THE MOTOR MAID
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BOOKS BY C. N. AND A. M. WILLIAMSON
LORD LOVELAND DISCOVERS AMERICA SET IN SILVER THE LIGHTNING CONDUCTOR THE PRINCESS PASSES MY FRIEND THE CHAUFFEUR LADY BETTY ACROSS THE WATER ROSEMARY IN SEARCH OF A FATHER THE PRINCESS VIRGINIA THE CAR OF DESTINY THE CHAPERON
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THE MOTOR MAID
C. N. AND A. M. WILLIAMSON
Authors of "Lord Loveland Discovers America," "My Friend the Chauffeur," "The Princess Virginia," etc.
With Four Illustrations in Color by F. M. Du Mond and F. Lowenheim
A. L. Burt Company Publishers New York All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the scandinavian Copyright, 1910, By Doubleday, Page & Company Published, August, 1910 The Country Life Press, Garden City, N.Y.
To The Three Gertrudes
"We raced along a clear road, the Etang shimmering blue before us" Frontispiece
facing page "While I wrestled ... with a bodice as snug as the head of a drum, the lord of all it contained appeared in the doorway" 48
"It took half an hour to dig the car out, and push her up from the hollow where the snow lay thickest" 272
"Jack's hand, inside Mr. Stokes's beautiful, tall collar, shook Bertie back and forth till his teeth chattered like castanets" 328
One hears of people whose hair turned white in a single night. Last night I thought mine was turning. I had a creepy feeling in the roots, which seemed to crawl all the way down inside each separate hair, wriggling as it went. I suppose you couldn't have nervous prostration of the hair? I worried dreadfully, it kept on so long; and my hair is so fair it would be almost a temptation for it, in an emergency, to take the one short step from gold to silver. I didn't dare switch on the light in the wagon-lit and peep at my pocket-book mirror (which reflects one's features in sections of a square inch, giving the survey of one's whole face quite a panorama effect) for fear I might wake up the Bull Dog.
I've spelt him with capitals, after mature deliberation, because it would be nothing less than lese majeste to fob him off with little letters about the size of his two lower eye-tusks, or chin-molars, or whatever one ought to call them.
He was on the floor, you see, keeping guard over his mistress's shoes; and he might have been misguided enough to think I had designs on them—though what I could have used them for, unless I'd been going to Venice and wanting a private team of gondolas, I can't imagine.
I being in the upper berth, you might (if you hadn't seen him) have fancied me safe; but already he had once padded half-way up the step-ladder, and sniffed at me speculatively, as if I were a piece of meat on the top shelf of a larder; and if half-way up, why not all the way up? Il etait capable du tout.
I tried to distract my mind and focus it hard on other things, as Christian Scientists tell you to do when you have a pin sticking into your body for which les convenances forbid you to make an exhaustive search.
I lay on my back with my eyes shut, trying not to hear any of the sounds in the wagon-lit (and they were not confined to the snoring of His Majesty), thinking desperately. "I will concentrate all my mentality," said I to myself, "on thoughts beginning with P, for instance. My Past. Paris. Pamela."
Just for a few minutes it was comparatively easy. "Dear Past!" I sighed, with a great sigh which for divers reasons I was sure couldn't be heard beyond my own berth. (And though I try always even to think in English, I find sometimes that the words group themselves in my head in the old patterns—according to French idioms.) "Dear Past, how thou wert kind and sweet! How it is brutalizing to turn my back upon thee and thy charms forever!"
"Oh, my goodness, I shall certainly die!" squeaked a voice in the berth underneath; and then there was a sound of wallowing.
She (my stable-companion, shall I call her?) had been giving vent to all sorts of strange noises at intervals, for a long time, so that it would have been hopeless to try and drown my sorrows in sleep.
Away went the Gentle Past with a bump, as if it had knocked against a snag in the current of my thoughts.
Paris or Pamela instead, then! or both together, since they seem inseparable, even when Pamela is at her most American, and tells me to "talk United States."
It was all natural to think of Pamela, because it was she who gave me the ticket for the train de luxe, and my berth in the wagon-lit. If it hadn't been for Pamela I should at this moment have been crawling slowly, cheaply, down Riviera-ward in a second-class train, sitting bolt upright in a second-class carriage with smudges on my nose, while perhaps some second-class child shed jammy crumbs on my frock, and its second-class baby sister howled.
"Oh, why did I leave my peaceful home?" wailed the lady in the lower berth.
Heaven alone (unless it were the dog) knew why she had, and knew how heartily I wished she hadn't. A good thing Cerberus was on guard, or I might have dropped a pillow accidentally on her head!
Just then I wasn't thanking Pamela for her generosity. The second-class baby's mamma would have given it a bottle to keep it still; but there was nothing I could give the fat old lady; and she had already resorted to the bottle (something in the way of patent medicine) without any good result. Yet, was there nothing I could give her?
"Oh, I'm dying, I know I'm dying, and nobody cares! I shall choke to death!" she gurgled.
It was too much. I could stand it and the terrible atmosphere no longer. I suppose, if I had been an early Christian martyr, waiting for my turn to be devoured might have so got on my nerves eventually that I would have thrown myself into the arena out of sheer spite at the lions, and then tried my best to disagree with them.
Anyway, Bull Dog or no Bull Dog, having made a light, I slid down from my berth—no thanks to the step-ladder—dangled a few wild seconds in the air, and then offering—yes, offering my stockinged feet to the Minotaur, I poked my head into the lower berth.
"What are you going to do?" gasped its occupant, la grosse femme whose fault it would be if my hair did change from the gold of a louis to the silver of a mere franc.
"You say you're stifling," I reminded her, politely but firmly, and my tone was like the lull before a storm.
"Yes, but——" We were staring into each other's eyes, and—could I believe my sense of touch, or was it mercifully blunted? It seemed that the monster on the floor was gently licking my toes with a tongue like a huge slice of pink ham, instead of chewing them to the bone. But there are creatures which do that to their victims, I've heard, by way of making it easier to swallow them, later.
"You also said no one cared," I went on, courageously. "I care—for myself as well as for you. As for what I'm going to do—I'm going to do several things. First, open the window, and then—then I'm going to undress you."
"You must be mad!" gasped the lady, who was English. Oh, but more English than any one else I ever saw in my life.
"Not yet," said I, as I darted at the thick blind she had drawn down over the window, and let it fly up with a snap. I then opened the window itself, a few inches, and in floated a perfumed breath of the soft April air for which our bereaved lungs had been longing. The breeze fluttered round my head like a benediction until I felt that the ebbing tide of gold had turned, and was flowing into my back hair again.
"No wonder you're dying, madam," I exclaimed, switching the heat-lever to "Froid." "So was I, but being merely an Upper Berth, with no rights, I was suffering in silence. I watched you turn the heat full on, and shut the window tight. I saw you go to bed in all your clothes, which looked terribly thick, and cover yourself up with both your blankets; but I said nothing, because you were a Lower Berth, and older than I am. I thought maybe you wanted a Turkish Bath. But since you don't—I'll try and save you from apoplexy, if it isn't too late."
I fumbled with brooches and buttons, with hooks and eyes. It was even worse than I'd supposed. The creature's conception of a travelling costume en route for the South of France consisted of a heavy tweed dress, two gray knitted stay-bodices, one pink Jaeger chemise, and a couple of red flannel petticoats. My investigations went no further; but, encouraged in my rescue work by spasmodic gestures on the part of the patient, and forbearance on the part of the dog, I removed several superfluous layers of wool. One blanket went to the floor, where it was accepted in the light of a gift by His Majesty, and the other was returned to its owner.
"Now are you better, madam?" I asked, panting with long and well-earned breaths. She reposed on an elbow, gazing up at me as at a surgeon who has performed a painful but successful operation; and she was an object pour faire rire, the poor lady!
She wore an old-fashioned false front of hair, "sunning over with curls" (brown ones, of a brown never seen on land or sea), and a pair of spectacles, pushed up in an absent-minded moment, were entangled in its waves. Her face, which was large, with a knot of tiny features in the middle, shone red with heat and excitement. She would have had the look of an elderly child, if it hadn't been for her bright, shrewd little eyes, which twinkled observantly—and might sparkle with temper. Nobody who was not rich and important would dare to dress as badly as she did. Altogether she was a figure of fun. Indeed, I couldn't help feeling what quaint mantelpiece ornaments she and her dog would make. Yet, for some reason, I didn't feel inclined to laugh, and I eyed her as solemnly as she eyed me. As for His Majesty, I began to see that I had misunderstood him. After all, he had never, from the first, regarded me as an eatable.
"Yes, I am better," replied His Majesty's mistress. "People have always told me it came on treacherously cold at night in France, so I prepared accordingly. I suppose I ought to thank you. In fact, I do thank you."
"I acted for myself as much as for you," I confessed. "It was so hot, and you were suffering out loud."
"I have never travelled at night before," the lady defended herself. "Indeed, I've made a point of travelling as little as possible, except by carriage. I don't consider trains a means of conveyance for gentlefolk. They seem well enough for cattle who may not mind being herded together."
"Or for dogs," I suggested.
"Nothing is too good for Beau—my only Beau!" (at this I did not wonder). "But I wouldn't have moved without him. He's as necessary to me as my conscience. I was afraid the guard was going to make a fuss about him, which would have been awkward, as I can't speak a word of French, or any other silly language into which Latin has degenerated. But luckily English gold doesn't need to be translated."
