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   Chapter 20 WILY MR. DRACONMEYER

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10125

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


They had skirted the wonderful bay and climbed the mountainous hill to the frontier before Violet spoke. All the time Draconmeyer leaned back by her side, perfectly content. A man of varied subtleties, he understood and fully appreciated the intrinsic value of silence. Whilst the Customs officer, however, was making out the deposit note for the car, she turned to him.

"Will you tell me something, Mr. Draconmeyer?"

"Of course!"

"It is about my husband," she went on. "Henry isn't your friend-you dislike one another, I know. You men seem to have a sort of freemasonry which compels you to tell falsehoods about one another, but in this case I am going to remind you that I have the greater claim, and I am going to ask you for the sober truth. Henry has once or twice, during the last few days, hinted to me that his presence in Monte Carlo just now has some sort of political significance. He is very vague about it all, but he evidently wants me to believe that he is staying here against his own inclinations. Now I want to ask you a plain question. Is it likely that he could have any business whatever to transact for the Government in Monte Carlo? What I mean is, could there possibly be anything to keep him in this place which for political reasons he couldn't tell me about?"

"I can answer your question finally so far as regards any Government business," Mr. Draconmeyer assured her. "Your husband's Party is in Opposition. As a keen politician, he would not be likely to interest himself in the work of his rival."

"You are quite sure," she persisted, "you are quite sure that he could not have a mission of any sort?-that there isn't any meeting of diplomatists here in which he might be interested?"

Mr. Draconmeyer smiled with the air of one listening to a child's prattle.

"If I were not sure that you are in earnest-!" he began. "However, I will just answer your question. Nothing of the sort is possible. Besides, people don't come to Monte Carlo for serious affairs, you know."

Her face hardened a little.

"I suppose," she said, "that you are quite sure of what you told me the other evening about this young singer-Felicia Roche?"

"I should not allude to a matter of that sort," he declared, "unless I had satisfied myself as to the facts. It is true that I owe nothing to your husband and everything to you, or I should have probably remained silent. As it is, all that I know is at your service. Felicia Roche is to make her début at the Opera House to-night. Your husband has been seen with her repeatedly. He was at her villa at one o'clock this morning. I have heard it said that he is a little infatuated."

"Thank you," she murmured, "that is quite enough."

The formalities were concluded and the car drove on. They paused at the last turn to gaze downward at the wonderful view-the gorgeous Bay of Mentone, a thousand feet below, with its wealth of mimosa-embosomed villas; Monte Carlo glittering on the sea-board; the sweep of Monaco, red-roofed, picturesque. And behind, the mountains, further away still, the dim, snow-capped heights. Violet looked, as she was bidden, but her eyes seemed incapable of appreciation. When the car moved on, she leaned back in her seat and dropped her veil. She was paler even than when they had started.

"I am going to talk to you very little," he said gravely. "I want you just to rest and breathe this wonderful air. If my reply to your question troubles you, I am sorry, but you had to know it some day. It is a wrench, of course, but you must have guessed it. Your husband is a man of peculiar temperament, but no man could have refused such an offer as you made him, unless there had been some special reason for it-no man in the world."

There was a little tremble in his tone, artistic and not overdone. Somehow, she felt that his admiration ministered to her self-respect. She permitted his hand to remain upon hers. The touch of her fingers very nearly brought the torrent from his lips. He crushed the words down, however. It was too great a risk. Very soon things would be different; he could afford to wait.

They drove on to San Remo and turned into the hotel.

"You are better away from Monte Carlo for a few hours," he decided. "We will lunch here and drive back afterwards. You will feel greatly refreshed."

She accepted his suggestion without enthusiasm and with very little show of pleasure. They found a table on the terrace in a retired corner, surrounded with flowering cactus plants and drooping mimosa, and overhung by a giant oleander tree. He talked to her easily but in gossiping fashion only, and always with the greatest respect. It was not until the arrival of their coffee that he ventured to become at all personal.

