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   Chapter 25 DRACONMEYER IS DESPERATE

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11423

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Draconmeyer stood before the window of his room, looking out over the Mediterranean. There was no finer view to be obtained from any suite in the hotel, and Monte Carlo had revelled all that day in the golden, transfiguring sunshine. Yet he looked as a blind man. His eyes saw nothing of the blue sea or the brown-sailed fishing boats, nor did he once glance towards the picturesque harbour. He saw only his own future, the shattered pieces of his carefully-thought-out scheme. The first fury had passed. His brain was working now. In her room below, Lady Hunterleys was lying on the couch, half hysterical. Three times she had sent for her husband. If he should return at that moment, Draconmeyer knew that the game was up. There would be no bandying words between them, no involved explanations, no possibility of any further misunderstanding. All his little tissue of lies and misrepresentations would crumble hopelessly to pieces. The one feeling in her heart would be thankfulness. She would open her arms. He saw the end with fatal, unerring truthfulness.

His servant returned. Draconmeyer waited eagerly for his message.

"Lady Hunterleys is lying down, sir," the man announced. "She is very much upset and begs you to excuse her."

Draconmeyer waved the man away and walked up and down the apartment, his hands behind his back, his lips hard-set. He was face to face with a crisis which baffled him completely, and yet which he felt to be wholly unworthy of his powers. His brain had never been keener, his sense of power more inspiring. Yet he had never felt more impotent. It was woman's hysteria against which he had to fight. The ordinary weapons were useless. He realised quite well her condition and the dangers resulting from it. The heart of the woman was once more beating to its own natural tune. If Hunterleys should present himself within the next few minutes, not all his ingenuity nor the power of his millions could save the situation.

Plans shaped themselves almost automatically in his mind. He passed from his own apartments, through a connecting door into a large and beautifully-furnished salon. A woman with grey hair and white face was lying on a couch by the window. She turned her head as he entered and looked at him questioningly. Her face was fragile and her features were sharpened by suffering. She looked at her husband almost as a cowed but still affectionate animal might look towards a stern master.

"Do you feel well enough to walk as far as Lady Hunterleys' apartment with the aid of my arm?" he asked.

"Of course," she replied. "Does Violet want me?"

"She is still feeling the shock," Draconmeyer said. "I think that she is inclined to be hysterical. It would do her good to have you talk with her."

The nurse, who had been sitting by her side, assisted her patient to rise. She leaned on her husband's arm. In her other hand she carried a black ebony walking-stick. They traversed the corridor, knocked at the door of Lady Hunterleys' apartment, and in response to a somewhat hesitating invitation, entered. Violet was lying upon the sofa. She looked up eagerly at their coming.

"Linda!" she exclaimed. "How dear of you! I thought that it might have been Henry," she added, as though to explain the disappointment in her tone.

Draconmeyer turned away to hide his expression.

"Talk to her as lightly as possible," he whispered to his wife, "but don't leave her alone. I will come back for you in ten minutes."

He left the two women together and descended into the hall. He found several of the reception clerks whispering together. The concierge had only just recovered himself, but the place was beginning to wear its normal aspect. He whispered an enquiry at the desk. Sir Henry Hunterleys had just come in and had gone upstairs, he was told. His new room was number 148.

"There was a note from his wife," Draconmeyer said, trying hard to control his voice. "Has he had it?"

"It is here still, sir," the clerk replied. "I tried to catch Sir Henry as he passed through, but he was too quick for me. To tell you the truth," he went on, "there has been a rumour through the hotel that it was Sir Henry himself who had been found dead in his room, and seeing him come in was rather a shock for all of us."

"Naturally," Draconmeyer agreed. "If you will give me the note I will take it up to him."

The clerk handed it over without hesitation. Draconmeyer returned immediately to his own apartments and torn open the envelope. There were only a few words scrawled across the half-sheet of notepaper:

Henry, come to me, dear, at once. I have had such a shock. I want to see you.

Vi.

He tore the note viciously into small pieces. Then he went back to Lady Hunterleys' apartments. She was sitting up now in an easy-chair. Once more, at the sound of the knock, she looked towards the door eagerly. Her face fell when Draconmeyer entered.

"Have you heard anything about Henry?" she asked anxiously.

"He came back a few minutes ago," Draconmeyer replied, "and has gone out again."

"Gone out again?"

Draconmeyer nodded.

"I think that he has gone round to the Club. He is a man of splendid nerve, your husband. He seemed to treat the whole affair as an excellent joke."

"A joke!" she repeated blankly.

"This sort of thing happens so often in Monte Carlo," he observed, in a matter-of-fact tone. "The hotel people seem all to look upon it as in the day's work."

"I wonder if Henry had my note?" she faltered.

