THE CAR OF DESTINY BY C. N. AND A. M. WILLIAMSON [Logo]
Illustrations by Armand Both
NEW YORK THE McCLURE COMPANY MCMVII
*OTHER BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHORS*
Lady Betty Across the Water, My Friend the Chauffeur, The Princess Virginia, etc.
Copyright, 1907, by The McClure Company Copyright, 1906, by McClure, Phillips & Co.
To Dona Maria del Pilar Harvey, We Dedicate This Spanish Story
C.N. and A.M. Williamson
The King's Car The Girl The Guest Who Was Not Asked "I Don't Threaten—I Warn" A Mystery Concerning a Chauffeur Puzzle: Find the Car The Impudence of Showing a Handkerchief Over the Border A Stern Chase The Unexpectedness of Miss O'Donnel Maria del Pilar to the Rescue Under a Balcony What Happened in the Cathedral Some Little Ideas of Dick's How the Duke Changed A Secret of the King's Like a Thief in the Night The Man Who Loved Pilar A Parcel for Lieutenant O'Donnel The Magic Word The Duchess's Hand The Luck of the Dream-Book The Glorification of Monica The Goodwill of Mariquita What Cordoba Lacked In the Palace of the Kings Moonlight in the Garden Let Your Heart Speak The Garden of Flaming Lilies The Hand Under the Curtains Behind an Iron Grating On the Road to Cadiz The Seven Men of Ecija The Race The Moon in the Wilderness Wiles and Enchantments Dreams and an Awakening The Fountain Day After To-morrow Through the Night The Fifth Bull; and After
THE KING'S CAR
"Motor to Biarritz? You must be mad," said Dick Waring.
"Why?" I asked; though I knew why as well as he. "A nice way to receive an invitation."
"If you must know, it's because the King of Spain will be there, visiting his English fiancee," Dick answered.
"I wish him happiness," said I. "I hear he's a fine young fellow. Why isn't there room in Biarritz for the King and for me?"
"The detectives won't think there is, nor will they give you credit for your generous sentiments," said Dick.
"They won't know I'm there."
"They knew when you went to Barcelona, from Marseilles."
This was a sore subject. It is not my fault that my father was as recklessly brave a general, and as obstinately determined a partisan as Don Carlos ever had. If I had been born in those days, it is possible that I should have done as my father did; but I was not born, and therefore not responsible. Nor was it the King's fault that we lost our estates which my ancestors owned in the days of Charles V; nor that we lost our fortune, we Casa Trianas; nor that my father was banished from Spain. For the King was not born, therefore he was not responsible; so why should I blame him for anything that has happened to me?
It was perhaps ill-judged to visit my father's land, since to him it had been a land forbidden. But a few months after his death, when I was twenty-one, the longing to see Spain had become an obsession. And it must have been my evil star which influenced an anarchist to throw a bomb at a royal personage on the very day I arrived at Barcelona, thinly "disguised" under an English name.
My identity was discovered at once, as the son of the great dead Carlist. I was suspected and clapped into a cell, to wait until my innocence could be proved. This was not easy; but, on the other hand, there was no proof against me; and after an experience which scourged my pride and emptied my purse, I was released, only to be politely but firmly advised never again to show the undesirable face of a Casa Triana in Spain.
It was after this that I flung myself off to Russia, and through friendly influence got a commission in the army. I had some adventures in the Boxer rising; and though Heaven knows I have no grudge against the Japanese, the fight I made later on the Russian side gave me something to do for two years. After the Peace with Idleness, came the motor mania, and I thought of nothing else for a time. But when you have run your car for months, motoring for its own sake ceases to be all in all. You ask yourself what country you would like best to visit with the machine you love.
Pride kept me from answering that question with the name of "Spain"; but it was because Biarritz is at the door of Spain that I had just invited Dick Waring—the best of friends, the most delightful of Americans, who fought side by side with me, for fun, in China—to drive there in my Gloria car.
"Yes, they knew when I went to Barcelona," I admitted; for Dick was familiar with the story. "But that was different. Anyhow, I'm going to Biarritz, whatever happens. You can do as you like."
"If you will go, I'll go too," said Dick; "and if anything happens I'll be in it with you. But you may regret your rashness."
"I've never yet regretted rashness," I said. "Things done on impulse always turn out for the best."
So we started from Paris the next day, and had a splendid run, through scenery to set the spirit singing in tune with the thrumming of the motor.
Whatever was to happen in Biarritz, and I was far enough from guessing then, nothing happened by the way; and we arrived on a morning of blue and gold.
We put up at a private hotel out of the way from fashionable thoroughfares; and, as my childhood and early youth were passed in England, I could use an English name without making myself ridiculous by a foreign accent. As for my brown face and black eyes, many a Cornishman has a face as brown and eyes as black; therefore, I edited the name of Triana into Cornish Trevenna, and changed Cristobal, my middle name, into Christopher.
We took our first meal in the restaurant, and everyone at the little tables near by, was talking of the King and "Princess Ena"; how pretty she was, how much in love he; how charming their romance. My heart quite warmed to my youthful sovereign, who has had seven fewer years on earth than I. I felt that, if I had had a fair chance, I should have been his loyal subject.
"I'd like to have a look at him," said I to Waring after lunch. "The lady with the nose who sat on our left said to her husband with the chin, that the King and the two Princesses motor every afternoon. We'll motor too; and where they go, there we'll go also."
"Take care," said Dick.
"A cat may look at a king. So may Chris Trevenna."
"No good advising you to be cautious."
"Of course not. You wouldn't care a rap for me if there was."
"Shouldn't I? Anyhow, Chris Trevenna might as well wear goggles."
"There's no dust to-day," said I. "It rained in the night."
"I give you up," said Dick. And if giving me up meant going out with me in my big blue car directly after lunch, then he kept his word. Ropes, my chauffeur, and right-hand man, who sits always in the tonneau, had already heard all about the King's automobile, and was primed with particulars. He leaned across to describe its appearance, as well as mention the make; and when such a car as he was in the act of picturing passed us, going round a bend of the road which leads to Spain, there was no mistaking it.
"Let's follow," said I.
Dick sighed, but naturally I paid no attention to that.
There were five persons in the King's car. The slim young owner, three ladies, two very slender and young, and the chauffeur, all five masked or goggled, so that it was impossible to see their faces.
"I wish something would happen to them," I said.
Waring looked shocked.
"Just enough of a something to stop the car, and tempt the ladies to take off their motor-veils. I may never have another chance to see the future Queen of Spain."
When I was a small lad in England, I used to lie under a favourite apple-tree in the orchard of the old place where we lived, and wish with all my might for the fall of a certain apple on which eyes and heart were fixed. It was extraordinary how often the apple would fall.
In a flash I remembered those wishes and those apples as we began to gain upon the King's car. Its pace slackened, and then it stopped. The chauffeur jumped out, and two of the ladies were raising their thick veils as we came up.
As we were not supposed to know the King, who was "incog," the ordinary civilities between motorists were in order. I slowed down, and taking off my hat, inquired in French if there were anything I could do.
The two girls, who had hastily whipped off their veils, turned and glanced at me. Both were more than pretty; blond, violet-eyed, with radiant complexions; but one seemed to me beautiful as the Blessed Damozel looking down from the star-framed window of heaven; and I was suddenly sick with jealousy of the King, because I believed that she was his Princess.
It was he who answered, in French better than mine. He thanked me for my kind offer, and referred me to his chauffeur, who had not yet discovered the cause of the car's sudden loss of power. But even as he spoke, the mystery was solved. There was a leak in the petrol-tank, near the bottom; the last drop of essence had run away, and, as they had come out for a short spin, there was none in reserve.
An odd chance it seemed that brought me, the son of a banished rebel, to the King's aid; but life is odd. I rejoiced because it was odd, and more because of the girl.
I had a spare bidon of petrol which, with conventional expressions of pleasure, I gave to my fellow motorist. We exchanged compliments, and as nobody stared at me askance, I had reason to believe that neither words, actions, nor looks were out of the way. Yet what I said and did was said and done with no more guidance of the mind than the gestures and speech of a mechanical doll.
I was conscious only of the girl's eyes, for I had done that unreasonable, indefinable thing—fallen in love at first sight, and I had fallen very far, and very deep. She did not glance at me often, and after the first I scarcely glanced at her at all, lest my eyes should be indiscreet. It was the most curious thing in the world, and far beyond anything that had ever happened to me; but already I knew that I could not lose her out of my life. Sooner could I lose life itself. If she were the Princess who was to be Queen of Spain, I would follow her to Madrid, come what might, just for the joy of breathing the air she breathed, of seeing her drive past me in her carriage sometimes. I had wondered, knowing the traditions of our family, many of them tragic, when love would come to me. Now it had come quickly, in a moment; but not to go as it had come. It and I would be one, for always. The girl was little more than a child, but I knew she was to be the one woman for me; and that was what I feared my eyes might tell her. So I would not look; yet the air seemed charged with electricity to flash a thousand messages, and my blood tingled with the assurance that she had had my message, that unconsciously she was sending back a message to me.
All this was going on in my inner self, while the outer husk of self delivered itself of conventional things.
A leak was mended, a tank filled, while my life was being remade. Then there were bows, lifting of caps, many politenesses, and the King's car shot away.
"What's the matter?" inquired Waring by and by.
"Nothing," I answered. "Why do you ask?"
"You act as if you'd had a stroke. Aren't you going to drive on?"
"No. Yes. I'm going back," I said, and turned the car.
"You don't mean to follow, then?"
"There's something I need to do at once at Biarritz," I answered. It was true. I needed to find out whether she was the Princess, or—just a girl.
It was easy to learn that she was not the Princess. I did that by going into a stationer's shop and asking for a photograph of the royal lovers. It was not quite so easy to find out who she was, without pinning my new secret on my sleeve; but luckily everyone in Biarritz boasted knowledge of the King's affairs, and the affairs of the pretty Princess. Christopher Trevenna made himself agreeable after dinner to the lady with the nose, who would probably have shrunk away in fear if she had known that she was talking with the Marques de Casa Triana.
