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   Chapter 27 PLAYING FOR HIGH STAKES

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 13554

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Violet glanced at her watch with an exclamation of dismayed annoyance. She leaned appealingly towards the croupier.

"But one coup more, monsieur," she pleaded. "Indeed your clock is fast."

The croupier shook his head. He was a man of gallantry so far as his profession permitted, and he was a great admirer of the beautiful Englishwoman, but the rules of the Club were strict.

"Madame," he pointed out, "it is already five minutes past eight. It is absolutely prohibited that we start another coup after eight o'clock. If madame will return at ten o'clock, the good fortune will without doubt be hers."

She looked up at Draconmeyer, who was standing at her elbow.

"Did you ever know anything more hatefully provoking!" she complained. "For two hours the luck has been dead against me. But for a few of my carrés turning up, I don't know what would have happened. And now at last my numbers arrive. I win en plein and with all the carrés and chevaux. This time it was twenty-seven. I win two carrés and I move to twenty, and he will not go on."

"It is the rule," Draconmeyer reminded her. "It is bad fortune, though. I have been watching the run of the table. Things have been coming more your way all the time. I think that the end of your ill-luck has arrived. Tell me, are you hungry?"

"Not in the least," she answered pettishly. "I hate the very thought of dinner."

"Then why do we not go on to the Casino?" Draconmeyer suggested. "We can have a sandwich and a glass of wine there, and you can continue your vein."

She rose to her feet with alacrity. Her face was beaming.

"My friend," she exclaimed, "you are inspired! It is a brilliant idea. I know that it will bring me fortune. To the Cercle Privé, by all means. I am so glad that you are one of those men who are not dependent upon dinner. But what about Linda?"

"She is not expecting me, as it happens," Draconmeyer lied smoothly. "I told her that I might be dining at the Villa Mimosa. I have to be there later on."

Violet gathered up her money, stuffed it into her gold bag and hurried off for her cloak. She reappeared in a few moments and smiled very graciously at Draconmeyer.

"It is quite a wonderful idea of yours, this," she declared. "I am looking forward immensely to my next few coups. I feel in a winning vein. Very soon," she added, as they stepped out on to the pavement and she gathered up her skirts, "very soon I am quite sure that I shall be asking you for my cheques back again."

He laughed, as though she had been a child speaking of playthings.

"I am not sure that I shall wish you luck," he said. "I think that I like to feel that you are a little-just a very little in my debt. Do you think that I should be a severe creditor?"

Something in his voice disturbed her vaguely, but she brushed the thought away. Of course he admired her, but then every woman must have admirers. It only remained for her to be clever enough to keep him at arm's length. She had no fear for herself.

"I haven't thought about the matter at all," she answered carelessly, "but to me all creditors would be the same, whether they were kind or unkind. I hate the feeling of owing anything."

"It is a question," he observed, "how far one can be said to owe anything to those who are really friends. A husband, for instance. One can't keep a ledger account with him."

"A husband is a different matter altogether," she asserted coldly. "Now I wonder whether we shall find my favourite table full. Anyhow, I am going to play at the one nearest the entrance on the right-hand side. There is a little croupier there whom I like."

They passed up through the entrance and across the floor of the first suite of rooms to the Cercle Privé. Violet looked eagerly towards the table of which she had spoken. To her joy there was plenty of room.

"My favourite seat is empty!" she exclaimed. "I know that I am going to be lucky."

"I think that I shall play myself, for a change," Draconmeyer announced, producing a great roll of notes.

"Whenever you feel that you would like to go down and have something, don't mind me, will you?" she begged. "You can come back and talk to me at any time. I am not in the least hungry yet."

"Very well," he agreed. "Good luck to you!" They played at opposite sides of the table. For an hour she won and he lost. Once she called him over to her side.

"I scarcely dare to tell you," she whispered, her eyes gleaming, "but I have won back the first thousand pounds. I shall give it to you to-night. Here, take it now."

He shook his head and waved it away. "I haven't the cheques with me," he protested. "Besides, it is bad luck to part with any of your winnings while you are still playing."

He watched her for a minute or two. She still won.

"Take my advice," he said earnestly. "Play higher. You have had a most unusual run of bad luck. The tide has turned. Make the most of it. I have lost ten mille. I am going to have a try your side of the table."

He found a vacant chair a few places lower down, and commenced playing in maximums. From the moment of his arrival he began to win, and simultaneously Violet began to lose. Her good-fortune deserted her absolutely, and for the first time she showed signs of losing her self-control. She gave vent to little exclamations of disgust as stake after stake was swept away. Her eyes were much too bright, there was a spot of colour in her cheeks. She spoke angrily to a croupier who delayed handing her some change. Draconmeyer, although he knew perfectly well what was happening, never seemed to glance in her direction. He played with absolute recklessness for half-an-hour. When at last he rose from his seat and joined her, his hands were full of notes. He smiled ever so faintly as he saw the covetous gleam in her eyes.

"I'm nearly broken," she gasped. "Leave off playing, please, for a little time. You've changed my luck."

He obeyed, standing behind her chair. Three more coups she played and lost. Then she thrust her hand into her bag and drew it out, empty. She was suddenly pale.

"I have lost my last louis," she declared. "I don't understand it. It seemed as though I must win here."

"So you will in time," he assured her confidently. "How much will you have-ten mille or twenty?"

She shrank back, but the sight of the notes in his hand fascinated her. She glanced up at him. His pallor was unchanged, there was no sign of exultation in his face. Only his eyes seemed a little brighter than usual beneath his gold-rimmed spectacles.

