Chapter XVIII

A Memory of Monte Carlo

It was the day of the Two Thousand. The crowd which assembles at Newmarket on this occasion is but a handful compared with that which streams to Epsom by road and rail on the Derby Day. The event is purely a sporting one, and the bulk of the spectators are more or less interested in the result pecuniarily.

The paddock was fairly thronged, and here was a good sprinkling of turf habituées. Westoby was there, looking stonier and more saturnine than ever. The news that Tom Allworth was to ride the favourite had disturbed him considerably, the more so because the intimation had only leaked out at the eleventh hour. He had made his book on the strength of Killarney losing, and there was not time to hedge.

Peter Gumley looked on cool and imperturbable, and was perfectly impervious to Westoby’s overtures of affability. For some reason, the bookmaker seemed anxious to make up old differences with the trainer. Lord Verschoyle was bluff and boisterous as usual, but he was nervous all the same.

Not far from the judge’s box, leaning against a post which supported the rope, was Mr. Barney Moss, together with a group of companions as flashy-looking and as loudly dressed as himself.

“What ought we to win over this, Barney?” asked a short, red-faced young man, in a covert-coat and bowler hat.

“Five thou’, clean as a whistle. Killarney can’t lose.”

“And over the Derby?” went on the red-faced individual, with a wink.

“Wait till it comes,” said Barney, shortly. “Don’t you open your mouth too wide over the Derby, Buttons, old man, or you may spoil the game.”

At this moment up stalked Ned Strangeways, shabbily dressed, dark man, with a dirty bird’s-eye scarf round his neck, with an enormous pin stuck in it.

“Mossy,” said Strangeways, a well-known bookie, in an excited whisper “are you sure you’re on the right tack with Killarney?”

“Sure? D’ye think I’m a juggins!” returned Mr. Moss, scornfully.

“I’ve the tip that the winner is Quicksand​—​blue with silver stripes.”

“If you don’t believe what I say,” went on Strangeways, “ask Peter Gumley. Quicksand comes from his stables.”

“A fat lot one’s likely to get out of Peter. He’s as close as they make ’em,” retorted Barney. “I’ll bet any money that Quicksand’s entered to make the running for Killarney. Bah! it’s all rot. Do you imagine I don’t know a thing or two? Shut up​—​here come the horses.”

It was the preliminary canter. Killarney stood out from the lot by his beautiful symmetry of form and his grand action. Still, after the intelligence brought by Strangeways, it was only natural that the blue and silver stripes should attract a little attention.

All this time Barney Moss had got his eyes fixed on Quicksand’s jockey. There was something in the jockey’s face which haunted and puzzled him.

“If I didn’t know it couldn’t be,” he muttered, “I’d swear that was Tim Hollis.”

However, there was no possibility of satisfying his doubts, for the horses were half-way down the course on the way to the starting post.

There was the usual interval of expectation, and then a shout of “They’re off!” went up. Barney Moss, who had come down to Newmarket in a motor, was standing in the driver’s seat, and, armed with a big field glass, watched the race intently.

The start was a very good one. The horses went off in a cluster, and for a hundred yards or so it was difficult to tell which was first. Then a chestnut got away from the ruck, and some backer of this particular animal yelled enthusiastically: “Birdcage wins for a hundred!”

“Birdcage, be hanged!” said Moss. “Why, he’s challenged already.”

And so he was by two horses​—​one was Killarney, the other was the “dark” horse, the outsider, Quicksand.

Suddenly Moss uttered an oath. Quicksand was forging ahead; if he could only stay he must win. Killarney was close behind, and with that clever consummate horseman, Tom Allworth on his back, no one could say what might happen. Certain it was that the half-length which divided the first and second horse was being maintained.

But as they neared the judge’s box the skill of Allworth was shown. He called upon his horse, and Killarney gamely answered. No one knew exactly how it was done, but somehow Killarney was landed on the post the winner by a short head of the Two Thousand.

A great roar went up from the crowd, for the victory of Killarney was popular; but two or three knowing ones shook their heads and said it was a good thing the rider of Quicksand was not as good a jockey as Tom Allworth, or he must have won.

Directly the result was known, Barney Moss jumped from his seat on the motor with the object of satisfying his doubts as to Quicksand’s jockey. The latter, however, had disappeared, and Moss did not trouble much about the matter, seeing that his end​—​the victory of Killarney​—​had been achieved.

There was not less excitement in the grand stand than among the crowd below, and Lord Verschoyle was warmly congratulated by his friends on Killarney’s win, and his lordship received these congratulations with the air of a man who had passed successfully through an anxious ordeal.