I, in my character of Trevenna, found out that the Princess had a friend, Lady Monica Vale, daughter of the widowed Countess of Vale-Avon, who, when at home, lived in the Isle of Wight. At present, the two were staying at Biarritz, in a villa; and Lady Monica, a girl of eighteen or nineteen, sometimes had the honour of going out with the Princesses, in the King's motor.
There were other privileged friends as well; but the description of Lady Monica Vale, though painted with a colourless brush, was unmistakable.
Casually I inquired the name of the house where Lady Vale-Avon and her daughter were staying, and having learned it, I made an excuse to escape from the lady with the nose.
It was half-past ten o'clock, and a night flooded with moonlight. I strolled out, smoking a cigarette, and in ten minutes stood before the garden gate of the Villa Esmeralda.
There were lights in three or four of the windows, sparkling among close-growing trees; and I had not finished my second cigarette, when a carriage drove round the corner and stopped.
I moved into the background. A groom jumped down, unfastened the gate, and having opened the brougham door, respectfully aided a middle-aged lady to descend.
The moonlight showed me a clear, proud profile, and fired the diamonds in a tiara which crowned a head of waved grey hair.
There were billows of violet satin and lace to keep off the ground; and as the groom helped the wearer to adjust them under her chinchilla coat, a girl sprang out of the carriage, her white figure and rippling hair of daffodil gold in full moonlight.
I stood as a man might stand who sees a vision, hardly breathing. I made no sound, yet she turned and saw me, sheltered as I was by the dappled trunk of a tall plane-tree. It was as if I had called, and she had answered.
I knew she remembered me, and that she did not misunderstand my presence. There was no anger in her face, only surprise, and a light which was hidden as she dropped her head, and passed on through the gate.
I could have sung the song of the stars. She had not forgotten me since the afternoon. The look in my eyes then, had arrested some thought of hers, and set me apart in her mind from other men.
It was no stupid conceit which made me feel this, but a kind of exalted conviction.
When the gate was shut, I took off my hat and looked at the lighted windows. I could make her care. I said to myself, "We're meant for each other. And if that's true, though all the mountains in the world were piled up as barriers between us, I'd cross them."
That was a vow. And through the remaining hours of the night I tried to plan how it would be best to begin its fulfilment.
Men who have gone through a campaign as close friends, have few secrets from one another; and I had none from Dick Waring. Nevertheless, I would now have kept one if it were possible; but it was not. If I had not told him, he would have guessed, and then he might have thought that he had the right to chaff me on losing my head.
It is only a happy lover who can bear to be chaffed, however, and a few words were enough to show my tactful American where to set his feet on the slippery path.
He too had seen the girl; therefore he could not be surprised at my state of mind. But he regretted it, and urged that the best I could do was to go away, before the thought of her had taken too deep a hold upon me.
"You see," he said, "you're in a hopeless position; and it's better to look facts in the face. If you'd fallen in love with almost any other girl, except Princess Ena herself, you might have hoped. But as it is, what have you to look forward to? You oughtn't to have come to Biarritz. In the circumstances, and with the King here, it was bravado. Friends of his, enemies of yours, might even say it was bad taste, which is worse. And then, having come, you proceed to follow the King's motor-car; you fall head over ears in love with a girl in it, a friend of the bride-elect, to whom your real name, if she's not heard it already, could easily be made to seem anathema maranatha. But that's not all. You're here under a name not your own. If you should by luck or ill-luck get a chance to meet Lady Monica, you couldn't be introduced to her as Christopher Trevenna; it would be a false pretence; still less could you throw your real name in her face; for between the King of Spain as a friend, and you as an acquaintance, the girl would be in an uncomfortable position, to say the least. No, my dear fellow, you can't meet this young lady; and the only thing for your peace of mind, if you've really fallen in love, is to go away."
I had no arguments with which to meet Dick's. I listened in silence, but—I made no preparation for departure. If there was nothing to be gained by staying, at least there was as little to be gained by going; for I knew that I should not forget the girl. If I were struck blind, her face would still live for my eyes, white and pure against a background of darkness.
We stayed on at Biarritz, but I behaved with circumspection, and made no further attempts to put myself in the King's Way, though he arrived at the Villa Mouriscot every morning from San Sebastian. Dick approved my conduct and, pitying my depression, perhaps repented his hardness. He found several Parisian friends at Biarritz, and when we had been there for three days, he came back to the hotel from the Casino one night with an important air.
"Strange how one's tempted to do things one knows one oughtn't to do," said he. "Now, it's unwise to tell you I've met a man who knows Lady Monica Vale, yet I'm doing it."
"What did the man say?" I asked.
"A number of things—charming, of course. She's not engaged, if that's any consolation."
"Oh, I knew that."
"By her eyes."
"Apparently she observed yours also."
"What? She's spoken of—she—"
"The sister of my man is a friend of Lady Monica's. She told the sister about the motor-car adventure."
"For goodness sake don't force me to ask questions."
"I won't. I've a soft heart, which has often been my undoing. She said she'd seen the most interesting man in the world. Don't faint."
"Don't be an ass."
"I'm not chaffing. She did say that—honest Injun. At least, I've Henri de la Mole's word for it. His sister was at school at the convent of the Virgin of Tears with Lady Monica Vale. Lady Monica supposed the other day that we were both French, which is a compliment to your accent. She said she wished she could find out 'who was the brown man with the eyes.' I'm a fool to have told you that though, eh? It can't do you any good, and will probably make you worse."
"But it has done me good."
"Flattered your vanity. However, I haven't told you all yet. De la Mole says the mother's a dragon, hard as iron, cold as steel, living for ambition. She was left poor, on her husband's death, as the Vale-Avon estates went with the title to a distant relative, and the girl's been brought up to make a brilliant match. She's been given every accomplishment under Heaven, to add to her beauty; and as the family's one of the oldest in Great Britain, connected with royalty in one way or another, in Stuart days, Lady's Monica's expected to pull off something from the top branch, in the way of a marriage. De la Mole's heard that the present Lord Vale-Avon has been first favourite with the mother up till lately, though he's next door to an idiot. Princess Ena's engagement to the King of Spain has changed everything. You see, Lady Vale-Avon and her daughter live not far from the Princess, in the Isle of Wight. When the King came a-courting to England, came also, though not exactly in his train, another Spaniard, the Duke of Carmona, and—"
"Don't," I cut in; "I won't hear his name in connection with her's. That half Moorish brute!"
"He may have a dash of Moorish blood, but he's not half Moorish; and if he's a brute, he's a good-looking brute, according to de la Mole, also he's one of the richest young men in Spain. Lady Vale-Avon—"
I jumped up and stopped Dick. "I'm in earnest," I said. "I can't bear to listen. I know the sort of things you'd say. But don't. If you do, I think I'll kill the fellow."
"Ever met him?"
"No. The men of my house and of his have been enemies for generations. But I've heard of certain exploits."
"He's coming here to stop with his mother, the old Duchess, who's been spending the winter at Biarritz. Another reason for you to vamose."
"You mean, to stay. At least, he shan't have a clear coast."
"I don't see how you can hope to block it."
"No doubt you're a hundred times the man he is, but—fate's handicapped you for a show place in the matrimonial market. You are—"
"A man countryless and penniless. Don't hesitate to state the case frankly."
"Well, you've said it. While the other's rich, and a grandee of Spain. And, though de la Mole says the King doesn't care for him, on account of something or other connected with the Spanish-American War, he's bound to become a persona grata at Court if he marries a friend of the young Queen; and, no doubt, that influences his choice."
"Thank Heaven, Lady Monica isn't Spanish."
"Ah, but Spain's the fashion now. And you haven't heard all my news. Henri de la Mole says Lady Monica is asked to be a maid of honour for the young Queen of Spain, the one Englishwoman she's to have in attendance."
"At least the wedding won't be till June. It's only the end of February now. I've got more than three months."
"You haven't got one. Soon after the Princesses leave Biarritz, Lady Vale-Avon and Lady Monica are going to visit the old Duchess of Carmona in Spain."
"What, they're going to Seville?"
"If her house is there. I'm telling you what I've been told."
"The principal house of the Duke is in Seville, though he has a place near Granada, and a flat in Madrid as a substitute for a fine house that was burned down."
"Then Seville's where they'll be. Anyhow, they're to see the great show in Holy Week there."
It was as if Dick had suddenly drenched me with iced water.
For a few seconds I did not speak. Then I said, "Are you trying to break it to me that the match is arranged?"
"I told you Lady Monica wasn't engaged."
"And I told you I knew she wasn't. But that isn't to say the mother, the woman 'as hard as iron and cold as steel,' hasn't planned her daughter's future, a girl so young, and always kept under control."
"It looks as if the wind was setting in that quarter. A person of Lady Vale-Avon's type would hardly accept such an invitation if she didn't intend something to come of it."
"You're certain the invitation's been accepted?"
"Certain. Angele de la Mole has been with her brother in Spain, and Lady Monica's been asking her advice about what to take and what to wear. The Duke himself is in Paris, buying a new automobile; at least, so his mother says; but other people say he's at Monte Carlo. Anyhow, he's expected here in time for the ball."
"Didn't I tell you? A masked ball the old Duchess is giving in honour of Princess Ena. A grand affair it will be, says de la Mole. There's been jealousy about the invitations, which have been carefully weeded."
"You and I'll accept," said I.
"We're not likely to have the chance."
"Sometimes a man must make a chance. I shall meet Lady Monica at the Duchess's ball."
"All right. Suppose you go in the garb of a palmer?"
"I was thinking of another first meeting, case not dissimilar, you know, Romeo and Juliet. My poor, mad friend, there's more hope for a Montague with a Capulet than for a Casa Triana with a friend of the future Queen of Spain, and the daughter of a Lady Vale-Avon."
"Romeo won Juliet."
"It wasn't exactly a fortunate marriage. See here, if you're going in for the part of Romeo, it's no good asking me to play Mercutio."
I looked at Dick and smiled. "I shall ask nothing," I said. "Yet—"
"Yet, you know mighty well, if you want a Mercutio, I'll be ready to take up the role at a moment's notice all for the sake of your beaux yeux. Well, you're right. There's something queer about you, Ramon, which makes us others glad to do what we can, even if it were to cost our lives. If you'd been a king in exile, you'd have had no trouble in finding followers. From your French valet to your Russian soldiers; from your English chauffeur to your American friend, it's pretty well the same. I expect you'll get to that masked ball."
