- CHAPTER XXX The Day of Suspense
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The Day of Suspense
Go to, go to, thou art a foolish fellow!"
FROM Nice to Monte Carlo over the Upper Corniche, was for us a spin of less than two hours; and after that most beautiful drive in the world, we slowed down before the green-shaded loggia of the Royal, early in the afternoon. The hotel was only just open for the season, and it was possible to have a choice of rooms. Jack selected a glass-fronted suite, with a view more beautiful than any other in the extraordinary little principality:
Opening on the foam of perilous seas
In faëry lands forlorn."
I was given a peep into Molly's salon, which appeared to be a sort of crystal palace, with its two window-walls curtained by trailing roses; and Jack kept me for a moment at the door.
"I suppose we shall meet for dinner about eight, won't we, no matter what we may all choose to do meanwhile?" said he.| | 354
"Well--er--no," I mumbled, feeling a little foolish. "I have--er--a sort of engagement for to-night. I think I mentioned it before."
"What, to meet that missing Boy of yours?" asked Jack, in a chaffing tone, so tactlessly loud that it must have been distinctly audible to the ladies in the adjoining room, the door of which was open. "Isn't that rather a mad idea? You were vaguely engaged to meet your pal, I believe you said, on the night after your arrival, at the Hôtel de Paris, for dinner. But considering the fact that, if you'd walked down as you then intended, instead of motoring, you would have been a fortnight on the way, isn't it fantastic to expect that he'll turn up?"
"Not quite as fantastic as you think," I retorted, remembering the terms of the Boy's letter, which had not been confided to Jack, in their exactness.
"Anyhow, I'm going on the off chance."
"You apparently credit the youth with clairvoyance, my dear chap. Supposing he has come down here, how could he know that you'd arrived?"
"I wired him from Digne, telegraphing to the Poste Restante at Monte Carlo, where he would certainly think of enquiring, if he took much interest in my movements. In that message I made it very clear that I should expect him to stick to our bargain, and I have an impression that he will."
"He may. But, look here, my dear fellow,"-- Jack now had the decency to lower his voice,--"have you no red blood in your veins? -the real Mercédès--nearly restored to health and spirits by her run with us through splendid air and scenery, is to unveil her charms this evening at dinner. You have irreverently nicknamed her the | | 355 Perpetual Mushroom. To-night, you will see--but you don't deserve to be told what you will see, if you haven't the curiosity to find out at the first opportunity for yourself."
"Second opportunities, like second thoughts, are better than first," said I. "I shall be delighted to take the second opportunity of meeting Miss Mercédès--by the way, what is her other name? You always seemed to take it for granted that I knew; but if it was ever mentioned in the summer, I've forgotten."
"You should be ashamed to admit that you could deliberately and stoically forget a charming young lady's name, and you don't deserve to have your memory jogged. You shall be told the heiress's name when you meet her, and not before."
"I must possess my soul in patience until tomorrow, then," I replied, "for to me one pal in the bush is worth twenty heiresses in the hand, and I am now going out to scour the said bush."
"Which means the Casino, no doubt."
"I shall stroll in, when I've got rid of the dust. The Rooms are the place to come across people."
"All right, gang your ain gait, my son, and I suppose I must wish you luck. Daresay we shall see each other before bedtime."
A few hours later, I was walking down through the gardens, on my way to the Casino. The young grass, sown last month, had already become green velvet, and the flowers were as fresh as if they had been created an hour ago. The air smelled of La France roses and orange blossoms, though I saw neither. Some pretty Austrian girls were walking about in muslin frocks and gauzy hats, though by | | 356 this time, in England, women were putting on their fur boas in deference to autumn; and a few days ago I had been lost in a snowstorm on a middle-sized mountain of Savoie.
As I drew near to the big white Casino, strains of music came to me from the terrace, and thinking that the Boy might be there listening to the band, I went through the tunnel and came out on the beautiful flower-decked plateau overhanging the sea. Out of season though it was, a great many people were sitting there, drinking tea or coffee, and listening to "La Paloma."
The windows of the Casino were open, protected by awnings; birds were taking their last flight, before going to bed in some orange or lemon tree. The place was more charming than in the high season; but the face I looked for was not to be seen, and I deserted the Terrace for the Rooms.
I had not been to "Monte" since the Boer war; and when I had gone through the formalities at the Bureau, and entered the first salle, it struck me strangely to find everything exactly as I had left it years ago.
The same heavy stillness, emphasised by the continuous chink, chink of gold and silver, and broken only by the announcement of events at different tables: "Onze, noir, impair et manque";--"Rien ne va plus";--"Zéro!"
The same onze; the same rien n'va plus; the same zéro heralded in the same secretly joyous, outwardly apologetic tone, by the croupiers fortunate enough to produce it. The same croupiers too;--(or do croupiers develop a family likeness of face, of voice, of coat, as the years go chinking zeroly on?). The same players, or their doppelgängers; the same | | 357 pictured nymphs smiling on the ornate walls. But there was no Boy, no Boy's sister; and suddenly it occurred to me that I was foolish to expect him. He was too childlike in appearance to have obtained a ticket of admission to the gambling rooms.
Since it was useless to look for him here, and no other place seemed promising at this hour, there was nothing to do but pass the moments, until time to change for dinner. Accordingly I watched the tables. Once, like most men of my age, I had been bitten by the roulette fever and had wrestled with "systems" in their thousands, not so much for the mere "gamble," as for the joy of striving to beat the wily Pascal at his own invention.
In those old days the wheel had been like a populous town for me, inhabited by quaint little people, each living in his own snug house; the Little People of Roulette. Not a number on the board but his face was familiar to me; I would have known him if I had met him in the street. There was sly, thin, dark little Dix, always sneaking up on tiptoe when you did not want him, and popping out behind your back. Businsslike, successful, bustling Onze; tactless but honest Douze; treacherous yet fascinating Treize; blundering Seize; graceful, brunette Dix-Sept; and the faithful, friendly Vingtneuf; feminine Rouge; brusque, virile Noir; mean little, underbred Manque, and senile Passe; priggish Pair with his skittish young wife; the Dozens, nouveaux-riches, thinking themselves a cut above the humbler Simple Chances in Roulette Society; the upright, unbending Columns; the raffish Chevaux; the excitable Transversales, and the brilliant Carrés, charming on first acquaintance, but fickle as friends; the twin, blind dwarfs, the Coups | | 358 des Deux; these and many more, down to the wretched, worried Intermittances, ever in a violent hurry to catch a train but never catching it. I could see them all, still; but I saw them pass with calmness now, for I wanted to find the Boy.
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