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Title: My Friend the Chauffeur
Author: Williamson, C. N. (Charles Norris), 1859-1920, Williamson, A. M. (Alice Muriel), 1869-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "My Friend the Chauffeur" ***

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[Illustration: _She was only a tall white girl simply dressed_]


My friend the Chauffeur

_By_ C. N. and A. M. WILLIAMSON

Authors of "Lady Betty Across the Water," "The Princess
Virginia," "The Lightning Conductor," etc., etc.

With Illustrations

BY FREDERIC LOWENHEIM


A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK

_Copyright, 1905, by_
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.
_Published September, 1905_



TO
THE OTHER BEECHY



CONTENTS


PART I--TOLD BY RALPH MORAY

CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

   I A CHAPTER OF SURPRISES                                            3
  II A CHAPTER OF PLANS                                               17
 III A CHAPTER OF REVENGES                                            28
  IV A CHAPTER OF HUMILIATIONS                                        40
   V A CHAPTER OF ADVENTURES                                          55
  VI A CHAPTER OF PREDICAMENTS                                        78


PART II--TOLD BY BEECHY KIDDER

 VII A CHAPTER OF CHILDISHNESS                                        89
VIII A CHAPTER OF PLAYING DOLLS                                       97
  IX A CHAPTER OF REVELATIONS                                        107
   X A CHAPTER OF THRILLS                                            115
  XI A CHAPTER OF BRAKES AND WORMS                                   129
 XII A CHAPTER OF HORRORS                                            138
XIII A CHAPTER OF WILD BEASTS                                        152
 XIV A CHAPTER OF SUNSHINE AND SHADOW                                163


PART III--TOLD BY THE COUNTESS

  XV A CHAPTER OF PITFALLS                                           175
 XVI A CHAPTER OF ENCHANTMENT                                        191


PART IV--TOLD BY MAIDA DESTREY

 XVII A CHAPTER OF MOTOR MANIA                                       205
XVIII A CHAPTER ACCORDING TO SHAKSPERE                               225
  XIX A CHAPTER OF PALACES AND PRINCES                               235
   XX A CHAPTER IN FAIRYLAND                                         244
  XXI A CHAPTER OF STRANGE SPELLS                                    256
 XXII A CHAPTER BEYOND THE MOTOR ZONE                                267
XXIII A CHAPTER OF KIDNAPPING                                        283
 XXIV A CHAPTER ON PUTTING TRUST IN PRINCES                          292


PART V--TOLD BY TERENCE BARRYMORE

  XXV A CHAPTER OF CHASING                                           303
 XXVI A CHAPTER OF HIGH DIPLOMACY                                    316



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
                                                                   PAGE

She was only a tall white girl simply dressed             _Frontispiece_

As he spoke a douanier lounged out of his little (After)              62
whitewashed lair

Two or three men were moving about the place (After)                 148

A great white light pounced upon us like a hawk on a
chicken (After)                                                      200



MY FRIEND THE CHAUFFEUR



PART I

TOLD BY RALPH MORAY



I

A CHAPTER OF SURPRISES


"WANTED, LADIES, TO CONDUCT. An amateur
automobilist (English, titled) who drives his
own motor-car accommodating five persons,
offers to conduct two or three ladies, Americans
preferred, to any picturesque centres in Europe which they
may desire to visit. Car has capacity for carrying small luggage,
and is of best type. Journeys of about 100 miles a day. Novel
and delightful way of travelling; owner of car well up in history,
art, and architecture of different countries. Inclusive terms five
guineas a day each, or slight reduction made for extensive
trip. Address--"

When Terry had read aloud thus far, I hastily interrupted him. I wasn't
quite ready yet for him to see that address. The thing needed a little
leading up to; and by way of getting him quickly and safely on to a side
rack I burst into a shout of laughter, so loud and so sudden that he
looked up from the little pink Riviera newspaper of which I was the
proud proprietor, to stare at me.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

I subsided. "The idea struck me so forcibly," said I. "Jolly clever,
isn't it?"

"It's a fake, of course," said Terry. "No fellow would be ass enough to
advertise himself like that in earnest. Probably the thing's been put in
for a bet, or else it's a practical joke."

I had been aware that this, or something like it, would come, but now
that the crisis was at hand I felt qualmish. Terry--known to strangers
as Lord Terence Barrymore--is the best and most delightful chap in the
world, as well as one of the best looking, but like several other
Irishmen he is, to put it mildly, rather hard to manage, especially when
you want to do him a good turn. I had been trying to do him one without
his knowing it, and in such a way that he couldn't escape when he did
know. But the success of my scheme was now being dandled on the knees of
the gods, and at any instant it might fall off to break like an egg.

"I believe it's genuine," I began gingerly, almost wishing that I hadn't
purposely put the pink paper where Terry would be sure to pick it up.
"And I don't see why you should call the advertiser in my paper an ass.
If you were hard up, and had a motor-car--"

"I am hard up, and I have a motor-car."

"What I was going to say is this: wouldn't it be much better to turn
your car into the means of making an honest living, and at the same time
having some rattling good fun, rather than sell the thing for less than
half cost, and not only get no fun at all, but not know how to get out
of the scrape in which you've landed yourself?"

It was Terry's turn to laugh now, which he did, though not uproariously,
as I had. "One would think the ass was a friend of yours, by your
enthusiasm in defending him," said he.

"I'm only putting the case to you in the way I thought you'd see it most
clearly," I persisted mildly. "But, as a matter of fact, the 'ass' as
you call him, _is_ my friend, a very intimate friend indeed."

"Didn't know you had any intimate friends but me, anyhow owners of
motor-cars, you old owl," remarked Terry. "I must say in your defence,
though, it isn't like you to have friends who advertise themselves as
titled couriers."

"If you're obliged to start a shop I suppose it's legitimate to put your
best goods in the windows, and arrange them as attractively as you can
to appeal to the public," I argued. "This is the same thing. Besides,
my friend isn't advertising himself. Somebody is 'running him'--doing it
for him; wants him to get on, you know--just as I do you."

Terry gave me a quick glance; but my face (which is blond and said to be
singularly youthful for a man of twenty-nine) was, I flatter myself, as
innocent as that of a choir-boy who has just delivered himself of a high
soprano note. Nevertheless, the end was coming. I felt it in the
electric tingle of the air.

"Do you mind telling me your friend's name, or is he a secret?"

"Perhaps the address at the end of the advertisement will be
enlightening."

Terry had dropped the paper on the grass by the side of his _chaise
longue_, but now he picked it up again, and began searching for the
place which he had lost. I, in my _chaise longue_ under the same
magnolia tree, gazed at him from under my tilted Panama. Terry is tall
and dark. Stretched out in the basket chair, he looked very big and
rather formidable. Beside him, I felt a small and reedy person. I really
hoped he would not give me much trouble. The day was too hot to cope
with troublesome people, especially if you were fond of them, for then
you were the more likely to lose your head.

But the beginning was not encouraging. Terry proceeded to read the end
of the advertisement aloud. "Address X. Y. Z., Châlet des Pins, Cap
Martin." Then he said something which did not go at all with the
weather. Why is it that so many bad words begin with D or H? One almost
gets to think that they are letters for respectable people to avoid.

"Hang it all, Ralph," he went on, after the explosion, "I must say I
don't like your taste in jokes. This is a bit too steep."

I sat up straight, with a leg on each side of the chair, and looked
reproaches. "I thought," I said slowly, "that when your brother behaved
like such a--well, we won't specify what--you asked, I might even say
begged, for my advice, and promised in a midnight conversation under
this very tree to take it, no matter how disagreeable it might prove."

"I did; but--"

"There's no such word as 'but.' Last year I advised you not to put your
money into West Africans. You put it in. What was the consequence? You
regretted it, and as your brother showed no very keen interest in your
career, you decided that you couldn't afford to stop in the Guards, so
you cut the Army. This year I advised you not to play that system of
yours and Raleigh's at Monte Carlo, or if you must have a go at it, to
stick to roulette and five franc stakes. Instead of listening to me, you
listened to him. What were the consequences?"

"For goodness sake don't moralize. I know well enough what they were.
Ruin. And it doesn't gild the pill to remember that I deserved to
swallow it."

"If only you'd swallowed the advice instead! It would have slipped down
more easily, poor old boy. But you swore to bolt the next dose without a
groan. I said I'd try and think of a better plan than selling your
Panhard, and going out to help work an African farm on the proceeds.
Well, I _have_ thought of a plan, and there you have the proof of my
combined solicitude and ingenuity, in my own paper."

"Don't shoot off big words at me."

"I'm a journalist; my father before me was a journalist, and got his
silly old baronetcy by being a journalist. _I'm_ one still, and have
saved up quite a little competency on big words and potted phrases. I've
collected a great many practical ideas in my experience. I want to make
you a present of some of them, if only you'll have them."

"Do you call this advertisement a practical idea? You can't for a minute
suppose that I'd be found dead carting a lot of American or other women
whom I don't know about Europe in my car, and taking their beastly
money?"

"If you drove properly, you wouldn't be found dead; and you would know
them," I had begun, when there was a ring at the gate bell, and the
high wall of the garden abruptly opened to admit a tidal wave of chiffon
and muslin.

Terry and I were both so taken aback at this unexpected inundation that
for a moment we lay still in our chairs and stared, with our hats tipped
over our eyes and our pipes in our mouths. We were not accustomed to
afternoon calls or any other time-of-day calls from chiffon and muslin
at the Châlet des Pins, therefore our first impression was that the
tidal wave had overflowed through my gate by mistake, and would promptly
retire in disorder at sight of us. But not at all. It swept up the path,
in pink, pale green, and white billows, frothing at the edges with lace.

There was a lot of it--a bewildering lot. It was all train, and big,
flowery hats, and wonderful transparent parasols, which you felt you
ought to see through, and couldn't. Before it was upon us, Terry and I
had sprung up in self-defence, our pipes burning holes in our pockets,
our Panamas in our hands.

Now the inundation divided itself into separate wavelets, the last
lagging behind, crested by a foaming parasol, which hid all details,
except a general white muslin filminess. But Terry and I had not much
chance to observe the third billow. Our attention was caught by the
first glittering rush of pink and emerald spray.

Out of it a voice spoke--an American voice; and then, with a lacy whirl,
a parasol rose like a stage curtain. The green wave was a lady; a
marvellous lady. The pink wave was a child with a brown face, two long
brown plaits, and pink silk legs, also pink shoes.

"We've come in answer to X. Y. Z.'s advertisement in this morning's
_Riviera Sun_. Now which of you two gentlemen put it in?" began the
lady, with gay coquetry which played over each of us in turn. Oh yes,
she was wonderful. She had hair of the brightest auburn that ever
crowned a human head. It was done in undulations, with a fat ring in the
middle of her forehead, between two beautifully arched black eyebrows.
Her skin was very white, her cheeks were very pink, and her lips were
very coralline. Everything about her was "very." Out of a plump face,
with a small nose that turned up and a chin which was over-round, looked
a pair of big, good-natured, nondescript-coloured eyes, and flashed a
pair of pleasant dimples. At first glance you said "a stout girl of
twenty-five." At the second, you were not sure that the lady wasn't ten
years older. But her waist was so slender that she panted a little in
coming up the path, though the path was by no means steep, and her heels
were so high that there was a suspicion of limp in her walk.

Even to me the lady and her announcement gave a shock, which must have
doubled its effect upon Terry. I was collecting my forces for a reply
when the little brown girl giggled, and I lost myself again. It was only
for an instant, but Terry basely took advantage of that instant in a way
of which I would not have believed him capable.

"You must address yourself to my friend, Sir Ralph Moray," said the
wretched fellow glibly. "His are the car and the title mentioned in the
advertisement of _The Riviera Sun_, which he owns."

My title indeed! A baronetical crumb flung to my father because of a
service to his political party. It had never done anything for me,
except to add ten per cent to my bills at hotels. Now, before I could
speak a word of contradiction, Terry went on. "I am only Mr. Barrymore,"
said he, and he grinned a malicious grin, which said as plainly as
words, "Aha, my boy, I think _that_ rips your little scheme to
smithereens, eh?"

But my presence of mind doesn't often fail for long. "It's Mr. Barrymore
who drives my car for me," I explained. "He's cleverer at it than I, and
he comes cheaper than a professional."

The wonderful white and pink and auburn lady had been looking at Terry
with open admiration; but now the light of interest faded from the
good-natured face under the girlish hat. "O-oh," she commented in a tone
of ingenuous disappointment, "you're only the--the chawffur, then."

I didn't want Terry to sink too low in these possible clients'
estimation, for my canny Scotch mind was working round the fact that
they were probably American heiresses, and an heiress of some sort was a
necessity for the younger brother of that meanest of bachelor peers, the
Marquis of Innisfallen. "He's an amateur chauffeur," I hastened to
explain. "He only does it for me because we're friends, you know; but,"
I added, with a stern and meaning glance at Terry, "I'm unable to
undertake any tours without his assistance. So if we--er--arrange
anything, _Mr. Barrymore_ will be of our party."

"Unfortunately I have an engagement in South Af--" began Terry, when the
parasol of the third member of the party (the one who had lagged behind,
stopping to examine, or seeming to examine a rose-bush) was laid back
upon her white muslin shoulders.

Somehow Terry forgot to finish his sentence, and I forgot to wonder what
the end was to be.

She was only a tall, white girl, simply dressed; yet suddenly the little
garden of the Châlet des Pins, with its high wall draped with crimson
bougainvilla, became a setting for a picture.

The new vision was built on too grand a scale for me, because I stand
only five foot eight in my boots, while she was five foot seven if she
was an inch, but she might have been made expressly for Terry, and he
for her. There was something of the sweet, youthful dignity of Giovanni
Bellini's Madonnas of the Trees about the girl's bearing and the pose of
the white throat; but the face was almost childlike in the candour and
virginal innocence of its large brown eyes. The pure forehead had a halo
of yellow-brown hair, burnished gold where the sun touched it; the lips
were red, with an adorable droop in the corners, and the skin had that
flower-fairness of youth which makes older women's faces look either
sallow or artificial. If we--Terry and I--had not already divined that
the auburn lady got her complexion out of bottles and boxes, we would
have known it with the lifting of that white girl's parasol.

Can a saintly virgin on a golden panel look sulky? I'm not sure, but
this virgin gave the effect of having been reluctantly torn from such a
background, and she looked distinctly sulky, even angelically cross. She
had not wanted to come into my garden, that was plain; and she lagged
behind the others to gaze at a rose-bush, by way of a protest against
the whole expedition. What she saw to disapprove of in me I was at a
loss to guess, but that she did disapprove was evident. The dazzling
brown eyes, with the afternoon sun glinting between their thick dark
fringes, hated me for something;--was it my existence, or my
advertisement? Then they wandered to Terry, and pitied, rather than
spurned. "You poor, handsome, big fellow," they seemed so say, "so you
are that miserable little man's chauffeur! You must be very unfortunate,
or you would have found a better career. I'm so sorry for you."

"Do sit down, please," I said, lest after all it should occur to Terry
to finish that broken sentence of his. "These chairs will be more
comfortable if I straighten their backs up a little. And this seat round
the tree isn't bad. I--I'll tell my servant to send out tea--we were
going to have it soon--and we can talk things over. It will be
pleasanter."

"What a _lovely_ idea!" exclaimed the auburn lady. "Why, of course we
will. Beechy, you take one of those steamer-chairs. I like a high seat
myself. Come, Maida; the gentlemen have asked us to stay to tea, and
we're going to."

Beechy--the little brown girl--subsided with a babyish meekness that
contradicted a wicked laughing imp in her eyes, into one of the _chaises
longues_ which I had brought up from its knees to a sort of "stand and
deliver" attitude. But the tall white girl (the name of "Maida" suited
her singularly well) did not stir an inch. "I think I'll go on if you
don't mind, Aunt Ka--I mean, Kittie," she said in a soft voice that was
as American in its way as the auburn lady's, but a hundred and fifty
times sweeter. I rather fancied that it must have been grown somewhere
in the South, where the sun was warm, and the flowers as luxuriant as
our Riviera blossoms.

"You will do nothing of the kind," retorted her relative peremptorily.
"You'll just stay here with Beechy and me, till we've done our
business."

"But I haven't anything to do with--"

"You're going with us on the trip, anyhow, if we go. Now, come along and
don't make a fuss."

For a moment "Maida" hesitated, then she did come along, and as
obediently as the brown child, though not so willingly, sat down in the
_chaise longue_, carefully arranged for her reception by Terry.

"Evidently a poor relation, or she wouldn't submit to being ordered
about like that," I thought. "Of course, any one might see that she's
too pretty to be an heiress. They don't make them like that. Such
beauties never have a penny to bless themselves with. Just Terry's luck
if he falls in love with her, after all I've done for him, too! But if
this tour does come off, I must try to block _that_ game."

"I expect I'd better introduce myself and my little thirteen-year-old
daughter, and my niece," said the auburn lady, putting down her parasol,
and opening a microscopic fan. "I'm Mrs. Kathryn Stanley Kidder, of
Denver, Colorado. My little girl, here--she's all I've got in the world
since Mr. Kidder died--is Beatrice, but we call her Beechy for short. We
used to spell it B-i-c-e, which Mr. Kidder said was Italian; but people
_would_ pronounce it to rhyme with mice, so now we make it just like the
tree, and then there can't be any mistake. Miss Madeleine Destrey is the
daughter of my dead sister, who was _ever_ so much older than I am of
course; and the way she happened to come over with Beechy and me is
quite a romance; but I guess you'll think I've told you enough about
ourselves."

"It's like the people in old comic pictures who have kind of balloon
things coming out of their mouths, with a verse thoroughly explaining
who they are, isn't it?" remarked Miss Beechy in a little soft, childish
voice, and at least a dozen imps looking out of her eyes all at once.
"Mamma's balloon never collapses."

To break the awkward silence following upon this frank comparison, I
bustled away with hospitable murmurs concerning tea. But, my back once
turned upon the visitors, the pink, white, and green glamour of their
presence floated away from before my eyes like a radiant mist, and I saw
plain fact instead.

By plain fact I mean to denote Félicité, my French cook-housekeeper, my
all of domesticity in the Châlet des Pins.

Félicité might be considered plain by strangers, and thank heaven she is
a fact, or life at my little villa on the Riviera would be a hundred
times less pleasant than it is; but she is nevertheless as near to being
an angel as a fat, elderly, golden-hearted, sweet-natured,
profane-speaking, hot-tempered peasant woman of Provence can possibly
be. Whatever the greatest geniuses of the kitchen can do, Félicité can
and will do, and she has a loyal affection for her undeserving master,
which leads her to attempt miracles and almost invariably to accomplish
them.

There are, however, things which even Félicité cannot do; and it had
suddenly struck me coldly in the sunshine that to produce proper cakes
and rich cream at ten minutes' notice in a creamless and cakeless
bachelor villa, miles from anywhere in particular, might be beyond even
her genius.

I found her in the back garden, forcibly separating the family pet, a
somewhat moth-eaten duck, from the yellow cat whose mouse he had just
annexed by violence.

With language which told me that a considerable quantity of pepper had
got into her disposition (as it does with most cooks, according to my
theory) she was admonishing the delinquent, whom she mercilessly
threatened to behead and cook for dinner that evening. "You have been
spared too long; the best place for you is on the table," I heard her
lecturing the evil cannibal, "though the saints know that you are as
tough as you are wicked, and all the sauce in the Alpes Maritimes would
not make of you a pleasant morsel, especially since you have taken to
eating the cat's mice."

"Félicité," I broke in upon her flood of eloquence, in my most winning
tones. "Something has happened. Three ladies have come unexpectedly to
tea."

The round body straightened itself and stood erect. "Monsieur well knows
that there is no tea; neither he nor the other milord ever take anything
but coffee and whisk--"

"Never mind," said I hastily. "There must be tea, because I asked the
ladies to have some, and they have said yes. There must also be lettuce
sandwiches, and cakes, and cream--plenty, lots, heaps, for five people."

"As well ask that serpent of wickedness, your duck, to lay you five eggs
in as many minutes."

"He isn't my duck; he's yours. You won him in a raffle and adopted him.
I suspect it's a physical impossibility for him to lay eggs; but look
here, Félicité, dear, kind, good Félicité, don't go back on me. Man and
boy I've known you these eighteen months, and you've never failed me
yet. Don't fail me now. I depend on you, you know, and you _must_ do
something--anything--for the honour of the house."

"Does Monsieur think I can command tea, cakes, and cream from the tiles
of the kitchen floor?"

"No; but I firmly believe you can evolve them out of your inner
consciousness. You wouldn't have me lose faith in you?"

"No," said Félicité, whose eyes suddenly brightened with the rapt look
of one inspired. "No; I would not have Monsieur lose faith. I will do
what I can, as Monsieur says, for the honour of the house. Let him go
now to his friends, and make his mind easy. In a quarter of an hour, or
twenty minutes at most, he shall have a feef o'clocky for which he need
not blush."

"Angel!" I ejaculated fervently, patting the substantial shoulder, so
much to be depended upon. Then with a buoyant step I hastened round the
house to rejoin the party in the front garden, where, I anxiously
realized, the tables might have been completely turned during my
absence.

Ready to hurl myself into the breach, if there were one, I came round
the corner of the villa, to meet the unexpected. I had left Terry with
three ladies; I found him with seven.

Evidently he had gone into the drawing-room and fetched chairs, for they
were all sitting down, but they were not being sociable. Mrs. Kidder's
round chin was in the air, and she wore an "I'm as good as you are, if
not better" expression. The imps in Beechy's eyes were critically
cataloguing each detail of the strangers' costumes, and Miss Destrey was
interested in the yellow cat, who had come to tell her the tragic tale
of the stolen mouse.

The new arrivals were English. I can't explain exactly how I knew that,
the moment I clapped eyes on them, but I did; and I felt sure their
nearest male relative must have made money in beer, pickles, or it might
have been corsets or soap. They were that kind; and they had a great
many teeth, especially the daughters, who all three looked exactly
thirty, no more and no less, and were apparently pleasantly conscious of
superlative virtue.

I could see the house they lived in, in England. It would be in
Surbiton, of course, with "extensive grounds." There would be a
Debrett's "Peerage," and a Burke's "Landed Gentry," and a volume of
"Etiquette of Smart Society" on the library shelves, if there was
nothing else; and in the basket on the hall table the visiting cards of
any titled beings of the family's acquaintance would invariably rise to
the top like cream.

"I understand from your friend that it is your advertisement which
appears in _The Riviera Sun_ to-day," began the Mother, whose aspect
demanded a capital M. "You are Sir Ralph Moray, I believe?"

I acknowledged my identity, and the lady continued: "I am Mrs.
Fox-Porston. You will have heard of my husband, no doubt, and I daresay
we know a great many of the same People at Home." (This with a
dust-brush glance which swept the Americans out of the field.) "I think
it is a very excellent idea of yours, Sir Ralph, to travel about the
Continent on your motor-car with a few congenial companions, and I have
brought my daughters with me to-day in the hope that we may arrange a
delightful little tour which--"

"Ting-a-ling" at the gate bell robbed us of Mrs. Fox-Porston's remaining
hope, and gave us two more visitors.

Little had I known what the consequences of one small, pink
advertisement would be! Apparently it bade fair to let loose upon us,
not the dogs of war, but the whole floating feminine population of the
French Riviera. Something must be done, and done promptly, to stem the
rising tide of ladies, or the Châlet des Pins and Terry and I with it,
would be swamped.

I looked at Terry, he looked at me, as we rose like mechanical figures
to indicate our hosthood to the new arrivals.

They were Americans; I could tell by their chins. They had no
complexions and no particular age; they wore blue tissue veils, and
little jingling bags on their belts, which showed that they were not
married, because if they had been, their husbands would have ordered the
little jingling bags into limbo, wherever that may be.

"Good-afternoon," said the leading Blue Veil. "I am Miss Carrie Hood
Woodall, the lady lawyer from Hoboken, who had such a nice little
paragraph in _The Riviera Sun_, close to your advertisement; and this is
my chaperone, Mrs. Elizabeth Boat Cully. We're touring Europe, and we
want to take a trip with you in your automobile, if--"

"Unfortunately, ladies," said I, "the services of--er--my car are
already engaged to Mrs. Kidder, of Colorado, and her party. Isn't it so,
Barrymore?"

"Yes," replied Terry stoutly. And that "yes" even if inadvertent, was
equivalent I considered, to sign and seal.

Mrs. Kidder beamed like an understudy for _The Riviera Sun_. Beechy
twinkled demurely, and tossed her plaits over her shoulder. Even Miss
Destrey, the white goddess, deigned to smile, straight at Terry and no
other.

At this moment Félicité appeared with a tray. Whipped cream frothed over
the brow of a brown jug like a white wig on the forehead of a judge;
lettuce showed pale green through filmy sandwiches; small round cakes
were piled, crisp and appetizing, on a cracked Sèvres dish; early
strawberries glowed red among their own leaves. Talk of the marengo
trick! It was nothing to this. The miracle had been duly performed;
but--there were only five cups.

Mrs. Fox-Porston and her daughters, Miss Carrie Hood Woodall and her
chaperone, took the hint and their leave; and the companions of the
future were left alone together to talk over their plans.

"Lock the gate, Félicité," said I. "Do make haste!" And she did. Dear
Félicité!



II

A CHAPTER OF PLANS


So it is that Fate calmly arranges our lives in spite of us. Although no
details of the coming trip were settled during what remained of our new
employers' visit, that was their fault and the fault of a singularly
premature sunset, rather than mine, or even Terry's; and we both felt
that it came to the same thing. We were in honour bound to "personally
conduct" Mrs. Kidder, Miss Beechy Kidder, and Miss Destrey towards
whatever point of the compass a guiding finger of theirs should signify.

It has always been my motto to take Father Time by the fore-lock, for
fear he should cut it off, or get away, or play some other trick upon
me, which the cantankerous old chap (no parent of mine!) is fond
of doing. Therefore, if I could, I would have had terms, destination,
day and hour of starting definitely arranged before that
miraculously-produced tea of Félicité's had turned to tannin. But man
may not walk through a solid wall, or strive against such conversational
gifts as those of Mrs. Kidder.

She could and would keep to anything except the point. That, whatever
its nature, she avoided as she would an indelicacy.

"Well, now, Mrs. Kidder," I began, "if you really want us to organize
this tour, don't you think we'd better discuss--"

"Of _course_ we want you to!" she broke in. "We all think it's just
awfully good of you to bother with us when you must have so many friends
who want you to take them--English people in your own set. By the way,
do you know the Duchess of Carborough?"

"I know very few duchesses or other Americans," I replied. Whereupon
Miss Kidder's imp laughed, though her mother remained grave, and even
looked mildly disappointed.

"That's a funny way of putting it," said Beechy. "One would think it was
quite an American habit, being a Duchess."

"So it is, isn't it?" I asked. "The only reason we needn't fear its
growing like the Yellow Peril is because there aren't enough dukes. I've
always thought the American nation the most favoured in the world.
Aren't all your girls brought up to expect to be duchesses, and your men
presidents?"

"_I_ wasn't," snapped Beechy. "If there was a duke anywhere around,
Mamma would take him, if she had to snatch him out of my mouth. What are
English girls brought up to expect?"

"Hope for, not expect," I corrected her. "Any leavings there are in the
way of marquesses or earls; or if none, a mere bishop or a C. B."

"What's a C. B.?" asked Mrs. Kidder anxiously.

"A Companion of the Bath."

"My goodness! Whose bath?"

"The Bath of Royalty. We say it with a capital B."

"My! How awkward for your King. And what was done about it when you had
only a Queen on the throne?"

"You must inquire of the chamberlains," I replied. "But about that trip
of ours. The--er--my car is in a garage not far away, and it can be
ready when--"

"Oh, I hope it's a _red_ car, with your coat of arms on it. I do so
admire red for an automobile. We could all fix ourselves up in red
cloaks and hats to match, and make ourselves look awfully swell--"

"Everybody'd call us 'The Crimson Ramblers,' or 'The Scarlet Runners,'
or something else horrid," tittered that precocious child Beechy.

"It isn't red, it's grey," Terry managed hastily to interpolate; which
settled one burning question, the first which had been settled or seemed
likely to be settled at our present rate of progress.

"If you are keen on starting--" I essayed again, hope triumphing over
experience.

"Yes, I'm just looking forward to that start," Mrs. Kidder caught me up.
"We _shall_ make a sensation. We're neighbours of yours, you know. We're
at the Cap Martin Hotel. Isn't it perfectly lovely there, with that big
garden, the woods and all? When we were coming to the Riviera, I told
the man at Cook's that we wanted to go to the grandest hotel there was,
where we could feel we were getting our money's worth; and he said all
the kings and princes, and queens and princesses went to the Cap Martin,
so--"

"We thought it might be good enough for us," capped Beechy.

"It's as full of royalties, as--as--"

"As a pack of cards," I suggested.

"And some of them have splendid automobiles. I've been envying them; and
only this morning I was saying to my little girl, what a lot of nice
things there are that women and children can't do, travelling
alone--automobiling for one. Then, when I came on that advertisement of
yours, I just _screamed_. It did seem as if the Hand of Providence must
have been pointing it out. And it was so funny your home being on the
Cap, too, within ten minutes' walk of our hotel. I'm sure it was
_meant_, aren't you?"

"Absolutely certain," I responded, with a glance at Terry, who was not
showing himself off to any advantage in this scene although he ought to
have been the leading actor. He did nothing but raise his eyebrows when
he thought that no one was looking, or tug at his moustache most
imprudently when somebody was. Or else he handed the cakes to Miss
Destrey, and forgot to offer them to her far more important relatives.
"I'm so sure of it," I went on, "that I think we had better arrange--"

"Yes, indeed. Of course your ch--Mr. Barrymore (or did I hear you say
Terrymore?) is a very experienced driver? We've never been in an
automobile yet, any of us, and I'm afraid, though it will be perfectly
lovely as soon as we're used to it, that we may be a little scary at
first. So it would be nice to know for sure that the driver understood
how to act in any emergency. I should _hate_ to be killed in an
automobile. It would be such--such an _untidy_ death to die, judging
from what you read in the papers sometimes."

"I should prefer it, myself," I said, "but that's a matter of taste, and
you may trust Terry--Mr. Barrymore. What he doesn't know about a
motor-car and its inner and outer workings isn't worth knowing. So when
we go--"

"Aunt K--I mean Kittie, don't you think we ought to go home to the
hotel?" asked Miss Destrey, who had scarcely spoken until now, except to
answer a question or two of Terry's, whom she apparently chose to
consider in the Martyr's Boat, with herself. "We've been here for
_hours_, and it's getting dark."

"Why, so it is!" exclaimed Mrs. Kidder, rising hurriedly. "I'm quite
ashamed of myself for staying so long. What will you think of us? But we
had such a lot of things to arrange, hadn't we?"

We had had; and we had them still. But that was a detail.

"We _must_ go," she went on. "Well, we've decided nearly everything"
(this was news to me). "But there are one or two things yet we'll have
to talk over, I suppose."

"Quite so," said I.

"Could you and Mr. Terrymore come and dine with us to-night? Then we can
fix _everything_ up."

"Speaking for myself, I'm afraid I can't, thanks very much," Terry said,
hastily.

"What about you, Sir Ralph? I may call you Sir Ralph, may I not?"

"Please. It's my name."

"Yes, I know it. But it sounds so familiar, from a stranger. I was
wondering if one ought to say 'Sir Ralph Moray,' till one had been
acquainted a little longer. Well, anyway, if you could dine with us,
without your friend--"

I also thanked her and said that matters would arrange themselves more
easily if Barrymore and I were together.

"Then can you both lunch with us to-morrow at one o'clock?"

Quickly, before Terry could find time to object if he meditated doing
so, I accepted with enthusiasm.

Farewells were exchanged, and we had walked to the gate with the
ladies--I heading the procession with Mrs. Kidder, Terry bringing up the
rear with the two girls--when my companion stopped suddenly. "Oh,
there's just one thing I ought to mention before you come to see us at
the hotel," she said, with a little catch of the breath. Evidently she
was embarrassed. "I introduced myself to you as Mrs. Kidder, because I'm
used to that name, and it comes more natural. I keep forgetting always,
but--but perhaps you'd better ask at the hotel for the Countess Dalmar.
I guess you're rather surprised, though you're too polite to say so, my
being an American and having that title."

"Not at all," I assured her. "So many charming Americans marry titled
foreigners, that one is almost more surprised--"

"But I haven't married a foreigner. Didn't I tell you that I'm a widow?
No, the only husband I ever had was Simon P. Kidder. But--but I've
bought an estate, and the title goes with it, so it would seem like a
kind of waste of money not to use it, you see."

"It's the estate that goes with the title, for you, Mamma," said Beechy
(she invariably pronounces her parent "Momma"). "You know you just love
being a Countess. You're happier than I ever was with a new doll that
opened and shut its eyes."

"Don't be silly, Beechy. Little girls should be seen and not heard. As I
was saying, I thought it better to use the title. That was the advice of
Prince Dalmar-Kalm, of whom I've bought this estate in some part of
Austria, or I think, Dalmatia--I'm not quite sure about the exact
situation yet, as it's all so recent. But to get used to bearing the
title, it seemed best to begin right away, so I registered as the
Countess Dalmar when we came to the Cap Martin Hotel a week ago."

"Quite sensible, Countess," I said without looking at
Beechy-of-the-Attendant-Imps. "I know Prince Dalmar-Kalm well by
reputation, though I've never happened to meet him. He's a very familiar
figure on the Riviera." (I might have added, "especially in the Casino
at Monte Carlo," but I refrained, as I had not yet learned the
Countess's opinion of gambling as an occupation.) "Did you meet him here
for the first time?"

"No; I met him in Paris, where we stopped for a while after we crossed,
before we came here. I was so surprised when I saw him at our hotel the
very day after we arrived! It seemed such a coincidence, that our only
acquaintance over on this side should arrive at the same place when we
did."

"When is a coincidence not a coincidence?" pertly inquired Miss Beechy.
"Can you guess that conundrum, Cousin Maida?"

"You naughty girl!" exclaimed her mother.

"Well, you like me to be childish, don't you? And it's childish to be
naughty."

"Come, we'll go home at once," said the Countess, uneasily; and followed
by the tall girl and the little one, she tottered away, sweeping yards
of chiffon.

"I do hope she won't wear things like that when she's in--ahem!--_our_
motor-car," I remarked _sotto voce_, as Terry and I stood at the gate,
watching, if not speeding, our parting guests.

"I doubt very much if she'll ever be there," prophesied Terry, looking
handsome and thoroughly Celtic, wrapped in his panoply of gloom.

"Come away in, while I see if I can find you 'The harp that once through
Tara's halls,' to play your own funeral dirge on," said I. "You look as
if it would be the only thing to do you any good."

"It would certainly relieve my feelings," replied Terry, "but I could do
that just as well by punching your head, which would be simpler. Of all
the infernal--"

"Now don't be brutal!" I implored. "You were quite pleasant before the
ladies. Don't be a whited sepulchre the minute their backs are turned.
Think what I've gone through since I was alone with you last, you great
hulking animal."

"Animal yourself!" Terry had the ingratitude to retort. "What have _I_
gone through, I should like to ask?"

"I don't know what you've gone through, but I know how you behaved," I
returned, as we walked back to the magnolia tree. "Like a sulky barber's
block--I mean a barber's sulky block. No, I--but it doesn't signify.
Hullo, there's the universal provider, carrying off the tray. Félicité,
_mon ange_, say how you summoned that tea and those cakes and cream from
the vasty deep?"

"What Monsieur is pleased to mean, I know not," my fourteen-stone angel
replied. "I visited with haste a friend of mine at the hotel, and I came
back with the things--that is all. It was an inspiration," and she
sailed away, her head in the air.

Terry and I went into the house, for the sun had left the high-walled
garden, and besides, the talk we were going to have was more suitable to
that practical region, my smoking-room-study-den, than to the romantic
shade of a magnolia tree.

We unpocketed our pipes, and smoked for several minutes before we spoke.
I vowed that Terry should begin; but as he went on puffing until I had
counted sixty-nine slowly, I thought it simpler to unvow the vow before
it had had time to harden.

"A penny for your thoughts, Paddy," was the sum I offered with engaging
lightness. "Which is generous of me, as I know them already. You are
thinking of Her."

Teddy forgot to misunderstand, which was a bad sign.

"If it weren't for Her, I'd have got out of the scrape at any price,"
said he, bold as brass. "But I'm sorry for that beautiful creature. She
must lead a beastly life, between a silly, overdressed woman and a pert
minx. Poor child, she's evidently as hard up as I am, or she wouldn't
stand it. She's miserable with them, I could see."

"So you consented to fall into my web, rather than leave her to their
mercy."

"Not exactly that, but--well, I can't explain it. The die's
cast, anyhow. I'm pledged to join the menagerie. But look here, Ralph,
do you understand what you've let me in for?"

"For the society of three charming Americans, two of whom are no doubt
worth their weight in gold."

"It's precisely their weight that's on my mind at this moment. You may
know one or two little things, my dear boy, but among them motoring is
not, otherwise when you were putting that mad advertisement into your
pink rag, you would have stopped to reflect that a twelve-horse power
car is not expected to carry five grown persons up airy mountains and
down rushy glens. Europe isn't perfectly flat, remember."

"Only four of us are grown up. Beechy's an Infant Phenomenon."

"Infant be hanged. She's sixteen if she's a day."

"Her mother ought to know."

"She doesn't want any one else to know. Anyway, I'm big enough to make
up the difference. And besides, my car's not a new one. I paid a
thumping price for her, but that was two years ago. There have been
improvements in the make since."

"Do you mean to tell me that car of yours can't carry five people half
across the world if necessary?"

"She can, but not at an exciting speed; and Americans want excitement.
Not only that, but you saw for yourself that they expect a handsome car
of the latest make, shining with brass and varnish. Amateurs always do.
What will they say when my world-worn old veteran bursts, or rather
bumbles, into view?"

I felt slightly crestfallen, for the first time. When one is an editor,
one doesn't like to think one has been caught napping. "You said you
ought to get two hundred pounds for your Panhard, if you sold it," I
reminded him. "That's a good deal of money. Naturally I thought the
motor must be a fairly decent one, to command that price after several
seasons' wear and tear."

Terry fired up instantly, as I had hoped he would; for his car is the
immediate jewel of his soul. "Decent!" he echoed. "I should rather
think she is. But just as there's a limit to your intelligence, so is
there a limit to her power, and I don't want it to come to that.
However, the thing's gone too far for me to draw back. It must depend
upon the ladies. If they don't back out when they see my car, I won't."

"To all intents and purposes it's my car now," said I. "You made her
over to me before witnesses, and I think I shall have her smartened up
with a bit of red paint and a crest."

"If you try on anything like that, you can drive her yourself, for I
won't. I like her old grey dress. I wouldn't feel at home with her in
any other. And she sha'n't be trimmed with crests to make an American
holiday. She goes as she is, or not at all, my boy."

"You are the hardest chap to do anything for I ever saw," I groaned,
with the justifiable annoyance of a martyr who has failed to convert a
pagan hero. "As if you hadn't made things difficult enough already by
'Mistering' yourself. At any moment you may be found out--though, on
second thoughts, it won't matter a rap if you are. If you're a mere
Mister, you are often obliged to appear before an unsympathetic police
magistrate for pretending to be a Lord. But I never heard of a Lord's
falling foul of the law for pretending to be a Mister."

"If you behave yourself, there isn't much danger of my being found out
by any of the people most concerned, during a few weeks' motoring on the
Continent; but it's to be hoped they won't select England, Scotland, or
Ireland for their tour."

"We can tell them that conditions are less favourable for motoring at
home--which is quite true, judging from the complaints I hear from
motor-men."

"But look here; you let me in for this. What I did was on the spur of
the moment, and in self-defence. I didn't dream then that I should be,
first cornered by you, then led on by circumstances into engaging as
chauffeur, to drive my own car on such a wild-goose chase."

"It's a wild goose that will lay golden eggs. Fifteen guineas a day, my
son; that's the size of the egg which that beneficent bird will drop
into your palm every twenty-four hours. Deduct the ladies' hotel
expenses--say three guineas a day; expenses for yourself and car we'll
call two guineas more (of course I pay my own way), that leaves you as
profit ten guineas daily; seventy guineas a week, or at the rate of
three thousand five hundred guineas per annum. Before you'd spent your
little patrimony, and been refused an--er--fratrimony, you weren't half
as well off as that. You might do worse than pass your whole life as a
Personal Conductor on those terms. And instead of thanking the wise
friend who has caught this goose for you, and is willing to leave his
own peaceful duck for your sake, with no remuneration, you abuse him."

"My dear fellow, I'm not exactly abusing you, for I know you meant well.
But you've swept me off my feet, and I'm not at home yet in mid air."

"You can lie on your back and roll in gold in the intervals of driving
the car. I promise not to give you away. Still, it's a pity you wouldn't
consent to trading a little on your title, which Heaven must have given
you for some good purpose. As it is, you've made my tuppenny-ha'penny
baronetcy the only bait, and that's no catch at all for an American
millionairess, fishing for something big in Aristocracy Pond. Why, when
that Prince of hers discovers what is doing, he will persuade the fair
Countess Dalmar that she's paying a high price for a Nobody--a
Nobody-at-All."

"What makes you think he doesn't know already, as he evidently followed
the party here, and must be constantly dangling about?"

"My detective instinct, which two seasons of pink journalism has
developed. Mrs. Kidder saw the advertisement this morning, and was
caught by it. May Sherlock Holmes cut me in the street if Prince
Dalmar-Kalm hasn't been away for the day, doubtless at Monte Carlo where
he has lost most of his own money, and will send the Countess's to find
it, if she gives him the chance."

"I never saw the fellow, or heard of him, so far as I can remember,"
said Terry thoughtfully. "What's he like? Middle-aged, stout?"

"He looks thirty, so he is probably forty; for if you look your age, you
are probably ten years past it--though that sounds a bit more Irish than
Scotch, eh? And he's far from being stout. From a woman's point of view,
I should say he might be very attractive. Tall; thin; melancholy;
enormous eyes; moustache waxed; scar on forehead; successful effect of
dashing soldier, but not much under the effect, I should say, except
inordinate self-esteem, and a masterly selfishness which would take what
it wanted at almost any cost to others. There's a portrait of Prince
Dalmar-Kalm for you."

"Evidently not the sort of man who ought to be allowed to hang about
young girls."

"Young girls with money. Don't worry about the vestal virgin. He won't
have time in this game to bother with poor relations, no matter how
pretty they may happen to be."

Terry still looked thoughtful. "Well, if we are going in for this queer
business, we'd better get off as soon as possible," said he.

I smiled in my sleeve. "St. George in a stew to get the Princess out of
the dragon's claws," I thought; but I refrained from speaking the
thought aloud. Whatever the motive, the wish was to be encouraged. The
sooner the wild goose laid the first golden egg the better. Fortunately
for my private interests, the season was waning and the coming week
would see the setting of my _Riviera Sun_ until next November. I could
therefore get away, leaving what remained of the work to be done by my
"sub"; and I determined that, Prince or no Prince, luncheon to-morrow
should not pass without a business arrangement being completed between
the parties.



III

A CHAPTER OF REVENGES


Mrs. Kidder, alias the Countess Dalmar, either had a fondness for lavish
hospitality or else she considered us exceptionally distinguished
guests. Our feast was not laid in a private dining-room (what is the
good of having distinguished guests if nobody is to know you've got
them?); nevertheless, it was a feast. The small round table, close to
one of the huge windows of the restaurant, was a condensed flower-show.
Our plates and glasses (there were many of the latter) peeped at us from
a bower of roses, and bosky dells of greenery. The Countess and the
Infant were dressed as for a royal garden party, and Terry and I would
have felt like moulting sparrows had not Miss Destrey's plain white
cotton kept us in countenance.

Mrs. Kidder had evidently not been comfortably certain whether we ought
not to march into the restaurant arm in arm, but the penniless goddess
(who had perhaps been brought to Europe as a subtle combination of
etiquette-mistress and ladies'-maid) cut the Gordian knot with a quick
glance, to our intense relief; and we filed in anyhow, places being
indicated to Terry and me on either hand of our hostess.

A painted satin menu, with a list of dishes as long as Terry's tailor's
bills, lay beside each plate. We were to be provided with all the
luxuries which were not in season; those which were would have been far
too common for an American millionairess, such as I began to be more and
more convinced that our hostess was. It was the kind of luncheon which
calls for rare and varied wines, just as certain poetical recitations
call for a musical accompaniment; therefore the Countess's first words
on sitting down at the table came as a shock.