"If I don't, it won't be for lack of trying," said I.
"This affair of yours is going to end in tragedy—for someone," said Dick.
THE GUEST WHO WAS NOT ASKED
During the next two or three days I found more to do. I got Dick to introduce me to his friend Henri de la Mole, not as Christopher Trevenna, but under my own name, and when he and his sister had been interested in what they chose to think a romance, I was able to learn through them that, curiously enough, Lady Vale-Avon had arranged for her daughter to appear at the ball as Juliet.
The costume, it seemed, decided itself, because there happened to be among Lady Vale-Avon's inherited and most treasured possessions, an interesting pearl head-dress of the conventional Juliet fashion. This had been sent for from England; and if I could succeed in getting to the ball, as I fully intended to do, I should have little difficulty in identifying the head that I adored.
Had I not taken de la Mole more or less into my confidence, he would have done nothing to further my interests; but, if I really have any such power as Dick Waring hinted, I used it to enlist de la Mole upon my side. Finally he not only agreed, but offered to help me enter the Duchess of Carmona's house as one of her masked guests. He had been asked to stand at the door that night, and request each person, or in any case the man of each party, to raise his mask for an instant. This, in order to keep out reporters and intruders of all sorts; and his promise was to let me pass in unchallenged. I might count on his good offices, not only in that way, but in any other way possible, for "all the world loves a lover," said he. And he wished me the best of luck, though he looked as if he hardly expected me to have it.
Probably it was foolish and conceited, but I could not resist playing up to the role Dick suggested. She was to be Juliet. I would be Romeo.
By this time, no doubt, the Duchess's invited guests had their costumes well under way; I had to get mine, and the only way to have something worthy of the occasion was to go to Paris for it. I did go, and was back in Biarritz in two days.
The rest moved easily, without a hitch. The night of the ball came. I dressed and went alone, rather than drag Dick into an affair which might end disagreeably.
I did not put myself forward, but stood for a while and watched the dancers, waiting for my chance.
Carmona had arrived the day before. I had never met him, but what I had heard I did not like; and having seen him once or twice in London, at a distance, he was recognizable in a costume copied from a famous portrait of that Duke of Alba who loomed great in Philip the Second's day. Because of a slight difference one from the other, in the height of his shoulders, he was difficult to disguise; and though the arrangement of the costume was intended to hide the peculiarity, it was perceptible.
When the "Duke of Alba" had danced twice in succession with Juliet Capulet, I could bear my role of watcher no longer. Besides, I knew that I had not much time to waste. For the sake of de la Mole, who had run the risk of admitting a stranger, I must vanish before the hour for the masks to fall. When I took off my cap and bowed before this white Juliet with the pearl-laced plaits of gold, she gazed at me through her velvet mask in the silence of surprise. I could not guess whether she puzzled herself as to what was under my yellow-brown wig and my mask; but at least she must know it was Romeo who begged a dance.
I did not urge my claim on such a plea, however, least it should rouse Carmona's opposition, and cause him to keep the girl from me if he could. I merely said, "The next is our dance," risking a rebuff; but it did not come.
"Yes," she said, almost timidly. It was the first time I had heard her speak, and her voice went to my heart.
The Duke stared, as though he would have stripped off my mask by sheer force of curiosity. But he had to let the girl go; and as the music began she was in my arms. I hardly dared believe my own luck. Neither of us spoke. I was lost in the sense of her nearness, the knowledge that it was the music which gave me the right to hold her thus, and that when the music died I must let her go.
But a quick thought came. If we danced the waltz through, Carmona or someone else would claim her for the next. If I could hide the girl before it was over, perhaps I might keep her for a little time. Indeed, I must keep her, if this meeting were not to end in failure; for there were things I had to say.
The conservatory was too obvious; and the shallow staircase with its rose-garlanded balusters, and its fat silk cushion for each step, would soon be invaded by a dozen couples. What to do, then? I would have given much to know the house.
"I must speak with you," I said at last. "Where can we go?"
She did not say in return, "Do you know me, then?" or any other conventional thing. The hope in me that she had remembered well enough to guess who I was, brightened. She would not have answered a person she regarded as a stranger, as she answered me,
"There's a card-room at the end of the corridor to the left, off the big hall, where we might rest for a moment or two," she said. "But I mustn't stop long."
"No," I promised. "I won't try to keep you. I ask only a few moments. I can't tell how I thank you for giving me those."
I threw a glance round for Carmona, and saw him dancing with a stately Mary Stuart. I guessed his partner to be Lady Vale-Avon; and if I were right, it was a bad omen. She was not a woman to care for extraneous dancing, therefore she favoured Carmona in particular.
Still, for the moment he was occupied; and when his back was turned I whisked Lady Monica out of the ball-room, past the decorated staircase in the square hall, and to the room at the end of the corridor. There I pushed aside a portiere and followed her in.
She had been right; the room was unoccupied, though two or three bridge tables were ready for players. In one corner was a small sofa. The girl sat down, carefully leaving no place for me, even had I presumed; and, leaning forward, clasped her little hands nervously round her knees.
Then she looked up at me through her mask; and I did not keep her waiting.
"I've no invitation to-night," I said. "But I had to come. I came to see you. Do you forgive me for saying this?"
"I—think so," she answered.
"You would be sure, if you knew all."
"I do know. At least—I mean—but of course, I oughtn't to be here with you."
"According to convention you oughtn't. Yet—"
"I'm not thinking of conventions. But—oh, I should hate you to misunderstand!"
"I could never misunderstand."
I snatched off my mask and stood looking down at her, knowing that my face would say what was in my heart, and not now wishing to hide the secret.
"You know," I said, "that I've worshipped you since the first moment I saw you. It was impossible to meet you in any ordinary way, for you have no friend who would introduce to you the Marques de Casa Triana. Have you ever heard that name before, Lady Monica?"
"Yes," she answered frankly. "I heard it yesterday. From Angele de la Mole."
"Her brother's a friend of my best friend."
"If it hadn't been for him, I should have had great trouble in getting here to-night. Yet I would have come. Did Mademoiselle de la Mole tell you that I loved you?"
Lady Monica dropped her head and did not answer, but the little hands were pressed tightly together.
"I've always been proud of my name," I said, "though it's counted a misfortune to bear it; but when I saw you, then I knew for the first time how great a misfortune it may be."
"Because my only happiness can come now in having you for my wife; and even if I could win your love, you wouldn't be allowed to marry my father's son."
"Your father may have been mistaken," the girl faltered. "I do think he was. But he was a gloriously brave man. Even the enemies against whom he fought must respect his memory. I—I've read of him. I—bought a book yesterday. You see—I've thought about you. I couldn't help it. We saw each other only those few minutes, and we didn't even speak; yet somehow it was different from anything else that ever happened to me."
"It was fate," I said. "We were destined to meet, and I was destined to love you. If I thought I could make you care, that would give me a right I couldn't have otherwise; the right to try and win your love, and beat down every obstacle."
"I could—I do care," she whispered. "Even if I were never to see you again, I shouldn't forget. This—would be the romance of my life."
"Angel!" I said. And then she took off her mask, with such a divine smile that I could have knelt at her feet as at the shrine of a saint.
"Isn't it wonderful?" she asked. "I didn't find out your name till yesterday, though I tried before; and we don't know each other at all—"
"Why, we've known each other since the world began. My soul had been waiting to find yours again, and found it the other afternoon, on the road to my own land. That's what people who don't understand call 'love at first sight.' "
"I think it must be so; because there was never anything like that first minute when you looked at me."
"If I could have known, it would have saved me sleepless nights. For now you're mine, my dearest, just as I am yours. Nothing can take you from me now."
"Ah, I'm afraid! Even if—everything were different in your life, it would be difficult; for—there's someone else in mine already."
"There can be no one else, since you care for me."
"Not truly in my life. But there's someone my mother wants me to marry."
"The Duke of Carmona."
"You see, I've thought of nothing but you; and I've learned all I could about what concerns you."
"I don't like him, not even as a friend. He's handsome enough, but I'm sure he has a most horrible temper. I could be afraid of him. I believe I am afraid. And mother—you don't know her, but—when she makes up her mind that you're to do a certain thing, you find yourself doing it. That's one reason I was so glad when you came to-night, and said, 'The next is our dance,' in such a determined way. Not only did you take me away from him, but—I felt you'd try to keep me from him, in the end."
"Try!" I echoed. "I will keep you. Trust me my darling. I've been foolish to come to Biarritz under another name. This isn't Spain; and even a Casa Triana has a right to be here. But luckily not much harm's done. Through the de la Moles I'll be presented to Lady Vale-Avon; I'll tell her that, though compared to the days when my people counted for something in the history of Spain, I'm penniless, still my father left me enough to live on and keep a wife who loves me better than she loves society. I'll tell Lady Vale-Avon that there are countries in which my name's well thought of, even in these piping times; that there I'll do something worth doing—"
"You've already done things worth doing," the girl broke in; "splendid things."
"I've done nothing yet, but I'll change that. I'll ask your mother to give me a chance—to wait—"
"No," she insisted. "Mother would refuse, and everything would be worse than ever."
"Darling one, they couldn't be worse. Because now, I'm doing what I oughtn't to do, although it's been forced upon me by my love. To deserve you in the faintest degree, I must be open in my dealings. I must speak to Lady Vale-Avon."
"She'll never consent."
"At least I shall have done the right thing. Now we've had this talk, now you know that you're all the world, and heaven besides, to me, even for your mother's sake you won't throw me over, will you?"
"No, a thousand times no. I didn't dream loving would be like this. It would kill me to give you up."
"Then nothing can part us."
"It makes me feel brave to hear you say so. But—you don't know mother."
"I know myself, and I trust you."
"I'm so young, and—I've never been allowed to have my own way. I've always given up."
"Because you were alone, with no one to help you. Now you have me."
"That's true. But—"
"Precious one, there's no 'but.'"
"I wish I could think so! Yet something seems to say that if you speak to mother, we shall be lost. I love you—but—do let it be kept secret for a while."
"With what end?"
"I hardly know. Only, I've the strongest presentiment it would be best."
"And I've the strongest conviction that not only would it be wrong, but that you wouldn't respect me if I consented."
