My friend the Chauffeur
By C. N. and A. M. WILLIAMSON
Authors of "Lady Betty Across the Water," "The Princess Virginia," "The Lightning Conductor," etc., etc.
BY FREDERIC LOWENHEIM
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1905, by McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO. Published September, 1905
TO THE OTHER BEECHY
PART I—TOLD BY RALPH MORAY
I A CHAPTER OF SURPRISES 3 II A CHAPTER OF PLANS 17 III A CHAPTER OF REVENGES 28 IV A CHAPTER OF HUMILIATIONS 40 V A CHAPTER OF ADVENTURES 55 VI A CHAPTER OF PREDICAMENTS 78
PART II—TOLD BY BEECHY KIDDER
VII A CHAPTER OF CHILDISHNESS 89 VIII A CHAPTER OF PLAYING DOLLS 97 IX A CHAPTER OF REVELATIONS 107 X A CHAPTER OF THRILLS 115 XI A CHAPTER OF BRAKES AND WORMS 129 XII A CHAPTER OF HORRORS 138 XIII A CHAPTER OF WILD BEASTS 152 XIV A CHAPTER OF SUNSHINE AND SHADOW 163
PART III—TOLD BY THE COUNTESS
XV A CHAPTER OF PITFALLS 175 XVI A CHAPTER OF ENCHANTMENT 191
PART IV—TOLD BY MAIDA DESTREY
XVII A CHAPTER OF MOTOR MANIA 205 XVIII A CHAPTER ACCORDING TO SHAKSPERE 225 XIX A CHAPTER OF PALACES AND PRINCES 235 XX A CHAPTER IN FAIRYLAND 244 XXI A CHAPTER OF STRANGE SPELLS 256 XXII A CHAPTER BEYOND THE MOTOR ZONE 267 XXIII A CHAPTER OF KIDNAPPING 283 XXIV A CHAPTER ON PUTTING TRUST IN PRINCES 292
PART V—TOLD BY TERENCE BARRYMORE
XXV A CHAPTER OF CHASING 303 XXVI A CHAPTER OF HIGH DIPLOMACY 316
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS PAGE
She was only a tall white girl simply dressed Frontispiece
As he spoke a douanier lounged out of his little (After) 62 whitewashed lair
Two or three men were moving about the place (After) 148
A great white light pounced upon us like a hawk on a chicken (After) 200
MY FRIEND THE CHAUFFEUR
TOLD BY RALPH MORAY
A CHAPTER OF SURPRISES
"WANTED, LADIES, TO CONDUCT. An amateur automobilist (English, titled) who drives his own motor-car accommodating five persons, offers to conduct two or three ladies, Americans preferred, to any picturesque centres in Europe which they may desire to visit. Car has capacity for carrying small luggage, and is of best type. Journeys of about 100 miles a day. Novel and delightful way of travelling; owner of car well up in history, art, and architecture of different countries. Inclusive terms five guineas a day each, or slight reduction made for extensive trip. Address—"
When Terry had read aloud thus far, I hastily interrupted him. I wasn't quite ready yet for him to see that address. The thing needed a little leading up to; and by way of getting him quickly and safely on to a side rack I burst into a shout of laughter, so loud and so sudden that he looked up from the little pink Riviera newspaper of which I was the proud proprietor, to stare at me.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
I subsided. "The idea struck me so forcibly," said I. "Jolly clever, isn't it?"
"It's a fake, of course," said Terry. "No fellow would be ass enough to advertise himself like that in earnest. Probably the thing's been put in for a bet, or else it's a practical joke."
I had been aware that this, or something like it, would come, but now that the crisis was at hand I felt qualmish. Terry—known to strangers as Lord Terence Barrymore—is the best and most delightful chap in the world, as well as one of the best looking, but like several other Irishmen he is, to put it mildly, rather hard to manage, especially when you want to do him a good turn. I had been trying to do him one without his knowing it, and in such a way that he couldn't escape when he did know. But the success of my scheme was now being dandled on the knees of the gods, and at any instant it might fall off to break like an egg.
"I believe it's genuine," I began gingerly, almost wishing that I hadn't purposely put the pink paper where Terry would be sure to pick it up. "And I don't see why you should call the advertiser in my paper an ass. If you were hard up, and had a motor-car—"
"I am hard up, and I have a motor-car."
"What I was going to say is this: wouldn't it be much better to turn your car into the means of making an honest living, and at the same time having some rattling good fun, rather than sell the thing for less than half cost, and not only get no fun at all, but not know how to get out of the scrape in which you've landed yourself?"
It was Terry's turn to laugh now, which he did, though not uproariously, as I had. "One would think the ass was a friend of yours, by your enthusiasm in defending him," said he.
"I'm only putting the case to you in the way I thought you'd see it most clearly," I persisted mildly. "But, as a matter of fact, the 'ass' as you call him, is my friend, a very intimate friend indeed."
"Didn't know you had any intimate friends but me, anyhow owners of motor-cars, you old owl," remarked Terry. "I must say in your defence, though, it isn't like you to have friends who advertise themselves as titled couriers."
"If you're obliged to start a shop I suppose it's legitimate to put your best goods in the windows, and arrange them as attractively as you can to appeal to the public," I argued. "This is the same thing. Besides, my friend isn't advertising himself. Somebody is 'running him'—doing it for him; wants him to get on, you know—just as I do you."
Terry gave me a quick glance; but my face (which is blond and said to be singularly youthful for a man of twenty-nine) was, I flatter myself, as innocent as that of a choir-boy who has just delivered himself of a high soprano note. Nevertheless, the end was coming. I felt it in the electric tingle of the air.
"Do you mind telling me your friend's name, or is he a secret?"
"Perhaps the address at the end of the advertisement will be enlightening."
Terry had dropped the paper on the grass by the side of his chaise longue, but now he picked it up again, and began searching for the place which he had lost. I, in my chaise longue under the same magnolia tree, gazed at him from under my tilted Panama. Terry is tall and dark. Stretched out in the basket chair, he looked very big and rather formidable. Beside him, I felt a small and reedy person. I really hoped he would not give me much trouble. The day was too hot to cope with troublesome people, especially if you were fond of them, for then you were the more likely to lose your head.
But the beginning was not encouraging. Terry proceeded to read the end of the advertisement aloud. "Address X. Y. Z., Chalet des Pins, Cap Martin." Then he said something which did not go at all with the weather. Why is it that so many bad words begin with D or H? One almost gets to think that they are letters for respectable people to avoid.
"Hang it all, Ralph," he went on, after the explosion, "I must say I don't like your taste in jokes. This is a bit too steep."
I sat up straight, with a leg on each side of the chair, and looked reproaches. "I thought," I said slowly, "that when your brother behaved like such a—well, we won't specify what—you asked, I might even say begged, for my advice, and promised in a midnight conversation under this very tree to take it, no matter how disagreeable it might prove."
"I did; but—"
"There's no such word as 'but.' Last year I advised you not to put your money into West Africans. You put it in. What was the consequence? You regretted it, and as your brother showed no very keen interest in your career, you decided that you couldn't afford to stop in the Guards, so you cut the Army. This year I advised you not to play that system of yours and Raleigh's at Monte Carlo, or if you must have a go at it, to stick to roulette and five franc stakes. Instead of listening to me, you listened to him. What were the consequences?"
"For goodness sake don't moralize. I know well enough what they were. Ruin. And it doesn't gild the pill to remember that I deserved to swallow it."
"If only you'd swallowed the advice instead! It would have slipped down more easily, poor old boy. But you swore to bolt the next dose without a groan. I said I'd try and think of a better plan than selling your Panhard, and going out to help work an African farm on the proceeds. Well, I have thought of a plan, and there you have the proof of my combined solicitude and ingenuity, in my own paper."
"Don't shoot off big words at me."
"I'm a journalist; my father before me was a journalist, and got his silly old baronetcy by being a journalist. I'm one still, and have saved up quite a little competency on big words and potted phrases. I've collected a great many practical ideas in my experience. I want to make you a present of some of them, if only you'll have them."
"Do you call this advertisement a practical idea? You can't for a minute suppose that I'd be found dead carting a lot of American or other women whom I don't know about Europe in my car, and taking their beastly money?"
"If you drove properly, you wouldn't be found dead; and you would know them," I had begun, when there was a ring at the gate bell, and the high wall of the garden abruptly opened to admit a tidal wave of chiffon and muslin.
Terry and I were both so taken aback at this unexpected inundation that for a moment we lay still in our chairs and stared, with our hats tipped over our eyes and our pipes in our mouths. We were not accustomed to afternoon calls or any other time-of-day calls from chiffon and muslin at the Chalet des Pins, therefore our first impression was that the tidal wave had overflowed through my gate by mistake, and would promptly retire in disorder at sight of us. But not at all. It swept up the path, in pink, pale green, and white billows, frothing at the edges with lace.
There was a lot of it—a bewildering lot. It was all train, and big, flowery hats, and wonderful transparent parasols, which you felt you ought to see through, and couldn't. Before it was upon us, Terry and I had sprung up in self-defence, our pipes burning holes in our pockets, our Panamas in our hands.
Now the inundation divided itself into separate wavelets, the last lagging behind, crested by a foaming parasol, which hid all details, except a general white muslin filminess. But Terry and I had not much chance to observe the third billow. Our attention was caught by the first glittering rush of pink and emerald spray.
