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   Chapter 14 DINNER FOR TWO

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 16833

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


At a few minutes before eight o'clock that evening Lady Hunterleys descended the steps of the Casino and crossed the square towards the Hotel de Paris. She walked very slowly and she looked neither to the right nor to the left. She had the air of seeing no one. She acknowledged mechanically the low bow of the commissionaire who opened the door for her. A reception clerk who stood on one side to let her pass, she ignored altogether. She crossed the hall to the lift and pressed the bell. Draconmeyer, who had been lounging in an easy-chair waiting for her, watched her entrance and noticed her abstracted manner with kindling eyes. He threw away his newspaper and, hastily approaching her, touched her arm.

"You are late," he remarked.

She started.

"Yes, I am late."

"I did not see you at the Club."

"I have been to the Casino instead," she told him. "I thought that it might change my luck."

"Successful, I trust?"

She shook her head. Then she opened her gold satchel and showed him. It was empty.

"The luck must turn sometime," he reminded her soothingly. "How long will you be changing?"

"I am tired," she confessed. "I thought that to-night I would not dine. I will have something sent up to my room."

He was obviously disappointed.

"Couldn't you dine as you are?" he begged. "You could change later, if you wished to. It is always such a disappointment when you do not appear-and to-night," he added, "especially."

Violet hesitated. She was really longing only to be alone and to rest. She thought, however, of the poor invalid to whom their meeting at dinner-time was the one break of the day.

"Very well," she promised, "I will be down in ten minutes."

Draconmeyer, as the lift bore her upwards, strolled away. Although the custom was a strange one to him, he sought out the American bar and drank a cocktail. Then he lit a cigarette and made his way back into the lounge, moving restlessly about, his hands behind his back, his forehead knitted. In his way he had been a great schemer, and in the crowded hall of the hotel that night, surrounded by a wonderfully cosmopolitan throng of loungers and passers-by, he lived again through the birth and development of many of the schemes which his brain had conceived since he had left his mother-country. One and all they had been successful. He seemed, indeed, to have been imbued with the gift of success. He had floated immense loans where other men had failed; he had sustained the credit of his country on a high level through more than one serious financial crisis; he had pulled down or built up as his judgment or fancy had dictated; and all the time the man's relaxations, apart from the actual trend of great affairs, had been few and slight. Then had come his acquaintance with Linda's school-friend. He looked back through the years. At first he had scarcely noticed her visits. Gradually he had become conscious of a dim feeling of thankfulness to the woman who always seemed able to soothe his invalid wife. Then, scarcely more than a year or so ago, he had found himself watching her at unexpected moments, admiring the soft grace of her movements, the pleasant cadence of her voice, the turn of her head, the colour of her hair, the elegance of her clothes, her thin, fashionable figure. Gradually he had begun to look for her, to welcome her at his table-and from that, the rest. Finally the birth of this last scheme of his. He had very nearly made a fatal mistake at the very commencement, had pulled himself right again only with a supreme effort. His heart beat quicker even now as he thought of that moment. They had been alone together one evening. She had sat talking with him after Linda had gone to bed worse than usual, and in the dim light he had almost lost his head, he had almost said those words, let her see the things in his eyes for which the time was not yet ripe. She had kept away for a while after that. He had treated it as a mistake but he had been very careful not to err again. By degrees she forgot. The estrangement between husband and wife was part of his scheme, largely his doing. He was all the time working to make the breach wider. The visit to Monte Carlo, rather a difficult accomplishment, he had arranged. He had seen with delight the necessity for some form of excitement growing up in her, had watched her losses and only wished that they had been larger. He had encouraged her to play for higher stakes and found that she needed very little encouragement indeed. To-night he felt that a crisis was at hand. There was a new look upon her face. She had probably lost everything. He knew exactly how she would feel about asking her husband for help. His eyes grew brighter as he waited for the lift.

She came at last and they walked together into the dining-room. When she reached their accustomed table, it was empty, and only their two places were laid. She looked at him in surprise.

"But I thought you said that Linda would be so disappointed!" she reminded him.

He shook his head.

"I do not think that I mentioned Linda's name," he protested. "She went to bed soon after tea in an absolutely hopeless state. I am afraid that to-night I was selfish. I was thinking of myself. I have had nothing in the shape of companionship all day. I came and looked at the table, and the thought of dining alone wearied me. I have to spend a great deal of time alone, unfortunately. You and I are, perhaps, a little alike in that respect."

She seated herself after a moment's hesitation. He moved his chair a little closer to hers. The pink-shaded lamp seemed to shut them off from the rest of the room. A waiter poured wine into their glasses.