"I beg of you, wait at least till the royalties leave Biarritz before you tell mother, or anyone, who you are."
I could not help smiling, though rather bitterly. "You've heard about my adventure in Barcelona?"
"Yes, from Angele. I couldn't bear it if you were to have trouble here."
"There's no danger of that."
"One can't tell. Circumstances which you don't foresee might seem to involve you in some plot. Oh, if you love me, wait till the royalties have gone."
How could I refuse those soft eyes, and those little clasped hands?
I caught the hands and crushed them against my lips, the rosy fingers that smelled of orris, and the polished nails like pink jewels. As I bent over my love, the curtain which covered the doorway waved as in a gust of wind.
Quick as light, Monica snatched away her hands, but it was too late. Carmona was holding back the portiere for Lady Vale-Avon.
He must have been watching. He must have known that I had brought Lady Monica to this room. He must have fetched the girl's mother on purpose to find us together.
These were the thoughts in my mind as I faced the two, mask in hand.
They had seen me kissing Monica's fingers. It was useless to hope that they had not.
"Leave the room instantly, my daughter," said Lady Vale-Avon, in a low voice. She too had taken off her mask.
It was a disastrous situation for me, and one all too difficult to carry off with dignity.
"Madame," I said. "I am the Marques de Casa Triana. I met Lady Monica some time ago, and have this moment told her that I love her. Now, I ask your consent to—"
"Casa Triana here!" exclaimed Carmona, in a tone which could have expressed no more of horror, had I been a bandit at large.
"Have no fear for your house," I could not help sneering.
He gave me a look not to be forgiven a man by a man. "I have no such fear," he said; "but there are those here whose safety is dear to me; and your name is not one which should be spoken under the same roof."
It was thus that he chose to inform Lady Vale-Avon, if she had been ignorant of it, that I was a notorious character.
"Will you tell me," he went on, "how you found your way into my mother's house, where no one of your name could be an invited guest?"
"There's a window," said I, thinking to save de la Mole, "by which the world and his wife might enter."
"I saw you, masked, in the ball-room half an hour ago."
Half an hour ago! Perhaps he was not exaggerating. But the thirty minutes, if there had been thirty, had passed like one.
"I was there," I admitted, "looking for Lady Monica Vale. We danced together, and I brought her here—"
"Who is this man, Duke?" Though she spoke to him, Lady Vale-Avon's eyes, cold as points of steel, pierced mine.
"A person who, whatever his intentions may be, ought not to be in Biarritz while King Alfonso's here."
"I remember the name now. And he has come to your house, uninvited; he proposes to marry my daughter—a man whom I've never seen! You have your answer, Marques de Casa Triana, if you need an answer. It is, no. Pray accept it quietly, and cease to persecute us, otherwise I must ask the Duke to act for me, as I have no husband or son. Is that enough?"
"It is not enough," I echoed. "I love your daughter, and I trust she cares for me. I will not give her up."
"Monica, I told you to go, and you disobey me," exclaimed Lady Vale-Avon. "Now, I tell you to send this man away."
"Mother—I love him," faltered the girl. "Wait—when you've heard—when you know what he is—"
"You talk like a child, Monica," her mother said. "You are a child. It's your one excuse; but this man, who must have hypnotized you, has reached years of discretion. If he will not leave the room, we must."
"I'll go, Lady Vale-Avon," I said, "but first let me say once more, frankly, I will never give up your daughter." Then I looked straight at Monica. "Trust me," I said, "as I trust you; and have courage."
With that I bowed, and walked out at the window by which I hoped the Duke thought I had come in.
"I'm not sure," I heard him say to Lady Vale-Avon, "that I oughtn't to inform the police. In Barcelona, six or seven years ago—"
I waited for no more.
"I DON'T THREATEN—I WARN"
In the garden I stopped, hiding away a scrap of a lace handkerchief I had stolen; wondering if I had been altogether wrong, yet not able to see what other course had been open.
Lingering near the window I saw Lady Vale-Avon go to Monica, and hold the girl by the hand while she talked with Carmona. They spoke only a few words. Then the Duke opened the door, and the two ladies went out, Monica not once looking up.
No sooner had they gone than Carmona walked to the window, and seeing me in the glimmering night joined me.
"This is my mother's house," he said in Spanish.
"And her garden, you would add," I answered.
"But there's something here that is mine."
"There is nothing here that is yours." His voice, studiously cold at first, warmed with anger.
"It will be mine some day, in spite of—everything."
"You boast, Marques de Casa Triana."
"No. For Lady Monica Vale has promised to marry me."
Carmona caught his breath on a word by which, if he had not stopped to think, he would have given me the lie. But something restrained him and he laughed instead. "I wouldn't count on the fulfilment of her promise if I were you," he said. "Lady Monica's a schoolgirl. I would tell you, for your own sake, that the best thing you can do is to forget you ever saw her; but that will be a waste of breath. What I will say is, you'll be wise to leave Biarritz before anything disagreeable happens."
"I intend to leave Biarritz," I said quietly.
"I'm glad to hear it."
"When Lady Monica and her mother leave."
"You intend to persecute these ladies!"
"Not at all. But when they go to visit the Duchess of Carmona, that will be—the time I shall choose for leaving Biarritz."
"Who has spoken of such a visit?"
"A person I trust."
He was silent for a moment, whether in surprise or anger I could not tell. But at last he said, "I'm less well-informed than your friend as to the plans of Lady Vale-Avon and her daughter. They may return to England; they may go to friends in Paris, they may visit my mother. But this doesn't concern strangers like yourself; and my advice to the Marques de Casa Triana is, whatever happens, keep out of Spain."
"Do you threaten me?" I asked.
"I don't threaten—I warn."
"Thanks for your kind intentions. They give me food for thought."
"All the better. You'll be less likely to forget."
"I shan't forget," I answered. "Indeed, I shall profit by your advice." And with that I walked away, putting on my mask.
As Romeo had not known at what hour he might wish to leave the house of Capulet, he had ordered neither his own motor-car nor a carriage; but luckily a cab was lingering in the neighbourhood on the chance of a fare. I was glad not to walk to my hotel in the guise of Romeo; and I gained my quarters without meeting curious eyes in the corridors.
As I expected, Dick was in our private sitting-room, smoking and reading a novel.
"Well, what luck, friend Romeo?" he asked.
"Luck, and ill luck," said I. Then I told the story of the evening.
"Humph! you've gone and got yourself into a pretty scrape," was his comment at the end.
"You call it a 'scrape' when by a miracle the sweetest girl alive has fallen in love with you?"
"Just that, if the girl isn't old enough to know her own mind, and has a mother who wouldn't let her know it if she could. You've gone so far now, you'll have to go further—"
"As far as the end of the world, if necessary."
"Oh! you Latin men, with your eyes of fire, your boiling passions, and your exaggerated expressions! What do we Yankees and other sensible persons see in you?"
"Heaven knows," said I, shrugging my shoulders.
"I doubt it. Why, in the name of common sense, as you'd got to the age of twenty-seven without bothering about love, couldn't you wait till the age of twenty-seven and a quarter, go quietly over to my country with me, a long sight better than the 'end of the world,' and propose to a charming American girl of rational age and plenty of dollars?"
"A rational age?"
"Over eighteen, anyhow. I believe you Latins have a fancy for these little white ingenues, who don't know which side their bread's buttered, or how to say anything but 'Yes, please,' and 'No, thank you.' When my time comes, the girl must be twenty-two and a good, patriotic American."
"American girls are fascinating, but I happen to be in love with an English one, and it's her misfortune and mine, not our fault, that she's eighteen instead of twenty-two."
"A big misfortune. You mustn't kidnap an infant. That's what makes it awkward. As I said, you can't back out now."
"Not while I live."
"Don't be so Spanish. But come to think of it, I suppose you can't help that. What do you mean to do next?"
"Watch. And get word to Monica."
"Angele de la Mole will do what she can for you."
"I hope so. Then everything else must depend on the girl."
Dick's lean, tanned face was half quizzical, half sad.
"Everything else must depend on the girl," he repeated. "I wonder what would happen if anybody tried to prop up a hundred pound weight against a lilybud?"
A MYSTERY CONCERNING A CHAUFFEUR
For many days after this the young King of Spain motored back and forth between San Sebastian and Biarritz to visit the lady of his love; but at last the two Princesses bade good-bye to the Villa Mouriscot, and went to Paris. Lady Vale-Avon and Monica remained; but for the moment the girl was safe from Carmona, for the Duke followed the King to Madrid.
Lovely as Monica was, is, and always will be, and genuinely in love with her as I had no doubt Carmona was, still I began to believe that Dick Waring was right, and that the Duke's desire to win Princess Ena's friend was as much for Court favour as for the girl herself. Several weeks passed, and Monica and her mother continued to be tenants of the Villa Esmeralda. They went out little, except to visit the old Duchess of Carmona, who evidently did all she could to advance her son's interests with invitations to luncheons and dinners; but try as I might I was never able to obtain an interview.
Fortunately for me, Lady Vale-Avon had seen me only in fancy dress; the costume of Romeo, with a ridiculous yellow-brown, wavy wig, upon which the costumier had insisted against my arguments. Now, I blessed him for his obstinacy; for I was able to pass Lady Vale-Avon in the street without being recognized, and once got near enough to slip into Monica's hand a note I had hastily scribbled on the leaf of a note-book.
"Are you willing that I should try my luck again with your mother?" I had written. "If not, will you consent to a runaway marriage with a man who loves you better than his life?"
Next day came an answer through Mademoiselle de la Mole.
Monica begged that I would not speak to her mother. "She fancies that you have gone away," the girl wrote. "If you came forward I think she would wire the Duke of Carmona, for she writes to him nearly every day as it is; and she would do everything she could to make me marry him at once. Don't hate me for being a coward. I'm not, except with mother. I can't help it with her. She's different from everyone else. I heard the Duchess saying to her yesterday, that if I were to marry a grandee of Spain, I would be made a lady-in-waiting to the Queen instead of maid of honour; so I know what they're thinking of always. But while mother hopes you have given me up, and that I'm quite good, they will perhaps let me alone.