"Now, Sir Ralph," said she, "you must just order any kind of wine you
and Mr. Ter--Barrymore like. Mr. Kidder never would have alcohol in the
house, except for sickness, and we three drink only water, so I don't
know anything about it; but I want that you gentlemen should suit your
own taste. Do make the waiter bring you something _real_ nice."

My sparkling visions of Steinberger Cabinet, Cos d'Estournel, or an
"Extra Sec" of '92, burst like a rainbow bubble. Here was one of life's
little tragedies.

Neither Terry nor I are addicted to looking too lovingly on wine when it
is red, or even pale golden; still, at this moment I had a sharp pang of
sympathy for Tantalus. To be sure, that hint as to "something real nice"
grudged no expense; but I must have been blest with more cool,
unadulterated "cheek" than two seasons of journalism had given me, to
order anything appropriate while our hostess drowned her generous
impulses in iced water.

With a wooden expression of countenance, I asked Terry what he would
have.

"Water, thanks," he replied airily, and if, instead of gazing at the
ceiling with elaborate interest, he had allowed his eye to meet mine at
that instant, a giggle might have burst over that luncheon-table, out of
a clear sky. Perforce, I felt obliged to follow his lead, for only a
guzzling brute could have bibbed alone, surrounded by four teetotallers;
but, deprived of even an innocent glass of Riviera beer, my soul
thirsted for a revenge which could not be quenched with iced water; and
I took it without waiting for repentance to set in.

"You see, Barrymore is a chauffeur," I carefully explained "and it's _en
regle_ for him, even though an amateur, to drink nothing stronger than
cold water. You will notice during our trip, Countess, how conscientious
he is in sticking to this pledge."

I felt that Terry's eye launched a dagger; but it was now my turn to be
interested in the ceiling.

"Oh, how _good_ of him!" exclaimed our hostess. "I do _admire_ that in
you, Mr. Tarrymore." (I couldn't help wondering incidentally whether the
Countess would have had such frequent lapses of memory regarding Terry's
name, if she knew that he was the brother of a marquis; but it may be
that I wronged her.) "We shall feel as safe as if we were in a house
when you are driving, now we know what kind of a man you are, shan't we,
girls?"

Poor Terry, irrevocably pledged to blue ribbonism for the term of his
natural chauffeurdom! I could have found it in my heart to pity him, had
not the iced water come jingling ironically round at that moment. Let it
then be upon his own head, with ice or without.

And this came of lunching with the widow of a Simon Pure Kidder! for I
had no longer the slightest doubt as to the middle name of the deceased.
With a brain almost cruelly clear and cold, I entered the lists with the
lady's conversational gifts, and after a spirited but brief tourney,
conquered with flying colours. My aim was to pin her down to something
definite ... like an impaled butterfly: hers was to flutter over a vast
garden of irrelevances; but she did not long evade the spike. I tipped
its point with the subtly poisonous suggestion that all arrangements
must be made in the hour, otherwise complications might arise. There
seemed to be so many people who had been attracted by that simple little
advertisement of mine, and really, I must be able to say that I and my
car were engaged for such and such a date--preferably a near one--or I
should have difficulty in evading requests for an intermediate trip with
others.

The butterfly wriggled no more. Indeed, it hastened to assure the
executioner that it was only too anxious to be comfortably pinned into
place.

"When could _you_ go, Sir Ralph?" the Countess asked.

"Day after to-morrow," I answered boldly. "Could you?"

She looked rather taken aback. "We--er--haven't motor things yet," she
demurred.

"You can get 'every requisite' (isn't that the word?) in the Nice or
Monte Carlo shops, if that's your only reason for delay."

Still the lady hesitated.

"Mamma's new crown isn't painted on all her baggage yet," said Beechy,
living up, with a wicked delight, to her _rôle_ of _enfante terrible_.
"It's being done, but it wasn't promised till the end of the week. Say,
Sir Ralph, don't you think she's mean not to give me even so much as
_half_ a crown?"

What I really thought was, that she deserved a slap; but Terry spared
the Countess a blush and me the brain fag of a repartee conciliatory
alike to parent and child.

"I think we ought to warn you," he said, "that the car hasn't precisely
the carrying capacity of a luggage van. Perhaps when you find that
there's no room for Paris frocks and hats, you'll repent your bargain."

"Can't we take a small trunk and a satchel apiece?" asked the Countess.
"I don't see how we could do with less."

"I'm afraid you'll have to, if you go in--er--my friend's car," Terry
went on ruthlessly. "A small box between the three of you, and a
good-sized dressing-bag each, is all that the car can possibly manage,
though, of course Moray and I will reduce our luggage to the minimum
amount."

Mrs. Kidder looked grave, and at this instant, just as I felt that
Terry's future was wavering in the balance, outweighed probably by a
bonnet-box, there was a slight stir in the restaurant, behind our backs.
Involuntarily I turned my head, and saw Prince Dalmar-Kalm hurrying
towards us, his very moustache a thundercloud. He could not have
appeared at a less convenient time for us.

I was sure that he had not been consulted in regard to the automobile
trip; that perhaps even now he was in ignorance of the plan; and that,
when he came to hear of it as he must within the next five minutes, he
would certainly try (as Beechy would have put it) to snatch the American
ladies out of our mouths. It was like Terry's luck, I said to myself,
that this evil genius should arrive at the moment when Mrs. Kidder had
been mercilessly deprived of her wardrobe by a mere chauffeur. Terry had
stupidly given her an opening if she chose to take it, by suggesting
that she might "repent her bargain," and I was sure it wouldn't be
Dalmar-Kalm's fault if she didn't take it.

A second later he had reached our table, was bending low over Mrs.
Kidder's hand, smiling with engaging wickedness at Beechy, and sending a
dark look of melancholy yearning to catch Miss Destrey's sympathies.

"Why, Prince," the Countess exclaimed in a loud tone, calculated to
reach the ears of any neighbouring royalties, and let them see that she
was as good as they were. "Why, Prince, if you're not always surprising
people! I thought you were staying another day with the Duke of Messina,
in Monte Carlo."

"Told you so!" my eyebrows--such as they are--telegraphed to Terry. "He
_has_ been away; only just back; pantomime demon act."

"I found myself homesick for Cap Martin," returned the Prince, with an
emphasis and a sweeping glance which made a present of the compliment to
the woman, the girl, and the child.

"Humph," I sneered into the iced water; "lost all he'd got with him, and
the money-lenders turned crusty; that's when the homesickness came on."

"Well, now you're here, do sit down and have lunch with us," said Mrs.
Kidder, "unless"--archly--"your homesickness has destroyed your
appetite."

"If it had, the pleasure of seeing you again would restore it;" and once
more the Austrian's gaze assured each one of the three that she alone
was the "you" referred to.

A nod and a gesture whisked a couple of attentive waiters to the table,
and in the twinkling of an eye--even an American eye--a place was laid
for the Prince, with duplicates of all our abortive wine glasses.

"Aha, my fine fellow, _you_ are no friend of cold water," I said to
myself in savage glee, as I acknowledged with a bow Mrs. Kidder's
elaborate introduction. "You will suffer even more than we have
suffered." But I reckoned without a full knowledge of the princely
character.

History repeated itself with an invitation to the new guest to choose
what he liked from the wine card. I looked for a courteous refusal,
accompanied by some such gallant speech as, that he would drink to the
ladies only with his eyes; but nothing of the kind happened. He searched
the list for a moment with the absorption of a connoisseur, then
unblushingly ordered a bottle of Romanée Conti, which wine, he
carelessly announced, he preferred to champagne, as being "less
obvious." The price, however, would be pretty obvious on Mrs. Kidder's
bill, I reflected; seventy francs a bottle, if it were a penny. But did
this coming event cast a shadow on the Prince's contentment? On the
contrary, it probably spangled its fabric with sequins. He sniffed the
wine as if it had been an American Beauty rose, and quaffed it
ecstatically, while Terry and I gulped down our iced water and our
indignation.

"You are just in time, Prince," said Mrs. Kidder, "to advise us about
our journey. Oh, I forgot, you don't know anything about it yet. But we
are going a tour in Sir Ralph Moray's automobile. Won't it be fun?"

"Indeed?" the Prince ejaculated hastily; and I had the satisfaction of
knowing that one swallow of the Romanée Conti was spoiled for him. "No;
I had not heard. I did not know that Sir Ralph Moray was one of your
friends. Has not this been suddenly arranged?"

"It was only _decided_ yesterday," replied the Countess; and it was
revealed to me that the plump lady was not without feminine guile.

"What is your car?" inquired the Prince, turning abruptly to me.

"A Panhard," I answered, with a gaze as mild as milk. I knew that my
answer would disappoint him, as he could pick no flaws in the make of
the machine.

"What horse-power?" he continued his catechism.

"Something under twenty," I conservatively replied.

"Twelve," corrected Terry, with a brutal bluntness unworthy of a Celt.
He can be very irritating sometimes; but at this moment he was looking
so extremely handsome and devil-may-care, that my desire to punch his
head dissolved as I glared at him. Could any woman in her senses throw
over even a titleless Terry and twelve horses worth of motor for a hat
box or two and an Austrian Prince?

"A twelve-horse-power car, and you propose to take with you on tour
three ladies, their maid, and all their luggage?" demanded Dalmar-Kalm
in his too excellent English. "But it is not possible."

I felt suddenly as if Terry and I were little snub-nosed boys,
trafficking with a go-cart.

"They won't need their maid, Prince," said Miss Destrey. "I know how to
do Aunt Kathryn's hair; and the dear Sisters have taught me how to mend
beautifully."

This was the first time she had opened her lips during luncheon, except
to eat with an almost nun-like abstemiousness; and now she broke silence
to rescue a scheme which yesterday had excited her active disapproval.
The girl, always interesting because of her unusual type of beauty,
gained a new value in my eyes. She excited my curiosity, although her
words were a practical revelation of her place in the trio. Why did she
break a lance in our defence? and had she been torn from a convent to
serve her rich relatives, that she should mention the "Sisters" in that
familiar and tender tone? Had her beautiful white sails veered with a
new wind, and did she _want_ to go with us, after all? Did she wish to
tell the Prince in a sentence, how poor she really was? These were a few
of the hundred and one questions which the Fair Maid of Destrey's
charming and somewhat baffling personality set going in my mind by a
word or two.

I thought that the Prince's face fell, but Mrs. Kidder's contribution to
the defence distracted my attention.

"We don't expect to take _all_ our luggage," she said. "I suppose some
things could be sent by rail from place to place to meet us, couldn't
they?"

"Of course," I assured her, before Dalmar-Kalm could enlarge upon the
uncertainties of such an arrangement. "That's what is always done. And
your maid could travel by rail too."

"She is a Parisienne," exclaimed Mrs. Kidder, "and she's always saying
she wouldn't leave France for twice the wages I pay."

"Try her with three times," suggested Beechy. But Miss Destrey was
speaking again. "As I said, it doesn't matter about Agnes. Aunt Kathryn
and Beechy shan't miss her; and she never does anything for me."

"What a pity," complained the Prince, "that my automobile is at the
moment laid up for repairs. Otherwise I should have been only too
delighted to take you three ladies to the world's end, if you had the
wish. _It_ is not 'something less than twenty,' as Sir Ralph Moray
describes his twelve-horse-power car, but is something _more_ than
twenty, with a magnificently roomy Roi de Belge tonneau and
accommodation for any amount of luggage on the roof. By the way, yours
has at least a cover, I make no doubt, Sir Ralph?"

"No," I was obliged to admit, my mouth somewhat dry--owing perhaps to
the iced water.

"No cover? How, then, do you propose to protect these ladies from the
rain?" This with virtuous indignation flashing from his fierce eyes, and
a gesture which defended three helpless feminine things from the
unscrupulous machinations of a pair of villains.

My ignorance of motor lore bereft me of a weapon with which to parry the
attack, but Terry whipped out his sword at last.

"The ladies will be protected by their motor coats and our rugs. I'm
sure they're too plucky to sacrifice the best pleasures of motoring to a
little personal comfort when it may happen to rain," said he. "A roof
gives no protection against rain except with curtains, and even when
without them it curtails the view."

"Ah, it is cruel that I cannot get my car for you from Paris," sighed
the Prince. "Perhaps, Countess, if you would wait a little time--a week
or ten days, I might--"

"But we're going day after to-morrow, aren't we, Kittie?" quickly broke
in Miss Destrey.

"I suppose so," replied Mrs. Kidder, who invariably frowned when
addressed as "Cousin Kathryn," and brightened faintly if spontaneously
Kittied. "We've been here more than a week, and seen all the Nice and
Monte Carlo sights, thanks to the Prince. There's nothing to keep us,
although it will be about all we can do to get off so soon."

"Why be hurried, Countess?" with a shrug of the shoulder half-turned
from me.

"Well, I don't know." Her eyes wandered to mine. "But it suits Sir Ralph
to leave then. I guess we can manage it."

"Where will you go?" inquired Dalmar-Kalm. "I might be able to join you
somewhere _en route_."

"Well, that's one of the things we haven't quite settled yet," replied
Mrs. Kidder. "Almost anywhere will suit me. We can just potter around.
It's the automobiling we want. You know, this is our first time in
Europe, and so long as we're in pretty places, it's much the same to
us."

"Speak for yourself, Mamma," said Beechy. "Maida and I want to see the
Lake of Como, where Claude Melnotte had his palace."

"Oh, my, yes! In 'the Lady of Lyons.' I do think that's a perfectly
sweet play. Could we go there, Sir Ralph?"

"I must consult my chauffeur," said I, cautiously. "He knows more about
geography than I do. He ought to; he spends enough money on road-maps to
keep a wife. Eh, Terry?"

"There are two ways of driving to the lakes from here," he said, with a
confidence which pleased me. "One can go coasting along the Italian
Riviera to Genoa, and so direct to Milan; or one can go through the
Roya Valley, either by Turin, or a short cut which brings one eventually
to Milan."

"Milan!" exclaimed Miss Destrey, with a rapt look. "Why, that's not very
far from Verona, is it? And if it's not far from Verona, it can't be so
far from Venice. Oh, Beechy, think of seeing Venice!"

"It would be easy to go there," Terry said, showing too much eagerness
to fall in with a whim of the poor relation's; at least such was my
opinion until, with a glint of mischief in his eyes, he added, "If we
went to Venice, Countess, it would be very easy to run on if you liked,
into Dalmatia and see the new estate which you told us you thought of
buying, before you actually made up your mind to have it."

It was all I could do to strangle a chuckle at birth. Good old Terry!
Even he was not above taking a neat revenge; and the Prince's face
showed _how_ neat it was. Could it be possible that the estate in
Dalmatia which carried with it a title, had any resemblance to Claude
Melnotte's in that "sweet" play, "The Lady of Lyons?" I could scarcely
believe that, much as I would have liked to; but it was clear he would
have preferred to have the American millionairess take the beauties of
her new possessions for granted.

"Oh, I have made up my mind already. I made it up before we arrived
here," said the Countess.

"She made it up in the train coming from Paris," corrected Beechy,
"because she had to decide what name to register, and whether she'd have
the crown put on her handkerchiefs and her baggage. But she had to cable
to our lawyer in Denver before she could get money enough to pay what
the Prince wanted in advance, and the answer only came back this
morning."

"And what does the lawyer say?" asked the Prince, flushing, and with a
strained playfulness contradicted by the eager light in his eyes.

"Just guess," said Beechy, all her imps in high glee.

"Lawyers are such dry-as-dust persons," remarked His Highness, hastily
lifting his glass to toss off the last of the Romanée Conti. "If he is a
wise man who studies his client's interests, he could not advise Madame
against taking a step by which she ascends to a height so advantageous,
but--"

"Oh, he said yes," cried Mrs. Kidder, clinging to her Countesshood.

"And he put after it, 'If you will be a fool,'" added Beechy. "But he'll
have to pay for that part of the cable himself."

"He is my late husband's cousin," explained Mrs. Kidder, "and he takes
liberties sometimes, as he thinks Simon would not have approved of
everything I do. But you needn't tell _everything_, Beechy."

"Let's talk about Venice," said Miss Destrey with a lovely smile, which
seemed all the more admirable as she had given us so few. "I have always
longed to see Venice."

"But you didn't want to come abroad, you can't say you did," remarked
Beechy the irrepressible, resenting her cousin's interference, as a
naughty boy resents being torn from the cat to whose tail he has been
tying a tin can. "And I know _why_ you didn't!" She too had a taste for
revenge!

Miss Destrey blushed--I wondered why; and so, no doubt, did Terry
wonder. (Had she by chance been sent abroad to forget an unfortunate
attachment?)

"You wanted to stay with the Sisters," Beechy took advantage of the
other's embarrassed silence to go on. "And you hardly enjoyed Paris at
all, although everybody turned to look after you in the streets."

"Well, now that I have come, I should enjoy seeing the places I've cared
most to read about in history or poetry," said Miss Destrey quickly,
"and Venice is one of them."

"Maida has lived more in books than she has in real life," remarked Miss
Beechy with scorn. "I know a lot more about the world than she does,
although I am only--only--"

"Thirteen," finished the Countess. "Beechy darling, would you like to
have some more of those _marrons glacés_? They aren't good for you, but
just this once you may, if you want to. And oh, Sir Ralph, I should love
to see my new estate. It's a very old estate really, you know, though
new to me; so old that the castle is almost a ruin; but if I saw it and
took a great fancy to the place, I might have it restored and made
perfectly elegant, to live in sometimes, mightn't I? Just where _is_
Schloss (she pronounced it 'Slosh') what-you-may-call-it? I never _can_
say it properly?"

"Schloss Hrvoya is very far down in Dalmatia--almost as far east as
Montenegro," replied the Prince. "The roads are extremely bad, too. I do
not think they would be feasible for an automobile, especially for Sir
Ralph Moray's little twelve-horse-power car carrying five persons."

"I differ from you there, Prince." Terry argued, looking obstinate. "I
have never driven in Dalmatia, although I've been to Fiume and Abbazzia;
but I have a friend who went with his car, and he had no adventures
which ladies would not have enjoyed. Our principal difficulty would be
about petrol; but we could carry a lot, and have supplies sent to us
along the route. I'll engage to manage that--and the car."

"Then it's settled that we go," exclaimed Mrs. Kidder, clapping two
dimpled hands covered with rings. "What a wonderful trip it will be."

I could see that the Prince would have liked to call Terry out, but he
was too wise to dispute the question further; and a dawning plan of some
kind was slowly lightening his clouded eye.

My wish was granted at last; something was settled. And later, strolling
on the terrace, I contrived to put all that was left upon a business
basis.

Never had man a better friend than Terence Barrymore has in me; and my
whole attention on the way home was given to making him acknowledge it.



IV

A CHAPTER OF HUMILIATIONS


After all, we did not start on the day after to-morrow. Our luncheon had
been on Tuesday. On Wednesday a note came, sent by hand from Mrs.
Kidder, to say that she could not possibly be ready until Friday, and
that as Friday was an unlucky day to begin any enterprise, we had better
put off starting until Saturday. But I must not "think her changeable,
as she really had a very good reason"; and she was mine "Cordially,
Kathryn Stanley Kidder-Dalmar."

Having first stated that she could not be ready, and then added her
reason was good, I naturally imagined there was more in the delay than
met the eye. My fancy showed me the hand of Prince Dalmar-Kalm, and I
firmly believed that each finger of that hand to say nothing of the
thumb, was busily working against us.

All Thursday and Friday I expected at any moment to receive an
intimation that, owing to unforseen circumstances (which might not be
explained) the Countess and her party were unable to carry out the
arrangement they had entered into with us. But Thursday passed, and
nothing happened. Friday wore on towards evening, and the constant
strain upon my nerves had made me irritable. Terry, who was calmly
getting ready for the start as if there were no cause for uncertainty,
chaffed me on my state of mind, and I rounded upon him viciously, for
was not all my scheming for his sake?

I was in the act of pointing out several of his most prominent defects,
and shedding cigarette ashes into his suit-case as he packed, when
Félicité appeared with a letter.

"It's from her!" I gasped. "And--she's got her coronet. It's on the
envelope, as large as life."

"Which means that she's ready," said the future chauffeur, examining a
suit of overalls.

"Don't be so cocksure," said I, opening the letter. "Hum--ha--well, yes,
it does seem to be all right, if you can ever judge a woman's intentions
by what she says. She wants to know whether the arrangement stands, that
we're to call for them at ten o'clock to-morrow morning, and whether
we're to go rain or shine. I'll scratch off a line in answer, and say
yes--yes--yes, to everything."

I did so with a trembling hand, and then gave myself up to the weakness
of reaction. Upon Félicité fell the task of doing my packing, which
consisted in cramming a suit of flannels, my evening things, and all the
linen it would hold without bursting asunder, into a large, fitted
suit-case. Terry had a suit-case too, five times better than mine
(Irishmen in debt always do have things superior to those of every one
else); we had motor-coats, and enough guide-books and road-maps to stock
a small library; and when these were collected we were ready for the
Great Adventure.

When Terry visits me at the Châlet des Pins, he keeps his car at a
garage in Mentone. His habit has been to put up his chauffeur close by
this garage, and telephone when he wants to use the car; but the
chauffeur was paid off and sent away ten days ago, at about the time
when Terry decided that the automobile must be sold. He had not been in
spirits for a drive since, until the fateful day of the advertisement,
but immediately after our luncheon with the Countess he had walked down
to the garage and stayed until dinner-time. What he had been doing there
he did not deign to state; but I had a dim idea that when you went to
call on a motor-car in its den, you spent hours on your back bolting
nuts, or accelerating silencers, or putting the crank head (and
incidentally your own) into an oil bath; and I supposed that Terry had
been doing these things. When he returned on Wednesday, Thursday, and
Friday, spending several hours on each occasion, I went on supposing the
same; but when at nine o'clock on Saturday morning he drove up to the
garden gate after another trip to Mentone, I had a surprise.

Terry had almost bitten off my head when I had innocently proposed to
have his car smartened up to suit the taste of the Countess; but,
without saying a word to me, he had been at work improving its
appearance.

"She" (as he invariably calls his beloved vehicle) was dressed in grey
as before, but it was fresh, glossy grey, still smelling of turpentine.
The tyres were new, and white, and a pair of spare ones were tied onto
the motor's bonnet, which looked quite jaunty now in its clean
lead-coloured paint.

The shabby cushions of the driver's seat and tonneau had been re-covered
also with grey, and wherever a bit of brass was visible it glittered
like pure gold.

At the sound of the Panhard's sob at the gate, Félicité and I hurried
down the path, armed with the two coats and suit-cases, there to be
surprised by the rejuvenated car, and dumbfounded by a transformed
Terry.

"Mon Dieu, comme il est beau, comme ça," cried my domestic miracle
worker, lost in admiration of a tall, slim, yet athletic figure, clad
from head to foot in black leather. "Mais--mais ce n'est pas comme il
faut pour un Milord."

"Why, Terry," exclaimed I, "I never thought--I never expected--I'm
hanged if you're not a real professional. It's awfully smart, and very
becoming--never saw you look better in your life. But it's--er--a kind
of masquerade, you know. I'm not sure you ought to do it. If Innisfallen
saw you like that, he'd cross you out of his will."

"He's dead certain to have done that already. When I engaged as your
chauffeur I engaged as your chauffeur and I intend to look the part as
well as act it. I want this car to be as smart as it can, which
unfortunately isn't saying much, and towards that end I've been doing my
best these last three or four days. She isn't bad, is she?"

"From being positively plain, if not ugly, she has become almost a
beauty," I replied. "But I thought you were determined to preserve her
from the sin of vanity? Why this change of mind?"

"Well, I couldn't stand Dalmar-Kalm running her down," Terry confessed
rather sheepishly. "There was so little time, that half the work on her
I've done myself."

"That accounts, then, for your long and mysterious absences."

"Only partly. I've been working like a navvy, at a mechanic's shop,
fagging up a lot of things I knew how to do on principle, but had seldom
or never done with my own hands. I was always a lazy beggar, I'm afraid,
and it was better fun to smoke and watch my man Collet making or fitting
in a new part than to bother with it myself. This will be my first long
trip 'on my own,' you see, and I don't want to be a duffer, especially
as I myself proposed going down into Dalmatia, where we may get into no
end of scrapes."

"By Jove!" I exclaimed, gazing with a new respect at my leather-clad
friend and his car. "You've got some good stuff in you, Terry. I didn't
quite realize what a responsibility I was throwing on you, old chap,
when I named you as my chauffeur. Except for my drives with you, I
suppose I haven't been in a motor half a dozen times in my life, now I
come to think of it and it always seemed to me that, if a man knew how
to drive his own car, he must know how to do everything else that was
necessary."

"Very few do, even expert drivers, among amateurs. A man ought to be
able not only to take his car entirely to pieces and put it together
again, but to go into a mechanic's shop and make a new one. I don't say
that I can do that, but I can come a bit nearer to it than I could five
days ago. I don't think that the poor old car will be such a shock to
the ladies now, even after some of the fine ones they must have seen, do
you?"

He was so ingenuously proud of his achievements, had toiled so
hard, and sacrificed so much of his personal vanity in providing his
employers with a suitable chauffeur, that I did not stint my
commendation of him and his car. Félicité, too, was prolific in
compliments. The duck, who had waddled out to the gate to see what was
doing, quacked flattery; the yellow cat mewed praise; and Terry, pleased
as Punch with everything and everybody, whistled as he stowed away our
suit-cases.

The moment of departure had come. With some emotion I bade farewell to
my family, which I should not see again until I returned to the Riviera
to open the autumn season with the first number of the _Sun_. Then one
last look at the little place which had become dear to me, and we were
off with a bound for the Cap Martin Hotel.

Terry, when in a frank and modest mood, had sometimes said to me that,
with all the virtues of strength, faithfulness, and getting-thereness,
his car was not to be called a fast car. Thirty miles an hour was its
speed at best, and this pace it seemed had been far surpassed by newer
cars of the same make, though of no higher power, since Terry's had been
built. This fact I took for granted, as I had heard it from Terry's own
lips more than once; but as we flew over the wooded road which divided
the Châlet des Pins from the Cap Martin Hotel, I would have sworn that
we were going at the rate of sixty miles per hour.

"Good Heavens!" I gasped. "Have you been doing anything to this car, to
make her faster than she was? Help! I can't breathe."

"Nonsense," said Terry, with soothing calm. "It's only because you
haven't motored for a long time that you imagine we're going fast. The
motor's working well, that's all. We're crawling along at a miserable
twenty miles an hour."

"Well, I'm glad that worms and other reptiles can't crawl at this pace,
anyhow, or life wouldn't be worth living for the rest of creation," I
retorted, cramming on my cap and wishing I had covered my tearful eyes
with the motor-goggles which lay in my pocket. "If our millionairesses
don't respect this pace, I'll eat my hat when I have time, or--"

But Terry was not destined to hear the end of that boast--which perhaps
was just as well for me in the end, as things were to turn out. We spun
down the avenue of pines, and in less than a lazy man's breathing space
were at the door of the Cap Martin Hotel.

Quite a crowd of smart-looking people was assembled there, and for one
fond second I dreamed that they were waiting to witness our arrival. But
that pleasant delusion died almost as soon as born. As the group divided
at our approach we saw that they had been collected round a large
motor-car--a motor-car so resplendent that beside it our poor
rejuvenated thing looked like a little, made-up, old Quaker lady.

In colour this hated rival was a rich, ripe scarlet, with cushions to
match in her luxurious tonneau. Her bonnet was like a helmet of gold for
the goddess Minerva, and wherever there was space, or chance, for
something to sparkle with jewelled effect, that something availed
itself, with brilliance, of the opportunity.

The long scarlet body of the creature was shaded with a canopy of
canvas, white as the breast of a gull, and finished daintily all round
with a curly fringe. The poles which held it were apparently of
glittering gold, and the railing designed to hold luggage on the top, if
not of the same precious metal, was as polished as the letters of Lord
Chesterfield to his long-suffering son.

One jealous glance was enough to paint this glowing picture upon our
retinas, and there it remained, like a sun-spot, even when a later one
was stamped upon it. Three figures in long, grey motor-coats, exactly
alike, and motor-caps, held on with shirred chiffon veils came forward,
two advancing more quickly than the third.

"How _do_ you do, Sir Ralph? Good morning, Mr. Barrymore," Mrs. Kidder
and Beechy were saying. "We're all ready," went on the former,
excitedly. "We've been admiring the Prince's car, which came last night.
Isn't it a perfect beauty? Just _look_ at the sweet poppy-colour, and
his crest in black and gold. I never saw anything so pretty, did you?"

"I like Sir Ralph's car," said Miss Destrey. "It's such a cool grey, and
even in wind or dust it will always look neat. We shall match it very
well with our grey coats and veils."

I could have kissed her; while as for Terry, standing cap in hand, he
looked grateful enough to have grovelled at our fair champion's feet.
Nevertheless, we could not help knowing in our hearts that no normal
girl could help preferring that celestial peacock to our grey hen, and
that Miss Destrey's wish to be kind must have outstripped her obligation
to be truthful. This knowledge was turning a screw round in our vitals,
when His Highness himself appeared to give it a still sharper twist.

He had been standing at a short distance, talking with a small chauffeur
of a peculiarly solemn cast of countenance. Now he turned and joined the
ladies with a brisk step and an air of proprietorship.

The fact that he was wearing a long motor-coat, of a smart cut, and a
peaked cap which became him excellently, struck me as ominous. Had he
caught the birds--our birds--after all, at the last moment, and had they
been too cowardly to let us know?

"Oh, good morning, Sir Ralph," said he. "So that is the famous car. Mine
is a giant beside it, is it not? No doubt you and your friend are clever
men, but you will need all your cleverness to provide comfortable
accommodation for these ladies' luggage as well as themselves. I would
not mind betting you ten to one that you will fail to do it to their
satisfaction."

"I'll take the bet if the ladies don't mind," responded Terry promptly,
those lazy Irish eyes of his very bright and dark.

"What--a bet? Why, that will be real fun," laughed the Countess, showing
her dimples. "What is it to be?"

A slightly anxious expression hardened the lines of the Prince's face
when he found himself taken in earnest. "A thousand francs against a
hundred of yours shall it be, Monsieur? I don't wish to plunge my hand
into your pockets," said he, shrewdly making a virtue of his caution.

"As you like," Terry assented. "Now for the test. Your luggage has come
down, Countess?"

"Yes; here it all is," said Mrs. Kidder, guiltily indicating three stout
hotel porters who stood in the background heavily laden. "Dear me, it
_does_ look as if it was going to be a mighty tight squeeze, doesn't
it?"

In response to a gesture, the porters advanced in line, like the Three
Graces; and counting rapidly, I made out that their load consisted of
one good-sized "Innovation" cabin box, two enormous alligator-skin
dressing bags, one small bag, and two capacious hold-alls, umbrellas,
parasols, and a tea-basket.

I began to tremble for more than Terry's five pounds. I now saw all the
Prince's guile. He had somehow managed to produce his car, and had, no
doubt, used all his eloquence to persuade Mrs. Kidder that she would be
justified in changing her mind at the last moment. That he had failed
was owing either to her sense of honour or her liking for the
English-speaking races over foreigners, even princely ones. But refusing
to abandon hope, His Highness had pinned his last fluttering rag of
faith upon the chance that our car would fail to fulfil its contract.
With this chance, and this alone still to depend upon, he had probably
kept his melancholy chauffeur up all night, sponging and polishing. If
the Panhard refused to absorb the ladies' luggage, there would be his
radiant chariot waiting to console them in the bitter hour of their
disappointment.

As Terry stood measuring each piece of luggage with his eye, silently
apportioning it a place in the car, I felt as I had felt at "Monte"
when, at roulette, as many as three of my hard-won five franc pieces
might easily go "bang," like the sixpence of another canny Scot. Will it
be _rouge_; will it be _noir_?... I could never look; and I could not
look now.

Turning to Beechy, who stood at my shoulder eagerly watching, I flung
myself into conversation. "What are you laughing at?" I asked.

"At all of you," said the Infant. "But especially the Prince."

"Why especially the Prince?" I was growing interested.

"I should think you'd know."

"How could I know?"

"Because I guess you're pretty bright. Sometimes I look at you, and you
seem to be thinking the same things I am. I don't know whether that
makes me like you or hate you, but anyway it makes me give you credit
for good wit. I'm not exactly _stupid_."

"I've noticed that. But about the Prince?"

"Can't you guess how he got his automobile just in the nick of time?"

"Yes, I can guess; but maybe it wouldn't be right."

"And maybe it would. Let's see."

"Well, the Countess heard favourably from her lawyer in Denver on
Tuesday, and paid down something in advance for the Dalmatian estate."

"_And_ the title. Right first time. The 'something' was eight thousand
dollars."

"Phew!"

"That's just the word for it. When she's seen the place, she'll pay the
rest--eight thousand more. Quite a lot for those gold crowns on the
luggage; but we all have our dolls with eyes to open or shut, and poor
Mamma hasn't had any chance to play dolls till just lately. She's busy
now having heaps of fun, and I'm having a little, too, in my simple
childish way. Well, so long as we don't interfere with each other!...
The Prince sees that Mamma can afford to buy dolls, so he would like to
play with her, and me, and--"

"And he doesn't want Barrymore and me in the playroom."

"I _thought_ you were bright! It made him just sick to think of you two
walking off with us from under his nose. _There_ was his automobile in
Paris, and there was he _here_, perfectly useless, because I'm sure he'd
lent the auto to his uncle."

"To his uncle?" I echoed.

"Don't you say that in England, or Scotland, or wherever you come from?
'Put it up the Spout'--pawned it; and he couldn't move one way or the
other till he'd got Mamma's money. The minute that was in his pocket he
began to plan. The first thing he did was to tell Mamma that he had a
surprise for her, which he'd been getting ready for several days, and it
would be spoiled if we all went off with you and that awfully
good-looking chauffeur of yours on Thursday. He said he _must_ have till
Saturday morning, and Mamma was so curious to know what the mystery was,
and so afraid of hurting a real live Prince's feelings, that she was
finally persuaded to wait."

"Oh, that is the explanation of her letter to me."

"Yes. I suspected what was going on, but she didn't; having dimples
makes people so soft and good-natured. I don't _know_ what the Prince
did after she'd given her word to stay, but I guessed."

"He wired money to his chauffeur in Paris or somewhere, had the car got
out of the clutches of that relative you referred to, and brought on
here at top speed."

"But not its own speed. When it arrived here last night, it was just as
spick and span as it is now."

"Then it must have come by train."

"That's what I think. I bet the Prince was too much afraid some accident
might happen to it on the way, and upset all his plans, to trust to
having the thing driven down here by road."

"You must be careful not to let your brain develop too fast," I pleaded,
"or when you grow up, you--"

"That's such a long time off, I don't need to worry yet," Miss Kidder
remarked demurely. "Do you think I look more than my age?"

"No, but you _talk_ more," said I.

"How can you judge? What do you know about little girls like me?"

"I don't know anything about little girls like you, because all the
rest got broken; but if you'll teach me, I'll do my best to learn."

"The Prince is doing his best too, I guess. I wonder which will learn
faster?"

"That depends partly on you. But I should have thought all his time was
taken up with your mother."

"Oh my! no. He wants _her_ to think that. But you see, he's got more
time than anything else, so he has plenty to spare for me, and Maida
too. Do you know what he called us to a friend of his in this hotel? The
friend's wife told her maid, and she passed it on to our Agnes, who
repeated it to me because we were sending her away. 'Kid, Kidder,
Kiddest.' I'm Kiddest, of course; that's easy enough; but it would save
the Prince lots of trouble and brain-fag if he only knew which was
'Rich,' which 'Richer,' and which 'Richest.'"

"Heavens!" I ejaculated. "If you have got together all this mass of
worldly wisdom at thirteen, what will you have accumulated at twenty?"

"It all depends on when Mamma allows me to be twenty," retorted the
little wretch. And what lengths this indecently frank conversation might
have reached between us I dare not think, had not an exclamation from
Terry cut it short.

"What do you say to that, Countess, and Miss Destrey? Have I won the
bet?" he was demanding, his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket,
as he stood to survey his work.

If I had not infinite belief in Terry's true Irish ingenuity, I would
have considered the day and the bet both lost before the test had been
essayed. But he had justified my faith, and there on the almost
obliterated lines of the motor-car, behold a place for everything, and
everything in its place.

On one step the "Innovation" cabin-box reared itself on end like a
dwarfish obelisk; a fat hold-all adorned each mud-guard, where it lay
like an underdone suet pudding; the two huge dressing-bags had been
pushed under the corner seats of the tonneau, which fortunately was of
generous dimensions, while the third and smallest one (no doubt Miss
Destrey's) was so placed that it could be used as a footstool, or pushed
to the front out of the way. Umbrellas and parasols stood upright in a
hanging-basket especially designed for them; books and maps had
disappeared into a box, which was also a shelf on the back of the
driver's seat, and the tea-basket had been lashed on top of this.

The Prince's voice responded to Terry's question with ribald mirth
before it could be answered by the ladies.

"Ha, ha, ha!" cried he, shouting with laughter at the appearance of the
car; and even my lips twitched, though I would have vowed it was St.
Vitus's dance if anyone had accused me of a smile. "Ha, ha, the
automobile looks like nothing so much as a market-woman going home with
the family provisions for a month. But will she ever _get_ home?" Here
he became spasmodic, and as he had made a present of his picturesque
smile to all the lookers-on as well as to those whom it most concerned,
a grin rippled over the faces of the various groups as a breeze ruffles
the surface of a pond.

If I could have done His Highness Prince Dalmar-Kalm a mischief at this
moment, without imperilling my whole future, I would have stuck at
nothing; but there is capital punishment in France, and, besides, there
were no weapons handy except the ladies' hatpins. Still, it was useless
denying it, the car looked, if not like a market-woman, at least like a
disreputable old tramp of the motor world, with its wreaths of luggage
looped on anyhow, as if it were a string of giant sausages; and I hated
the Prince not only for his impertinent pleasure in our plight, but for
the proud magnificence of his car, which gained new lustre in the
disgrace of ours.

"You have more, what do you call it in English--cheek, is it not?--than
most of your countrymen, to ask the ladies whether they can be satisfied
with _that_," he went on, between his mirthful explosions. "_Chère_
Countess, do not let your kind heart run away with you. Let me tell Sir
Ralph Moray that it is impossible for you to tour with him under such
conditions, which are surely not what you had a right to expect. If you
will go with me, _that_"--pointing a derisive finger at the
Panhard--"can follow with the luggage."

Mrs. Kidder shook her auburn head, though her dimples were obscured, and
a pinkness of complexion for which she had not paid betrayed the fact
that her _amour propre_ was writhing under this ordeal. Poor little
woman, I really pitied her, for even with my slight knowledge of her
character, I guessed that she had dreamed of the sensation the departure
_en automobile_ of a party so distinguished would create at the hotel.
She had confidingly judged the charms of the advertised car from those
of the advertisers, and this was her reward. Could we blame her if, in
the bitterness of mortification, she yielded to the allurement of that
glittering car which was our detractor's best argument? But she was
loyal on the rack.

"No," she said, "I never backed out of anything yet, and I'm not going
to now. Besides, we don't want to, do we, girls? Sir Ralph's automobile
is just as nice as it can be, and it's our fault, not his, or Mr.
Barrymore's, if we've got a little more luggage than we were told we
ought to take. I guess we'll get along all right as soon as we're used
to it, and we shall have _the_ time of our lives."

"Mamma, you're a brick, and I'm glad Papa married you," was Beechy's
pæan of praise.

"And I think the way our things are arranged looks really _graceful_,"
said Miss Destrey. "Mr. Barrymore has won that bet easily, hasn't he,
Kitty and Beechy?"

"Yes," came faintly from the Countess and cordially from the child. And
I whistled "Hail, the Conquering Hero" _sotto voce_, as Dalmar-Kalm,
with a smile like a dose of asafoetida, counted out the amount of his
lost wager.

"Well," he said, squaring his shoulders to make the best of a bad
bargain, "you are three brave ladies to trust yourselves in a machine
without room, speed, or power to cross the Alps."

"You can go to the Cathedral at Monaco and pray for us to Saint Joseph,
who, Agnes told me, looks after travellers," said Beechy. "But I do
think a more modern saint ought to be invented for motorists."

"I shall do better than that. I shall be your protecting saint. I shall
go with you as a surgeon attends a company of soldiers," returned the
Prince, with his air of _grand seigneur_. "That is, I shall keep as near
you as a twenty-horse-power car with a light load can possibly keep to a
twelve, with three times the load it's fitted to carry."

"You're not very complimentary to Mamma," glibly remarked the
Irrepressible.

"I fancy, in spite of our load," said Terry with undaunted cheerfulness,
"we shall find room to stow away a coil of rope which may prove useful
for towing the Prince's car over some of those Alps he seems to think so
formidable, in case he decides to--er--follow us. If I'm not mistaken,
Prince, your motor is a Festa, made in Vienna, isn't it?"

"Certainly; the most successful in Austria. And mine is the handsomest
car the company has yet turned out. It was a special order."

"There's an old proverb which says, 'all isn't gold that glitters.' I
don't know whether it's apropos to anything that concerns us or not, but
we shall perhaps remember it sooner or later. Now, ladies, I think
everything is shipshape, and there's nothing to keep us any longer. How
would you like to sit? Some people think the best place beside the
driver, but--"

"Oh, _I_ wouldn't sit there for worlds with no horse in front to fall
out on in case anything happened!" exclaimed Mrs. Kidder; "and I
couldn't let Beechy either. Maida is her own mistress, and can do as she
likes."

"If that girl is going to get in the habit of sitting by Terry day after
day," I hurriedly told myself, "I might far better have let him sell his
car and grow ostriches or something in South Africa. _That_ idea shall
be nipped before it is a bud."

"I fear I should take up too much room in the tonneau," I suggested with
feigned meekness. "You ladies had better have it all to yourselves, and
then you can be comfortable. Terry and I, on the driver's seat, will act
as a kind of screen for you against the wind."

"But you really don't take up nearly as much room as Maida does in her
thick motor-coat," said Mrs. Kidder. "If she's not _afraid_--"

"Of course I'm not afraid!" cut in Maida.

"Well, then, I think it would be nicer if Sir Ralph sat with us,
Beechy," went on Mrs. Kidder, "unless it would bore him."

Naturally I had to protest that, on the contrary, such an arrangement
would be what I most desired, had I dared to consult my own selfish
wishes. And I had to see the Vestal Virgin (looking incredibly
interesting with her pure face and dark eyes framed with the motor-hood)
helped to seat herself in fatal proximity to my unfortunate friend. Talk
of a powder magazine and a lighted match!--well, there you have the
situation as I felt it, though I was powerless for the moment to avert a
catastrophe.



V

A CHAPTER OF ADVENTURES


The Prince let us take the lead. He could start twenty minutes later and
still easily pass us before the frontier, he said. He had two or three
telegrams to send, and one or two little affairs to settle; but he would
not be long in catching us up, and after that the ladies might count
upon his services in any--er--any emergency.

"He might better have gone on ahead and polished up that old castle of
his a bit before Mrs. Kidder sees it," Terry murmured to me; but we had
no right to object to the Prince's companionship, if it were agreeable
to our employers, and we uttered no audible word of dissent to his plan.

Beechy and her mother had the two corner seats in the roomy tonneau, and
I settled myself on the flap which lets down when the door is closed. In
doing this, I was not unconscious of the fact that if the fastening of
the door gave way owing to vibration or any other cause, I should
indubitably go swinging out into space; also, that if this disagreeable
accident did occur, it would be my luck to have it happen when the back
of the car was hanging over a precipice. Nevertheless I kept a calm
face. These things usually befall some one else rather than one's self;
the kind of some one else you read of over your morning coffee,
murmuring, "Dear me, how horrid!" before you take another sip.

Terry started the car, and though it carried five persons and enough
luggage for ten (I speak of men, not women), we shot away along the
perfect road, like an arrow from the bow.

At our first fine panther bound, Mrs. Kidder half rose in her seat and
seized my right arm, while Beechy's little hand clutched anxiously at my
left knee.

"Oh, mercy!" the Countess exclaimed. "Tell him not to go so fast--oh,
quick! we'll be killed."

"No, we won't, Don't be frightened; it's all right," I answered
soothingly, primed by my late experience in leaving the Châlet des Pins.
"Why, we're going slowly--_crawling_ at the rate of twenty--"

"Fifteen!" laughed our chauffeur over his shoulder.

