Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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At half-past eleven o’clock–Mr. Billingham was a man of regular habits–he quitted the promenade, crossed the Place in front of the Casino, and selected a table outside the Café de Paris. He selected it simply because it happened to be the nearest empty one and without even a glance at his neighbours. It was nevertheless, without a doubt, by the direction of that mysterious influence called fate that he should have chosen that particular chair and ordered his champagne cocktail with that clear and pleasant directness of speech which caused the two people at the adjacent table to turn and focus their attention upon him.

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER I

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

The eyes of the man who had looked in upon a scene inordinately, fantastically brilliant, underwent, after those first few moments of comparative indifference, a curious transformation. He was contemplating one of the sights of the world. Crowded around the two roulette tables, promenading or lounging on the heavily cushioned divans against the wall, he took note of a conglomeration of people representing, perhaps, every grade of society, every nationality of importance, yet with a curious common likeness by reason of their tribute paid to fashion. He glanced unmoved at a beautiful Englishwoman who was a duchess but looked otherwise; at an equally beautiful Frenchwoman, who looked like a duchess but was–otherwise. On every side of him were women gowned by the great artists of the day, women like flowers, all perfume and softness and colour. His eyes passed them over almost carelessly. A little tired with many weeks’ travel in countries where the luxuries of life were few, his senses were dulled to the magnificence of the scene, his pulses as yet had not responded to its charm and wonder. And then the change came. He saw a woman standing almost exactly opposite to him at the nearest roulette table, and he gave a noticeable start. For a moment his pale, expressionless face was transformed, his secret was at any one’s mercy. That, however, was the affair of an instant only. He was used to shocks and he survived this one. He moved a little on one side from his prominent place in the centre of the wide-flung doorway. He stood by one of the divans and watched.

She was tall and fair and slight. She wore a high-necked gown of shimmering grey, a black hat, under which her many coils of hair shone like gold, and a necklace of pearls around her throat, pearls on which his eyes had rested with a curious expression. She played, unlike many of her neighbours, with restraint, yet with interest, almost enthusiasm. There was none of the strain of the gambler about her smooth, beautiful face. Her delicately curved lips were free from the grim lines of concentrated acquisitiveness. She was thirty-two years old but she looked much younger as she stood there, her lips a little parted in a pleased smile of anticipation. She was leaning a little over the table and her eyes were fixed with humorous intentness upon the spinning wheel. Even amongst that crowd of beautiful women she possessed a certain individual distinction. She not only looked what she was–an Englishwoman of good birth–but there was a certain delicate aloofness about her expression and bearing which gave an added charm to a personality which seemed to combine the two extremes of provocativeness and reserve. One would have hesitated to address to her even the chance remarks which pass so easily between strangers around the tables.

“Violet here!” the man murmured under his breath. “Violet!”

There was tragedy in the whisper, a gleam of something like tragedy, too, in the look which passed between the man and the woman a few moments later. With her hands full of plaques which she had just won, she raised her eyes at last from the board. The smile upon her lips was the delighted smile of a girl. And then, as she was in the act of sweeping her winnings into her gold bag, she saw the man opposite. The smile seemed to die from her lips; it appeared, indeed, to pass with all else of expression from her face. The plaques dropped one by one through her fingers, into the satchel. Her eyes remained fixed upon him as though she were looking upon a ghost. The seconds seemed drawn out into a grim hiatus of time. The croupier’s voice, the muttered imprecation of a loser by her side, the necessity of making some slight movement in order to allow the passage of an arm from some one in search of change–some such trifle at last brought her back from the shadows. Her expression became at once more normal. She did not remove her eyes but she very slightly inclined her head towards the man. He, in return, bowed very gravely and without a smile.

The table in front of her was cleared now. People were beginning to consider their next coup. The voice of the croupier, with his parrot-like cry, travelled down the board.

“Faites vos jeux, mesdames et messieurs.”

The woman made no effort to stake. After a moment’s hesitation she yielded up her place, and moving backwards, seated herself upon an empty divan. Rapidly the thoughts began to form themselves in her mind. Her delicate eyebrows drew closer together in a distinct frown. After that first shock, that queer turmoil of feeling, beyond analysis, yet having within it some entirely unexpected constituent, she found herself disposed to be angry. The sensation had not subsided when a moment or two later she was conscious that the man whose coming had proved so disturbing was standing before her.

“Good afternoon,” he said, a little stiffly.

She raised her eyes. The frown was still upon her forehead, although to a certain extent it was contradicted by a slight tremulousness of the lips.

“Good afternoon, Henry!”

For some reason or other, further speech seemed to him a difficult matter. He moved towards the vacant place.

“If you have no objection,” he observed, as he seated himself.

