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   Chapter 30 SUPPOSING I TAKE THIS MONEY

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11971

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


There was a momentary commotion in the Club. A woman had fainted at one of the roulette tables. Her chair was quickly drawn back. She was helped out to the open space at the top of the stairs and placed in an easy-chair there. Lady Weybourne, who was on the point of leaving with her husband, hastened back. She stood there while the usual restoratives were being administered, fanning the unconscious woman with a white ostrich fan which hung from her waist. Presently Violet opened her eyes. She recognised Lady Weybourne and smiled weakly.

"I am so sorry," she murmured. "It was silly of me to stay in here so long. I went without my dinner, too, which was rather idiotic."

A man who had announced himself a doctor, bent over her pulse and turned away.

"The lady will be quite all right now," he said. "You can give her brandy and soda if she feels like it. Pardon!"

He hastened back to his place at the baccarat table. Lady Hunterleys sat up.

"It was quite absurd of me," she declared. "I don't know what-"

She stopped suddenly. The weight was once more upon her heart, the blankness before her eyes. She remembered!

"I am quite able to go home now," she added.

Her gold bag lay upon her lap. It was almost empty. She looked at it vacantly and then closed the snap.

"We'll see you back to the hotel," Lady Weybourne said soothingly. "Here comes Harry with the brandy and soda."

Lord Weybourne came hurrying from the bar, a tumbler in his hand.

"How nice of you!" Violet exclaimed gratefully. "Really, I feel that this is just what I need. I wonder what time it is?"

"Half past four," Lord Weybourne announced, glancing at his watch.

She laughed weakly.

"How stupid of me! I have been between here and the Casino for nearly twelve hours, and had nothing to eat. No, I won't have anything here, thanks," she added, as Lord Weybourne started back again for the bar, muttering something about a sandwich. "I'll have something in my room. If you are going back to the hotel, perhaps I could come with you."

They all three left the place together, passing along the private way.

"I haven't seen your brother all day," Violet remarked to Lady Weybourne.

"Richard's gone off somewhere in the car to-night, a most mysterious expedition," his sister declared. "I began to think that it must be an elopement, but I see the yacht's there still, and he would surely choose the yacht in preference to a motor-car, if he were running off with anybody! Your husband doesn't come into the rooms much?"

Violet shook her head.

"He hasn't the gambling instinct," she said quietly. "Perhaps he is just as well without it. One gets a lot of amusement out of this playing for small stakes, but it is irritating to lose. Thank you so much for looking after me," she added, as they reached the hall of the hotel. "I am quite all right now and my woman will be sitting up for me."

She passed into the lift. Lady Weybourne looked after her admiringly.

"Say, she's got some pluck, Harry!" she murmured. "They say she lost nearly a hundred mille to-night and she never even mentioned her losings. Irritating, indeed! I wonder what Sir Henry thinks of it. They are only moderately well off."

Her husband shrugged his shoulders, after the fashion of his sex.

"Let us hope," he said, "that it is Sir Henry who suffers."

* * *

Violet slipped out of her gown and dismissed her maid. In her dressing-gown she sat before the open window. Everywhere the place seemed steeped in the faint violet and purple light preceding the dawn. Away eastwards she could catch a glimpse of the mountains, their peaks cut sharply against the soft, deep sky; a crystalline glow, the first herald of the hidden sunrise, hanging about their summits. The gentle breeze from the Mediterranean was cool and sweet. There were many lights still gleaming upon the sea, but their effect now seemed tawdry. She sat there, her head resting upon her hands. She had the feeling of being somehow detached from the whole world of visible objects, as though, indeed, she were on her death-bed. Surely it was not possible to pass any further through life than this! In her thoughts she went back to the first days of estrangement between her husband and herself. Almost before she realised it, she found herself struggling against the tenderness which still survived, which seemed at that moment to be tearing at her heart-strings. He had ceased to care, she told herself. It was all too apparent that he had ceased to care. He was amusing himself elsewhere. Her little impulsive note had not won even a kind word from him. Her appeals, on one excuse or another, had been disregarded. She had lost her place in his life, thrown it away, she told herself bitterly. And in its stead-what! A new fear of Draconmeyer was stealing over her. He presented himself suddenly as an evil genius. She went back through the last few days. Her brain seemed unexpectedly clear, her perceptions unerring. She saw with hateful distinctness how he had forced this money upon her, how he had encouraged her all the time to play beyond her means. She realised the cunning with which he had left that last bundle of notes in her keeping. Well, there the facts were. She owed him now four thousand pounds. She had no money of her own, she was already overdrawn with her allowance. There was no chance of paying him. She realised, with a little shudder, that he did not want payment, a realisation which had come to her dimly from the first, but which she had pushed away simply because she had felt sure of winning. Now there was the price to be paid! She leaned further out of the window. Away to her left the glow over the mountains was becoming stained with the faintest of pinks. She looked at it long, with mute and critical appreciation. She swept with her eyes the line of violet shadows from the mountain-tops to the sea-board, where the pale lights of Bordighera still flickered. She looked

up again from the dark blue sea to the paling stars. It was all wonderful-theatrical, perhaps, but wonderful-and how she hated it! She stood up before the window and with her clenched fists she beat against the sills. Those long days and feverish nights through which she had passed slowly unfolded themselves. In those few moments she seemed to taste again the dull pain of constant disappointment, the hectic thrills of occasional winnings, the strange, dull inertia which had taken the place of resignation. She looked into the street below. How long would she live afterwards, she wondered, if she threw herself down! She began even to realise the state of mind which breeds suicides, the brooding over a morrow too hateful to be faced.