Out of it a voice spoke—an American voice; and then, with a lacy whirl, a parasol rose like a stage curtain. The green wave was a lady; a marvellous lady. The pink wave was a child with a brown face, two long brown plaits, and pink silk legs, also pink shoes.
"We've come in answer to X. Y. Z.'s advertisement in this morning's Riviera Sun. Now which of you two gentlemen put it in?" began the lady, with gay coquetry which played over each of us in turn. Oh yes, she was wonderful. She had hair of the brightest auburn that ever crowned a human head. It was done in undulations, with a fat ring in the middle of her forehead, between two beautifully arched black eyebrows. Her skin was very white, her cheeks were very pink, and her lips were very coralline. Everything about her was "very." Out of a plump face, with a small nose that turned up and a chin which was over-round, looked a pair of big, good-natured, nondescript-coloured eyes, and flashed a pair of pleasant dimples. At first glance you said "a stout girl of twenty-five." At the second, you were not sure that the lady wasn't ten years older. But her waist was so slender that she panted a little in coming up the path, though the path was by no means steep, and her heels were so high that there was a suspicion of limp in her walk.
Even to me the lady and her announcement gave a shock, which must have doubled its effect upon Terry. I was collecting my forces for a reply when the little brown girl giggled, and I lost myself again. It was only for an instant, but Terry basely took advantage of that instant in a way of which I would not have believed him capable.
"You must address yourself to my friend, Sir Ralph Moray," said the wretched fellow glibly. "His are the car and the title mentioned in the advertisement of The Riviera Sun, which he owns."
My title indeed! A baronetical crumb flung to my father because of a service to his political party. It had never done anything for me, except to add ten per cent to my bills at hotels. Now, before I could speak a word of contradiction, Terry went on. "I am only Mr. Barrymore," said he, and he grinned a malicious grin, which said as plainly as words, "Aha, my boy, I think that rips your little scheme to smithereens, eh?"
But my presence of mind doesn't often fail for long. "It's Mr. Barrymore who drives my car for me," I explained. "He's cleverer at it than I, and he comes cheaper than a professional."
The wonderful white and pink and auburn lady had been looking at Terry with open admiration; but now the light of interest faded from the good-natured face under the girlish hat. "O-oh," she commented in a tone of ingenuous disappointment, "you're only the—the chawffur, then."
I didn't want Terry to sink too low in these possible clients' estimation, for my canny Scotch mind was working round the fact that they were probably American heiresses, and an heiress of some sort was a necessity for the younger brother of that meanest of bachelor peers, the Marquis of Innisfallen. "He's an amateur chauffeur," I hastened to explain. "He only does it for me because we're friends, you know; but," I added, with a stern and meaning glance at Terry, "I'm unable to undertake any tours without his assistance. So if we—er—arrange anything, Mr. Barrymore will be of our party."
"Unfortunately I have an engagement in South Af—" began Terry, when the parasol of the third member of the party (the one who had lagged behind, stopping to examine, or seeming to examine a rose-bush) was laid back upon her white muslin shoulders.
Somehow Terry forgot to finish his sentence, and I forgot to wonder what the end was to be.
She was only a tall, white girl, simply dressed; yet suddenly the little garden of the Chalet des Pins, with its high wall draped with crimson bougainvilla, became a setting for a picture.
The new vision was built on too grand a scale for me, because I stand only five foot eight in my boots, while she was five foot seven if she was an inch, but she might have been made expressly for Terry, and he for her. There was something of the sweet, youthful dignity of Giovanni Bellini's Madonnas of the Trees about the girl's bearing and the pose of the white throat; but the face was almost childlike in the candour and virginal innocence of its large brown eyes. The pure forehead had a halo of yellow-brown hair, burnished gold where the sun touched it; the lips were red, with an adorable droop in the corners, and the skin had that flower-fairness of youth which makes older women's faces look either sallow or artificial. If we—Terry and I—had not already divined that the auburn lady got her complexion out of bottles and boxes, we would have known it with the lifting of that white girl's parasol.
Can a saintly virgin on a golden panel look sulky? I'm not sure, but this virgin gave the effect of having been reluctantly torn from such a background, and she looked distinctly sulky, even angelically cross. She had not wanted to come into my garden, that was plain; and she lagged behind the others to gaze at a rose-bush, by way of a protest against the whole expedition. What she saw to disapprove of in me I was at a loss to guess, but that she did disapprove was evident. The dazzling brown eyes, with the afternoon sun glinting between their thick dark fringes, hated me for something;—was it my existence, or my advertisement? Then they wandered to Terry, and pitied, rather than spurned. "You poor, handsome, big fellow," they seemed so say, "so you are that miserable little man's chauffeur! You must be very unfortunate, or you would have found a better career. I'm so sorry for you."
"Do sit down, please," I said, lest after all it should occur to Terry to finish that broken sentence of his. "These chairs will be more comfortable if I straighten their backs up a little. And this seat round the tree isn't bad. I—I'll tell my servant to send out tea—we were going to have it soon—and we can talk things over. It will be pleasanter."
"What a lovely idea!" exclaimed the auburn lady. "Why, of course we will. Beechy, you take one of those steamer-chairs. I like a high seat myself. Come, Maida; the gentlemen have asked us to stay to tea, and we're going to."
Beechy—the little brown girl—subsided with a babyish meekness that contradicted a wicked laughing imp in her eyes, into one of the chaises longues which I had brought up from its knees to a sort of "stand and deliver" attitude. But the tall white girl (the name of "Maida" suited her singularly well) did not stir an inch. "I think I'll go on if you don't mind, Aunt Ka—I mean, Kittie," she said in a soft voice that was as American in its way as the auburn lady's, but a hundred and fifty times sweeter. I rather fancied that it must have been grown somewhere in the South, where the sun was warm, and the flowers as luxuriant as our Riviera blossoms.
"You will do nothing of the kind," retorted her relative peremptorily. "You'll just stay here with Beechy and me, till we've done our business."
"But I haven't anything to do with—"
"You're going with us on the trip, anyhow, if we go. Now, come along and don't make a fuss."
For a moment "Maida" hesitated, then she did come along, and as obediently as the brown child, though not so willingly, sat down in the chaise longue, carefully arranged for her reception by Terry.
"Evidently a poor relation, or she wouldn't submit to being ordered about like that," I thought. "Of course, any one might see that she's too pretty to be an heiress. They don't make them like that. Such beauties never have a penny to bless themselves with. Just Terry's luck if he falls in love with her, after all I've done for him, too! But if this tour does come off, I must try to block that game."
"I expect I'd better introduce myself and my little thirteen-year-old daughter, and my niece," said the auburn lady, putting down her parasol, and opening a microscopic fan. "I'm Mrs. Kathryn Stanley Kidder, of Denver, Colorado. My little girl, here—she's all I've got in the world since Mr. Kidder died—is Beatrice, but we call her Beechy for short. We used to spell it B-i-c-e, which Mr. Kidder said was Italian; but people would pronounce it to rhyme with mice, so now we make it just like the tree, and then there can't be any mistake. Miss Madeleine Destrey is the daughter of my dead sister, who was ever so much older than I am of course; and the way she happened to come over with Beechy and me is quite a romance; but I guess you'll think I've told you enough about ourselves."
"It's like the people in old comic pictures who have kind of balloon things coming out of their mouths, with a verse thoroughly explaining who they are, isn't it?" remarked Miss Beechy in a little soft, childish voice, and at least a dozen imps looking out of her eyes all at once. "Mamma's balloon never collapses."
To break the awkward silence following upon this frank comparison, I bustled away with hospitable murmurs concerning tea. But, my back once turned upon the visitors, the pink, white, and green glamour of their presence floated away from before my eyes like a radiant mist, and I saw plain fact instead.
By plain fact I mean to denote Felicite, my French cook-housekeeper, my all of domesticity in the Chalet des Pins.
Felicite might be considered plain by strangers, and thank heaven she is a fact, or life at my little villa on the Riviera would be a hundred times less pleasant than it is; but she is nevertheless as near to being an angel as a fat, elderly, golden-hearted, sweet-natured, profane-speaking, hot-tempered peasant woman of Provence can possibly be. Whatever the greatest geniuses of the kitchen can do, Felicite can and will do, and she has a loyal affection for her undeserving master, which leads her to attempt miracles and almost invariably to accomplish them.
There are, however, things which even Felicite cannot do; and it had suddenly struck me coldly in the sunshine that to produce proper cakes and rich cream at ten minutes' notice in a creamless and cakeless bachelor villa, miles from anywhere in particular, might be beyond even her genius.
I found her in the back garden, forcibly separating the family pet, a somewhat moth-eaten duck, from the yellow cat whose mouse he had just annexed by violence.
With language which told me that a considerable quantity of pepper had got into her disposition (as it does with most cooks, according to my theory) she was admonishing the delinquent, whom she mercilessly threatened to behead and cook for dinner that evening. "You have been spared too long; the best place for you is on the table," I heard her lecturing the evil cannibal, "though the saints know that you are as tough as you are wicked, and all the sauce in the Alpes Maritimes would not make of you a pleasant morsel, especially since you have taken to eating the cat's mice."
"Felicite," I broke in upon her flood of eloquence, in my most winning tones. "Something has happened. Three ladies have come unexpectedly to tea."
