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   Chapter 34 COFFEE FOR ONE ONLY

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10874

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The breaking up of Mr. Grex's luncheon-party was the signal for a certain amount of man[oe]uvring on the part of one or two of his guests. Monsieur Douaille, for instance, was anxious to remain the escort of Lady Hunterleys, whose plans for the afternoon he had ascertained were unformed. Mr. Grex was anxious to keep apart his daughter and Lady Weybourne, whose relationship to Richard Lane he had only just apprehended; while he himself desired a little quiet conversation with Monsieur Douaille before they paid the visit which had been arranged for to the Club and the Casino. In the end, Mr. Grex was both successful and unsuccessful. He carried off Monsieur Douaille for a short ride in his automobile, but was forced to leave his daughter and Lady Weybourne alone. Draconmeyer, who had been awaiting his opportunity, remained by Lady Hunterleys' side.

"I wonder," he asked, "whether you would step in for a few minutes and see Linda?"

She had been looking at the table where her husband and his companion had been seated. Draconmeyer's voice seemed to bring her back to a present not altogether agreeable.

"I am going back to my room for a little time," she replied. "I will call in and see Linda first, if you like."

They left the restaurant together and strolled across the Square to the Hotel de Paris, ascended in the lift, and made their way to Draconmeyer's suite of rooms in a silence which was almost unbroken. When they entered the large salon with its French-windows and balcony, they found the apartment deserted. Violet looked questioningly at her companion. He closed the door behind him and nodded.

"Yes," he admitted, "my message was a subterfuge. I have sent Linda over to Mentone with her nurse. She will not be back until late in the afternoon. This is the opportunity for which I have been waiting."

She showed no signs of anger or, indeed, disturbance of any sort. She laid her tiny white silk parasol upon the table and glanced at him coolly.

"Well," she said, "you have your way, then. I am here."

Draconmeyer looked at her long and anxiously. Skilled though he was in physiognomy, closely though he had watched, for many months, the lights and shades, the emotional changes in her expression, he was yet, at that moment, completely puzzled. She was not angry. Her attitude seemed to be, in a sense, passive. Yet what did passivity mean? Was it resignation, consent, or was it simply the armour of normal resistance in which she had clothed herself? Was he wise, after all, to risk everything? Then, as he looked at her, as he realised her close and wonderful presence, he suddenly told himself that it was worth while risking even Heaven in the future for the joy of holding her for once in his arms. She had never seemed to him so maddeningly beautiful as at that moment. It was one of the hottest days of the season and she was wearing a gown of white muslin, curiously simple, enhancing, somehow or other, her fascinating slimness, a slimness which had nothing to do with angularity but possessed its own soft and graceful curves. Her eyes were bluer even than her turquoise brooch or the gentians in her hat. And while his heart was aching and throbbing with doubts and hopes, she suddenly smiled at him.

"I am going to sit down," she announced carelessly. "Please say to me just what is in your mind, without reserve. It will be better."

She threw herself into a low chair near the window. Her hands were folded in her lap. Her eyes, for some reason, were fixed upon her wedding ring. Swift to notice even her slightest action, he frowned as he discerned the direction of her gaze.

"Violet," he said, "I think that you are right. I think that the time has come when I must tell you what is in my mind."

She raised her eyebrows slightly at the sound of her Christian name. He moved over and stood by her chair.

"For a good many years," he began slowly, "I have been a man with a purpose. When it first came into my mind-not willingly-its accomplishment seemed utterly hopeless. Still, it was there. Strong man though I am, I could not root it out. I waited. There was nothing else to do but wait. From that moment my life was divided. My whole-soul devotion to worldly affairs was severed. I had one dream that was more wonderful to me, even, than complete success in the great undertaking which brought me to London. That dream was connected with you, Violet."

She moved a little uneasily, as though the repetition of her Christian name grated. This time, however, he was rapt in his subject.

"I won't make excuses," he went on. "You know what Linda is-what she has been for ten years. I have tried to be kind to her. As to love, I never had any. Ours was an alliance between two great monied families, arranged for us, acquiesced in by both of us as a matter of course. It seemed to me in those days the most natural and satisfactory form of marriage. I looked upon myself as others have thought me-a cold, bloodless man of figures and ambition. It is you who have taught me that I have as much sentiment and more than other men, a heart and desires which have made life sometimes hell and sometimes paradise. For two years I have struggled. Life with me has been a sort of passionate compromise. For the joy of seeing you sometimes, of listening to you and watching you, I have borne the agony of having you leave me to take your place with another man. Y

ou don't quite know what that meant, and I am not going to tell you, but always I have hoped and hoped."