"It loses in translation," said I, amused. I sat down on my bag as I spoke, and timorously invited Beau (never was name less appropriate) to be patted. He arose from the blanket and accepted my overtures with an expression which may have been intended for a smile, or a threat of the most appalling character. I have seen such legs as his on old-fashioned silver teapots; and the crook in his tail would have made it useful as a door-knocker.
"I don't think I ever saw him take so to a stranger," exclaimed his mistress, suddenly beaming.
"I wonder you risked him with me in such close quarters then," said I. "Wouldn't it have been safer if you'd had your maid in the compartment with you——"
"My maid? My tyrant!" snorted the old lady. "She's the one creature on earth I am afraid of, and she knows it. When we got to Dover, and she saw the Channel wobbling about a little, she said it was a great nasty wet thing, and she wouldn't go on it. When I insisted, she showed symptoms of seasickness; and in consequence she is waiting for me in Dover till I finish the business that's taking me to Italy. I had no more experience than she, but I had courage. It's perhaps a question of class. Servants consider only themselves. You, too, I see, have courage. I was inclined to think poorly of you when you first came in, and to wish I'd been extravagant enough to take the two beds for myself, because I thought you were afraid of Beau. Yet now you're patting him."
"I was rather afraid at first," I admitted. "I never met an English bull dog socially before."
"They're more angels than dogs. Their one interest in life is love—for their friends; and they wouldn't hurt a fly."
"Larger game would be more in their way, I should think," said I. "But I'm glad he likes me. I like to be liked. It makes me feel more at home in life."
"H'm! That's a funny idea!" remarked the old lady. "'At home in life!' You've made yourself pretty well at home in this wagon-lit, anyhow, taking off all your clothes and putting on your nightgown. I should never have thought of that. It seems hardly decent. Suppose we should be killed."
"Most people do try to die in their nightgowns, when you come to think of it," said I.
"Well, you have a quaint way of putting things. There's something very original about you, my dear young woman. I thought you were mysterious at first, but I believe it's only the effect of originality."
"I don't know which I'd rather be," I said, "original or mysterious, if I couldn't afford both. But I'm not a young woman."
"Goodness!" exclaimed the old lady, wrinkling up her eyes to stare at me. "I may be pretty blind, but it can't be make-up."
I laughed. "I mean je suis jeune fille. I'm not a young woman. I'm a young girl."
"Dear me, is there any difference?"
"There is in France."
"I'm not surprised at queer ideas in France, or any other foreign country, where I've always understood that anything may happen. Why can't everybody be English? It would be so much more simple. But you're not French, are you?"
"Half of me is."
"And what's the other half, if I may ask?"
"American. My father was French, my mother American."
"No wonder you don't always feel at home in life, divided up like that!" she chuckled. "It must be so upsetting."
"Everything is upsetting with me lately," I said.
"With me too, if it comes to that—or would be, if it weren't for Beau. What a pity you haven't got a Beau, my dear."
I smiled, because (in the Americanized sense of the word) I had one, and was running away from him as fast as I could. But the thought of Monsieur Charretier as a "beau" made me want to giggle hysterically.
"You say 'was,' when you speak of your father and mother," went on the old lady, with childlike curiosity, which I was encouraging by not going back to bed. "Does that mean that you've lost them?"
"Yes," I said.
"My father died when I was sixteen, my mother left me two years ago."
"You don't look more than nineteen now."
"I'm nearly twenty-one."
"Well, I don't mean to catechize you, though one certainly must get friendly—or the other way—I suppose, penned up in a place like this all night. And you've really been very kind to me. Although you're a pretty girl, as you must know, I didn't think at first I was going to like you so much."
"And I didn't you," I retorted, laughing, because I really did begin to like the queer old lady now, and was glad I hadn't dropped a pillow on her head.
"That's right. Be frank. I like frankness. Do you know, I believe you and I would get on very well together if our acquaintance was going to be continued? If Beau approves of a person, I let myself go."
"You use him as if he were a barometer."
"There you are again, with your funny ideas! I shall remember that one, and bring it out as if it were my own. I consider myself quite lucky to have got you for a travelling companion. It's such a comfort to hear English again, and talk it, after having to converse by gesture—except with Beau. I hope you're going on to Italy?"
"No. I'm getting off at Cannes."
"I'm sorry. But I suppose you're glad?"
"Not particularly," said I.
"I've always heard that Cannes was gay."
"It won't be for me."
"Your relations there don't go out much?"
"I've no relations in Cannes. Aren't you tired now, and wouldn't you like me to make you a little more comfortable?"
"Does that mean that you're tired of answering questions? I haven't meant to be rude."
"You haven't been," I assured her. "You're very kind to take an interest."
"Well, then, I'm not tired, and I wouldn't like to be made more comfortable. I'm very well as I am. Do you want to go to sleep?"
"I want to, but I know I can't. I'm getting hungry. Are you?"
"Getting? I've got. If Simpkins were here I'd have her make us tea, in my tea-basket."
"I'll make it if you like," I volunteered.
"A French—a half French—girl make tea?"
"It's the American half that knows how."
"You look too ornamental to be useful. But you can try."
I did try, and succeeded. It was rather fun, and never did tea taste so delicious. There were biscuits to go with it, which Beau shared; and I do wish that people (other people) were obliged to make faces when they eat, such as Beau has to make, because if so, one could add a new interest to life by inviting even the worst bores to dinner.
I was fascinated with his contortions, and I did not attempt to conceal my sudden change of opinion concerning Beau as a companion. When I had humbly invited him to drink out of my saucer, which I held from high tide to low, I saw that my conquest of his mistress was complete. Already we had exchanged names, as well as some confidences. I knew that she was Miss Paget, and she knew that I was Lys d'Angely; but after the tea-drinking episode she became doubly friendly.
She told me that, owing to an unforeseen circumstance (partly, even largely, connected with Beau) which had caused a great upheaval in her life, she had now not a human being belonging to her, except her maid Simpkins, of whom she would like to get rid if only she knew how.
"Talk of the Old Man of the Sea!" she sighed. "He was an afternoon caller compared with Simpkins. She's been on my back for twenty years. I suppose she will be for another twenty, unless I slam the door of the family vault in her face."
"Couldn't Beau help you?" I asked.
"Even Beau is powerless against her. She has hypnotized him with marrow bones."
"You've escaped from her for the present," I suggested. "She's on the other side of the Channel. Now is your time to be bold."
"Ah, but I can't stop out of England for ever, and I tell you she's waiting for me at Dover. A relative (a very eccentric one, and quite different from the rest of us, or he wouldn't have made his home abroad) has left me a house in Italy, some sort of old castle, I believe—so unsuitable! I'm going over to see about selling it for I've no one to trust but myself, owing to the circumstances of which I spoke. I want to get back as soon as possible—I hope in a few weeks, though how I shall manage without any Italian, heaven may know—I don't! Do you speak it?"
"Well, I wish I could have you with me. You'd make a splendid companion for an old woman like me: young, good to look at, energetic (or you wouldn't be travelling about alone), brave (conquered your fear of Beau), accomplished (three languages, and goodness knows what besides!), presence of mind (the way you whisked my clothes off), handy (I never tasted better tea)—altogether you sum up ideally. What a pity you're rich, and out of the market!"
"If I look rich my appearance must be more distinguished than I supposed—and it's also very deceiving," said I.
"You're rich enough to travel for pleasure in wagon-lits, and have silver-fitted bags."
"I'm not travelling for pleasure. You exaggerate my bags and my wagon-lits, for I've only one of each; and both were given me by a friend who was at the Convent with me."
"The Convent! Good heavens! are you an escaping nun?"
I laughed. "I went to school at a Convent. That was when I thought I was going to be rich—at least, rich enough to be like other girls. And if I am 'escaping' from something, it isn't from the arms of religion."
"If you're not rich, and aren't going to relatives, why not take an engagement with me? Come, I'm in earnest. I always make up my mind suddenly, if it's anything important, and hardly ever regret it. I'm sure we should suit. You've got no nonsense about you."
"Oh yes I have, lots!" I broke in. "That's all I have left—that, and my sense of humour. But seriously, you're very kind—to take me on faith like this—especially when you began by thinking me mysterious. I'd accept thankfully, only—I'm engaged already."
"To be married, I suppose you mean?"
"Thank heaven, no! To a Princess."
"Dear me, one would think you were a man hater!"
"So I am, a one-man hater. What Simpkins is to you, that man is to me. And that's why I'm on my way to Cannes to be the companion of the Princess Boriskoff, who's said to be rather deaf and very quick-tempered, as well as elderly and a great invalid. She sheds her paid companions as a tree sheds its leaves in winter. I hear that Europe is strewn with them."
"Nice prospect for you!"
"Isn't it? But beggars mustn't be choosers."
"You don't look much like a beggar."
"Because I can make my own dresses and hats—and nightgowns."
"Well, if your Princess sheds you, let me know, and you may live yet to deliver me from Simpkins. I feel you'd be equal to it! My address is—but I'll give you a card." And, burrowing under her pillow, she unearthed a fat handbag from which, after some fumbling, she presented me with a visiting-card, enamelled in an old-fashioned way. I read: "Miss Paget, 34a Eaton Square. Broomlands House, Surrey."
"Now you're not to lose that," she impressed upon me. "Write if you're scattered over Europe by this Russian (I never did believe much in Princesses, excepting, of course, our own dear Royalties), or if you ever come to England. Even if it's years from now, I assure you Beau and I won't have forgotten you. As for your address—"
"I haven't any," I said. "At present I'm depending on the Princess for one. She's at the Hotel Majestic Palace, Cannes; but from what my friend Pam—the Comtesse de Nesle—says, I fancy she doesn't stop long in any town. It was the Comtesse de Nesle who got me the place. She's the only one who knows where I'm going, because—after a fashion, I'm running away to be the Princess's companion."