"Will you forgive me if I talk without reserve for a few moments?" he began, leaning a little towards her. "You have your troubles, I know. May I not remind you that you are not alone in your sorrows? Linda, as you know, has no companionship whatever to offer. She does nothing but indulge in fretful

regrets over her broken health. When I remember, too, how lonely your days are, and think of your husband and what he might make of them, then I cannot help realising with absolute vividness the supreme irony of fate. Here am I, craving for nothing so much on earth as the sympathy, the affection of-shall I say such a woman as you? And your husband, who might have the best, remains utterly indifferent, content with something far below the second best. And there is so much in life, too," he went on, regretfully. "I cannot tell you how difficult it is for me to sit still and see you worried about such a trifle as money. Fancy the joy of giving you money!"

She awoke a little from her lethargy. She looked at him, startled.

"You haven't told me yet," he added, "how the game went last night?"

"I lost every penny of that thousand pounds," she declared. "That is why I sent for my husband this morning and asked him to take me back to England. I am getting afraid of the place. My luck seems to have gone for ever."

He laughed softly.

"That doesn't sound like you," he observed. "Besides, what does it matter? Write me out some more cheques when we get back. Date them this year or next, or the year after-it really doesn't matter a bit. My fortune is at your disposal. If it amuses you to lose a thousand pounds in the afternoon, and twice as much at night, pray do."

She laughed at him. There was a certain glamour about his words which appealed to her fancy.

"Why, you talk like a prince," she murmured, "and yet you know how impossible it is."

"Is it?" he asked quietly.

She rose abruptly from her place. There was something wrong-she felt it in the atmosphere-something that was almost choking her.

"Let us go back," she insisted.

He ordered the car without another word and they started off homewards. It was not until they were nearing Monte Carlo that he spoke of anything save the slightest topics.

"You must have a little more money," he told her, in a matter-of-fact tone. "That is a necessity. There is no need to worry your husband. I shall go and bring you a thousand pounds. You can give me the cheques later."

She sat looking steadfastly ahead of her. She seemed to see her numbers spread out before her, to hear the click of the ball, the croupier's voice, the thrill of victory.

"I have taken more money from you than I meant to, already, Mr. Draconmeyer," she protested. "Does Linda know how much you have lent me?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"What is the use of telling her? She does not understand. She has never felt the gambling fever, the joy of it, the excitement. She would not be strong enough. You and I understand. I have felt it in the money-markets of the world, where one plays with millions, where a mistake might mean ruin. That is why the tables seem dull for me, but all the same it comes home to me."

She felt the fierce stimulus of anxious thought. She knew very well that notwithstanding his quiet manner, she had reason to fear the man who sat by her side. She feared his self-restraint, she feared the light which sometimes gleamed in his eyes when he fancied himself unobserved. He gave her no cause for complaint. All the time his behaviour had been irreproachable. And yet she felt, somehow or other, like a bird who is being hunted by a trapper, a trapper who knows his business, who goes about it with quiet confidence, with absolute certainty. There was something like despair in her heart.

"Well, I suppose I shall have to stay here," she said, "and I can't stay here without playing. I will take a thousand more, if you will lend it to me."

"You shall have it directly we get to the hotel," he told her. "Don't hurry with the cheques, and don't date them too soon. Remember that you must have something to live on when you get back."

"I am going to win," she declared confidently. "I am going to win enough to pay you back every penny."

"I won't say that I hope not," he observed, "for your sake, but it will certainly give me no pleasure to have the money back again. You are such a wonderful person," he added, dropping his voice, "that I rather like to feel that I can be a little useful to you."

They had neared the end of their journey and Mr. Draconmeyer touched her arm. A faint smile was playing about his lips. Certainly the fates were befriending him! He said nothing, but her eyes followed the slight motion of his head. Coming down the steps from Ciro's were her husband and Felicia Roche. Violet looked at them for a moment. Then she turned her head away.

"Most inopportune," she sighed, with a little attempt at gaiety. "Shall we meet later at the Club?"

"Assuredly," Mr. Draconmeyer replied. "I will send the money to your room."

"Thank you once more," she said, "and thank you, too, for my drive. I have enjoyed it very much. I am very glad indeed that I had the courage to make you tell me the truth."

"I hope," he whispered, as he handed her out, "that you will never lack the courage to ask me anything."

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