"I ordered champagne to-night," he remarked. "You looked so tired when you came in. Drink a glass at once."

She obeyed him, smiling faintly. She was, as a matter of fact, craving for something of the sort.

"It was thoughtful of you," she declared. "I am tired. I have been losing all day, and altogether I have had a most depressing time."

"It is not as it should be, that," he observed, smiling. "This is a city of pleasure. One was meant to leave one's cares behind here. If any one in this world," he added, "should be without them, it should be you."

He looked at her respectfully yet with an admiration which he made no effort to conceal. There was nothing in the look over-personal. She accepted it with gratitude.

"You are always kind," she murmured.

"This reminds me of some of our evenings in London," he went on, "when we used to talk music before we went to the Opera. I always found those evenings so restful and pleasant. Won't you try and forget that you have lost a few pennies; forget, also, your other worries, whatever they may be? I have had a letter to-day from the one great writer whom we both admire. I shall read it to you. And I have a list of the operas for next week. I see that your husband's little protégée, Felicia Roche, is here."

"My husband's protégée?" she repeated. "I don't quite understand."

He seemed, for a moment, embarrassed.

"I am sorry," he said. "I had no idea. But your husband will tell you if you ask him. It was he who paid for her singing education, and her triumph is his. But the name must be known to you."

"I have never heard it in connection with my husband," she declared, frowning slightly. "Henry does not always take me into his confidence."

"Then I am sorry," he continued penitently, "that I mentioned the matter. It was clumsy of me. I had an idea that he must have told you all about her.... Another glass of wine, please, and you will find your appetite comes. Jules has prepared that salmon trout specially. I'll read you the letter from Maurice, if you like, and afterwards there is a story I must tell you."

The earlier stages of dinner slipped pleasantly away. Draconmeyer was a born conversationalist,-a good talker and a keen tactician. The food and the wine, too, did their part. Presently Violet lifted her head, the colour came back to her cheeks, she too began to talk and laugh. All the time he was careful not to press home his advantage. He remembered that one night in the library at Grosvenor Square, when she had turned her head and looked at him for a moment before leaving. She must be different now, he told himself fiercely. It was impossible that she could continue to love a husband who

neglected her, a man whose mistaken sense of dignity kept him away from her!

"I want you," he begged, as they drew towards the close of the meal, "to treat me, if you will, just a little more confidentially."

She glanced up at him quickly, almost suspiciously.

"What do you mean?"

"You have troubles of which you do not speak," he went on. "If my friendship is worth anything, it ought to enable me to share those troubles with you. You have had a little further disagreement with your husband, I think, and bad luck at the tables. You ought not to let either of these things depress you too much. Tell me, do you think that I could help with Sir Henry?"

"No one could help," she replied, her tone unconsciously hardening. "Henry is obstinate, and it is my firm conviction that he has ceased to care for me at all. This afternoon-this very afternoon," she went on, leaning across the table, her voice trembling a little, her eyes very bright, "I offered to go away with him."

"To leave Monte Carlo?"

"Yes! He refused. He said that he must stay here, for some mysterious reason. I begged him to tell me what that reason was, and he was silent. It was the end. He gives me no confidence. He has refused the one effort I made at reconciliation. I am convinced that it is useless. We have parted finally."

Draconmeyer tried hard to keep the light from his eyes as he leaned towards her.

"Dear lady," he said, "if I do not admit that I am sorry-well, there are reasons. Your husband did well to be mysterious. I can tell you the reason why he will not leave Monte Carlo. It is because Felicia Roche makes her début at the Opera House to-morrow night. There! I didn't mean to tell you but the whole world knows it. Even now I would not have told you but for other things. It is best that you know the truth. It is my firm belief that your husband does not deserve your interest, much more your affection. If only I dared-"

He paused for a moment. Every word he was compelled to measure.

"Sometimes," he continued, "your condition reminds me so much of my own. I think that there is no one so lonely in life as I am. For the last few years Linda has been fading away, physically and mentally. I touch her fingers at morning and night, we speak of the slight happenings of the day. She has no longer any mind or any power of sympathy. Her lips are as cold as her understanding. For that I know she is not to blame, yet it has left me very lonely. If I had had a child," he went on, "even if there were one single soul of whom I was fond, to whom I might look for sympathy; even if you, my dear friend-you see, I am bold, and I venture to call you my dear friend-could be a little kinder sometimes, it would make all the difference in the world."