“Thanks, boys,” said he. “I hope you’ll all put money in your pocket.”

“As it’s turned out, it’s all right,” laughed Sir Frederick Dartnell, an old comrade of Lord Verschoyle in the Guards, “but by Jupiter, it was a near thing. No other man in England but Tom Allworth could have snatched victory right on the post. Who’s——”

“Excuse me, Dartnell, but I see a friend yonder I want to have a word with.”

His lordship had caught sight of Violetta, who, very quietly and unobtrusively dressed, was sitting in a dark corner which she had purposely chosen, as she did not want to be recognised by George Godfree, who she made sure, would be somewhere on the course.

After the race was over, she had risen to find her way to the railway station. She had no interest in anything but the running of Killarney and Quicksand, and did not care even to congratulate Peter Gumley and Tim Hollis. She could do that easily enough on her return to the Owl’s Nest.

But her intention of slipping away unobserved was baulked by Lord Verschoyle, whom she saw squeezing through the crowd towards her.

“I’ve only just caught sight of you, Miss Vaughan,” said he, holding out both his hands and his face beaming. “To think of meeting you here!”

“Why not? You know how I love to see horses run.”

“Yes, but——”

“Well, what about the but?”

“Oh, it’s not quite ‘but,’ its ‘bet.’ Silly joke. I apologise. What I mean is, do you back your fancies?”

“Sometimes,” rejoined Violetta, composedly. “What’s right for a man is, I suppose, right for a woman.”

“H’m​—​well, I’m not going to argue​—​you always get the best of it. Anyhow, right or wrong, I’ve reason to thank you. Gad, but for your sticking up for Tom Allworth, I don’t believe I’d have climbed down. Had any other jockey been in his place, I stood to lose £10,000. As it is, I’ve won £20,000.”

“I’m very glad to hear it. A mistake though, wasn’t it, to plunge so heavily.”

“Perhaps, but it happens to be my way in everything I do. I must go the whole hog, you know. And that brings me to what’s uppermost in my mind. My mother gives a dinner party the week after the Derby, and I’m going to ask her to send you an invitation.”

“Please don’t.”

In spite of herself, a look of dismay crept over her face.

“I shall quote your own words​—​why not?”

“I rarely go to dinner parties. I prefer my own quiet life, and I don’t want to be dragged out of it. Besides, I’m quite sure your mother wouldn’t like me.”

“What on earth does that matter? I like you, and that’s everything.”

This blunt announcement was quite in accordance with Lord Verschoyle’s temperament, and Violetta did not attach much importance to it. Certainly, it did not displease her.

“Your liking me surely doesn’t involve me in going through the ordeal of a full dress dinner party,” she retorted laughingly. “I’m much too ingrained a Bohemian to feel at home in anything out of my nomadic habits.”

“But it’s just that spice of Bohemianism which makes you so charming. Now, merely to please me, do accept my mother’s hospitality. I’ve a particular reason for wanting you to know her.”

“And may I enquire the reason?”

“Just my whim, that’s all.”

“Not good enough, Lord Verschoyle. I’ve never subjected myself to the whim of anyone, and I’m not going to begin.”

Lord Verschoyle was not deaf to the tone of hauteur which had crept into Violetta’s voice.

“You’re right,” said he, after a pause. “I apologise. Don’t be angry. At the same time​—​well, I wish you weren’t so dashed independent.”

“Sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t alter.”

“I don’t ask you to alter. I wouldn’t have you anything different from what you are. But I hate uncertainties. Do you mind telling me right out what answer you’ll send my mother if she does write you.”

“I shall thank her, of course, acknowledge the honour, etcetera, but point out that as a perfect stranger to her ladyship, I could not accept her kind invitation.”

The handsome face of the nobleman was clouded.

“She won’t like that. It’ll look like a snub,” said he, quickly.

“There’s an easy way of avoiding all unpleasantness. You needn’t say a word to her about me. I’m very certain she’d feel embarrassed if you do. I should feel so under similar circumstances.”

“I wish you women were not so like cats,” he blurted out.

“Thank you.”

“Well, you know what I mean. Your claws are always ready to scratch one another.”

His lordship was unquestionably disappointed and inclined to be snappy, as Violetta saw plainly enough.

“I fancy men have claws, too,” said she, quite undisturbed. “I won’t retaliate​—​just to show you I’m not what you’ve accused me of being.”

The cloud cleared away. Lord Verschoyle was no sulker.

