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   Chapter 37 AN AMAZING ELOPEMENT

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8273

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The sun was shining brilliantly and the sky was cloudless as Richard turned his automobile into the grounds of the Villa Mimosa, soon after nine o'clock on the following morning. The yellow-blossomed trees, slightly stirred by the west wind, formed a golden arch across the winding avenue. The air was sweet, almost faint with perfume. On the terrace, holding a pair of field-glasses in her hand and gazing intently out to sea, was Fedora. At the sound of the motor-horn she turned quickly. She looked at the visitor in surprise. A shade of pink was in her face. Lane brought the car to a standstill, jumped out and climbed the steps of the terrace.

"What has brought you here?" she asked, in surprise.

"I have just come to pay you a little visit," he remarked easily. "I was only afraid you mightn't be up so early."

She bit her lip.

"You have no right to come here at all," she said severely, "and to present yourself at this hour is unheard of."

"I came early entirely out of consideration for your father," he assured her.

She frowned.

"My father?" she repeated. "Please explain at once what you mean. My father is on that yacht and I cannot imagine why he does not return."

"I can tell you," he answered, standing by her side and looking out seawards. "They are waiting for my orders before they let him off."

She turned her head and looked at him incredulously.

"Explain yourself, please," she insisted.

"With pleasure," he assented. "You see, I just had to make sure of being allowed to have a few minutes' conversation with you, free from any interruption. Somehow or other," he added thoughtfully, "I don't believe your father likes me."

"I do not think," she replied coldly, "that my father has any feelings about you at all, except that he thinks you are abominably presumptuous."

"Because I want to marry you?"

She stamped with her foot upon the ground.

"Please do not say such absurd things! Explain to me at once what you mean by saying that my father is being kept there by your orders."

"I'll try," Lane answered. "He boarded that yacht last night in mistake. He thought that it was a hired one, but it isn't. It's mine. I found him there last night, entertaining a little party of his friends in the saloon. They seemed quite comfortable, so I begged them to remain on as my guests for a short time."

"To remain?" she murmured, bewildered. "For how long?"

"Until you've just read this through and thought it over."

He passed her a document which he had drawn from his pocket. She took it from him wonderingly. When she had read a few lines, the colour came streaming into her cheeks. She threw it to the ground. He picked it up and replaced it in his pocket.

"But it is preposterous!" she cried. "That is a marriage license!"

"That's precisely what it is," he admitted. "I thought we'd be married at Nice. My sister is waiting to go along with us. I said we'd pick her up at the Hotel de Paris."

Severe critics of her undoubted beauty had ventured at times to say that Fedora's face lacked expression. There was, at that moment, no room for any such criticism. Amazement struggled with indignation in her eyes. Her lips were quivering, her breath was coming quickly.

"Do you mean-have you given her or any one to understand that there was any likelihood of my consenting to such an absurd scheme?"

"I only told her what I hoped," he said quietly. "That is all I dared say even to myself. But I want you to listen to me."

His voice had grown softer. She turned her head and looked at him. He was much taller than she was, and in his grey tweed suit, his head a little thrown back, his straw hat clasped in his hands behind him, his clear grey eyes full of serious purpose, he was certainly not an unattractive figure to look upon. Unconsciously she found herself comparing him once more with the men of her world, found herself realising, even against her will, the charm of his na?ve and dogged honesty, his youth, his tenacity of purpose. She had never been made love to like this before.

"Please listen," he begged. "I am afraid that your

father must be in a tearing rage by now, but it can't be helped. He is out there and he hasn't got an earthly chance of getting back until I give the word. We've got plenty of time to reach Nice before he can land. I just want you to realise, Fedora, that you are your own mistress. You can make or spoil your own life. No one else has any right to interfere. Have you ever seen any one yet, back in your own country, amongst your own people, whom you really felt that you cared for-who you really believed would be willing to lay down his life to make you happy?"

"No," she confessed simply, "I do not know that I have. Our men are not like that."

"It is because," he went on, "there is no one back there who cares as I do. I have spent some years of my life looking-quite unconsciously, but looking all the same-for some one like you. Now I have found you I am glad I have waited. There couldn't be any one else. There never could be, Fedora. I love you just in the way a man does love once in his life, if he's lucky. It's a queer sort of feeling, you know," he continued, leaning a little towards her. "It makes me quite sure that I could make you happy. It makes me quite sure that if you'll give me your hand and trust me, and leave everything to me, you'll have just the things in life that women want. Won't you be brave, Fedora? There are some things to break through, I know, but they don't amount to much-they don't, really. And I love you, you know. You can't imagine yet what a wonderful difference that makes. You'll find out and you'll be glad."

She stood quite still. Her eyes were still fixed seawards, but she was looking beyond the yacht, now, to the dim line where sky and sea seemed to meet. The vision of her past days seemed to be drawn out before her, a little monotonous, a little wearisome even in their splendour, more than a little empty. And underneath it all she was listening to the new music, and her heart was telling her the truth.

"You don't need to make any plans," he said softly. "Go and put on your hat and something to wear motoring. Bring a dressing-bag, if you like. Flossie is waiting for us and she is rather a dear. You can leave everything else to me."

She looked timidly into his eyes. A new feeling was upon her. She gave him her hand almost shyly. Her voice trembled.

"If I come," she whispered, "you are quite sure that you mean it all? You are quite sure that you will not change?"

He raised her hand to his lips.

"Not in this world, dear," he answered, with sublime confidence, "nor any other!"

She stole away from him. He was left alone upon the terrace, alone, but with the exquisite conviction of her return, promised in that last half-tremulous, half-smiling look over her shoulder. Then suddenly life seemed to come to him with a rush, a new life, filled with a new splendour. He was almost humbly conscious of bigger things than he had ever realised, a nearness to the clouds, a wonderful, thrilling sense of complete and absolute happiness.... Reluctantly he came back to earth. His thoughts became practical. He went to the back of his car, drew out a rocket on a stick and thrust it firmly into the lawn. Then he started his engine and almost immediately afterwards she came. She was wearing a white silk motor-coat and a thick veil. Behind her came a bewildered French maid, carrying wraps, and a man-servant with a heavy dressing-case. In silence these things were stowed away. She took her place in the car. Lane struck a match and stepped on to the lawn.

"Don't be frightened," he said. "Here goes!"

A rocket soared up into the sky. Then he seated himself beside her and they glided off.

"That means," he explained, "that they'll let your father and the others off in two hours. Give us plenty of time to get to Nice. Have you-left any word for him?"

"I have left a very short message," she answered, "to say that I was going to marry you. He will never forgive me, and I feel very wicked and very ungrateful."

"Anything else?" he whispered, leaning a little towards her.

She sighed.

"And very happy," she murmured.

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