"Running away from the Man?"
"Yes; also from my relatives who're sure it's my duty to be his companion. So you see I can't give you their address. I've ceased to have any right to it. And now I really think I had better go back to bed."
At half-past ten this morning we parted, the best of friends, and I dropped a good-bye kiss into the deep black gorge between the promontories of Beau's velvet forehead and plush nose.
We'd had breakfast together, Miss Paget and I, to say nothing of the dog, and I felt rather cheerful. Of course I dreaded the Princess; but I always did like adventures, and it appeared to me distinctly an adventure to be a companion, even in misery. Besides, it was nice to have come away from Monsieur Charretier, and to feel that not only did he not know where I was, but that he wasn't likely to find out. Poor me! I little guessed what an adventure on a grand scale I was in for. Already this morning seems a long time ago; a year at the Convent used to seem shorter.
I drove up to the hotel in the omnibus which was at the station, and asked at the office for the Princess Boriskoff. I said that I was Mademoiselle d'Angely, and would they please send word to the Princess, because she was expecting me.
It was a young assistant manager who received me, and he gave me a very queer, startled sort of look when I said this, as if I were a suspicious person, and he didn't quite know whether it would be better to answer me or call for help.
"I haven't made a mistake, have I?" I asked, beginning to be anxious. "This is the hotel where the Princess is staying, isn't it?"
"She was staying here," the youth admitted. "But—"
"Has she gone?"
"She must be either here or gone."
Again he regarded me with suspicion, as if he did not agree with my statement.
"Are you a relative of the Princess?" he inquired.
"No, I'm engaged to be her companion."
"Oh! If that is all! But perhaps, in any case, it will be better to wait for the manager. He will be here presently. I do not like to take the responsibility."
"The responsibility of what?" I persisted, my heart beginning to feel like a patter of rain on a tin roof.
"Of telling you what has happened."
"If something has happened, I can't wait to hear it. I must know at once," I said, with visions of all sorts of horrid things: that the Princess had decided not to have a companion, and was going to disown me; that my cousin Madame Milvaine had somehow found out everything; that Monsieur Charretier had got on my track, and was here in advance waiting to pounce upon me.
"It is a thing which we do not want to have talked about in the hotel," the young man hesitated.
"I assure you I won't talk to any one. I don't know any one to talk to."
"It is very distressing, but the Princess Boriskoff died about four o'clock this morning, of heart failure."
"Oh!" ... I could not get out another word.
"These things are not liked in hotels, even when not contagious."
The assistant manager looked gloomily at me, as if I might be held responsible for the inconvenient event; but still I could not speak.
"Especially in the high season. It is being kept secret. That is the custom. In some days, or less, it will leak out, but not till the Princess has—been removed. You will kindly not mention it, mademoiselle. This is very bad for us."
No, I would kindly not mention it, but it was worse for me than for them. The Hotel Majestic Palace looked rich; very, very rich. It had heaps of splendid mirrors and curtains, and imitation Louis XVI. sofas, and everything that a hotel needs to make it happy and successful, while I had nothing in the world except what I stood up in, one fitted bag, one small box, and thirty-two francs. I didn't quite see, at first sight, what I was to do; but neither did the assistant manager see what that had to do with him.
Once I knew a girl who was an actress, and on tour in the country she nearly drowned herself one day. When the star heard of it, he said: "How should we have played to-night if you'd been dead—without an understudy, too?"
At this moment I knew just how the girl must have felt when the star said that.
"I—I think I must stay here a day or two, until I can—arrange things," I managed to stammer. "Have you a small single room disengaged?"
"We have one or two small north rooms which are usually occupied by valets and maids," the young man informed me. "They are twelve francs a day."
"I'll take one," I replied. And then I added anxiously: "Have any relatives of the Princess come?"
"None have come; and certainly none will come, as it would now be too late. Her death was very sudden. The Princess's maid knows what to do. She is an elderly woman, experienced. The suite occupied by Her Highness will be free to-morrow."
"Oh! And had she no friends here?"
"I do not think the Princess was a lady who made friends. She was very proud and considered herself above other people. Would you like to see your room, mademoiselle? I will send some one to take you up to it. It will be on the top floor."
I was in a mood not to care if it had been on the roof, or in the cellar. I hardly knew where I was going, as a few minutes later a still younger youth piloted me across a large square hall toward a lift; but I was vaguely conscious that a good many smart-looking people were sitting or standing about, and that they glanced at me as I went by. I hoped dimly that I didn't appear conspicuously pale and stricken.
Just in front of the lift door a tall woman was talking to a little man. There was an instant of delay while my guide and I waited for them to move, and before they realized that we were waiting.
"They say the poor thing is no worse than yesterday, however, my maid tells me—" The lady had begun in a low, mysterious tone, but broke off suddenly when it dawned upon her that she was obstructing the way.
I knew instinctively who was the subject of the whispered conversation, and I couldn't help fixing my eyes almost appealingly on the tall woman; for though she was middle-aged and not pretty, her voice was so nice and she looked so kind that I felt a longing to have her for a friend. She had probably been acquainted with Princess Boriskoff, I said to myself, or she would not be talking of her now, with bated breath, as a "poor thing."
Evidently the lady had been waiting for the lift to come down, for when my guide rang and it descended she took a step forward, giving a friendly little nod to her companion, and saying, "Well, I must go. I feel sure it's true about her."
Then, instead of sailing ahead of me into the lift, as she had a perfect right to do, being much older and far more important than I, and the first comer as well, she hesitated with a pleasant half smile, as much as to say, "You're a stranger. I give up my right to you."
"Oh, please!" I said, stepping aside to let her pass, which she did, making room for me to sit down beside her on the narrow plush-covered seat. But I didn't care to sit. I was so crushed, it seemed that, if once I sat down I shouldn't have courage to rise up again and wrestle with the difficulties of life.
The lady got out on the second floor, throwing back a kindly glance, as if she took a little interest in me, and wanted me to know it. I suppose it must have been because I was tired and nervous after a whole night without sleep that the shock I'd just received was too much for me. Anyway, that kind glance made a lump rise in my throat, and the lump forced tears into my eyes. I looked down instantly, so that she shouldn't see them and think me an idiot, but I was afraid she did.
The young man who was taking me up to the top floor, and treating me rather nonchalantly because I was a North Roomer and a Twelve Francer, waved the lift boy aside to open the door himself for the lady; so that I knew she must be considered a person worth conciliating.
Shut up in my ten-by-six-foot room, I tried to compose myself and make plans; but to make plans on thirty-two francs, when you've no home, and would be far from it even if you had one; when you've nobody to help you, and wouldn't want to ask them if you had—is about as hard as to play the piano brilliantly without ever having taken a lesson. With Princess Boriskoff dead, with Pamela de Nesle sailing for New York to-morrow morning, and no other intimate friends rich enough to do anything for me, even if they were willing to help me fly in the face of Providence and Madame Milvaine, it did seem (as Pamela herself would say) as though I were rather "up against it."
The thought of Miss Paget suddenly jumped into my head, and the wish that, somehow, I had kept her up my sleeve as a last resort, in case she really were in earnest about her offer. But she hadn't told me where she was going in Italy, and it would be of no use writing to one of her English addresses, as I couldn't stop on where I was, waiting for an answer.
Altogether things were very bad with me.
After I had sat down and thought for a while, I rang, and asked for the housekeeper. A hint or two revealed that she was aware of what had happened, and, explaining that I was to have been Princess Boriskoff's companion, I said that I must see the Princess's maid. She must come to my room. I must have a talk with her.
Presently, after an interval which may have been meant to emphasize her dignity, appeared a pale, small Russian woman whose withered face was as tragic and remote from the warmth of daily life as that of the eldest Fate.
She could speak French, and we talked together. Yes, her mistress had died very suddenly, but she and the doctors had always known that it might happen so, at any moment. It was hard for me, but—what would you? Life was hard. It might have been that I would have found life hard with Her Highness. What was to be, would be. I must write to my friends. It was not in her power to do anything for me. Her Highness had left no instructions. These things happened. Well! one made the best of them. There was nothing more to say.
So we said nothing more, and the woman moved away silently, as if to funeral music, to prepare for her journey to Russia. I—went down to luncheon.
One always does go down to luncheon while one is still inclined to keep up appearances before oneself; but the restaurant was large and terribly magnificent, with a violent rose-coloured carpet, and curtains which made me, in my frightened pallor, with my pale yellow hair and my gray travelling dress, feel like a poor little underground celery-stalk flung into a sunlit strawberry-bed, amid a great humming of bees.
The vast rosy sea was thickly dotted with many small table-islands that glittered appetizingly with silver and glass; but I could not have afforded to acknowledge an appetite even if I'd had one.
My conversation with the Russian woman had made me rather late. Most of the islands were inhabited, and as I was piloted past them by a haughty head waiter I heard people talking about golf, tennis, croquet, bridge, reminding me that I was in a place devoted to the pursuit of pleasure.
The most desirable islands were next the windows, therefore the one at which I dropped anchor (for I'd changed from a celery-stalk into a little boat now) was exactly in the middle of the room, with no view save of faces and backs of heads.
One of the faces was that of the lady who had gone up with me in the lift; and now and then, from across the distance that separated us, I saw her glance at me. She sat alone at a table that had beautiful roses on it, and she read a book as she ate.
