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   Chapter 13 MISS GREX AT HOME

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 19593

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Richard Lane, as he made his way up the avenue towards the Villa Mimosa, wondered whether he was not indeed finding his way into fairyland. On either side of him were drooping mimosa trees, heavy with the snaky, orange-coloured blossom whose perfumes hung heavy upon the windless air. In the background, bordering the gardens which were themselves a maze of colour, were great clumps of glorious purple rhododendrons, drooping clusters of red and white roses. A sudden turn revealed a long pergola, smothered in pink blossoms and leading to the edge of the terrace which overhung the sea. The villa itself, which seemed, indeed, more like a palace, was covered with vivid purple clematis, and from the open door of the winter-garden, which was built out from the front of the place in a great curve, there came, as he drew near, a bewildering breath of exotic odours. The front-door was wide open, and before he could reach the bell a butler had appeared.

"Is Mr. Grex at home?" Richard enquired.

"Mr. Grex is not at home, sir," was the immediate reply.

"I should like to see Miss Grex, then," Richard proceeded.

The man's face was curiously expressionless, but a momentary silence perhaps betrayed as much surprise as he was capable of showing.

"Miss Grex is not at home, sir," he announced.

Richard hesitated and just then she came out from the winter-garden. She was wearing a pink linen morning gown and a floppy pink hat. She had a book under her arm and a parasol swinging from her fingers. When she saw Lane, she stared at him in amazement. He advanced a step or two towards her, his hat in his hand.

"I took the liberty of calling to see your father, Miss Grex," he explained. "As he was not at home, I ventured to enquire for you."

She was absolutely helpless. It was impossible to ignore his outstretched hand. Very hesitatingly she held out her fingers, which Richard grasped and seemed in no hurry at all to release.

"This is quite the most beautiful place I have seen anywhere near Monte Carlo," he remarked enthusiastically.

"I am glad," she murmured, "that you find it attractive."

He was standing by her side now, his hat under his arm. The butler had withdrawn a little into the background. She glanced around.

"Did my father ask you to call, Mr. Lane?" she enquired, dropping her voice a little.

"He did not," Richard confessed. "I must say that I gave him plenty of opportunities but he did not seem to be what I should call hospitably inclined. In any case, it really doesn't matter. I came to see you."

She bit her lip, struggling hard to repress a smile.

"But I did not ask you to call upon me either," she reminded him gravely.

"Well, that's true," Lane admitted, a little hesitatingly. "I don't quite know how things are done over here. Say, are you English, or French, or what?" he asked, point blank. "I have been puzzling about that ever since I saw you."

"I am not sure that my nationality matters," she observed.

"Well, over on the other side," he continued,-"I mean America, of course-if we make up our minds that we want to see something of a girl and there isn't any real reason why one shouldn't, then the initiative generally rests with the man. Of course, if you are an only daughter, I can quite understand your father being a bit particular, not caring for men callers and that sort of thing, but that can't go on for ever, you know, can it?"

"Can't it?" she murmured, a little dazed.

"I have a habit," he confided, "of making up my mind quickly, and when I decide about a thing, I am rather hard to turn. Well, I made up my mind about you the first moment we met."

"About me?" she repeated.

"About you."

She turned and looked at him almost wonderingly. He was very big and very confident; good to look upon, less because of his actual good looks than because of a certain honesty and tenacity of purpose in his expression; a strength of jaw, modified and rendered even pleasant by the kindness and humour of his clear grey eyes. He returned her gaze without embarrassment and he wondered less than ever at finding himself there. Her complexion in this clear light seemed more beautiful than ever. Her rich golden-brown hair was waved becomingly over her forehead. Her eyebrows were silky and delicately straight, her mouth delightful. Her figure was girlish, but unusually dignified for her years.

"You know," he said suddenly, "you look to me just like one of those beautiful plants you have in the conservatory there, just as though you'd stepped out of your little glass home and blossomed right here. I am almost afraid of you."

She laughed outright this time-a low, musical laugh which had in it something of foreign intonation.

"Well, really," she exclaimed, "I had not noticed your fear! I was just thinking that you were quite the boldest young man I have ever met."