"Fifteen miles an hour," I amended my sentence wondering in what way the
shock of surprise had affected the Vestal Virgin. Somehow I couldn't
fancy her clawing weakly at any part of Terry's person. "You wouldn't
have us go slower, would you? The Prince is sure to be watching."

"Oh, I don't _know_," wailed Mrs. Kidder. "I didn't think it would be
like this. Isn't it awful?"

"I believe I--I'm going to like it by-and-by," gasped Beechy, her eyes
as round as half-crowns, and as big. "Maida, have you _fainted_?"

Miss Destrey looked back into the tonneau, her face pale, but radiant.
"I wouldn't waste time fainting," said she. "I'm buckling on my wings."

"Wish she were a coward!" I thought. "Terry hates 'em like poison, and
would never forgive her if she didn't worship motoring at the first
go-off." As for me, I have always found a certain piquant charm in a
timid woman. There is a subtle flattery in her almost unconscious appeal
to superior courage in man which is perhaps especially sweet to an
undersized chap like me; and I had never felt more kindly to the
Countess and her daughter than I did at this moment.

As Lothair with his Corisande, I "soothed and sustained their agitated
frames" so successfully, that the appealing hands stole back to their
respective laps, but not to rest in peace for long. The car breasted the
small hill at the top of the Cap, sturdily, and we sped on towards
Mentone, which, with its twin, sickle bays, was suddenly disclosed like
a scene on the stage when the curtains have been noiselessly drawn
aside. The picture of the beautiful little town, with its background of
clear-cut mountains, called forth quavering exclamations from our
reviving passengers; but a few minutes later when we were in the long,
straight street of Mentone, weaving our swift way between coming and
going electric trams, all the good work I had accomplished had to be
done over again.

"I can't stand it," moaned Mrs. Kidder, looking, in her misery, like a
frost-bitten apple. "Oh, can't the man _see_ that street car's going to
run us down? And now there's another, coming from behind. They'll crush
us between them. Mr. Terrymore, stop--stop! I'll give you a thousand
dollars to take me back to Cap Martin. Oh, he doesn't hear! Sir
Ralph--why you're _laughing_!"

"Mamma, you'd send a mummied cat into hysterics," giggled Beechy. "I
guess together we'd make the fortune of a dime museum, if they could
show us now. But the cars _didn't_ run over us, did they?"

"No, but the next ones will--and oh, this cart! Mr. Terrymore's the
queerest man, he's steering right for it. No, we've missed it _this_
time."

"We'll miss it every time, you'll see," I reassured her. "Barrymore is a
magnificent driver; and look, Miss Destrey isn't nervous at all."

"She hasn't got as much to live for as Mamma and I have," said Beechy,
trying to hide the fact that she was holding on to the side of the car.
"You might almost as well be smashed in an automobile as end your days
in a convent."

Here was a revelation, but before I had time to question the speaker
further, she and her mother were clinging to me again as if I were a
Last Straw or a Forlorn Hope.

This sort of thing lasted for four or five minutes, which doubtless
appeared long to them, but they were not in the least tedious for me. I
was quite enjoying myself as a Refuge for Shipwrecked Mariners, and I
was rather sorry than otherwise when the mariners began to find their
own bearings. They saw that, though their escapes seemed to be by the
breadth of a hair, they always were escapes, and that no one was anxious
except themselves. They probably remembered, also, that we were not
pioneers in the sport of motoring; that some thousands of other people
had done what we were doing now, if not worse, and still lived to tell
the tale--with exaggerations.

Presently the strained look left their faces; their bodies became less
rigid; and when they began to take an interest in the shops and villas I
knew that the worst was over. My arm and knee felt lonely and deserted,
as if their mission in life had been accomplished, and they were now
mere obstacles, occupying unnecessary space in the tonneau.

As for Terry, I could see by the set of his shoulders and the way he
held his head that he was pleased with life, for he is one of those
persons who shows his feelings in his back. He had fought against the
idea of this trip, but now that the idea was crystallizing into fact he
was happy in spite of himself. After all, what could he ask for that he
had not at this moment? The steering wheel of his beloved motor
(preserved for him by my cunning) under his hand; beside him a plucky
and beautiful girl; behind him a devoted friend; in front, the fairest
country in the world, and a road which would lead him to the Alps and to
Piedmont; to stately Milan and to the blue, rapturous reaches of Como; a
road that would beckon him on and on, past villages sleeping under
cypresses on sunny hillsides to Verona, the city of the "star-crossed
lovers;" to Giotto's Padua, and by peerless Venice to strange Dalmatia,
where Christian and Moslem look distrustfully into one anothers' eyes.

What all this would be to Terry I knew, even though he was playing a
part distasteful to him; for if he had missed being born an Irishman,
and had reconciled it to his sense of humour to be born at all, he would
certainly have been born an Italian. He loves Italy; he breathes the air
as the air of home, drawn gratefully into the lungs after a long
absence. He learned to speak Italian as easily as he learned to walk,
and he could pour out liquid line after line of old Italian poetry, if
he had not all a British male's self-conscious fear of making an ass of
himself. History was the only thing except cricket and rowing, in which
he distinguished himself at Oxford, and Italian history was to him what
novels are to most boys, though had it occurred to him at the time that
he was "improving his mind" by reading it, he would probably have shut
up the book in disgust.

He was not a stranger in the country to which we were going, though he
had never entered it by this gate, and most of his motoring had been
done in France; but I knew that he would revel in visiting once more the
places he loved, in his own car.

"Have you ever been in Italy?" I asked the Countess, but she was evilly
fascinated by a dog which seemed bent on committing suicide under our
car, and it was Beechy who answered.

"We've never been _anywhere_ before, any of us," she said. "Mamma and I
only had our machinery set running a few months ago, but now we _are_
wound up, goodness knows how far we'll get. As for Maida--she's no
mechanical doll like us. But do you know the play about the statue that
came to life?"

"Galatea?" I suggested.

"Yes, that's the name. Maida's like that; and I suppose she'll go back
as soon as she can, and ask to be turned into a statue again."

"What do you mean?" I ventured to inquire; for these hints of the
child's about her cousin were gradually consuming me to a grey ash with
curiosity.

"I can't tell you what _I_ mean, because I promised I wouldn't. But
that's what _Maida_ means."

"What she means?"

"Yes, to go back and be turned into a statue, forever and ever."

I ought to have been glad that the girl destined herself for a colder
fate than a union with a happy-go-lucky Irishman as poor as herself,
but somehow I was not glad. Watching the light glint on a tendril of
spun gold which had blown out from the motor-hood, I could not wish her
young heart to be turned to marble in that mysterious future to which
Beechy Kidder hinted she was self-destined.

"Perhaps I'd better make love to her myself," was the suggestion that
flashed into my mind; but innate canniness sturdily pushed it out again.
With my seven hundred a year, and _The Riviera Sun_ only just beginning
to shed a few golden beams, I could not afford to take a penniless
beauty off Terry's hands, even to save him from a disastrous marriage or
her from the fate of Galatea.

Yet what a day it was in which to live and love, and motor over perfect
roads through that radiant summer-land which the Ligurians loved, the
Romans conquered, and the modern world comes from afar to see.

Though it was early in April, with Easter but a few days behind us, the
sky, the air, the flowers, belonged to June--a rare, rich June to praise
in poetry or song. Billows of roses surged over old pink and yellow
stucco walls, or a soaring flame of scarlet geranium ran along their
tops devouring trails of ivy with a hundred fiery tongues. White villas
were draped with gorgeous panoply of purple-red bougainvillea; the
breeze in our faces was sweet with the scent of lemon blossoms and a
heavier under-tone of white-belled datura. Far away, over that polished
floor of lapis-lazuli which was the sea, summer rain-clouds boiled up
above the horizon, blue with the soft grey-blue of violets; and in the
valleys, between horned or pointed mountains, we saw spurts of golden
rain glittering in the morning sun.

What a world! How good to be in it, to be "in the picture" because one
had youth, and was not hideous to look upon. How good to be in a
motor-car. This last thought made the chorus at the end of each verse
for me. I was very glad I had put that advertisement in _The Riviera
Sun_, and that "Kid, Kidder, and Kiddest" had been before any one else
in answering it.

I could hear Terry telling Miss Destrey things, and I knew that if they
listened the others could hear him too. This was well, because an
unfailing flow of information was included in the five guineas a day,
and I should have been embarrassed had I, as the supposed owner of the
car, been called upon to supply it.

I listened with a lazy sense of proprietorship in the man, as my
chauffeur related the pretty legend of St. Agnes's ruined castle and the
handsome Pagan who had loved the Christian maiden; while he described
the exquisite walks to be found up hidden valleys among the serrated
mountains behind Mentone; and enlarged upon the charms of picnics with
donkeys and lunch-baskets under canopies of olives or pines, with a
carpet of violets and primroses.

He seemed well up in the history of the Grimaldis and that exciting
period when Mentone and legend-crusted Roquebrune had been under the
rule of tyrannical princes of that name, as well as Hercules's rock,
Monaco, still their own. He knew, or pretended to know, the precise date
when Napoleon III. filched Nice and Savoy from reluctant Italy as the
price of help against the hated Austrians. Altogether, I was so pleased
with the way in which he was beginning, that I should have been tempted
to raise his wages had he been my paid chauffeur.

We skimmed past Englishmen and English or American girls in Panama hats,
on their way to bathe or play tennis; on all hands we heard the English
tongue. Skirting the Old Town, piled high upon its narrow nose of land,
we entered the East Bay, and so climbed up to the French side of the
Pont St. Louis.

"Now for some red tape," explained Terry. "When I came to the Riviera
this season I had no idea of going further, and I'm sorry to say I left
my papers in London, where apparently they've disappeared. But as the
Countess doesn't care to come back into France, I hope it won't matter
much."

As he spoke, a _douanier_ lounged out of his little whitewashed lair,
and asked for that which Terry had just said he had not.

"I have no papers," Terry informed him, with a smile so agreeable that
one hoped it might take away the sting.

"But you intend to return to France?" persisted the official, who
evidently gave even a foreigner credit for wishing to rush back to the
best country on earth with as little delay as possible.

"No," said Terry apologetically. "We are on our way to Italy and
Austria, and may go eventually to England by the Hook of Holland."

The _douanier_ gave us up as hopeless, with a resigned shrug of his
shoulders. He vanished into his lair, consulted a superior officer, and
after a long delay returned with the news that we must pay ten centimes,
probably as a penance for our mulish stupidity in leaving France.

I dropped a penny into his palm.

"Will you have a receipt for this sum?" he asked.

"No, thanks," I smiled. "I have infinite trust in your integrity."

"Perhaps we'd better get the receipt all the same," said Terry. "I've
never been paperless before, and there may be some fuss or other."

"It took them twenty minutes to decide about their silly ten centimes,"
said the Countess "and it will take them twenty more at least to make
out a receipt for it. Do let's go on, if he'll let us. I'm dying to see
what's on the other side of this bridge. We haven't been over into Italy
before; there was so much to do in Nice and Monte Carlo."

"All right, we'll risk it, then, as you wish it," Terry agreed; and our
prophetic souls did not even turn over in their sleep.

On we went, up the steep hill which, with our load, we were obliged to
climb so slowly that Terry and I were ashamed for the car, and tried
diplomatically to make it appear that, had we liked, we could have flown
up with undiminished speed.

[Illustration: _As he spoke a douanier lounged out of his little
whitewashed lair_]

Terry pointed out objects of interest here and there. I questioned him
rapidly and he, playing into my hand, answered as quickly, so that,
if our wheels lagged, our tongues gave the effect of keeping up a
rattling pace.

"Don't you think there's something particularly interesting and romantic
about frontiers?" asked Terry of the company in general. "Only a
fictitious and arbitrary dividing line, one would say, and yet what a
difference on either side, one from the other! Different languages,
different customs, prejudices so different that people living within ten
yards of each other are ready to go to war over them. Here, for
instance, though the first thing one thinks of in crossing the bridge is
the splendid view, the second thought that comes must be, how bare the
Italian country looks compared to the luxuriant cultivation we're
leaving behind. We're turning our backs now on cosy comfort, well-kept
roads, tidy houses, tidy people; and we're on our way to meet beggars,
shabbiness, and rags, poverty everywhere staring us in the face. Yet
much as I admire France, it's to Italy I give my love."

"Talking of frontiers," I flung back the ball to him, "I've often asked
myself why it is that a whole people should with one accord worship
coffin-beds, six inches too short for a normal human being, hard wedges
instead of bolsters, and down coverings three feet thick; while another
whole people just round a geographical corner fiercely demand brass
beds, springy mattresses, and blankets light as--as love. But nobody has
ever satisfactorily answered that question, which may be far more
important in solving the profound mystery of racial differences than it
would seem."

"Why are _you_ prudent and economical, and I reckless and extravagant?"
inquired Terry.

"Because I come from the country that took over England, and you from
the country that England took over," I explained. But Terry only
laughed, being too busy to pick up the cudgels for his native land.
"Probably that's also why I'm a chauffeur while you're an editor," he
added, and Miss Destrey's little nose and long curve of dark eyelash,
seen by me in profile, expressed the sympathy which one young soul in
misfortune must feel for another.

"Now we're in Italy," he went on. "What I said is coming true already.
Look at these carts crawling to meet us down the hill. The harness seems
to be a mere collection of 'unconsidered trifles,' picked up accidently
by the drivers; bits of leather, string and rope. And the road you see
is strewn with loose stones, though a few metres further back it was so
smooth one might dance on it. In dear, lazy Italy, steam-rollers are
almost as unknown as dragons. In most districts, if one wants to mend a
road, one dumps some stones on it, and trusts to luck and traffic to
have them eventually ground in. But luckily our tyres are almost as
trustworthy as the Bank of England, and we don't need to worry about the
roads."

At the pink Italian custom house Terry got down and vanished within, to
pay the deposit and receive certain documents without which we could not
"circulate" on Italian soil. Far above our heads looked down the old,
brown keep of the Grimaldis, once lords of all the azure coast; below us
glittered Mentone, pink and blue and golden in the sun; beyond Monte
Carlo sat throned, siren-like, upon her rock.

Terry had scarcely engaged the attention of the officials when the buzz
of a motor, livelier and more nervous than our faithful "thrum, thrum,"
called to us to turn our heads; and there was Prince Dalmar-Kalm's
brilliant car flying up the hill, even as we had wished to fly.

The Prince stopped his motor close to ours, to speak with the Countess
sitting alone in it, and announced that he would have overtaken us long
ago, had he not found himself obliged to pause for a talk with the
ex-Empress Eugenie.

This announcement much impressed Mrs. Kidder, who doubtless realized
more fully than before her good fortune in having such a distinguished
personage for a travelling companion.

He stood leaning on the side of our luggage-wreathed vehicle, with an
air of charming condescension. There was no need for him to hurry over
the formalities of the _douane_, he said, for even if he were
considerably behind us in starting, he would catch us up soon after we
had reached La Mortola.

Thus beguiled, the half-hour occupied by the leisurely officials in
providing us with papers and sealing the car with an important looking
leaden seal, passed not too tediously for the ladies. Finally, the
Prince saw us off, smiling a "turned-down smile" at our jog trot as we
proceeded up that everlasting hill, which runs like a shelf along the
face of the great grey cliff of rock.

Far below, azure waves draped the golden beach with blue and silver
gauze and fringed it daintily with a foam of lace.

Then, at last, the steep ascent came to an end, with a curve of the road
which plunged us down into a region of coolness and green shadow.

"Why, I don't think Italy's so shabby after all," exclaimed the
Countess. "Just see that pretty little Maltese cross above the road, and
that fine school-house--"

"Ah, but we're in Hanbury-land now," I said.

"Hanbury-land? I never heard of it. Is it a little independent
principality like Monacoa? But how funny it should have an
English-sounding name sandwiched in right here between Italy and
France."

"The lord of the land is an Englishman, and a benevolent one, a sort of
fairy god-father to the poor in all the country round," I explained.
"You won't find Hanbury-land mentioned on the map; nevertheless it's
very real, fortunately for its inhabitants; and here's the gate of the
garden which leads to the royal palace. La Mortola is a great show
place, for the public are allowed to go in on certain days. I forget if
this is one of them, but perhaps they will let us see the garden,
nevertheless. Shall I ask?"

It was in my mind that, if we stopped, we might miss the Prince as well
as see the garden, so that we should be killing two birds with one
stone, and I was glad when the Countess caught eagerly at the suggestion
that we should beg for a glimpse of La Mortola, a place famed throughout
Europe.

Permission was given; the big iron gates swung open to admit us. We
entered, and a moment later were descending a long flight of stone steps
to terraces far below the level of the road where the car stood waiting
our return.

Had Aladdin rubbed his lamp in the days before his unfortunate
misunderstanding with the Geni and demanded the most beautiful of
gardens, the fulfilment of his wish could have taken no fairer form than
this. Strange, tropical flowers, vivid as flame, burned in green
recesses; water-sprites upset their caskets of pearls over rock-shelves
into translucent pools where lilies lay asleep, dreaming of their own
pale beauty. Long, green pergolas, starred with flowers, framed
blue-veiled pictures of distant coast-line, and mediæval strongholds,
coloured with the same burnt umber as the hills on which they stood,
gloomed and glowed across a cobalt sea.

There is nothing that pleases the normal male more than to be able to
point out objects worthy of interest or admiration to the female of his
kind. Since time immemorial, have not landscape-pictures in books of
travel been filled in, in the foreground, with the figures of men
showing the scenery to women? Did any one ever see such a work of art
representing a woman as indicating any point of view to a man? No doubt
many could have done so; and the ladies in the pictures had probably
noticed the objects in question before their male escorts pointed to
them; but knowing the amiable weakness of the other sex, they politely
refrained from saying, "Oh, we saw that _long_ ago."

Thus did Terry and I, after the conventional traditions of our species,
lead our little party through avenues of cypresses, to open rock-spaces,
or among a waving sea of roses to battle-grounds of rare cacti, with
writhing arms like octopi transformed into plants.

Here, peering down into a kind of dyke, paved with rough tesselation, we
vied with each other in telling our charges that this was the old Roman
road to Gaul, the Aurelian Way, over which Julius Cæsar, St. Catherine
of Siena, Dante, and other great ones passed. Then we showed them one of
Napoleon's old guns, covered with shells, as when it was fished out of
the sea. We enlarged upon the fact that there was no tree, shrub, or
blossom on the known face of the earth of which a specimen did not grow
at La Mortola; and when we had wandered for an hour in the garden
without seeing half there was to see, we climbed the long flight of
steps again, congratulating ourselves--Terry and I--that we had played
Dalmar-Kalm rather a neat trick. The crowd of villagers who had
clustered round our car outside the entrance gates would screen it from
the Prince as he flashed by, and he would go on and on, wondering how we
had contrived to get so far ahead.

Our way would take us, after passing through Ventimiglia, up the Roya
Valley which Terry had decided upon as a route because of its wild and
unspoiled beauty, different from anything that our passengers could have
seen in their brief experience of the Riviera. But as there were no inns
which offered decent entertainment for man or automobile within
reasonable distance, we were to lunch at Ventimiglia, and no arrangement
had been made with Dalmar-Kalm concerning this halt. His
confidence--perhaps well founded--in the superiority of his speed over
ours had led him to believe that he could pause at our side for
consultation whenever he wished. Therefore, we had left Cap Martin
without much discussion of plans. Mrs. Kidder was of opinion that we
would find him waiting in front of the "best hotel in Ventimiglia," with
an excellent luncheon ordered.

"The best hotel in Ventimiglia!" poor lady, she had an awakening before
her. Not only was there no Prince, but there was no best hotel. Old
Ventimiglia, in its huddled picturesqueness, must delight any man with
eyes in his head; new Ventimiglia must disgust any man with a vacancy
under his belt. As we sat in the shabby dining-room of a seventh-rate
inn (where the flies set an example of attentiveness the waiters did not
follow), pretending to eat macaroni hard as walking-sticks and veal
reduced to _chiffons_, I feared the courage of our employers would fail.
They could never, in all their well-ordered American lives, have known
anything so abominable as this experience into which we had lured them,
promising a pilgrimage of pleasure. But the charmingly dressed beings,
who looked like birds of paradise alighted by mistake in a pigsty, made
sport of the squalor which we had expected to evoke their rage.

"Dear me, I wish we'd brought some chewing gum," was Beechy's one
sarcasm at the expense of the meal, and Maida and the Countess laughed
merrily at everything, even the flies, which they thought did not know
their own power as well as American flies.

"We've some _lovely_ cakes and candy packed in that sweet tea-basket we
bought at an English shop in Paris," said Mrs. Kidder; "but I suppose
we'd better not get anything out to eat now, for fear of hurting the
waiters' feelings. What do you think, Sir Ralph?"

"Personally, I should like nothing better than to hurt them," I replied
severely, "but I'm thinking of myself. Cakes and candy on top of those
walking-sticks! 'T were more difficult to build on such a foundation
than to rear Venice on its piles and wattles.

"We'd better save what we have till later on," said Maida. "About four
o'clock, perhaps we shall be glad to stop somewhere, and I can make tea.
It will be fun having it in the automobile."

"There she goes now, revealing domestic virtues!" I thought ruefully.
"It will be too much for Teddy to find her an all-round out-of-doors and
indoors girl in one. He always said the combination didn't exist; that
you had to put up with one or the other in a nice girl, and be jolly
thankful for what you'd got."

But Terry did not seem to be meditating upon the pleasing trait just
brought to light by his travelling companion. He remarked calmly that by
tea-time we should doubtless have reached San Dalmazzo, a charming
little mountain village with an old monastery turned into an inn; and
then he audibly wondered what had become of the Prince.

"My! What a shame, I'd almost forgotten him!" exclaimed Mrs. Kidder.
"He must have given us up in despair and gone on."

"Perhaps he's had a break-down," I suggested.

"What! with that wonderful car? He told me last night that nothing had
ever happened to it yet. He must be miles ahead of us by now."

"Then this is his astral body," said Terry. "Clever of him to 'project'
one for his car too. Never heard of its being done before."

Nor had I ever heard of an astral body who swore roundly at its
chauffeur, which this apparition now stopping in front of the restaurant
windows did. It called the unfortunate shape in leather by several
strange and creditably, or perhaps discreditably, original names, but as
this flow of eloquence was in German, it could not be appreciated by the
ladies. Mrs. Kidder knew the languages not at all, and Miss Destrey and
Beechy had remarked, when Dalmatia was proposed, that their knowledge
was of the copy-book order.

So completely upset was the Prince, that on joining us he forgot to be
sarcastic. Not a question, not a sneer as to our progress, not an
apology for being late. He flung himself into a chair at the table,
ordered the waiters about with truculence, and, having thus relieved his
mind, began complaining of his bad luck.

An Austrian Prince, when cross and hungry, can be as undesirable a
social companion as a Cockney cad, and the Countess's distinguished
friend did not show to advantage in the scene which followed. Yes, there
had been an accident. It was unheard of--abominable; entirely the fault
of the chauffeur. Chauffeurs (and he looked bleakly at Terry) were
without exception brutes--detestable brutes. You put up with them
because you had to; that was all. The automobile had merely stopped. It
must have been the simplest thing in the world for a professional to
discover what was wrong; yet this animal, Joseph, could do nothing but
poke his nose into the machinery and then shrug his hideous shoulders.
Why yes, he had taken out the valves, of course, examined the sparkling
plugs, and tested the coil. Any amateur could have done so much. It gave
a good spark; there was no short circuit; yet the motor would not start,
and the chauffeur was unable to give an explanation. Twice he had taken
the car to pieces without result--absolutely to pieces. Then, and not
till then, had the creature found wit enough to think of the
carburetter. There was the trouble, and nowhere else. All that delay and
misery had been caused by some grit which had penetrated into the
carburetter and prevented the needle working. This it was to have a
donkey instead of a chauffeur.

"But it didn't occur to you that it might be the carburetter," said
Terry, taking advantage of a pause made by the arrival of the Prince's
luncheon, which that gentleman attacked with ardour.

"Why should it?" haughtily inquired Dalmar-Kalm. "I am not engaged in
that business. I pay other people to think for me. Besides, it is not
with me as with you and your friend, who must be accustomed to accidents
of all sorts on a low-powered car, somewhat out of date. But I am not
used to having mine _en panne_. Never mind, it will not happen again.
_Mon Dieu_, what a meal to set before ladies. I do not care for myself,
but surely, Sir Ralph, it would have been easy to find a better place
than this to give the ladies luncheon?"

"Sir Ralph and Mr. Barrymore wanted us to go to the railway-station,"
Miss Destrey defended us, "but we thought it would be dull, and
preferred this, so our blood is on our own heads."

We finished gloomily with lukewarm coffee, which was so long on the way
that the Countess thought we might as well wait for the "poor Prince."
Then, when we were ready, came a violent shower, which meant more
waiting, as the Countess did not agree cordially with her daughter's
remark that to "drive in the rain would be good for the complexion."

When at last we were able to start it was after three, and we should
have to make good speed if we were to arrive at San Dalmazzo even by
late tea-time. Terry was on his mettle, however, and I guessed that he
was anxious our first day should not end in failure.

Tooling out of Ventimiglia, that grim frontier town whose name has
become synonymous to travellers with waiting and desperate resignation,
we turned up by the side of the Roya, where the stream gushes seaward,
through many channels, in a wide and pebbly bed. The shower just past,
though brief, had been heavy enough to turn a thick layer of white dust
into a greasy, grey paste of mud. On our left was a sudden drop into the
rushing river, on the right a deep ditch, and the road between was as
round-shouldered as a hunchback. Seeing this natural phenomenon, and
feeling the slightly uncertain step of our fat tyres as they waddled
through the pasty mud, the pleasant smile of the proud motor-proprietor
which I had been wearing hardened upon my face. I didn't know as much
about motors as our passengers supposed, but I did know what side-slip
was, and I did not think that this was a nice place for the ladies to be
initiated. There might easily be an accident, even with the best of
drivers such as we had in Terry, and I was sure that he was having all
he could do to keep on the crown of the road. At any moment, slowly as
we were going, the heavily laden car might become skittish and begin to
waltz, a feat which would certainly first surprise and then alarm the
ladies, even if it had no more serious consequences.

It was while we were in this critical situation, which had not yet begun
to dawn upon our passengers, that Dalmar-Kalm seized the opportunity of
racing past us from behind, blowing a fanfarronade on his horn, to prove
how much faster his car could go than ours. In the instant that he was
abreast of us, our tonneau, which overhung the back axle further than is
considered wise in the latest types of cars, swung outwards, with a slip
of the tyre in the grey grease, and only by an inch which seemed a mere
hair's breadth was Terry able to save us from a collision.

The Countess screamed, Beechy clung once more to my knee, and we all
glared at the red car with the white canopy as it shot ruthlessly ahead.
The Prince's tyres were strapped with spiked leather covers, which we
could not carry as they would lose us too much speed; therefore the
danger of side-slip was lessened for him, and he flew by without even
knowing how near we had been to an accident. The anger painted on our
ungoggled faces he doubtless attributed to jealousy, as he glanced back
to wave a triumphant _au revoir_ before flashing out of sight, round a
bend of the road.

There is something very human, and particularly womanish, about a
motor-car. The shock of the narrow escape we had just had seemed to have
unsteadied the nerve of our brave Panhard for the moment. We were
nearing a skew bridge, with an almost right-angled approach; and the
strange resultant of the nicely balanced forces that control an
automobile skating on "pneus" over slippery mud twisted us round,
suddenly and without warning. Instantly, oilily, the car gyrated as on a
pivot, and behold, we were facing down the valley instead of up. Terry
could not had done it had he tried.

"Oh, my goodness!" quavered the Countess, in a collapse. "Am I dreaming,
or has this happened? It seems as if I must be out of my wits!"

"It _has_ happened," answered Terry, laughing reassuringly, but far from
joyous within, I knew. "But it's nothing alarming. A little side-slip,
that's all."

"A _little_ side-slip!" she echoed. "Then may I be preserved from a big
one. This automobile has turned its nose towards home again, of its own
accord. Oh, Sir Ralph, I'm not sure I like motoring as much as I thought
I would. I'm not sure the Hand of Providence didn't turn the car back."

"Nonsense, Mamma!" cried Beechy. "The other day the Hand of Providence
was pointing out Sir Ralph's advertisement in the newspaper. It can't be
always changing its mind, and you can't, either. We're all _alive_,
anyhow, and that's something."

"Ah, but how long shall we be?" moaned her mother. "I don't want to be
silly, but I didn't know that an automobile had the habits of a
kangaroo and a crab, and a base-ball, and I'm afraid I shall never get
used to them."

Terry explained that his car was not addicted to producing these
sensational effects, and compared the difficulties it was now combatting
with those which a skater might experience if the hard ice were covered
an inch deep with soft soap. "We shall soon be out of this," he said,
"for the road will be better higher up where the hill begins, and the
rain has had a chance to drain away."

Cheered by these promises, the poor Countess behaved herself very well,
though she looked as if she might burst an important blood-vessel, as
Terry carefully turned his car on the slippery surface of the road's
tortoise-back. I was not happy myself, for it would have been as "easy
as falling off a log" for the automobile to leap gracefully into the
Roya; but the brakes held nobly, and as Terry had said, there was better
going round the next corner.

Here the mountains began to draw together, so that we were no longer
travelling in a valley, but in a gorge. Deep shadow shut us in, as if we
had left the warm, outer air and entered a dim castle, perpetually
shuttered and austerely cold. Dark crags shaped themselves
magnificently, and the scene was of such wild grandeur that even Beechy
ceased to be flippant. We drove on in silence, listening to the battle
song of the river as it fought its way on through the rocky chasm its
own strength had hewn.

The road mounted continuously, with a gentle incline, weaving its grey
thread round the blind face of the mountain, and suddenly, turning a
shoulder of rock we came upon the Prince's car which we had fancied many
kilometres in advance. The big red chariot was stationary, one wheel
tilted into the ditch at the roadside, while Dalmar-Kalm and his
melancholy chauffeur were straining to rescue it from its ignominious
position.

Our Panhard had been going particularly well, as if to justify itself in
its employers' eyes after its late slip from rectitude. "She" was taking
the hill gaily, pretending not to know it from the level, and it did
seem hard to play the part of good Samaritan to one marked by nature as
a Levite. But--_noblesse oblige_, and--honour among chauffeurs.

Terry is as far from sainthood as I am, and I knew well that his bosom
yearned to let Dalmar-Kalm stew in his own petrol. Nevertheless, he
brought the car to anchor without a second's hesitation, drawing up
alongside the humiliated red giant. Amid the exclamations of Mrs.
Kidder, and the suppressed chuckles of the _enfante terrible_, we two
men got out, with beautiful expressions on our faces and dawning haloes
round our heads, to help our hated rival.

Did he thank us for not straining the quality of our mercy? His name and
nature would not have been Dalmar-Kalm if he had. His first words at
sight of the two ministering angels by his side were: "You must have
brought me bad luck, I believe. Never have I had an accident with my car
until to-day, but now all goes wrong. For the second time I am _en
panne_. It is too much. This viper of a Joseph says we cannot go on."

Now we began to see why the Prince's chauffeur had acquired the
countenance of a male Niobe. Wormlike resignation to utter misery was,
we had judged, his prevailing characteristic; but hard work,
ingratitude, and goodness knows how much abuse, caused the worm to turn
and defend itself.

"How go on with a change-speed lever broken short off, close to the
quadrant?" he shrilled out in French. "And it is His Highness who broke
it, changing speed too quickly, a thing which I have constantly warned
him against in driving. I cannot make a new lever here in a wilderness.
I am not a magician."

"Nor a Félicité," I mumbled, convinced that, had my all-accomplished
adjutant been a chauffeur instead of a cook, she would have been equal
to beating up a trustworthy lever out of a slice of cake.

"Be silent, brigand!" roared the Prince, and I could hardly stifle a
laugh, for Joseph is no higher than my ear. His shoulders slope; his
legs are clothespins bound with leather; his eyes swim in tears, as our
car's crankhead floats in an oil bath; and his hair is hung round his
head like many separate rows of black pins, overlapping one another.

"We shall save time by getting your car out of the ditch, anyhow,"
suggested Terry; and putting our shoulders to it, all four, we succeeded
after strenuous efforts in pushing and hauling the huge beast onto the
road. I had had no idea that anything less in size than a railway engine
could be so heavy.

There was no question but that the giant was helpless. Terry and Joseph
peered into its inner workings, and the first verdict was confirmed.
"There's an imperfection in the metal," said expert Terry. In his place,
I fear I should not have been capable of such magnanimity. I should have
let the whole blame rest upon my rival's reckless stupidity as a driver.

"It's plain you can do nothing with your car in that condition," he went
on. "After all" (even Terry's generous spirit couldn't resist this one
little dig), "it would have been well if I'd brought that coil of rope."

"Coil of rope? For what purpose?"

"To tow you to the nearest blacksmith's, where perhaps a new lever could
be forged."

"This is not a time for joking. Twelve horses cannot drag twenty-four."

"They're plucky and willing. Shall they try? Here comes a cart, whose
driver is wreathed in smiles. Labour exulting in the downfall of
Capitol. But Labour looks good-natured." "Good morning," Terry hailed him
in Italian. "Will you lend me a stout cord to tow this automobile?"

The Prince was silent. Even in his rage against Fate, against Joseph,
and against us, he retained enough common sense to remember that 'tis
well to choose the lesser of two evils.

The carter had a rope, and an obliging disposition. A few francs changed
hands, and the Hare was yoked to the Tortoise. Yoked, figuratively
speaking only, for it trailed ignominiously behind at a distance of
fifteen yards, and when our little Panhard began bumbling up the hill
with its great follower, it resembled nothing so much as a very small
comet with a disproportionately big tail.

The motor, in starting, forged gallantly ahead for a yard or two, then,
as it felt the unexpected weight dragging behind, it appeared surprised.
It was, indeed, literally "taken aback" for an instant, but only for an
instant. The brave little beast seemed to say to itself, "Well, they
expect a good deal of me, but there are ladies on board, and I won't
disappoint them."

"Félicité," I murmured. "She might have stood sponser to this car."

With another tug we began to make progress, slow but steady. Joseph, as
the lighter weight, sat in his master's car, his hand on the
steering-wheel, while the Prince tramped gloomily behind in the mud.
Seeing how well the experiment was succeeding, however, he quickened his
pace and ordered the chauffeur down. "I do not think that the difference
in weight will be noticeable," he said, and as Joseph obediently jumped
out the Prince sprang in, taking the wheel. Instantly the rope snapped,
and the big red chariot would have run back had not Joseph jammed on the
brake.

Terry stopped our car, and the ill-matched pair had to be united again,
with a shorter rope. "Afraid you'll have to walk, Prince," said he, when
he had finished helping Joseph, who was apparently on the brink of
tears.

Dalmar-Kalm measured me with a glance. "Perhaps Sir Ralph would not
object to steering my car?" he suggested. "Then Joseph could walk, and I
could have Sir Ralph's place in the tonneau with the ladies, where a
little extra weight would do no harm. Would that not be an excellent
arrangement?"

"David left Goliath on the ground, and dragged away only his head," I
remarked. "_We_ are dragging Goliath; and I fear his head would be the
last--er--feather. So sorry. Otherwise we should be delighted."

What the Prince said as the procession began to move slowly up-hill
again, at a pace to keep time with the "Dead March in Saul," I don't
pretend to know, but if his remarks matched his expression, I would not
in any case have recorded them here.



VI

A CHAPTER OF PREDICAMENTS


On we went, and twilight was falling in this deep gorge, so evidently
cut by the river for its own convenience, not for that of belated
tourists. Here and there in the valley little rock towns stood up
impressively, round and high on their eminences, like brown, stemless
mushrooms. Each little group of ancient dwellings resembled to my mind a
determined band of men standing back to back, shoulder to shoulder,
defending their hearths and homes from the Saracens, and saying grimly,
"Come on if you dare. We'll fight to the death, one and all of us."

At last, without further mishap, we arrived at a mean village marked
Airole on Terry's map. It was a poverty-stricken place, through which,
in happier circumstances, we should have passed without a glance,
but--there, by the roadside was a blacksmith's forge, more welcome to
our eyes than a castle double-starred by Baedeker.

Joseph's spleen reduced by the sight of his master tramping in the mud
while he steered, the little chauffeur looked almost cheerful. He
promised to have a new lever ready in half an hour, and so confident was
he that he urged us to go on. But the Prince did not echo the
suggestion, and Mrs. Kidder proposed that we should have tea while we
waited.

Though it was she who gave birth to the idea, it would have been Miss
Destrey who did all the work, had not Terry and I offered such help as
men can give. He went in search of water to fill the shining kettle; I
handed round biscuits and cakes, while the Prince looked on in the
attitude of Napoleon watching the burning of Moscow.

We were as good as a circus to the inhabitants of Airole; nay, better,
for our antics could be seen gratis. The entire population of the
village, and apparently of several adjacent villages, collected round
the two cars. They made the ring, and--we did the rest. We ate, we
drank, and they were merry at our expense. The children wished also to
eat at our expense, and when I translated (with amendments) a flattering
comment on Mrs. Kidder's hair and complexion offered by an incipient Don
Juan of five years, she insisted that all the spare pastry should be
distributed among the juveniles. The division led to blows, and tears
which had to be quenched with coppers; while into the mêlée broke a
desolate cry from Joseph, announcing that his lever was a failure. The
Prince strode off to the blacksmith's shop, forgetful that he held a
teacup in one hand and an _éclair_ in the other. With custard dropping
onto the red-hot bar which Joseph hammered, he looked so forlorn a
figure that Terry was moved to pity and joined the group at the forge.
He soon discovered what Joseph might have known from the first, had he
not lived solely in the moment, like most other chauffeurs. The village
forge was not _assez bien outillée_ for a finished lever to be produced;
the Prince's car must remain a derelict, unless we towed it into port.

We started on again, in the same order as before and at the same pace,
followed by all our village _protegés_, who commented frankly upon the
plight of the Prince, and the personal appearance of the whole party. At
length, however, our moving audience dwindled. A mile or two beyond
Airole the last, most enterprising boy deserted us, and we thought
ourselves alone in a twilight world. The white face of the moon peered
through a cleft in the mountain, and our own shadows crawled after us,
large and dark on the grey ribbon of the road. But there was another
shadow which moved, a small drifting shadow over which we had no
control. Sometimes it was by our side for an instant as we crept up the
hill, dragging our incubus, then it would fall behind and vanish, only
to reappear again, perhaps on the other side of the road.

"What _is_ that tiny black thing that comes and goes?" asked Mrs.
Kidder.

"Why," exclaimed Miss Destrey, "I do believe it's that forlorn little
dog that was too timid to eat from my hand in the village. He must have
followed all this time."

"Do see if it is the same dog, Prince," Beechy cried to the tall, dark
figure completing the tail of our procession.

A yelp answered. "Yes, it is he," called the Prince. "A mangy little
mongrel. I do not think he will trouble us any longer."

Then a surprising thing happened. The Vestal Virgin rose suddenly in the
car. "You have _kicked_ him!" she exclaimed, the gentleness burnt out of
her pretty voice by a swift flame of anger. "Stop the car, Mr.
Barrymore--quickly, please. I want to get down."

Never had that Panhard of Terry's checked its career in less space. Out
jumped Maida, to my astonishment without a word of objection from her
relatives. "I will not have that poor, timid little creature frightened
and hurt," I heard her protesting as she ran back. "How _could_ you,
Prince!"

Now, though the girl was probably no more than a paid companion, she was
lovely enough to make her good opinion of importance to the most
inveterate fortune hunter, and as Miss Destrey called, "Here, doggie,
doggie," in a voice to beguile a rhinoceros, Dalmar-Kalm pleaded that
what he had done had been but for the animal's good. He had not injured
the dog, he had merely encouraged it to run home before it was
hopelessly lost. "I am not cruel, I assure you. My worst troubles have
come from a warm heart. I hope you will believe me, Miss Destrey."

"I should be sorry to be your dog, or--your chauffeur," she answered.
"He won't come back to be comforted, so I suppose after all we shall
have to go on. But I shall dream of that poor little lonely, drifting
thing to-night."

Hardly had she taken her seat, however, than there was the dog close to
the car, timid, obsequious, winning, with his wisp of a head cocked on
one side. We drove on, and he followed pertinaciously. Mildly adjured by
the Countess to "go home, little dog," he came on the faster. Many
adventures he had, such as a fall over a heap of stones and entanglement
in a thorn-bush. But nothing discouraged the miniature motor maniac in
the pursuit of his love, and we began to take him for granted so
completely that after a while I, at least, forgot him. On we toiled with
our burden, the moon showering silver into the dark mountain gorges, as
if it were raining stars.

The further we burrowed into the fastnesses of the Roya, the more wild
in its majestic beauty grew the valley, so famed in history and legend.
The gorge had again become a mere gash in the rock, with room only for
the road and the roaring river below. High overhead, standing up against
the sky like a warning finger, towered the ancient stronghold of Piena,
once guardian fortress of the valley; where the way curved, and crossed
a high bridge spanning the torrent, we passed a tablet of gleaming
bronze set against the rock wall, in commemoration of Masséna's victory
in an early campaign of Napoleon's against Italy. Sometimes we rushed
through tunnels, where the noise of the motor vibrated thunderously;
sometimes we looked down over sublime precipices; but the road was
always good now, and we had no longer to fear side-slip.

We met no one; nevertheless Terry got down and lit our lamps,
Dalmar-Kalm making an unnecessary delay by insisting that Joseph should
light his too. This was sheer vanity on the Prince's part. He could not
bear to have his great Bleriots dark, while our humbler acetylene
illumined the way for His Mightiness.

Suddenly we ran out of the bewildering lights and shadows, woven across
our way by the moon, into the lights of a town; and two _douaniers_
appeared in the road, holding up their hands for us to stop. Down jumped
Terry to see why he should be challenged in this unexpected place, and
the Prince joined him.

"Your papers, if you please," demanded the official.

Terry produced those which had been given us at the custom-house in
Grimaldi.

"But these are Italian papers. Where are those for France?" asked the
_douanier_.

"This is not France," said the Prince, before Terry could speak.

"It is Breil, and it is France," returned the man. "France for nine
kilometres, until Fontan, where Italian territory begins again."

Terry laughed, rather ruefully. "Well," said he, "I have no French
papers, but we paid a penny at the Pont St. Louis to leave France. This
car is French, and we ought not to pay anything to enter; nevertheless,
I shall be delighted to hand you the same sum for the privilege of
coming in again."

"Ah, you paid ten centimes? Then, if you have the receipt it may be
possible to permit you to go on."

"Permit us to go on!" echoed Dalmar-Kalm angrily. "I should think so,
indeed."

"I'm sorry, I took no receipt," said Terry. "I thought it an unnecessary
formality."

"_No_ formality is unnecessary, monsieur," said the servant of form. "I
also am sorry, but in the circumstances you cannot enter French
territory without a receipt for the ten centimes. As a man I believe
implicitly that you paid the sum, as an official I am compelled to doubt
your word."

Who but a Frenchman could have been so exquisitely pompous over a penny?
I saw by Terry's face that he was far from considering the incident
closed; but he had too much true Irish tact to try and get us through by
storming.

"Let us consider," he began, "whether there is not some means of escape
from this difficulty."

But Dalmar-Kalm was in no mood to temporize, or keep silent while others
temporized. The lights of Breil showed that it was a town of comparative
importance; it was past eight o'clock; and no doubt His Highness's
temper was sharpened by a keen edge of hunger. That he--he should be
stopped by a fussy official figure-head almost within smell of food,
broke down the barrier of his self-restraint--never a formidable
rampart, as we had cause to know. In a few loud and vigorous sentences
he expressed a withering contempt for France, its institutions, its
customs, and especially its custom-houses.

"If you'd mix up the Prince's initials, as you do Mr. Barrymore's
sometimes, and call him Kalmar-Dalm, there'd be some excuse for it,"
Beechy Kidder murmured to the Countess.

"Hush, he'll hear!" implored the much-enduring lady, but there was small
danger that His Highness would hear any expostulations save his own.

The functionary's eye grew dark, and Terry frowned. Had the _douanier_
been insolent, my peppery Irishman would have been insolent too,
perhaps, in the hope of cowering the man by truculence more
swashbuckling than his own; but he had been as polite as his countrymen
proverbially are, if not goaded out of their suavity. "Look here,
Prince," said Terry, hanging onto his temper by a thread (for he also
was hungry), "suppose you leave this matter to me. If you'll take the
ladies to the best hotel in town, Moray and I will stop and see this
thing through. We'll follow when we can."