One ordered here a la carte: there was no dejeuner a prix fixe; and it took courage to tell a waiter who looked like a weary young duke that I would have consomme and bread, with nothing, no, nothing to follow.
Oh! the look he gave me, as if I had annexed the table under false pretences!
Suddenly the chorus of an American song ran with mocking echoes through my brain. I had heard Pamela sing it at the Convent:
The waiter roared it through the hall: "We don't give bread with one fish-ball! We-don't-give-bread with one fish-ba-a-ll!"
I half expected some such crushing protest, and it was only when the weary duke had turned his back, presumably to execute my order, that I sank into my chair with a sigh of relief after strain.
Just at that moment I met the eye of the lady of the lift, and when the waiter reappeared with a small cup, on a charger large enough to have upheld the head of John the Baptist, she looked again. In five minutes I had finished the consomme, and it became painful to linger. Rising, I made for the door, which seemed a mile away, and I did not lift my head in passing the table where the lady sat behind her roses. I heard a rustling as I went by, however, a crisp rustling like flower-leaves whispering in a breeze, or a woman's silk ruffles stroking each other, which followed me out into the hall.
Then the pleasant voice I had heard near the lift spoke behind me:
"Won't you have your coffee with me in the garden?"
I could hardly believe at first that it was for me the invitation was intended, but turning with a little start, I saw it repeated in a pair of gentle gray eyes set rather wide apart in a delicate, colourless face.
"Oh! thank you!" I hesitated. "I—"
"Do forgive me," went on the lady, "but your face interested me this morning, and as we're all rather curious about strangers—we idle ones here—I took the liberty of asking the manager who you were. He told me—"
"About the Princess?" I asked, when she paused as if slightly embarrassed.
"He told me that you said you had come to Cannes to be her companion. He didn't tell me she was dead, poor woman, but—there are some things one knows by instinct, by intuition, aren't there? And then—I couldn't help seeing, or perhaps only imagining, that you looked sad and worried. You are very young, and are here all alone, and so—I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind my speaking to you?"
"I'm very grateful," I said, "for your interest. And it's so good of you to ask me to have coffee with you." (I was almost sure, too, that she had hurried away in the midst of her luncheon to do this deed of kindness.)
"Perhaps, after all, you'll come with me to my own sitting-room," she suggested. "We can talk more quietly there; and though the garden's quite lovely, it's rather too glaring at this time of day."
We went up in the lift together, and the moment she opened the door of her sitting-room I saw that she had contrived to make it look like herself. She talked only about her books and photographs and flowers until the coffee had come, and we seemed better acquainted. Then she told me that she was Lady Kilmarny—"Irish in every drop in her veins"; and presently set herself to draw me out.
I began by making up my mind not to pour forth all my troubles, lest she should think that I wanted to take advantage of her kindness and sponge upon her for help; but she was irresistible, as only a true Irishwoman can be, and the first thing I knew, I had emptied my heart of its worries.
"You will have to go back to the cousins you've been living with in Paris," pronounced Lady Kilmarny. "You're much too young and pretty to be anywhere alone."
"I can't go on living with them unless I promise to marry Monsieur Charretier," I explained. "I'd rather scrub floors than marry Monsieur Charretier."
"You'd never finish one floor. The second would finish you. I thought French girls—well, then, half French girls—usually let their people arrange their marriages."
"Perhaps I'm not usual. I hope Monsieur Charretier isn't."
"Is he such a monster?"
"He is fat, especially in all the places he oughtn't to be fat. And old. But worse than his embonpoint and his nose, he made his money in—you could never guess."
"I see by your face, my poor child: it was Liver Pills."
"Something far more dreadful."
"Are there lower depths?"
"There are—Corn Plasters."
"Oh, my dear, you are quite right! You couldn't marry him."
"Thank you so much! Then, I can't go back to my cousins. They—they take Monsieur Charretier seriously. I think they even take his plasters—gratuitously."
"Is he so very rich?"
"But disgustingly rich. He has an awful, bulbous new chateau in the country, with dozens of incredibly high-powered motor-cars; and in the most expensive part of Paris a huge apartment wriggling from floor to ceiling with Nouveau Art. The girl who marries him will have to be smeared with diamonds, and know the most appalling people. In fact, she'll have to be a kind of walking, pictorial advertisement for the success of Charretier's Corn Plasters."
"He must know some nice people, since he knows relations of yours."
"Thank you for the compliment, which I hope you pay me on circumstantial evidence. But it's deceiving. My mother, I believe, was the only nice person in her family. These cousins, husband and wife, brought mamma to Europe to live with them when she was a young girl, quite rich and an orphan. They were furious when she fell in love with papa, who was only a lieutenant with nothing but a very old name, the ruins of a castle that tourists paid francs to see, and a ramshackle house in Paris almost too dilapidated to let. It was a mere detail to them that he happened to be one of the best-looking and most agreeable young men in the world. They did nothing but say, 'I told you so!' for years, whenever anything disastrous happened—as it constantly did, for poor papa and mamma loved each other so much, and had so much fun, that they couldn't have time to be business-like. My cousins thought everything mamma did was a madness—such as sending me to the most fashionable convent school in France. As if I hadn't to be educated! And then, when the castle fell so to bits that tourists wouldn't bother with it any more, and nobody but rats would live in the Paris house unless it was repaired—and poor papa was killed in a horrid little Saturday-to-Monday war of no importance (except to people whose hearts it broke)—oh! I believe the cousins were glad! They thought it was a judgment. That happened years ago, when I was only fifteen, and though they've plenty of money (more than most people in the American colony) they didn't offer to help; and mamma would have died sooner than ask. I had to be snatched out of school, to find that all the beautiful dreams of being a happy debutante must go by contraries. We lived in the tumble-down house ourselves, mamma and I, and her friends rallied round her—she was so popular and pretty. They got her chances to give singing lessons, and me to do translating, and painting menus. We were happy again, after a while, in spite of all, and people were so good to us! Mamma used to hold a kind of salon, with all the brightest and best crowding to it, though they got nothing but sweet biscuits, vin ordinaire, and conversation—and besides, the house might have taken a fancy to fall down on their heads any minute. It was sporting of them to come at all!"
"And the cousins. Did they come?"
"Not they! They're of the society of the little Brothers and Sisters of the Rich. Their set was quite different from ours. But when mamma died nearly two years ago, and I was alone, they did call, and Cousin Emily offered me a home. I was to give up all my work, of course, which she considered degrading, and was simply to make myself useful to her as a daughter of the house might do. That was what she said."
"Yes. I didn't know her and her husband as well as I do now; and before she died mamma begged me to go to them, if they asked me. That was when Monsieur Charretier came on the scene—at least, he came a few months later, and I've had no peace since. Lately, things were growing more and more impossible, when my best friend, Comtesse de Nesle, came to my rescue and found (or thought she'd found) me this engagement with the Princess. As I told you, I simply ran away—sneaked away—and came here without any one but Pamela knowing. And now she—the Comtesse—is just sailing for New York with her husband."
"The Comtesse de Nesle—that pretty little American! I've met her in Paris—and at the Dublin Horse Show," exclaimed Lady Kilmarny. "Well, I wish I could take up the rescue work where she has laid it down. I think you are a most romantic little figure, and I'd love to engage you as my companion, only my husband and I are as poor as church mice. Like your father, we've nothing but our name and a few ruins. When I come South for my health I can't afford such luxuries as a husband and a maid. I have to choose between them and a private sitting-room. So you see, I can't possibly indulge in a companion."
People seemed to be always wanting me as one, and then reluctantly abandoning me!
"Your kindness and sympathy have helped me a lot," said I.
"They won't pay your way."
"I have no way. So far as I can see, I shall have to stop in Cannes, anonymously so to speak, for the rest of my life."
"Where would you like to go, if you could choose—since you can't go to your relations?"
Again my thoughts travelled after Miss Paget, as if she had been a fat, red will-o'-the-wisp.
"To England, perhaps," I answered. "In a few weeks from now I might be able to find a position there." And I went on to tell, in as few words as possible, my adventure in the railway train.
"H'm!" said Lady Kilmarny. "We'll look her up in Who's Who, and see if she exists. If she's anybody, she'll be there. And Who's Who I always have with me, abroad. One meets so many pretenders, it's quite dangerous."
"How can you tell I'm not one?" I asked. "Yet you spoke to me."
"Why, you're down in a kind of invisible book, called 'You're You.' It's sufficient reference for me. Besides, if your two eyes couldn't be trusted, it would be easy to shed you."
Lady Kilmarny said this smilingly, as she found the red book, and passed her finger down the columns of P's.
"Yes, here's the name, and the two addresses on the visiting-card. She's the Honourable Maria Paget, only daughter of the late Baron Northfield. Yes, an engagement with her would be safe, if not agreeable. But how to get you to England?"
"Perhaps I could go as somebody's maid," I reflected aloud.
She looked at me sharply. "Would you do that?"
"It would be better than being an advertisement for Corn Plasters," I smiled.
"Then," said Lady Kilmarny, "perhaps, after all, I can help you. But no—I should never dare to suggest it! The thought of a girl like you—it would be too dreadful."
When my father had been extravagant, he used to say gaily in self-defence that "one owed something to one's ancestors." Certainly, if it had not been for several of his ancestors, he would not have owed so much to his contemporaries. But in spite of their agreeable vices, or because of them, I was brought up in the cult of ancestor worship, as religiously as if I had been Chinese.
To be a d'Angely was a privilege, in our eyes, which not only supplied gilding for the gingerbread, but for the most economical substitutes.