"Come, that's something!" he declared. "Couldn't we sit down somewhere in these wonderful gardens of yours and talk?"

She shook her head.

"But have I not told you already," she protested, "that I do not receive callers? Neither does my father. Really, your coming here is quite unwarrantable. If he should return at this moment and find you here, he would be very angry indeed. I am afraid that he would even be rude, and I, too, should suffer for having allowed you to talk with me."

"Let's hope that he doesn't return just yet, then," Richard observed, smiling easily. "I am very good-tempered as a rule, but I do not like people to be rude to me."

"Fortunately, he cannot return for at least an hour-" she began.

"Then we'll sit down on that terrace, if you please, for just a quarter of that time," he begged.

She opened her lips and closed them again. He was certainly a very stubborn young man!

"Well," she sighed, "perhaps it will be the easiest way of getting rid of you."

She motioned him to follow her. The butler, from a discreet distance, watched her as though he were looking at a strange thing. Round the corner of the villa remote from the winter-garden, was a long stone terrace upon which many windows opened. Screened from the wind, the sun here was of almost midsummer strength. There was no sound. The great house seemed asleep. There was nothing but the droning of a few insects. Even the birds were songless. The walls were covered with drooping clematis and roses, roses that twined over the balustrades. Below them was a tangle of mimosa trees and rhododendrons, and further below still the blue Mediterranean. She sank into a chair.

"You may sit here," she said, "just long enough for me to convince you that your coming was a mistake. Indeed that is so. I do not wish to seem foolish or unkind, but my father and I are living here with one unbreakable rule, and that is that we make no acquaintances whatsoever."

"That sounds rather queer," he remarked. "Don't you find it dull?"

"If I do," she went on, "it is only for a little time. My father is here for a certain purpose, and as soon as that is accomplished we shall go away. For him to accomplish that purpose in a satisfactory manner, it is necessary that we should live as far apart as possible from the ordinary visitors here."

"Sounds like a riddle," he admitted. "Do you mind telling me of what nationality you are?"

"I see no reason why I should tell you anything."

"You speak such correct English," he continued, "but there is just a little touch of accent. You don't know how attractive it sounds. You don't know-"

He hesitated, suddenly losing some part of his immense confidence.

"What else is there that I do not know?" she asked, with a faintly amused smile.

"I have lost my courage," he confessed simply. "I do not want to offend you, I do not want you to think that I am hopelessly foolish, but you see I have the misfortune to be in love with you."

She laughed at him, leaning back in her chair with half-closed eyes.

"Do people talk like this to casual acquaintances in your country?" she asked.

"They speak sometimes a language which is common to all countries," he replied quickly. "The only thing that is peculiar to my people is that when we say it, it is the sober and the solemn truth."

She was silent for a moment. She had plucked one of the blossoms from the wall and was pulling to pieces its purple petals.

"Do you know," she said, "that no young man has ever dared to talk to me as you have done?"

"That is because no one yet has cared so much as I do," he assured her. "I can quite understand their being frightened. I am terribly afraid of you myself. I am afraid of the things I say to you, but I have to say them because they are in my heart, and if I am only to have a quarter of an hour with you now, you see I must make the best use of my time. I must tell you that there isn't any other girl in the world I could ever look at again, and if you won't promise to marry me some day, I shall be the most wretched person on earth."

"I can never, never marry you," she told him emphatically. "There is nothing which is so impossible as that."

"Well, that's a pretty bad start," he admitted.

"It is the end," she said firmly.

He shook his head. There was a terrible obstinacy in his face. She frowned at him.

"You do not mean that you will persist after what I have told you?"

He looked at her, almost surprised.

"There isn't anything else for me to do, that I know of," he declared, "so long as you don't care for any one else. Tell me again, you are sure that there is no one?"

"Certainly not," she replied stiffly. "The subject has not yet been made acceptable to me. You must forgive my adding that in my country it is not usual for a girl to discuss these matters with a man before her betrothal

."

"Say, I don't understand that," he murmured, looking at her thoughtfully. "She can't get engaged before she is asked."