"And now," she said, looking at him, "I owe you four thousand pounds and you think, perhaps, that your time has come to speak?"

He shivered as though she had struck him a blow.

"You think," he exclaimed, "that I am a man of pounds, shillings, and pence! Is it my fault that you owe me money?"

He snatched her cheques from his inner pocket and ripped them in pieces, lit a match and watched them while they smouldered away. She, too, watched with emotionless face.

"Do you think that I want to buy you?" he demanded. "There! You are free from your money claims. You can leave my room this moment, if you will, and owe me nothing."

She made no movement, yet he was vaguely disturbed by a sense of having made but little progress, a terrible sense of impending failure. His fingers began to tremble, his face was the face of a man stretched upon the rack.

"Perhaps those words of mine were false," he went on. "Perhaps, in a sense, I do want to buy you, buy the little kindnesses that go with affection, buy your kind words, the touch sometimes of your fingers, the pleasant sense of companionship I feel when I am with you. I know how proud you are. I know how virtuous you are. I know that it's there in your blood, the Puritan instinct, the craving for the one man to whom you have given yourself, the involuntary shrinking from the touch of any other. Good women are like that-wives or mistresses. Mind, in a sense it's narrow; in a sense it's splendid. Listen to me. I don't want to declare war against that instinct-yet. I can't. Perhaps, even now, I have spoken too soon, craved too soon for the little I do ask. Yet God knows I can keep the seal upon my lips no longer! Don't let us misunderstand one another for the sake of using plain words. I am not asking you to be my mistress. I ask you, on my knees, to take from me what makes life brighter for you. I ask you for the other things only-for your confidence, for your affection, your companionship. I ask to see you every day that it is possible, to know that you are wearing my gifts, surrounded by my flowers, the rough places in your life made smooth by my efforts. I am your suppliant, Violet. I ask only for the crumbs that fall from your table, so long as no other man sits by your side. Violet, can't you give me as much as this?"

His hand, hot and trembling, sought hers, touched and gripped it. She drew her fingers away. It was curious how in those few moments she seemed to be gifted with an immense clear-sightedness. She knew very well that nothing about the man was honest save the passion of which he did not speak. She rose to her feet.

"Well," she said, "I have listened to you very patiently. If I owe you any excuse for having appeared to encourage any one of those thoughts of which you speak, here it is. I am like thousands of other women. I absolutely don't know until the time comes what sort of a creature I am, how I shall be moved to act under certain circumstances. I tried to think last night. I couldn't. I felt that I had gone half-way. I had taken your money. I had taken it, too, understanding what it means to be in a man's debt. And still I waited. And now I know. I won't even question your sincerity. I won't even suggest that you would not be content with what you ask for-"

"I have sworn it!" he interrupted hoarsely. "To be your favoured friend, to be allowed near you-your guardian, if you will-"

The words failed him. Something in her face checked his eloquence.

"I can tell you this now and for always," she continued. "I have nothing to give you. What you ask for is just as impossible as though you were to walk in your picture gallery and kneel before your great masterpiece and beg Beatrice herself to step down from the canvas. I began to wonder yesterday," she went on, rising abruptly and moving across the room, "whether I really was that sort of woman. With your money in my pocket and the gambling fever in my pulses, I began even to believe it. And now I know that I am not. Good-bye, Mr. Draconmeyer. I don't blame you. On the whole, perhaps, you have behaved quite well. I think that you have chosen to behave well because that wonderful brain of yours told you that it gave you the best chance. That doesn't really matter, though."

He took a quick, almost a threatening step towards her. His face was dark with all the passions which had preyed upon the man.

"There is a man's last resource," he muttered thickly.

"And there is a woman's answer to it," she replied, her finger suddenly resting upon an unsuspected bell in the wall.

They both heard its summons. Footsteps came hurrying along the corridor. Draconmeyer turned his head away, struggling to compose himself. A waiter entered. Lady Hunterleys picked up her parasol and moved towards the door. The man stood on one side with a bow.

"Here is the waiter you rang for, Mr. Draconmeyer," she remarked, looking over his shoulder. "Wasn't it coffee you wanted? Tell Linda I'll hope to see her sometime this evening."

She strolled away. The waiter remained patiently upon the threshold.

"Coffee for one or two, sir?" he enquired.

Mr. Draconmeyer struggled for a moment against a torrent of words which scorched his lips. In the end, however, he triumphed.

"For one, with cream," he ordered.

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