"Ne roi je suis, Ne prince aussi, Je suis le Sire d'Angely,"
calmly remarked the gentleman of Louis XI.'s time, who became famous for hanging as many retainers as he liked, and defending his action by originating the family motto.
Mother also had ancestors who began to take themselves seriously somewhere about the time of the Mayflower, though for all we know they may have secured their passage in the steerage.
"A Courtenay can do anything," was their rather ambiguous motto, which suggested that it might have been started in self-defence, if not as a boast; and it (the name, not the motto) had been thoughtfully sandwiched in between my Lys and my d'Angely by my sponsors in baptism, that if necessary I might ever have an excuse at hand for any dark deed or infra dig-ness.
I used often to murmur the consoling mottoes to myself when pattering through muddy streets, too poor to take an omnibus, on the way to sell—or try to sell—my translations or my menus. But now, after all that's happened, if it is to strike conviction to my soul, I shall be obliged to yell it at the top of my mental lungs.
(That expression may sound ridiculous, but it isn't. We could not talk to ourselves as we do, in all kinds of voices, high or low, if we hadn't mental lungs, or at the least, sub-conscious-self lungs.)
Je suis the daughter of the last Sire d'Angely; and a Courtenay can do anything; so of course it's all right; and it's no good my ancestors turning in their graves, for they'll only make themselves uncomfortable without changing my mind.
I, Lys d'Angely, am going to be a lady's-maid; or rather, I am going to be the maid of an extremely rich person who calls herself a lidy.
It's perfectly awful, or awfully comic, according to the point of view, and I swing from one to the other, pushed by my fastidiousness to my sense of humour, and back again, in a way to make me giddy. But it's settled. I'm going to do it. I had almost to drag the suggestion out of Lady Kilmarny, who turned red and stammered as if I were the great lady, she the poor young girl in want of a situation.
There was, said she, a quaint creature in the hotel (one met these things abroad, and was obliged to be more or less civil to them) who resembled Monsieur Charretier in that she was disgustingly rich. It was not Corn Plasters. It was Liver Pills, the very same liver pills which had dropped into the mind of Lady Kilmarny when I hesitated to put into words the foundation of my pretendant's future. It was the Liver Pills which had eventually introduced into her brain the idea she falteringly embodied for me.
The husband of the quaint creature had invented the pills, even as Monsieur Charretier had invented his abomination. Because of the pills he had been made a Knight; at least, Lady Kilmarny didn't know any other reason. He was Sir Samuel Turnour (evolved from Turner), just married for the second time to a widow in whose head it was like the continual frothing of new wine to be "her ladyship."
Lady Turnour had lately quarrelled with a maid and dismissed her, Lady Kilmarny told me. Now, she was in immediate need of another, French (because French maids are fashionable) able to speak English, because the Turnour family had as yet mastered no other language. Lady Kilmarny believed that this was the honeymoon of the newly married pair, and that, after having paused on the wing at Cannes, for a little billing and cooing, they intended to pursue their travels in France for some weeks, before returning to settle down in England. "Her Ladyship" was asking everybody with whom she had contrived to scrape acquaintance (especially if they had titles) to recommend her a maid. Lady Kilmarny, as a member of the League against Cruelty to Animals, had determined that nothing would induce her to throw any poor mouse to this cat, even if she heard of a mouse plying for hire; but here was I in a dreadful scrape, professing myself ready to snap at anything except Corn Plasters; and she felt bound to mention that the mousetrap was open, the cheese waiting to be nibbled.
"Do you think she'd have me?" I asked—"the quaint creature, her ladyship?"
"Only too likely that she would," said Lady Kilmarny. "But remember, the worst is, she doesn't know she's a quaint creature. She is quite happy about herself, offensively happy, and would consider you the 'creature.' A truly awful person, my dear. A man in this hotel—the little thing you saw me talking to this morning, knows all about them both. I think they began in Peckham or somewhere. They would, you know, and call it 'S.W.' She was a chemist's daughter, and he was the humble assistant, long before the Pill materialized, so she refused him, and married a dashing doctor. But unfortunately he dashed into the bankruptcy court, and afterward she probably nagged him to death. Anyway he died—but not till long after Sam Turner had taken pity on some irrelevant widow, as his early love was denied him. The widow had a boy, to whom the stepfather was good—(really a very decent person according to his lights!) and kept on making pills and millions, until last year he lost his first wife and got a knighthood. The old love was a widow by this time, taking in lodgers in some neighbourhood where you do take lodgers, and Sir Samuel found and gathered her like a late rose. Naturally she puts on all the airs in the world, and diamonds in the morning. She'll treat you like the dirt under her feet, because that's her conception of her part—and yours. But I'll introduce you to her if you like."
After a little reflection, I did like; but as it seemed to me that there'd better not be two airs in the family, I said that I'd put on none at all, and make no pretensions.
"She's the kind that doesn't know a lady or gentleman without a label," my kind friend warned me. "You must be prepared for that."
"I'll be prepared for anything," I assured her. But when it came to the test, I wasn't quite.
Lady Kilmarny wrote a line to Lady Turnour, and asked if she might bring a maid to be interviewed—a young woman whom she could recommend. The note was sent down to the bride (who of course had the best suite in the hotel, on the first floor) and presently an answer came—saying that Her Ladyship would be pleased to receive Lady Kilmarny and the person in question.
Suddenly I felt that I must go alone. "Please leave me to my fate," I said. "I should be too self-conscious if you were with me. Probably I should laugh in her face, or do something dreadful."
"Very well," Lady Kilmarny agreed. "Perhaps you're right. Say that I sent you, and that, though you've never been with me, friends of mine know all about you. You might tell her that you were to have travelled with the Princess Boriskoff. That will impress her. She would kiss the boot of a Princess. Afterward, come up and tell me how you got on with 'Her Ladyship.'"
I was stupid to be nervous, and told myself so; but as I knocked at the door of the suite reserved for Millionaires and other Royalties, my heart was giving little ineffective jumps in my breast, like—as my old nurse used to say—"a frog with three legs."
"Come in!" called a voice with sharp, jagged edges.
I opened the door. In a private drawing-room as different as the personality of one woman from another, sat Lady Turnour. She faced me as I entered, so I had a good look at her, before casting down my eyes and composing my countenance to the self-abnegating meekness which I conceived fitting to a femme de chambre comme il faut.
She was enthroned on a sofa. One could hardly say less, there was so much of her, and it was all arranged as perfectly as if she were about to be photographed. No normal woman, merely sitting down, with no other object than to be comfortable, would curve the tail of her gown round in front of her like a sickle; or have just the point of one shoe daintily poised on a footstool; or the sofa-cushions at exactly the right angle behind her head to make a background; or the finger with all her best rings on it, keeping the place in an English illustrated journal.
I dared not believe that she had posed for me. It must have been for Lady Kilmarny; and that I alone should see the picture was a bad beginning.
She is of the age when a woman can still tell people that she is forty, hoping they will exclaim politely, "Impossible!"
It is not enough for her to be a Ladyship and a millionairess. She will be a beauty as well, or at all costs she will be looked at. To that end are her eyebrows and lashes black as jet, her undulated hair crimson, her lips a brighter shade of the same colour, and her skin of magnolia pallor, like the heroines of the novels which are sure to be her favourites. Once, she must have been handsome, a hollyhock queen of a kitchen-garden kingdom; but she would be far more attractive now if only she had "abdicated," as nice middle-aged women say in France.
Her dress was the very latest dream of a neurotic Parisian modiste, and would have been seductive on a slender girl. On her—well, at least she would have her wish in it—she would not pass unnoticed!
She looked surprised at sight of me, and I saw she didn't realize that I was the expected candidate.
"Lady Kilmarny couldn't come," I began to explain, "and—"
"Oh!" she cut me short. "So you are the young person she is recommending as a maid."
I corrected Miss Paget when she called me a "young woman," but times have changed since then, and in future I must humbly consent to be a young person, or even a creature.
For a minute I forgot, and almost sat down. It would have been the end of me if I had! Luckily I remembered What I was, and stood before my mistress, trying to look like Patience on a monument with butter in her mouth which mustn't be allowed to melt.
"What is your name?" began the catechism (and the word was "nime," according to Lady Turnour).
"N or M," nearly slipped out of my mouth, but I put Satan with all his mischief behind me, and answered that I was Lys d'Angely.
"Oh, the surname doesn't matter. As you're a French girl, I shall call you by your first name. It's always done."
(The first time in history, I'd swear, that a d'Angely was ever told his name didn't matter!)
"You seem to speak English very well for a French woman?" (This almost with suspicion.)
"My mother was American."
(This was apparently a tache. Evidently lady's-maids are expected not to have American mothers!)
"Let me hear your French accent."
I let her hear it.
"H'm! It seems well enough. Paris?"
"Don't call me 'madame.' Any common person is madame. You should say 'your ladyship'."
I said it.
"And I want you should speak to me in the third person, like the French servants are supposed to do in good houses."
"If mad—if your ladyship wishes."
(Thank heaven for a sense of humour! My one wild desire was to laugh. Without that blessing, I should have yearned to slap her.)
"What references have you got from your last situation?"
"I have never been in service before—my lady."
"My word! That's bad. However, you're on the spot, and Lady Kilmarny recommends you. The poor Princess was going to try you, it seems. I should think she wouldn't have given much for a maid without any experience."
"I was to have had two thousand francs a year as the Princess's com—if the Princess was satisfied."