Dalmar-Kalm snapped at the suggestion; our passengers saw that it was
for the best, and yielded. As they moved away, a shadowy form hovered in
their wake. It was the little black dog of Airole.

The Marquis of Innisfallen's first quarrel with his brother had been
caused by Terry's youthful preference for an army instead of a
diplomatic career. Now, could his cantankerous relative have seen my
friend, he would once more have shaken his head over talents wasted. The
oily eloquence which Terry lavished on that comparatively insignificant
French _douanier_ ought to have earned him a billet as first secretary
to a Legation. He pictured the despair of the ladies if the power of
France kept them prisoners at the frontier; he referred warmly to that
country's reputation for chivalry; he offered to pay the usual deposit
on a car entering France and receive it back again at Fontan. To this
last suggestion the harassed official replied that technically his
office was closed for the night, and that after eight o'clock he could
not receive money or issue papers. Finally, therefore, Terry was reduced
to appealing to the cleverness and resource of a true Frenchman.

It was a neat little fencing-match, which ended in the triumph of Great
Britain. The functionary, treated like a gentleman by a gentleman,
became anxious to accommodate, if he could do so "consistently with
honour." He had an inspiration, and suggested that he would strain his
duty by sending a messenger with us to Fontan, there to explain that we
were merely _en passage_. Out of the crowd which had collected a loutish
youth was chosen; a _pourboire_ promised; and after many mutual
politenesses we were permitted to _teuf-teuf_ onto the sacred soil of
France.

It is no more safe to judge a French country inn by its exterior, than
the soul of Cyrano de Bergerac by his nose. The inn of Breil had not an
engaging face, but it was animated by the spirit of a Brillat Savarin,
by which we were provided with a wonderful dinner in numerous courses.
We could not escape from it, lest we hurt the _amour-propre_ of the
cook, and it was late when we were ready for our last _sortie_.

"You will never reach San Dalmazzo to-night, towing that car," we were
informed by the powers that were in the hotel. "The hills you have
passed are as nothing to the hills yet to come. You will do well to
spend the night with us, for if you try to get on, you will be all night
upon the road."

Our passengers were asked to decide, and we expected a difference of
opinion. We should have said that the two girls would have been for
pushing on, and the Countess for stopping. But that plump lady had
already conquered the tremors which, earlier in the day, had threatened
to wreck our expedition at its outset.

"It's a funny thing," said she, "but I want to go on, just _on_, for the
sake of _going_. I never felt like that before, travelling, not even in
a Mann Boudoir car at home, which I guess is the most luxurious thing on
wheels. I always wanted to _get_ there, wherever 'there' was; but now I
want to go on and on--I wouldn't care if it was to the end of the world,
and I can't think why, unless it's the novelty of automobiling. But it
can't be that, either, I suppose, for only a little while ago I was
thinking that bed-ridden people weren't badly off, they were so _safe_."

We all laughed at this (even the Prince, whom plenty of champagne had
put into a sentimental mood), and I suddenly found myself growing quite
fond of the Countess, crowns and all.

After the heat of the _salle à manger_, the night out of doors appeared
strangely white and cold, its purple depths drenched with moonlight, the
high remoteness of its dome faintly scintillant with icy points of
stars. An adventure seemed to lie before us. We turned wistfully to each
other for the warmth of human companionship, and had not the Prince been
trying to flirt with little Beechy unseen by Mamma, I should have felt
kindly even to him. Even as it was, I consented to let him try sitting
in his own car, and the rope, inured to suffering, had the consideration
not to break.

We forged on, up, up the higher reaches of the Roya valley, so glorious
in full moonlight that it struck us into silence. The mountains towering
round us shaped themselves into castles and cathedrals of carved marble,
their façades, grey by day, glittering white and polished under the
magic of the moon. The wonderful crescent town of Saorge, hanging on the
mountain-side, would alone have been worth coming this way to see if
there had been nothing else. Veiled by the mystery of night, the old
Ligurian stronghold appeared to be suspended between two rocky peaks,
like a great white hammock for a sleeping goddess, and now and then we
caught a jewelled sparkle from her rings.

They had not told an idle tale at the inn. The road, weary of going
up-hill on its knees, like a pilgrim, got suddenly upon its feet and we
were on its back, with the Prince's chariot trailing after us.
Nevertheless, our car did not falter, though the motor panted. Scarcely
ever were we able to pass from the first speed to the second, but then
(as Beechy remarked), considering all things, we ought to be thankful
for any speed above that of a snail.

At Fontan--when he had vouched for us--we dismissed our _oaf_, with a
light heart and a heavy pocket. Again, we were in Italy, a silent,
sleeping Italy, drugged with moonlight, and dreaming troubled dreams of
strangely contorted mountains. Then suddenly it waked, for the moon was
sinking, and the charm had lost its potence. The dream-shapes vanished,
and we were in a wide, dark basin, which might be green as emerald by
day. A grey ghost in a long coat, with a rifle slung across his back,
flitted into the road and startled the Countess by signing for us to
stop.

"Oh, mercy! are we going to be held up?" she whispered. "I'd forgotten
about the brigands."

"Only an Italian custom-house brigand," said Terry. "We've got to San
Dalmazzo after all, and it isn't morning yet."

"Yes, but it is!" cried Beechy. "There's a clock striking twelve."

A few minutes later we were driving along a level in the direction of
the monastery-hotel, which was said to be no more than a hundred metres
beyond the village. I had often heard of this hostelry at the little
mountain retreat of San Dalmazzo, loved and sought by Italians in the
summer heat. The arched gateway in the wall was clearly monastic, and we
felt sure that we had come to the right place, when Terry steered the
car through the open portal and a kind of tunnel on the other side.

Before the door of a long, low building he stopped the motor. Its
"thrum, thrum" stilled, the silence of the place was profound, and not a
light gleamed anywhere.

Terry got down and rang. We all waited anxiously, for much as we had
enjoyed the strange night drive, the day had been long, and the chill
of the keen mountain air was in our blood. But nothing happened, and
after a short pause Terry rang again. Silence was the only answer, and
it seemed to give denial rather than consent.

Four times he rang, and by this time the Prince and I were at his back,
striving to pierce the darkness behind the door which was half of glass.
At last a greenish light gleamed dim as a glow-worm in the distance, and
framed in it a figure was visible--the figure of a monk.

For an instant I was half inclined to believe him a ghost, haunting the
scene of past activities, for one does not expect to have the door of an
hotel opened by a monk. But ghosts have no traffic with keys and bolts;
and it was the voice of a man still bound to flesh and blood who greeted
us with a mild "_Buona sera_" which made the night seem young.

Terry responded and announced in his best Italian that we desired
accommodation for the night.

"Ah, I see," exclaimed the monk. "You thought that this was still a
hotel? I am sorry to disappoint you, but it ceased to be such only
to-day. The house is now once more what it was originally--a monastery.
It has been bought by the Order to which I belong."

"Isn't he going to take us in?" asked the Countess, dolefully.

"I'm afraid not," said Terry, "but I'll see what I can do."

Ah, that "seeing what he could do!" I knew it of old, for Terry's own
brother is the only person I ever met who could resist him if he stooped
to wheedle. Italian is a language which lends itself to wheedling, too;
and though the good monk demurred at first, shook his head, and even
flung up his hands with a despairing protest, he weakened at last, even
as the _douanier_ had weakened.

"He says if we'd come to-morrow, it would have been impossible to admit
us," translated Terry for the ladies' benefit. "The lease is going to be
signed then. Until that's done the house isn't actually a monastery, so
he can strain a point and take us in, rather than the ladies should have
to travel further so late at night. I don't suppose we shall find very
luxurious accommodation, but--"

"It will be perfectly lovely," broke in Beechy, "and Maida, anyhow, will
feel quite at home."

"He won't accept payment, that's the worst of it," said Terry, "for we
shall make the poor man, who is all alone, a good deal of bother. Still,
I shall offer something for the charities of his Order, and he can't
refuse that."

We filed into the hall, lit only by the lantern in our host's hand, and
"Kid, Kidder, and Kiddest," charmed with the adventure, were
delightfully ready to be pleased with everything. We seemed to have
walked nearly half a kilometre before we were shown into small, bare
rooms, furnished only with necessaries, but spotlessly clean. Then beds
had to be made and water brought. Every one worked except the Prince,
and every one, with the same exception, forgot to be tired and ceased to
be cold in the pleasure of the queer midnight picnic. We had not dared
hope for anything to eat, but when our host proposed a meal of boiled
eggs, bread, and wine, the good man was well-nigh startled by the
enthusiastic acceptance of his guests.

A small room containing a table, and a pile of chairs against the wall,
was chosen for the banquet. Terry and Maida laid the table with the
dishes from the tea-basket, and a few more found in neighbouring
cupboards. Beechy boiled the eggs while our host unearthed the wine; the
Countess cut slices of hard, brown bread, and I added butter in little
hillocks.

Then we ate and drank; and never was a meal so good. We seemed to have
known each ether a long time, and already we had common jokes connected
with our past--that past which had been the present this morning. It was
after one o'clock when it occurred lo us that it was bedtime; and as at
last the three ladies flitted away down the dim corridor, Terry and I,
watching them, saw that something flitted after.

It was the little black dog of Airole.



PART II

TOLD BY BEECHY KIDDER



VII

A CHAPTER OF CHILDISHNESS


When I waked up that morning in the old monastery at San Dalmazzo, if
that's the way to call it, and especially to spell it, I really thought
for a few minutes that I must be dreaming. "There's no good getting up,"
I thought, "for if I do I shall somnambulize, and maybe break my rather
pleasing nose." Once, when I was a little girl, I fell down-stairs when I
was asleep, and made one of my front teeth come out. It was a front
tooth, and Mamma had promised me five dollars if I'd have it pulled; so
that was money in my pocket. But I haven't got any teeth to sell for
five dollars now, and it's well to be careful. Accordingly I just lay
still in that funny little iron bed, saying, "Beechy Kidder, is this
_you_?"

Perhaps it was because of all those bewildering impressions the day
before, or perhaps it was from having been so dead asleep that I felt
exactly as if I were no relation to myself. Anyhow, that was the way I
_did_ feel, and I began to be awfully afraid I should wake up back in
Denver months ago, before anything had happened, or seemed likely ever
to happen.

When I thought of Mamma and myself, as we used to be, I grew almost sure
that the things hadn't happened, because they didn't seem the kind of
things that could possibly happen to us.

Why, I didn't even need to shut my eyes to see our Denver house, for it
was so much more real than any other house I'd been in, or dreamed I'd
been in since, and especially more real than that tiny, whitewashed
room at the monastery with a green curtain of vines hanging over the
window.

A square, stone house, with a piazza in front (only people out of
America are so stupid, they don't know what I mean when I say "piazza");
about six feet of yard with some grass and flowers. Me at school; Mamma
reading novels with one eye, and darning papa's stockings with the
other. My goodness, what a different Mamma! When I thought of the
difference, I was surer than ever that I must be dreaming her as she is
now, and I had half a mind to go and peek into the next room to look,
and risk falling down-stairs bang into realities and Denver.

Would she have smooth, straight dark hair with a few threads of grey,
all streaked back flat to her head to please papa; or would she have
lovely auburn waves done on a frame, with a curl draped over her
forehead? Would her complexion be just as nice, comfortable, motherly
sort of complexion, of no particular colour; or would it be pink and
white like rose-leaves floating in cream? Would she have the kind of
figure to fit the corsets you can pick up at any shop, ready made for
fifty-nine and a half cents, and the dresses Miss Pettingill makes for
ten dollars, with the front breadth shorter than the back? Or would she
go in at the waist like an hour-glass and out like an hour-glass, to fit
three hundred-franc stays in Paris, and dresses that would be tight for
_me_?

Poor Mamma! I'd made lots of fun of her these last few months, if they
were real months, I said to myself; and if more real months of that kind
should come, I'd probably make lots of fun of her again. I am _like_
that; I can't help it. I suppose it's what Papa used to call his
"originality," and Mamma his "cantankerousness," coming out in me. But
lying there in the narrow bed, with the dream-dawn fluttering little
pale wings at the window, I seemed suddenly to understand how hard
everything had been for her.

At some minutes, on some days, you _do_ understand people with a queer
kind of clearness, almost as if you had created them yourself--even
people that you turn up your nose at, and think silly or uninteresting
at other times, when your senses aren't sharpened in that magic sort of
way. My "God-days," are what I call those strange days when I can
sympathize with every one as if I'd known their _whole_ history and all
their troubles and thoughts and struggles, ever since they were born. I
call them that, not to be irreverent, but because I suppose God _always_
feels so; and the little spark of Him that's in every human being--even
in a naughty, pert thing like me--comes out in us more on some days than
on others, though only for a few minutes at a stretch even then.

Well, my spark burned up quite brightly for a little while in the dawn,
as I was thinking of Mamma.

I don't suppose she could ever have been in love with Papa. I guess she
must have married him because her parents were poor, or because she was
too kind hearted to say no. Anyway, it must have been horrid for her to
know that he was rich enough to let her do anything she liked, but
wouldn't let her do anything nice, because he was a Consistent Democrat,
and didn't believe in show or "tomfoolery."

I'm sure I couldn't explain what a Consistent Democrat really is; but
Papa's idea of being it was to scorn "society people," not to have
pretty clothes or many servants, to look plain and speak plainly, always
to tell the whole truth, especially if you would hurt anybody's feelings
by doing so, and not to spend much money except on uninteresting books.

Mamma would have loved better than anything to be a society leader, and
have her name appear often in the papers, like other ladies in Denver
who, she used to tell me, didn't come from half as good family as she
did. But Papa wouldn't let her go out much, and she didn't know any of
the people she wanted to know--only quite common ones whose husbands
kept stores or had other businesses which she didn't consider refined.
I'm afraid I was never much comfort to poor Mamma either. That
cantankerousness of mine which makes me see how funny people and things
are, always came between us, and I expect it always will. I must have
been born old.

Her only real pleasure was reading novels on the sly, all about smart
society and the aristocracy, but especially English aristocracy. She
simply revelled in such stories; and when Papa died suddenly without
time to tie up his money so as to force Mamma to go on doing what _he_
wanted, and not what _she_ wanted, all the rest of her life, the first
thing that occurred to her was how to make up for lost time.

"We'll travel in Europe for a year or two," she said to me, "and when we
come back we'll just show Denver society people that we're _somebody_."

That was all she thought of in the beginning, but when we'd gone East to
Chicago for a change, and were staying at a big hotel there, a new idea
came into her head. Partly it was from seeing so many smart-looking
young women having a good time every minute of their lives, and feeling
what was the use of being free to enjoy herself at last, with plenty of
money, when she was dowdy and not so very young any more? (I could tell
just what was in her mind by the wistful way she looked at gorgeous
ladies who had the air of owning the world, with a fence
around it.) And partly it was seeing an advertisement in a
newspaper.

Mamma didn't mention the advertisement to me at first. But when she'd
been away one morning alone on a secret errand she stammered and
fidgetted a little, and said she had something to explain to me. Then it
all came out.

She'd been to call on a wonderful French madame who could make a woman
of thirty-eight (that's Mamma's Bible age) look twenty-five, and she
hoped I wouldn't lose respect for her as my mother or think her
frivolous and horrid if she put herself into the madame's hands for a
few weeks. I couldn't help laughing, but Mamma cried, and said that
she'd never had a real good time since she was grown up. She did long to
have one at last, very much, if only I'd let her do it in peace.

I stopped laughing and almost cried, myself; but I didn't let her see
that I wanted to. Instead, I asked what would be the sense of _looking_
twenty-five, anyhow, when everybody would know she _must_ be more, with
a daughter going on seventeen.

Mamma hadn't thought of that. She seemed years older than ever for a
minute; and then she put her hand in mine. Hers was as cold as ice.
"Would you mind going back a little, darling?" she asked. "It would be
_so_ kind and sweet of you, and it would make all the difference to me."

"Going back?" I repeated. "Whatever _do_ you mean?"

It made her dreadfully nervous to explain, because she was afraid I'd
poke fun at her, but she did get out the idea finally. "Going back" was
to bring on my second childhood prematurely. Thirteen was a nice age,
she thought, because many girls get their full growth then; and if I
wasn't more than thirteen she could begin life over again at
twenty-nine.

"What, let down my hair and wear my dresses short?" I asked.

She admitted that was what I'd have to do.

I thought for a whole minute, and at last I just couldn't bear to
disappoint her. But all the same, I reminded myself, I might as well
make a good bargain while I was about it.

"If I do what you want," said I, "you'll have to be mighty nice to me. I
must be given my way about important things. If you ever refuse to do
what I like, after I've done so much for you, I'll just turn up my hair
and put on a long frock. Then everybody'll see how old I am."

She would have promised anything, I guess; and that very afternoon she
gave me three lovely rings, and a ducky little bracelet-watch, when we
were out shopping for short clothes and babyfied hats. Soon we moved
away from that hotel to one on the north side, where nobody had seen us;
and the first thing I knew, I was a little girl again.

It certainly was fun. To really appreciate being a child, you ought to
have been grown up in another state of existence, and remember your
sensations. It was something like that with me, and my life was almost
as good as a play. I could say and do dreadfully naughty things, which
would have been outrageous for a grown-up young lady of nearly
seventeen. And _didn't_ I do them all? I never missed a single chance,
and I flatter myself that I haven't since.

The French madame made a real work of art of Mamma. The progress was
lovely to watch. She kept herself shut up in her room all day,
pretending to be an invalid, and drove out in a veil to the madame's.
Then, when she was finished, we went right away from Chicago to New
York, where we meant to stay for a while till we sailed for Europe.

Mamma hadn't been East before, since she was a girl of twenty, for that
was when she married Papa, and he took her to live in Denver. We bought
lots of beautiful things in New York, and Mamma enjoyed herself so much,
being pretty and having people stare at her, that she was almost sick
from excitement.

When we'd seen all the sights and were tired of shopping, she remembered
that she'd got a niece staying in the country not far away, on the
Hudson River. I'd heard Mamma speak of her sister, who, when seventeen,
had married a Savant (whatever that is), and had gone to California soon
afterwards, because she was delicate. But evidently the change hadn't
done her much good, because she died when her baby was born. The Savant
went on living, but he couldn't love his daughter properly, as she'd
been the cause of her mother's death. Besides, he wasn't the kind of man
to understand children, so when Madeleine was nine or ten, he sent her
to a school--a very queer school. It was kept by a Sisterhood; not nuns
exactly, because they were Protestants, but almost as good or as bad;
and an elderly female cousin of the Savant's was the head of the
institution.

There Madeleine Destrey had been ever since, though Mamma said she must
be nineteen or twenty; and now her father was dead. That news had been
sent to Mamma months before we left Denver, but as she and the Savant
had written to each other only about once every five or six years, it
hadn't affected her much. However, she thought it would be nice to go
and see Madeleine, and I thought so too.

It was a short journey in the train, and the place where the Sisterhood
live is perfectly lovely, the most beautiful I ever saw, with quantities
of great trees on a flowery lawn sloping down to the river.

I was wondering what my cousin would be like--the only cousin I've got
in the world; and though Mamma said she must be pretty, if she was
anything like her mother, I didn't expect her to be half as pretty as
she really is.

We surprised her as much as she did us, for naturally she expected Mamma
to be like other aunts, which she isn't at all--now; and evidently she
considered me a _curiosity_. But she was very sweet, and when she found
Mamma didn't want to be called Aunt Kathryn, she tried hard always to
"Kitty" her.

We only intended to spend the day, but it turned out that the time of
our visit was rather critical for Maida. She was in the act of having
her twentieth birthday; and it seemed that in her father's will he had
"stipulated" (that's the word the cousin-Mother-Superior used) that his
daughter should be sent to travel in Europe when she was twenty, for a
whole year.

The reason of the stipulation was, that though he didn't care for Maida
as most fathers care for their children, he was a very just man, and was
afraid, after living so long in the Sisterhood his daughter might wish
to join the Order, without knowing enough about the outside world to
make up her mind whether it truly was her vocation for good and all.
That was why she was to go to Europe; for when you're twenty-one you can
become a novice in the Sisterhood, if you like.

The Mother Superior didn't really want Maida to go one bit. It was easy
to see her anxiety to have the "dear child safe in the fold." But Maida
wasn't to inherit a penny of her father's money if she didn't obey his
will, which wouldn't suit the Sisterhood at all; so the Mother had to
hustle round and think how to pack Maida off for the year.

When we happened to arrive on the scene, she thought we were like
Moses's ram caught in the bushes. She told Mamma the whole story--(a
ramrod of a lady with a white face, a white dress, and a long, floating
white veil, she was) asking right out if we'd take Maida with us to
Europe.

Mamma didn't like the idea of being chaperon for such a girl as Maida;
but it was her own sister's daughter, and Mamma is as good-natured as a
Mellin's Food Baby in a magazine, though she gets into little tempers
sometimes. So she said, "Yes," and a fort-night later we all three
sailed on a huge German steamer for Cherbourg. "At least, that's what we
did in the 'dream,'" I reminded myself, when I had got so far in my
thoughts, lying in the monastery bed. And by that time the light was so
clear in the tiny white room, that there was no longer any doubt about
it, I really was awake. I was dear little thirteen-year-old Beechy
Kidder, who wasn't telling fibs about her age, because she _was_
thirteen, and was it anybody's business if she were something more
besides?



VIII

A CHAPTER OF PLAYING DOLLS


I looked at my bracelet-watch, which I had tucked under my pillow last
night. It wasn't quite six o'clock, and we hadn't gone to bed till after
one; but I knew I couldn't sleep any more, and life seemed so
interesting that I thought I might as well get up to see what would come
next.

The water-pitcher didn't hold much more than a quart, but I took the
best bath I could, dressed, and decided to find out what the monastery
grounds were like. We were not to be called till half-past seven, and it
was arranged that we should start at nine, so there was an hour and a
half to spare. I wondered whether I should wake Maida, and get her to go
with me, but somehow I wasn't in the mood for Maida. I was afraid that,
being in a monastery, she would be thinking of her precious Sisterhood
and wanting to hurry back as fast as she could. She does mean to join
when her year is up, I know, which is so silly of her, when the world's
such a nice place; and it nearly gives me nervous prostration to hear
her talk about it. Not that she often does; but it's bad enough to see
it in her eyes.

Maida is a perfect dear, much too good for us, and she always knows the
proper etiquetical thing to do when Mamma and I are wobbly; but she is
such an edelweiss that I'm always being tempted to claw her down from
her high white crags and then regretting it afterwards. Mamma gets cross
with her too, when she's particularly exalted, but we both love her
dearly; and we ought to, for she's always doing something sweet for us.
Only she's a great deal too humble. I suppose it's the thing to be like
that in a Sisterhood, but Mamma and I _aren't_ a Sisterhood, and the
sooner Maida realizes that there's such a place as the world, the better
it will be for her.

So I didn't wake Maida, but went tiptoeing out into the long corridor,
and got lost several times looking for the way out of doors.

At last I was in the garden, though, and it was very quaint and pretty,
with unexpected nooks, old, moss-covered stone seats, and a sundial that
you'd pay hundreds of dollars for in America. Staring up at the house I
thought a window-shutter moved; but I didn't attach any importance to
that until, after I'd crossed several small bridges and discovered a
kind of island with the river rushing by on both sides, I saw Prince
Dalmar-Kalm coming towards me.

I was sitting on a bench on the little green island, where I pretended
to be gazing down at the water and not to see him till he was close by;
for I was in hope that he wouldn't notice me in my grey dress among the
trees. I don't believe the Prince's best friends would call him an early
morning man. He's the kind that oughtn't to be out before lunch, and he
goes especially well with gaslight or electricity. I felt sure he'd be
unbearable before breakfast--either his breakfast or mine.

"It's a pity," I thought, "that I can't run down as rapidly from the age
of thirteen to the age of one as I have from seventeen to thirteen. When
the Prince found me. I should be sitting on the grass playing with
dandelions and saying. 'Da, da?' which would disgust him so much that
he'd stalk away and leave me in peace to grow up in time for breakfast."

But even a child must draw the line somewhere; and presently the Prince
said "Good-morning" (so nicely that I thought he must have had a cracker
or two in his pocket), asking if he might sit by me on the bench.

"I was just going in to wake Mamma," I replied, and I wondered whether,
if I jumped up suddenly, his end of the bench would go down and tilt him
into the river. It would have been fun to see His Highness become His
Lowness, and to tell Sir Ralph Moray afterwards, but just as I was on
the point of making a spring, he remarked that he had seen me come out,
and followed for a particular reason. If I tumbled him into the water, I
might never hear that reason; so seventeen-year-old curiosity overcame
thirteen-year-old love of mischief, and I sat still.

"As you have only just come out, I don't see why you should be just
going in, unless it is to get away from me," said the Prince, "and I
should be sorry to think that, because you are such a dear little girl,
and I am very fond of you."

"So was Papa," said I, with my best twelve-and-a-half-year-old
expression.

"But I am not quite ancient enough to be your Papa," replied the Prince,
"so you need not name us together like that."

"_Aren't_ you?" I asked, with big eyes.

"Well, that depends on how old you are, my dear."

"I'm too old for you to call your dear, unless you _are_ old enough to
be my Papa," was the sage retort of Baby Beechy.

"I'm over thirty," said the Prince.

"Yes, I know," said I. "I found the Almanach de Gotha on the table of
our hotel at Cap Martin, and you were in it."

"Naturally," said the Prince, but he got rather red, as people always do
when they find out that you know just how far over thirty they've really
gone. "But I'm not married," he went on, "therefore you cannot think of
me as of your papa."

"I don't think of you much as anything," said I. "I'm too busy."

"Too busy! Doing what?"

"Playing dolls," I explained.

"I wish you were a little older," said the Prince, with a good imitation
of a sigh. "Ah, _why_ haven't you a few years more?"

"You might ask Mamma," I replied. "But then, if I had, _she_ would have
more too wouldn't she?"

"That would be a pity. She is charming as she is. She must have married
when almost a child."

"Did you come out here at this time of the morning to ask me about
Mamma's marriage?" I threw at him. "Because, if _that_ was your reason,
I'd rather go in to my dolls."

"No, no," protested the Prince, in a hurry. "I came to talk about
yourself."

I began to feel an attack of giggles coming on, but I stopped them by
holding my breath, as you do for hiccoughs, and thinking about Job,
which, if you can do it soon and solemnly enough, is quite a good
preventive. I knew now exactly why Prince Dalmar-Kalm had dashed on his
clothes at sight of me and come into the garden on an empty stomach. He
had thought, if he could get me all alone for half an hour (which he'd
often tried to do and never succeeded) he could find out a lot of things
that he would like to know. Perhaps he felt it was impossible for
anybody to be as young as I seem, so that was what he wanted to find out
about first. If I _wasn't_, he would flirt; if I _was_, he would merely
pump.

There wasn't much time to decide on a "course of action," as Mamma's
lawyer in Denver says; but I put on my thinking-cap and tied it tight
under my chin for a minute. "There's more fun to be had in playing with
him than with dolls," I said to myself, "if I set about it in the right
way. But what _is_ the right way? I can't be bothered having him for my
doll, because he'd take up too much time. Shall I give him to Maida? No,
I'll lend him to Mamma to play with, so long as she plays the way I want
her to, and doesn't get in earnest."

"What are you anxious to say about me that can't wait till breakfast?" I
asked.

"_Those men_ will be at breakfast," said he. "They are in the position
of your couriers, yet they put themselves forward, as if on an equality
with me. I do not find that conducive to conversation."

"Mamma asked Maida yesterday whether it was better to be an Austrian
prince, or an English baronet?" said I. "Sir Ralph Moray's a baronet."

"So he says," sneered the Prince.

"Oh, he is. Mamma looked him out in Burke the very day I found you were
thirty-nine in the Almanach de Gotha."

"Anybody can be a baronet. That is nothing. It is a mere word."

"It's in three syllables, and 'prince' is only in one. Besides,
Austrians are foreigners, and Englishmen aren't."

"Is that what Miss Destrey said to your Mamma?"

"No, because Mamma's a foreign Countess now, and it might have hurt her
feelings. Maida said she felt more at home with a plain mister--like Mr.
Barrymore, for instance; only he's far from plain."

"You consider him handsome?"

"Oh, yes, we all do."

"But I think you have not known him and Sir Ralph Moray for long. Your
Mamma has not mentioned how she met them, but from one or two things
that have been dropped, I feel sure they are in her employ--that she has
hired them to take you about in their very inadequate car; is it not
so?"

"I'll ask Mamma and tell you what she says, if you'd like me to," I
replied.

"No, no, dear child, you are too literal. It is your one fault. And I
find that you are all three too trusting of strangers. It is a beautiful
quality, but it must not be carried too far. Will you not let me be your
friend, Miss Beechy, and come to me for advice? I should be delighted to
give it, for you know what an interest I take in all connected with you.
There! Now you have heard what I followed you out especially to say. I
hoped that this would be a chance to establish a confidential
relationship between us. _Voulez-vous, ma chère petite?_"

"What kind of a relationship shall we establish, exactly?" I asked. "You
say you don't want to be my Papa."

"If I were your Papa, I should be dead."

"If you were my brother, and the age you are now, Mamma might as well be
dead."

"Ah, I would not be your brother on any consideration. Not even your
step-brother; though some step-relationships are delightful. But your
Mamma is too charming--you are _all_ too charming, for my peace of mind.
I do not know how I lived before I met you."

I thought that the money-lenders perhaps knew; but there are some things
even little Beechy can't say.

"Your Mamma must have great responsibilities for so young a woman," he
went on, while I pruned and prismed. "With her great fortune, and no one
to guard her, she must often feel the weight of her burden too heavy for
one pair of shoulders."

"One can always spend one's fortune, and so get rid of the burden, if
it's too big," said I.

The Prince looked horrified. "Surely she is more wise than that?" he
exclaimed.

"She hasn't spent it all yet, anyhow," I said.

"Are you not anxious lest, if your Mamma is extravagant, she may throw
away your fortune as well as her own; or did your Papa think of that
danger, and make you quite secure?"

"I guess I shall have a little something left, no matter what happens,"
I admitted.

"Then your Papa was thoughtful for you. But was he also jealous for
himself? Had I been the husband of so fascinating a woman as your Mamma,
I would have put into my will a clause that, if she married again, she
must forfeit everything. But it may be that Americans do not hug their
jealousy in the grave."

"I can't imagine poor Papa hugging anything," I said. "I never heard
that he objected to Mamma marrying again. Anyhow, she's had several
offers already."

"She should choose a man of title for her second husband," said the
Prince, very pleased with the way the pump was working.

"Maybe she will," I answered.

He started slightly.

"It should be a title worth having," he said, "and a man fitted to bear
it, not a paltry upstart whose father was perhaps a tradesman. You, Miss
Beechy, must watch over your dear Mamma and rescue her from fortune
hunters. I will help. And I will protect _you_, also. As for Miss
Destrey, beautiful as she is, I feel that she is safe from unworthy
persons who seek a woman only for her money. Her face is her fortune,
_n'est-ce pas_?"

"Well, it's fortune enough for any girl," said I, thinking again of Job
and all the other really solemn characters in the Old Testament as hard
as ever I could.

The Prince sighed, genuinely this time, as if my answer had confirmed
his worst suspicions. "He will be nice to Mamma, now," said little
Beechy to big Beechy. "No more vacillating. He'll come straight to
business." And promising myself some fun, I got up from the bench so
cautiously that the poor river was cheated of a victim. "Now I _must_ go
in," I exclaimed. "_Good_-bye, Prince. Let me see; what are we to each
other?"

"Confidants," he informed me. "You are to come to me with every
difficulty. But one more word before we part, dear child. Be on your
guard, and warn your Mamma to be on hers, with those two adventurers.
Perhaps, also, you had better warn Miss Destrey. Who knows how
unscrupulous the pair might be? And unfortunately, owing to the
regrettable arrangements at present existing, I cannot always be at hand
to watch over you all."

"Owing a little to your automobile too, maybe," said I. "By the way,
what is its state of health?"

"There has been no room for the automobile in my thoughts," said the
Prince, with a cooled-down step-fatherly smile. "But I have no doubt it
will be in good marching order by the time it is wanted, as my chauffeur
was to rise at four, knock up a mechanic at some shop in the village,
and make the new change-speed lever which was broken yesterday. If you
are determined to leave me so soon, I will console myself by finding
Joseph and seeing how he is getting on."

We walked together towards the house, which had opened several of its
green eyelids now, and at the mouth of a sort of stucco tunnel which led
to the door there was Joseph himself--a piteous, dishevelled Joseph,
looking as if birds had built nests on him and spiders had woven webs
round him for years.

"Well," exclaimed the Prince with the air of one warding off a blow.
"What has happened? Have you burnt my automobile, or are you always like
this when you get up early?"

"I am not an incendiary, Your Highness," said Joseph, in his precise
French, which it's easy to understand, because when he wishes to be
dignified he speaks slowly. "I do not know what I am like, unless it is
a wreck, in which case I resemble your automobile. As you left her last
night, so she is now, and so she is likely to remain, unless the
gentlemen of the other car will have the beneficence to pull her up a
still further and more violent hill to the village of Tenda. There finds
himself the only mechanic within fifty miles."

"I engaged _you_ as a mechanic!" cried the Prince.

"But not as a workshop, Your Highness. That I am not and shall not be
this side of Paradise. And it is a workshop that we must have."

"Do not let me keep you, Miss Beechy," said the Prince, "if you wish to
go to your Mamma. This little difficulty will arrange itself."

I adore rows, and I should have liked to stay; but I couldn't think of
any excuse, so I skipped into the house, and almost telescoped (as they
say of railroad trains) with the nice monk, who was talking to Maida in
the hall.

I supposed she was telling him about the Sisters, but she was quite
indignant at the suggestion, and said she had been asking if we could
have breakfast in the garden. The monk had given his consent, and she
had intended to have everything arranged out doors, as a surprise, by
the time we all came down.

"Aunt Kathryn is up; I've been doing her hair," explained Maida, "but we
didn't hear a sound from your room, so we decided not to disturb you.
What _have_ you been about, you weird child?"

"Playing dolls," said I, and ran off to help Mamma put on her
complexion.

But it was on already, all except the icing. I confessed the Prince to
her, and she looked at me sharply. "Don't forget that you're a little
girl now, Beechy," she reminded me. "What were you talking about?"

"You and my other dolls, Mamma," said I. "Even when I was seventeen I
never flirted fasting."

"What did you say about me, dearest?"

"Oh, it was the Prince who said things about you. You can have him to
play with, if you want to."

"Darling, you shouldn't talk of playing. This is a very serious
consideration," said Mamma. "I never heard much about Austrians at home.
Most foreigners there were Germans, which made one think of beer and
sausages. I do wonder what standing an Austrian Prince would have in
Denver? Should you suppose he would be preferred to--to persons of less
exalted rank who were--who were not quite so _foreign_?"

"Do the Prince and Sir Ralph Moray intend to go over as samples?" I
asked sweetly, but Mamma only simpered, and as a self-respecting child I
cannot approve of a parent's simpering.

"I wish you wouldn't be silly, Beechy," she said. "It is a step, being a
Countess, but it is not enough."

"You mean, the more crowns you have, the more crowns you want."

"I mean nothing of the sort," snapped Mamma, "but I have some ambition,
otherwise what would have been the good of coming to Europe? And if one
gets opportunities, it would be sinful to neglect them. Only--one wants
to be sure that one has taken the best."

"There they all three are, in the yard," I remarked, pointing out of the
window at the Opportunities, who were discoursing earnestly with Joseph.
"Of course, I'm too young _now_ to judge of such matters, but if it was
_I_ who had to choose--"

"Well?"

"I'd toss up a penny, and whichever side came, I'd take--"

"Yes?"

"Mr. Barrymore."

"Mr. Barrymore! But he has no title! I might as well have stayed in
America."

"I said that, because I think he'd be the hardest to get. The other
two--"

"What about them?"

"Well, you don't need to decide between them yet. Just wait till we've
travelled a little further, and see whether you come across anything
better worth having."

"Oh, Beechy, I never know whether you're poking fun at me or not,"
sighed poor Mamma, so forlornly that I was sorry--for a whole
minute--that I'd been born wicked; and I tied her tulle in a lovely bow
at the back of her neck, to make up.



IX

A CHAPTER OF REVELATIONS


Maida really was the prettiest thing ever created, when I looked down at
her from Mamma's window, as she arranged flowers and cups and saucers on
the table which the monk had carried out for her, into the garden. He
had quite a gallant air, in his innocent way, as if he were an old beau,
instead of a monk, and his poor face seemed to fall when Mamma's
untitled Opportunity--all unconscious that he was an Opportunity--saw
Maida, left Joseph, and sprang to her assistance. But no wonder those
two men, so different one from the other, found the same joy in waiting
on her! The morning sun sprinkled gold on her hair, and made her fair
skin look milky white, like pearl; then, when she would pass under the
arbour of trees, the shadows threw a glimmering veil over her, and
turned her into a mermaid deep down in the green light of the sea.

I don't believe our glorified chauffeur would have stopped talking motor
talk and run about with dishes for Mamma or me as he did for Maida. And
I wonder if one of us had adopted that little scarecrow of a black dog,
whether he would have given it a bath in the fountain and dried it with
his pocket-handkerchief?

That is often the way. If a girl has set her face against marriage and
would rather be good to the poor than flirt, every man she's reluctantly
forced to meet promptly falls in love with her, while all the thoroughly
nice, normal female things like Mamma and me have to take a back seat.

By the way, Mamma and I are literally in the back seat on this
automobile trip; but my name isn't Beechy Kidder if it's dull for any
length of time.

However, this reflection is only a parenthesis in the midst of
breakfast; for we all had breakfast together in the monastery garden and
were as "gay as grigs." (N.B.--Some kind of animal for which Sir Ralph
is responsible.)

The Prince was nice to the two "adventurers," because he didn't want
them to repent their promise to tow his car up to Tenda; Maida was nice
to everybody, because a monastery was next best to a convent; Mr.
Barrymore was nice to her dog; Sir Ralph and the Prince were both nice
to Mamma, and Breakfast (I spell it with a capital to make it more
important) was nice to the poor little girl who would have had nobody to
play with, if each one hadn't been a dancing doll of hers without
realizing it.

The monk wouldn't charge us a cent for our board, so we had
unconsciously been paying him a visit all the time, though paying
nothing else, and the Prince had actually found fault with the coffee!

However, Sir Ralph gave him a donation for the charities of the house,
which he accepted, so we could bid him good-bye without feeling like
tramps who had stolen a lodging in somebody's barn.

As our automobile had to drag the Prince's, and it appeared that Tenda
was less than three miles away, Maida and I decided to walk. Sir Ralph
walked with us, and the Prince looked as if he would like to, but after
our talk before breakfast, he naturally felt that his place was by the
side of Mamma. She comes down two inches in common-sense walking shoes,
so of course hills are not for her, now that she's trying to be as
beautiful as she feels; but the Prince persuaded her to sit in the
tonneau of his car, as it crawled up the steep white road behind Mr.
Barrymore and the Panhard, so slowly that he could pace beside her. Sir
Ralph talked to Maida, as we three trailed after the two motors, and I
began to wonder if I hadn't been a little too strenuous in making the
Prince entirely over to Mamma.

Not that I wanted him personally, but I
did want some one to want me, so presently I pretended to be tired, and
running after the toiling cars, asked Mr. Barrymore whether my weight
would make much difference if I sat by him.

"No more than a feather," said he, with such a delightful smile that I
wished myself back at seventeen again, so that he might not talk "down"
to me in that condescending, uncomfortable way that grown-ups think
themselves obliged to use when they're entertaining children. If he had
only known it, I should have been quite equal to entertaining _him_; but
I was a victim to my pigtails and six inches of black silk stocking.

"Do you like motoring?" he asked, conscientiously.

"Yes," said I. "And it _is_ a fine day. And I would rather travel than
go to school. And I admire Europe almost as much as America So you
needn't bother about asking me those questions. You can begin right now
with something you would really _like_ to ask."

He laughed. "As you're so fastidious, I'd better consider a little," he
said.

"Maybe it would save time if I should suggest some subjects," said I,
"for I suppose we'll be at Tenda soon, even though the Prince's car is
as big as a house, and this hill is as steep as the side of one. Would
you like to ask me about Mamma's Past?"

"Good gracious, what do you take me for?" exclaimed Mr. Barrymore.

"I haven't decided yet," I replied, "though the Prince has talked to me
quite a good deal about you."

"Has he, indeed? What does he know about me?" and our magnificent
chauffeur turned suddenly so red under his nice dark skin, that I
couldn't help wondering if, by any chance, the Prince were the least
little bit right about his being an adventurer. I almost hoped he was,
for it would make things so much more romantic. I felt like saying,
"Don't mind me, my dear young sir. If you've anything to conceal about
yourself, I shall like you all the better." But what I really did say
was that the Prince seemed much more interested in people's Pasts than
he--Mr. Barrymore--appeared to be.

"My future is more interesting to me than my own past, or any one
else's," he retorted. But I thought that he looked a little troubled, as
if he were racking his brain for what the Prince could have let out, and
was too proud or obstinate to ask.

"You _are_ selfish," I said. "Then there's no use my trying to make this
ride pleasant for you, by telling you anecdotes of my past--or Maida's."

At this his profile changed. I can't say his "face" because he was
steering a great deal more than was flattering to me, or necessary in
going up hill. Would the fish bite at that last tempting morsel of bait?
I wondered. The Prince would have snapped at it; but though Mr.
Barrymore's title is only that of chauffeur, he is more of a gentleman
in his little finger than the Prince in his whole body. He may be an
adventurer, but anyhow he isn't the kind who pumps naughty little girls
about their grown-up relations' affairs.

"I am only concerned with yours and Miss Destrey's present," he said
after a minute.

"But the present so soon becomes the past, doesn't it? There's never
more than just a minute of the present, really, if you come to look at
it in that way, all the rest is past and future."

"Never mind," said Mr. Barrymore. "You've got more future than any of
the party."

"And poor Maida has less."

He forgot about his old steering-wheel for part of a second, and gave me
such a glance that I knew I had him on my hook this time.

"Why do you say that?" he asked, quite sharply.

"Oh, you _are_ interested in somebody's future beside your own then?"

"Who could help being--in hers?"

"You look as if you thought I meant she was dying of a decline," said I.
"It isn't quite as bad as that, but--well, beautiful as Maida is I
wouldn't change places with her, unless I could change souls as well. It
would be a good deal better for Maida in _this_ world if she could have
mine, though just the opposite in the next."

"Such talk clouds the sunshine," said Mr. Barrymore, "even for a
stranger like me, when you prophesy gloomy mysteries for one who
deserves only happiness. You said something of the sort to Moray
yesterday. He told me, but I was in hope that you had been joking."

"No," said I. "But I suppose Maida doesn't think the mysteries gloomy,
or she wouldn't 'embrace' them--if that's the right word for it. Mamma
and I imagined that coming to Europe would make her see differently
perhaps, but it hadn't the last time I asked her. She thought Paris lots
of fun, but all the same she was homesick for the stupid old convent
where she was brought up, and which she is going to let _swallow_ her up
in a year."

"Good Heavens, how terrible!" exclaimed our chauffeur, looking
tragically handsome. "Can nothing be done to save her? Couldn't you and
your mother induce her to change her mind?"

"We've tried," said I. "She saw a lot of society in Paris and when we
were at Cap Martin, but it gave her the sensation of having made a whole
meal on candy. Mamma has the idea of being presented to your Queen
Alexandra next spring, if she can manage it, and she told Maida that, if
she'd tack on a little piece to her year of travel, _she_ might be done
too, at the same time. But Maida didn't seem to care particularly about
it; and the society novels that Mamma loves don't interest her a bit.
Her favourite authors are Shakspere and Thomas Hardy, and she reads
Cooper and Sir Walter Scott. So what _can_ you do with a girl like
that?"

"There are other things in life besides society."

"Mamma doesn't think so. I guess we've both done all we can. I'm afraid
poor Maida's doomed. But there's one comfort; she'll look perfectly
beautiful in the white robe and veil that her Sisterhood wears."

Mr. Barrymore gave a sort of groan. "What a vocation for a girl like
that!" he muttered, more to himself than to me, I imagine. "Something
desperate ought to be done."

"_You_ might try to influence her," I said. "Not that I think it's
likely you _could_. But there's no harm in trying."

He didn't answer, but his face was as grave as if I had just invited him
to a funeral, and as even Job couldn't have kept my features from
playing (why shouldn't features play, if they can work?), I hastily
sought the first excuse for laughter I could find lying about loose.