The round body straightened itself and stood erect. "Monsieur well knows that there is no tea; neither he nor the other milord ever take anything but coffee and whisk—"
"Never mind," said I hastily. "There must be tea, because I asked the ladies to have some, and they have said yes. There must also be lettuce sandwiches, and cakes, and cream—plenty, lots, heaps, for five people."
"As well ask that serpent of wickedness, your duck, to lay you five eggs in as many minutes."
"He isn't my duck; he's yours. You won him in a raffle and adopted him. I suspect it's a physical impossibility for him to lay eggs; but look here, Felicite, dear, kind, good Felicite, don't go back on me. Man and boy I've known you these eighteen months, and you've never failed me yet. Don't fail me now. I depend on you, you know, and you must do something—anything—for the honour of the house."
"Does Monsieur think I can command tea, cakes, and cream from the tiles of the kitchen floor?"
"No; but I firmly believe you can evolve them out of your inner consciousness. You wouldn't have me lose faith in you?"
"No," said Felicite, whose eyes suddenly brightened with the rapt look of one inspired. "No; I would not have Monsieur lose faith. I will do what I can, as Monsieur says, for the honour of the house. Let him go now to his friends, and make his mind easy. In a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes at most, he shall have a feef o'clocky for which he need not blush."
"Angel!" I ejaculated fervently, patting the substantial shoulder, so much to be depended upon. Then with a buoyant step I hastened round the house to rejoin the party in the front garden, where, I anxiously realized, the tables might have been completely turned during my absence.
Ready to hurl myself into the breach, if there were one, I came round the corner of the villa, to meet the unexpected. I had left Terry with three ladies; I found him with seven.
Evidently he had gone into the drawing-room and fetched chairs, for they were all sitting down, but they were not being sociable. Mrs. Kidder's round chin was in the air, and she wore an "I'm as good as you are, if not better" expression. The imps in Beechy's eyes were critically cataloguing each detail of the strangers' costumes, and Miss Destrey was interested in the yellow cat, who had come to tell her the tragic tale of the stolen mouse.
The new arrivals were English. I can't explain exactly how I knew that, the moment I clapped eyes on them, but I did; and I felt sure their nearest male relative must have made money in beer, pickles, or it might have been corsets or soap. They were that kind; and they had a great many teeth, especially the daughters, who all three looked exactly thirty, no more and no less, and were apparently pleasantly conscious of superlative virtue.
I could see the house they lived in, in England. It would be in Surbiton, of course, with "extensive grounds." There would be a Debrett's "Peerage," and a Burke's "Landed Gentry," and a volume of "Etiquette of Smart Society" on the library shelves, if there was nothing else; and in the basket on the hall table the visiting cards of any titled beings of the family's acquaintance would invariably rise to the top like cream.
"I understand from your friend that it is your advertisement which appears in The Riviera Sun to-day," began the Mother, whose aspect demanded a capital M. "You are Sir Ralph Moray, I believe?"
I acknowledged my identity, and the lady continued: "I am Mrs. Fox-Porston. You will have heard of my husband, no doubt, and I daresay we know a great many of the same People at Home." (This with a dust-brush glance which swept the Americans out of the field.) "I think it is a very excellent idea of yours, Sir Ralph, to travel about the Continent on your motor-car with a few congenial companions, and I have brought my daughters with me to-day in the hope that we may arrange a delightful little tour which—"
"Ting-a-ling" at the gate bell robbed us of Mrs. Fox-Porston's remaining hope, and gave us two more visitors.
Little had I known what the consequences of one small, pink advertisement would be! Apparently it bade fair to let loose upon us, not the dogs of war, but the whole floating feminine population of the French Riviera. Something must be done, and done promptly, to stem the rising tide of ladies, or the Chalet des Pins and Terry and I with it, would be swamped.
I looked at Terry, he looked at me, as we rose like mechanical figures to indicate our hosthood to the new arrivals.
They were Americans; I could tell by their chins. They had no complexions and no particular age; they wore blue tissue veils, and little jingling bags on their belts, which showed that they were not married, because if they had been, their husbands would have ordered the little jingling bags into limbo, wherever that may be.
"Good-afternoon," said the leading Blue Veil. "I am Miss Carrie Hood Woodall, the lady lawyer from Hoboken, who had such a nice little paragraph in The Riviera Sun, close to your advertisement; and this is my chaperone, Mrs. Elizabeth Boat Cully. We're touring Europe, and we want to take a trip with you in your automobile, if—"
"Unfortunately, ladies," said I, "the services of—er—my car are already engaged to Mrs. Kidder, of Colorado, and her party. Isn't it so, Barrymore?"
"Yes," replied Terry stoutly. And that "yes" even if inadvertent, was equivalent I considered, to sign and seal.
Mrs. Kidder beamed like an understudy for The Riviera Sun. Beechy twinkled demurely, and tossed her plaits over her shoulder. Even Miss Destrey, the white goddess, deigned to smile, straight at Terry and no other.
At this moment Felicite appeared with a tray. Whipped cream frothed over the brow of a brown jug like a white wig on the forehead of a judge; lettuce showed pale green through filmy sandwiches; small round cakes were piled, crisp and appetizing, on a cracked Sevres dish; early strawberries glowed red among their own leaves. Talk of the marengo trick! It was nothing to this. The miracle had been duly performed; but—there were only five cups.
Mrs. Fox-Porston and her daughters, Miss Carrie Hood Woodall and her chaperone, took the hint and their leave; and the companions of the future were left alone together to talk over their plans.
"Lock the gate, Felicite," said I. "Do make haste!" And she did. Dear Felicite!
A CHAPTER OF PLANS
So it is that Fate calmly arranges our lives in spite of us. Although no details of the coming trip were settled during what remained of our new employers' visit, that was their fault and the fault of a singularly premature sunset, rather than mine, or even Terry's; and we both felt that it came to the same thing. We were in honour bound to "personally conduct" Mrs. Kidder, Miss Beechy Kidder, and Miss Destrey towards whatever point of the compass a guiding finger of theirs should signify.
It has always been my motto to take Father Time by the fore-lock, for fear he should cut it off, or get away, or play some other trick upon me, which the cantankerous old chap (no parent of mine!) is fond of doing. Therefore, if I could, I would have had terms, destination, day and hour of starting definitely arranged before that miraculously-produced tea of Felicite's had turned to tannin. But man may not walk through a solid wall, or strive against such conversational gifts as those of Mrs. Kidder.
She could and would keep to anything except the point. That, whatever its nature, she avoided as she would an indelicacy.
"Well, now, Mrs. Kidder," I began, "if you really want us to organize this tour, don't you think we'd better discuss—"
"Of course we want you to!" she broke in. "We all think it's just awfully good of you to bother with us when you must have so many friends who want you to take them—English people in your own set. By the way, do you know the Duchess of Carborough?"
"I know very few duchesses or other Americans," I replied. Whereupon Miss Kidder's imp laughed, though her mother remained grave, and even looked mildly disappointed.
"That's a funny way of putting it," said Beechy. "One would think it was quite an American habit, being a Duchess."
"So it is, isn't it?" I asked. "The only reason we needn't fear its growing like the Yellow Peril is because there aren't enough dukes. I've always thought the American nation the most favoured in the world. Aren't all your girls brought up to expect to be duchesses, and your men presidents?"
"I wasn't," snapped Beechy. "If there was a duke anywhere around, Mamma would take him, if she had to snatch him out of my mouth. What are English girls brought up to expect?"
"Hope for, not expect," I corrected her. "Any leavings there are in the way of marquesses or earls; or if none, a mere bishop or a C. B."
"What's a C. B.?" asked Mrs. Kidder anxiously.
"A Companion of the Bath."
"My goodness! Whose bath?"
"The Bath of Royalty. We say it with a capital B."
"My! How awkward for your King. And what was done about it when you had only a Queen on the throne?"
"You must inquire of the chamberlains," I replied. "But about that trip of ours. The—er—my car is in a garage not far away, and it can be ready when—"
"Oh, I hope it's a red car, with your coat of arms on it. I do so admire red for an automobile. We could all fix ourselves up in red cloaks and hats to match, and make ourselves look awfully swell—"
"Everybody'd call us 'The Crimson Ramblers,' or 'The Scarlet Runners,' or something else horrid," tittered that precocious child Beechy.
"It isn't red, it's grey," Terry managed hastily to interpolate; which settled one burning question, the first which had been settled or seemed likely to be settled at our present rate of progress.
"If you are keen on starting—" I essayed again, hope triumphing over experience.
"Yes, I'm just looking forward to that start," Mrs. Kidder caught me up. "We shall make a sensation. We're neighbours of yours, you know. We're at the Cap Martin Hotel. Isn't it perfectly lovely there, with that big garden, the woods and all? When we were coming to the Riviera, I told the man at Cook's that we wanted to go to the grandest hotel there was, where we could feel we were getting our money's worth; and he said all the kings and princes, and queens and princesses went to the Cap Martin, so—"
"We thought it might be good enough for us," capped Beechy.
"It's as full of royalties, as—as—"
"As a pack of cards," I suggested.
"And some of them have splendid automobiles. I've been envying them; and only this morning I was saying to my little girl, what a lot of nice things there are that women and children can't do, travelling alone—automobiling for one. Then, when I came on that advertisement of yours, I just screamed. It did seem as if the Hand of Providence must have been pointing it out. And it was so funny your home being on the Cap, too, within ten minutes' walk of our hotel. I'm sure it was meant, aren't you?"