"Preposterous! I don't believe a word of it. Why, what can you do? Can you dress hair? Can you make a blouse?"
"I did my mother's hair, and sometimes my cousin's."
"Your mother! Your cousin! I'm talking of a lidy."
My sense of humour did almost fail me just then. But I caught hold of it by the tail just as it was darting out of the window, spitting and scratching like a cross cat.
It was remembering Monsieur Charretier that brought me to my bearings. "I think your ladyship would be satisfied," I said. "And I make all my own dresses."
"That one you've got on?—which is most unsuitable for a maid, I may tell you, and I should never permit it."
"This one I have on, also."
"I thought maybe it had been a present. Well, it's something that you speak both English and French passably well. I'll try you on Lady Kilmarny's recommendation, if you want to come to me for fifty francs a month. I won't give more to an amateur."
I thought hard for a minute. Lady Kilmarny had said it would not be many weeks before the Turnours went to England. There, if Miss Paget (who seemed extremely nice by contrast and in retrospect) were still of the same mind, I might find a good home. If not, she was as kind as she was queer, and would help me look further. So I replied that I would accept the fifty francs, and would do my best to please her ladyship.
She did not express herself as gratified. "You can begin work this evening," she said. "I was obliged to send away my last maid yesterday, and I'm lost without one." (This was delightful from a "lidy" who had kept lodgers for years, with the aid perhaps of one smudgy-nosed "general"!) "But have you no more suitable clothes? I can't let a maid of mine go flaunting about, like a Mary-Jane-on-Sunday."
I mentioned a couple of plain black dresses in my wardrobe, which might be made to answer if I were allowed a few hours' time to work upon them, and didn't add that they remained from my mourning for one dearly loved.
"You can have till six o'clock free," said Lady Turnour. "Then you must come back to lay out my things for dinner, and dress me. What about your room? Had the Princess taken something for you in the hotel?"
I evaded a direct answer by saying that I had a room; and was inwardly thankful that, evidently, the Turnours had not noticed me in the restaurant at luncheon, otherwise things might have been awkward.
"Very well, you can keep the same one, then," went on her ladyship, "and let the hotel people know it's Sir Samuel who pays for it. To-morrow morning we leave, in our sixty-horse-power motor car. We are making a tour before going back to England. Sir Samuel's stepson joins us in Paris or perhaps before and travels on with us. He is staying now with some French people of very high title, who live in a chateau. You will sit on the front seat with the chauffeur."
This was a blow! I hadn't thought of the chauffeur. "But," thought I, "chauffeur or no chauffeur, it's too late now for retreat."
Talk of Prometheus with his vulture, the Spartan boy with his decently concealed wolf! What of Lys d'Angely with an English chauffeur in her pocket?
When I was dismissed from the Presence, I ran to Lady Kilmarny with my story, and she agreed with me that the thing to dread most in the whole situation was the chauffeur.
"Of course he'll naturally consider himself on an equality with you," she said, "and you'll have to eat with him at hotels, and all that. Once, when my husband and I were touring in France, and used to break down near little inns, we were obliged to have a chauffeur at the same table with us, because there was only one long one (table, I mean, not chauffeur) and we couldn't spare time to let him wait till we'd finished. My dear, it was ghastly! You would never believe if you hadn't seen it, how the creature swallowed his knife when he ate, and did conjuring tricks with his fork and spoon. I simply dared not look at him gnawing his bread, but used to shut my eyes. I hate to distress you, poor child, but I tell you these things as a warning. Are you able to bear it?"
I said that I, too, could shut my eyes.
"You can't make a habit of doing so. And he may want to put his arm round your waist, or chuck you under the chin. I used to have complaints from my maid, who was comparatively plain, while you—but I don't want to frighten you. He may be different from our man. Some, they say, are most respectable. I love common people when they're nice, and give up quite pleasantly to being common; and of course Irish ones are too delightful. But you can't hope for an Irish chauffeur. I hear they don't exist. They're all French or German or English. Let us hope this one may be the father of a family."
It was well enough to be told to hope; and Lady Kilmarny meant to be kind, but what she said made me "creep" whenever I thought of the chauffeur.
She advised me not to take my meals with the maids and valets at the Majestic Palace, because a change, so sudden and Cinderella-like, after lunching in the restaurant, would cause disagreeable talk in the hotel. As my living in future would be at the charge of the Turnours, I might afford myself a few indulgences to begin with, she argued; and deciding that she was right, I made up my mind to have my remaining meals served in my own room.
I hastily stripped a black frock of its trimming, dressed my hair more simply even than usual, parted down the middle, and altogether strove to achieve the air of a femme de chambre born, not made. But I'm bound to chronicle the fact for my own future reference (when some day I shall laugh at this adventure) that the effect, though restful to the eye, suggested the stage femme de chambre rather than the sober reality one sees in every-day life. However, I was conscious of having done my best, a state of mind which always produces a cool, strawberries-and-cream feeling in the soul; and thus supported I tripped (yes, I did trip!) downstairs to adorn Lady Turnour for dinner.
The door was open between her bedroom and the sitting-room. Waiting in the former I could hear voices in the latter. Lady Turnour and her husband were talking about the arrival of the stepson whose name, I soon gleaned from their conversation, is Herbert. Naturally, it would be. People like that are always named Herbert, and are familiarly known to those whom they may concern as "Bertie."
Presently, her ladyship came into the bedroom, and said, as a queen might say to her tirewoman, "Put me into my dressing-gown." If there were a feminine word for "sirrah," I think she would have liked to call me it.
My eye, roving distractedly, pounced upon a gold-embroidered, purple silk kimono, perhaps more appropriate to Pooh-Bah than to a stout English lady of the lower middle class. I released it from its hook on the door, and would that her ladyship had been as easy to release from her bodice!
She had not one hook, but many; and they were all so incredibly tight that, to put her into the dressing-gown as ordered, I feared it would be necessary to melt and pour her out of the gown she had on.
While I wrestled, silent and red faced, with a bodice as snug as the head of a drum, the lord of all it contained appeared in the doorway, and stopped, looking at me in surprise.
He is common, too, this Sir Samuel, millionaire maker of pills; but he is common in a good, almost pathetic way, quite different from his wife's way—or Monsieur Charretier's. He has stick-up gray hair curling all over his round head, blue eyes, twinkling with a mild, yet shrewd expression (which might be merry if encouraged by her ladyship), and a large, slouching body with stooped shoulders.
"What young lady have we here?" he inquired.
"Not a young lady at all," explained his wife sharply. "My new French maid."
"I beg your pardon, I'm sure," said Sir Samuel, though it wasn't quite clear whether it was my forgiveness or that of his spouse he craved, for his mistake in supposing me to be a "young lady."
"What's her name?" he wanted to know, evidently approving of me, if not as a maid, at least as a human being.
"Something ridiculous in French that sounds like 'Liz,'" sniffed her ladyship. "But I shall call her Elise. Also I shall expect her to stop dyeing her hair."
"But, madame, I do not dye it!" I exclaimed.
"Don't tell me. I know dyed hair when I see it."
(She ought to, having experience enough with her own!)
"Nature is the dyer, then," I ventured to persist, piqued to self-defence by the certainty that her object was to strip me of my wicked mask before her husband.
"I'm not used to being contradicted by my servants," her ladyship reminded me.
"My dear, do let the poor girl know whether she dyes her hair or not." Sir Samuel pleaded for me with more kindness than discretion. "I'm sure she speaks beautiful English."
"As if that had anything to do with it! She may as well understand, to begin with, that I won't put up with impudence and answering back. Hair that colour doesn't go with dark eyes. And eyelashes like that aren't suitable to lady's-maids."
"If your ladyship pleases, what am I to do with mine?" I asked in the sweetest little voice; and I would have given anything for someone to whom I might have telegraphed a laugh.
"Wash the dark stuff off of them and let them be light," were the simple instructions promptly returned to me.
There was no more to be said, so I cast down the offending features (are one's lashes one's features?) and swallowed my feelings just as Lady Turnour will have to swallow my hair and eyelashes if I'm to stop in her service. If they stick in her throat, I suppose she will discharge me. For a leopard cannot change his spots, and a girl will not the colour of her locks and lashes—when she happens to be fairly well satisfied with Nature's work.
Pamela's mother-in-law, la Comtesse douairiere, wears a lovely, fluffy white thing over her own diminishing front hair, which I once heard her describe, when struggling to speak English, as her "combination." Pam and I laughed nearly to extinction, but I didn't laugh this morning when I was obliged to help Lady Turnour put on hers.
They say an emperor is no hero to his valet, and neither can an empress be a heroine to her maid when she bursts for the first time upon that humble creature's sight, without her transformation.
It did make an unbelievable difference with her ladyship; and it must have been a blow to poor Sir Samuel, after all his years of hopeless love for a fond gazelle, when at last he made that gazelle his own, and saw it running about its bedroom with all its copper-coloured "ondulations" naively lying on its dressing-table.
Poor Miss Paget's false front was one of those frank, self-respecting old things one might have allowed one's grandmother to wear, just as she would wear a cap; but a transformation—well, one has perhaps believed in it, if one has not the eye of a lynx, and the disillusion is awful.
Of course, a lady's-maid is not a human being, and what it is thinking matters no more than what thinks a chair when sat upon; so I don't suppose "her ladyship" cared ten centimes for the impression I was receiving and trying to digest in the first ten minutes after my morning entrance.