"Oh, how _funny_!" I exclaimed. "Ha, ha, ha, how _funny_!"

"What is funny?" drearily demanded our chauffeur.

"Why, that queer little grey-brown town we're coming to. It looks for
all the world like an exhibition of patent beehives at a country fair."

"That is Tenda," volunteered Mr. Barrymore, still plunged in the depths
of gloom. "Your unfortunate namesake, poor Beatrice di Tenda, would have
been surprised to hear such a simile applied to her native town."

"Who was she?" I felt bound to inquire.

"I was telling Miss Destrey about her yesterday. She seemed interested.
Miss Destrey is very fond of history, isn't she?"

"Yes. But I'm tired talking of her now. I want to hear about the other
Beatrice. I suppose, if she was Italian, she was Bice too; but I'm sure
her friends never made her rhyme with mice."

"Her husband made her rhyme with murder. Did you never hear of the opera
of Beatrice di Tenda? Her story is one of the most romantic tragedies in
history. Well, there she was born, and there she lived as a beautiful
young woman in that old castle whose ruined tower soars so high above
your collection of beehives. When she was in her gentle prime of beauty,
the ferocious Duke Filippo Maria Visconti came riding here from Milan to
court the sweetest lady of her day. She didn't care for him, of course,
but young women of high rank had less choice in those times than they
have in these, and that was the way all the mischief began. She did love
somebody else, and the wicked Duke starved her to death in the tower of
another old castle. When we get to Pavia, which we shall pass on the way
to Milan, I'll show you and Miss Destrey where your namesake lived when
she was a duchess, and died when her duke would have her for a duchess
no more, but wanted somebody else. Poor Beatrice, I wonder if her spirit
has ever been present at the performance of the opera, and whether she
approved."

"I hope she came with the man she loved, and sat in a box, and that the
duke was down in--in--"

"The pit," said Mr. Barrymore, laughing, and giving a glance back over
his shoulder for Maida and Sir Ralph, as he stopped the car in front of
a machinist's place. "Here we are, Joseph," he called to the Prince's
chauffeur, who was steering the broken car. "Now, how soon do you expect
to finish your job?"

"With proper tools, it should be no more than an hour's work," said
Joseph, jumping down.

"An hour? Why, I should have thought three would be more like it,"
exclaimed Mr. Barrymore.

"I am confident that I can do it in one all little hour," reiterated
Joseph, and for once the Prince regarded him benignly.

"Whatever Joseph's faults, he is an excellent mechanician," said His
Highness. "I did not intend to ask that you would wait, but if my car
can be ready so soon, perhaps you will have pity upon me, Countess, and
let me escort you to the castle while Joseph is working."

"Castle? I don't see any castle," returned Mamma, gazing around.

"What's left of it looks more like a walking-stick than a castle," said
I, pointing up to the tall, tapering finger of broken stone that almost
touched the clouds.

"Is Mamma's new property in Dalmatia as well perserved as that,
Prince?"

"You have always a joke ready, little Miss Beechy." His lips
smiled; but his eyes boxed my ears. Almost I felt them tingle; and
suddenly I said to myself, "Good gracious, Beechy Kidder, what if your
dolls should take to playing the game their own way, in spite of you,
now you've set them going! Where would you be _then_, I'd like to know?"
And a horrid creep ran down my spine, at the thought of Prince
Dalmar-Kalm as a step-father. Maybe he would shut _me_ up in a tower and
starve me to death, as the wicked duke did with the other Beatrice; and
it wouldn't comfort me a bit if some one wrote an opera about my
sufferings. But if he thinks he'll really get Mamma, he little knows Me,
that's all. We shall see what we shall see.



X

A CHAPTER OF THRILLS


The hotel at Tenda is apparently the one new thing in the town, and it
is new enough to more than make up for the oldness of everything else.
We went there to grumble because, after we had done the ruined castle
(and it had done Mamma), Joseph's "all little" hour threatened to
lengthen itself into at lest two of ordinary size.

Mr. Barrymore's eyebrows said, "I told you so," but his tongue said
nothing, which was nice of it; and the Prince did all the complaining as
we sat on perfectly new chairs, in a perfectly new parlour, with a smell
of perfectly new plaster in the air, and plu-perfectly old newspapers on
the table. According to him, Joseph was an absolutely unique villain,
with a combination of deceit, treachery, procrastination, laziness, and
stupidity mixed with low cunning, such as could not be paralleled in the
history of motor-men; and it was finally Mr. Barrymore who defended the
poor absent wretch.

"Really, you know," said he, "I don't think he's worse than other
chauffeurs. Curiously enough, the whole tribe seems to be alike in
several characteristics, and it would be an interesting study in motor
lore to discover whether they've all--by a singular coincidence--been
born with those peculiarities, whether they've been thrust upon them, or
whether they've achieved them!"

"Joseph never achieved anything," broke in the Prince.

"That disposes of one point of view, then," went on Mr. Barrymore.
"Anyhow, he's cut on an approved pattern. All the professional
chauffeurs I ever met have been utterly unable to calculate time or
provide for future emergencies. They're pessimists at the moment of an
accident, and optimists afterwards--until they find out their mistakes
by gloomy experience, which, however, seldom teaches them anything."

The Prince shrugged his shoulders in a superior way he has, and drawled,
"Well, you are better qualified to judge the brotherhood, than the rest
of us, at all events, my dear sir."

Mr. Barrymore got rather red, but he only laughed and answered, "Yes,
that's why I spoke in Joseph's defence. A fellow-feeling makes us
wondrous kind," while Maida looked as if she would like to set the new
dog at His Highness.

The fact is she has got into her head that our handsome chauffeur is
very unfortunate; and when Maida is sorry for anybody or anything she'll
stick by that creature--man, woman, or dog--through thick and thin. And
funnier still, _he_ is sorry for _her_. Well, it all comes into my game
of dolls. But I'm not sure that I shan't fall in love with him myself,
and want to keep him up my sleeve against the time when I'm seventeen
again.

The hotel clock was so new that it hadn't learned to go yet; and I never
saw people glance at their watches so much, even in the midst of a long
sermon, as we did, sitting on those new chairs in that new parlour. At
last Sir Ralph Moray proposed that we should have lunch; and we had it,
with delicious trout as new as the dish on which they came frizzling to
the table. While we were eating them Joseph was announced, and was
ordered to report himself in the dining-room. He seemed quite
cheerful--for him.

"I came to tell Your Highness that I shall be able to finish in time to
start by four o'clock this afternoon," said he complacently.

Up sprang the Prince in a rage and began to shout French things which
must have been shocking, for Sir Ralph and Mr. Barrymore both scowled at
him till he superficially calmed down.

Joseph had either forgotten that he'd promised to be ready hours ago,
or else he didn't see why we should attach the least importance to a
tiny discrepancy like that.

In the midst of the argument, while the Prince's language got hot and
his fish cold, Mr. Barrymore turned to Mamma and proposed that we should
start directly after lunch, as most probably the Prince wouldn't get off
till next morning.

The prospect of staying all night at Tenda, with nothing to do but sit
on the new chairs till bed time, was too much even for Mamma's wish to
please Titled Opportunity Number One. She nervously elected to go on
with Titled Opportunity Number Two and his friend.

I thought that the Prince would be plunged in gloom by this decision,
even if he didn't try to break it. To my surprise, however, he not only
made no objection, but encouraged the idea. He wouldn't wish to
sacrifice us on the altar of his misfortune, he said. We must go on,
dine at Cuneo, and he would meet us at the hotel there, which he could
easily do, as, when once his automobile was itself again, it would
travel at more than twice the speed of ours. "Especially up hill," he
added. "The landlord has told Joseph that beyond Tenda the ascent is
stupendous, nothing less than Alpine. You will be obliged to travel at a
snail's pace, even if you reach the top without every passenger walking
up the hill, which mounts, curve after curve, for miles."

Poor Mamma's face fell several inches. She had had enough walking up
hill for one day, as the Prince knew well, and no doubt he enjoyed the
chance of disgusting her with motoring in other people's automobiles.
But Mr. Barrymore's expression would have put spirit into a mock turtle.
"I know what the gradients are," he said, "and what we can do. To show
that I'm an exception which proves the rule I laid down for chauffeurs,
I'm not making any experiments without counting the cost. I hope we
shall get to Cuneo by tea-time, not dinner-time, and push on to
Alessandria as a better stopping-place for the night."

"Very well. In any case I shall expect to catch you up at Cuneo," said
the Prince, "and so, if you please, we will make a rendezvous at a
certain hotel."

Baedeker was produced, a hotel was selected, and half an hour later His
Highness was bidding us _au revoir_, as we settled ourselves in our
luggage-wreathed car, to leave the town of Beatrice and the dominating,
file-on-end shaped ruin.

We had all been up so early that it seemed as if the day were growing
old, but really it was only one o'clock, for we'd lunched at twelve, and
all the afternoon was before us in which to do, or not to do, our great
climbing act.

Just to see how our gorgeous chauffeur would look, I asked if I mightn't
sit on the front seat for a change, because my feet had gone to sleep in
the tonneau yesterday. I half-expected that he would shuffle round for
an excuse to keep Maida; but with an immovable face he said that was for
the three ladies to arrange. Of course, Maida must have wanted to be in
front, but she is so horribly unselfish that she glories in sacrificing
herself, so she gave up as meekly as if she had been a lady's-maid, or a
dormouse, and naturally I felt a little brute; but I usually do feel a
brute with Maida; she's so much better than any one I ever saw that I
can't help imposing on her, and neither can Mamma. It's a waste of good
material being so awfully pretty as Maida, if you're never going to do
anything for people to forgive.

Yesterday we had been too hot in our motor-coats till night came on.
To-day, when we had left Tenda a little way below, we opened our
shawl-straps and got out our fur stoles.

At first I thought that the Prince had only been trying to frighten us,
and make us wish we were in a big car like his, for the road went
curving up as gracefully and easily as a swan makes tracks in the water,
and our automobile hummed cheerfully to itself, forging steadily up. It
was so nice having nothing to drag that, by comparison with yesterday
afternoon, we moved like a ship under full sail; but suddenly the road
reared up on its hind feet and stood almost erect, as though it had been
frightened by the huge snow-capped mountains that all at once crowded
round us. An icy wind rushed down from the tops of the great white
towers, as if with the swooping wings of a giant bird, and it took our
car's breath away.

Instead of humming it began to pant, and I noticed the difference at
once. If I'd been Maida, I should probably have been too polite to put
questions about the thing's behaviour, for fear Mr. Barrymore might
think I hadn't proper confidence in him; but being Beechy, with no
convictions to live up to, I promptly asked if anything was the matter.

"The car's only trying to tell me that she can't manage to spurt up on
third speed any more," said he. "I shall put on the second, and you'll
hear what a relief it gives to the motor."

It certainly was as if the automobile had gulped down a stimulant, and
revived in a second. But as we turned a shoulder of the mountain, coming
in sight of a railroad depôt, a high embankment, and a monstrous wall of
mountain with the sky for a ceiling, I couldn't help giving a little
squeak.

"Is that a _road_?" I asked, pointing up to a network like a skein of
silk twisted in a hundred zigzags across the face of the mountain from
bottom to top. "Why, it's like the way up Jack's beanstalk. No sane
automobile could do it."

"Some could," said Mr. Barrymore, "but I dare say it's lucky for us that
ours hasn't got to. It's the old road, only used now to communicate with
that desolate fortress you see on the top shelf of the mountain,
standing up there on the sky-line like the ark on Ararat. All this
country is tremendously fortified by both the French and Italians, in
case they should ever come to loggerheads. Above us somewhere is a long
tunnel burrowing into the _col_, and the new road runs through that
instead of over the summit."

"Bump!" went the car, as he finished his explanation, and then we began
to wade jerkily through a thick layer of loose stones that had been
spread over the road like hard butter over stale bread.

"_Le corse_" (that is what our landlord had called the cruel wind
sweeping down from the snow mountains) was hurling itself into our
faces; our fat rubber tyres were bouncing over the stones like
baseballs, and I'd never been so uncomfortable nor so perfectly happy in
my life. I wished I were a cat, so that I could purr, for purring has
always struck me as the most thorough way of expressing satisfaction.
When other people are in automobiles, and you are walking or jogging
past with a pony, you glare and think what insufferable vehicles they
are; but when you're spinning, or even jolting, along in one of them
yourself, then you know that there's nothing else in the world as well
worth doing. I made a remark like that to Mr. Barrymore, and he gave me
such a friendly, appreciative look as he said, "Have you discovered all
this already?" that I decided at once to eat my heart out with a vain
love for him.

I haven't been really in love before since I was ten; so the sensation
was quite exciting, like picking up a lovely jewel on the street, which
you aren't sure won't be claimed by somebody else. I was trying to think
what else I could say to fascinate him when the car lost its breath
again, and--"r-r-retch" went in another speed.

"It's our 'first and last,'" said Mr. Barrymore. "Good old girl, she's
going to do it all right, though there's many a twenty-four horse-power
car that wouldn't rise to it. By Jove, this is a road--and a half. I
believe, Ralph, that you and I had better jump off and ease her a bit."

Mamma squeaked, and begged our chauffeur not to leave us to go up by
ourselves, or we should be over the awful precipice in an instant. But
Mr. Barrymore explained that he wasn't deserting the ship; and he walked
quickly along by the side of the car, through the bed of sharp stones,
keeping his hand always on the steering-wheel like a pilot guiding a
vessel among hidden rocks.

Maida would have been out too, in a flash, if Mr. Barrymore had let her,
but he told us all to sit still, so we did, happy (judging the others by
myself) in obeying him.

I hadn't supposed there could be such a road as
this. If one hadn't had hot and cold creeps in one's toes for fear the
"good old girl" would slide back down hill and vault into space with us
in her lap, one would have been struck dumb with admiration of its
magnificence. As a matter of fact, we were all three dumb as mutes, but
it wasn't only admiration that paralysed my tongue or Mamma's, I know,
whatever caused the phenomenon with Maida, who has no future worth
clinging to.

As we toiled up, in spite of the stones that did their best to keep us
back, we simply hung on the breathing of the motor, as Mamma used to on
mine when I was small and indulged in croup. When she gasped, we gasped
too; when she seemed to falter, we involuntarily strained as if the
working of our muscles could aid hers. All our bodies sympathized with
the efforts of her body, which she was making for our sakes, dragging us
up, up, into wonderful white, shining spaces where it seemed that summer
never had been and never would dare to come.

The twisted skein of silk we had looked up to was turning into a coil of
rope now, stretched taut and sharp from zig to zag, and on from zag to
zig again. Below, when we dared to look back and down, the coil of rope
lay looser, curled on itself. The mountain-top crowned by the fort
(which as Mr. Barrymore said, did certainly look like the ark on Ararat
when all the rest of creation was swept off the globe) didn't appear so
dimly remote now. We were coming almost into friendly relations with it,
and with neighbouring mountains whose summits had seemed, a little while
ago, as far away as Kingdom Come.

I began to feel at last as if I could speak without danger of giving the
motor palpitation of the heart. "What are you thinking of, Maida?" I
almost whispered.

"Oh!" she answered with a start, as if I'd waked her out of a dream. "I
was thinking, what if, while we're still in this world we could see
heaven, a far, shining city on a mountain-top like one of these. How
much harder we would strive after worthiness if we _saw_ the place
always with our bodily eyes; how much harder we'd try; and how much
less credit it would be for those who succeeded."

"What are _you_ thinking of, Mamma?" I asked. "Did the big mountains
give you a thought too?"

"Yes, they did," said she, "but I'm afraid it was more worldly than
Maida's. I was saying to myself, the difference in being down far below,
where we were, and high up as we are now, is like our old life in Denver
and our life here." As she went on to expound her parable, she lowered
her voice, so that Sir Ralph and Mr. Barrymore, walking, couldn't catch
a word. "In those days at home, it would have seemed as impossible that
we could have princes and baronets and--and such people for our most
_intimate_ friends, as it looked a little while ago for us to get near
that fort up there, or the mountain-tops. Yet we are, in--in every sense
of the word, _getting there_."

The thoughts which the mountains had put into Maida's golden head and
Mamma's (now) auburn one were so characteristic of the heads themselves
that I chuckled with glee, and our two men glanced round questioningly.
But in accordance with Mamma's simile, to explain to them would have
been like explaining to the mountains themselves.

By and by, though still going up, we were on snow level. Snow lay white
as Maida's thoughts on either side of the steep road, but _le corse_ had
run shrieking farther down the mountain, and was not at home in its own
high house. We were less cold than we had been; and when presently the
worst of the zigzags were past and a great black tunnel-mouth in sight
to show we'd reached the _col_, the sun was almost warm. A few moments
more, and (on our second best speed, with all five on board) we had shot
into that great black mouth.

I always thought that we had the longest and biggest of everything in
our country, but I never heard of a tunnel like this in America.

It was the queerest thing to look into I ever saw.

The lamps of our automobile which Mr. Barrymore had stopped to light
before plunging in, showed us a long, long, straight passage cut through
the mountain, with an oval roof arched like an egg. Except for a few
yards ahead, where the way was lit up and the arch of close-set stones
glimmered grey, the blackness would have been unbroken had it not been
for the tunnel-lights. They went on and on in a sparkling line as far as
our eyes could reach; and if the most famous whale in the world had had
a spine made of diamonds, Jonah would have got much the same effect that
we did as he wandered about in the dark trying to get his bearings.

It was only the most distant electric lamps that looked as if they were
diamonds stuck close together along the roof. The near ones were balls
of light under swaying umbrellas of ink-black shadow; and sometimes we
would flash past great sharp stalactites, which were, as Maida said,
like Titanesses' hatpins stuck through from the top of the mountain.

At first the tunnel road was inches thick with white dust; then, much to
our surprise, we ran into a track of greasy mud which made our car waltz
as it had in the Roya valley close to the precipice.

"It's the water filtering in through the holes your Titanesses' hatpins
have made in their big pincushion," explained Mr. Barrymore, who had
heard Maida make that remark. And the hateful creatures had so
honeycombed the whole mountain over our heads, that Mamma and I put up
umbrellas to save ourselves from being drenched.

"What a place this would be for an accident! Or--suppose we met
something that _objected_ to us!" Mamma shrieked, her voice all but
drowned by the reverberation made by our motor in the hollow vault.

With that, as if her words had "conjured it from the vasty deep"--to use
a quotation of Sir Ralph's--something appeared, and it did object to us
very much.

It was a horse, and it gleamed like silver as our front lamp pointed it
out to our startled eyes with a long, bright finger of light.

He was coming towards us, down the narrow, arched passage, walking on
his hind legs, with some one in a cart behind him, standing up and
hitting him on the head with a whip.

We were not really going very fast on account of the splashy mud; but
what with the roaring echo of the motor, the dripping of water, the
narrowness of the tunnel, the yapping of our little dog, the shouts of
the man in the cart, and the strangeness of the picture ahead--just like
a lighted disc on the screen of a magic lantern--it did seem as if
everybody concerned must come to awful grief in about three seconds.

I don't know whether I screamed or not; though I know Mamma did; a deaf
man would have known that. But the first thing I was really sure of was
that Mr. Barrymore had not only stopped the car but the motor, had
jumped down, and gone to the horse's head.

He said something quickly to the driver, which I couldn't understand,
because it was in Italian; but the man didn't yell or whip the horse any
more. Mr. Barrymore patted the poor beast, and talked to him, until he
seemed tired of dancing about as if he were popcorn over a hot fire.
Then, when he had quieted down, and remembered that his forefeet were
given him to walk with and not to paw the air, Mr. Barrymore led him
gently up to our automobile, patting his neck all the time. He snorted
and quivered for a minute, then smelt of what Mr. Barrymore calls the
"bonnet," with the funniest expression of disgust and curiosity.

I imagined the horse was thinking, "This is a very nasty thing, but it
seems to belong to the nicest, kindest man I ever met, so perhaps it
isn't as bad after all as I thought at first."

The driver's scowl turned to a smile, as he eventually drove by, we
waiting till he had got safely past.

"I think that was real nice of you, Mr. Barrymore," said Mamma, as we
went teuf-teufing on again.

She is always a little uneasy with him, because, though he's a friend of
Sir Ralph Moray's, he's only a chauffeur, and she isn't quite sure
whether she oughtn't to patronize him a little to keep up her dignity
as a Countess. But it was a good sign that she should remember his name
for once. As for me, I've given him one for use behind his back, which
is to make up for his lack of a title, express his gorgeousness and
define his profession all at the same time. It is "Chauffeulier," and I
rather pride myself on it.

"It was only decent," he answered Mamma. "I love horses, and I've enough
imagination to guess pretty well how one feels when he's called upon to
face some unknown horror, with no sympathy from behind. It would have
been sheer brutality not to stop motor and all for that poor white chap.
He won't be as bad next time; and perhaps his master will have learned a
little common sense too. All the same, that kind of adventure spells
delay, and I hope this tunnel isn't infested with timid horses. Luckily,
the line seems all clear ahead."

A few minutes more, and looking before and after, we could see far away
two little oval pearls of daylight, one straight ahead, one straight
behind. It was like having one's foresight as good as one's hindsight;
which in real life, outside tunnels, would save a lot of disasters. Mr.
Barrymore explained that we'd reached the apex of two slopes, and now we
would be descending gradually.

It gave us a shock to burst out into the sunlight again by-and-by, but
it was a glorious shock, with a thrill as the dazzling white mountains
seemed to leap at our eyes.

If you speak of zigzags going up hill, oughtn't you to call them zagzigs
going down? Anyway, there they were, hundreds of them apparently,
looking something as a huge corkscrew might look if it had been laid on
a railroad track for a train to flatten.

We began to fly down, faster and faster, the motor making no noise at
all. At each turn of the corkscrew it seemed to me as if we must leap
over into space, and I felt as if I had been struck by lightning; but
always our chauffeur steered so as to give plenty of margin between our
tyres and the edge of the precipice; and by-and-by I was thoroughly
charged with electricity so that I ceased to be actually afraid. All I
felt was that my soul was covered with a very thin, sensitive skin.

"Oh, Mr. Terrymore, for mercy's sake, for _heaven's_ sake...!" wailed
Mamma. "I don't feel _able_ to die to-day."

"You shan't, if I can help it," answered Mr. Barrymore, without looking
round; but as he never wears goggles, I could see his face plainly from
my place by his side, and I thought it had rather an odd, stern
expression. I wondered whether he were cross with Mamma for seeming to
doubt his skill, or whether something else was the matter. But instead
of fading away, the expression seemed to harden. He looked just as I
should think a man might look if he were going to fight in a battle. I
awfully wanted to ask if anything were wrong, but something
mysterious--a kind of atmosphere around him, like a barrier I could feel
but not see--wouldn't let me.

"I believe the thing is broken, somehow," I said to myself; and the
thought was so awful, when I stared down at all those separate layers of
precipice which we would have to risk before we reached human-level (if
we ever reached it) that my heart pounded like a hammer in my side. It
was a terrible sensation, yet I revelled in it with a kind of desperate
joy; for everything depended on the eye, and nerve, and hand of this one
man whom it was so thrilling to trust.

Each time we twisted round a corkscrew I gave a sigh of relief; for it
was one less peril to pass on the way to safety.

"Do just stop for a moment and let us breathe," cried Mamma; and my
suspicions were confirmed by Mr. Barrymore's answer, thrown over his
shoulder. "It's best not, Countess," he said. "I'll explain afterwards."

Mamma is always ecstatic for an instant after any one has addressed her
as "Countess," so she didn't insist, and only murmured to herself, "Oh,
_why_ did I leave my peaceful home?" in a minor wail which showed me
that she wasn't really half as anxious as I was. But if she could have
seen Mr. Barrymore's profile, and had the inspiration to read it as I
did, she would probably have jumped out of the automobile in full
flight. Whereupon, though she might have gained a crown to wear upon her
forehead, all those on her brushes and powder-pots, and satchels and
trunks, would have been wasted. Poor little Mamma!

We plunged down below the snow-line; we saw far beneath us a wide, green
valley, where other people, the size of flies, were safe if not happy.
We passed some barracks, where a lot of sturdy little mountain soldiers
stopped bowling balls in a dull, stony square to watch us fly by. We
frightened some mules; we almost made a horse faint away; but the
Chauffeulier showed no desire to stop and let them admire our "bonnet"
at close quarters.

The excitement of the drive, and my conviction that Mr. Barrymore was
silently fighting some unseen danger for us all, filled me with a kind
of intoxication. I could have screamed; but if I had, it wouldn't have
been with cowardly fear. Partly, perhaps, the strange exhilaration came
from the beauty of the world on which we were descending almost as if we
were falling from the sky. I felt that I could have lovely thoughts
about it--almost as poetical as Maida's--if only I had had time; but as
it was, the ideas jostled each other in my mind like a crowd of people
rushing to catch a train.

From behind, I could hear Maida's voice from moment to moment, as she
talked to Mamma or Sir Ralph, innocently unsuspicious of any hidden
danger.

"Isn't it all wonderful?" she was saying. "Day before yesterday we left
riotous, tumultuous summer on the Riviera; found autumn in the Roya
valley, chill and grim, though so magnificent; and came into winter
snows this morning. Now we've dropped down into spring. It's like a
fairy story I read once, about a girl whose cruel stepmother drove her
from home penniless, and sent her into the mountains at dead of night,
telling her never to come back unless she could bring an apronful of
strawberries for her stepsister. The poor girl wandered on and on in the
dark in a terrible storm, until at last she strayed to a wild
mountain-top, where the twelve Months lived. Some were old men, wrapped
in long cloaks; some were young and ardent; some were laughing boys.
With a stroke of his staff, each Month could make what he would with the
weather. Father January had but to wave his stick to cause the snow to
fall; May, in pity for the girl's tears, created a rose garden, while
his brother's snow-wreaths were melting; but it was June who finally
understood what she wanted, and gave her a bed of fragrant strawberries.
I feel as if _we_ had wandered to the house of the Months, and they were
waving their staffs to create miracles for us."

"It will be a miracle if we ever get out of the house of the Months and
into one of our own," I said to myself, almost spitefully, for the talk
in the tonneau did seem frivolous when I glanced up furtively at that
tight-set mouth of Mr. Barrymore's. And after that, to look down from a
frame of snow mountains through a pinky-white haze of plum, cherry, and
pear blossoms to delicate green meadows sparkling with a thick gold-dust
of dandelions, was for me like going out to be tried for my life in a
frock made by a fairy.

I hardly breathed until the corkscrew uncurled itself at last and turned
into an ordinary downhill road. Our car slackened speed, and finally, as
we came upon the first long, level stretch, to my astonishment moved
slower and more slowly until it stopped dead.



XI

A CHAPTER OF BRAKES AND WORMS


Mamma laughed one of those coquettish, twenty-five-year-old laughs that
go with her auburn hair and her crowns.

"Well, have you decided to give us a chance to breathe, after all?" she
asked. "I should say it was about time."

"I'm afraid you'll breathe maledictions when you hear what is the
matter," said our Chauffeulier.

"Good gracious! what's happened?" exclaimed Mamma. "If the thing's going
to explode, do let us get out and run."

"So far from exploding, she's likely to be silent for some time," Mr.
Barrymore went on, jumping down and going to the automobile's head. "I'm
awfully sorry. After the delays we've suffered, you won't think motoring
is all it's painted, when I tell you that we're in for another."

"Why, what is it this time?" Mamma asked.

"I'm not quite sure yet," said Mr. Barrymore, "but the chains are wrong
for one thing, and I'm inclined to think there's some deep-seated
trouble. I shall soon find out, but whatever it is, I hope you won't
blame the car too much. She's a trump, really; but she had a big strain
put upon her endurance yesterday and this morning. Dragging another car
twice her size for thirty miles or more up a mountain pass isn't a joke
for a twelve horse-power car."

Any one would think the automobile was his instead of Sir Ralph's by the
pride he takes in it. Sir Ralph doesn't seem to care half as much; but
then I don't believe he's a born sports-man like his friend. You can be
a motor-car owner if you've got money enough; but I guess you have to be
_born_ a motor-car man.

"Well, this isn't exactly an ideal place for an accident," remarked
Mamma, "as it seems to be miles from anywhere; but we ought to be
thankful to Providence for not letting the break come up there on that
awful mountain."

I saw a faint twinkle in Mr. Barrymore's eyes and a twitch of his lips,
as he bent down over the machinery without answering a word, and I
couldn't resist the temptation of letting him see that I was in his
secret. There couldn't be any harm in it's coming out now.

"Thankful to Mr. Barrymore for bringing us safely down the 'awful
mountain' when the break _had_ come at the top," I corrected Mamma, with
my chin in the air.

"Good Heavens, Beechy, what _do_ you mean?" she gasped, while our
Chauffeulier flashed me a quick look of surprise.

"Oh, only that the accident, whatever it was, happened soon after we
came out of the tunnel, and if Mr. Barrymore'd stopped when you wanted
him to, he couldn't have started again, for we were just running
downhill with our own weight; and I knew it all the time," I explained
airily.

"You're joking, Beechy, and I think it's horrid of you," said Mamma,
looking as if she were going to cry.

"Am I joking, Mr. Barrymore?" I asked, turning to him.

"I had no idea that you guessed, and I don't see now how you did; but
it's true that the accident happened up there," he admitted, and he
looked so grave that I began to feel guilty for telling.

"Then it was only by a merciful dispensation that we weren't hurled over
the precipice and dashed to pieces," exclaimed Mamma.

"That depends on one's definition of a merciful dispensation," said Mr.
Barrymore. "From one point of view every breath we draw is a merciful
dispensation, for we might easily choke to death at any instant. We were
never for a single moment in danger. If I hadn't been sure of that, of
course I would have stopped the car at any cost. As a matter of fact,
when we began the descent I found that the hand-brake wouldn't act, and
knew the chains had gone wrong. If I'd thought it was only that I could
have put on our spare chains, but I believed there was more and worse,
so I determined to get on as far towards civilization as I could before
stopping the car."

"You brought us down those ghastly hills without a brake!" Mamma cried
out, losing her temper. "And Sir Ralph called you careful! I can never
trust you again."

I could have slapped her and myself too.

"Aunt Kathryn!" exclaimed Maida. Then I could have slapped her as well
for interfering. It would serve her right if I married her off to the
Prince.

The Chauffeulier looked for a second as if he were going to say "Very
well, madam; do as you like about that." But Maida's little reproachful
exclamation apparently poured balm upon his troubled soul.

"Not without a brake," he answered, with great patience and politeness,
"but with one instead of two. If the foot-brake had burned, as possibly
it might, the compression of the gas in the cylinder could have been
made to act as a brake. The steering-gear was in perfect order, which
was the most important consideration in the circumstances, and I felt
that I was undertaking a responsibility which the car and I together
were well able to carry out. But as I thought that amateurs were likely
to be alarmed if they knew what had happened, I naturally kept my
knowledge to myself."

"I saw that something was wrong by the set expression of your face,"
said I, "and I wasn't a bit afraid, because I felt, whatever it was,
you'd bring us through all right. But I'm sorry I spoke now."

"You needn't be," said he. "I shouldn't have done so myself yet I
wasn't silent for my own sake; and I should do the same if it had to be
done over again."

But this didn't comfort me much, for I was sure that Maida wouldn't have
spoken if she had been in my place. I don't know why I was sure, but I
was.

"Whatever Barrymore does in connection with a motor-car, is always
right, Countess," said Sir Ralph, "though in other walks of life I
wouldn't vouch for him."

His funny way of saying this made us all laugh and Mamma picked up the
good temper which she had lost in her first fright. She began to
apologize, but Mr. Barrymore wouldn't let her; and the storm was soon
forgotten in the interest with which we hung upon the Chauffeulier's
explorations.

He peered into the mysterious inner workings of the machine, tapped some
things, thumped others, and announced that one of the "cones of the
countershaft" was broken.

"There's no doubt that the undue strain yesterday and this morning
weakened it," he said, coming up from the depths with a green smear on
his noble brow. "What we've really to be thankful for is that it waited
to snap until we'd got up all the hills. Now, though as the Countess
says we seem to be miles from anywhere, we're actually within close
touch of civilization. Unless I'm out in my calculations, we must be
near a place called Limone, where, if there isn't much else, at least
there's a station on the new railway line. All we've got to do is to
find something to tow us, as we towed Dalmar-Kalm (a mere mule will
answer as well as a motor) to that station, where we can put the car on
the train and be at Cuneo in no time. The guide-books say that Cuneo's
interesting, and anyhow there are hotels of sorts there--also machine
tools, a forge, a lathe, and things of that kind which we can't carry
about with us."

"What a splendid adventure!" exclaimed Maida. "I love it; don't you,
Beechy?"

I answered that I entertained a wild passion for it; but all the same, I
wished I'd mentioned it first.

This settled Mamma's attitude towards the situation. She saw that it was
_young_ to enter into the spirit of the adventure, so she took the cue
from us and flung herself in with enthusiasm enough to make up for her
crossness.

"Somebody must go on an exploring expedition for a mule," said Mr.
Barrymore, "and as I'm the only one whose Italian is fairly fluent, I
suppose I must be the somebody. Miss Destrey, would you care to go with
me for the sake of a little exercise?"

In another minute I would have volunteered, but even thirteen-year-olds
have too much pride to be the third that makes a crowd. Gooseberry jam
is the only jam I don't like; so I kept still and let them go off
together, chaperoned by the little black dog. Sir Ralph stood by the
automobile talking to Mamma while I wandered aimlessly about, though I
could tell by the corner of his eye that she didn't occupy his whole
attention.

Just to see what would happen, I suddenly squatted down by the side of
the road, about twenty yards away, and began to dig furiously with the
point of my parasol. I hadn't been at work for three minutes when I was
rewarded. "The Countess has sent me to ask what you are doing, Miss
Beechy," announced a nice voice; and there was Sir Ralph peering over my
shoulder.

"I'm looking for one of my poor relations," said I. "A worm. She's sent
up word that she isn't in. But I don't believe it."

"I'm glad my rich relations aren't as prying as you are," said he. "I
often send that message when it would be exceedingly inconvenient to
have further inquiries pressed. Not to rich relations, though, for the
very good reason that they don't bother about me or other poor worms,
who have not my Félicité to defend them."

"Who's Félicité?" I asked, not sorry to keep Sir Ralph for my own sake
or that of Mamma--who was probably taking advantage of his absence to
put powder on her nose and pink stuff on her lips, by the aid of her
chatelaine mirror.

"Who's Félicité? You might as well ask who is the Queen of England.
Félicité is my cook--my housekeeper--my guide, philosopher and friend;
my all."

"That dear, fat duck who brought us tea the day we were at your house?"

"I have two ducks. But Félicité was the one who brought you the tea. The
other eats mice and fights the cat. Félicité doesn't eat mice, and
fights me."

"I loved her."

"So do I. And I could love you for loving her."

"Perhaps you'd better not."

"Why? It's safe and allowable for men of my age to love little girls."

"I'm different from other little girls. You said so yourself. Besides
what is your age?"

"Twenty-nine."

"You look about nineteen. Our Chauffeulier looks older than you do."

"Chauffeulier? Oh, I see, that's your name for Terry. It's rather
smart."

"I call it a title, not a name," said I. "I thought he ought to have
one, so I dubbed him that."

"He ought to be complimented."

"I mean him to be."

"Come now, tell me what name you've invented for me, Miss Beechy."

I shook my head. "You've got a ready-made title. But you look too boyish
to live up to it. The Chauffeulier would come up to my idea of a baronet
better than you do."

"Oh, you don't have to be dignified really to be a baronet, you know.
Terry--er--you mustn't mention to him that I told you; but he may be
something a good deal bigger than a baronet one day."

"He's a good deal bigger than a baronet now," said I, laughing, and
measuring Sir Ralph from head to foot. "But what may he be one day?"

"I mustn't say more. But if you're at all interested in him, that will
be enough to fix your attention."

"What would be the good of fixing my attention on him, if that's what
you mean," I inquired, "when he's got his attention fixed upon another?"

"Oh, you mustn't judge by appearances," said Sir Ralph hastily. "He
likes you awfully; though, of course, as you're so young, he can't show
it as he would to an older girl."

"I shall grow older," said I. "Even before we finish this trip I shall
be a _little_ older."

"Of course you will," Sir Ralph assured me soothingly. "By that time,
Terry will, no doubt, have screwed up courage to show you how much he
likes you."

"I shouldn't have thought he lacked courage," said I.

"Only where girls are concerned," explained Sir Ralph.

"He seems brave enough with my cousin Maida. It's Mamma and me he
doesn't say much to, unless we speak to him first."

"You see he's horribly afraid of being thought a fortune-hunter. He's
almost morbidly sensitive in that way."

"O-oh, I see," I echoed. "Is that the reason he's so stand-off with
us--because he knows we're rich?"

"Yes. Otherwise he'd be delightful, just as he is with Miss Destrey,
with whom he doesn't have to think of such things."

"You're fond of him, aren't you?" I asked, beginning again to dig for
the worm; for Sir Ralph was squatting beside me now, watching the point
of my parasol.

"Rather!" he exclaimed. "He's the finest fellow on earth. I should like
to see him as happy as he deserves to be."

"But you don't want him to fall in love with Maida?"

"That's the last thing I should choose for either of them. Though it's
early to talk of such contingencies, isn't it, as they've known each
other--we've all known each other--only a few days?"

"It only takes a few minutes for the most important things to happen,
such as being born and dying. _Why_ should falling in love take more? It
wouldn't with me."

"You're young to judge."

"Pooh, I've been in love several times. Now I come to think of it, I'm
in love this moment--or almost. _Why_ don't you want Mr. Barrymore to
fall in love with my cousin?"

"It would be imprudent."

"Perhaps you're falling in love with her yourself."

"I shouldn't wonder."

"If you'll tell me whether you are or not, I'll tell you who it is I
_think_ I'm in love with."

"Well, I _could_ be. Now for your secret."

"I give you leave to guess."

"Really?"

"And truly."

"Some one we've just been talking about?"

"'I could be.' Oh dear, I believe this worm _is_ out after all."

"This is most interesting. I don't mean about the worm. Terry's in luck
for once."

"But he thinks me a little girl."

"Little girls can be fascinating. Besides, I'll make it my business to
remind him that little girls don't take long to grow up."

"Will you really? But you won't let him know about this talk?"

"Sooner would I be torn in two by wild motor-cars. These confidences are
sacred."

"I'll say nice things about you to Maida," I volunteered.

He stared for a minute, and then laughed. "I should tell you not to if I
weren't certain that all the nice things in the world might be said on
that subject with no more effect upon Miss Destrey than a shower of rain
has on my duck's back. You must try and help me not to fall in love with
her."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because, for one reason, she'd never fall in love with me; and for
another, I couldn't in any event afford to love her, any more than can
my friend Terry Barrymore."

"Perhaps I'd better work her off on the Prince, and then you'd both be
out of danger," said I.

"It would at least save me anxiety about my friend, though I should
doubtless suffer in the process," replied Sir Ralph.

"I'll comfort you whenever I have time," I assured him.

"Do," he entreated. "It will be a real charity. And in the meantime, I
shan't be idle. I shall be working for you."

"Thank you ever so much," said I. "I should be glad if you'd report
progress from time to time."

"I will," said he. "We'll keep each other up, won't we?"

"Be-echy!" shrieked Mamma. "I've been screaming to you for the last
_twenty_ minutes. Come here at once and tell me what you're doing. It's
sure to be something naughty."

So we both came. But the only part that we mentioned was the worm. X



XII

A CHAPTER OF HORRORS


It is wonderful how well it passes time to have a secret understanding
with anybody; that is, if you're a girl, and the other person a man. Mr.
Barrymore and Maida seemed hardly to have gone before they were back
again; which pleased me very much. In attendance was a man with a
mule--a grinning man; a ragged and reluctant mule; which was still more
reluctant when it found out what it was expected to do. However, after a
fine display of diplomacy on our Chauffeulier's part, and force on that
of the mule's owner, the animal was finally hitched to the automobile
with strong rope.

Mr. Barrymore had to sit in the driver's seat to steer, while the man
led the mule, but we others decided to walk. Mamma's heels are not quite
as high as her pride (when she's feeling pretty well), so she preferred
to march on the road rather than endure the ignominy of being dragged
into even the smallest of villages behind the meanest of beasts.

A train for Cuneo was due at Limone, it seemed, in an hour, and we could
walk there in about half that time, Mr. Barrymore thought. He had made
arrangements with the _capo di stazione_, as he called him, to have a
truck in readiness. The automobile would be put on it, and the truck
would be hitched to the train.

Maida and I were delighted with everything; and when Mamma grumbled a
little, and said this sort of thing wasn't what she'd expected, we
argued so powerfully that it was much more fun getting what you did not
expect, than what you did, that we brought her round to our point of
view, and set her laughing with the rest of us.

"After all, what does it matter, as long as we're all young together?"
said she, at last; and then I knew that the poor dear was happy.

Sir Ralph considered Limone an ordinary Italian village, but it seemed
fascinating to us. The fruit stalls, under overhanging balconies, looked
as if piled with splendid jewels; rubies, amethysts and pearls, globes
of gold, and silver, and coral, as big as those that Aladdin found in
the wonderful cave. Dark girls with starry eyes and clouds of hair stood
gossipping in old, carved doorways, or peered curiously down at us from
oddly shaped windows; and they were so handsome that we liked them even
when they doubled up with laughter at our procession, and called their
lovers and brothers to laugh too.

Men and women ran out from dark recesses where they sold things, and
from two-foot-wide alleys which the sun could never have even seen,
staring at us, and saying "molta bella" as Maida passed. She really was
very effective against the rich-coloured background--like a beautiful
white bird that had strayed into the narrow village streets, with
sunshine on its wings. But she didn't seem to realize that she was being
looked at in a different way from the rest of us. "I suppose we're as
great curiosities to them, as they are to us," she said, lingering to
gaze at the gorgeous fruit, or some quaint Catholic emblems for sale in
dingy windows, until Sir Ralph had to hurry her along lest we should
miss the train.

We were in plenty of time, though; and at the railroad depôt (according
to me), or the railway station (according to Sir Ralph and our
Chauffeulier), the automobile had been got onto the truck before the
train was signalled. Our tickets had been bought by Mr. Barrymore, who
would pay for them all, as he said it was "his funeral," and we stood in
a row on the platform, waiting, when the train boomed in.

As it slowed down, car after car passing us, Mamma gave a little scream
and pointed. "Look, there's another automobile on a truck!" said she.
"My goodness, if it isn't exactly like the Prince's!"

"And if that isn't exactly like the Prince!" echoed Sir Ralph, waving
his hand at the window of a car next to the truck.

We all broke into a shout of ribald joy. Not even a saint could have
helped it, I'm sure; for Maida is pretty near to a saint, and she was as
bad as any of us.

The Prince's head popped back into the window, like a rabbit's into its
hole; but in another second he must have realized that it was no use
playing 'possum when there, within a dozen yards, was that big scarlet
runner of his, as large as life, though not running for the moment. He
quickly decided to make the best of things by turning the tables upon
us, and pointing the finger of derision at our automobile, which by
careening himself out of the window he could see on its truck.

Before the train had stopped, he was down on the platform, gallantly
helping Mamma up the high step into the compartment where he had been
sitting; so we all followed.

"You broke something, I see," His Highness remarked jovially, as if
nothing had ever happened to him.

"It was you who broke it," said I, before either of our men could speak.

"But I mean something in your motor," he explained.

"Yes, its heart! The long agony of towing you up those miles of mountain
was too much for it. But motors' hearts can be mended."

"So can young ladies', _n'est-ce pas_? Well, this is an odd meeting. I
telegraphed you, Countess, to the hotel at Cuneo, where we arranged our
rendezvous, in case you arrived before me, to say that I was on the way;
but now we will all go there together. Since we parted I have had
adventures. So, evidently, have you. Joseph's repairs were so
unsatisfactory, owing to his own inefficiency and that of the machine
shop, that I saw the best thing to do was to come on by train to Cuneo,
where proper tools could be obtained. After some difficulty I found
horses to tow me up to the railway terminus at Vievola, where I
succeeded in getting a truck, and--_voila_!"

Whereupon Mamma poured a history of our exploits into the Prince's ears,
exaggerating a little, but saying nothing detrimental to our
Chauffeulier, who would perhaps not have cared or even heard if she had,
for he was showing things to Maida through the window.