“You’re an awfully good sort, Violetta​—​I may call you, Violetta, mayn’t I?​—​but confoundedly obstinate. I’m obstinate too, and I tell you straight that some day my mother shall know you, and I don’t mind prophesying that she’ll like you as much as I do. But we’ll say no more about the dinner party since you don’t care for it. Have I pleased you?”

“I’m very grateful.”

“As a reward, may I call upon you? I asked your permission once before, if you remember, but you neither gave nor refused it.”

“I can’t prevent your calling, I suppose.”

“That’s sufficient. Thanks. You’re not leaving, are you?”

“Yes. I don’t want to spoil the recollection of that splendid Two Thousand race by seeing any other. I’m going to the railway station.”

“Then I’ll go with you if you’ve no objection. My car is at your service.”

He seemed so desirous of doing the amiable, that Violetta hadn’t the heart to disappoint him. After all, his society and his rough and ready speech were very agreeable. He had not attempted to pay her fulsome compliments, a form of masculine homage which she thoroughly abhorred.

Verschoyle escorted her from the grand stand, and they edged their way through the crowd at the entrance.

Just as they emerged, Violetta heard a hoarse strident laugh which she knew well enough, and she turned her head aside to avoid being recognised by George Godfree.

But she was too late. He had seen her. She was not going to show she was afraid of him, and she went on resolutely.

Godfree had a reputation for impudence which his conduct fully justified. He knew Lord Verschoyle by sight quite well, but this made no difference​—​indeed, it rather provoked him to annoy Violetta. He came close to her.

“Mercy on us,” she heard him say. “How proud we have grown. It’s not like you, Violetta, to forget old friends.”

She felt intensely angry at the fellow’s insolence. She wouldn’t have cared a bit had she been alone, but it was horribly humiliating for her to know that Lord Verschoyle should be made aware that she was acquainted with so disreputable a blackguard as George Godfree.

In the contemptuous glance she cast at him she saw that Godfree had further deteriorated since she last met him. Not indeed in his dress; for his clothes were of the latest cut and had evidently been made by a Bond Street tailor. But his face!

Godfree had been “touching” money of late since his association with Dan Westoby, and he had been living like a fighting cock. The results were seen in his blotched bloated cheeks, his watery eyes, and his loose lips. Violetta looked at him in disgust.

Then her expression changed. By the side of Godfree was a man whose hard, colourless face, cold eyes, and thin lips, carried her memory back to Monte Carlo​—​to that eventful night when for the last time in her life she acted as a mascotte at the gaming table.

The man on whom her gaze was resting was he for whom she won £500, half of which he had insisted upon handing over to her. Nothing but dire necessity had induced her to accept it, and it had remained a burden on her mind ever since.

She had often longed for the opportunity of returning it, but how was it to be done when she did not know the name of the man, or where he was to be found?

And here he was raising his hat to her, a cold smile lighting up his flinty face. She could not do otherwise than acknowledge the salutation, and she did so with the slightest possible inclination of her head. Godfree she simply ignored.

“Will you hurry, please,” she whispered to Lord Verschoyle. “I want to get away from these men.”

Verschoyle was much too chivalrous a gentleman not to come to her rescue whatever he might think of her knowing such riff-raff of the turf as George Godfree. He slipped her hand beneath his arm as if to challenge the others to question his right of possession.

Not a word passed until they were within the motor.

“I don’t know whether I ought to explain why those two men recognised me,” said she.

“Certainly not. Why should you? I’m not curious.”

“That I quite believe. Well, some day I may tell you. Mr. Godfree I know to be a dishonourable, treacherous man. I’ve nothing to do with him, yet for some reason he chooses to be offensive whenever we chance to meet as we did just now. His companion I can’t say I know anything of. I met him once abroad, and that is the extent of our acquaintance.”

“I congratulate you. Dan Westoby’s not a very desirable man to have for a friend. I doubt if he has one.”

“I beg your pardon, Lord Verschoyle. What did you say his name was?”

“Dan Westoby. He’s well known on every race course. Better known than trusted, I should say. More than one man’s had reason to curse his acquaintanceship, poor Sir John Norman among the number. How the deuce he managed to let the scoundrel get hold of Normanhurst, I can’t make out. It was a swindle, I’ll swear. You know Normanhurst, of course, Miss Vaughan. It’s not more than ten miles from the Owl’s Nest.”

“Yes, I know the place,” said Violetta, in a subdued voice.

“Norman’s one of the best of fellows, but an awful fool in some things. He was beastly unlucky in his marriage.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Ever met him?”

“Yes, but I haven’t seen him for a long time.”