She unfurled her fan–an ancient but wonderful weapon of defence. It gave her a brief respite. Then she looked at him calmly.

“Of all places in the world,” she murmured, “to meet you here!”

“Is it so extraordinary?”

“I find it so,” she admitted. “You don’t at all fit in, you know. A scene like this,” she added, glancing around, “would scarcely ever be likely to attract you for its own sake, would it?”

“It doesn’t particularly,” he admitted.

“Then why have you come?”

He remained silent. The frown upon her forehead deepened.

“Perhaps,” she went on coldly, “I can help you with your reply. You have come because you are not satisfied with the reports of the private detective whom you have engaged to watch me. You have come to supplement them by your own investigation.”

His frown matched hers. The coldness of his tone was rendered even more bitter by its note of anger.

“I am surprised that you should have thought me capable of such an action,” he declared. “All I can say is that it is thoroughly in keeping with your other suspicions of me, and that I find it absolutely unworthy.”

She laughed a little incredulously, not altogether naturally.

“My dear Henry,” she protested, “I cannot flatter myself that there is any other person in the world sufficiently interested in my movements to have me watched.”

“Are you really under the impression that that is the case?” he enquired grimly.

“It isn’t a matter of impression at all,” she retorted. “It is the truth. I was followed from London, I was watched at Cannes, I am watched here day by day–by a little man in a brown suit and a Homburg hat, and with a habit of lounging. He lounges under my windows, he is probably lounging across the way now. He has lounged within fifty yards of me for the last three weeks, and to tell you the truth I am tired of him. Couldn’t I have a week’s holiday? I’ll keep a diary and tell you all that you want to know.”

“Is it sufficient,” he asked, “for me to assure you, upon my word of honour, that I know nothing of this?”

She was somewhat startled. She turned and looked at him. His tone was convincing. He had not the face of a man whose word of honour was a negligible thing.

“But, Henry,” she protested, “I tell you that there is no doubt about the matter. I am watched day and night–I, an insignificant person whose doings can be of no possible interest save to you and you only.”

The man did not at once reply. His thoughts seemed to have wandered off for a moment. When he spoke again, his tone had lost its note of resentment.

“I do not blame you for your suspicion,” he said calmly, “although I can assure you that I have never had any idea of having you watched. It is not a course which could possibly have suggested itself to me, even in my most unhappy moments.”

She was puzzled–at once puzzled and interested.

“I am so glad to hear this,” she said, “and of course I believe you, but there the fact is. I think that you will agree with me that it is curious.”

“Isn’t it possible,” he ventured to suggest, “that it is your companions who are the object of this man’s vigilance? You are not, I presume, alone here?”

She eyed him a little defiantly.

“I am here,” she announced, “with Mr. and Mrs. Draconmeyer.”

He heard her without any change of expression, but somehow or other it was easy to see that her news, although more than half expected, had stung him.

“Mr. and Mrs. Draconmeyer,” he repeated, with slight emphasis on the latter portion of the sentence.

“Certainly! I am sorry,” she went on, a moment late, “that my companions do not meet with your approval. That, however, I could scarcely expect, considering–”

“Considering what?” he insisted, watching her steadfastly.

“Considering all things,” she replied, after a moment’s pause.

“Mrs. Draconmeyer is still an invalid?”

“She is still an invalid.”

The slightly satirical note in his question seemed to provoke a certain defiance in her manner as she turned a little sideways towards him. She moved her fan slowly backwards and forwards, her head was thrown back, her manner was almost belligerent. He took up the challenge. He asked her in plain words the question which his eyes had already demanded.

“I find myself constrained to ask you,” he said, in a studiously measured tone, “by what means you became possessed of the pearls you are wearing? I do not seem to remember them as your property.”

Her eyes flashed.

“Don’t you think,” she returned, “that you are a little outstepping your privileges?”

“Not in the least,” he declared. “You are my wife, and although you have defied me in a certain matter, you are still subject to my authority. I see you wearing jewels in public of which you were certainly not possessed a few months ago, and which neither your fortune nor mine–”

“Let me set your mind at rest,” she interrupted icily. “The pearls are not mine. They belong to Mrs. Draconmeyer.”

“Mrs. Draconmeyer!”

“I am wearing them,” she continued, “at Linda’s special request. She is too unwell to appear in public and she is very seldom able to wear any of her wonderful jewelry. It gives her pleasure to see them sometimes upon other people.”

He remained quite silent for several moments. He was, in reality, passionately angry. Self-restraint, however, had become such a habit of his that there were no indications of his condition save in the slight twitchings of his long fingers and a tightening at the corners of his lips. She, however, recognised the symptoms without difficulty.

“Since you defy my authority,” he said, “may I ask whether my wishes have any weight with you?”

“That depends,” she replied.

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