"The preliminaries," she explained, "are always arranged by one's parents."

He smiled pityingly.

"That sort of thing's no use," he asserted confidently. "You must be getting past that, in whatever corner of Europe you live. What you mean to say, then, is that your father has some one up his sleeve whom he'll trot out for you before long?"

"Without doubt, some arrangement will be proposed," she agreed.

"And you'll have to be amiable to some one you've never seen in your life before, I suppose?" he persisted.

"Not necessarily. It sometimes happens, in my position," she went on, raising her head, "that certain sacrifices are necessary."

"In your position," he repeated quickly. "What does that mean? You aren't a queen, are you, or anything of that sort?"

She laughed.

"No," she confessed, "I am not a queen, and yet-"

"And yet?"

"You must go back," she insisted, rising abruptly to her feet. "The quarter of an hour is up. I do not feel happy, sitting here talking with you. Really, if my father were to return he would be more angry with me than he has ever been in his life. This sort of thing is not done amongst my people."

"Little lady," he said, gently forcing her back into her place, "believe me, it's done all the world over, and there isn't any girl can come to any harm by being told that a man is fond of her when it's the truth, when he'd give his life for her willingly. It's just like that I feel about you. I've never felt it before. I could never feel it for any one else. And I am not going to give you up."

She was looking at him half fearfully. There was a little colour in her cheeks, her eyes were suddenly moist.

"I think," she murmured, "that you talk very nicely. I think I might even say that I like to hear you talk. But it is so useless. Won't you go now? Won't you please go now?"

"When may I come again?" he begged.

"Never," she replied firmly. "You must never come again. You must not even think of it. But indeed you would not be admitted. They will probably tell my father of your visit, as it is, and he will be very angry."

"Well, when can I see you, then, and where?" he demanded. "I hope you understand that I am not in the least disheartened by anything you have said."

"I think," she declared, "that you are the most persistent person I ever met."

"It is only," he whispered, leaning a little towards her, "because I care for you so much."

She was suddenly confused, conscious of a swift desire to get rid of him. It was as though some one were speaking a new language. All her old habits and prejudices seemed falling away.

"I cannot make appointments with you," she protested, her voice shaking. "I cannot encourage you in any way. It is really quite impossible."

"If I go now, will you be at the Club to-morrow afternoon?" he pleaded.

"I am not sure," she replied. "It is very likely that I may be there. I make no promise."

He took her hand abruptly, and, stooping down, forced her to look into his eyes.

"You will be there to-morrow afternoon, please," he begged, "and you will give me the rose from your waistband."

She laughed uneasily.

"If the rose will buy your departure-" she began.

"It may do that," he interrupted, as he drew it through his buttonhole, "but it will assuredly bring me back again."

* * *

Richard walked down the hill, whistling softly to himself and with a curious light in his eyes. As he reached the square in front of the Casino, he was accosted by a stranger who stood in the middle of the pavement and respectfully removed his hat.

"You are Mr. Richard Lane, is it not so, monsieur?"

"You've guessed it in one," Richard admitted. "Have I ever seen you before?"

"Never, monsieur, unless you happened to notice me on your visit to the prison. I have an official position in the Principality. I am commissioned to speak to you with respect to the little affair in which you were concerned at La Turbie."

"Well, I thought we'd thrashed all that out," Lane replied. "Anyway, Sir Henry Hunterleys and I have engaged a lawyer to look after our interests."

"Just so," the little man murmured. "A very clever man indeed is Monsieur Grisson. Still, there is a view of the matter," he continued, "which is perhaps hard for you Englishmen and Americans to understand. Assault of any description is very severely punished here, especially when it results in bodily injury. Theft of all sorts, on the other hand, is very common indeed. The man whom you injured is a native of Monte Carlo. To a certain extent, the Principality is bound to protect him."

"Why, the fellow was engaged in a flagrant attempt at highway robbery!" Richard declared, genuinely astonished.

His companion stretched out his hands.

"Monsieur," he replied, "every one robs here, whether they are shop-keepers, restaurant keepers, or loafers upon the streets. The people expect it. At the adjourned trial next week there will be many witnesses who are also natives of Monte Carlo. I have been commissioned to warn monsieur. It would be best, on the whole, if he left Monte Carlo by the next train."