"Absolutely certain," I responded, with a glance at Terry, who was not showing himself off to any advantage in this scene although he ought to have been the leading actor. He did nothing but raise his eyebrows when he thought that no one was looking, or tug at his moustache most imprudently when somebody was. Or else he handed the cakes to Miss Destrey, and forgot to offer them to her far more important relatives. "I'm so sure of it," I went on, "that I think we had better arrange—"
"Yes, indeed. Of course your ch—Mr. Barrymore (or did I hear you say Terrymore?) is a very experienced driver? We've never been in an automobile yet, any of us, and I'm afraid, though it will be perfectly lovely as soon as we're used to it, that we may be a little scary at first. So it would be nice to know for sure that the driver understood how to act in any emergency. I should hate to be killed in an automobile. It would be such—such an untidy death to die, judging from what you read in the papers sometimes."
"I should prefer it, myself," I said, "but that's a matter of taste, and you may trust Terry—Mr. Barrymore. What he doesn't know about a motor-car and its inner and outer workings isn't worth knowing. So when we go—"
"Aunt K—I mean Kittie, don't you think we ought to go home to the hotel?" asked Miss Destrey, who had scarcely spoken until now, except to answer a question or two of Terry's, whom she apparently chose to consider in the Martyr's Boat, with herself. "We've been here for hours, and it's getting dark."
"Why, so it is!" exclaimed Mrs. Kidder, rising hurriedly. "I'm quite ashamed of myself for staying so long. What will you think of us? But we had such a lot of things to arrange, hadn't we?"
We had had; and we had them still. But that was a detail.
"We must go," she went on. "Well, we've decided nearly everything" (this was news to me). "But there are one or two things yet we'll have to talk over, I suppose."
"Quite so," said I.
"Could you and Mr. Terrymore come and dine with us to-night? Then we can fix everything up."
"Speaking for myself, I'm afraid I can't, thanks very much," Terry said, hastily.
"What about you, Sir Ralph? I may call you Sir Ralph, may I not?"
"Please. It's my name."
"Yes, I know it. But it sounds so familiar, from a stranger. I was wondering if one ought to say 'Sir Ralph Moray,' till one had been acquainted a little longer. Well, anyway, if you could dine with us, without your friend—"
I also thanked her and said that matters would arrange themselves more easily if Barrymore and I were together.
"Then can you both lunch with us to-morrow at one o'clock?"
Quickly, before Terry could find time to object if he meditated doing so, I accepted with enthusiasm.
Farewells were exchanged, and we had walked to the gate with the ladies—I heading the procession with Mrs. Kidder, Terry bringing up the rear with the two girls—when my companion stopped suddenly. "Oh, there's just one thing I ought to mention before you come to see us at the hotel," she said, with a little catch of the breath. Evidently she was embarrassed. "I introduced myself to you as Mrs. Kidder, because I'm used to that name, and it comes more natural. I keep forgetting always, but—but perhaps you'd better ask at the hotel for the Countess Dalmar. I guess you're rather surprised, though you're too polite to say so, my being an American and having that title."
"Not at all," I assured her. "So many charming Americans marry titled foreigners, that one is almost more surprised—"
"But I haven't married a foreigner. Didn't I tell you that I'm a widow? No, the only husband I ever had was Simon P. Kidder. But—but I've bought an estate, and the title goes with it, so it would seem like a kind of waste of money not to use it, you see."
"It's the estate that goes with the title, for you, Mamma," said Beechy (she invariably pronounces her parent "Momma"). "You know you just love being a Countess. You're happier than I ever was with a new doll that opened and shut its eyes."
"Don't be silly, Beechy. Little girls should be seen and not heard. As I was saying, I thought it better to use the title. That was the advice of Prince Dalmar-Kalm, of whom I've bought this estate in some part of Austria, or I think, Dalmatia—I'm not quite sure about the exact situation yet, as it's all so recent. But to get used to bearing the title, it seemed best to begin right away, so I registered as the Countess Dalmar when we came to the Cap Martin Hotel a week ago."
"Quite sensible, Countess," I said without looking at Beechy-of-the-Attendant-Imps. "I know Prince Dalmar-Kalm well by reputation, though I've never happened to meet him. He's a very familiar figure on the Riviera." (I might have added, "especially in the Casino at Monte Carlo," but I refrained, as I had not yet learned the Countess's opinion of gambling as an occupation.) "Did you meet him here for the first time?"
"No; I met him in Paris, where we stopped for a while after we crossed, before we came here. I was so surprised when I saw him at our hotel the very day after we arrived! It seemed such a coincidence, that our only acquaintance over on this side should arrive at the same place when we did."
"When is a coincidence not a coincidence?" pertly inquired Miss Beechy. "Can you guess that conundrum, Cousin Maida?"
"You naughty girl!" exclaimed her mother.
"Well, you like me to be childish, don't you? And it's childish to be naughty."
"Come, we'll go home at once," said the Countess, uneasily; and followed by the tall girl and the little one, she tottered away, sweeping yards of chiffon.
"I do hope she won't wear things like that when she's in—ahem!—our motor-car," I remarked sotto voce, as Terry and I stood at the gate, watching, if not speeding, our parting guests.
"I doubt very much if she'll ever be there," prophesied Terry, looking handsome and thoroughly Celtic, wrapped in his panoply of gloom.
"Come away in, while I see if I can find you 'The harp that once through Tara's halls,' to play your own funeral dirge on," said I. "You look as if it would be the only thing to do you any good."
"It would certainly relieve my feelings," replied Terry, "but I could do that just as well by punching your head, which would be simpler. Of all the infernal—"
"Now don't be brutal!" I implored. "You were quite pleasant before the ladies. Don't be a whited sepulchre the minute their backs are turned. Think what I've gone through since I was alone with you last, you great hulking animal."
"Animal yourself!" Terry had the ingratitude to retort. "What have I gone through, I should like to ask?"
"I don't know what you've gone through, but I know how you behaved," I returned, as we walked back to the magnolia tree. "Like a sulky barber's block—I mean a barber's sulky block. No, I—but it doesn't signify. Hullo, there's the universal provider, carrying off the tray. Felicite, mon ange, say how you summoned that tea and those cakes and cream from the vasty deep?"
"What Monsieur is pleased to mean, I know not," my fourteen-stone angel replied. "I visited with haste a friend of mine at the hotel, and I came back with the things—that is all. It was an inspiration," and she sailed away, her head in the air.
Terry and I went into the house, for the sun had left the high-walled garden, and besides, the talk we were going to have was more suitable to that practical region, my smoking-room-study-den, than to the romantic shade of a magnolia tree.
We unpocketed our pipes, and smoked for several minutes before we spoke. I vowed that Terry should begin; but as he went on puffing until I had counted sixty-nine slowly, I thought it simpler to unvow the vow before it had had time to harden.
"A penny for your thoughts, Paddy," was the sum I offered with engaging lightness. "Which is generous of me, as I know them already. You are thinking of Her."
Teddy forgot to misunderstand, which was a bad sign.
"If it weren't for Her, I'd have got out of the scrape at any price," said he, bold as brass. "But I'm sorry for that beautiful creature. She must lead a beastly life, between a silly, overdressed woman and a pert minx. Poor child, she's evidently as hard up as I am, or she wouldn't stand it. She's miserable with them, I could see."
"So you consented to fall into my web, rather than leave her to their mercy."
"Not exactly that, but—well, I can't explain it. The die's cast, anyhow. I'm pledged to join the menagerie. But look here, Ralph, do you understand what you've let me in for?"
"For the society of three charming Americans, two of whom are no doubt worth their weight in gold."
"It's precisely their weight that's on my mind at this moment. You may know one or two little things, my dear boy, but among them motoring is not, otherwise when you were putting that mad advertisement into your pink rag, you would have stopped to reflect that a twelve-horse power car is not expected to carry five grown persons up airy mountains and down rushy glens. Europe isn't perfectly flat, remember."
"Only four of us are grown up. Beechy's an Infant Phenomenon."
"Infant be hanged. She's sixteen if she's a day."
"Her mother ought to know."
"She doesn't want any one else to know. Anyway, I'm big enough to make up the difference. And besides, my car's not a new one. I paid a thumping price for her, but that was two years ago. There have been improvements in the make since."
"Do you mean to tell me that car of yours can't carry five people half across the world if necessary?"
"She can, but not at an exciting speed; and Americans want excitement. Not only that, but you saw for yourself that they expect a handsome car of the latest make, shining with brass and varnish. Amateurs always do. What will they say when my world-worn old veteran bursts, or rather bumbles, into view?"
I felt slightly crestfallen, for the first time. When one is an editor, one doesn't like to think one has been caught napping. "You said you ought to get two hundred pounds for your Panhard, if you sold it," I reminded him. "That's a good deal of money. Naturally I thought the motor must be a fairly decent one, to command that price after several seasons' wear and tear."
Terry fired up instantly, as I had hoped he would; for his car is the immediate jewel of his soul. "Decent!" he echoed. "I should rather think she is. But just as there's a limit to your intelligence, so is there a limit to her power, and I don't want it to come to that. However, the thing's gone too far for me to draw back. It must depend upon the ladies. If they don't back out when they see my car, I won't."