"We're in Piedmont now," he said. "How peaceful and pretty, and
characteristically Italian it is, with the vines and chestnut trees and
mulberries! Who would think, to see this richly cultivated plain, that
it was once appropriately nicknamed 'the cockpit of Europe,' because of
all the fighting that has gone on here between so many nations, ever
since the dawn of civilization? It's just as hard to realize as to
believe that the tiny rills trickling over pebbly river-beds which we
pass can turn into mighty floods when they choose. When the snows melt
on Monte Viso--that great, white, leaning tower against the sky--and on
the other snow mountains, then is the time of danger in this land that
the sun loves."

Mamma thought the train rather restful after an automobile, but I
discouraged her in that opinion by saying that it sounded very
old-fashioned, and she amended it by hurriedly remarking that, anyhow,
she would soon be tired of resting and glad to get on again.

"That must be Cuneo, now," said Mr. Barrymore, pointing to a distant
town which seemed to grow suddenly up out of the plain, very important,
full of vivid colours, and modern looking after the strange, ancient
villages we had passed on the way.

When we got out of the train Joseph was on the platform, more depressed
than ever, but visibly brightening at sight of Mr. Barrymore, for whom
he evidently cherishes a lively admiration; or else he regards him as a
professional brother.

What happened to the two automobiles, I don't know, for we didn't stop
to see. Sir Ralph had a hurried consultation with Mr. Barrymore, and
then said that he would take us up to the hotel in a cab, with all our
luggage.

There wasn't room for the Prince in our ramshackle old vehicle, and he
took another, being apparently very anxious to arrive at the hotel
before us. He spoke to his driver, who lashed the one poor nag so
furiously that Maida cried out with rage, and they flashed past us, the
horse galloping as if Black Care were on his back. But something
happened to the harness, and they were obliged to stop; so we got ahead,
and reached the wide-arcaded square of the hotel first after all.

It was quite a grand-looking town, for a middle-sized one, but Mamma
drew back hastily when she had taken a step into the hall of the hotel.
"Oh, we can't stop here!" she exclaimed. "This must be the worst instead
of the best."

With that several little men in greasy dress-coats, spotted shirts, and
collars so low that you could see down their necks, sprang forward and
bowed very humbly, like automata. "May I have the extreme honour of
asking if it is her very high grace, Madame the Countess Dalmar and
suite who felicitate our humble hotel with their presence?" inquired the
fattest and spottiest in one long French breath.

Mamma drew herself up to her full height, which must be at least five
feet three, heels included. I don't know exactly what it is to bridle,
but I'm sure she did it. She also moistened her lips and smiled with
both dimples.

"Wee, wee, jay swee Countess Dalmar," she admitted, leaving her suite to
account for itself.

"Then I have here a telegram for madame," went on the man, giving her a
folded paper which, with an air, he drew forth from an unspeakable
pocket.

Mamma looked important enough for a princess, at least, as she accepted
(I can't say took) the paper and opened it. "Oh, I might have known,"
she said, "it's that one the Prince sent this morning. But isn't it
funny he telegraphs 'Automobile in grand condition, took hills like
bird, shall make slight détour for pleasure, but will reach Cuneo
almost as soon as your party. Dalmar-Kalm.' I don't understand, do you?"

"I understand why the Prince was willing to be left behind at Tenda, and
why he wanted to get to this hotel first, anyhow," said I; and Sir Ralph
and I were laughing like mad when his belated Highness appeared on the
scene. Seeing Mamma with the telegram in her hand, he explained volubly
that it had been sent before he decided to save time and wear and tear
by coming on the train; but he was red, and stammery, and Sir Ralph
looked almost sympathetic, which made me wonder whether _all_ motor-men
sometimes tell fibs.

After being received with so much appreciation, Mamma began to think
that perhaps the hotel wasn't so dreadful after all; and when Sir Ralph
gave his opinion that it would prove as good as any other, she said that
we would stay.

"I should be sorry to hurt the people's feelings, as they seem such
_nice_ men," she sighed. "But--I suppose it will only be for coffee?"

"I'm sorely afraid it will be for dinner to-night and breakfast
to-morrow morning too," replied Sir Ralph. "It's too bad that virtue
such as ours should have such a reward. We did unto others as we would
they should do unto us; and this is the consequence. Terry intends to
work all night on the car, if he can get the mechanic to keep his shop
going, and we may hope to start as early in the morning as you like."

"Perhaps Joseph may have mine ready to-night, in which case I can take
the ladies on--" the Prince began, but Mamma was too overcome to hear
him. Trying to look like a Countess at all costs, she allowed herself
and us to be led, as lambs to the slaughter, up a flight of dirty stone
stairs, to see the bedrooms.

"You will have our best, is it not, Madame la Comtesse?" inquired the
man of the hotel, who seemed to be a cross between a manager and a
head-waiter, and who swelled with politeness behind a shirt-front that
resembled nothing so much as the ten of clubs. "Yes, I was sure of
that, gracious madame. You and your suite may assure yourselves that you
will be placed in our _chambres de luxe_."

With this announcement, he threw open a door, and stood salaaming that
we might file in before him.

Mamma pitched forward down a step, shrieked, tottered, saved herself by
clawing the air, while Maida and I both pitched after her, falling into
fits of laughter.

It could n't have been colder in the spotty man's family vault, and I
hope not as musty.

Maida flew to one of the two windows, set deep in the thickness of the
wall, and darkened by the stone arcade outside. But apparently it was
hermetically sealed, and so was the other which I attacked. The Ten of
Clubs looked shocked when we implored him to open something--anything;
and it was with reluctance that he unscrewed a window. "The ladies will
be cold," he said. "It is not the weather for letting into the house the
out of doors. We do that in the summer."

"Haven't these windows been opened since then?" gasped Maida.

"But no mademoiselle. Not to my knowledge."

"Make him show us other rooms, quick," said Mamma, who can't speak much
more French than a cat, though she had a lesson from a handsome young
gentleman every day at Cap Martin, at ten francs an hour.

"This is the only one that will accommodate the ladies," replied the Ten
of Clubs. "The other that we have unoccupied must be for the gentlemen."

The idea of our two men and the Prince as room-mates was so excruciating
that I suddenly felt equal to bearing any hardship; but Mamma hasn't the
same sense of humour I have, and she said that she knew she was
sickening for something, probably small-pox.

"Three of us in this room all night!" she wailed. "We shall never leave
the hotel alive."

At this juncture Sir Ralph appeared at the door, peeping gingerly in at
us, and looking the picture of misery.

"I'm so sorry for everything," he said. "Terry's down-stairs, and we
both feel that we're awful sweeps, though we hope you won't think we
are. He's going to interview the other hotels and see if he can find
anything better, so don't decide till he comes back."

We three female waifs stood about and smelt things and imagined that we
smelled still more things, while Sir Ralph exhausted himself in keeping
up a conversation with the Ten of Clubs, as if all four of our lives
depended upon it. The ordeal lasted only about ten minutes, though it
seemed a year, and then Mr. Barrymore's tall form loomed in the dark
doorway.

"There's nothing better," he announced desperately. "But you ladies can
go on to Alessandria by train with Dalmar-Kalm, who'll be only too happy
to take you."

"What, and desert Mr. Automobile-Micawber?" I cut in. "Never! We're none
of us _infirm old women_, are we, Mamma, that we should mind roughing
it, for once?"

"No-o," said Mamma. "It--I dare say it will be fun. And anyhow, we can
have them make a fire here, so it will be less like picnicking in one's
own grave."

The very thought of a fire was cheering, and we trooped off to the
_salle à manger_, where it was understood that the Prince had gone to
order coffee. Mr. Barrymore wouldn't stay, for he was anxious to get
back to the motor, which he had left at a machinist's, and deserted only
long enough to come and give us news. The "shop" was to keep open all
night, and he would work there, making a new cone. Joseph, it seemed,
was to work all night in another shop, and both automobiles were to be
ready in the morning.

"But you will be horribly tired, driving through the day and working
through the night," said Maida. "I for one would rather stop here
to-morrow."

"It's nothing, thanks. I shall rather like it," replied the
Chauffeulier. "Please don't worry about me." Then he gave us a smile
and was off.

The coffee was so good that our spirits rose. We decided to unpack what
we needed, and then, by way of passing the time before dinner, take a
walk.

Strange to say, the Prince did not complain of his quarters, but, after
we had for the second time refused his offer of an escort to
Alessandria, became somewhat taciturn. We left him in the _salle à
manger_, Mamma heading the procession of three which trailed to our
room. Maida and I lingered behind for a moment, to play with our first
Italian cat, until a wild cry of "Fire!" from Mamma took us after her
with a rush. A cloud of wood smoke beat us back, but Maida pushed
bravely in, got a window open again, and, after all, there was nothing
more exciting than a smoky chimney.

Sir Ralph, hearing the clamour, flew to the rescue, poured water from
the pitcher into the ricketty three-legged stove, upset a good deal on
himself and on the cemented floor (which looked like a slab of frozen
sausage), and finally succeeded in putting out the fire, though not
until both beds were covered with blacks.

By this time the Ten of Clubs, the Nine, the Eight, and all the little
cards of the pack were dancing about us in a state bordering on frenzy,
but Maida and Sir Ralph together eventually evolved a kind of unlovely
order out of chaos, and everybody was told off to perform some task or
other: one to sweep, one to dust, one to change the bedding.

In self-defence we hurried off for our walk, leaving the unpacking for
later, and Sir Ralph proposed that we should find the machine shop where
the Chauffeulier was working.

We asked the way of a good many people, all of whom gave us different
directions, and at last arrived at a building which looked as if it
might be the right place. But there was Joseph pounding and mumbling to
himself, and no Mr. Barrymore.

In common humanity we stopped for a few words, and Joseph mistook our
inch of sympathy for an ell. Almost with tears he told us the history
of his day, and choked with rage at the prospect of the long task before
him. "What is it to His Highness that I lose a night's sleep?" he
demanded of a red-hot bar which he brandished at arm's length. "Less
than nothing, since he will sleep, believing that all will be ready for
him in the morning. But his dreams would be less calm if he knew what I
know."

"What do you know, Joseph?" asked Sir Ralph, edging nearer to the door.

"That the water-power will be shut off at eleven o'clock, the lathes
will no longer turn, and I can do nothing more till to-morrow morning at
six, which means that we will not get away till noon."

"By Jove, that's a bad look-out for us, too," said Sir Ralph, when we
had escaped from Joseph. "I suppose things will be the same at Terry's
place. What a den for you to be delayed in! But I've an idea the Prince
means to sneak quietly off to Alessandria, and will expect Joseph to
meet him there to-morrow morning. My prophetic soul divined as much from
his thoughtful air as we discussed our quarters."

It was almost dark when we found the other machine shop, at the end of a
long straight road with a brook running down it, and trees walking
beside it, straight and tall. It was a wonderful, luminous kind of
darkness, though, that hadn't forgotten the sunset, and the white
mountains were great banks of roses against a skyful of fading violets.
But the minute we stepped inside the machine shop, which was lighted up
by the red fire of a forge, night seemed suddenly to fall like a black
curtain, shutting down outside the open door and windows.

Two or three men were moving about the place, weedy little fellows; and
Mr. Barrymore was like a giant among them, a splendid giant, handsomer
than ever in a workman's blouse of blue linen, open at the throat, and
the sleeves rolled up to his elbows to show muscles that rippled under
the skin like waves on a river.

That was what I thought, at least; but Sir Ralph apparently differed
with me, for he said, "You do look a sweep. Isn't it about time you
dropped work, and thought of making yourself respectable for dinner?
Judging by appearances, that will take you several hours."

"I'm going to have a sandwich and some wine of the country here,"
answered the giant in the blue blouse. "Awfully good of you all to come
and call on me. Would you like to see the new cone, as far as it's got?"

Of course we said "yes," and were shown a thing which looked as if it
might be finished in ten minutes; but when Sir Ralph commented on it to
that effect, Mr. Barrymore went into technical explanations concerning
"cooling" and other details of which none of us understood anything
except that it would be an "all night job."

"But you can't work without the water-wheel, I suppose?" said Sir Ralph.
"And we've just heard from Joseph toiling away at a rival establishment,
that the water is taken off at eleven."

"This water won't be. I'm paying extra for it. As a great concession I'm
to have it all night. Joseph could have got it, too, if he'd had a
little forethought."

"Joseph and forethought! Never. And what is more, I don't think he'd
thank us for the information. He is rejoicing in the thought of an
excuse for bed."

"That's the difference between a chauffeur and a Chauffeulier," I
whispered to Maida.

"It's really very good of you to work so hard," said Mamma,
condescending to the blue blouse.

"I never enjoyed anything more in my life," replied its wearer, with a
quick glance towards Maida, which I intercepted. "The one drop of poison
in my cup is the thought of your discomfort," he went on, to us all.
"You must make them give you warming-pans anyhow, and be sure that the
beds are dry."

"I should think they're more like swamps than beds," said Mamma. "We
shall sit up rather than run any risk."

"Besides," I began, "there might be--"

[Illustration: _Two or three men were moving about the place_]

"_Hush_, Beechy!" she indignantly cut me short.

"I was only going to say there might be--"

"You mustn't say it."

"Sofa birds."

"You naughty, dreadful child. I am astonished."

"Don't prig or vipe, Mamma. Sir Ralph, don't you think those are nice
abbreviations? I made them up myself. 'Prig', be priggish.' Vipe', be
viperish. Mamma's not at all nice when she's either."

"I think you're all wonderfully good-natured," remarked Mr. Barrymore
hastily. "You are the right sort of people for a motoring trip, and no
other sort ought to undertake one. Only men and women of fairly
venturesome dispositions, who revel in the unexpected, and love
adventure, who can find fun in hardships, and keep happy in the midst of
disappointments, should set out on such an expedition as this."

"In fact, _young_ people like ourselves," added Mamma, beaming again.

"Yes, young in heart, if not in body. I hope to be still motoring when
I'm eighty; but I shall feel a boy."

We left him hammering, and looking radiantly happy, which was more than
we were as we wandered back to the arcaded town and our hotel; but we
felt obliged to live up to the reputation Mr. Barrymore had just given
us.

Somehow, the Ten of Clubs and his assistant cards (there were no
chambermaids) had contrived to make a fire that didn't smoke, and the
bed linen looked clean, though coarse. Dinner--which we ate with our
feet on boards under the table, to keep them off the cold stone
floor--was astonishingly good, and we quite enjoyed grating cheese into
our soup on a funny little grater with which each one of us was
supplied. We had a delicious red wine with a little sparkle in it,
called Nebiolo, which Sir Ralph ordered because he thought we would like
it; and when we had finished dining, Mamma felt so much encouraged that
she spoke quite cheerfully of the coming night.

We went to our room early, as we were to start at eight next day, and
try to get on to Pavia and Milan. We had said nothing to the Prince
about the water-wheel, as it was not our affair to get Joseph into
trouble with his master; and I'm afraid that all of us except Mamma
derived a sinful amusement from the thought of His Highness's surprise
in the morning, at Alessandria or elsewhere. Even Maida's eyes twinkled
naughtily as he bade us "_au revoir_, till our start," kissing Mamma's
hand, and saying nothing of his night plans.

"I wonder, if we _could_ go to bed, after all?" soliloquized Mamma,
looking wistfully at the hard pillows and the red-cased down coverlets,
when we were in our room. "What was that Mr. Terrymore said about
warming-pans? I should have thought they were obsolete, except to hang
up on parlour walls."

"I should think nothing that was in use six hundred years ago, was
obsolete in an Italian town like this," said I. "Anyhow, I'll ring and
see."

I did ring, but nobody answered, of course, and I had to yell over the
top of the stairs for five minutes, when the Ten of Clubs appeared,
looking much injured, having evidently believed that he was rid of us
for the night.

He almost wept in his earnest endeavours to assure us that the bedding
was as dry and warm as the down on a swan's breast; but when Maida
insisted on warming-pans, he admitted that they existed in the house.

We were sleepy, but having ordered warming-pans which might stalk in at
any moment, we could not well begin to undress until they had been
produced and manipulated. We waited an hour, until we were nodding in
our chairs, and all started from a troubled doze at the sound of loud
knocking at the door.

In the passage outside stood four sad-faced young men of the card tribe,
bearing two large and extraordinary implements. One looked like a couple
of kitchen chairs lashed together foot to foot, to make a cage, or
frame, the space between being lined with sheets of metal. The other was
a great copper dish with big enough holes pricked in the cover to show
the red glow from a quantity of acrid smelling wood-ashes.

All four came into the room, solemn and silent, while we watched them,
struck dumb with amazement.

They set down the things on the floor, turned open the larger bed of the
two, which Mamma and I were to share, put in the huge frame, shoved the
copper bowl inside it, as a cook would shove a dish into the oven, and
replaced the covering. Then they stood and gravely waited for ten or
fifteen minutes, till they thought that the dampness had been cooked
out. We stood by also, momentarily expecting to see the bed break into
flames; but nothing happened, except rather a nice, hot smell. At last,
with one accord they flew at the blankets, turned them down, took out
dish and frame, and repeated the same process with Maida's narrow bunk.

It took us nearly an hour afterwards to get ready for bed, but when we
crept in at last it was like cuddling down in a hot bird's-nest, odorous
of cooked moss.

In the daytime we hadn't noticed that the hotel was particularly noisy,
though it apparently had most other vices; but ten o'clock seemed the
hour when all the activities of the house and town began.

Church bells boomed; electric bells rang; myriads of heavy carts rolled
through the stone-paved square; people sang, whistled, laughed,
gossipped, quarrelled, and even danced in the street under our windows,
while those in the hotel had apparently been advised by their physicians
to run up and down stairs for hours without stopping, for the good of
their livers.

It was a busy night for everybody, and my one consolation was in
planning the dreadful tortures I would inflict on the whole population
of Cuneo if I were King of Italy. I thought of some very original
things, but the worst of it was, when I did finally fall asleep I
dreamed that they were being tried on me.



XIII

A CHAPTER OF WILD BEASTS


"The dear thing! How nice to see it again! I could kiss it," I heard
Maida saying. Something was snorting dreadfully, too. I'm not sure which
waked me. But I sleepily asked Maida what it was she could kiss.

"Why, the automobile, of course," she replied. "Now, Beechy, _don't_
drop off again. It's down there in the courtyard. Can't you hear it
calling? This is the third time I've tried to wake you up."

"Oh, I thought it was the Ten of Clubs roaring, while I dipped him
repeatedly into boiling cod-liver oil," I murmured; but I jumped out of
bed and dressed myself as if the house were on fire.

Mamma said that she had been up since six; and I knew why; she hadn't
liked to make herself beautiful under the eyes of Maida, so exquisitely
adorned by Nature. But she was fresh and gay as a cricket.

In the _salle à manger_ were Sir Ralph and Mr. Barrymore, who had
brought the motor from the machine shop. He looked as well tubbed and
groomed as if he had had two hours for his toilet, instead of twenty
minutes; and we laughed a great deal as we told our night adventures,
feeling as if we'd been friends for months, if not years. It was much
nicer without the Prince, I thought, though Mamma kept glancing at the
door, and showed her disappointment on learning that he had stolen off
to sleep at Alessandria. Joseph, it seemed, had telegraphed him this
morning about the water-wheel, and the news that his automobile couldn't
be ready till twelve or one o'clock.

As we thankfully turned our backs on Cuneo we realized why it had been
given a name signifying "wedge," because of the two river torrents, the
Stura and Gesso, that whittle the town to a point, one on either side.
For a while we ran smoothly along a road on a high embankment, which
reminded Sir Ralph and the Chauffeulier of the Loire; less beautiful
though, they thought, despite the great wedding-ring of white mountains
that girdled the country round.

By and by the mountains dwindled to hills, purple and blue in the
distance, misty spring-green in the foreground; in place of the
dandelions of yesterday we had a carpet of buttercups woven in gold on
either side of the road. There was always the river, too; and, as Maida
said, water brightens a landscape as a diamond brightens a ring.

The air was as warm now as on the Riviera but there was a tingle of
youth and spring in it, while at Cap Martin it was already heavy with
the perfume of summer flowers. And we had not to be sorry for poor
people to-day, for there were no poverty-stricken villages. The country
was rich, every inch cultivated, and there were comfortable farms with
tall, important-looking gateways. But, then, Mr. Barrymore told us that
it was no safer to judge an Italian farm by its gateway than an Italian
village shop by the contents of its windows.

After a while, just as we might have begun to tire of the far-reaching
plain, it broke into billows, each earthy wave crested by a ruined
château, or a still thriving mediæval town. Bra was the finest, with a
grand old red-brown castle towering high on a hill, and throwing a cool
shadow all across the hot, white road below.

"We must stop in Asti, if it's but for ten minutes," said Sir Ralph.

"Why?" asked Maida, over her shoulder (she was sitting in the front seat
again, where Mr. Barrymore had contrived to put her). "Do you mean on
account of Vittorio Alfieri?"

"Who is he?" inquired Mamma; and I was wondering, too; but I hate to
show that I don't know things Maida knows.

"Oh, he was a charming poet, born in Asti in the middle of the
eighteenth century," said Maida. "I've read a lot about him, at--at
home. He had one of the prettiest love stories in history. It is like an
Anthony Hope romance. I thought, perhaps, Sir Ralph wanted us to see the
house where he lived."

"I'm ashamed to say it was the Asti Spumante I was thinking of,"
confessed Sir Ralph. "It's a wine for children, but it might amuse you
all to taste it on its native heath; and you could drink the health of
Vittorio Alfieri--in a better world."

Mamma thought that proceeding rather too Popish for a professed
Presbyterian; nevertheless, we decided to have the wine. We approached
Asti by way of a massive gateway, which formed a part of the ancient
fortifications of the city; and though we had seen several others rather
like it since coming into Piedmont and Lombardy, it struck me with a
sort of awe that I would have been ashamed to put into words, except on
paper, for fear somebody might laugh. I suppose it's because I come from
a country where we think houses aged at fifty, and antique at a hundred;
but these old fortified towns and ruined castles frowning down from
rocky heights give me the kind of eerie thrill one might have if one had
just died and was being introduced to scenery and society on the fixed
stars or planets.

At home it had always seemed so useless to know which was which, Guelfs
or Ghibellines, when I was studying history, that I made no effort to
fix them in my mind; but now, when I caught snatches of talk between
Maida and the Chauffeulier, to whom the Guelfs and Ghibellines are still
apparently as real as Republicans and Democrats were to Papa, I wished
that I knew a little more about them. But how could I tell in those days
that I would ever be darting about in a country where George Washington
and Abraham Lincoln would seem more unreal than the Swabian Emperors,
the Marquesses of Montferrat, and the Princes of Savoie ever did to me
in Denver?

I envied Maida when I heard her say that the House of Savoie had been
like Goethe's star, "unhasting and unresting" in its absorption of
other principalities, marquisates, counties, duchies, and provinces,
which it had matched into one great mosaic, at last, making the kingdom
of Italy. Mr. Barrymore loves Italy so much that he likes her for
knowing these things, and I think I shall steal that book she bought at
Nice, and is always reading--Hallam's "Middle Ages."

The effect of the grim old gateways, even upon me, is a little marred by
the fact that from out of their shadows usually jump small
blue-uniformed Octroi men like Jacks from a box. At Asti there was a
particularly fussy one, who wouldn't take Mr. Barrymore's word that we'd
nothing to declare, but poked and prodded at our hold-alls and bags, and
even sniffed as if he suspected us of spirits, tobacco, or onions. He
looked so comic as he did this that Maida laughed, which appeared to
overwhelm him with remorse, as if an angel had had hysterics. He
flushed, bowed, motioned for us to pass on, and we sailed into a wide,
rather stately old street.

"Oh, look!" Maida cried out, pointing, and the Chauffeulier slowed down
before a house with a marble tablet on it. It was almost a palace; and
Mamma began to feel some respect for Vittorio Alfieri when she read on
the slab of marble that he had been born there. "Why, he must have been
a gentleman!" she exclaimed.

Maida and Mr. Barrymore laughed at that, and Sir Ralph said that
evidently the Countess had a small opinion of poets.

"Another Countess loved Alfieri," remarked Mr. Barrymore; and when Mamma
heard that, she made a note to buy his poems. But I don't believe she
knew who the Countess of Albany was, though she was able to join feebly
in the conversation about the Young Pretender.

We went into the house, and wandered about some cold, gloomy rooms, in
one of which Vittorio had happened to be born. We saw his portrait, and
a sonnet in his own handwriting, which Mr. Barrymore translated for
Maida, and would for me, perhaps, only I was too proud to interrupt.
Altogether I should have felt quite out of it if it hadn't been for
Sir Ralph. After our talk about the worm and other things, he couldn't
help guessing what my feelings were, and he did his best to make me
forget my sorrow. He said that he didn't know anything about the Italian
poets except the really necessary ones, such as Dante and Petrarch, and
as little as possible of them. Then he asked about the American ones,
and seemed interested in Walt Whitman and Eugene Field and James
Whitcomb Riley, all of whom I can recite by the yard.

When we had scraped up every item of interest about Alfieri, as Papa
used to scrape up butter for his bread rather than take a fresh bit, we
spun on again to an old-fashioned hotel, where everybody rushed to meet
us, bowing, and looked ready to cry when they found we didn't want
rooms.

"Perhaps the Countess would absolve you from your vow of temperance,
Terry, that you may have the exquisite delight of quaffing a little Asti
Spumante," said Sir Ralph to Mr. Barrymore, when we were at a table in a
large, cool dining-room.

"Why, of course," replied Mamma, and then opened her eyes wide when both
men laughed, and Mr. Barrymore intimated that Sir Ralph's head would be
improved by punching. Neither of them would take any of the wine when it
came, though it looked fascinating, fizzling out of beautiful bottles
decked with gold and silver foil, like champagne. It tasted like
champagne too, so far as I could tell; but perhaps I'm not a judge, as
there was never any wine except elderberry at home, and I've only had
champagne twice since I've been the child of a Countess. The Asti was
nice and sweet. I loved it, and so did Mamma, who said she would have
it, torrents of it, at the next dinner party she gave. But when Sir
Ralph hurried to tell her that it was cheap, she vacillated, worrying
lest it shouldn't be worthy to go with her crowns.

I don't know whether it was the Spumante, or the sunshine, as golden as
the wine, but I felt quite happy again when we drove out of Asti. I
didn't care at all that I wasn't sitting beside Mr. Barrymore, though I
thought that I probably should care again by and by. Mamma was happy,
too, and Sir Ralph amused us by planning a book to be called "Motoring
for Experts, by Experts." There were a good many Rules for
Automobilists, such as:--

No. 1. Never believe you have got money enough with you when you start.
Whatever you think will be right, be sure you will want exactly twice as
much.

No. 2. Never suppose you have plenty of time, or plenty of room for your
luggage. Never get up in the morning at the time your chauffeur (not Mr.
Barrymore, but others) tells you he will have the car ready. Do not
leave your bed till the automobile is under your window, and do not pack
the things you have used for the night until the chauffeur has started
your motor for the third time.

No. 3. All invalids, except those suffering from pessimism, may hope to
be benefited by motoring; but pessimism in a mild form often becomes
fatally exaggerated by experience with automobiles, especially in
chauffeurs.

No. 4. Hoping that things which have begun to go wrong with a motor will
mend, should be like an atheist's definition of faith: "believing what
you know isn't true." If you _think_ a bearing is hot, but hope against
hope it 's only oil you smell, make up your mind that it _is_ the
bearing.

No. 5. Never dream that you'll get anywhere sooner than you thought you
would, for it will always be later; or that a road may improve, for it
is sure to grow worse; or that your chauffeur, or anyone you meet, knows
anything about the country through which you are to pass, for every one
will direct you the wrong way.

No. 6. If your chauffeur tells you that your car will be ready in an
hour, it will be three, if not four; if he says that you can start on
again that afternoon, it will be to-morrow before lunch.

No. 7. Put not your trust in Princes, nor in the motor-cars of Princes.

No. 8. Cultivate your bump of presence of mind, and the automobile will
see that you have plenty of other bumps.

We hadn't got half to the end of the rules we had thought of, when
things began to happen. The road, which had been splendid all the way to
Asti and beyond, seemed suddenly to weary of virtue and turn eagerly to
vice. It grew rutty and rough-tempered, and just because misfortunes
never come singly, every creature we met took it into its head to regard
us with horror. Fear of us spread like an epidemic through the animal
kingdom of the neighbourhood. A horse drawing a wagon-load of earth
turned tail, broke his harness as if it had been of cobweb instead of
old rope, and sprang lightly as a gazelle with all four feet into
another wagon just ahead. A donkey, ambling gently along the road,
suddenly made for the opposite side, dragging his fruit-laden cart after
him, and smashed our big acetylene lamp into a brass pancake before Mr.
Barrymore could stop. Children bawled; women, old and young, ran
screaming up embankments and tried to climb walls at the bare sight of
us in the distance; old men shook their sticks; and for a climax we
plunged deep into a tossing sea of cattle just outside Alessandria.

It was market day, the Chauffeulier explained hastily, over his
shoulder, and the farmers and dealers who had bought creatures of any
sort, were taking them away. As far as we could see through a floating
cloud of dust, the long road looked like a picture of the animals'
procession on their way to the ark. Our automobile might have stood for
the ark, only it is to be hoped, for Noah's sake, after all he was doing
for them, that the creatures behaved less rudely at sight of it, novelty
though it must have been.

Great white, classic-looking oxen whose horns ought to have been
wreathed with roses, but weren't, pawed the air, bellowing, or pranced
down into ditches, pulling their new masters with them. Calves ran here
and there like rabbits, while their mothers stood on their hind legs and
pirouetted, their biscuit-coloured faces haggard with despair.

Mamma said that never before had she given cows credit for such
sensitive spirits, but perhaps it was only Italian ones which were like
that, and if so she would not drink milk in Italy. She was very much
frightened, too; and talking of an automobile supplying bumps, her grip
on Sir Ralph's arm must have supplied a regular pattern of bruises,
during the animal episode.

But worse than the terrified beasts were the ones that were not
terrified. Those were the most stupidly stolid things on earth, or the
most splendidly reckless, we couldn't tell which; we knew only that they
were irritating enough to have made Job dance with rage, if he had had
an automobile. What they did was to wheel round at the sound of our
horn, plant themselves squarely in the centre of the road, and stand
waiting to see what we were, or else to trot comfortably along, without
even taking the trouble to glance over their shoulders. As the road was
too narrow for us to pass on either side, with an enormous ox lolling
insolently in the middle, refusing to budge an inch, or an absurd cow
taking infinite pains to amble precisely in front of the motor's nose,
we were frequently forced to crawl for ten or fifteen minutes at the
pace of a snail, or to stop altogether and push a large beast out of the
way.

By the time we got into Alessandria, with its mighty maze of
fortifications, I was so weak from laughing that I giggled hysterically
at sight of the Prince standing in the doorway of a hotel which we were
sailing past. I pointed at him, as Maida had pointed at Vittorio
Alfieri's tablet, and Mamma gave a welcome meant to drown my giggle. Mr.
Barrymore stopped, and His Highness came to the side of the car.

"I was so sorry to miss you this morning," he said, "but after bidding
you _au revoir_ last evening, I suddenly remembered that I had a friend
in Alessandria whom I had not seen for long, and it occurred to me that
I would pay him a visit. After all, I might have saved myself the pain,
as I found that he was away."

"At least you saved yourself the pain of a bad night," said I.

"Oh, that would have been nothing," he exclaimed. "Indeed, if there were
hardships to be borne, I would have preferred to share them with you."

I don't know what would have happened at that moment if I'd met Maida's
eyes, or Sir Ralph's eyes, or indeed, any eyes on the prowl; but all
avoided mine.

The Prince was expecting, or said that he was expecting Joseph to arrive
at any instant with the car. Then he would follow us, and as we planned
to stop at Pavia and he did not, he would be in Milan before us. We had
suffered so many delays at the hands, or rather the hoofs of our
four-footed brethren, that we had no time to waste in compliments with
irrelevant Princes, so we quickly sped on again as well as the uneven
road would allow, leaving behind the big fortified town which Mr.
Barrymore said had been built by the Lombard League (whatever that was)
as a place of arms to defy the tyranny of the Emperors.

Though the road was poor, except in bits, and gave us all the bumps
mentioned in Sir Ralph's rules, the country was lovely and loveable.
Grapes, mulberries, rice, and stuff called maize, which looked exactly
like our American corn, grew together like a happy family of sisters,
and from the hills dotted about, more thickly than Mamma's crowns on her
toilet things, looked down old feudal castles as melancholy as the
cypresses that stood beside them, like the sole friends of their
adversity.

Of Tortona and Voghera I carried away only the ghost of an impression,
for we darted through their long main streets, deserted in the noon-tide
hour, and darted out again onto the straight white ribbon of road that
was leading us across all Northern Italy. It was so dusty that Mamma,
Maida, and I put on the motor-veils we had discarded after the first few
hours of the trip till now; things made of pongee silk, with windows of
talc over our eyes and little lace doors for our breath to pass through.
It was fun when we would slacken speed in some town or village, to see
how the young Italians tried to pry into the motor-masks' secrets and
find out if we were pretty. How much more they would have stared at
Maida than at her two grey-clad companions, if they had known! But
behind the pongee and the talc, for once our features could flaunt
themselves on an equality with hers. Even monks, brown of face and
robe, gliding noiselessly through wide market places in the blue shadows
of hoary campaniles, searched those talc windows of ours with a
curiosity that was pathetic. Young officers, with great dark eyes and
slender figures tightly buttoned-up in grey-blue uniforms, visibly
preened themselves as the car with the three veiled ladies would sweep
round a corner; and really I think there must be something rather
alluring about a passing glance from a pair of eyes in a face that will
always remain a mystery. If I were a man I believe I should find it so.
Anyway, it's fun for a girl to guess how she would feel about things if
she were a man. I suppose though, we 're generally wrong.

After we 'd frightened enough horses and other domestic animals to
overstock the whole of Northern Italy and felt quite old in consequence
(considerably over thirteen), a sweet peace fell suddenly upon us. We
had passed the place where Napoleon's great battle was fought, and
Voghera, where we might have stopped to see the baths but didn't,
because we were all too hungry to be sincerely interested in anything
absolutely unconnected with meals. Then turning towards Pavia, we turned
at the same moment into Arcadia. There were no more beasts in our path,
unless it was a squirrel or two; there were no houses, no people; there
was only quiet country, with a narrow but deliciously smooth road,
colonies of chestnut and acacia trees, and tall growths of scented
grasses and blossoming grain. It was more like a by-path through meadows
than an important road leading to a great town, and Mr. Barrymore had
begun to wonder aloud if he could possibly have made a mistake at some
cross-way, when we spun round a corner, and saw before us a wide yellow
river. It lay straight in front, and we had to pass to the other side on
the oddest bridge I ever saw; just old grey planks laid close together
on top of a long, long line of big black boats that moved up and down
with a lazy motion as the golden water of the Po flowed underneath.

"This is a famous bridge," said the Chauffeulier; so Mamma hurried to
get out her camera and take a picture, while we picked our way daintily
over the wobbly boards at a foot pace; and another of the man at the far
end, who made us pay toll--so much for each wheel, so much for each
passenger. Maida never takes photographs. She says she likes better just
to keep a picture-gallery in her brain. Mamma always takes them, but as
she usually has three or four on the same film, making a jumble of
Chicago street-cars with Italian faces, legs, and sun-dials, as
intricate as an Irish stew, I don't see that in the end they will be
much of an ornament to the journal of travel we're all keeping.

"This is where the Po and the Ticino meet, so we're near Pavia," Mr.
Barrymore told us; and if our eyes brightened behind our masks, it
wasn't so much with interest in his information, as at the thought of
lunch. For we were to lunch at Pavia, before seeing the Certosa that
Maida had been talking about for hours with the Chauffeulier; and before
us, as we crossed the Ticino--bridged by a dear, old, arching,
wooden-roofed thing supported with a hundred granite columns--bubbled
and soared a group of grey domes and campaniles against a turquoise sky.

The roofed bridge, that seemed to be a lounging place and promenade, led
into a stately city, which impressed me as a regular factory for turning
out Italian history, so old it was, and so conscious, in a dignified
kind of way, of its own impressiveness. I felt sure that, if I could
only remember, I must have studied heaps of things about this place at
school; and the town was full of students who were probably studying
them, with more profit, now. They were very Italian, very good-looking,
very young youths, indeed; and they were all so interested in us that it
seemed ungrateful not to pay more attention to them than to their
background. They grouped round our automobile with a crowd of less
interesting people, when we had stopped before a hotel, and some of the
students came so close in the hope of seeing what was behind the
motor-veils, that Maida was embarrassed, and Mamma and I pretended to
be.



XIV

A CHAPTER OF SUNSHINE AND SHADOW


Mamma's lunch was spoiled because, in pronouncing "campanile" for the
first time, she rhymed it with the river Nile, and realized what she had
done when some one else soon after inadvertently said it in the right
way. She didn't get over this for a long time, so the landlord profited,
and must have been pleased, as all the Italians at the table d'hôte took
twice of everything. Those who were not officers were middle-aged men
with fat smiles which made them look like what I call "drummers," and
Sir Ralph wastes time in naming commercial travellers. He and Mr.
Barrymore explained that, at all these quiet provincial hotels with
their domed roofs and painted ceilings, their long tables and great
flasks of wine hung in metal slings, more than half the customers come
every day to eat steadily through cheap monthly subscriptions.

"They can live like fighting cocks for next to nothing," said Sir Ralph.
"If _The Riviera Sun_ ever suffers an eclipse, I shall probably end my
days in a place like this, Pavia for choice, because then I can make my
friends at home believe that I live here to worship the Certosa."

Now to make up for her slip about the campanile, Mamma began to talk
about the Certosa as if it were an intimate friend of hers; but though
she hurried to get out the word while Sir Ralph's pronunciation of it
still echoed under the painted dome, her first syllable was shaped so
much like a "Shirt" that I had to take a drink of water quickly. It is a
funny thing, if people have no ear for music, and can't tell one tune
from another, they don't seem to _hear_ foreign words rightly, and so,
when they speak, their pronunciation is like "Yankee Doodle" disguised
as "God Save the King." It is that way with Mamma; but luckily for me,
Papa had an Ear.

We had to pass through "Pavia of the Hundred Towers" after a look at the
grand old Castello, and go out into Arcadian country again to reach the
Certosa. Our way lay northward now instead of east, beside a canal
bright as crystal, and blue as sapphire because it was a mirror for the
sky. Then, we turned abruptly down a little side road, which looked as
if it led nowhere in particular, and suddenly a wonderful thing loomed
up before us.

I don't know much about churches, but there are some things which one is
born knowing, I suppose; such as the difference between really great
things and those that don't touch greatness. One wouldn't need to be
told by a guide-book that the Certosa of Pavia is great--as great as
anything ever made, perhaps. Even "little Beechy Kidder" felt that at
first glance; and then--there was nothing to say. It was too beautiful
to chatter about. But it did seem strange that so pure and lovely a
building could have owed its existence to a crime. I had heard Mr.
Barrymore telling Mamma that it was originally founded in thirteen
hundred and something, by the first Duke of Milan with the view of
taking off the attention of Heaven from a murder he had committed--quite
in his own family--which got rid of his father-in-law, and all the
father-in-law's sons and daughters at the same time. No wonder it took a
whole Certosa to atone for it, with statues of the founder dotted about,
presenting models of the church to the Virgin; or praying with clasped
hands; or having his funeral procession in great pomp. But I didn't like
his face; and judging from its expression, I shouldn't be surprised if
he were glad the Certosa had been taken away from the monks to be made a
national monument, so that more people could glorify him.

It wasn't until I had seen a great many other things, however, that I
made acquaintance with his Dukeship Gian Galeazzo Visconti (it is
always easy to remember wicked peoples' names), for at first sight there
was only the wonderful gateway, with a glimpse of the dazzling marble
church, a splendid great dome, and some bewildering towers glittering in
the sun.

Mr. Barrymore hired a youth to guard the automobile and the dog while we
went in, strange figures for such a place, in our motoring get-up. I
didn't know before what exquisite stuff terra-cotta could be, but had
despised it in America as the thing cheap statuettes are made of. Now,
when I saw it mellowed by centuries, combined with marble, and moulded
into arches and cornices, and a thousand marvellous ornamentations, I
made up my mind that I would never have a house of my own unless it
could have terra-cotta window and door-frames, and chimneys, and
everything else besides that could possibly be made of terra-cotta.

But the cloisters, great and small, were better than anything else;
better than the façade; better than the marble church, with all the
lovely little side chapels; better than anything I ever saw; and I
walked about alone, pleased with myself because, in spite of my
ignorance, I had enough sense of appreciation to be happy. Still, I
wasn't sorry when Sir Ralph left Mamma listening with Maida, to things
Mr. Barrymore was saying about moulded brick and terra-cotta
architecture in North Italy, to join me.

"Terry says there's something in the world more beautiful than this," he
remarked.

"I suppose he's thinking of Maida," said I.

"Not at all. Probably, if you could see into his mind you'd discover
that he's wishing you hadn't wandered away from his orations. The thing
which he considers more beautiful is the cloister of Monreale, at
Palermo, in Sicily. But, then, this isn't the part of Italy Terry loves
best. He won't begin to shine till he gets to Verona; and even Verona he
calls only a charming inn where the world's great travellers have left
mementoes of their passage, rather than a true Italian town stamped with
the divine genius of Italy. When he's at Venice, he'll be at home.
You'll like Terry in Venice."

"The question is, will he like _me_ in
Venice?" I asked, looking out of the corner of my eye at the tall
Chauffeulier in his leather-coat, showing a heavenly white marble
doorway to Maida, and Mamma.

"Of course he will. You mustn't be discouraged by his manner. If only he
thought you were poor!"

"Shall I intimate to him that Maida is very rich?"

"No, no. I wouldn't deceive him about that. Let well alone. All will
come right in time."

"Meanwhile, I suppose I must put up with you?"

"If you can. Unless I bore you. Would you rather I left you alone?"

"No-o. There's just enough of you to fill an aching void," said I,
pertly. But he didn't seem to mind at all, and was very kind in telling
about frescoes and things, although he calls himself ignorant. He has
forgotten the boast in his advertisement perhaps, or he's trying to live
up to it as well as he can when his chauffeur isn't available.

We stopped so long at the Certosa that the sun had gone far down the
west as we walked through the beautiful, strange gateway to the roadside
resting-place of our car.

Where crowds come from in the country is as mysterious as where pins and
hairpins go to; but anyhow, there was a wide ring of people round the
automobile, in which our hired caretaker sat gazing condescendingly on
the throng. When we arrived on the scene, with our hands full of scents
made and bottled by the banished monks, quaint pottery, and photographs
of frescoes, general interest was transferred to us, but only for a
moment. Even Maida's beauty failed as an attraction beside the
starting-handle of the car, when the Chauffeulier turned it.

"Don't you see many motors here?" asked Sir Ralph of our deposed guard,
and he shook his head. "Not one a month," he said, "though they say that
some of the rich men in Milan use them. I do not know where they go."

Almost as he spoke a big one shot by, heading for Alessandria and--who
knows but for Cuneo? When we came to think, it was the first we had seen
since Ventimiglia, though on the French side of the Riviera the things
had been a pest to everybody--who hadn't one.

As we started, the sinking sun turned a million tiny clouds floating up
from behind the world into rose-pink marabout feathers, which by-and-by
were silvered round their curly edges by a wonderful light kindled
somewhere in the east. It grew brighter and brighter as the
rose-coloured plumes first took fire down at the western horizon, and
then burned to ruddy ashes. When half the sky was silver up came
floating a huge pearl, glistening white, and flattened out of the
perfect round on one side, like two or three of the biggest pearls on
Mamma's long rope.

Even in America I never saw the sunset-glow so quickly quenched by a
white torrent of moonlight. But on this night it was not white; it was
soft and creamy, like mother-of-pearl. And as the opal gleam of the sky
darkened to deep amethyst the stars came out clear and sparkling and
curiously distinct one from the other, like great hanging lamps of
silver, diamond-crusted.

All the world was bathed in this creamy light, while the sky
scintillated with jewels like the flashing of a spangled fan, as we
drove into the outskirts of Milan.

It had been lucky for us that there was a moon, as we had a crumpled
brass waffle in the place of our big lamp; but the effect of the town
lights, orange-yellow mingling with the white radiance pouring down from
the sky, was wonderful and mysterious on arched gateways, on dark
façades of tall buildings, on statues, on columns, on fountains. Coming
in out of the country stillness, the noise and rush of the big city
seemed appalling. Fierce electric trams dashed clanging and flashing in
all directions, making a pandemonium worse than Chicago or the streets
of Paris. Horses and carts darted across the glittering tracks under our
noses, bicyclists spun between our car and lumbering hotel omnibuses,
and hadn't an inch to spare. In the middle of one huge street was
something that looked like a Roman ruin, with every shadow sharp as a
point of jet in the confused blending of light. Brazen bells boomed,
mellow chimes fluted, church clocks mingled their voices, each trying to
tell the hour first; and to add to the bewildering effect of our entry,
drivers and people on foot waved their arms, yelling wildly something I
couldn't understand.