"I wish I dared write to the Princess about you; only, you see, on account of your father and that horrid accident which happened, in Barcelona, she might misunderstand you, and things would be worse than before. But if I find that mother means actually to try and force me, then I will go away with you. Otherwise, I would rather wait, for both our sakes.
"When I go back to England, there are some dear cousins of mine who might help us, but it's no use writing. I would have to see and talk to them myself. Anyway, if I were there they'd manage not to let me be married to a foreigner I hate; and you and I could go on being true to each other for a little while, until everything could be arranged.
"The worst is, mother doesn't mean to go back to England yet. That's what I'm afraid of, and that she has some plan about which she doesn't mean to talk till the last minute. But she hasn't said anything lately about visiting the Duchess of Carmona in Spain, and I hope she's giving it up. As soon as I hear anything definite I'll somehow let you know. I think I can promise that, though it may be difficult, as mother will never let Angele and me be alone together for a minute if she can help it. The day after the ball we are having a talk in my room when my mother came, and perhaps guessed I had been telling Angele things. Since then I haven't been allowed to go to Angele's; and though Angele comes to see me, mother always makes some excuse for being with us."
After this letter of Monica's I had at least some idea of how matters stood; and in the circumstances there seemed nothing to do but to be near her, and to wait.
It was not until the latter part of March that the Duke of Carmona came back to his mother's villa at Biarritz.
His arrival was not announced in the local paper, nevertheless I heard of it; and the day after, Mademoiselle de la Mole sent me another letter from Monica, only a few lines, evidently written in great haste.
They were to pay the visit to the Duchess of Carmona in Seville, and were to arrive there in time for the famous ceremonies of Holy Week; that was all she knew. The time of starting was either not decided, or else it was not considered best that she should know too long beforehand.
"I'm miserable about going," wrote the girl; "but what can I do? I used to think it would be glorious to see Spain, but now I'm frightened. I have a horrible feeling that I shall never come back. I know it's too much to ask, and I don't see how you can do it if I do ask, since I can tell you nothing of our plans; but if only, only, you could keep near me, within call, I should be safe. I suppose it's useless to hope for that? Anyway, whatever happens, I shall always love you."
To this I wrote an answer, but Angele feared she might fail in getting it to her friend. The lease of Lady Vale-Avon's Biarritz villa had just expired, and the mother and daughter were moving to the Duchess of Carmona's for a few days. For some reason, the Duchess had not once invited Angele to come to her house since the ball. She might not be able to see Monica; and it would be very unsafe to trust to the post.
It was on the evening of the day on which I had this news that my chauffeur knocked at the door of our sitting-room at the hotel.
"I thought," said he, "I'd better tell your lordship something which has just happened. It may be of importance; it may be of none."
Now I may as well explain that Peter Ropes is no common chauffeur. He is the son of the old coachman who served my father for many years in England; was groom to my first pony; went abroad with me as handy man; was with me through most of my adventures; when I took up motoring, volunteered to go into a factory and thoroughly learn the gentle art of chauffeuring; and at this time understood an automobile, and loved it, as he understood and loved a horse; he is of my age almost to the day; and I suppose will be with me in some capacity or other till one of us dies. He has a brown face, which might have been carved from a piece of oak; the eyes of a soldier; and never utters a word more than he must.
"You said I could go to the pelota this afternoon," he continued. "When I came back I went to the garage, and found a strange chauffeur examining your Gloria. I stood at a distance, behind the King of England's car, and watched what he would do. M. Levavasseur, the proprietor of the garage, came in just then, and I inquired in a low voice who the fellow was. He didn't know; but the man had asked for Mr. Trevenna's chauffeur, saying, when he heard I was out, that he was a friend of mine. I gave Levavasseur the hint to keep quiet, and got out of the way myself. Presently the chauffeur walked over to Levavasseur, and said, in French, that he wouldn't wait any longer."
"Well, what then, Ropes?" I asked.
"He went away, and I went after him. He didn't see me, and I don't believe he would have known me from Adam if he had. He stopped at another garage, and I thought best not to go in there. But I waited, and after a while a very dark, tall gentleman, who looked Spanish, walked into the garage. Five minutes later he and the chauffeur came out together. They parted at the entrance, and it was the gentleman I followed this time. He went to a large, handsome villa; and a person I met told me it was the Duchess of Carmona's house. That is the reason I thought the thing important."
"But why, exactly?" I persisted, guessing what Ropes would say.
"Because I think the gentleman was the Duke of Carmona."
"And if he were?"
"I've heard gossip that he's anxious to stand well with the King of Spain. It occurred to me he might have some political interest in trying to learn the real name of Mr. Trevenna, if you pardon my having such a thought. He might have sent his chauffeur to look at your car, and make a report; and if he did, whatever the reason was, it would mean no good to your lordship. I thought you ought to know, and be upon your guard, in case of anything happening."
"Thank you," I said. "You're right to speak, and it may be you've done me an invaluable service."
Ropes beamed; but having said all he had to say, another word would have been a waste of good material, which he was not the man to squander.
PUZZLE: FIND THE CAR
"What do you think it means?" asked Dick, when the chauffeur had gone.
"It's just struck me, it may mean that Carmona intends to slip away with his guests in his new automobile, and that he wanted to find out something about my car, what it was like, and so on, in case I got wind of the idea, and followed."
"The identical thing struck me. He wouldn't go spying himself, but sent his chauffeur, a new importation, probably, to have a look at the Gloria and describe it. I wonder how he heard you had one."
"Easy enough to do that. Of course he's found out somehow, perhaps through employing a detective, that Chris Trevenna and Casa Triana are one man. He can't make much use of the knowledge to bother me on this side the frontier, but—"
"Yes; a big but."
"It seems pretty certain that his own car must have come, or be coming here, and that he means to use it going into Spain, or he wouldn't have developed this sudden interest in mine."
"It looks like it. Now he knows, if a dark blue Gloria crosses his path, it's the car of the pursuing lover, and—"
"I was just thinking that a dark blue Gloria will not cross his path."
"You don't mean—"
"I mean that it won't be prudent for either Casa Triana's or Chris Trevenna's car to follow his, wherever he means to go."
"What, you'll give up—"
"Is it likely?"
"You're getting beyond me."
"What I want is to stay with you, in your car."
"Wish I had one!" said Dick.
"You're going to have the loan of one. Would a grey or a red car suit you best?"
"I see. Red, please. They say red paint dries quickest."
We both laughed.
"Your red car must have new lamps," I went on, "and a new number, and any other little things that can be put on in a hurry. And you'd better get a passport if you haven't one. Gentlemen touring in foreign lands are sometimes subjected to cross-questionings which might be inconvenient unless they've plenty of red tape up their sleeves."
"I'll lay in a stock. How would you like me to be the accredited correspondent, for the Spanish wedding festivities, of a newspaper or two?"
"Rattling good idea. Could you work it?"
"Easy as falling off a log, or puncturing a tyre. I'll arrange by telegraph, London and New York."
"Grand old chap."
"Thanks. Better wait till I've done something. What about your part in the show?"
"A humble friend, accompanying the important newspaper correspondent in his travels."
"That's all right. But the Trevenna business is played out."
"A new travelling name's as easy to fit as a travelling-coat."
"Not quite, unless you can match it with a new travelling face."
"Luckily Carmona knows Romeo's face better than mine. And, anyhow, a motoring get-up can be next door to a disguise."
"That's true. Behind goggles Apollo hasn't much advantage over Apollyon, and you can develop a moustache. Yes. I think we can work it as far as that goes. But one's always heard that Spanish roads are impossible."
"They'll be no worse for us than for Carmona," I argued. "Besides, most of the best known books about Spain are out of date. The King has made motoring fashionable lately, and there must have been some attempts to get the roads into passable condition."
"I happened to hear an American who's here with a sixty horse-power Panhard, wanting to go to Seville, say to another fellow that he'd been warned he couldn't get beyond Madrid."
"I've never bothered much about warnings in my life. I've generally gone ahead, and found out things for myself."
"We'll continue on the same lines. And, anyhow, wherever we go, we're sure of a leader; our friend the enemy."
It was next in order to find out whether the Duke really had brought an automobile to Biarritz; but try as we might, we could learn nothing. Inquiries were made at the railway stations, both at Bayonne and Biarritz, as to whether an automobile had lately been shipped through; but as it happened, no car of any description had arrived by rail in either direction during the last fortnight.
All the principal garages of Bayonne and Biarritz were visited also, in the hope of finding a mysterious car which might be the Duke of Carmona's; but there was not one of which we could not trace the ownership. We then sent to Bordeaux, and even to St. Jean de Luz; but in both cases our errand was vain. If Carmona had an automobile in the South of France, it was well hidden.
As for the chauffeur who had inspected my car, and afterwards met Carmona at another garage, he had disappeared, apparently, into thin air.
Nevertheless, Dick and I formed a theory that the new automobile, of which we had heard so many rumours, was actually in Biarritz; that it had been driven into the town after dark, and was now being kept by some friend of Carmona's in a private garage. And if we were right in our conjectures, we felt we might take it as a sure sign that the Duke was not only planning an important tour, but was not forgetting a detail of precaution which could prevent my learning his intentions.
As we could not set a watch upon the chauffeur, we set a watch upon the Duke; and it was Ropes who, with considerable relish, undertook the task. I did not wish to bring a stranger into the affair; and Ropes I could trust as I trusted myself. Therefore Ropes it was who unobtrusively dogged Carmona's footsteps from the time the Duke went out in the morning, up to the time he went in again at night.
Meanwhile, Dick took steps to become correspondent for The Daily Despatch of London, and The New York Recorder, the editors of which papers he knew personally. He spent a great deal of money in wiring long messages, but his reward was success, and, as he said, he was "proud of his job," which he intended to carry out as faithfully as if writing impressions for newspapers were the business of his life.
Also, we got the car repainted; bought lamps of a different sort; ordered side baskets to be attached, of a red to match the new colour; had Dick Waring's monogram, in execrable taste, put on the doors; while last and most important change of all, from being number A12,901, the automobile became, illegally but convincingly, M14,317. Cunningest device of all, Ropes changed the wheel-caps of my Gloria for those of a Frenzel, as like a Gloria as a Fiat is like a Mercedes; so that only an expert of much experience would know that the car was not a Frenzel.