"To all intents and purposes it's my car now," said I. "You made her over to me before witnesses, and I think I shall have her smartened up with a bit of red paint and a crest."
"If you try on anything like that, you can drive her yourself, for I won't. I like her old grey dress. I wouldn't feel at home with her in any other. And she sha'n't be trimmed with crests to make an American holiday. She goes as she is, or not at all, my boy."
"You are the hardest chap to do anything for I ever saw," I groaned, with the justifiable annoyance of a martyr who has failed to convert a pagan hero. "As if you hadn't made things difficult enough already by 'Mistering' yourself. At any moment you may be found out—though, on second thoughts, it won't matter a rap if you are. If you're a mere Mister, you are often obliged to appear before an unsympathetic police magistrate for pretending to be a Lord. But I never heard of a Lord's falling foul of the law for pretending to be a Mister."
"If you behave yourself, there isn't much danger of my being found out by any of the people most concerned, during a few weeks' motoring on the Continent; but it's to be hoped they won't select England, Scotland, or Ireland for their tour."
"We can tell them that conditions are less favourable for motoring at home—which is quite true, judging from the complaints I hear from motor-men."
"But look here; you let me in for this. What I did was on the spur of the moment, and in self-defence. I didn't dream then that I should be, first cornered by you, then led on by circumstances into engaging as chauffeur, to drive my own car on such a wild-goose chase."
"It's a wild goose that will lay golden eggs. Fifteen guineas a day, my son; that's the size of the egg which that beneficent bird will drop into your palm every twenty-four hours. Deduct the ladies' hotel expenses—say three guineas a day; expenses for yourself and car we'll call two guineas more (of course I pay my own way), that leaves you as profit ten guineas daily; seventy guineas a week, or at the rate of three thousand five hundred guineas per annum. Before you'd spent your little patrimony, and been refused an—er—fratrimony, you weren't half as well off as that. You might do worse than pass your whole life as a Personal Conductor on those terms. And instead of thanking the wise friend who has caught this goose for you, and is willing to leave his own peaceful duck for your sake, with no remuneration, you abuse him."
"My dear fellow, I'm not exactly abusing you, for I know you meant well. But you've swept me off my feet, and I'm not at home yet in mid air."
"You can lie on your back and roll in gold in the intervals of driving the car. I promise not to give you away. Still, it's a pity you wouldn't consent to trading a little on your title, which Heaven must have given you for some good purpose. As it is, you've made my tuppenny-ha'penny baronetcy the only bait, and that's no catch at all for an American millionairess, fishing for something big in Aristocracy Pond. Why, when that Prince of hers discovers what is doing, he will persuade the fair Countess Dalmar that she's paying a high price for a Nobody—a Nobody-at-All."
"What makes you think he doesn't know already, as he evidently followed the party here, and must be constantly dangling about?"
"My detective instinct, which two seasons of pink journalism has developed. Mrs. Kidder saw the advertisement this morning, and was caught by it. May Sherlock Holmes cut me in the street if Prince Dalmar-Kalm hasn't been away for the day, doubtless at Monte Carlo where he has lost most of his own money, and will send the Countess's to find it, if she gives him the chance."
"I never saw the fellow, or heard of him, so far as I can remember," said Terry thoughtfully. "What's he like? Middle-aged, stout?"
"He looks thirty, so he is probably forty; for if you look your age, you are probably ten years past it—though that sounds a bit more Irish than Scotch, eh? And he's far from being stout. From a woman's point of view, I should say he might be very attractive. Tall; thin; melancholy; enormous eyes; moustache waxed; scar on forehead; successful effect of dashing soldier, but not much under the effect, I should say, except inordinate self-esteem, and a masterly selfishness which would take what it wanted at almost any cost to others. There's a portrait of Prince Dalmar-Kalm for you."
"Evidently not the sort of man who ought to be allowed to hang about young girls."
"Young girls with money. Don't worry about the vestal virgin. He won't have time in this game to bother with poor relations, no matter how pretty they may happen to be."
Terry still looked thoughtful. "Well, if we are going in for this queer business, we'd better get off as soon as possible," said he.
I smiled in my sleeve. "St. George in a stew to get the Princess out of the dragon's claws," I thought; but I refrained from speaking the thought aloud. Whatever the motive, the wish was to be encouraged. The sooner the wild goose laid the first golden egg the better. Fortunately for my private interests, the season was waning and the coming week would see the setting of my Riviera Sun until next November. I could therefore get away, leaving what remained of the work to be done by my "sub"; and I determined that, Prince or no Prince, luncheon to-morrow should not pass without a business arrangement being completed between the parties.
A CHAPTER OF REVENGES
Mrs. Kidder, alias the Countess Dalmar, either had a fondness for lavish hospitality or else she considered us exceptionally distinguished guests. Our feast was not laid in a private dining-room (what is the good of having distinguished guests if nobody is to know you've got them?); nevertheless, it was a feast. The small round table, close to one of the huge windows of the restaurant, was a condensed flower-show. Our plates and glasses (there were many of the latter) peeped at us from a bower of roses, and bosky dells of greenery. The Countess and the Infant were dressed as for a royal garden party, and Terry and I would have felt like moulting sparrows had not Miss Destrey's plain white cotton kept us in countenance.
Mrs. Kidder had evidently not been comfortably certain whether we ought not to march into the restaurant arm in arm, but the penniless goddess (who had perhaps been brought to Europe as a subtle combination of etiquette-mistress and ladies'-maid) cut the Gordian knot with a quick glance, to our intense relief; and we filed in anyhow, places being indicated to Terry and me on either hand of our hostess.
A painted satin menu, with a list of dishes as long as Terry's tailor's bills, lay beside each plate. We were to be provided with all the luxuries which were not in season; those which were would have been far too common for an American millionairess, such as I began to be more and more convinced that our hostess was. It was the kind of luncheon which calls for rare and varied wines, just as certain poetical recitations call for a musical accompaniment; therefore the Countess's first words on sitting down at the table came as a shock.
"Now, Sir Ralph," said she, "you must just order any kind of wine you and Mr. Ter—Barrymore like. Mr. Kidder never would have alcohol in the house, except for sickness, and we three drink only water, so I don't know anything about it; but I want that you gentlemen should suit your own taste. Do make the waiter bring you something real nice."
My sparkling visions of Steinberger Cabinet, Cos d'Estournel, or an "Extra Sec" of '92, burst like a rainbow bubble. Here was one of life's little tragedies.
Neither Terry nor I are addicted to looking too lovingly on wine when it is red, or even pale golden; still, at this moment I had a sharp pang of sympathy for Tantalus. To be sure, that hint as to "something real nice" grudged no expense; but I must have been blest with more cool, unadulterated "cheek" than two seasons of journalism had given me, to order anything appropriate while our hostess drowned her generous impulses in iced water.
With a wooden expression of countenance, I asked Terry what he would have.
"Water, thanks," he replied airily, and if, instead of gazing at the ceiling with elaborate interest, he had allowed his eye to meet mine at that instant, a giggle might have burst over that luncheon-table, out of a clear sky. Perforce, I felt obliged to follow his lead, for only a guzzling brute could have bibbed alone, surrounded by four teetotallers; but, deprived of even an innocent glass of Riviera beer, my soul thirsted for a revenge which could not be quenched with iced water; and I took it without waiting for repentance to set in.
"You see, Barrymore is a chauffeur," I carefully explained "and it's en regle for him, even though an amateur, to drink nothing stronger than cold water. You will notice during our trip, Countess, how conscientious he is in sticking to this pledge."
I felt that Terry's eye launched a dagger; but it was now my turn to be interested in the ceiling.
"Oh, how good of him!" exclaimed our hostess. "I do admire that in you, Mr. Tarrymore." (I couldn't help wondering incidentally whether the Countess would have had such frequent lapses of memory regarding Terry's name, if she knew that he was the brother of a marquis; but it may be that I wronged her.) "We shall feel as safe as if we were in a house when you are driving, now we know what kind of a man you are, shan't we, girls?"
Poor Terry, irrevocably pledged to blue ribbonism for the term of his natural chauffeurdom! I could have found it in my heart to pity him, had not the iced water come jingling ironically round at that moment. Let it then be upon his own head, with ice or without.
And this came of lunching with the widow of a Simon Pure Kidder! for I had no longer the slightest doubt as to the middle name of the deceased. With a brain almost cruelly clear and cold, I entered the lists with the lady's conversational gifts, and after a spirited but brief tourney, conquered with flying colours. My aim was to pin her down to something definite ... like an impaled butterfly: hers was to flutter over a vast garden of irrelevances; but she did not long evade the spike. I tipped its point with the subtly poisonous suggestion that all arrangements must be made in the hour, otherwise complications might arise. There seemed to be so many people who had been attracted by that simple little advertisement of mine, and really, I must be able to say that I and my car were engaged for such and such a date—preferably a near one—or I should have difficulty in evading requests for an intermediate trip with others.
The butterfly wriggled no more. Indeed, it hastened to assure the executioner that it was only too anxious to be comfortably pinned into place.
"When could you go, Sir Ralph?" the Countess asked.
"Day after to-morrow," I answered boldly. "Could you?"
She looked rather taken aback. "We—er—haven't motor things yet," she demurred.
