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   Chapter 28 TO THE VILLA MIMOSA

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 12166

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


With feet that seemed to touch nothing more substantial than air, her eyes brilliant, a wonderful colour in her cheeks, Violet passed through the heavy, dingy rooms and out through the motley crowd into the portico of the Casino. She was right! She knew that she had been right! How wise she had been to borrow that money from Mr. Draconmeyer instead of sitting down and confessing herself vanquished! The last few hours had been hours of ecstatic happiness. With calm confidence she had sat in her place and watched her numbers coming up with marvellous persistence. It was the most wonderful thing in the world, this. She had had no time to count her winnings, but at least she knew that she could pay back every penny she owed. Her little gold satchel was stuffed with notes and plaques. She felt suddenly younger, curiously light-hearted; hungry, too, and thirsty. She was, in short, experiencing almost a delirium of pleasure. And just then, on the steps of the Casino, she came face to face with her husband.

"Henry!" she called out. "Henry!"

He turned abruptly around. He was looking troubled, and in his hand were the fragments of a crushed up note.

"Come across to the hotel with me," she begged, forgetful of everything except her own immense relief. "Come and help me count. I have been winning. I have won back everything."

He accepted the information with only a polite show of interest. After all, as she reflected afterwards, he had no idea upon what scale she had been gambling!

"I am delighted to hear it," he answered. "I'll see you across the road, if I may, but I have only a few minutes to spare. I have an appointment."

She was acutely disappointed; unreasonably, furiously angry.

"An appointment!" she exclaimed. "At half-past eleven o'clock at night! Are you waiting for Felicia Roche?"

"Is there any reason why I should not?" he asked her gravely.

She bit her lips hard. They were crossing the road now. After all, it was only a few months since she had bidden him go his own way and leave her to regulate her own friendships.

"No reason at all," she admitted, "only I cannot see why you choose to advertise yourself with an opera singer-you, an ambitious politician, who moves with his head in the clouds, and to whom women are no more than a pastime. Why have you waited all these years to commence a flirtation under my very nose!"

He looked at her sternly.

"I think that you are a little excited, Violet," he said. "You surely don't realise what you are saying."

"Excited! Tell me once more-you got my note, the one I wrote this evening?"

"Certainly."

His brief reply was convincing. She remembered the few impulsive lines which she had written from her heart in that moment of glad relief. There was no sign in his face that he had been touched. Even at that moment he had drawn out his watch and was looking at it.

"Thank you for bringing me here," she said, as they stood upon the steps of the hotel. "Don't let me keep you."

"After all," he decided, "I think that I shall go up to my room for a minute. Good night!"

She looked after him, a little amazed. She was conscious of a feeling of slow anger. His aloofness repelled her, was utterly inexplicable. For once it was she who was being badly treated. Her moment of exhilaration had passed. She sat down in the lounge; her satchel, filled with mille franc notes, lay upon her lap unheeded. She sat there thinking, seeing nothing of the crowds of fashionably dressed women and men passing in and out of the hotel; of the gaily-lit square outside, the cool green of the gardens, the café opposite, the brilliantly-lit Casino. She was back again for a moment in England. The strain of all this life, whipped into an artificial froth of pleasure by the constant excitement of the one accepted vice of the world, had suddenly lost its hold upon her. The inevitable question had presented itself. She was counting values and realising....

When at last she rose wearily to her feet, Hunterleys was passing through the hall of the hotel, on his way out. She looked at him with aching heart but she made no effort to stop him. He had changed his clothes for a dark suit and he was also wearing a long travelling coat and tweed cap. She watched him wistfully until he had disappeared. Then she turned away, summoned the lift and went up to her rooms. She rang at once for her maid. She would take a bath, she decided, and go to bed early. She would wash all the dust of these places away from her, abjure all manner of excitement and for once sleep peacefully. In the morning she would see Henry once more. Deep in her heart there still lingered some faint shadow of doubt as to Draconmeyer and his attitude towards her. It was scarcely possible that he could have interfered in any way, and yet.... She would talk to her husband face to face, she would tell him the things that were in her heart.

She rang the bell for the second time. Only the femme de chambre answered the summons. Madame's maid was not to be found. Madame had not once retired so early. It was possible that Susanne had gone out. Could she be of any service? Violet looked at her and hesitated. The woman was clumsy-fingered and none too tidy. She shook her head and sent her away. For a moment she thought of undressing herself. Then instead she opened her satchel and counted the notes. Her breath came more quickly as she looked at the shower of gold and counted the many oblong strips of paper with their magic lettering. At last she had it all in heaps. There were the twenty-five mille he had left with her, and the seventy-five mille she had borrowed from him. Then towards her own losses there was another mille, and a matter of five hundred francs in gold. And all this success, her wonderful recovery, had been done so easily! It was just because she had had the pluck to go on, because she had followed her vein. She looked at the money and she walked to the window. Somewhere a band was playing in the distance. Little parties of men and women in evening dress were

strolling by on their way to the Club. A woman was laughing as she clung to her escort on the opposite side of the road, by the gardens. Across at the Café de Paris the people were going in to supper. The spirit of enjoyment seemed to be in the air-the light-hearted, fascinating, devil-may-care atmosphere she knew so well. Violet looked back into the bedroom and she no longer had the impulse to sleep. Her face had hardened a little. Every one was so happy and she was so lonely. She stuffed the notes and gold back into her bag, looked at her hat in the glass and touched her face for a moment with a powder-puff. Then she left the room, rang for the lift and descended.