As my hair waves naturally, I've scarcely more than a bowing acquaintance with a curling-iron; but luckily for me I always did Cousin Catherine's when she wanted to look as beautiful as she felt; and though my hands trembled with nervousness, I not only "ondulated" Lady Turnour's transformation without burning it up, but I added it to her own locks in a manner so deft as to make me want to applaud myself.
Even she could find no fault. The effect was twice as chic and becoming as that of yesterday. She looked younger, and nearer to being the grande dame that she burns to be. I saw various emotions working in her mind, and attributed her silence on the subject of my personal defects (unchanged despite her orders) to the success I was making with her toilet. In her eyes, I began to take on lustre as a Treasure not to be lightly thrown away on the turn of a dye.
When she was dressed and painted to represent a "lady motorist," it was my business to pack not only for her but for Sir Samuel, who is the sort of man to be miserable under the domination of a valet. There were a round dozen of trunks, which had to be sent on by rail, and there was also luggage for the automobile; such ingenious and pretty luggage (bran new, like everything of her ladyship's, not excepting her complexion) that it was really a pleasure to pack it. As for the poor motor maid, it was broken to her that she must, figuratively speaking, live in a bag during the tour, and that bag must have a place under her feet as she sat beside the driver. It might make her as uncomfortable as it liked, but whatever it did, it must on no account interfere with the chauffeur.
We were supposed to start at ten, but a woman of Lady Turnour's type doesn't think she's making herself of enough importance unless she keeps people waiting. She changed her mind three times about her veil, and had her dressing-bag (a gorgeous affair, beside which mine is a mere nutshell) reopened at the last minute to get out different hatpins.
It was half-past ten when the luggage for the automobile was ready to be taken away, and having helped my mistress into her motoring coat, I left her saying farewell to some hotel acquaintances she had scraped up, and went out to put her ladyship's rugs into the car.
I had not seen it yet, nor the dreaded chauffeur, my galley-companion; but as the front door opened, voila both; the car drawn up at the hotel entrance, the chauffeur dangling from its roof.
Never did I see anything in the way of an automobile so large, so azure, so magnificent, so shiny as to varnish, so dazzling as to brass and crystal.
Perhaps the windows aren't really crystal, but they were all bevelly and glittering in the sunshine, and seemed to run round the car from back to front, giving the effect of a Cinderella Coach fitted on to a motor. Never was paint so blue, never was crest on carriage panel so large and so like a vague, over-ripe tomato. Never was a chauffeur so long, so slim, so smart, so leathery.
He was dangling not because he fancied himself as a tassel, but because he was teaching some last piece of luggage to know its place on the roof it was shaped to fit.
"Thank goodness, at least he's not fat, and won't take up much room," I thought, as I stood looking at the back of his black head.
Then he jumped down, and turned round. We gave each other a glance, and he could not help knowing that I must be her ladyship's maid, by the way I was loaded with rugs, like a beast of burden. Of my face he could see little, as I had on a thick motor-veil with a small triangular talc window, which Lady Kilmarny had given me as a present when I bade her good-bye. I had the advantage of him, therefore, in the staring contest, because his goggles were pushed up on the top of his cap with an elastic, somewhat as Miss Paget's spectacles had been caught in her false front.
His glance said: "Female thing, I've got to be bothered by having you squashed into the seat beside me. You'd better not be chatty with the man at the wheel, for if you are, I shall have to teach you motor manners."
My glance, I sincerely hoped, said nothing, for I hurriedly shut it off lest it should say too much, the astonished thought in my mind being: "Why, Leather Person, you look exactly like a gentleman! You have the air of being the master, and Sir Samuel your servant."
He really was a surprise, especially after Lady Kilmarny's warning. Still, I at once began to tell myself that chauffeurs must have intelligent faces. As for this one's clear features, good gray eyes, brown skin, and well-made figure, they were nothing miraculous, since it is admitted that even a lower grade of beings, grooms and footmen, are generally chosen as ornaments to the establishments they adorn. Why shouldn't a chauffeur be picked out from among his fellows to do credit to a fine, sixty-horse-power blue motor-car? Besides, a young man who can't look rather handsome in a chauffeur's cap and neat leather coat and leggings might as well go and hang himself.
The Leather Person opened the door of the car for me, that I might put in the rugs. I murmured "thank you" and he bowed. No sooner had I arranged my affairs, and slipped the scent-bottle and bottle of salts, newly filled, into a dainty little case under the window, when Lady Turnour and Sir Samuel appeared.
I have met few, if any, queens in daily life, but I'm almost sure that the Queen of England, for instance, wouldn't consider it beneath her dignity to take some notice of her chauffeur's existence if she were starting on a motor tour. Lady Turnour was miles above it, however. So far as she was concerned, one would have thought that the car ran itself; that at sight of her and Sir Samuel, the arbiters of its destiny, its heart began to beat, its body to tremble with delight at the honour in store for it.
"Tell him to shut the windows," said her ladyship, when she was settled in her place. "Does he think I'm going to travel on a day like this with all the wind on the Riviera blowing my head off?"
The imperial order was passed on to "him," who was addressed as Bane, or Dane, or something of that ilk; and I was sorry for poor Sir Samuel, whose face showed how little he enjoyed the prospect of being cooped up in a glass box.
"A day like this" meant that there was a wind which no one under fifty had any business to know came out of the east, for it arrived from a sky blue as a vast, inverted cup of turquoise. The sea was a cup, too; a cup of gold glittering where the Esterel mountains rimmed it, and full to the frothing brim of blue spilt by the sky.
Perhaps there was a hint of keenness in the breeze, and the palms in the hotel garden were whispering to each other about it, while they rocked the roses tangled among their fans; yet it seemed to me that the whispers were not of complaint, but of joy—joy of life, joy of beauty, and joy of the spring. The air smelled of a thousand flowers, this air that Lady Turnour shunned as if it were poison, and brought me a sense of happiness and adventure fresh as the morning. I knew I had no right to the feeling, because this wasn't my adventure. I was only in it on sufferance, to oil the wheels of it, so to speak, for my betters; yet golden joy ran through all my veins as gaily, as generously, as if I were a princess instead of a lady's-maid.
Why on earth I was happy, I didn't know, for it was perfectly clear that I was going to have a horrid time; but I pitied everybody who wasn't young, and starting off on a motor tour, even if on fifty francs a month "all found."
I pitied Lady Turnour because she was herself; I pitied Sir Samuel because he was married to her; I pitied the people in the big hotel, who spent their afternoons and evenings playing bridge with all the windows hermetically sealed, while there was a world like this out of doors; and I wasn't sure yet whether I pitied the chauffeur or not.
He didn't look particularly sorry for himself, as he took his seat on my right. I was well out of his way, and he had the air of having forgotten all about me, as he steered away from the hotel down the flower-bordered avenue which led to the street.
"Anyhow," said I to myself, behind my little three-cornered talc window, "whatever his faults may be, appearances are very deceptive if he ever tries to chuck me under the chin."
There we sat, side by side, shut away from our pastors and masters by a barrier of glass, in that state of life and on that seat to which it had pleased Providence to call us, together.
"We're far enough apart in mind, though," I told myself. Yet I found my thoughts coming back to the man, every now and then, wondering if his nice brown profile were a mere lucky accident, or if he were really intelligent and well educated beyond his station. It was deliciously restful at first to sit there, seeing beautiful things as we flashed by, able to enjoy them in peace without having to make conversation, as the ordinary jeune fille must with the ordinary jeune monsieur.
"And is it that you love the automobilism, mademoiselle?"
"But yes, I love the automobilism. And you?"
"I also." (Hang it, what shall I say to her next?)
"And the dust. It does not too much annoy you?"
(Oh, bother, I do wish he'd let me alone!)
"No, monsieur. Because there are compensations. The scenery, is it not?"
"And for me your society." (What a little idiot she is!)
And so on. And so on. Oh yes, there were consolations in being a motor maid, sitting as far away as possible from a cross-looking if rather handsome chauffeur, who would want to bite her if she tried to do the "society act."
But after a while, when we'd spun past the charming villas and attractive shops of Cannes (which looks so deceitfully sylvan, and is one of the gayest watering-places in the world) silence began to be a burden.
It is such a nice motor car, and I did want to ask intelligent questions about it!
I was almost sure they would be intelligent, because already I know several things about automobiles. The Milvaines haven't got one, but most of their friends in Paris have, and though I've never been on a long tour before, I've done some running about. When one knows things, especially when one's a girl—a really well-regulated, normal girl—one does like to let other people know that one knows them. It's all well enough to cram yourself full to bursting with interesting facts which it gives you a vast amount of trouble to learn, just out of respect for your own soul; and there's a great deal in that point of view, in one's noblest moments; but one's noblest moments are like bubbles, radiant while they last, then going pop! quite to one's own surprise, leaving one all flat, and nothing to show for the late bubble except a little commonplace soap.
Well, I am like that, and when I'm not nobly bubbling I love to say what I'm thinking to somebody who will understand, instead of feeding on myself.
It really was a waste of good material to see all that lovely scenery slipping by like a panorama, and to be having quite heavenly thoughts about it, which must slip away too, and be lost for ever. I got to the pass when it would have been a relief to be asked if "this were my first visit to the Riviera;" because I could hastily have said "Yes," and then broken out with a volley of impressions.
Seeing beautiful things when you travel by rail consists mostly on getting half a glimpse, beginning to exclaim, "Oh, look there!" then plunging into the black gulf of a tunnel, and not coming out again until after the best bit has carefully disappeared behind an uninteresting, fat-bodied mountain. But travelling by motor-car! Oh, the difference! One sees, one feels; one is never, never bored, or impatient to arrive anywhere. One would enjoy being like the famous brook, and "go on forever."