"You can get 'every requisite' (isn't that the word?) in the Nice or Monte Carlo shops, if that's your only reason for delay."
Still the lady hesitated.
"Mamma's new crown isn't painted on all her baggage yet," said Beechy, living up, with a wicked delight, to her role of enfante terrible. "It's being done, but it wasn't promised till the end of the week. Say, Sir Ralph, don't you think she's mean not to give me even so much as half a crown?"
What I really thought was, that she deserved a slap; but Terry spared the Countess a blush and me the brain fag of a repartee conciliatory alike to parent and child.
"I think we ought to warn you," he said, "that the car hasn't precisely the carrying capacity of a luggage van. Perhaps when you find that there's no room for Paris frocks and hats, you'll repent your bargain."
"Can't we take a small trunk and a satchel apiece?" asked the Countess. "I don't see how we could do with less."
"I'm afraid you'll have to, if you go in—er—my friend's car," Terry went on ruthlessly. "A small box between the three of you, and a good-sized dressing-bag each, is all that the car can possibly manage, though, of course Moray and I will reduce our luggage to the minimum amount."
Mrs. Kidder looked grave, and at this instant, just as I felt that Terry's future was wavering in the balance, outweighed probably by a bonnet-box, there was a slight stir in the restaurant, behind our backs. Involuntarily I turned my head, and saw Prince Dalmar-Kalm hurrying towards us, his very moustache a thundercloud. He could not have appeared at a less convenient time for us.
I was sure that he had not been consulted in regard to the automobile trip; that perhaps even now he was in ignorance of the plan; and that, when he came to hear of it as he must within the next five minutes, he would certainly try (as Beechy would have put it) to snatch the American ladies out of our mouths. It was like Terry's luck, I said to myself, that this evil genius should arrive at the moment when Mrs. Kidder had been mercilessly deprived of her wardrobe by a mere chauffeur. Terry had stupidly given her an opening if she chose to take it, by suggesting that she might "repent her bargain," and I was sure it wouldn't be Dalmar-Kalm's fault if she didn't take it.
A second later he had reached our table, was bending low over Mrs. Kidder's hand, smiling with engaging wickedness at Beechy, and sending a dark look of melancholy yearning to catch Miss Destrey's sympathies.
"Why, Prince," the Countess exclaimed in a loud tone, calculated to reach the ears of any neighbouring royalties, and let them see that she was as good as they were. "Why, Prince, if you're not always surprising people! I thought you were staying another day with the Duke of Messina, in Monte Carlo."
"Told you so!" my eyebrows—such as they are—telegraphed to Terry. "He has been away; only just back; pantomime demon act."
"I found myself homesick for Cap Martin," returned the Prince, with an emphasis and a sweeping glance which made a present of the compliment to the woman, the girl, and the child.
"Humph," I sneered into the iced water; "lost all he'd got with him, and the money-lenders turned crusty; that's when the homesickness came on."
"Well, now you're here, do sit down and have lunch with us," said Mrs. Kidder, "unless"—archly—"your homesickness has destroyed your appetite."
"If it had, the pleasure of seeing you again would restore it;" and once more the Austrian's gaze assured each one of the three that she alone was the "you" referred to.
A nod and a gesture whisked a couple of attentive waiters to the table, and in the twinkling of an eye—even an American eye—a place was laid for the Prince, with duplicates of all our abortive wine glasses.
"Aha, my fine fellow, you are no friend of cold water," I said to myself in savage glee, as I acknowledged with a bow Mrs. Kidder's elaborate introduction. "You will suffer even more than we have suffered." But I reckoned without a full knowledge of the princely character.
History repeated itself with an invitation to the new guest to choose what he liked from the wine card. I looked for a courteous refusal, accompanied by some such gallant speech as, that he would drink to the ladies only with his eyes; but nothing of the kind happened. He searched the list for a moment with the absorption of a connoisseur, then unblushingly ordered a bottle of Romanee Conti, which wine, he carelessly announced, he preferred to champagne, as being "less obvious." The price, however, would be pretty obvious on Mrs. Kidder's bill, I reflected; seventy francs a bottle, if it were a penny. But did this coming event cast a shadow on the Prince's contentment? On the contrary, it probably spangled its fabric with sequins. He sniffed the wine as if it had been an American Beauty rose, and quaffed it ecstatically, while Terry and I gulped down our iced water and our indignation.
"You are just in time, Prince," said Mrs. Kidder, "to advise us about our journey. Oh, I forgot, you don't know anything about it yet. But we are going a tour in Sir Ralph Moray's automobile. Won't it be fun?"
"Indeed?" the Prince ejaculated hastily; and I had the satisfaction of knowing that one swallow of the Romanee Conti was spoiled for him. "No; I had not heard. I did not know that Sir Ralph Moray was one of your friends. Has not this been suddenly arranged?"
"It was only decided yesterday," replied the Countess; and it was revealed to me that the plump lady was not without feminine guile.
"What is your car?" inquired the Prince, turning abruptly to me.
"A Panhard," I answered, with a gaze as mild as milk. I knew that my answer would disappoint him, as he could pick no flaws in the make of the machine.
"What horse-power?" he continued his catechism.
"Something under twenty," I conservatively replied.
"Twelve," corrected Terry, with a brutal bluntness unworthy of a Celt. He can be very irritating sometimes; but at this moment he was looking so extremely handsome and devil-may-care, that my desire to punch his head dissolved as I glared at him. Could any woman in her senses throw over even a titleless Terry and twelve horses worth of motor for a hat box or two and an Austrian Prince?
"A twelve-horse-power car, and you propose to take with you on tour three ladies, their maid, and all their luggage?" demanded Dalmar-Kalm in his too excellent English. "But it is not possible."
I felt suddenly as if Terry and I were little snub-nosed boys, trafficking with a go-cart.
"They won't need their maid, Prince," said Miss Destrey. "I know how to do Aunt Kathryn's hair; and the dear Sisters have taught me how to mend beautifully."
This was the first time she had opened her lips during luncheon, except to eat with an almost nun-like abstemiousness; and now she broke silence to rescue a scheme which yesterday had excited her active disapproval. The girl, always interesting because of her unusual type of beauty, gained a new value in my eyes. She excited my curiosity, although her words were a practical revelation of her place in the trio. Why did she break a lance in our defence? and had she been torn from a convent to serve her rich relatives, that she should mention the "Sisters" in that familiar and tender tone? Had her beautiful white sails veered with a new wind, and did she want to go with us, after all? Did she wish to tell the Prince in a sentence, how poor she really was? These were a few of the hundred and one questions which the Fair Maid of Destrey's charming and somewhat baffling personality set going in my mind by a word or two.
I thought that the Prince's face fell, but Mrs. Kidder's contribution to the defence distracted my attention.
"We don't expect to take all our luggage," she said. "I suppose some things could be sent by rail from place to place to meet us, couldn't they?"
"Of course," I assured her, before Dalmar-Kalm could enlarge upon the uncertainties of such an arrangement. "That's what is always done. And your maid could travel by rail too."
"She is a Parisienne," exclaimed Mrs. Kidder, "and she's always saying she wouldn't leave France for twice the wages I pay."
"Try her with three times," suggested Beechy. But Miss Destrey was speaking again. "As I said, it doesn't matter about Agnes. Aunt Kathryn and Beechy shan't miss her; and she never does anything for me."
"What a pity," complained the Prince, "that my automobile is at the moment laid up for repairs. Otherwise I should have been only too delighted to take you three ladies to the world's end, if you had the wish. It is not 'something less than twenty,' as Sir Ralph Moray describes his twelve-horse-power car, but is something more than twenty, with a magnificently roomy Roi de Belge tonneau and accommodation for any amount of luggage on the roof. By the way, yours has at least a cover, I make no doubt, Sir Ralph?"
"No," I was obliged to admit, my mouth somewhat dry—owing perhaps to the iced water.
"No cover? How, then, do you propose to protect these ladies from the rain?" This with virtuous indignation flashing from his fierce eyes, and a gesture which defended three helpless feminine things from the unscrupulous machinations of a pair of villains.
My ignorance of motor lore bereft me of a weapon with which to parry the attack, but Terry whipped out his sword at last.
"The ladies will be protected by their motor coats and our rugs. I'm sure they're too plucky to sacrifice the best pleasures of motoring to a little personal comfort when it may happen to rain," said he. "A roof gives no protection against rain except with curtains, and even when without them it curtails the view."
"Ah, it is cruel that I cannot get my car for you from Paris," sighed the Prince. "Perhaps, Countess, if you would wait a little time—a week or ten days, I might—"
"But we're going day after to-morrow, aren't we, Kittie?" quickly broke in Miss Destrey.
"I suppose so," replied Mrs. Kidder, who invariably frowned when addressed as "Cousin Kathryn," and brightened faintly if spontaneously Kittied. "We've been here more than a week, and seen all the Nice and Monte Carlo sights, thanks to the Prince. There's nothing to keep us, although it will be about all we can do to get off so soon."
"Why be hurried, Countess?" with a shrug of the shoulder half-turned from me.
"Well, I don't know." Her eyes wandered to mine. "But it suits Sir Ralph to leave then. I guess we can manage it."
"Where will you go?" inquired Dalmar-Kalm. "I might be able to join you somewhere en route."