"No, give me ten," she said.

She took them from his hand and changed them quickly into plaques. Her first coup was partially successful. He leaned closer over her.

"Remember," he pointed out, "that y

ou only need to win once in a dozen times and you do well. Don't be in such a hurry."

"Of course," she murmured. "Of course! One forgets that. It is all a matter of capital."

He strolled away to another table. When he came back, she was sitting idle in her place, restless and excited, but still full of confidence.

"I am a little to the good," she told him, "but I have left off for a few minutes. The very low numbers are turning up and they are no use to me."

"Come and have that sandwich," he begged. "You really ought to take something."

"The place shall be kept for madame," the croupier whispered. "I shall be here for another two hours."

She nodded and rose. They made their way out of the Rooms and down into the restaurant on the ground-floor. They found a little table near the wall and he ordered some paté sandwiches and champagne. Whilst they waited she counted up her money, making calculations on a slip of paper. Draconmeyer leaned back in his chair, watching her. His back was towards the door and they were at the end table. He permitted himself the luxury of looking at her almost greedily; of dropping, for a few moments, the mask which he placed always upon his features in her presence. In his way the man was an artist, a great collector of pictures and bronzes, a real lover and seeker after perfection. Often he found himself wandering towards his little gallery, content to stand about and gloat over some of his most treasured possessions. Yet the man's personality clashed often with his artistic pretensions. He scarcely ever found himself amongst his belongings without realising the existence of a curious feeling, wholly removed from the pure artistic pleasure of their contemplation. It was the sense of ownership which thrilled him. Something of the same sensation was upon him now. She was the sort of woman he had craved for always-slim, elegant, and what to him, with his quick powers of observation, counted for so much, she was modish, reflecting in her presence, her dress and carriage, even her speech, the best type of the prevailing fashion. She excited comment wherever she appeared. People, as he knew very well even now, were envying him his companion. And beneath it all-she, the woman, was there. All his life he had fought for the big things-political power, immense wealth, the confidence of his great master-all these had come to him easily. And at that moment they were like baubles!

She looked up at last and there was a slight frown upon her forehead.

"I am still a little down, starting from where I had the ten mille," she sighed. "I thought-"

She stopped short. There was a curious change in her face. Her eyes were fixed upon some person approaching. Draconmeyer turned quickly in his chair. Almost as he did so, Hunterleys paused before their table. Violet looked up at him with quivering lips. For a moment it seemed as though she were stepping out of her sordid surroundings.

"Henry!" she exclaimed. "Did you come to look for me? Did you know that we were here?"

"How should I?" he answered calmly. "I was strolling around with David Briston. We are at the Opera."

"At the Opera," she repeated.

"My little protégée, Felicia Roche, is singing," he went on, "in A?da. If she does as well in the next act as she has done in this, her future is made."

He was on the point of adding the news of Felicia's engagement to the young man who had momentarily deserted him. Some evil chance changed his intention.

"Why do you call her your little protégée?" she demanded.

"It isn't quite correct, is it?" he answered, a little absently. "There are three or four of us who are doing what we can to look after her. Her father was a prominent member of the Wigwam Club. The girl won the musical scholarship we have there. She has more than repaid us for our trouble, I am glad to say."

"I have no doubt that she has," Violet replied, lifting her eyes.

There was a moment's silence. The significance of her words was entirely lost upon Hunterleys.

"Isn't this rather a new departure of yours?" he asked, glancing disdainfully towards Draconmeyer. "I thought that you so much preferred to play at the Club."

"So I do," she assented, "but I was just beginning to win when the Club closed at eight o'clock, and so we came on here."

"Your good fortune continues, I hope?"

"It varies," she answered hurriedly, "but it will come, I am sure. I have been very near a big win more than once."

He seemed on the point of departure. She leaned a little forward.

"You had my note, Henry?"

Her tone was almost beseeching. Draconmeyer, who was listening with stony face, shivered imperceptibly.

"Thank you, yes," Hunterleys replied, frowning slightly. "I am sorry, but I am not at liberty to do what you suggest just at present. I wish you good fortune."

He turned around and walked back to the other end of the room, where Briston was standing at the bar. She looked after him for a moment as though she failed to understand his words. Then her face hardened. Draconmeyer leaned towards her.

"Shall we go?" he suggested.

She rose with alacrity. Side by side they strolled through the rooms towards the Cercle Privé.

"I am sorry," Draconmeyer said regretfully, "but I am forced to leave you now. I will take you back to your place and after that I must go to the hotel and change. I have a reception to attend. I wish you would take the rest of my winnings and see what you can do with them."

She shook her head vigorously.

"No, thank you," she declared. "I have enough."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I have twenty-five mille here in my pocket," he continued, "besides some smaller change. I don't think it is quite fair to leave so much money about in one's room or to carry it out into the country. Keep it for me. You won't need to play with it-I can see that your luck is in-but it always gives one confidence to feel that one has a reserve stock, something to fall back upon if necessary."

He drew the notes from his pocket and held them towards her. Her eyes were fixed upon them covetously. The thought of all that money actually in her possession was wildly exhilarating.

"I will take care of them for you, if you like," she said. "I shall not play with them, though. I owe you quite enough already and my losing days are over."

He stuffed the notes carelessly into her bag.

"Twenty-five mille," he told her. "Remember my advice. If the luck stays with you, stake maximums. Go for the big things."

She looked at him curiously as she closed her gold bag with a snap.

"After all," she declared, with a little laugh, "I am not sure that you are not the greater gambler of the two to trust me with all this money!"

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