A quick dryer was used, and in two days we were ready for anything. I still hoped for a letter from Monica, with some hints as to her mother's plans, but nothing came; and when we had had a blank day, with no news of activity in the enemy's camp, it was a relief to have Ropes arrive at the hotel in the morning just as I was dressed.
I knew the moment I saw his face that something exciting had happened.
"The Duke's gone, my lord," he reported; "gone in a dark grey, covered car; I couldn't get near enough to make sure what it was, but it looks like a Lecomte. He's this moment got off."
"No, my lord. I'll tell you exactly what took place. I was at the window in the little room I hired over a shop three days ago, in sight of the entrance gates of the Villa Isabella. It was just seven o'clock this morning when a smart, big grey car drove in, might be a forty horse, and of the Lecomte type. The chauffeur wore goggles, but his figure was like the fellow's who came the other day to our garage. About half an hour later, out slipped the car again, the Duke driving, a lady sitting beside him, two other ladies in the tonneau, the chauffeur at the Duke's feet, and a good deal of luggage on the roof. At the gate they turned as if to go to San Sebastian; and I came to let you know."
"That's right. Get ready at once for a start, and have the car here as soon as you can."
"Car's ready now, my lord, and so am I."
"Good. But don't 'my lord' me. Now that I'm Mr. George Smith that's even more important to remember than in Trevenna days. And don't forget that the car's Mr. Waring's car."
"I won't forget, sir."
He was off to the garage, and I was knocking at Dick's door.
Dick was tying his necktie. "Ready to start in five minutes," said he.
"How did you guess what was up?"
"Your face, d'Artagnan."
"Why d'Artagnan? Haven't I a large enough variety of names already?"
"I've selected one suitable for the situation. D'Artagnan took upon himself a mission. So have you; and you'll have as many difficulties to overcome before you fulfil it, if you do, as he had."
"Nonsense. We're starting out to keep in touch with another party of motorists."
"In a country forbidden to one of us."
"That one can look out for himself. If a lady in another motor should need someone to stand by her, we're to be on the spot to stand by, that's all."
"Yes; that's all," said Dick, laughing. "And all that d'Artagnan had to do was to get hold of a few diamond studs which a lady wanted to wear at a ball. Sounds simple, eh? But d'Artagnan had some fun on the way, and I'd bet the last dollar in my pile we will. Hang this necktie! There; I'm ready. Have we time for coffee and a crust?"
THE IMPUDENCE OF SHOWING A HANDKERCHIEF
Fifteen minutes later we were off.
I love driving my car, as I love the breath of life, and I'm conceited enough to fancy that no one else, not even Ropes, can get out of her what I can. Still, this was not destined to be precisely a pleasure trip, and prudence bade me give the helm to Dick. He is a good enough driver; and the car was his car now; I was but an insignificant passenger, with a case of visiting cards in his pocket, newly engraved with the name of Mr. George Smith. I sat on the front seat beside Dick, however, silently criticising his every move; Ropes was in the tonneau; such luggage as we had, on top.
It was scarcely eight o'clock, and there was so little traffic in the town that we did not need to trouble about a legal limit. We slipped swiftly along the rough white road to the railway station, past large villas and green lawns, and took the sharp turn to the right that leads out from the pleasant land of France straight to romantic Spain, the country of my dreams. We sped past houses that looked from their deep sheltering woods upon a silver lake, and away in the distance we caught glimpses of the sea. Before us were graceful, piled mountains, the crenelated mass of Les Trois Couronnes glittering with wintry diamonds. Against the morning sky, stood up, clear and cold, the cone of far La Rune.
Looking ahead, in my ears sang the song of my blood, sweet with hope, as the name of the girl I love and the land I love, mingled together in music.
Gaining the first outskirts of straggling St. Jean de Luz my eyes and Dick's fell at the same time upon something before us; a big grey automobile, its roof piled with luggage, stationary by the roadside, a chauffeur busy jacking up the driving wheels, a tall man standing to watch the work, his hands in the pockets of his fur coat. Instantly Dick slowed down our car, to lean out as we came within speaking distance, while I sat still, secure from recognition behind elaborately hideous goggles.
"Is there anything we can do?" asked Dick with the generosity of an automobilist in full tide of fortune to another in ill fortune. I noticed as he spoke, that he made his American accent as marked as possible; so marked, that it was almost like hoisting the stars and stripes over the transformed and repainted Gloria.
"No, thank you," said Carmona; for it was he who stood in the road looking on while his chauffeur worked. He had glanced up with anxiety and vexation on his ungoggled, dark face, at the first sound of an approaching car, and I knew well what thought sprang into his head. But a red car, with an American driving, was not what he had half expected to see. He was visibly relieved; nevertheless, he was slow enough in answering to bring us to a standstill, while he peered at our wheel-caps.
The deceitful name, glittering up to his eyes, so evidently reassured him that a temptation seized me, and I yielded without a struggle.
I had come prepared for a quick signal to Monica whenever an opportunity should arise, and, as I was anxious to let her know that she was not unprotected, it seemed to me that the first chance of doing so was better than the second.
In an inner breast pocket of my coat I had the lace handkerchief which I had stolen on the night of the ball. As Dick questioned Carmona, and Carmona answered, I flashed out the wisp of lace and passed it across my lips, not turning to look full at the slim, grey-coated figure on the front seat, yet conscious by a side glance that a veiled face regarded us.
What I did was done so quickly, that I think it would have passed unnoticed by the Duke; but Monica, taken completely by surprise, bent suddenly forward; then, remembering the need for caution, hurriedly leaned back against the cushions.
Carmona caught her nervous movement, saw how self-consciously, almost rigidly, she sat when she had recovered herself, and, suspicion instantly alert, turned a searchlight gaze on us.
The lace handkerchief had vanished. I was sitting indifferently, with arms folded, my interest concentrated upon the busy chauffeur. Still I felt there was no detail of my figure and motoring clothes that Carmona was not noting as he explained to Dick the nature of his mishap.
"A simple puncture," he said. "And we have all necessary means to mend it, thank you."
Dick and I lifted our caps to the ladies and went our way; but it was not until we had passed the charming Renaissance house where Louis Quatorze was born, that Waring made any comment on the incident.
"If that Moor-faced chap isn't on to the game, he's getting mighty 'warm,' as the children say," he remarked dryly.
"He can't possibly be certain," said I. "Even if he saw my face, he couldn't swear to identifying it, as the only sight he ever had of me was in that asinine, yellow Romeo wig. Besides, Romeo had no moustache, and, thanks to your advice, I have. It's the one thing that's conspicuous under the goggles."
"A sort of 'coming event casting its shadow before.' I didn't say he knew. I said he guessed. See here, while he's waiting for his tyre, could we wire from this town to the frontier in time to have you stopped?"
"We ought to get there before any telegram he could send," said I, hopefully. "However, there'll be a lot of formalities at the custom-house. They might catch us before we finished. But, uncertain as he must be, it would hardly be worth his while—"
"I wouldn't bet much on that," said Dick.
"Let's rush it," said I.
"Too risky. You'd feel such a limp ass to be detained by a fat policeman at the door of Spain, while Carmona and Lady Monica went through, and disappeared."
"I'd shoot the fat policeman first."
"There you are, being Spanish again, just when you ought to develop a little horse-sense."
This put me on my mettle, and in two minutes I had thought out a plan, while Dick whistled and reflected.
It was rather an odd plan, and could only be carried out by the aid of another. But that other had never failed me yet, when loyalty or devotion were needed; and I had not got out half the suggestion when he understood all, and begged to do what I had hardly liked to ask.
We took exactly eight minutes, by Dick's watch, in making arrangements to meet an emergency which I hoped might not arise if our speed were good and our luck held.
Already Hendaye, the last French town, was but just beyond our sight. We ran through it at high speed, passed on through little Behobie; and next moment our tyres were rolling through a brown mixture of French and Spanish mud on the international bridge that crosses the swirling Bidasoa. We had passed from Gaul to Iberia. At the central iron lamp-post, carrying on one side the "R.F." of France, on the other the Royal Arms of Spain, I lifted my cap in salutation to my native land, just where, had I been an Englishman, I should have lifted it to memories of grand old Wellington.
The broad river was rushing, green and swift, down to Fuenterrabia and the sea, eddying past the little Ile des Faisans, where so much history has been made; where Cardinals treated for royal marriages; where Francis the First, a prisoner, was exchanged for his two sons. We were across the dividing water now, in Irun, and on Spanish soil. High-collared Spanish soldiers lounging by their sentry boxes, looked keenly at us, but made no move, little guessing that the accused bomb-thrower of Barcelona was driving past them through this romantic gate to Spain. We turned abruptly to the right, and, hoping still to escape trouble, pulled up at the custom-house.
To hurry a Spanish official, I had often heard my father say, in old days, is a thing impossible, and we avoided an air of anxiety. The three men in the big red car appeared to desire nothing better than to linger in the society of the douaniers. Nevertheless, the chauffeur was as brisk in his movements as he dared to be.
He it was who jumped from the tonneau, and in passable Spanish asked our inquisitor which, if any, of our suit-cases he wished to open. At the same instant a propitiatory cigarette was offered and accepted.
Carefully the overcoated man selected with his eye a piece of luggage on the car roof. Luck was with us. It was the one easiest to unlock.
In the twinkling of an eye (an American, not a Spanish eye), the thing was down and in the office. The douanier was about to inspect, in his leisured way, when a peasant entered with some bags to be weighed.
Naturally the official fell into chat with the new-comer, and it was necessary to remind him that we had the right of precedence. Every moment was of importance, for already there was time for a telegram to have arrived. Presently there would be time for its instructions to be acted on as well. And at this moment I realized, as I had not fully realized before, all that it would mean to me of humiliation and defeat to fail ignominiously on the threshold of my adventure.
It was hard to show no impatience as the douanier's lazy, cigarette-stained hand wandered among the contents of the suit-case. When any article puzzled him, he paused; another precious minute gone. But eventually, having had a safety-razor explained, he was satisfied with the inspection of the luggage, and indicated that it might be replaced. Then came the question of the deposit of money for the car, on entering Spain.