"Well, that's one of the things we haven't quite settled yet," replied Mrs. Kidder. "Almost anywhere will suit me. We can just potter around. It's the automobiling we want. You know, this is our first time in Europe, and so long as we're in pretty places, it's much the same to us."
"Speak for yourself, Mamma," said Beechy. "Maida and I want to see the Lake of Como, where Claude Melnotte had his palace."
"Oh, my, yes! In 'the Lady of Lyons.' I do think that's a perfectly sweet play. Could we go there, Sir Ralph?"
"I must consult my chauffeur," said I, cautiously. "He knows more about geography than I do. He ought to; he spends enough money on road-maps to keep a wife. Eh, Terry?"
"There are two ways of driving to the lakes from here," he said, with a confidence which pleased me. "One can go coasting along the Italian Riviera to Genoa, and so direct to Milan; or one can go through the Roya Valley, either by Turin, or a short cut which brings one eventually to Milan."
"Milan!" exclaimed Miss Destrey, with a rapt look. "Why, that's not very far from Verona, is it? And if it's not far from Verona, it can't be so far from Venice. Oh, Beechy, think of seeing Venice!"
"It would be easy to go there," Terry said, showing too much eagerness to fall in with a whim of the poor relation's; at least such was my opinion until, with a glint of mischief in his eyes, he added, "If we went to Venice, Countess, it would be very easy to run on if you liked, into Dalmatia and see the new estate which you told us you thought of buying, before you actually made up your mind to have it."
It was all I could do to strangle a chuckle at birth. Good old Terry! Even he was not above taking a neat revenge; and the Prince's face showed how neat it was. Could it be possible that the estate in Dalmatia which carried with it a title, had any resemblance to Claude Melnotte's in that "sweet" play, "The Lady of Lyons?" I could scarcely believe that, much as I would have liked to; but it was clear he would have preferred to have the American millionairess take the beauties of her new possessions for granted.
"Oh, I have made up my mind already. I made it up before we arrived here," said the Countess.
"She made it up in the train coming from Paris," corrected Beechy, "because she had to decide what name to register, and whether she'd have the crown put on her handkerchiefs and her baggage. But she had to cable to our lawyer in Denver before she could get money enough to pay what the Prince wanted in advance, and the answer only came back this morning."
"And what does the lawyer say?" asked the Prince, flushing, and with a strained playfulness contradicted by the eager light in his eyes.
"Just guess," said Beechy, all her imps in high glee.
"Lawyers are such dry-as-dust persons," remarked His Highness, hastily lifting his glass to toss off the last of the Romanee Conti. "If he is a wise man who studies his client's interests, he could not advise Madame against taking a step by which she ascends to a height so advantageous, but—"
"Oh, he said yes," cried Mrs. Kidder, clinging to her Countesshood.
"And he put after it, 'If you will be a fool,'" added Beechy. "But he'll have to pay for that part of the cable himself."
"He is my late husband's cousin," explained Mrs. Kidder, "and he takes liberties sometimes, as he thinks Simon would not have approved of everything I do. But you needn't tell everything, Beechy."
"Let's talk about Venice," said Miss Destrey with a lovely smile, which seemed all the more admirable as she had given us so few. "I have always longed to see Venice."
"But you didn't want to come abroad, you can't say you did," remarked Beechy the irrepressible, resenting her cousin's interference, as a naughty boy resents being torn from the cat to whose tail he has been tying a tin can. "And I know why you didn't!" She too had a taste for revenge!
Miss Destrey blushed—I wondered why; and so, no doubt, did Terry wonder. (Had she by chance been sent abroad to forget an unfortunate attachment?)
"You wanted to stay with the Sisters," Beechy took advantage of the other's embarrassed silence to go on. "And you hardly enjoyed Paris at all, although everybody turned to look after you in the streets."
"Well, now that I have come, I should enjoy seeing the places I've cared most to read about in history or poetry," said Miss Destrey quickly, "and Venice is one of them."
"Maida has lived more in books than she has in real life," remarked Miss Beechy with scorn. "I know a lot more about the world than she does, although I am only—only—"
"Thirteen," finished the Countess. "Beechy darling, would you like to have some more of those marrons glaces? They aren't good for you, but just this once you may, if you want to. And oh, Sir Ralph, I should love to see my new estate. It's a very old estate really, you know, though new to me; so old that the castle is almost a ruin; but if I saw it and took a great fancy to the place, I might have it restored and made perfectly elegant, to live in sometimes, mightn't I? Just where is Schloss (she pronounced it 'Slosh') what-you-may-call-it? I never can say it properly?"
"Schloss Hrvoya is very far down in Dalmatia—almost as far east as Montenegro," replied the Prince. "The roads are extremely bad, too. I do not think they would be feasible for an automobile, especially for Sir Ralph Moray's little twelve-horse-power car carrying five persons."
"I differ from you there, Prince." Terry argued, looking obstinate. "I have never driven in Dalmatia, although I've been to Fiume and Abbazzia; but I have a friend who went with his car, and he had no adventures which ladies would not have enjoyed. Our principal difficulty would be about petrol; but we could carry a lot, and have supplies sent to us along the route. I'll engage to manage that—and the car."
"Then it's settled that we go," exclaimed Mrs. Kidder, clapping two dimpled hands covered with rings. "What a wonderful trip it will be."
I could see that the Prince would have liked to call Terry out, but he was too wise to dispute the question further; and a dawning plan of some kind was slowly lightening his clouded eye.
My wish was granted at last; something was settled. And later, strolling on the terrace, I contrived to put all that was left upon a business basis.
Never had man a better friend than Terence Barrymore has in me; and my whole attention on the way home was given to making him acknowledge it.
A CHAPTER OF HUMILIATIONS
After all, we did not start on the day after to-morrow. Our luncheon had been on Tuesday. On Wednesday a note came, sent by hand from Mrs. Kidder, to say that she could not possibly be ready until Friday, and that as Friday was an unlucky day to begin any enterprise, we had better put off starting until Saturday. But I must not "think her changeable, as she really had a very good reason"; and she was mine "Cordially, Kathryn Stanley Kidder-Dalmar."
Having first stated that she could not be ready, and then added her reason was good, I naturally imagined there was more in the delay than met the eye. My fancy showed me the hand of Prince Dalmar-Kalm, and I firmly believed that each finger of that hand to say nothing of the thumb, was busily working against us.
All Thursday and Friday I expected at any moment to receive an intimation that, owing to unforseen circumstances (which might not be explained) the Countess and her party were unable to carry out the arrangement they had entered into with us. But Thursday passed, and nothing happened. Friday wore on towards evening, and the constant strain upon my nerves had made me irritable. Terry, who was calmly getting ready for the start as if there were no cause for uncertainty, chaffed me on my state of mind, and I rounded upon him viciously, for was not all my scheming for his sake?
I was in the act of pointing out several of his most prominent defects, and shedding cigarette ashes into his suit-case as he packed, when Felicite appeared with a letter.
"It's from her!" I gasped. "And—she's got her coronet. It's on the envelope, as large as life."
"Which means that she's ready," said the future chauffeur, examining a suit of overalls.
"Don't be so cocksure," said I, opening the letter. "Hum—ha—well, yes, it does seem to be all right, if you can ever judge a woman's intentions by what she says. She wants to know whether the arrangement stands, that we're to call for them at ten o'clock to-morrow morning, and whether we're to go rain or shine. I'll scratch off a line in answer, and say yes—yes—yes, to everything."
I did so with a trembling hand, and then gave myself up to the weakness of reaction. Upon Felicite fell the task of doing my packing, which consisted in cramming a suit of flannels, my evening things, and all the linen it would hold without bursting asunder, into a large, fitted suit-case. Terry had a suit-case too, five times better than mine (Irishmen in debt always do have things superior to those of every one else); we had motor-coats, and enough guide-books and road-maps to stock a small library; and when these were collected we were ready for the Great Adventure.
When Terry visits me at the Chalet des Pins, he keeps his car at a garage in Mentone. His habit has been to put up his chauffeur close by this garage, and telephone when he wants to use the car; but the chauffeur was paid off and sent away ten days ago, at about the time when Terry decided that the automobile must be sold. He had not been in spirits for a drive since, until the fateful day of the advertisement, but immediately after our luncheon with the Countess he had walked down to the garage and stayed until dinner-time. What he had been doing there he did not deign to state; but I had a dim idea that when you went to call on a motor-car in its den, you spent hours on your back bolting nuts, or accelerating silencers, or putting the crank head (and incidentally your own) into an oil bath; and I supposed that Terry had been doing these things. When he returned on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, spending several hours on each occasion, I went on supposing the same; but when at nine o'clock on Saturday morning he drove up to the garden gate after another trip to Mentone, I had a surprise.
Terry had almost bitten off my head when I had innocently proposed to have his car smartened up to suit the taste of the Countess; but, without saying a word to me, he had been at work improving its appearance.
"She" (as he invariably calls his beloved vehicle) was dressed in grey as before, but it was fresh, glossy grey, still smelling of turpentine. The tyres were new, and white, and a pair of spare ones were tied onto the motor's bonnet, which looked quite jaunty now in its clean lead-coloured paint.
The shabby cushions of the driver's seat and tonneau had been re-covered also with grey, and wherever a bit of brass was visible it glittered like pure gold.
