround her. Yet all this was cold and unsatisfying, a poor substitute for the other things. Henry had been different once. Perhaps it was jealousy which had altered him. Perhaps his misconception of Draconmeyer's character had affected his whole outlook. She turned towards him, and her voice, when she spoke, was no longer querulous.

"Henry," she said, "I cannot admit the truth of all that you say concerning Mr. Draconmeyer, but tell me this. If I were willing to leave this place to-night-"

She paused. For some reason a sudden embarrassment had seized her. The words seemed to come with difficulty. She turned ever so slightly away from him. There was a tinge of colour at last in her pale cheeks. She seemed to him now, as she leaned a little forward in her seat, completely beautiful.

"If I make my excuses and leave Monte Carlo to-night," she went on, "will you come with me?"

He gave a little start. Something in his eyes flashed an answer into her face. And then the flood of memory came. There was his mission. He was tied hand and foot.

"It is good of you to offer that, Violet," he declared. "If I could-if only I could!"

Already her manner began to change. The fear of his refusal was hateful, her lips were trembling.

"You mean," she faltered, "that you will not come? Listen. Don't misunderstand me. I will order my boxes packed, I will catch the eight o'clock train either through to London or to Paris-anywhere. I will do that if you will come. There is my offer. That is my reply to all that you have said about Mr. Draconmeyer. I shall lose a friend who has been gentleness and kindness and consideration itself. I will risk that. What do you say? Will you come?"

"Violet, I cannot," he replied hoarsely. "No, don't turn away like that!" he begged. "Don't change so quickly, please! It isn't fair. Listen. I am not my own master."

"Not your own master?" she repeated incredulously. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that I am here in Monte Carlo not for my own pleasure. I mean that I have work, a purpose-"

"Absurd!" she interrupted him, almost harshly. "There is nobody who has any better claim upon you than I have. You are over-conscientious about other things. For once remember your duty as a husband."

He caught her wrist.

"You must trust me a little," he pleaded. "Believe me that I really appreciate your offer. If I were free to go, I should not hesitate for a single second.... Can't you trust me, Violet?" he implored, his voice softening.

The woman within her was fighting on his side. She stifled her wounded feelings, crushed down her disappointment that he had not taken her at once into his arms and answered her upon her lips.

"Trust me, then," she replied. "If you refuse my offer, don't hint at things you have to do. Tell me in plain words why. It is not enough for you to say that you cannot leave Monte Carlo. Tell me why you cannot. I have invited you to escort me anywhere you will-I, your wife.... Shall we go?"

The woman had wholly triumphed. Her voice had dropped, the light was in her eyes. She swayed a little towards him. His brain reeled. She was once more the only woman in the world for him. Once more he fancied that he could feel the clinging of her arms, the touch of her lips. These things were promised in her face.

"I tell you that I cannot go!" he cried sharply. "Believe me-do believe me, Violet!"

She pulled down her veil suddenly. He caught at her hand. It lay passively in his. He pleaded for her confidence, but the moment of inspiration had gone. She heard him with the air of one who listens no longer. Presently she stopped him.

"Don't speak to me for several minutes, please," she begged. "Tell him to put me down at the hotel. I can't go back to the Club just yet."

"You mustn't leave me like this," he insisted.

"Will you tell me why you refuse my offer?" she asked.

"I have a trust!"

The automobile had come to a standstill. She rose to her feet.

"I was once your trust," she reminded him, as she passed into the hotel.

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