"I am going into the Club for an hour or so, if I am wanted," she told the concierge as she passed out.

* * *

Hunterleys, on leaving the hotel, walked rapidly across the square and found David waiting for him on the opposite side.

"Felicia will be late," the latter explained. "She has to get all that beastly black stuff off her face. She is horribly nervous about Sidney and she doesn't want you to wait. I think perhaps she is right, too. She told me to tell you that Monsieur Lafont himself came to her room and congratulated her after the curtain had gone down. She is almost hysterical between happiness and anxiety about Sidney. Where's your man?"

"I asked him to be a little higher up," Hunterleys replied. "There he is."

They walked a few steps up the hill and found Richard Lane waiting for them in his car. The long, grey racer looked almost like some submarine monster, with its flaring head-lights and torpedo-shaped body which scarcely cleared the ground.

"Ready for orders, sir," the young man announced, touching his cap.

"Is there room for three of us, in case of an emergency?" Hunterleys asked.

"The third man has to sit on the floor," Richard pointed out, "but it isn't so comfortable as it looks."

Hunterleys clambered in and took the vacant place. David Briston lingered by a little wistfully.

"I feel rather a skunk," he grumbled. "I don't see why I shouldn't come along."

Hunterleys shook his head.

"There isn't the slightest need for it," he declared firmly. "You go back and look after Felicia. Tell her we'll get Sidney out of this all right. Get away with you, Lane, now."

"Where to?"

"To the Villa Mimosa!"

Richard whistled as he thrust in his clutch.

"So that's the game, is it?" he murmured, as they glided off.

Hunterleys leaned towards him.

"Lane," he said, "don't forget that I warned you there might be a little trouble about to-night. If you feel the slightest hesitation about involving yourself-"

"Shut up!" Richard interrupted. "Whatever trouble you're ready to face, I'm all for it, too. Darned queer thing that we should be going to the Villa Mimosa, though! I am not exactly a popular person with Mr. Grex, I think."

Hunterleys smiled.

"I saw your sister this afternoon," he remarked. "You are rather a wonderful young man."

"I knew it was all up with me," Richard replied simply, "when I first saw that girl. Now look here, Hunterleys, we are almost there. Tell me exactly what it is you want me to do?"

"I want you," Hunterleys explained, "to risk a smash, if you don't mind. I want you to run up to the boundaries of the villa gardens, head your car back for Monte Carlo, and while you are waiting there turn out all your lights."

"That's easy enough," Richard assented. "I'll turn out the search-light altogether, and my others are electric, worked by a button. Is this an elopement act or what?"

"There's a meeting going on in that villa," Hunterleys told him, "between prominent politicians of three countries. You don't have to bother much about Secret Service over in the States, although there's more goes on than you know of in that direction. But over here we have to make regular use of Secret Service men-spies, if you like to call them so. The meeting to-night is inimical to England. It is part of a conspiracy against which I am working. Sidney Roche-Felicia Roche's brother-who lives here as a newspaper correspondent, is in reality one of our best Secret Service men. He is taking terrible chances to-night to learn a little more about the plans which these fellows are discussing. We are here in case he needs our help to get away. We've cleared the shrubs away, close to the spot at which I am going to ask you to wait, and taken the spikes off the fence. It's just a thousand to one chance that if he's hard pressed for it and heads this way, they may think that they have him in a trap and take it quietly. That is to say, they'll wait to capture him instead of shooting."

"Say, you don't mean this seriously?" Richard exclaimed. "They can't do more than arrest him as a trespasser, or something of that sort, surely?"

Hunterleys laughed grimly.

"These men wouldn't stick at much," he told his companion. "They're hand in glove with the authorities here. Anything they did would be hushed up in the name of the law. These things are never allowed to come out. It doesn't do any one any good to have them gossiped about. If they caught Sidney and shot him, we should never make a protest. It's all part of the game, you know. Now that is the spot I want you to stop at, exactly where the mimosa tree leans over the path. But first of all, I'd turn out your head-light."

They slowed down and stopped. Richard extinguished the acetylene gas-lamp and mounted again to his place. Then he swung the car round and crawled back upon the reverse until he reached the spot to which Hunterleys had pointed.

"You're a good fellow, Richard," Hunterleys said softly. "We may have to wait an hour or two, and it may be that nothing will happen, but it's giving the fellow a chance, and it gives him confidence, too, to know that friends are at hand."

"I'm in the game for all it's worth, anyway," Lane declared heartily.

He touched a button and the lights faded away. The two men sat in silence, both turned a little in their seats towards the villa.

* * *

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