At the sound of the Panhard's sob at the gate, Felicite and I hurried down the path, armed with the two coats and suit-cases, there to be surprised by the rejuvenated car, and dumbfounded by a transformed Terry.
"Mon Dieu, comme il est beau, comme ca," cried my domestic miracle worker, lost in admiration of a tall, slim, yet athletic figure, clad from head to foot in black leather. "Mais—mais ce n'est pas comme il faut pour un Milord."
"Why, Terry," exclaimed I, "I never thought—I never expected—I'm hanged if you're not a real professional. It's awfully smart, and very becoming—never saw you look better in your life. But it's—er—a kind of masquerade, you know. I'm not sure you ought to do it. If Innisfallen saw you like that, he'd cross you out of his will."
"He's dead certain to have done that already. When I engaged as your chauffeur I engaged as your chauffeur and I intend to look the part as well as act it. I want this car to be as smart as it can, which unfortunately isn't saying much, and towards that end I've been doing my best these last three or four days. She isn't bad, is she?"
"From being positively plain, if not ugly, she has become almost a beauty," I replied. "But I thought you were determined to preserve her from the sin of vanity? Why this change of mind?"
"Well, I couldn't stand Dalmar-Kalm running her down," Terry confessed rather sheepishly. "There was so little time, that half the work on her I've done myself."
"That accounts, then, for your long and mysterious absences."
"Only partly. I've been working like a navvy, at a mechanic's shop, fagging up a lot of things I knew how to do on principle, but had seldom or never done with my own hands. I was always a lazy beggar, I'm afraid, and it was better fun to smoke and watch my man Collet making or fitting in a new part than to bother with it myself. This will be my first long trip 'on my own,' you see, and I don't want to be a duffer, especially as I myself proposed going down into Dalmatia, where we may get into no end of scrapes."
"By Jove!" I exclaimed, gazing with a new respect at my leather-clad friend and his car. "You've got some good stuff in you, Terry. I didn't quite realize what a responsibility I was throwing on you, old chap, when I named you as my chauffeur. Except for my drives with you, I suppose I haven't been in a motor half a dozen times in my life, now I come to think of it and it always seemed to me that, if a man knew how to drive his own car, he must know how to do everything else that was necessary."
"Very few do, even expert drivers, among amateurs. A man ought to be able not only to take his car entirely to pieces and put it together again, but to go into a mechanic's shop and make a new one. I don't say that I can do that, but I can come a bit nearer to it than I could five days ago. I don't think that the poor old car will be such a shock to the ladies now, even after some of the fine ones they must have seen, do you?"
He was so ingenuously proud of his achievements, had toiled so hard, and sacrificed so much of his personal vanity in providing his employers with a suitable chauffeur, that I did not stint my commendation of him and his car. Felicite, too, was prolific in compliments. The duck, who had waddled out to the gate to see what was doing, quacked flattery; the yellow cat mewed praise; and Terry, pleased as Punch with everything and everybody, whistled as he stowed away our suit-cases.
The moment of departure had come. With some emotion I bade farewell to my family, which I should not see again until I returned to the Riviera to open the autumn season with the first number of the Sun. Then one last look at the little place which had become dear to me, and we were off with a bound for the Cap Martin Hotel.
Terry, when in a frank and modest mood, had sometimes said to me that, with all the virtues of strength, faithfulness, and getting-thereness, his car was not to be called a fast car. Thirty miles an hour was its speed at best, and this pace it seemed had been far surpassed by newer cars of the same make, though of no higher power, since Terry's had been built. This fact I took for granted, as I had heard it from Terry's own lips more than once; but as we flew over the wooded road which divided the Chalet des Pins from the Cap Martin Hotel, I would have sworn that we were going at the rate of sixty miles per hour.
"Good Heavens!" I gasped. "Have you been doing anything to this car, to make her faster than she was? Help! I can't breathe."
"Nonsense," said Terry, with soothing calm. "It's only because you haven't motored for a long time that you imagine we're going fast. The motor's working well, that's all. We're crawling along at a miserable twenty miles an hour."
"Well, I'm glad that worms and other reptiles can't crawl at this pace, anyhow, or life wouldn't be worth living for the rest of creation," I retorted, cramming on my cap and wishing I had covered my tearful eyes with the motor-goggles which lay in my pocket. "If our millionairesses don't respect this pace, I'll eat my hat when I have time, or—"
But Terry was not destined to hear the end of that boast—which perhaps was just as well for me in the end, as things were to turn out. We spun down the avenue of pines, and in less than a lazy man's breathing space were at the door of the Cap Martin Hotel.
Quite a crowd of smart-looking people was assembled there, and for one fond second I dreamed that they were waiting to witness our arrival. But that pleasant delusion died almost as soon as born. As the group divided at our approach we saw that they had been collected round a large motor-car—a motor-car so resplendent that beside it our poor rejuvenated thing looked like a little, made-up, old Quaker lady.
In colour this hated rival was a rich, ripe scarlet, with cushions to match in her luxurious tonneau. Her bonnet was like a helmet of gold for the goddess Minerva, and wherever there was space, or chance, for something to sparkle with jewelled effect, that something availed itself, with brilliance, of the opportunity.
The long scarlet body of the creature was shaded with a canopy of canvas, white as the breast of a gull, and finished daintily all round with a curly fringe. The poles which held it were apparently of glittering gold, and the railing designed to hold luggage on the top, if not of the same precious metal, was as polished as the letters of Lord Chesterfield to his long-suffering son.
One jealous glance was enough to paint this glowing picture upon our retinas, and there it remained, like a sun-spot, even when a later one was stamped upon it. Three figures in long, grey motor-coats, exactly alike, and motor-caps, held on with shirred chiffon veils came forward, two advancing more quickly than the third.
"How do you do, Sir Ralph? Good morning, Mr. Barrymore," Mrs. Kidder and Beechy were saying. "We're all ready," went on the former, excitedly. "We've been admiring the Prince's car, which came last night. Isn't it a perfect beauty? Just look at the sweet poppy-colour, and his crest in black and gold. I never saw anything so pretty, did you?"
"I like Sir Ralph's car," said Miss Destrey. "It's such a cool grey, and even in wind or dust it will always look neat. We shall match it very well with our grey coats and veils."
I could have kissed her; while as for Terry, standing cap in hand, he looked grateful enough to have grovelled at our fair champion's feet. Nevertheless, we could not help knowing in our hearts that no normal girl could help preferring that celestial peacock to our grey hen, and that Miss Destrey's wish to be kind must have outstripped her obligation to be truthful. This knowledge was turning a screw round in our vitals, when His Highness himself appeared to give it a still sharper twist.
He had been standing at a short distance, talking with a small chauffeur of a peculiarly solemn cast of countenance. Now he turned and joined the ladies with a brisk step and an air of proprietorship.
The fact that he was wearing a long motor-coat, of a smart cut, and a peaked cap which became him excellently, struck me as ominous. Had he caught the birds—our birds—after all, at the last moment, and had they been too cowardly to let us know?
"Oh, good morning, Sir Ralph," said he. "So that is the famous car. Mine is a giant beside it, is it not? No doubt you and your friend are clever men, but you will need all your cleverness to provide comfortable accommodation for these ladies' luggage as well as themselves. I would not mind betting you ten to one that you will fail to do it to their satisfaction."
"I'll take the bet if the ladies don't mind," responded Terry promptly, those lazy Irish eyes of his very bright and dark.
"What—a bet? Why, that will be real fun," laughed the Countess, showing her dimples. "What is it to be?"
A slightly anxious expression hardened the lines of the Prince's face when he found himself taken in earnest. "A thousand francs against a hundred of yours shall it be, Monsieur? I don't wish to plunge my hand into your pockets," said he, shrewdly making a virtue of his caution.
"As you like," Terry assented. "Now for the test. Your luggage has come down, Countess?"
"Yes; here it all is," said Mrs. Kidder, guiltily indicating three stout hotel porters who stood in the background heavily laden. "Dear me, it does look as if it was going to be a mighty tight squeeze, doesn't it?"
In response to a gesture, the porters advanced in line, like the Three Graces; and counting rapidly, I made out that their load consisted of one good-sized "Innovation" cabin box, two enormous alligator-skin dressing bags, one small bag, and two capacious hold-alls, umbrellas, parasols, and a tea-basket.
I began to tremble for more than Terry's five pounds. I now saw all the Prince's guile. He had somehow managed to produce his car, and had, no doubt, used all his eloquence to persuade Mrs. Kidder that she would be justified in changing her mind at the last moment. That he had failed was owing either to her sense of honour or her liking for the English-speaking races over foreigners, even princely ones. But refusing to abandon hope, His Highness had pinned his last fluttering rag of faith upon the chance that our car would fail to fulfil its contract. With this chance, and this alone still to depend upon, he had probably kept his melancholy chauffeur up all night, sponging and polishing. If the Panhard refused to absorb the ladies' luggage, there would be his radiant chariot waiting to console them in the bitter hour of their disappointment.
As Terry stood measuring each piece of luggage with his eye, silently apportioning it a place in the car, I felt as I had felt at "Monte" when, at roulette, as many as three of my hard-won five franc pieces might easily go "bang," like the sixpence of another canny Scot. Will it be rouge; will it be noir?... I could never look; and I could not look now.
Turning to Beechy, who stood at my shoulder eagerly watching, I flung myself into conversation. "What are you laughing at?" I asked.