"Why in the name of mischief should I do that?" Richard demanded.

"In the first place," the other pointed out, "because this man, whom you treated a little roughly, has many friends and associates. They have sworn revenge. You are even now being followed about, and the police of the Principality have enough to do without sparing an escort to protect you against violence. In the second place, I am not at all sure that the finding of the court next week will be altogether to your satisfaction."

"Do you mean this?" Richard asked incredulously.

"Without a doubt, monsieur."

"Then all I can say," Richard declared, "is that your magistrate or judge, or whatever he calls himself, is a rotter, and your laws absurd. I sha'n't budge."

"It is in your own interests, monsieur, this warning," the other persisted. "Even if you escape these desperadoes, you still run some risk of discovering what the inside of a prison in Monaco is like."

"I think not," Lane answered grimly. "If there's anything of that sort going about, I shall board my yacht yonder and hoist the Stars and Stripes. I shall take some getting into prison, I can tell you, and if I once get there, you'll hear about it."

"Monsieur will be much wiser to avoid trouble," the official advised.

Lane placed his hand upon the other's shoulder.

"My friend," he said, "not you or a dozen like you could make me stir from this place until I am ready, and just now I am very far from ready. See? You can go and tell those who sent you, what I say."

The emissary of the law shrugged his shoulders. His manner was stiff but resigned.

"I have delivered my message, monsieur," he announced. "Monsieur naturally must decide for himself."

He disappeared with a bow. Richard continued on his way and a few minutes later ran into Hunterleys.

"Say, did you ever hear such cheek!" he exclaimed, passing his arm through the latter's. "A little bounder stopped me in the street and has been trying to frighten me into leaving Monte Carlo, just because I broke that robber's wrist. Same Johnny that came to you, I expect. What are they up to, anyway? What do they want to get rid of us for? They ought to be jolly grateful."

Hunterleys shook his head.

"So far as I am concerned," he said, "their reasons for wanting to get rid of me are fairly obvious, I am afraid, but I must say I don't know where you come in, unless-"

He stopped short.

"Well, unless what?" Richard interposed. "I should just like to know who it is trying to get me kicked out."

"Can't you guess?" Hunterleys asked. "There is one person who I think would be quite as well pleased to see the back of you."

"Here in Monte Carlo?"

"Absolutely!"

Richard was mystified.

"You are not very bright, I am afraid," Hunterleys observed. "What about your friend Mr. Grex?"

Richard whistled softly.

"Are you serious?"

"Of course I am," Hunterleys assured him.

"But has he any pull here, this Mr. Grex?"

Hunterleys' eyes twinkled for a moment.

"Yes," he replied, "I think that Mr. Grex has very considerable influence in this part of the world, and he is a man who, I should say, was rather used to having his own way."

"I gathered that I wasn't exactly popular with him this afternoon," Richard remarked meditatively. "I've been out there to call."

Hunterleys stopped short upon the pavement.

"What?" he exclaimed.

"I have been out to call at the Villa Mimosa," Richard repeated. "I don't see anything extraordinary in that."

"Did you see-Miss Fedora?"

"Rather! And thank you for telling me her name, at any rate. We sat on the terrace and chatted for a quarter of an hour. She gave me to understand, though, that the old man was dead against me. It all seems very mysterious. Anyway, she gave me this rose I am wearing, and I think she'll be at the Club to-morrow afternoon."

Hunterleys was silent for a moment. He seemed much impressed.

"You know, Richard," he declared, "there is something akin to genius in your methods."

"That's all very well," the young man protested, "but can you give me a single solid reason why, considering I am in love with the girl, I shouldn't go and call upon her? Who is this Mr. Grex, anyway?"

"I've a good mind to tell you," Hunterleys said meditatively.

"I don't care whether you do or not," Lane pronounced firmly, as they parted. "I don't care whether Mr. Grex is the Sultan of Turkey or the Czar of Russia. I'm going to marry his daughter. That's settled."

* * *

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