Mr. Barrymore understood, however, and only just in time to save an
accident, for it seemed that we were on the wrong side of the road.
Suddenly and arbitrarily it was the rule to keep on the left side
instead of the right, and the Chauffeulier shot across before a tram,
approaching at the speed of a train, could run us down.

"That's the worst of this part of Italy," I heard him shout over the din
to Maida. "Any town that chooses makes a different rule for itself and
its suburbs, and then expects strangers to know by instinct just where
and when it changes."

It was like being shot out of a catapult from the Inferno straight to
Paradise, as Sir Ralph said, when suddenly we saved ourselves from the
hurly-burly, flashing into a noble square with room for a thousand
street-cars and as many automobiles to browse together in peace and
harmony.

A mass of glimmering white towers and pinnacles, the Cathedral rose, a
miracle of beauty in the flood of moonlight that turned grey into white,
old marble into snow, and gave to each of the myriad carvings the
lace-like delicacy of frost-work.

"I wanted you to see the Duomo first by moonlight," said Mr. Barrymore,
after we had sat still, gazing up for some moments, with even the car
motionless and silent. "To-morrow morning you can come again for the
detail, and spend as much time as you like inside, for I hope it won't
take us many hours to run to Bellagio; but you will never forget
to-night's impression."

"I shall never forget anything that has happened, or that we've seen on
this trip," Maida answered, in a voice that told me how much she felt
her words. But if she had anything more to say the motor impolitely
drowned it, and we were whirled away again via pandemonium, to quite a
grand hotel.

The first person we met in a big, square hall full of
wicker chairs and tables, was Prince Dalmar-Kalm, in evening dress,
looking as calm as if he had never heard of an automobile. He flung
agreeable smiles at Maida and me, but his real welcome was for his
"chère Comtesse," and she was delighted, poor dear, to be made much of
at the expense of two girls, one a beauty.

"I arrived over an hour ago," he said, "very dusty, a little tired, a
good deal hungry; but, of course, I would not have dreamed of dining
without you."

"Did you get in on the car, or on the cars, this time?" I asked.

"But certainly in the car," said he, reproachfully. "Joseph met me at
Alessandria early in the afternoon, and once started, we went as the
wind goes--a splendid pace, without a single break-down. I passed your
automobile at Pavia, and thought of joining you at the Certosa, where
you no doubt were at the time; but I decided that it would be more
satisfactory to keep on and greet you here. I knew you would take my
advice, as you promised, Comtesse, and come to this hotel, so I ventured
to have my place laid at your table and order a few extras which I
thought you would like. Have pity, I beg, on a starving man, and make
yourselves ready in twenty minutes."

"But Mr. Barrymore can't join us then," Maida objected to Mamma, in a
low voice. "He has the car to look after before he can dress, and after
the good day he has given us wouldn't it be ungrateful to begin without
him?"

"My dear girl, when all's said and done, he _is_ the chauffeur," replied
Mamma, at her worst under His Highness's influence. "It would be a
pretty thing if we were to keep the Prince waiting for him. _You_ can
come down later if you like."

"Very well, I will," said Maida, very pink as to her cheeks and bright
as to her eyes. I didn't think she would dare keep her word, for fear
Mr. Barrymore might believe she cared too much about him; but just
because he's poor and she imagines he is snubbed, she will do anything.
Everybody except the Chauffeulier had been at table for a quarter of an
hour, and hors d'oeuvres and soup, and fish, had given place to beef,
when Maida came in, dressed in white, and looking beautiful. As she
appeared at one door Mr. Barrymore appeared at another, and was just in
time to pull out her chair instead of letting the waiter do it.

The Chauffeulier, seeing we had ploughed through half the menu, wouldn't
have bothered with soup or fish, but Maida insisted on having both,
piping hot too, though she never cares what she eats; so the belated one
got as good a dinner as anybody. Whether he realized that Maida had
waited for him I don't know, but he was so unusually talkative and full
of fun that I longed to "vipe" somebody, feeling as I did that his
cheerfulness was due to Maida's kindness. Unfortunately there was no
excuse for viping; but I suddenly thought how I could throw a little
cold water. "Have you noticed, Mr. Barrymore," I asked, "that my cousin
Maida never wears anything except black, or grey, or white?"

He looked at her. "Yes, I have noticed," he said, with an expression in
his eyes which added that he'd noticed everything concerning her. "But
then," he went on, "I haven't had time to see her whole wardrobe."

"If you had, it would be the same," said I. "It's a pity, I think, for
blue and pink and pale green, and a lot of other things would be so
becoming. But she's got an idea into her head that because, when she
goes back home a few months from now, she will enter that old con--"

"Beechy, please!" broke in Maida, her face almost as pink as an American
Beauty rose.

"Well you _are_ going to, aren't you?" I flew out at her. "Or have you
changed your mind--already?"

"I think you are very unkind," she said, in a low voice, turning white
instead of red, and Mr. Barrymore bit his lip, looking as if he would
rather shake me than eat his dinner. Then all at once I was dreadfully
sorry for hurting Maida, partly because Mr. Barrymore glared, partly
because she is an angel; but I would have died in agony sooner than say
so, or show that I cared, though I had such a lump in my throat I could
scarcely swallow. Of course everybody thought I had turned sulky, for I
shrugged my shoulders and pouted, and didn't speak another word. By and
by I really did begin to sulk, because if one puts on a certain
expression of face, after a while one finds thoughts that match it
stealing into one's mind. I grew so cross with myself and the whole
party, that when Mamma said she was tired and headachy, and would go to
our sitting-room if Maida didn't object, I determined that whatever
happened those two shouldn't have the satisfaction of a _tête-à-tête_.

Every one had finished except Maida and the Chauffeulier, who had only
got as far as the chicken and salad stage; and when Mamma proposed
going, a look came over the Prince's face which I translated to myself
as, "_Rien à faire ici_." Since our talk in the garden at San Dalmazzo,
he has given himself no more trouble for Maida or me; all is for Mamma,
at least, when she is present; so I wasn't surprised when he said that
he had several telegrams to send off, and would excuse himself.

"But about to-morrow," he exclaimed, pausing when he had risen. "Shall
you stop to see the Cathedral, and something of Milan by daylight,
before going on to the Lake of Como?"

"Oh, yes," Maida answered. "Mr. Barrymore says we shall have plenty of
time."

"He is quite right," replied the Prince so graciously that I instantly
asked myself what little game he was playing now. "It is not far from
here to Bellagio, where you intend to stop. You will go, of course, by
way of the Brianza?" (This to the Chauffeulier.)

"I suppose we must," answered Mr. Barrymore. "I don't know anything at
first-hand about the road, but at the garage they tell me motors
occasionally do it. The gradients are steep according to the route-book,
but unless there's something worse than meets the eye there, our car
will get through all right."

"I have already driven over the whole length of that road," said the
Prince. "Not _en automobile_, but, no doubt, what a couple of horses can
do, your twelve horse-power car can do better. As for me, I have been
in Milan many a time, and its sights are an old story. I will therefore
go on early to-morrow morning, leaving your party to follow; for I have
acquaintances who live in a charming villa near Bellagio--the Duke and
Duchess of Gravellotti--and I wish to ask them as soon as possible to
call on the Countess."

Mamma was delighted at the prospect of receiving a call from a real,
live Duke and Duchess, so she shed rays of gratitude upon the Prince,
and trotted out both her dimples.

"Come, Beechy," she said. "We'll go now, as Maida doesn't mind."

"I haven't finished my nuts and raisins, and I want some of those
_marrons glacés_ afterwards," said I. "I'll stay and eat them, and
chaperon Maida. I guess she needs it more than you, Mamma, though you're
both an awful responsibility for me."

That sent Mamma away with a vexed rustle of three separate layers of
silk. The Prince walked after her, just far enough behind not to step on
her train (he isn't the kind of man who would ever tear a woman's dress,
though he might pull her reputation to pieces), and Maida, Mr.
Barrymore, Sir Ralph, and I were left together.

Both men had jumped up when Mamma rose, but they sat down again when she
had turned her back, the Chauffeulier (presumably) to finish his dinner,
Sir Ralph to keep me in countenance. But there was no more gaiety. My
douche of cold water had quenched Mr. Barrymore's Irish spirits, and
Maida was depressed. I was the "spoil-sport;" but I "stuck it out," as
Sir Ralph would have said, to the bitter end.

When we all streamed into the big hall there sat Mamma in a corner with
the Prince, instead of having gone up-stairs to nurse her headache. What
was worse, she was letting the man teach her to smoke a cigarette in
imitation of some Russian ladies in another corner. They were puffing
away as calmly as they breathed, because it was the same thing with
them; but Mamma was far from calm. She was flirting with all her might,
and feeling tremendously pretty and popular.

She didn't see me until I had stalked up behind her. "Mamma!" I said, in
a tone of freezing virtue. "Four years ago, you spanked me for that. And
if Papa were here now, what would _he_ do to you?"

She started as if a mouse had sprung at her--and Mamma is dreadfully
afraid of little innocent mice. Then she began to explain and apologize
as if she had been thirteen, and I--well, I'll _say_ twenty-nine.

I foresee that I am going to have trouble with Mamma.



PART III

TOLD BY THE COUNTESS



XV

A CHAPTER OF PITFALLS


A woman finds out a great many things about herself when she is
automobiling. Or is it automobiling that makes new qualities grow? I'm
not sure; but then I'm so different in many ways from what I used to be
that I hardly know myself any more.

Beechy would tell me that it's all owing to Madame Rose-Blanche of
Chicago; but it isn't really. She changed me on the outside; she
couldn't change my disposition--except that one is happier when one's
pretty than when one's a "trump," as the English ladies say.

But I used to hate being out-of-doors; it seemed such a waste of time.
And when poor Mr. Kidder was alive, I often thought that if I could be
free to do exactly as I liked for a month, I'd spend it lying on a sofa
among a pile of cushions, with a big box of candy, and dozens of new
English society novels. Yet now that I _am_ free to do as I like, not
for one month, but for all the time, I go gadding around the world at
twenty or thirty miles an hour (they feel like twice as many) in an
automobile.

However, it's just as if I had walked right into a novel myself, to be
one of the heroines. I've read a good many novels with young widows for
heroines; in fact, I prefer them, as it's so pleasant to put yourself in
the heroine's place while you read, especially if you're interested in
the hero.

In my novel that I've stepped into, there are three heroes if I count
Mr. Barrymore, and I suppose I may (though he's only the chauffeur, as
the Prince often reminds me), for Beechy says that Sir Ralph Moray
tells her he comes from a very fine family.

At first I didn't know but Sir Ralph would be the real hero, for by an
odd coincidence _he_ is twenty-nine, which is my age--if it's true, as
Madame says, that a woman has a right to count herself no older than she
looks. Besides, I'm very partial to the English; and though I was a
little disappointed, after seeing that advertisement of his, to learn
that the "titled Englishman" owning a motor-car, was no higher than a
baronet, I thought he might do. But somehow, though kind and attentive,
he has never shown the same warm interest that Prince Dalmar-Kalm takes
in me, and then it is so romantic that I should be buying an estate with
one of the titles belonging to the Prince's family. I can't help feeling
now that the Prince, and no one but the Prince, is _meant_ for the hero
of this story of which I am the heroine. After all, what title sounds so
well for a woman as "Princess"? It might be royalty, and I'm sure it
would be admired in Denver.

The change in me may be partly owing to the excitement of realizing that
I'm in a grander sphere than any I have ever entered before, or dared
hope to enter, and that this may be but a kind of ante-chamber to
something still grander. Of course I might have gone on this trip in the
Prince's automobile, if he had known in time that I had a fancy to try
motoring, but perhaps it's better as it is. I like being independent,
and it's just as well to have several men in the party, so that no one
among them can think he's going to have everything his own way.

Who, that knew me a few years--or even a few months--ago, would have
believed I could be perfectly happy sitting all day in a cramped
position in an automobile, covered with dust or wet with sudden showers;
tired, hungry, putting up with all sorts of discomforts by the way, and
half the time frightened out of my wits by appalling precipices or
terrific wild beasts? But happy I am, happier than I've ever been,
though I keep asking myself, or Maida, or Beechy, "_Why_ is it so nice?"

Maida says she doesn't know why, she only knows it is, and much more
than nice. "The Quintessence of Joy-of-Life," that is what she has named
the sensation; and as Maida uses it, it is sure to be all right, though
I must admit that to me it sounds almost improper.

Then there is another thing which strikes me as queer about myself and
the two girls since we've been travelling in an automobile. We used to
be glad when a train journey was over, and thankful to arrive at almost
any place, whether it was beautiful or not, but now we're always in a
perfect fever to go on--on--on. We shoot into some marvellous old town,
that we would once have thought worth coming hundreds of miles just to
see; and instead of wanting to get out of the motor-car and wander
about, visiting all the churches or museums or picture-galleries, we
think what a pity to spoil the record of so many miles in so many hours.
If we stop long of course it brings down the average, and that seems
nothing less than a calamity, though why on earth we should care so
much, or care at all (considering we have our whole future before us) is
a mystery. Even Maida, who is so fond of history, and countries that
have made history in dim old ages, feels this. She thinks there is a
motoring microbe that gets into your blood, just as other microbes do,
so that it's a disease, only instead of being disagreeable it's almost
dangerously pleasant. You know you ought to pause and do justice to a
place, says Maida, but the motoring microbe wriggles and writhes against
the decision of your reason, and you have to use violent measures before
you can dull it into a state of coma for a while.

Mr. Barrymore tries to explain this phenomenon by arguing that, of all
modern means of getting about the world, motoring is in itself the most
enjoyable. The mere journey is as good a part of your tour as any, if
not better; and that's the reason why, according to him, you never have
the same longing to "get there" or "stay there" (wherever "there" may
be) that you have when you travel by train, or boat or carriage. It is
the thrill of flying through the air at such a rate that intoxicates you
and makes you feel you are conquering the world as you go. Perhaps he's
right. But after all, reasons don't signify much. The principal thing
is that you do feel so, and it is lovely.

I was so tired after that long day from Cuneo to Milan that I wouldn't
get up to go and look at the cathedral. I'd seen it by moonlight, and it
couldn't be better by day, so I just lay in bed, and made a comfortable
toilet afterwards without hurrying, which was a nice change, and gave me
time to use my electric face-roller.

When the girls came back, they were raving about magnificent statues,
aisles, columns, windows, vistas, gargoyles, and saints' bodies in
gorgeous shrines of silver. Beechy had apparently forgotten that she'd
been vexed with me over night, and I was relieved, for she will _not_
agree with me about the Prince, and I don't know what I should do if she
really did carry out any of her threats. If she _should_ put on the long
frock she had before Mr. Kidder died (which she _says_ she's got with
her, locked up in her portmanteau), and should fix her hair on top of
her head, that would be just about the end of my fun, once and for all.
But she is such a dear girl at heart, in spite of the peculiarities
which she has inherited from poor Simon, I can't think (if I manage her
pretty well) that she would do anything to spoil my first real good time
and hurt my feelings.

We had an early lunch, and started about one with such a crowd outside
the hotel to see us go away, that we made up our minds there must be
precious few automobiles in Milan, big and busy city as it is.

The whole party was so taken up with the Cathedral, that for a while
they could talk of nothing but Gian Galeazzo Visconti (who seemed to
have spent his life either in murdering his relations or founding
churches), or marble from the valley of Tosa, or German architects who
had made the building differ from any other in Italy, or the impulse
Napoleon had given to work on the façade, or the view from the roof all
the way to Como with the Apennines and lots of other mountains whose
names I'd never heard; but presently as we got out into the suburbs the
road began to be so awful that no one could talk rationally on any
subject.

We three Americans weren't quite so disgusted as Sir Ralph and Mr.
Barrymore seemed to be, for we are used to roads being pretty bad
outside large cities; but the gentlemen were very cross, and exclaimed
that it was a disgrace to Milan. Our poor automobile had to go bumping
and grinding along through heaps of sharp stones, more like the dry bed
of a mountain torrent than a road; and my nerves were on edge when Mr.
Barrymore told us not to be frightened if we heard an explosion like a
shot, because it would only be one of the tyres bursting. No pretty
little ladylike automobile, said he, could possibly hope to come through
without breaking her bones; only fine, manly motor-cars, with noble
masculine tyres, could wisely attempt the feat; but ours would be all
right, even if a tyre did go, for the damage could be repaired inside
half an hour.

Still, the thought of the possible explosion that might go off right
under my ears at any instant kept me in a state of suspense for a long
distance--about thirty kilometres, Mr. Barrymore said; and then the way
improved so much that I settled down again. Even the scenery had been
ugly up to that time, as if to match the road, but it began to change
for the better at precisely the same moment.

The only interesting things we had seen so far were peasants playing
bowls in the villages through which we passed (for it was a fête day)
and the curious carts with wooden frames for awnings arched over them,
which gave an effect as if the passengers were crowding inside the white
ribs of some skeleton monster. Such pretty women and children were in
the carts, too; the women like beautiful, dark madonnas with their soft
eyes looking out from under graceful head-draperies of black cashmere,
or blue or yellow silk, glorious in colour as the sun touched it.

They didn't seem to mind the bumping over the stones, though the carts
were springless, but then, they had no hats lolloping over to one side,
or stays to pinch in their waists and make them uncomfortable as I had,
though--as Beechy says--my daytime motoring waist is _inches_ bigger
round than my evening waist.

I was glad when I could put my hat straight again, once for all, and
have time to enjoy the scenery through which, as I told myself, the
Prince must lately have passed on his car, perhaps thinking of me, as he
had promised.

Behind us was the great plain in which Milan lies, and before us soared
into the air a blue chain of mountains, looking mysterious and
inaccessible in the far distance, though we were sweeping on towards
them, charging down hill after hill into a more exquisite landscape than
I could have imagined, enchantingly Italian, with dark old châteaux
crowning eminences above fertile fields; pretty brown villages on
hillsides clustering round graceful campaniles (a word I've practised
lately with several other difficult ones); green-black cypresses (which
Maida says seem like sharp notes in music); and wonderful, flat-topped
trees that Mr. Barrymore calls umbrella pines.

We were now in a region known as the Brianza, which is, it appears, a
summer resort for the Milanese, who come to escape the hot weather of
the plains, and find the breezes that blow up from the lakes--breezes so
celebrated for their health-giving qualities that nobody who lives in
the Brianza can die under ninety. There were a great many inviting
looking, quaint farmhouses, and big cottages scattered about, where the
people from Milan are taken as lodgers.

I had forgotten my nervousness about the tyres, when suddenly a queer
thing happened. There was a wild flapping and beating as if a big bird
had got caught in the engine, while something strange and horrifying
kept leaping up and down with every revolution of the wheels, like a
huge black snake racing along with us and trying for a chance to pounce.
It was so like a weird and horrid dream that I shrieked; but in a few
seconds Mr. Barrymore had stopped the car. "We _are_ in luck," said he.

"Why?" I asked. "Have we killed the Serpent-thing--whatever it is?"

Then he laughed. "The Serpent-thing is the outer covering of the tyre on
one of our driving wheels," he explained. "And we're in luck because,
after that ghastly road it isn't the tyre itself. This is nothing; I'll
tear it off, and the good old tyre's so sound that we can go on with its
skin off, until Bellagio, when I'll put on a new one before we start
again. It has cracked the mud guard in its gyrations, though fortunately
not enough to make it unsafe for the luggage."

In about three minutes we were teuf-teufing on once more; but we hadn't
been going for ten minutes when, half-way up a hill, the motor gave a
weary sigh, and moved languidly, as if it were very tired and
discouraged, yet trying its best to obey. We were on the outskirts of a
village called Erba, and the automobile crawled on until it saw a little
inn, with a lot of peasants sitting in the cool shade of an arbour,
drinking wine; there it stopped, which was wonderfully intelligent of
it.

"The poor animal wants water after its hard work," said Mr. Barrymore;
so he got down and asked a boy to bring some, ordering at the same time
a siphon of fizzy lemonade for everybody. While we were sipping the
cold, sweet stuff, Mr. Barrymore burst out laughing, and we all looked
up to see what was the matter. There was that silly boy bringing a pint
of water, in a _carafe_, to pour into the tank of the motor; and he
seemed quite surprised and disgusted when he was told to go back and
fetch about twenty litres more.

The automobile had thoughtfully slowed down in the one bit of shade
there was; still it was tremendously hot, and we realized that it was
only the motion of the car which had kept us from finding it out before.
We should have been miserable if we hadn't changed our tailor
motoring-costumes for the holland dresses and coats which we'd bought
ready-made at the last moment, in Monte Carlo. In spite of them,
however, we were glad when the water was in, and the motor-car's heart
began to beat again. Then down went ours, for after a dozen throbs the
comforting sound grew faint and presently stopped. "There's no proper
explosion," Mr. Barrymore announced in a puzzled way. "I'm afraid the
petrol I bought in Milan wasn't very good; the Italian never is as good
as the French, though it's more expensive. But perhaps it's only
'tired.' I'll empty it out and put in some fresh."

He did, but the poor automobile was not revived by the change; and Mr.
Barrymore began to peer about in the inner workings of the thing to see
what had gone wrong. He examined the _bougie_, whatever that was, and
cleaned the aspiration valve with petrol, all of which took time; and
what with the heat, and the noise the peasants in the inn-garden made
with their _boules_, I began to get the feeling that Beechy calls
"caterpillars in the spine." Just when they were crawling up and down my
marrow, however, Mr. Barrymore cried out, "Eureka! it's the pump."

This exclamation didn't convey much to me, but it was encouraging that
he seemed pleased; and when he had adjusted the friction roller against
a fly-wheel, or something queer and ticklish of that sort, we flew away
from Erba at a splendid pace, as if the car had decided to let bygones
be bygones.

We ran beautifully along a smooth and level road that was trying to make
up for its evil past, by the side of a small but pretty lake, and it
seemed as if our troubles were over at last. But the astonishment on the
faces of the peasants who stared from doorways in a couple of very
picturesque villages through which we drove, was ominous. Evidently they
had scarcely ever seen a motor-car, for they glared at us as if we were
antediluvian animals. Running out of the second village, Asso, we found
ourselves climbing a road which was not only as steep as the side of a
house, but so narrow that, if we had met anything, it couldn't possibly
have passed us. The way was wild and eerie; we could not tell what might
come beyond each corner, and we could see nothing but the roughly
climbing road, with its embankments, except as we looked back and down
into vast spaces of strange beauty, like fleeting scenes in dreams.

"I'm sure we must have come wrong. This can't be the way that the
Prince meant," I said. "It's more like a track for goats than
automobiles."

"We have come right according to directions," answered Mr. Barrymore,
"but I must say, I rather wonder at the directions. According to
Dalmar-Kalm's account, the road was fairly good. I can hardly think he
risked this route for his own car."

"Is there another he could have taken?" inquired Sir Ralph.

"Yes. He could have driven along the lake as far as Varenna, and then
sent his car across to Bellagio on one of the steamers."

"My prophetic soul, which I inherit from a long line of Scotch
ancestors, tells me that's what he did," said Sir Ralph. Then he added
in a lower voice, "It would be like him." But I heard, and wondered if,
after all, he were a little jealous of the Prince?

"Whether he did or not, I'm glad _we_ didn't," remarked Beechy. "This
looks like being an adventure; and none of us are old enough to have
outgrown our love of adventure, are we, Mamma?"

Of course, I had to say "no," though I'd been on the point of asking
whether it wouldn't be possible for us to go back. We had just come into
a ragged hamlet, and there was literally no more than room for us to
scrape through between the poor stone houses which leaned over us on
either side the steep, roughly cobbled road. Six inches less, and we
would have been in danger of slicing off our mud-guards, upon which lay
a lot of our luggage as if on shelves. My heart was in my mouth, and I
said so to Beechy; but she only laughed, and replied pertly--even for
her--that she hoped it was a good fit, or should she pat me on the back?

Instead of smoothing out to a level again, as I hoped against hope that
it would, the road grew steeper with each quarter-mile, so steep that it
seemed as if the car must take to running down hill backwards. But
always it went forging steadily up on the strongest speed with a
dependable, bumbling noise, never once faltering, though the Col di
Tenda wasn't as steep a gradient as this. Certainly, after one's faith
in the car has stopped wobbling, there was a kind of wild pleasure in
the experience, especially in looking over one's shoulder at the valleys
lying far below us, cut deep into the green heart of the mountain, as if
they had been hollowed out of an emerald. Suddenly the road gave a
twist, and instead of prancing in the air, lay down at the feet of a
grim, grey town, as a dog lies down at the feet of his master.

Mr. Barrymore stopped to see if the motor had got hot or burst a
blood-vessel or anything; but all was well, and when we had slipped on
our thick coats, those who had got out to walk the steepest hills--Sir
Ralph and Beechy--climbed in again. We had been a long time creeping up,
longer than Mr. Barrymore had calculated, and the chill of evening was
in the air. Besides, we were in the midst of the mountains now, and it
was hard to realize that we had ever felt too hot. As we drove along the
edge of ridge, a keen wind caught us. I shivered and felt as if there
were no more thickness to me than a paper doll; but I shouldn't have
dared to tell Beechy that, or she would have laughed, for I haven't got
my weight down yet to less than a hundred and fifty pounds. There was a
gnawing just under my new gold belt-buckle with the cat's-eyes on it, as
if the cats had claws as well as eyes, and I remembered that it was ages
since lunch. Maida and Beechy never appear to be hungry when they motor,
though, so _I_ wouldn't complain, for fear it might seem old and frumpy
to think of such material things. But five minutes later being cold or
hungry mattered as little as it would in a shipwreck.

The first thing that happened was a view--a view so unexpected and so
superb that I gaped at it with my mouth open. So far away, so far below,
that it was as if we looked down from a balloon sailing among the
clouds, two lakes were set like sapphires in a double ring of mountains,
whose greens and blues and purples were dimmed by a falling veil of
twilight. But through the veil, white villas gleamed on the dark
hillsides, like pearls that had fallen down the mountain-side,
scattering as they fell; and above, in the great pale dome of the sky, a
faint silver light pulsed and quivered, like the water-lights that one
sees on the wall of a room near the river. It was a search-light sent out
by the moon, which was _en panne_ somewhere on its way up the horizon,
Maida said; and it was she who put some of those other thoughts into my
mind; but my head didn't hold any of them long at that time, because of
the next thing that happened.

It was not a view; it was a plunge that we took down into the view.

We had come up one side of a house to get to this place on the roof, and
now we began to slither down the other side, which was worse, a hundred
times worse.

Who was it who said, "A horse, my kingdom for a horse?" I think it must
have been Richard the Third in Shakspere's play, which I went to see
once in Denver, at a matinée, and Mr. Kidder scolded me afterwards for
wasting my time and his money. Well, I never sympathized with any one so
much in life as I sympathized with that poor man (I mean Richard, not
Mr. Kidder) at this moment. I knew just how he must have felt, though of
course the circumstances were somewhat different, automobiles not having
been invented in those days, and he being on the stage, with a battle
going on behind the scenes, where it was cheaper to produce, I suppose.

But I would have given my money, and even my title, for a kind, gentle
horse (the older the better) instead of a motor-car. A horse, at his
worst, doesn't want to kill himself, while an automobile doesn't care
what happens to it; and in these dreadful moments the only possible
comfort would have been in sitting behind a thing with an instinct of
self-preservation.

As it was, I sat with every muscle tense and a feeling as if my hair was
standing up so straight on my head that every hairpin must fall out. But
what was a hairpin more or less, or even a "transformation" a little
awry, to a woman about to become a corpse? I held my breath, as if to
let it go meant to lose it forever, while that automobile walked down
the mountain exactly as a fly walks down a long expanse of wall-paper,
making a short turn for every flower in the pattern.

There was a flower every other second in _our_ pattern, which meant a
sharp turn for the fly; and I could have slapped Mr. Barrymore for
talking on, as if we weren't in peril enough to be prayed for in church,
about the Lake of Como and the Lake of Lecco, and Bellagio (where we
were going) on the promontory. Where we were going, indeed! Our only
hope, clearly, was in heaven; though I should have liked just to see my
new estate in Dalmatia first.

I had to let my breath go at last, and while snatching another, I
managed to gasp that I would get out and walk. But that imp of a Beechy
(who must, I sometimes think, be a changeling) hugged my arm and said
that I wasn't to be "an old woman, like the Prince"; that this
experience was too blissful to be spoiled by anybody's nerves, and no
one was going to be hurt, not even the little dog from Airole.

"How do you know?" I panted.

"Oh, because I do. And besides, I put my faith in our Chauffeulier."

"You had better put your trust in Providence," I said severely.

"It hasn't come to _that_ yet," was her flippant reply; and I shouldn't
have been surprised if white bears had come out to devour her, for those
mountain fastnesses looked capable of bears or worse.

"Don't forget this is the road the Prince recommended," Beechy went on.
"It would be too unflattering to our vanity to think he could have
wished to hurl us to our death, so it must be all right."

"He had forgotten what it was like," I said. But the idea did enter into
my mind that perhaps he had thought if our car should break down we
might be induced to continue our journey in his. And the suggestion of
so strong a desire on his part to monopolize a certain member of our
party wasn't wholly unpleasant. It gave me enough warmth round the
heart to support life during the rest of the experience which Beechy
considered so "blissful."

I will say for Mr. Barrymore that he drove carefully, keeping the brakes
on all the time, and slowing down for one curve after another, so short
and so sharp, that if our automobile had been much longer in the body
the turn couldn't have been managed.

We had trusted to Mr. Barrymore's judgment about where we were to stop
at Bellagio, for even Sir Ralph had never done more than pass through
the place; and he had telegraphed for rooms at a hotel on a high
promontory above the lake, once the château of a famous old Italian
family. It is still called the villa Serbelloni, and Mr. Barrymore had
described the view and the garden as being so exquisite, that he had
excited our curiosity and interest. I always think, too, there is
something fascinating, if you aren't very grand yourself (or haven't
been till lately), about living in the same rooms where grand people
have lived. You can say to yourself, "Here the Duchess ate her Dinner,
here she danced, here she wrote her letters. In this garden she walked;
her eyes looked upon this view," and so I was particularly attracted
towards the Villa Serbelloni, even though Prince Dalmar-Kalm had
suggested several reasons for our going to one of the hotels on the
level of the lake. Of course I'd not confided these reflections either
to Maida or Beechy, for even Maida is unsympathetic about some things,
and thinks, or says that she thinks, it is horridly snobbish to care
about titles. She told Beechy, in an argument they were having together,
that she would just as soon as not snub an English duke or marquise,
just to show that there were _some_ American girls who didn't come
abroad to spend their money on buying a husband from the British
aristocracy. She hasn't had a chance to prove her strength of mind in
this way yet, for so far we have met only an English baronet; though I
must admit that she's much nicer to Mr. Barrymore, who is nobody at all,
than she is either to Sir Ralph Moray or the Prince.

When we seemed to be dangling midway between heaven and earth, and the
sapphires that had been the lakes had turned into burnished silver
mirrors, Mr. Barrymore drew our attention to a high point of land
running out into the water, its shape sharply cut like a silhouette in
black against the silver. "That is where we shall be in about half an
hour more," said he, "for all those twinkling yellow stars mean the
Villa Serbelloni."

I thought it much more probable that we would be at the bottom of Lake
Como, having been previously dashed into pieces so small that no expert
could sort them. But just as the moon had painted a line of glittering
gold along the irregular edges of the purple mountains we did actually
arrive on level ground close to the border of the lake. Then we had to
mount again to the Villa Serbelloni, for there was no more direct way to
it, connecting with the road by which we had come, and after we had
wound up the side of the promontory for a little while we began to drink
in a fragrance as divine as if we really had been killed and had gone
straight to heaven.

It was quite a different fragrance from any I had ever known before in
any garden; not so richly heavy as on the Riviera, though penetrating;
as delicate, Maida said, as a Beethoven symphony, and as individual. I
believe if I were to go blind, and somebody should lead me into the
garden of the Villa Serbelloni without telling me where I was, I should
know by that wonderful perfume. I can't imagine its being the same
anywhere else.

At the sound of our motor several people came out to the door of the
long, white, crescent-shaped building, and among them, to my great
pleasure, was the Prince.

"How late you are!" he exclaimed, coming to help me out before Sir
Ralph, or a very handsome young man who was the manager of the hotel,
had time to do it. "I've been expecting you for the last two hours. Do
you know that it's nearly nine o'clock? I began to be afraid something
had happened."

"What a pity you didn't think of that in Milan!" snapped Beechy. "Did
you get Mamma to make a will in your favour last night?"

"My dear young lady, what do you mean?" implored the poor Prince.

"I guess you'd know that without asking, if you'd come the way we have,
instead of taking boats and things all over the place," giggled the
impossible child, and then complained out aloud that I was pinching her.

Naturally, the Prince was too dignified to bandy words with a naughty
little girl, so he didn't pursue the subject further, but began
inquiring particulars of our adventures as we went into the house
together.

"Do you know why I was especially anxious to arrive ahead of you?" he
asked me, in a low voice.

"I think I remember your explaining last night," said I.

"Ah, but I didn't give my most important reasons. I kept them for your
ears alone; and I hope you won't be displeased. Do you remember telling
me something about to-morrow?"

I thought for a moment. "Do you mean that it will be my birthday?" I
asked.

"I mean nothing else. Did you imagine that I would forget?"

To tell the truth, I hoped he had, for I'd only mentioned it on an
impulse, to regret the words as soon as they were out. A woman who
is--well, I'll say over twenty-eight--had, perhaps, better let "sleeping
dogs lie" when it comes to talking about birthdays, especially if she
has a daughter who doesn't sleep, and never lies when she's wanted to.
However, out the news had popped about the 30th of April being my
birthday, and the Prince would hardly believe that I was as much as
twenty-nine, though, of course, there is Beechy, and I couldn't well
have married younger than fifteen. I murmured something now about a
birthday being of no consequence (I wish it weren't), but the Prince
said that mine was of a great deal to him, and he had made exertions to
arrive early and arrange a little surprise for me.

"I will say no more," he went on. "You will know the rest to-morrow; but
the best, not until evening."

I could think of nothing during dinner except what he had said, though
it was so late, and I'd been so hungry. And afterwards, standing on the
balcony outside my bedroom window looking down on a scene of fairy-like
beauty, the wonderful white moonlight and thoughts of the Prince seemed
to mingle together in my head, like some intoxicating draught. "Countess
Dalmar, Princess Dalmar-Kalm," I kept saying over to myself, until the
words wove themselves into a song in my brain, with the scent of the
flowers for accompaniment.

The whole house seems to have absorbed the perfumes of the garden, as if
they had soaked into the wood. The corridors, the bedrooms, the
wardrobes, even the chests of drawers, have the same delicate fragrance.
It scented my dreams and told me where we were when I waked in the
morning, confused with sleep.



XVI

A CHAPTER OF ENCHANTMENT


A birthday _must_ be happy spent in such an exquisite place, I told
myself, when I'd got up and peeped out of the window upon a land of
enchantment--even a birthday more advanced than one would choose. By
morning light the lake was no longer sapphire, but had taken on a
brilliant, opaque blue, like _lapis lazuli_. Umbrella pines were
stretched in dark, jagged lines on an azure background. Black cypresses
pointed warning fingers heavenward, rising tall and slim and solemn, out
of a pink cloud of almond blossoms. The mountains towering round the
lake, as if to protect its beauty with a kind of loving selfishness, had
their green or rugged brown sides softened with a purplish glow like the
bloom on a grape. And in the garden that flowed in waves of radiant
colour from terrace to terrace, as water flows over a weir, roses and
starry clematis, amethyst wistaria, rosy azalea, and a thousand lovely
things I'd never seen before, mingled tints as in a mosaic of jewels.

I had lain awake in the night listening to a bird which I could almost
have believed a fairy, and, though I'd never heard a nightingale, I
wondered if he could be one. He said over and over again, through the
white hours perfumed with roses and flooded with moonlight: "Do look, do
look! Spirit, spirit, spirit!" And so, just in case he might have been
calling me, I got up early to see what he had wanted me to see. Then I
was gladder than ever that we had decided to spend at least that day and
another night at Serbelloni, for one might journey to all four corners
of the globe and not find another place so magically beautiful.

Although I was up so early, perhaps I spent a longer time over my toilet
than the two girls do over theirs; and when I was ready neither Maida
nor Beechy were in their rooms. I had opened my door to go down and look
for them when I came face to face with a waiter carrying an enormous
bouquet. It was for me, with a perfectly lovely poem written by the
Prince. At least, it was in his handwriting, so I suppose it was by him,
and it was full of pretty allusions to an "adorable woman," with praises
for the gracious day that gave her to the world. I _was_ pleased! It was
like going back and being a young girl again, and I could have sung for
joy, as the bird did last night.

The rest of the party were on an entrancing terrace, looking down over
other flowery terraces upon the town of Bellagio, with its charming old
campanile, and its grey roofs like a flock of doves clustering together
on the border of the lake. The water was so clear and still that the big
hotels and villas on the opposite shore seemed to have fallen in head
down, and each little red-and-white canopied boat waiting for passengers
at the quay had its double in the bright blue mirror. Clouds and
mountains were all reflected too, and it seemed as if one might take
one's choice between the real world and the dream world.

Maida and Beechy had already been for a walk with Sir Ralph and Mr.
Barrymore, who had taken them up by a labyrinth of wooded paths to an
old ruined castle which they described as crowning the head of the
promontory. It had been built by the Romans, and in the Middle Ages was
the stronghold of brigands, who captured beautiful ladies and terrorized
the whole country. The girls were excited about some secret passages
which they had found, leading down from the ruin to wonderful nooks
screened on one side by trees and hanging over sheer abysses on the
other. They wanted to show also an old chapel and a monks' burying
ground which you had to reach by scrambling down a narrow stairway
attached to the precipitous rocks, like a spider web. But I had on my
white _suede_ shoes with the Louis Quinze heels, which look so well with
a white dress and dark blue silk stockings; besides, I began to want my
breakfast, and it would have been impolite to disappear before I thanked
the Prince, who might come out at any moment.

We had our coffee and rolls in a kind of bower close to the terrace; and
afterwards I did walk along the level path, fenced in with a tangle of
roses--pink, and white, and gold, and crimson--as far as a high shelf,
cut into the face of the sheer cliff which plunges vertically down, down
into the blue-green water. The Prince was my companion, and he (who has
distinguished friends in the neighbourhood, which he has visited before)
told me a strange story of the place. Once, he said, the Princes of
Stanga were lords of the land here, and a certain daughter of the house
was famous as the handsomest and cruellest Princess of her time. Despite
her dreadful disposition, she had crowds of lovers, whom she used to
invite to walk with her by moonlight, after a _tête-à-tête_ supper. She
would lead them to this very spot on which we stood, and just as she had
lured them on to make a burning declaration of love she would give a
laugh, and a sudden push, which hurled them to death in the lake far
below. How different, judging from what I have read in the ladies'
magazines, from the home-life of our dear Princesses of to-day! And how
different from _my_ habits, if I am asked to become, and do become, a
Princess. I should have liked to throw out some delicate little
suggestion of this sort, and perhaps would have found the right words,
had not Beechy appeared at that moment with Sir Ralph. Then my whole
attention was taken up, as it had been during breakfast, by tactfully
staving off any allusion on the Prince's part to my birthday. All was in
vain, however; he said something gallant, and I was quite as giddy for a
few seconds as one of the wicked Princess's lovers, lest Beechy should
be in an impish mood and throw out allusions to my age. But she was as
good as a kitten, though she looked at me in a naughty way, and only
said, "Would any one believe Mamma was twenty-nine to-day--if it weren't
for Me?"

When we went indoors afterwards I gave her that ruby heart ring of mine
that she likes.

All day long we were busy doing agreeable things. We lunched down by the
lake shore, in the garden of a big hotel there, and afterwards were
rowed across to Cadenabbia, in one of the canopied boats, to visit the
Villa Carlotta in its wonderful terraced garden. I was delighted with
the boat and the man who rowed us, in his white clothes and scarlet
sash, but the Prince half-whispered in my ear that he was going to show
me something better in the evening, when the time came for the "birthday
surprise" about which I must please say nothing--not even to Beechy.

We had coffee at the most idyllic spot imaginable, which we reached by
leaving the boat and mounting rather a steep path that went up beside a
baby cascade. At the top was a shady terrace, with arbours of grape
vines and roses, and a peasant's house, where the people live who waited
upon us. We had thick cream for our coffee, and delicious stuff with
raisins in it and sugar on top, which was neither bread nor cake. I
wanted the recipe for it, but I didn't like to get any one to ask; and
perhaps it wouldn't taste the same in Denver. Oh dear me, I begin to
think there are lots of things that won't taste the same in Denver! But
I _should_ love better than anything to go back with a high title, and
see what some of those society women, who turned up their noses at me
when I was only Mrs. Simon Kidder, would do then. There isn't one who
has a right to put crowns on her baggage or anywhere else, and I've got
that already, whatever happens by and by.

We were rowed back to Bellagio again, and climbed up by a short cut to
the Villa Serbelloni just in time to escape a storm on the lake. In a
flower-draped cave above our favourite terrace, we sat in garden chairs
and watched the effect, while Mr. Barrymore and Sir Ralph talked about
Pliny, whose statue was nearby, and some strange old general of
Napoleon's who lived for awhile at the Villa Serbolloni, and terrorized
people who wanted him to pay his debts, by keeping fierce, hungry
bloodhounds to patrol the place night and day.

When you are nicely sheltered, to watch rain falling in the distance,
and marching like troops of grey ghosts along the sky, is something like
watching other people's troubles comfortably, while you are happy
yourself--though Maida would think that a selfish speech. Anyway, the
effect of that storm was thrilling. First, Nature seemed to stop smiling
and grow very grave as the shadows deepened among the mountains. Then,
suddenly the thing happened which she had been expecting. A spurt of ink
was flung across the sky and lake, leaving on the left a wall of blue,
on the right an open door of gold. Black feathers drooped from the sky
and trailed across the roughened water, to be blown away from sight as
the storm passed from our lake to another; and when they had vanished,
out came the sun again to shine through violet mists which bathed the
mountain sides, and made their peaks seem to rise from a transparent
sea.

We could not tear ourselves away until sunset; and by the time we had
dressed for dinner, the rising moon had traced a path of silver from
shore to shore, across the pansy-purple water, where the lights of
Cadennabia were sending golden ladders down to the bottom of the lake.

I supposed that we would dine indoors, but the arbour where we had
breakfasted was illuminated with coloured lanterns, which gleamed like
rubies and emeralds and topazes among the dark tree branches, and the
trails of roses and wistaria. "This is part of my surprise," said the
Prince. "I have arranged this in honour of your birthday, dear Countess.
No, don't thank me. Is it not my greatest pleasure to think of you?"

Perhaps it was because I was in a mood to be pleased with everything,
but it did seem as if I had never tasted such a dinner as that was. We
had every delicacy in and out of season, a fruit salad which is a
specialty of the house, made of strawberries, fresh figs, cherries,
pineapples, and almonds; and when I thought that all the surprise was
over, along the terrace came a procession of green, blue and
rose-coloured lights, as if fairies were flitting among the trees. But
the fairies turned out to be waiters, bringing illuminated ices in
fantastic shapes, and a birthday cake for me lighted with twenty-nine
tiny wax candles.

All had been thought of by the Prince; and if there had been any doubt
in my mind before, I now saw that he really loved me for myself alone.
When everybody had wished me good wishes, blowing out the candles as
they wished, we left the table to stroll about in the moonlight, and the
Prince and I got separated from the others. "Ah, but this isn't all," he
broke in, when I was trying to tell him how much I appreciated what he
had done. "The best, I hope, is to come, if you will trust yourself to
me for a little while."

I was ready to do so for any length of time, and when he had sent to the
house for my wrap, and was leading me down a sloping path which I hadn't
seen before, my curiosity bubbled like a tea-kettle beginning to boil.

"We are going to the little harbour on the Lecco side," he explained,
"and there--you shall see what you shall see."

"Are you planning to run away with me?" I asked, laughing. "Perhaps,"
said he, "and as fast as if we were in my automobile, though we shall
travel by water."