There was no earthly reason apparently why they should talk about Norman, but Violetta instinctively guessed Lord Verschoyle’s motive. He wanted to avoid causing her embarrassment by any reference to her unfortunate recognition of two undesirables and she was grateful to him for his tact.

They reached the station, Violetta was conscious of a restraint in Lord Verschoyle’s manner. She was not surprised, but all the same she felt intensely mortified. Not that it mattered, she told herself. What was Lord Verschoyle to her? The present was but the second time she had met him. No, it was of no consequence, and after a few hours had gone by she would probably forget the unpleasant episode.

But in her heart she knew it wouldn’t be so. Somehow she wanted to stand well in Lord Verschoyle’s sight, but had she been asked to say why, she would have found it difficult to answer the question. Lord Verschoyle’s last utterances did not add to her tranquillity.

“We shall be running across each other again, I hope, Miss Vaughan. These chance meetings have a charm of their own.”

“Indeed they have. The unexpected is sometimes pleasant​—​or the reverse​—​more often the reverse.”

She had no sooner left fall the words than she wished she could have recalled them. They sounded like a reference to what had happened, and as though the incident was still rankling in her mind, whereas all along she had been trying to make it appear that she regarded it with indifference.

Lord Verschoyle put her into a carriage when the train came up, and stood at the window until the guard’s whistle was heard.

“Well,” said he, as he raised his hat, “I suppose our next excitement will be the Derby. You gave me such good advice over Killarney’s mount to-day that I shall be tempted to seek it again if I’m in a difficulty. Au revoir.”

All very nice, very flattering, very friendly​—​in a way​—​but it had not the bluff heartiness of Lord Verschoyle’s usual speech.

Violetta sat back in her seat and sighed wearily. The day which had begun so joyously had ended in vexation of spirit.

“All is vanity. I suppose that’s what everything in this world comes to,” she murmured. “I wonder what Lord Verschoyle would have thought had I agreed to accept his mother’s invitation. I’m glad I didn’t. It might have forced me to give some explanation how I came to know those two men. I doubt if I should have the courage to tell him the truth.”

It was odd the thought should cross her mind that had Lord Verschoyle been Sir John Norman, she would not have the same timidity. Yet Norman hated racing, and all its associations; and with the nobleman it was just the reverse. Was it because Norman was as Lord Verschoyle put it, “an awful fool?”

But she did not trouble to decide the point. Dan Westoby’s pallid face​—​expressionless save for a certain suggestion of malignance​—​came into her memory and drove out everything else.

To think that she was under an obligation to this unscrupulous trickster, who was held in utter contempt by honest, straight-going racing men, was abhorrent, and her self reproaches were all the more bitter because it was he who had ruined Sir John Norman.

There was really nothing in her past life which was personally to her discredit. It was rather the other way about. Considering her surroundings at the Beak Street Club, and her associations and temptations in Paris and Monte Carlo, the marvel was that she had passed through such vicious circles unscathed. Her knowledge of the seamy side of life had made her a little cynical, but with that cynicism had come a tolerance of the weaknesses of human nature which kept her heart open to sympathy and generous impulses.

But what would outsiders think​—​even those who might be charitably disposed towards her? If all were known, women would pass her by on the other side, men would wink and smile and whisper innuendoes. There had been times when Violetta would not have cared a jot what the world said about her, but then she was of no importance to herself.

It was different now; for the first time in her life she felt frightened. What a hold these two men George Godfree and Dan Westoby had over her if they chose to open their mouths! Between them they practically knew everything. Godfree could tell tales of the Beak Street Club, and place his own construction upon them. Westoby had doubtless heard all the slanderous gossip at Monte Carlo concerning her.

She might steel herself against slander but not against the truth. She could not contradict the fact that Westoby had given her £250. Why? For acting as a mascotte and enabling him to win £500! Who would believe such a fairy tale? Violetta went hot and cold at the interpretation which the malicious might put upon the transaction.

“I’ll not be in his debt a moment longer than I can help​—​even if it involves my disclosing that I’m the tenant of the Owl’s Nest. I’d rather that Westoby did not know my address, but——”

She stopped. The thought of another danger had suddenly faced her. Westoby had probably made himself intimately acquainted with Sir John Norman’s affairs. Supposing he knew that Norman owned the Owl’s Nest? What conclusion would he draw from the fact that she was living there? Violetta had accepted money from him, why shouldn’t she accept the generosity of Norman? Not, of course, as a mascotte​—​for Norman had had anything but good luck​—​but for some other reason.

The position was intolerable, and made all the more so because she could for the moment see no way of safely extricating herself.