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   Chapter 17 DUTY INTERFERES AGAIN

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10624

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Hunterleys sat that night alone in a seat at the Opera for a time and lost himself in a maze of recollections. He seemed to find himself growing younger as he listened to the music. The days of a more vivid and ardent sentimentality seemed to reassert themselves. He thought of the hours when he had sat side by side with his wife, the only woman to whom he had ever given a thought; of the thrill which even the touch of her fingers had given him, of the drive home together, the little confidences and endearments, the glamour which seemed to have been thrown over life before those unhappy misunderstandings. He remembered so well the beginning of them all-the terrible pressure of work which was thrown upon his shoulders, his engrossed days, his disturbed nights; her patience at first, her subsequent petulance, her final anger. He was engaged often in departmental work which he could not even explain. She had taken up with unhappy facility the r?le of a neglected wife. She declared that he had ceased to care for the lighter ways. There had certainly been a time when her complaints had been apparently justified, when the Opera had been banned, theatres were impossible, when she could not even rely upon his escort to a dinner or to a reception. He had argued with her very patiently at first but very unsuccessfully. It was then that her friendship with Linda Draconmeyer had been so vigorously renewed, a friendship which seemed from the first to have threatened his happiness. Had it been his fault? he wondered. Had he really been too much engrossed in his work? His country had made large demands upon him in those days. Had he ever explained the matter fully and carefully enough to her? Perhaps not. At any rate, he was the sufferer. He realised more than ever, as the throbbing of the music stole into his blood, the loneliness of his life. And yet it seemed so hopeless. Supposing he threw up his work and let things take their course? The bare thought chilled him. He recognised it as unworthy. The great song of mortification from the broken hero rang in his ears. Must every woman bring to every man the curse of Delilah!...

He passed out of the building into the cool, starlit night. People were strolling about in evening clothes, hatless, the women in white opera cloaks and filmy gowns, their silk-stockinged feet very much in evidence, resembling almost some strange kind of tropical birds with their little shrill laughter and graceful movements, as they made their way towards the Club or round to the Rooms, or to one of the restaurants for supper. Whilst Hunterleys hesitated, there was a touch upon his arm. He glanced around.

"Hullo, David!" he exclaimed. "Were you waiting for me?"

The young man fell into step by his side.

"I have been to the hotel," he said, in a low tone. "They thought you might be here. Can you come up later-say at one o'clock?"

"Certainly," Hunterleys answered. "Where's Sidney?"

"He's working now. He'll be home by half-past twelve unless anything goes wrong. He thinks he'll have something to tell you."

"I'll come," Hunterleys agreed. "How's Felicia?"

"All right, but working herself to death," the young man replied. "She is getting anxious, too. Give her a word of encouragement if you see her to-night. She was hoping you might have been up to see her."

"I won't forget," Hunterleys promised.

The young man drifted silently away, and Hunterleys, after a moment's hesitation and a glance at his watch, turned towards the Club. He climbed the broad staircase, surrendered his hat and turned in at the roulette room. The magic of the music was still in his veins, and he looked around him almost eagerly. There was no sign of Violet. He strolled into the baccarat room but she was not there. Perhaps she, too, had been at the Opera. In the bar he found Richard Lane, sitting moodily alone. The young man greeted him warmly.

"Come and have a drink, Sir Henry," he begged. "I've got the hump."

Hunterleys sat down by his side.

"Whiskey and apollinaris," he ordered. "What's the matter with you, Richard?"

"She isn't here," the young man declared. "I've been to the Rooms and she isn't there either."

"What about the Opera?" Hunterleys asked.

"I started at the Opera," Lane confessed, "took a box so as to be able to see the whole house. I sat through the first act but there wasn't a sign of her. Then I took a spin out and had another look at the villa. It was all lit up as though there were a party. I very nearly marched in."

"Just as well you didn't, I think," Hunterleys remarked, smiling. "I see you're feeling just the same about it."

The young man did not even vouchsafe an answer.

"Then you're not going to take advantage of your little warning and clear out?" Hunterleys continued.

"Don't you think I'm big enough to take care of myself?" Lane asked, with a little laugh. "Besides, there's an American Consul here, and plenty of English witnesses who saw the whole thing. Can't think why they're trying on such a silly game."

"Mr. Grex may have influence," Hunterleys suggested.

"Who the mischief is my prospective father-in-law?" Richard demanded, almost testily. "There's an atmosphere about that house and the servants I can't understand a bit."