Very carefully did the imperturbable official examine each Spanish bank-note we tendered; laboriously did he make out the receipt. Had he meant to detain us, his movements, his words, could not have been more deliberate. How I had longed to hear again the Spanish language spoken by Spaniards in Spain, yet how little was I able to appreciate the fulfilment of my long-cherished wish! At last, however, every formality was complied with, and we were free to go.
With all speed we took our man at his word. The leather-coated, leather-legginged chauffeur set the engine's heart going in time with his own, flung himself into the tonneau, and had not shut the door when Waring slipped in the clutch, muttering "Hooray!"
Another second and we should have been beyond recall; but hardly was the brake off than it had to go crashing on again to avoid running over a sergeant and two soldiers who rushed up and sprang in front of us, puffing with unwonted haste.
In his hand the sergeant held an open telegram.
"You speak Spanish?" he panted.
"A little," said Dick. "French better."
"I have no French, senor," replied the sergeant, "But my business is not so much with you as with this gentleman," he glanced at the telegram, "in the grey coat with the fur collar, the grey cap, the goggles in a grey felt mask, the small dark moustache, the grey buckskin gloves." (Carmona had noticed everything.) "Our instructions are to prevent the Marques de Casa Triana from going into Spain."
"Casa Triana? What do you mean?" cried Dick. Then he laughed. "Is the person you're talking about a Spaniard?"
"He is, senor."
Dick laughed a great deal more. "Well, I guess you'll have to look somewhere else. There's a mistake. The gentleman in the grey coat and all the other grey things has hardly enough Spanish to know what you're driving at."
The sergeant shrugged his shoulders and looked determined. "There is no mistake in my instructions, senor. I am sorry, but it is my duty to detain that gentleman. If there is an error there will be apologies."
"I should say there jolly well was an error," sputtered Dick, in his wild combination of Spanish and English and American. "George, show your card. He thinks you're a Spaniard, who's 'wanted.' "
The gentleman in the grey coat showed the visiting cards of Mr. George Smith, and the Spanish soldier examined them gloomily. "Anybody might have these," said he, half to us, half to a group of his countrymen. "Senor, I must reluctantly ask you to descend and to come with me. It will be much better to do so quietly."
"Of all the monstrous indignities," shouted Dick. "I'm a newspaper correspondent on a special detail. I'll wire the American minister in Madrid, and the English Ambassador too. I'll—"
But the gentleman in the grey coat had obeyed the sergeant. He had also taken off his goggles.
"It will be all right in a few hours, or a few days," said he in English. "You must go on. Don't worry about me."
"Go on without you?" echoed Dick, breaking again into astonishing Spanish for the benefit of the official. "Well, if you really don't mind, as I'm in the dickens of a hurry. You can follow by train, you know, as soon as you've proved to these blunderers that you're George Smith."
"If you are Senor George Smith, you will be free as soon as the photograph of the Marques de Casa Triana has been sent on by the police at Madrid," said the sergeant. "If not—" he did not finish his sentence; but the break was significant. And the soldiers closed in to separate the alleged George Smith from his companions of the car, lest at the last moment they should attempt a rescue.
"We'll make them sorry for this, George," said Dick. "But as we really can't do much for you here, we'll get on somewhere else, where we can."
"I must ask also for the name of the owner of this automobile, and for that of his chauffeur," insisted the sergeant, "before I can let you go."
"Oh, all right," said Dick, crossly, producing his passport, and cards with the names of the papers for which he had engaged to correspond. "Ropes, fork out your credentials."
The chauffeur brought forth his French papers, and pointed to the name of Peter Ropes. The sergeant industriously wrote down everything in his note-book, a greasy and forbidding one.
"It is satisfactory," he said with dignity; "you can proceed, senores."
The engine had not been stopped during the scene; and as the gentleman in the grey coat was marched off to the guard-house with a jostling Spanish crowd at his heels, the red car in which he had lately been a passenger slipped away and left him behind.
Through the streets of Irun it passed at funeral pace, as if in respect and regret for a friend who was lost; but once out in the green, undulating country beyond, it put on a great spurt of speed, after the chauffeur had scrambled into the front seat.
"Great Scott, but I'm as hot as if I'd come out of a Turkish bath," growled Dick.
"It was a warm ten minutes," said I. "Poor old Ropes—bless him!" And I sent back a sigh of gratitude to the staunch friend in my grey overcoat, cap, goggles, and gloves, to whose loyalty I owed freedom.
OVER THE BORDER
Here I was in Spain, my Spain—thanks to Ropes; and, again thanks to him, probably out of danger from Carmona's suspicions for some time to come, barring accidents.
He would make inquiries at Irun when he arrived there, and learning that the obnoxious person had been detained according to information received from him, would pass on triumphantly. Even when fate brought his car and ours together, as I hoped it often would, a sight of the two remaining travellers, the American automobilist and his hideously-goggled chauffeur, would cause him amusement rather than uneasiness.
He would say to himself that, so far as he was concerned, no harm had been done, even if no good had been accomplished; for if the banished passenger were indeed Casa Triana, he had done well to get rid of him. If, after all, his quick suspicion had been too far-fetched, and he had caused the arrest of an innocent tourist, that tourist would never know to whom he owed his adventure, and would be powerless to trouble the Duke of Carmona. As for Ropes, when the photograph taken of me years ago by the police in Barcelona should reach the police in Irun, it would be seen that two young men who are twenty-seven, tall, slim, and have dark moustaches, do not necessarily resemble each other in other details. Mr. George Smith would be generously pardoned for having occupied the attention of the police in place of the Marques de Casa Triana, and he would be free to rejoin his fellow-travellers.
During the three or four minutes of discussion we had had before making the "quick change" which transformed master into man, we had arranged to communicate with Ropes by means of advertisements in La Independencia. We would forward money in advance to that journal, enough to pay for several advertisements, and could then telegraph our whereabouts at the last minute, whenever the movements of Carmona's car gave us our cue.
This was the best arrangement we could make in a hurry, and when we had time to reflect, it did not seem to us that, in the circumstances, we could have done better.
And so, come what might, the outlaw had crossed the border, and was in the forbidden country of his hopes and heart.
In spite of compunction on Ropes' account, I was happy, desperately happy. I was free to watch over the girl I loved and who loved me; and I was drinking in the air of the fatherland. It did actually seem sweeter and more life-giving than in any other part of the world.
Dick laughed when I mentioned this impression, and said I ought to try the climate of America before I judged; but he admitted the extraordinary, yet almost indefinable individuality of the landscape as well as the architecture, which struck the eye instantly on crossing the frontier.
It was easy to classify as peculiarly Spanish the old Basque churches, the long, dark lines of sombre houses bristling with little balconies, and sparkling with projecting windows, whose intricate glass panes gave upward currents of air in hot weather. All this, and much more was obvious in town or village; but Dick and I argued over the distinctive features of the landscape without fathoming the mystery which set it apart from other landscapes.
What was so peculiar? There were hedges, and poplars, and other trees which we had seen a thousand times elsewhere. There was a pretty, though not extravagantly pretty, switchback road of fair surface stretching before us, roughly parallel with the sea, giving glimpses here and there of landlocked harbours with colliers and trampships at anchor. There was a far background of snow mountains and a changing foreground of spring grass and spring blossoms; interlacing branches embroidered with new leaves of that pinky yellow which comes before the summer green.
There ought to have been nothing remarkable, save for the moving figures which here and there rendered it pictorial; dark, upstanding men in red waistcoats, driving donkeys; velvet-eyed girls, with no covering for their heads but their shining crowns of jet-black hair, and none at all for their tanned feet and ankles, though they carried shoes in their hands; black-robed priests; brown-robed monks; smart officers; soldiers with stiff, glittering shakos, and green gloves; oxen with pads of wool on their classic, biscuit-coloured heads. Nevertheless, Dick agreed with me in finding the landscape remarkable.
At last we began to wonder if the difference did not lie in colouring and atmosphere. The sky effects were radiant enough to set the soul of an artist singing, because of the opal lights, the violet banks of cloud with ragged, crystal fringes of rain, the diamond gleams struck out from snow peaks; and yet, despite this ethereal radiance, there was a strange solemnity about the wide reaches of Spanish country, a rich gloom that brooded over the landscape with its thoughtful colouring, never for a moment brilliant, never gay.
"It's painted glass-window country," I said. "Old glass, painted by some famous artist who died in the fourteenth century, and a little faded—no, subdued by time."
"You've hit it," said Dick. "There is an old-glass-window-in-a-dim-cathedral look about the sky. It gives one a religious kind of feeling, or anyway, as if you'd be thrown out of the picture if you were too frivolous."
"I feel far from frivolous," said I. "But I'm excited. Look here; we'll be in San Sebastian and out of San Sebastian soon, if we keep on. But we mustn't keep on; for if we do we may miss the other car, and then I should be as badly off as if I were in Ropes' place at Irun."
"We know they're going to Seville," said Dick.
"It's a long cry to Seville. And Carmona may mean to travel by way of Madrid, through Vitoria and Burgos, or he may mean to take a road which Levavasseur in Biarritz told me was better, steering for Seville via Santander and Salamanca. It depends on whether he wants to stop at the capital, I suppose. Anyhow, as he's unconsciously making our arrangements as well as his own, there's nothing for it but we must halt until he passes and gives us our lead."
"It's all the same to me whether we halt or scorch," said Dick. "I've got more time than anything else. This is your circus; I'm only the 'prisoner's best friend,' as they say in a court-martial. But if we should go to Burgos, I've got an errand to do, if you don't mind."
"Why should I mind?" I asked.
"It's to call on a young lady."
"You never mentioned having friends there."
"She's Angele de la Mole's friend. All I know is that she's Irish, name O'Donnel; that she's got a harmless, necessary father, and a brother in whom my prophetic soul tells me Angele is interested; that Papa and Daughter are visiting Brother, who's in the Spanish army for some weird unexplained reason, and stationed in Burgos. I promised to take a package with a present from Angele to Miss O'Donnel if we stopped long enough at Burgos, or, if we didn't go there, to post it. I've also a letter introducing us to Papa. Angele said it was possible he might have known your father, so probably he's lived a good deal in Spain at one time or another, or the idea wouldn't have occurred to her. She thought, if we went to see the O'Donnels, Papa might be useful in case you told him who you really were; but I wasn't to bother you about going out of your way for their sakes; which is the reason I didn't mention them until now, when you spoke of Burgos."