She turned her head and looked at him. His teeth came together hastily. It seemed to him that already she was on her guard.

"You have something more to say, haven't you?" she asked.

He hesitated. Her tone was non-committal. It was a moment when he might have risked everything, but he feared to make a mistake.

"This is what I mean," he declared, with the appearance of great frankness. "I am going to speak to you upon the absurd question of money. I have an income of which, even if I were boundlessly extravagant, I could not hope to spend half. A speculation, the week before I left England, brought me a profit of a million marks. But for the banking interests of my country and the feeling that I am the trustee for thousands of other people, it would weary me to look for investments. And you-you came in to-night, looking worn out just because you had lost a handful or so of those wretched plaques. There, you see it is coming now. I should like permission to do more than call myself your friend. I should like permission to be also your banker."

She looked at him quietly and searchingly. His heart began to beat faster. At least she was in doubt. He had not wholly lost. His chance, even, was good.

"My friend," she said, "I believe that you are honest. I do indeed recognise your point of view. The thing is an absurdity, but, you know, all conventions, even the most foolish, have some human and natural right beneath them. I think that the convention which forbids a woman accepting money from a man, however close a friend, is like that. Frankly, my first impulse, a few minutes ago, was to ask you to lend me a thousand pounds. Now I know that I cannot do it."

"Do you really mean that?" he asked, in a tone of deep disappointment. "If you do, I am hurt. It proves that the friendship which to me is so dear, is to you a very slight thing."

"You mustn't think that," she pleaded. "And please, Mr. Draconmeyer, don't think that I don't appreciate all your kindness. Short of accepting your money, I would do anything to prove it."

"There need be no question of a gift," he reminded her, in a low tone. "If I were a perfect stranger, I might still be your banker. You must have money from somewhere. Are you going to ask your husband?"

She bit her lip for a moment. If indeed he had known her actual position, his hopes would have been higher still.

"I cannot possibly ask Henry for anything," she confessed. "I had made up my mind to ask him to authorise the lawyers to advance me my next quarter's allowance. After-what has passed between us, though, and-considering everything, I don't feel that I can do it."

"Then may I ask how you really mean to get more money?" he went on gently.

She looked at him a little piteously.

"Honestly, I don't know," she admitted. "I will be quite frank with you. Henry allows me two thousand, five hundred a year. I brought nine hundred pounds out with me, and I have nothing more to come until June."

"And how much have you left of the nine hundred pounds?" he asked.

"Not enough to pay my hotel bill," she groaned.

He smiled.

"Circumstances are too strong for you," he declared. "You must go to a banker. I claim the right of being that banker. I shall draw up a promissory note-no, we needn't do that-two or three cheques, perhaps, dated June, August and October. I shall charge you five per cent. interest and I shall lend you a thousand pounds."

Her eyes sparkled. The thought of the money was wonderful to her. A thousand pounds in mille notes that very night! She thought it all over rapidly. She would never run such risks again. She would play for small amounts each day-just enough to amuse herself. Then, if she were lucky, she would plunge, only she would choose the right moment. Very likely she would be able to pay the whole amount back in a day or two. If Henry minded, well, it was his own fault. He should have been different.

"You put it so kindly," she said gratefully, "that I am afraid I cannot refuse. You are very, very considerate, Mr. Draconmeyer. It certainly will be nicer to owe you the money than a stranger."

"I am only glad that you are going to be reasonable," he remarked,-"glad, really, for both our sakes. And remember," he went on cheerfully, "that one isn't young and at Monte Carlo too many times in one's life. Make up your mind to enjoy yourself. If the luck goes against you for a little longer, come again. You are bound to win in the end. Now, if you like, we'll have our coffee outside. I'll go and fetch the money and you shall make out your cheques."

He scribbled hastily on a piece of paper for a moment.

"These are the amounts," he pointed out. "I have charged you five per cent. per annum interest. As I can deal with money at something under four, I shall make quite a respectable profit-more than enough," he added good-naturedly, "to pay for our dinner!"

She seemed suddenly years younger. The prospect of the evening before her was enchanting.

"You really are delightful!" she exclaimed. "You can't think how differently I shall feel when I go into the Club to-night. I am perfectly certain that it's having plenty of money that helps one to win."

He smiled.

"And plenty of courage," he added. "Don't waste your time trifling with small stakes. Bid up for the big things. It is the only way in gambling and in life."

He rose to his feet and their eyes met for a moment. Once more she felt vaguely troubled. She put that disturbing thought away from her, however. It was foolish to think of drawing back now. If he admired her-well, so did most men!

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