As she still stood there, the silence of the street below was broken. A motor-car swung round the corner and swept past the side of the hotel. She caught at the curtain as she recognised its occupants. Richard Lane was driving, and by his side sat her husband. The car was covered with dust, both men seemed weary as though they had been out all night. She gazed after them with fast-beating heart. She had pictured her husband at the villa on the hill! Where had he been with Richard Lane? Perhaps, after all, the things which she had imagined were not true. The car had stopped now at the front door. It returned a moment later on its way to the garage, with only Lane driving. She opened her door and stood there silently. Hunterleys would have to pass the end of the corridor if he came up by the main lift. She waited with fast beating heart. The seconds passed. Then she heard the rattle of the lift ascending, its click as it stopped, and soon afterwards the footsteps of a man. He was coming-coming past the corner! At that moment she felt that the sound of his footsteps was like the beating of fate. They came nearer and she shrank a little back. There was something unfamiliar about them. Whoever it might be, it was not Henry! And then suddenly Draconmeyer came into sight. He saw her standing there and stopped short. Then he came rapidly near.

"Lady Hunterleys!" he exclaimed softly. "You still up?"

She hesitated. Then she stood on one side, still grasping the handle of the door.

"Do you want to come in?" she asked. "You may. I have something to say to you. Perhaps I shall sleep better if I say it now."

He stepped quickly past her.

"Close the door," he whispered cautiously.

She obeyed him deliberately.

"There is no hurry," she said. "This is my sitting-room. I receive whom I choose here."

"But it is nearly six o'clock!" he exclaimed.

"That does not affect me," she answered, shrugging her shoulders. "Sit down."

He obeyed. There was something changed about her, something which he did not recognise. She thrust her hands into a box of cigarettes, took one out and lit it. She leaned against the table, facing him.

"Listen," she continued, "I have borrowed from you three thousand pounds. You left with me to-night-I don't know whether you meant to lend it to me or whether I had it on trust, but you left it in my charge-another thousand pounds. I have lost it all-all, you understand-the four thousand pounds and every penny I have of my own."

He sat quite still. He was watching her through his gold-rimmed spectacles. There was the slightest possible frown upon his forehead. The time for talking of money as though it were a trifle had passed.

"That is a great deal," he said.

"It is a great deal," she admitted. "I owe it to you and I cannot pay. What are you going to do?"

He watched her eagerly. There was a new note in her voice. He paused to consider what it might mean. A single false step now and he might lose all that he had striven for.

"How am I to answer that?" he asked softly. "I will answer it first in the way that seems most natural. I will beg you to accept your losings as a little gift from me-as a proof, if you will, of my friendship."

He had saved the situation. If he had obeyed his first impulse, the affair would have been finished. He realised it as he watched her face, and he shuddered at the thought of his escape. His words obviously disturbed her.

"It is not possible for me," she protested, "to accept money from you."

"Not from Linda's husband?"

She threw her cigarette into the grate and stood looking at him.

"Do you offer it to me as Linda's husband?" she demanded.

It was a crisis for which Draconmeyer was scarcely prepared. He was driven out of his pusillanimous compromise. She was pressing him hard for the truth. Again the fear of losing her altogether terrified him.

"If I have other feelings of which I have not spoken," he said quietly, "have I not kept them to myself? Do I obtrude them upon you even now? I am content to wait."

"To wait for what?" she insisted.

All that had been in his mind seemed suddenly miraged before him-the removal of Hunterleys, his own wife's failing health. The way had seemed so clear only a little time ago, and now the clouds were back again.

"Until you appreciate the fact," he told her, "that you have no more sincere friend, that there is no one who values your happiness more than I do."

"Supposing I take this money from you," she asked, after a moment's pause. "Are there any conditions?"

"None whatever," he answered.

She turned away with a little sigh. The tragedy which a few minutes ago she had seen looming up, eluded her. She had courted a dénouement in vain. He was too clever.

"You are very generous," she said. "We will speak of this to-morrow. I called you in because I could not bear the uncertainty of it all. Please go now."

He rose slowly to his feet. She gave him her hand lifelessly. He kept it for a moment. She drew it away and looked at the place where his lips had touched it, wonderingly. It was as though her fingers had been scorched with fire.

"It shall be to-morrow," he whispered, as he passed out.

* * *

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