Other automobiles were ahead of us, other cars were behind us, in the procession of Nomads leaving the South for the North, but there had been rain in the night, so that the wind carried little dust. My spirit sang when we had left the long, cool avenue lined with the great silver-trunked plane trees (which seemed always, even in sunshine, to be dappled with moonlight) and dashed toward the barrier of the Esterels that flung itself across our path. The big blue car bounded up the steep road, laughing and purring, like some huge creature of the desert escaped from a cage, regaining its freedom. But every time we neared a curve it was considerate enough to slow down, just enough to swing round with measured rhythm, smooth as the rocking of a child's cradle.
Perhaps, thought I, the chauffeur wasn't cross, but only concentrated. If I had to drive a powerful, untamed car like this, up and down roads like that, I should certainly get motor-car face, a kind of inscrutable, frozen mask that not all the cold cream in the world could ever melt.
I wondered if he resorted to cold cream, and before I knew what I was doing, I found myself staring at the statuesque brown profile through my talc triangle.
Evidently animal magnetism can leak through talc, for suddenly the chauffeur glanced sharply round at me, as if I had called him. "Did you speak?" he asked.
"Dear me, no, I shouldn't have dared," I hurried to assure him. Again he transferred his attention from the road to me, though only a fraction, and for only the fraction of a second. I felt that he saw me as an eagle on the wing might see a fly on a boulder toward which he was steering between intervening clouds.
"Why shouldn't you dare?" he wanted to know.
"One doesn't usually speak to lion-tamers while they're engaged in taming," I murmured, quite surprised at my audacity and the sound of my own voice.
The chauffeur laughed. "Oh!" he said.
"Or to captains of ocean liners on the bridge in thick fogs," I went on with my illustrations.
"What do you know about lion-tamers and captains on ocean liners?" he inquired.
"Nothing. But I imagine. I'm always doing a lot of imagining."
"Do you think you will while you're with Lady Turnour?"
"She hasn't engaged my brain, only my hands and feet."
"And your time."
"Oh, thank goodness it doesn't take time to imagine. I can imagine all the most glorious things in heaven and earth in the time it takes you to put your car at the next corner."
He looked at me longer, though the corner seemed dangerously near—to an amateur. "I see you've learned the true secret of living," said he.
"Have I? I didn't know."
"Well, you have. You may take it from me. I'm a good deal older than you are."
"Oh, of course, all really polite men are older than the women they're with."
It was my turn to laugh now. "A chauffeur with a lady's-maid."
"You seem an odd sort of lady's-maid."
"I begin to think you're an odd sort of chauffeur."
"Well—" I hesitated, though I knew why, perfectly. "Aren't you rather abrupt in your questions? Suppose we change the subject. You seem to have tamed this tiger until it obeys you like a kitten."
"That's what I get my wages for. But why do you think I'm an odd sort of chauffeur?"
"For that matter, then, why do you think I'm an odd lady's-maid?"
"As to that, probably I'm no judge. I never talked to one except my mother's, and she—wasn't at all like you."
"Well, that proves my point. The very fact that your mother had a maid, shows you're an odd sort of chauffeur."
"Oh! You mean because I wasn't always 'what I seem,' and that kind of Family Herald thing? Do you think it odd that a chauffeur should be by way of being a gentleman? Why, nowadays the woods and the story-books are full of us. But things are made pleasanter for us in books than in real life. Out of books people fight shy of us. A 'shuvvie' with the disadvantage of having been to a public school, or handicapped by not dropping his H's, must knock something off his screw."
"Are you really in earnest, or are you joking?" I asked.
"Half and half, perhaps. Anyway, it isn't a particularly agreeable position—if that's not too big a word for it. I envy you your imagination, in which you can shut yourself up in a kind of armour against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."
"You wouldn't envy me if you had to do Lady Turnour's hair," I sighed.
The chauffeur laughed out aloud. "Heaven forbid!" he exclaimed.
"I'm sure Sir Samuel would forbid, anyhow," said I.
"Do you know, I don't think this trip's going to be so bad?" said he.
"Neither do I," I murmured in my veil.
We both laughed a good deal then. But luckily the glass was expensively thick, and the car was singing.
"What are you laughing at?" I asked.
"Something that it takes a little sense of humour to see, when you've been down on your luck," said he.
"A sense of humour was the only thing my ancestors left me," said I. "I don't wonder you laugh. It really is quaintly funny."
"Do you think we're laughing at the same thing?"
"I'm almost sure of it."
"Do tell me your part, and let's compare notes."
"Well, it's something that nobody but us in this car—unless it's the car itself—knows."
"Then it is the same thing. They haven't an idea of it, and wouldn't believe it if anyone told them. Yes, it is funny."
"About their not being—"
"Thanks. A lady—"
"And the only ones on board—"
"Are the two servants!"
"As long as they don't notice—"
"And we do!"
"Perhaps we may get some fun out of it?"
"Extra—outside our wages. Would it be called a 'perquisite'?"
"If so, I'm sure we deserve it."
I sighed, thinking of her ladyship's transformation, and lacing up her boots. "Well, there's a lot to make up for."
And he gave me another look—a very nice look, although he could see nothing of me but eyes and one third of a nose. "If I can ever at all help to make up, in the smallest way, you must let me try," he said.
I ceased to think that his profile was cross, or even stern.
I was glad that the chauffeur and I were in the same box—I mean, the same car.
All the same, I wondered a great deal how he came there, and I hoped that he was wondering the same sort of thing about me. In fact, I laid myself out to produce such a result. That is to say, I took some pains to show myself as little like the common or parlour lady's-maid as possible. I never took so much pains to impress any human being, male or (far less) female, as I took to impress that mere chauffeur—the very chauffeur I'd been lying awake at night dreading as the most objectionable feature in my new life.
All the nice things I'd thought of by the way, before we introduced ourselves to each other, I trotted out (at least, as many as I had presence of mind to remember); and though I'm afraid he didn't pay me the compliment of trying to "brill" in return, I told myself that it was not because he didn't think me worth brilling for, but because he's English. It never seems to occur to an Englishman to "show off." I believe if Sir Samuel Turnour's chauffeur, Mr. What's-his-name, knew twenty-seven languages, he could be silent in all of them.
He did let me play the car's musical siren, though; a fascinating bugbear, supposed to warn children, chickens, and other light-minded animals that something important is coming, and they'd better look alive. It has two tunes, one grave, one gay. I suppose we would use the grave one if the creature hadn't looked alive?
Although he didn't say much, the chauffeur (or "shuvvie" as he scornfully names himself) knew all about Robert Macaire and Gaspard De Besse—knew more about them than I, also their escapades on this road over the Esterels, and in the mountain fastnesses, when highwaymen were as fashionable as motor-cars are now. I'd forgotten that it was this part of the world where they earned their bread and fame; and was quite thrilled to hear that the ghost of De Besse is supposed to keep on, as a permanent residence, his old shelter cave near the summit of strangely shaped Mont Vinaigre. I'm sure, though, even if we'd passed his pitch at midnight instead of midday, he wouldn't have dared pop out and cry "Stand and deliver!" to a sixty-horsepower Aigle.
I almost wished it were night, as we swooped over mountain tops, our eyes plunging down the deep gorges, and dropping with fearful joy over precipices, for the effect would have been more solemn, more mysterious. I could imagine that the fantastically formed rocks which loomed above us or stood ranged far below would have looked by moonlight like statues and busts of Titans, carved to show poor little humanity such creatures as a dead world had known. But it is hard for one's imagination to do the best of which it feels capable when one is dying for lunch.
Even the old "Murder Inn," which my companion obligingly pointed out, didn't give me the thrill it ought, because time was getting on when we flew past it, and I would have been capable of eating vulgar bread and cheese under its wickedly historic roof if I had been invited.
"Do you suppose they know anything about the road and its history?" I asked the chauffeur, with a slight gesture of my swathed head toward the solid wall of glass which was our background.
"They? Certainly not, and don't want to know," he answered with an air of assurance.
"Why do they go about in motors then," I wondered, "if they don't take interest in things they pass?"
"You must understand as well as I do why this sort of person goes about in motors," said he. "They go because other people go—because it's the thing. The 'other people' whom they slavishly imitate may really like the exhilaration, the ozone, the sight-seeing, or all three; but to this type the only part that matters is letting it be seen that they've got a handsome car, and being able to say 'We've just come from the Riviera in our sixty-horse-power motor-car.' They'd always mention the power."
"Lady Turnour did, even to me," I remembered. "But is Sir Samuel like that?"
"No, to do him justice, he isn't, poor man. But his wife is his Juggernaut. I believe he enjoys lying under her wheels, or thinks he does—which is the same thing."
"Have you been with them long?" I dared to inquire.
"Only a few days. I brought the car down for them from Paris, though not this way—a shorter one. We're new brooms, the car and I."
"All their brooms seem to be new," I reflected. "I wonder what the stepson is like?"
"Luckily it doesn't matter much to me," said the chauffeur indifferently.
"Nor to me. But his name's Herbert."
"I don't know. There's a Herbert lurking somewhere. It always suggests to me oily hair parted in the middle and smeared down on each side of a low, narrow forehead. Could you know a 'Bertie'?"
"I did once, and never want to again. He was a swine and a snob. Hope you never came across the combination?"
I forgot to answer, because, having left the mountain world behind, a formidable line of nobly planned arches began striding along beside us, through the sun-bright fields, and I was sure it must be the giant Roman aqueduct of Frejus.