"He was reading one in the hall when I saw him," Draconmeyer told her. "That would be yours, I should think. He left a message at the desk which was doubtless meant for you. He has gone on to

the Sporting Club for an hour and will probably be back in time to change for dinner."

Violet sat quite still for several moments. Something seemed to die slowly out of her face. Presently she rose to her feet.

"I suppose," she said, "that I am very foolish to allow myself to be upset like this."

"It is quite natural," Draconmeyer assured her soothingly. "What you should try to do is to forget the whole circumstance. You sit here brooding about it until it becomes a tragedy. Let us go down to the Club together. We shall probably see your husband there."

She hesitated. She seemed still perplexed.

"I wonder," she murmured, "could I send another message to him? Perhaps he didn't quite understand."

"Much better come along to the Club," Draconmeyer advised, good-humouredly. "You can be there yourself before a message could reach him."

"Very well," she assented. "I will be ready in ten minutes...."

Draconmeyer took his wife back to her room.

"Did I do as you wished, dear?" she asked him anxiously.

"Absolutely," he replied.

He helped her back to her couch and stooped and kissed her. She leaned back wearily. It was obvious that she had found the exertion of moving even so far exhausting. Then he returned to his own apartments. Rapidly he unlocked his dispatch box and took out one or two notes from Violet. They were all of no importance-answers to invitations, or appointments. He spread them out, took a sheet of paper and a broad pen. Without hesitation he wrote:

Congratulations on your escape, but why do you run such risks! I wish you would go back to England.

Violet.

He held the sheet of notepaper a little away from him and looked at it critically. The imitation was excellent. He thrust the few lines into an envelope, addressed them to Hunterleys and descended to the hall. He left the note at the office.

"Send this up to Sir Henry, will you?" he instructed. "Let him have it as quickly as possible."

Once more he crossed the hall and waited close to the lift by which she would descend. All the time he kept on glancing nervously around. Things were going his way, but the great danger remained-if they should meet first by chance in the corridor, or in the lift! Hunterleys might think it his duty to go at once to his wife's apartment in case she had heard the rumour of his death. The minutes dragged by. He had climbed the great ladder slowly. More than once he had felt it sway beneath his feet. Yet to him those moments seemed almost the longest of his life. Then at last she came. She was looking very pale, but to his relief he saw that she was dressed for the Club. She was wearing a grey dress and black hat. He remembered with a pang of fury that grey was her husband's favourite colour.

"I suppose there is no doubt that Henry is at the Club?" she asked, looking eagerly around the hall.

"Not the slightest," he assured her. "We can have some tea there and we are certain to come across him somewhere."

She made no further difficulty. As they turned into the long passage he gave a sigh of relief. Every step they took meant safety. He talked to her as lightly as possible, ignoring the fact that she scarcely replied to him. They mounted the stairs and entered the Club. She looked anxiously up and down the crowded rooms.

"I shall stroll about and look for Henry," she announced.

"Very well," he agreed. "I will go over to your place and see how the numbers are going."

He stood by the roulette table, but he watched her covertly. She passed through the baccarat room, came out again and walked the whole length of the larger apartment. She even looked into the restaurant beyond. Then she came slowly back to where Draconmeyer was standing. She seemed tired. She scarcely even glanced at the table.

"Lady Hunterleys," he exclaimed impressively, "this is positively wicked! Your twenty-nine has turned up twice within the last few minutes. Do sit down and try your luck and I will go and see if I can find your husband."

He pushed a handful of plaques and a bundle of notes into her hand. At that moment the croupier's voice was heard.

"Quatorze rouge, pair et manque."

"Another of my numbers!" she murmured, with a faint show of interest. "I don't think I want to play, though."

"Try just a few coups," he begged. "You see, there is a chair here. You may not have a chance again for hours."

He was using all his will power. Somehow or other, she found herself seated in front of the table. The sight of the pile of plaques and the roll of notes was inspiring. She leaned across and with trembling fingers backed number fourteen en plein, with all the carrés and chevaux. She was playing the game at which she had lost so persistently. He walked slowly away. Every now and then from a distance he watched her. She was winning and losing alternately, but she had settled down now in earnest. He breathed a great sigh of relief and took a seat upon a divan, whence he could see if she moved. Richard Lane, who had been standing at the other side of the table, crossed the room and came over to him.

"Say, do you know where Sir Henry is?" he enquired.

Draconmeyer shook his head.

"I have scarcely seen him all day."

"I think I'll go round to the hotel and look him up," Lane decided carelessly. "I'm fed up with this-"

He stopped short. He was no longer an exceedingly bored and discontented-looking young man. Draconmeyer glanced at him curiously. He felt a thrill of sympathy. This stolid young man, then, was capable of feeling something of the same emotion as was tearing at his own heart-strings. Lane was gazing with transfigured face towards the open doorway.

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