"If Carmona goes in that direction, he's almost certain to spend the night there," said I, on the strength of such knowledge as much study of Spanish road-maps had given me. "In that case, we shall spend the night too, and there'll be time for you to call on your O'Donnels; but as for me, I don't know that it would be wise to take extraneous people into my confidence. And, if it won't disappoint you, I hope we won't have to go by Burgos, although they say the cathedral's one of the finest in the world, for if the road's as bad as rumour paints it, it must be abominable."
"Well, you've got your springs bound up with a million yards of stout cord, on purpose; and those extra buffers of India rubber Ropes put on to keep the tyres from grinding against the mud guards; so we ought to get off pretty well at worst," remarked Dick. "As for me, I shall feel defrauded if the car doesn't soon begin to bound like a chamois from one frightful obstacle to another, along the surface of the road, such ghastly things have been dinned into my ears about Castile and La Mancha. So far, we've nothing to complain of, and have been on velvet, compared to some of the pave atrocities one remembers in Belgium and northern France."
"I daresay we shall come to the chamois act yet," said I. "But, so far, we're still in the heart of civilization. Here's San Sebastian, and here's a cafe close to where Carmona must pass, so let's stop and lie in wait."
A STERN CHASE
We were on the outskirts of San Sebastian, and to reach the cafe we turned off the main road and ran the car into a side street. There, without being ourselves conspicuous, we could see all that passed along the road beyond. We had some vermouth, sitting at a little iron table outside the cafe door, to excuse our presence. Every moment we expected to see the Duke's car shoot by, but time went on, and it did not come. We finished our first edition of vermouth and had a second, with which we toyed and did not drink, by way of keeping our place.
Had they punctured another tyre? Had Carmona stopped in Irun, and had any mischance occurred there which might, after all, put the police on my track?
Dick and I were beginning to get restive, and question each other with raised eyebrows, when the big grey automobile charged past the end of our street. Not a head in the car turned in our direction; and laying a couple of pesetas on the table we sprang to the manning of our own road-ship. So quick was our start that, when we spun out into the road, there was our leader still within sight.
I had heard my father speak often of San Sebastian, which, situated in the heart of the Basque country, had been the great Carlist centre, and even when Carlist hopes died, retained most stoutly the Carlist traditions. But, Carlist as he was at heart till the day of his death, he could not fail to appreciate the tact of Queen Cristina, by whose wish a royal summer villa had risen over the waters of the bay. Owing to this stroke of clever policy, a poor and discontented town was transformed into the most fashionable watering place of Spain, and surely if slowly disaffection merged into prosperous self-satisfaction.
Because of stories I had heard my father tell, I should have liked to explore the place; but the one thing of importance now was to keep the grey car in sight until we could be certain which road it would take; so there was time only for brief glances to right and left as we flashed on.
Through streets with high modern houses, more Parisian than Spanish, we came at last upon a broad boulevard that led us by the sea. There had been a picture at home of the deep, shell-like bay, guarded by the imposing headlands of Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo, the scene of much fighting in the Carlist war. The royal palace, Villa Miramar, was new to me save for the many photographs I had seen of it in Biarritz; but we had no more than a glimpse of the unpretending red brick house on the hill, before we swept through a tunnel that pierced a rocky headland, and came out into open country.
Now our progress developed into a stern chase. By a wrong turn in a San Sebastian street we lost the car ahead for a few moments, but beyond the town, where mud, fresh after a recent shower, lay inch thick on the road, we came upon the track of the flying foe.
There was the trail of the "pneus" as clear to read as a written message, and we followed, relieved of doubt.
On, on we went towards the south, and the mountains of Navarre, and my mind was free enough from strain at last to exult in each new glimpse of the land for which I longed.
Ever since I was old enough to read, I had steeped myself in the history and legend of my own country. I knew all its wars, and where they were fought; I knew the names of the towns and villages, insignificant in themselves, perhaps, made famous by great victories or defeats; and there was time to think of them now, as we passed along the way the heroes of the Peninsular War had taken; but there was no time to linger over landmarks, not even at Hernani, where De Lacy Evans' British legion was shattered by the Carlist army in 1836, and where, in the church, we might have seen the tomb of that Spanish soldier who, at Pavia, took prisoner Francis I.
Rain fell in swift, fierce downpourings, but left us dry under the cover of our car; and as we sped on, sudden gleams of sunlight shining on the wet stone pavements of small brown villages, turned the streets to glittering silver; while beyond, the trees sprayed gold like magic fountains against the white sheen of far snow-peaks.
Thus we ran up the winding road by the river Urumea, worming our way deep into the heart of the mountains; climbing ever higher with a wider view unfolding to our eyes—a view as new, as strange to me as to Dick Waring. And yet I felt at home with it, as if I had known it always.
As we ascended, the roads did what they could to deserve their evil reputation. The rain of a few days ago had been snow in the mountains. The surface of the road became like glue, and despite non-skidding bands, and Waring's careful steering, the car declared a sporting tendency to waltz. Presently the glue liquefied. We were speeding through sheets of yellow soup, which spouted from our pneus in two great curving waves, spattering from head to foot the few wayfarers we met. Down the front glass coursed a cataract of mud, and Waring could steer only by looking out sideways. Thrown up by the steering-wheels, the yellow torrent thudded on the roof, so that we were driving under a flying arch of liquid Spanish earth.
With the approach to a town, however, the way improved. The place was Tolosa, and at the sound of our motor in the distance, a cry of "Automovile, automovile," came shrilly from a score of childish throats. Even the grown-ups rushed out, and were far more excited than we should have expected in this motor-frequented part of Spain between Biarritz and Madrid. In a French town of the same size scarcely a head would be turned if an automobile passed; here people were as pleased as if we had been a circus, though only a few moments before they must have had the joy of seeing Carmona's car go by.
"If it's like this in the north, what must it be south of Madrid?" said I. "Here they're all wonderfully good-natured; delighted with us in towns and villages—I believe they'd pay to see us if they had to!—the road-menders give military salutes, and even the men whose mules and donkeys are frightened grin as they cover up the silly beasts' faces with their shawls."
"That's because we behave like decent human beings instead of marble-hearted scorpions," said Dick, with an originality of simile which he cultivates. "When we see that we're frightening anything we slow down, slip out the clutch, and glide so stealthily by that the creature gets no excuse for hysterics. I used to think before you taught me to drive, and I had the experience and the responsibility myself, that you wasted time grovelling to animal prejudices; but I've changed my mind. I've learned there's no fun to be got out of pig-selfishness on the road, and leaving a trail of distress behind."
"If you hadn't come to feel that, I couldn't have made over my car to you," said I. "Road brutality would be peculiarly brutal in Spain, where motoring's a new sport, and peasants must be made accustomed to it. Every motorist who slows down for frightened animals, or gets out to help, is paving the way for future motorists."
"Somehow I don't believe Carmona'll lay much pavement for us," said Dick, chuckling.
"Monica won't stand it if he doesn't," said I. "He's got her sitting beside him, the beggar; and it's his metier to please her."
We had lost the trail of the pneus, but as the country changed we picked it up again. We were among trees now, and the mountain sides were green with oak and poplar, though as we dropped the landscape darkened into desolation. The bleak corner of the world towards which we were speeding had that formless, featureless look which one sees on common faces, as if it had been shaken together carelessly by the great Creator in an absent-minded moment.
No scenery can be unattractive to a motorist while his car goes well, and the sweet wind flutters against his face; but even I had to admit that this country—illumined only by snow mountains walling the horizon—would be irredeemable in dead summer heats.
My map, which I consulted as Dick drove, said that we had passed out of Navarre into Alava; and suddenly I noticed that we had crossed the watershed, for the bright streams, instead of running down to the Bay of Biscay, were spinning silver threads towards the Ebro, on the way to tumble into the Mediterranean by Tarragona.
Here and there my longing for the strange and picturesque was gratified by the tragic grace of a tall, ruined watch-tower crowning a desolate hill, a vivid reminder of days when red fire-signals flashed from hill to hill to call good Christian men to arms against the Moors. Sometimes creamy billows of Pyrenean sheep surged round our car, graceful and beautiful creatures with streaming banners of wool, and faces only less intelligent than those of the grey dog that rallied them to order, and the brown shepherd in fluttering garments of red and blue.
The farther south we came, the darker grew the mild-eyed oxen our automobile frightened. At Biarritz and beyond they were pale biscuit-coloured; here, the sun seemed to have baked them to a richer brown.
Nevertheless, that sun had no warm welcome for us to-day. We were nipped by the bitter wind, which struck us the more coldly as we were hungry; and about two o'clock we were not sorry to see in the middle of a wide-stretching plain, the Concha de Alava—a large town which we knew to be Vitoria.
Luncheon there might be counted upon. It was too chilly for a picnic meal to be feasible with ladies, therefore Carmona's car must stop for an hour or two, and it was clear now that he would go by way of Burgos; consequently, it was on the cards that Angele de la Mole's letter would be delivered by hand.
We sneaked stealthily into Vitoria, glancing furtively about for a large grey Lecomte; but it was not long before we caught sight of it in the distance, in the main street, and drawn up before the principal hotel.
I would have given a good deal if I could have got word to Monica; for, even if she had happened to see the red car following since Irun, she was probably miserable in the thought that I had been turned back at the door of Spain.
Of course, in the fear of disgusting her, Carmona might have kept the curtain down on the little drama which he had stage-managed. Concealment would have been difficult, however, as he must have signed his telegram to the police; and on arriving at the custom-house, some of the facts would have been liable to leak out in Monica's hearing.
It was hard that she should be distressed for my sake as well as her own; but my first fencing bout with the Duke had warned me against rashness, and I decided that nothing could be done till we reached Burgos. There, somehow, I would find a way to let her know that it was I, and not the Duke, who had come out best.
Before joining Dick at lunch I engaged a small boy who sold newspapers in the street to let us know when the other car started. This was to prevent our being given the slip by any chance; but it proved a needless precaution, as we scrambled through a Spanish menu, and still the grey car slept in its coat of greyer mud before its chosen hotel; therefore Dick and I bolted a hasty impression of Vitoria, as we had bolted our lunch.