"You wouldn't," Hunter

leys observed drily. "Well, in a day or two I'll tell you who Mr. Grex is. I'd rather not to-night."

"By the way," Lane continued, "your wife was asking if you were here, a few minutes ago."

Hunterleys rose quickly to his feet.

"Where is she?"

"She was at her usual place at the top roulette table, but she gave it up just as I passed, said she was going to walk about," the young man replied. "I don't think she has left yet."

Hunterleys excused himself hastily. In the little space between the restaurant and the roulette rooms he came suddenly upon Violet. She was leaning back in an obscure corner, with her hands clasped helplessly in her lap before her. She was sitting quite still and his heart sank when he saw her. The lines under her eyes were unmistakable now; her cheeks, too, seemed to have grown hollow. Her first look at him almost made him forget all their differences. There was something piteous in the tremble of her lips. He drew a chair to her side.

"Richard told me that you wished to speak to me," he began, as lightly as he could.

"I asked if he had seen you, a few minutes ago," she admitted. "I am afraid that my interest was rather mercenary."

"You want to borrow some money?" he enquired, taking out his pocket-book.

She looked at it, and though her eyes at first were listless, they still seemed fascinated.

"I don't think I can play any more to-night," she sighed.

"You have been losing?"

"Yes!"

"Come and have something," he invited. "You look tired."

She rose willingly enough. They passed out, side by side, into the little bar.

"Some champagne?" he suggested.

She shook her head quickly. The memory of the champagne at dinner-time came back to her with a sudden sickening insistence. She thought of the loan, she thought of Draconmeyer with a new uneasiness. It was as though she had admitted some new complication into her life.

"Could I have some tea?" she begged.

He ordered some and sat with her while she drank it.

"You know," he declared, "if I might be permitted to say so, I think you are taking the gaming here a little too seriously. If you have been unlucky, it is very easy to arrange an advance for you. Would you like some money? If so, I will see to it when I go to the bank to-morrow. I can let you have a hundred pounds at once, if you like."

A hundred pounds! If only she dared tell him that she had lost a thousand within the last two hours! Once more he was fingering his pocket-book.

"Come," he went on pleasantly, "you had better have a hundred from me, for luck."

He counted out the notes. Her fingers began to shake.

"I didn't mean to play any more to-night," she faltered, irresolutely.

"Nor should I," he agreed. "Take my advice, Violet, and go home now. This will do for you to-morrow."

She took the money and dropped it into her jewelled bag.

"Very well," she said, "I won't play any more, but I don't want to go home yet. It is early, and I can never sleep here if I go to bed. Sit with me for half-an-hour, and then perhaps you could give me some supper?"

He shook his head.

"I am so sorry," he answered, "but at one o'clock I have an appointment."

"An appointment?"

"Such bad luck," he continued. "It would have given me very great pleasure to have had supper with you, Violet."

"An appointment at one o'clock," she repeated slowly. "Isn't that just a little-unusual?"

"Perhaps so," he assented. "I can assure you that I am very sorry."

She leaned suddenly towards him. The aloofness had gone from her manner. The barrier seemed for a moment to have fallen down. Once more she was the Violet he remembered. She smiled into his face, and smiled with her eyes as well as her lips, just the smile he had been thinking of an hour ago in the Opera House.

"Don't go, please," she begged. "I am feeling lonely to-night and I am so tired of everybody and everything. Take me to supper at the Café de Paris. Then, if you like, we might come back here for half-an-hour. Or-"

She hesitated.

"I am horribly sorry," he declared, in a tone which was full of real regret. "Indeed, Violet, I am. But I have an appointment which I must keep, and I can't tell exactly how long it may take me."

The very fact that the nature of that appointment concerned things which from the first he had made up his mind must be kept entirely secret, stiffened his tone. Her manner changed instantly. She had drawn herself a little away. She considered for a moment.

"Are you inclined to tell me with whom your appointment is, and for what purpose?" she asked coldly. "I don't want to be exacting, but after the request I have made, and your refusal-"

"I cannot tell you," he interrupted. "I can only ask you to take my word for it that it is one which I must keep."

She rose suddenly to her feet.

"I forgot!" she exclaimed. "I haven't the slightest right to your confidence. Besides, when I come to think of it, I don't believe that I am hungry at all. I shall try my luck with your money?"

"Violet!-"

She swept away with a little farewell nod, half insolent, half angry. Hunterleys watched her take her place at the table. For several moments he stood by her side. She neither looked up nor addressed him. Then he turned and left the place.

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