I couldn't think what he meant, until we arrived at the harbour of which
he had spoken. There, among two or three canopied row-boats was one as
different as a swan is from geese. It had no canopy; and as the Prince
brought me down to the quay, a man who had been sitting in the boat
jumped up and touched his cap, which was shaped like a chauffeur's. And
sure enough it was a chauffeur's, for this was a motor-boat, which had
been lent by friends to Prince Dalmar-Kalm, especially for him to take
me on the lake by moonlight.

He told me that he had hurried to Bellagio on purpose to borrow it, and
if we did not leave too early to-morrow the people would call on
me--distinguished people, who would delight in doing honour to the
"American Countess."

Those were his very words; and he was so kind that I hadn't the heart to
let him see I was frightened to go out in the motor-boat. I should have
been far happier in a slow, comfortable old row-boat; and when I found
that the Prince intended to leave the chauffeur behind, and manage the
thing himself, my heart felt as if it had melted and begun to trickle
down between my ribs. It did seem hard, just as I had got used to a
motor-car, to have this new experience thrust upon me, all unprepared.
Often I had thought what noble sentiments one ought to utter while
driving in an automobile, considering that, at any moment your next
words might be your last! but as we shot away from that little quay, out
into the cold white path of the moon, I felt that to save my life I
couldn't have uttered any sentiments at all.

The Prince, however, appeared to be happy, and to have perfect
confidence in himself, in spite of the water looking twice as wet as it
had looked in the afternoon. This motor was of the same make as that in
his car, he said; it was by his advice that his friends had bought it,
therefore he understood it very well, and where would I like to go?

"Anywhere," I answered, as pleasantly as a woman can, whose heart has
just turned to water.

"If I could but flatter myself that you meant anywhere with _me_!" he
exclaimed. "To me, also, our destination is indifferent, provided that I
am with you and have you to myself, undisturbed by others not worthy to
approach you. Do you know, Countess, this is the first time you have
ever been alone with me, for more than a few moments?"

"It's only been a few minutes now," I faltered, for the sake of
something to say.

"Ah, but it will be many minutes before I give you up," said he, "unless
you are cruel."

My heart began to beat fast, for his manner made me guess that
something special was coming, and though I had often thought such a
moment might arrive, and decided, or almost decided, how I would act,
when it was actually at hand it seemed more tremendous than I had
supposed.

"You must try to keep me in good humour, then," said I; but though the
moon was beautifully romantic, and I felt he was looking at me with his
whole soul in his eyes, I couldn't help keeping one of mine glued on the
steering gear, or whatever one ought to call it, and wondering whether
he was paying as much attention to it as he was to me.

"I am more anxious to please you than anything else in the world; you
must have seen that long ago," he went on, moving closer. I gave a
little bound, because the boat was certainly going in zigzags, and he
was so near that by accident I jogged his elbow. With that, the boat
darted off to the left, at twice the rate it had been going. I screamed
under my breath, as Beechy says, and caught hold of the seat with both
hands. The Prince did something in a hurry to the machinery, and
suddenly the engine was as still as death. The boat went on for a few
yards, as if by its own impetus, and then began to float helplessly.

"I've stopped the motor by mistake," he explained. "I will start it
again soon, but let us remain as we are for the present. It is so
delicious to rock quietly on the little waves with you beside me, and
the rest of the world far away."

"Oh, but the waves aren't so very little," I said. "The water hasn't
smoothed down since the storm. It's awfully nice and poetic, but don't
you think it would be still nicer if you just steered?"

"I cannot steer the boat unless the motor is working," he replied. "But
there is no danger of our being run down at this time. The moon lights
the water with a great white lamp."

"Yes, but look at that big, dark cloud," said I, pointing up. "It will
be putting out the light of the lamp in about five minutes. And--and I
_do_ see things moving on the water. When the moon is obscured, we
_might_ have a collision."

The Prince looked up and saw the cloud too. "Very well," he said. "I
will start the motor at once on one condition--that you do not ask me to
take you home for an hour, at least."

"I promise that," I answered, quite shyly.

Instantly he set to work at the motor; but it wouldn't start. The Prince
did a great many things, and even lighted dozens of matches, to see what
was the matter, but not a throb would the engine give.

"I am afraid," he announced at last, in a voice that tried not to sound
cross, "I'm afraid the sparking-plug is broken."

"Well?" said I, "What then? Shall we be drowned?"

"Not at all," he reassured me, taking my hand. "We shall only drift
about until some one comes to our rescue, as unfortunately there are no
oars on board. If I thought you were not unhappy, I could rejoice in the
accident."

I let him keep my hand, but I couldn't feel as happy as I ought, to be
polite. "It's--it's very interesting," I stammered, "but they don't know
where we are, and they'll never think to search the lake for us!"

"The chauffeur will come to see what is wrong if I do not get the boat
back by a little after midnight," said the Prince.

"A little after midnight!" I echoed. "But that would be awful! What
would they think? And oh, see, the cloud's over the moon! Ugh, how dark
it is. We shall certainly be run down. Couldn't we call for help?"

"We are a long way already from the shore," said the Prince; "and
besides it is not dignified to shout. By and by some one will come.
Meanwhile, let us enjoy ourselves. Dear Countess, I confess I brought
you here to-night--your birthday night--for a purpose. Will you listen
while I tell you what it is?"

"Sh! Wait one minute. Aren't those voices in the distance, and don't you
see something big and dark bearing down upon us?"

"They exist but in your imagination," answered the Prince; "Or is it
only that you wish to put me off?"

"Oh, no; I wouldn't be so rude," said I. "Please excuse me." But I was
on pins and needles, trying to keep an eye in every direction at once
(as if I'd had a headlight in my face) and to make the most of my
situation at the same time.

"Then I will no longer strain my patience," cried the Prince in a warm
voice. "Dearest Countess, I am at your feet."

And so he was, for he went right down on his knees in the bottom of the
boat, kneeling on my dress so that I couldn't have stirred an inch if
I'd wanted to, which I didn't; for I meant to accept him. He had had
only my right hand, but now he seized the left, too, and began to kiss,
first one, and then the other, as if I'd been a queen.

This was the first time a man had ever gone down on his knees to me, for
the Prince is the only foreign gentleman I ever knew, and Mr. Kidder
proposed in a buggy. Afraid as I was of a collision, I was enjoying
myself very much, when suddenly a horrid thing happened. A great white
light pounced upon us like a hawk on a chicken, and focussed on us as if
we were a tableau. It was so bright, shining all over us and into our
eyes, that it made everything else except just the Prince and me, and
our boat, look black, as if it were raining ink. And we were so taken
aback with surprise, that for an instant or two we kept our position
exactly as if we were sitting for our photographs, the Prince kneeling
at my feet and kissing my hands, I bending down my face over his head.

I never experienced such a moment in my life, and the thought flashed
into my head that it was Simon's ghost come to forbid my second
marriage. This idea was so frightful, that it was actually a relief to
hear a vulgar shout of laughter coming from the other end of the light,
wherever that was.

The Prince recovered before I did, and jerked himself up to a sitting
posture on the seat, exclaiming something in German, which I am afraid
was swearing.

[Illustration: _A great white light pounced upon us like a hawk on a
chicken_]

"Those Italian ruffians of the _douane_, with their disgusting
search-light!" he sputtered in English when he was recovering himself a
little. "But do not derange yourself, Countess. They have seen that
we are not smugglers, which is one advantage, because they will not
trouble us any more."

All this time the light was in our faces, and the hateful customs people
could see every feature, down to the shortest eyelash. When they did
turn the horrid white stream in another direction, I felt as weak as if
the search-light had been a stream of cold water.

I tried not to be hysterical, but I couldn't help crying and laughing
alternately, especially when the Prince would have taken my hands and
begun all over again.

"'Ware the light!" I gasped, as nervous as a cat that hears a mouse in
the wall. And though I really did want the Prince to propose to me, and
was anxious to say that I would be his princess, in the circumstances I
was as thankful as I was astonished to hear Beechy's voice calling to me
across the water.

In five minutes more a row-boat containing all the members of our party
came alongside, and the lights in our bow and theirs showed us their
faces, though the moon was still hiding her face in her hands with a
pair of black gloves on.

"We _thought_ you'd gone down to the lake," said Beechy, "so I persuaded
the others to come too; but we never dreamed you were in a motor-boat,
or whereabouts you were, till we _saw_ you."

I felt myself get as red as fire; though, when one comes to think of it,
I am my own mistress, and Beechy can't keep me from doing anything that
I've made up my mind to do.

"This boat belongs to a friend of the Prince's," I explained. "We were
trying it when it broke down, and he has been examining the motor."

"So I noticed," remarked Beechy. "I guess you're a little near-sighted,
aren't you, Prince?"

He did not answer her, but explained to Mr. Barrymore the cause of the
accident, and asked to be towed into harbour.

Of course, my evening was spoiled. I tried to laugh it off and say how
Providential it was they had come to our rescue; but though I kept
telling myself every minute that there was no need for me to mind
Beechy, I dreaded meeting her alone. However, the evil moment wouldn't
be put off forever, and she came along the balcony from her window to
mine when I had shut myself up in my bedroom.

I expected her to fly out at me, but her manner was the same as usual.

"Want me to undo your frock behind, Mamma?" she asked.

Then, when she had got me half unhooked: "Tell me what the Prince said
when he proposed."

"He didn't propose," said I.

"If he didn't I shall ask Sir Ralph to call him out. He'd no business
kissing your hands unless he'd proposed."

I was surprised at this attitude. But it made me feel confidential. "He
hadn't had a chance," I volunteered. "He was just going to, when the
search-light--"

"--Searched. Lucky for you the interruption came at the right moment."

"Why? I thought--"

"Because it saved you the pain of refusing him."

"But, Beechy darling, I don't think I was going to refuse him."

"Don't you? Well, I do. I'm sure of it."

"Dearest, if you wouldn't look at me in that square-chinned way! It's so
like your poor Papa."

"I'm Papa's daughter. But I don't intend to be Prince Dalmar-Kalm's
step-daughter."

I began to cry a little. "Why do you always try to thwart me when I want
to be happy?" I asked.

"That isn't fair to say. Look at my short dress and my hair in pigtails.
There's proof enough of what I'm ready to do to make you happy. I let
you be a Countess, and you may be a Princess if you can _buy_ the title,
but no Princes on this ranch!"

My blood was up, and I determined to fight. "Beechy," I exclaimed. "I
guess I've a right to do as I like, and I _will_. It's for your good as
well as mine, for me to marry a title, and I'm _going_ to. I shall say
'yes' when the Prince proposes."

"He won't propose," said she, suddenly as cool as if she had been in a
refrigerator.

"He will, the minute I give him the opportunity, and I shall to-morrow;
I don't care what you do."

"I bet he won't. I'll bet you a good deal. Anything you like, except the
long dress I've got in my trunk, and the package of hairpins in my
grip."

"What makes you think he won't?" I asked, worried by her manner, which
was odd.

"I know he won't."

"You know the Prince will never propose to me?"

She nodded.

I flew at her, and took her by the shoulders, as if she'd been seven
instead of--her present age.

"You cruel girl!" I exclaimed. "You're going to tell him how old I am,
and--and a lot of hateful things."

"No, I'm not, and for a good reason. It wouldn't change his mind. So
long as your banking account's all right, he wouldn't care if you were
Methusaleh. I shan't tell him anything about you. I shan't mention your
name. But he won't propose."

"What _are_ you going to do?" I stammered.

"That's my secret."

"Oh, you have got something in your head?"

She nodded again. "And up my sleeve."

"You will poison his mind."

"No, I won't. I shall only--play dolls."

And she went on unfastening my waist.



PART IV

TOLD BY MAIDA DESTREY



XVII

A CHAPTER OF MOTOR MANIA


What becomes of the beautiful army of days marching away from us into
the past? The wonderful days, each one differing from all the others:
some shining in our memory, in glory of purple and gold, that we saw
only as they passed, with the setting of the sun; some smiling back at
us, in their pale spring dress of green and rose; some weeping in grey;
but all moving at the same pace along the same road? The strange days
that have given us everything they had to give, and yet have taken from
us little pieces of our souls. Where do the days go? There must be some
splendid world where, when they have passed down to the end of the long
road, they all live together like queens, waited upon by those black
slaves, the nights that have followed them like their shadows, holding
up their robes.

I've had this thought in my mind often since I have been flashing across
Europe in an automobile, grudging each day that slipped from me and
would not stay a moment longer because I loved it. I wish I knew the way
to the land where the days that have passed live; for when those that
are to come seem cold to me, I would like to go and pay the old ones a
visit. How well I would know their faces, and how glad I would be to see
them again in their own world!

Well, perhaps, even though I can never find the way there, I can see the
days' portraits painted in rows in the picture gallery of a house I own.
It isn't a very big house yet, but at least one new room is being built
onto it every year, and lately it has grown faster than ever before,
though the architecture has improved. Fancy my being a householder! But
I am, and so is everybody. We all have the House of our Past, of which
we alone have a key, and whenever we wish, we can steal softly, secretly
in, by dim passages, to enter rooms sealed to the whole world except
ourselves.

I have been making the picture gallery in mine, since I left America;
but the pictures I care for most have been put up since I began
motoring.

I suppose some very rich natures can be rich without travel, for they
are born with caskets already full of jewels; but ordinary folk have
empty caskets if they keep them shut up always in one safe, and I begin
to see that mine were but poor things. I keep them wide open now, and
every day, every hour, a beautiful new pearl or diamond drops in.

It seems strange to remember how reluctant I was to come away. I thought
there could be nothing more beautiful, more satisfying to eyes and
heart, than my home. The white, colonial house set back from the broad
Hudson River among locust trees and tall, rustling maples; the sloping
lawn, with the beds of geranium and verbena; the garden with its dear,
old-fashioned flowers--holly-hocks, sweet-williams, bleeding-hearts,
grass pinks, and yellow roses; the grey-green hills across the water;
that picture stood to me for all that was ideal on earth. And then, the
Sisters, with their soft ways and soft voices, their white robes and
pale blue, floating veils; how their gracious figures blended with and
accentuated the peaceful charm of the scene, shut away from the storms
of this world throughout their lives!

I was partly right, for of its kind there could be nothing more
beautiful than that picture, but my mistake was in the narrow-minded
wish to let one suffice. I rejoice now in every new one I have hung up,
and shall rejoice all the more when I am back again myself--just one of
those white figures that flit across the old canvas.

Yes, I shall be one of those figures, of course. The Mother has always
told me it was my true vocation; that peace and leisure for reflection
and concentration of mind were the greatest earthly blessings a woman
could have. Ever since, as a very small girl, I longed for the day when
I should be allowed to wear one of those pretty, trailing, white
cashmere dresses and long, pale blue veils, I have looked forward to
joining the Sisterhood of good women who alone have ever given me love
and the protection of home.

Nothing has happened to change my intentions, and they are _not_
changed. Only, I'm not homesick any more, as I used to be in the
feverish Paris days, or even on the Riviera, when we did very little but
rush back and forth between Monte Carlo and Cap Martin, with Prince
Dalmar-Kalm and his friends.

I shall go home and carry out the plans I've had for all these years,
but--I shall live--live--live--every single minute till the time comes
for my good-bye to the world.

I should have liked to stay a month at Bellagio (with the wonderful
garden of Serbelloni to explore from end to end), instead of the two
days that we did stop; still, the moment our start was arranged, I was
perfectly happy at the thought of being in the car again.

There was a discussion as to how we should begin the journey to Lecco
and Desenzano, where we were to sleep one night, for our difficulty lay
in the fact that there's but one road on which you can drive away from
the wooded, wedge-like promontory which Bellagio pushes out into the
lake; the steep, narrow road up to Civenna and down again to Canzo and
Asso, by which we had come. As our car had done the climb and descent so
well, Mr. Barrymore wanted to do it again, perhaps with a wicked desire
to force the Prince into accompanying us or seeming timid about the
capabilities of his automobile. But when Aunt Kathryn discovered how
easy the alternative was (simply to put the car on a steamer as far as
Varenna, then running along a good road from there southward to Lecco),
she said that Mr. Barrymore's way would be tempting Providence, with
whose designs, I must say she appears to have an intimate acquaintance.
Heaven had spared us the first time, she argued, but now if we
deliberately flew in its face, it would certainly not be considerate on
a second occasion.

I was ready so much earlier on the last morning than Aunt Kathryn or
Beechy, that I ordered coffee and rolls for myself alone on the terrace;
and they had just appeared when Mr. Barrymore came out. He was going
presently to see to the car, so naturally we had breakfast together,
with an addition of some exquisite wild strawberries, gleaming like
_cabouchon_ rubies under a froth of whipped cream. It was only eight
o'clock, when we finished, and he said there would be time for one last
stroll through the divinest garden in Italy, if I cared for it. Of
course I did care, so we walked together up the rose-bordered path from
the sweet-smelling flower-zone to the pine-belt that culminates in the
pirates' castle. While we stood looking down over the three arms of the
lake in their glittering blue sleeves, a voice spoke behind us: "Ah,
Miss Destrey, I've found you at last. Your cousin asked me to look for
you and bring you back as soon as possible. You are urgently wanted for
something, though what was not confided to me."

The Prince used to be troublesome when he first attached himself to our
party. If ever he happened to meet me in the big hall or the garden of
the hotel at Cap Martin, when neither Aunt Kathryn nor Beechy was with
me, he always made some pretext to talk and pay me stupid compliments,
though he would flee if my relations came in sight. After the trip
began, however, his manner was suddenly different, and he showed no more
desire for my society than I for his; therefore I was surprised by an
equally sudden change this morning. It was hardly to be defined in
words, but it was very noticeable. Even his way of looking at me was not
the same. At Cap Martin it used to be rather bold, as if I were the kind
of person who ought to be flattered by any attention from a Prince
Dalmar-Kalm. Later, if he glanced at me at all, it was with an odd
expression, as if he wished me to regret something, I really couldn't
imagine what. But now there was a sort of reverence in his gaze and
manner, as if I were a queen and he were one of my courtiers. As I'm not
a queen, and wouldn't care to have him for a courtier if I were, I
wasn't pleased when he attempted to keep at my side going down by the
narrow path up which Mr. Barrymore and I had walked together. He didn't
precisely thrust Mr. Barrymore out of the way, but seemed to take it for
granted, as it were by right of his rank, that it was for him, not the
others to walk beside me.

I resented this, for to my mind it is horribly caddish for a person to
snub another not his equal in fortune; and as Mr. Barrymore never pushes
himself forward when people behave as if he were their inferior, I
determined to show unmistakably which man I valued more. Consequently,
when the Prince persisted in keeping at my shoulder, I turned and talked
over it to Mr. Barrymore following behind. But on the terrace level with
the hotel he had to leave us, for the automobile was to be shipped on
board a cargo-boat that sailed for Varenna some time before ours.

"Why are you always unkind to me? Have I been so unfortunate as to vex
you in any way?" asked the Prince, when we were alone.

"I am neither kind nor unkind," I replied in a practical, dry sort of
tone. "I am going in now to see why they want me."

"Please don't be in such a hurry," said the Prince. "Perhaps I made Miss
Beechy's message too urgent, for I had seen you with the chauffeur, and
I could not bear that you should be alone with him."

"It is stupid to speak of Mr. Barrymore as the chauffeur," I exclaimed
in a rage. "And it's not your affair Prince, to concern yourself with my
actions."

With that I darted into the long corridor that opens from the terrace,
and left him furiously tugging at his moustache.

"Did you send the Prince to call me in, Beechy?" I asked, after I had
tapped at her door.

"I happened to see the Prince and have a little talk with him in the
garden a few minutes ago," said she, "and I told him if he saw you he
might say we'd be glad if you'd come. Mamma's in such a stew finishing
her packing, and it would be nice if you'd help shut the dressing-bag."

Aunt Kathryn hadn't been herself, it seemed to me, during our two days
at Bellagio. This morning she had a headache, and though I'd hoped that
she would walk down to the boat with the Prince, she decided to take the
hotel omnibus, so I was pestered with him once more. Beechy and Sir
Ralph were having an argument of some sort (in which I heard that funny
nickname "the Chauffeulier" occur several times), and as Mr. Barrymore
had gone ahead with the car and our luggage, the Prince kept with me all
the way through the terraced garden, then down the quaint street of
steps past the bright-coloured silk-shops, to the crowded little quay. I
should have thought that after my last words he would have avoided me,
but apparently he hadn't understood that he was being snubbed. He even
put himself out to be nice to the black dog from Airole, which is my
shadow now, and detests the Prince as openly as he secretly detests it.

It was scarcely half an hour's sail to Varenna, and ten minutes after
landing there, we were in the car, bowling smoothly along a charming
road close by the side of Lecco, the eastern arm of the triple lake of
Como.

For a time we ran opposite the promontory of Bellagio, with the white
crescent of the Villa Serbelloni conspicuous on the darkly wooded
hillside. Near us was an electric railway which burrowed into tunnels,
as did our own road now and then, to save itself from extinction in a
wall of rock. As we went on, we found the scenery of Lecco more wild and
rugged than that of Como with its many villas, each one of which might
have been Claude Melnotte's. Villages were sparsely scattered on the
sides of high, sheer mountains which reared their bared shoulders up to
a sky of pure ultramarine, but Lecco itself was big and not picturesque,
taking an air of up-to-date importance from the railway station which
connects this magic land with the rest of Italy.

"I shouldn't care to stop in this town," said Beechy, when Mr. Barrymore
slowed down before an imposing glass-fronted hotel with gorgeous
ornamentations of iron and a wonderful gateway. "After what we've come
from, Lecco _does_ look unromantic and prosaic, though I daresay this
hotel is nice and will give us a good lunch."

"Nevertheless it's the _Promessi Sposi_ country," answered Mr.
Barrymore.

"What's that?" asked Beechy and Aunt Kathryn together. But I knew; for
in the garret at home there's an old, old copy of "The Betrothed," which
is Manzoni's _I Promessi Sposi_ in English, and I found and read it when
I was a small girl. It was very long, and perhaps I should find it a
little dull now though I hope not, for I loved it then, reading in
delicious secrecy and stealth, because the Sisterhood doesn't allow
youthful pupils to batten on love stories, no matter how old-fashioned.
I hadn't thought of the book for years; but evidently its story had been
lying all this time carefully put away in a parcel, gathering dust on
some forgotten shelf in my brain, for down it tumbled at the mention of
the name. As Mr. Barrymore explained to Aunt Kathryn that this was the
country of _I Promessi Sposi_ because the scenes of Manzoni's romance
had been laid in the neighbourhood, I could see as plainly as if they
lay before my eyes the quaint woodcuts representing the beautiful
heroine, Lucia, her lover, Renzo, and the wicked Prince Innominato.

Nevertheless I took some credit to myself for remembering the old book
so well, and fancied that there weren't many other travellers nowadays
who would have it. But pride usually goes before a fall, as hard-hearted
nurses tell vain little girls who have come to grief in their prettiest
dresses; and at lunch it appeared that the humblest, most youthful
waiter at Lecco knew more about the classic romance of the country than
I did. Indeed, not a character in the book that wasn't well represented
in a picture on the wall or a painted post-card, and all seemed at
least as real to the people of Lecco as any of their modern
fellow-citizens.

The landlord was so shocked at the idea of our going on without driving
a few kilometres to Acquate, the village where Renzo and Lucia had
lived, and visiting the wayside shrine where Don Roderigo accosted
Lucia, that Aunt Kathryn was fired with a desire to go, though the
Prince (who had come the same way we had) would have dissuaded her by
saying there was nothing worth seeing. "I believe you don't approve of
stories about wicked Princes like Innominato," said Beechy, "and that's
why you don't want us to go. You're afraid we'll get suspicious if we
know too much about them." After that speech the Prince didn't object
any more, and even went with us in his car, when we had rounded off our
lunch with the Robiolo cheese of the country.

It was a short drive to Lucia's village; we could have walked in less
than an hour, but that wouldn't have pleased Aunt Kathryn.
Appropriately, we passed a statue of Manzoni on the way--a delightful
Manzoni seated comfortably on a monument (with sculptured medallions
from scenes in his books) almost within sight of the road to Acquate,
and quite within sight of Monte Resegno, where the castle of wicked
Innominato still stands. Then no sooner had we turned into the narrow
road leading up to the little mountain hamlet than our intentions became
the property of every passer-by, every peasant, every worker from the
wire factories.

"_I Promessi Sposi_," they would say to each other in a matter-of-course
way, with an accompanying nod that settled our destination without a
loophole of doubt.

In Acquate itself, a tiny but picturesque old village (draped with
wistaria from end to end, as if it were _en fête_), everything was
reminiscent and commemorative of the romance that had made its fame.
Here was Via Cristoforo; there Via Renzo; while naturally Via Lucia led
us up to the ancient grey _osteria_ where the virtuous heroine was born
and lived. We went in, of course, and Sir Ralph ordered red wine of the
country, to give us an excuse to sit and stare at the coloured
lithographs and statuettes of the lovers, and to peep into the really
beautiful old kitchen with the ruddy gleams of copper in its dusky
shadows, its bright bits of painted china, its pretty window and huge
fireplace.

On a shelf close by the fire sat a cat, and I attempted to stroke it,
for it looked old enough and important enough to have belonged to Lucia
herself. But I might have known that it would not suffer my caresses,
for it's nearly always so with foreign cats and dogs, I find. The lack
of confidence in their own attractions which they show is as pathetic as
that of a neglected wife; they never seem to think of themselves as
pets.

Aunt Kathryn would persist in talking of Innominato as "Abominato"
(which was after all more appropriate), and the generous display of
Lucia's charms in the pictures caused her basely to doubt that most
virtuous maiden's genuine merit. "If the girl hadn't worn such dresses,
they wouldn't have painted her in them," she argued. "If she _did_ wear
them, she was a minx who got no more than she might have expected,
prancing about lonely mountain roads in such shameless things. And I
don't want a piece of wood from the shutter of her bedroom to take away
with me. I should be mortified to tell any ladies in Denver what it was;
and what's the good of carting souvenirs of your travels around with
you, if you can't tell people about them?"

We got back to our lakeside hotel sooner than we had thought, and the
landlord prayed us to see one more of Lecco's great sights. "It is not
as if I asked you to go out of your way to look at some fine old ruin or
a beautiful view," he pleaded. "You have seen many such on your journey,
and you will see many more; but this thing to which I would send you is
unique. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world; and to go
will take you five minutes."

This excited Aunt Kathryn's curiosity, but when she heard that "it" was
only a wonderful model of the cathedral at Milan, exact in every
smallest detail and made by one man, she thought that she would seize
the opportunity of lying down while the others went, and be fresh for
our start, in an hour's time.

The idea of a model in wood of such a masterpiece as the Milan Cathedral
didn't particularly recommend itself to me; but when we had arrived at a
curiosity shop, and been ushered into a huge inner room, I suddenly
changed my mind, for what I saw there was wonderful--as wonderful in its
way as the great Cathedral itself.

It was the father of the man who showed us the model, and owned the
shop, who had made the miniature _duomo_. His name was Giacomo
Mattarelli, and he was an extraordinary genius, worthy of a tomb in the
Cathedral to the worship of whose beauty he devoted twenty years of his
life and sacrificed those which remained.

The story of his self-appointed task struck me as being as marvellous as
the task's result, which stood there in the dim room, perfect in
proportion and delicately wrought as ivory carved by Chinese experts. I
don't know what the others thought, but the tale as told by the artist's
son was for me full of pathos and beautiful sentiment.

The man had been a cabinet-maker by trade, but he had money and could
gratify his craving for art. The glory of the Milan Cathedral, seen
once, became an obsession for him, and he went again and again. At last
the idea grew in his mind to express his homage in a perfect copy of the
great church which, as he said, "held his heart." There was no train
between Milan and Lecco in his day (1840), and he used to walk all those
miles to make drawings of the Cathedral. At first he meant to do the
work in iron, but iron was too heavy; then he began casting plates in
copper, but they were hollow behind, and he could not get the effect he
wanted, so after several wasted months he began again with olive wood.
Often he would work all night; and no trouble was too much for his
inexhaustible patience. Each statue, each gargoyle was copied, first in
a drawing, then with the carving tools, and no hand but that of the
artist ever touched the work. At the end of twenty-two years it was
completed; not a detail missing inside or out; and then when all was
done the modeller went blind.

Now his son had lighted up the model for us to see, and I was almost
aghast at the thought of the incredible labour it had meant--literally a
labour of love, for the artist had given his eyes and his best years to
his adoration of the beautiful. And the whole thing seemed the more of a
marvel when I remembered how Mr. Barrymore had called Milan Cathedral
the most highly ornamented building in the world. Nowhere else, he said,
existed a church so smothered with carving. Every point, every niche has
its statue. There, in the model, one could find each one. Through
magnifying glasses the little carved faces (hardly larger, some of them,
than a pin's head) looked at one with the same expression as the
original, and not a mistake had been made in a fold of drapery. Each
sculptured capital, each column, each decorative altar of the interior
had been carved with loving fidelity. All that, in the vast Cathedral
had taken centuries and many generations of men to plan and finish, this
one infinitely patient man had copied in miniature in twenty-two years.
It would have been worth visiting the town to see the model alone, even
if we had turned miles out of our path.

To go from there to Desenzano by way of Bergamo and Brescia was to go
from lake to lake--Lecco to Garda; and the road was beautiful. Castles
and ancient monasteries had throned themselves on hills to look down on
little villages cringing at their august feet. Along the horizon
stretched a serrated line of pure white mountains, sharply chiselled in
marble, while a thick carpet of wild flowers, blue and gold, had been
cut apart to let our road pass through. It was a biscuit-coloured road,
smooth as uncut velvet, and fringed on either side with a white spray of
heavenly-fragrant acacia, like our locust-trees at home. Rustic fences
and low hedges defining rich green meadows, were inter-laced with wild
roses, pink and white, and plaited with pale gold honeysuckle, a magnet
for armies of flitting butterflies. Every big farmhouse, every tiny
cottage was curtained with wistaria and heavy-headed roses. Wagons
passed us laden with new-mown hay and crimson sorrel; and we had one odd
adventure, which might have been dangerous, but was only poetic.

A horse drawing some kind of vehicle, piled high with fragrant clover,
took it into his head just as were side by side, that it was his duty to
punish his mechanical rival for existing. Calculating his distance
nicely, he gave a bound, flung the cart against our car, and upset half
his load of clover on our heads. What he did afterwards we had no means
of knowing, for we were temporarily extinguished.

It was the strangest sensation I ever had, being suddenly overwhelmed by
a soft, yet heavy wave of something that was like a ton of perfumed
feathers.

Instantly the car stopped, for Mr. Barrymore, buried as he was, didn't
forget to put on the brakes. Then I felt that he was excavating me, and
almost before I knew what had swallowed me up I was emerging from green
and pink billows of clover, laughing, gasping, half-dazed, but wholly
delighted. "You're not drowned?" he asked quickly.

"No, I can swim," I answered, and set myself promptly to help him and
Sir Ralph rescue Beechy and Aunt Kathryn, which was rather like looking
for needles in a haystack.

By the time we had all got our breath and wiped the clover out of our
eyes, horse and cart had vanished comet-like into the horizon, leaving a
green trail behind. We bailed out the car and started gaily on once
more, but presently our speed slackened. Without a sigh the automobile
stopped precisely in the middle of the road, and gently, though firmly,
refused to go on again.

When Mr. Barrymore saw that this was more than a passing whim, he called
Sir Ralph to the rescue, Beechy and I jumped out, and the car was pushed
to one side. Then, with all of us standing round, he proceeded to search
for the mischief. Apparently nothing was wrong. The engine was cool;
the pump generously inclined, and fat yellow fireflies flew out of the
sparking-plugs when they were tested. Then Mr. Barrymore remembered the
cause of the Prince's first accident, and looked at the carburetter; but
there was not so much as a speck of dust. For a while he continued to
poke, and prod, and hammer, Sir Ralph offering humorous advice, and
pretending to be sure that, if his housekeeper Félicité were on the
spot, the car would start for her in an instant. The mystery only
thickened, however, and to make matters worse the Prince, who had been
proudly spinning on ahead, came tearing back to see what had happened.
Though he pretended to be sympathetic, he was visibly overjoyed at our
misfortune, which turned the tables upon us for once, and his
suggestions were enough to wreck the valvular system of a motor-car; not
to mention the nervous system of a distracted chauffeur.

"Perhaps the petrol's dead," said Mr. Barrymore, paying no heed to the
Prince's ideas. He opened a new tin and was about to empty its contents
into the reservoir, when he uttered an exclamation. "By Jove! Just look
at that, Miss Destrey!" he said; and I couldn't help feeling flattered
that he should appeal to me on a subject I didn't know anything about.

He was peering at the small round air-hole leading down to the
reservoir, so I peered too, and in spite of my ignorance I saw what he
meant. The hole was entirely stopped up with the body of a pinkish-grey
caterpillar, and Mr. Barrymore explained that the poor car had simply
stopped because it couldn't breathe. No air had been able to reach the
petrol in the reservoir, and therefore no spirit had trickled through to
the carburetter.

We had been delayed for more than half an hour by a mere worm, which had
probably arrived with the clover; but when the automobile could fill her
lungs again she started on at a great pace. We passed a wonderful old
riverside town, that had one of the most remarkable churches we had seen
yet; and by-and-by a fine city, set like a tiara on the forehead of a
distant hill, seemed to spring up, peer at us from its eminence, and
then dip down out of sight among other hills which made a dark
foreground against white mountains.

It was Bergamo; and not once did we see it again until we were almost in
the place, when it deigned to show itself once more--an old, old city on
a height, a newer city extended at its feet in a plain.

"This town is packed full of interesting things," said Mr. Barrymore. "I
stayed here two days once, at a nice old-fashioned hotel with domed,
painted ceilings, marble walls and mahogany mantle-pieces which would
have delighted you. And even then I hadn't half time for the two or
three really fine churches, and the Academy, where there are some
Bellinis, a Palma Vecchio, and a lot of splendid Old Masters. Bergamo
claims Tasso, perhaps you remember, because his father was born here;
and Harlequin, you know, was supposed to be a Bergamese."

"Oughtn't we to stop and see the pictures?" I asked.

"We ought. But one never does stop where one ought to, motoring.
Besides, you'll see the best work of the same artists at Venice and as
we want to reach Desenzano for dinner we had better push on."

We did push on but not far. Unless the main road runs straight into a
town and out of it again it is often difficult to discover the exit from
Italian cities like those through which we passed, and Mr. Barrymore
seemed always reluctant to inquire. When I remarked on this once,
thinking it simpler to ask a question of some one in the street rather
than take a false turn, he answered that automobilists never asked the
way; they found it. "I can't explain," he went on, "but I believe other
men who drive cars share the same peculiarity with me; I never ask help
from a passer-by if I can possibly fish out the way for myself. It isn't
rational of course. Sometimes I could save a détour if I would stop and
ask; but I prefer to plunge on and make a mistake rather than admit that
a mere man on legs can teach me anything I don't know. It seems somehow
to degrade the automobile."

The argument was too subtle for me, not being an automobilist; and on
trying to get out of Bergamo, Mr. Barrymore made one of his little
détours. The road twisted; and instead of finding the one towards
Brescia it happened that we went down a broad way which looked like a
high road, but happened to be only a _cul de sac_ leading to the railway
station. We were annoyed for a minute, but we were to rejoice in the
next.

Seeing his error, Mr. Barrymore had just turned the car and was circling
round, when two men stepped into the middle of the road and held up
their hands. They appeared so suddenly that they made me start. They
were very tall and very grave, dressed alike, in long black coats
buttoned to their chins, black gloves, and high black hats. Each carried
an oaken staff.

"They're mutes," said Sir Ralph as Mr. Barrymore put on the brake.
"They've come to warn us that there's going to be a funeral, and we must
clear out for the procession."

The pair looked so sepulchral, I thought he must be right, though I'd
never seen any "funeral mutes." But Mr. Barrymore answered in a low
voice, "No, they're policemen. I wonder what's up?" Then, aloud, he
addressed the melancholy black beanpoles; but to my surprise, instead of
using his fluent Italian to lubricate the strained situation, he spoke
in English.

"Good day. Do you want something with me?"

Of course they didn't understand. How could they have been expected to?
But they did not look astonished. Their black coats were too tight round
their necks for them to change expression easily. One began to explain
his object or intention, with gentle patience, in soft Italian--so soft
that I could have burst out laughing at the thought of the contrast
between him and a New York policeman.

Now almost my whole knowledge of Italian has been gained since Aunt
Kathryn decided to take this trip, for then I immediately bought a
phrase-book, a grammar, and "Doctor Antonio" translated into the native
tongue of hero and author, all of which I've diligently studied every
evening. Mr. Barrymore, on the contrary, speaks perfectly. I believe he
could even think in Italian if he liked; nevertheless _I_ could
understand a great deal that the thin giant said, while _he_ apparently
was hopelessly puzzled.

Even without an accompaniment of words, the policeman's pantomime was so
expressive, I fancy I should have guessed his meaning. With the grieved
dignity of a father taking to task an erring child, he taxed us with
having damaged a cart and injured a horse, causing it to run away. He
pointed to the distance. With an arching gesture he illustrated a mound
of hay (or clover?) rising from the vehicle; with a quick outward thrust
of hands and widespread fingers he pictured the alarm and frantic rush
of the horse; he showed us the creature running, then falling, then
limping as if hurt; he touched his knees to indicate the place of the
wound. What could the most elementary intelligence need more to
comprehend? Certainly it was enough for the crowd collected about us;
but it was not enough for Mr. Barrymore, who is an Irishman, and
cleverer about everything than any man I ever met. He sat still, with an
absolutely vacant though conscientious look on his face, as if he were
trying hard to snatch at an idea, but hadn't succeeded. When the
policeman finished, Mr. Barrymore sadly shook his head. "I wonder what
you mean?" he murmured mildly in English.

The Italian retold the story, his companion throwing a word into a pause
now and then. Both patient men articulated with such careful nicety that
the syllables fell from their mouths like clear-cut crystals. But Mr.
Barrymore shook his head again; then, suddenly, with a joyous smile he
seized a pocket-book from inside his coat. From this he tore out an
important-looking document stamped with a red seal, and pointed from it
to a lithographed signature at the foot.

"Foreign Secretary; Lansdowne--Lord Lansdowne," he repeated. "Inglese.
Inglese and Italiani sempre amici. Yes?" His smile embraced not only the
long-suffering policemen but the crowd, who nodded their heads and
laughed. Having made this effect, Mr. Barrymore whipped out another
impressive paper, which I could see was his _permis de Conduire_ from
the Department of Mines in Nice.

He pointed to the official stamp on this document, and with the
childlike pride of one who stammers a few words of a foreign tongue, he
exclaimed, "Nizza. Nizza la bella." With this, he looked the giants so
full and kindly in the face, and seemed to be so greatly enjoying
himself, that every one laughed again, and two young men cheered,
appearing to be rather ashamed of themselves afterwards. Then, as if
every requirement must at last be satisfied, he made as if to go on. But
the conscientious comrades, though evidently faint and discouraged,
hadn't yet given up hope or played their last card, despite the yards of
English red tape with which those two stamped papers had fed their
appetite for officialism.

The taller of the pair laid his black glove on our mud-guard, cracked by
the flapping tyre days ago, and to be mended (I'd heard Mr. Barrymore
say) at the garage in Mestre. With such dramatic gestures as only the
Latin races command, he attempted to prove that the mud-guard must have
been broken in the collision near Bergamo, of which his mind was full.

At last our Chauffeulier comprehended something. He jumped out of the
throbbing car, and in his turn went through a pantomime. From a drawer
under the seat he produced the rubber skin that had come off our tyre,
showed how it fitted on, how it had become detached, and how it had
lashed the mud-guard as we moved. Everybody, including the policemen,
displayed the liveliest interest in this performance. The instant it was
over, Mr. Barrymore took his place again, coiled up the rubber snake,
and this time without asking leave, but with a low bow to the
representatives of local law, drove the car smartly back into the town.
What could the thwarted giants do after such an experience but stand
looking after us and make the best of things?

"It was our salvation that we'd lost our way and were driving towards
Bergamo instead of out," said the conqueror triumphantly. "You see, they
thought probably they'd got hold of the wrong car, as the accused one
had been coming from Lecco. What with that impression, and their despair
at my idiocy, they were ready to give us the benefit of the doubt and
save their faces. Otherwise, though we were innocent and the driver of
the cart merely 'trying it on,' we might have been hung up here for ten
days."

"Oh, could they have hung us?" gasped Aunt Kathryn. "What a dreadful
thing Italian law must be."

Then we all laughed so much that she was vexed, and when Beechy called
her a "stupid little Mamma," snapped back that anyhow she wasn't stupid
enough to forget her Italian--if she knew any--just when it was needed.

She is too sweet-tempered to be cross for long, however, and the way
towards Brescia was so charming that she forgot her annoyance. Though
the surface was not so good as it had been, it was not too bad; and our
noble tyres, which had borne so much, seemed to spurn the slight
irregularities. With every twenty yards we had a new view, as if the
landscape slowly turned, to assume different patterns like the pieces in
a kaleidoscope. On our left the mountains appeared to march on with us
always, white and majestic, with strange, violet shadows floating
mysteriously.

Set back from the roadside, behind rich meadows rippling with gold and
silver grain, were huge farmhouses, with an air of dignity born of
self-respect and venerable age. We had pretty garden glimpses, too, and
once in a while passed a fine mansion, good enough to call itself a
château so long as there were no real ones in the neighbourhood. Often
chestnut-trees in full glory of white blossom, as if blazing with fairy
candles, lined our way for miles. There was snow of hawthorne
too--"May," our two men called it--and ranks of little feathery white
trees, such as I knew no name for, looking like a procession of brides,
or young girls going to their first communion. Then, to brighten the
white land with colour, there were clumps of lilac, clouds of rose-pink
apple blossoms, blue streaks that meant beds of violets, and a yellow
fire of iris rising straight and bright as flame along the edges of
green, roadside streams.

Just as we came into a splendid old Italian town, thunder began to growl
like a lion hiding in the mountains. A few drops of rain splashed on our
motor-hoods, and a sudden chill wind gathered up the sweet country
scents into one bouquet to fling at us.

"Here we are at Brescia. Shall we stop for the storm and have tea?"
asked Mr. Barrymore.

Aunt Kathryn said "yes" at once, for she doesn't like getting wet, and
can't bear to have the rain spray on her face, though I love it. So we
drove quickly through streets, each one of which made a picture with its
old brown palaces, its stone steps with pretty women chatting in groups
under red umbrellas, its quaint bridge flung across the river, or its
pergola of vines. Past a magnificent cathedral we went as the bells rang
for vespers, and children, young girls, old black-shawled women, smart
soldiers, and gallant-looking, tall officers answered their call. Thus
we arrived at a quaint hotel, with a garden on the river's edge; and
under a thick arbour of chestnut-trees (impervious to floods) we drank
coffee and ate heart-shaped cakes, while the thunder played wild music
for us on a vast cathedral organ in the sky.

"No wonder the soldiers are smart and the officers fine," said the
Chauffeulier, in answer to a remark of mine which Beechy echoed.
"Brescia deserves them more than most towns of Italy, for you know she
has always been famous for the military genius and courage of her men,
and once she was second only to Milan in importance. Venice--whose
vassal she was--had a right to be proud of her. The history of the great
siege, wherein Bayard got the wound which he thought would be mortal, is
as interesting as a novel. 'The Escape of Tartaglia' and 'The Generosity
of Bayard' are bits that make you want to shout aloud."

"And yet we'll pass on, and see nothing, except those panorama-like
glimpses," I sighed. "Oh motoring, motoring, and motor maniacs!"

"How often one has that half-pleasant, half-regretful feeling about
things or people one flashes by on the road," soliloquized Sir Ralph,
pleasantly resigned to the pain of parting. I have it continually,
especially about some of the beautiful, dark-eyed girls I see, and leave
behind before I've fairly catalogued their features. I say to myself,
"Lovely flower of beauty, wasted in the dust of the roadside. Alas! I
leave you for ever. What is to be your fate? Will you grow old soon,
under your peasant-burdens and cares? How sad it is that I shall never
know your history."

"It wouldn't be a bit interesting," said Beechy. "But I suppose that
theory won't comfort you any more than it did Maida the other day, when
she tried too late to save a fly from dying in some honey, and I
consoled her by saying it probably wasn't at all a nice fly, if one had
known it."

"No, it doesn't console me," Sir Ralph complained. "Still, there's a
certain thrill in the thought of bursting like a thunder-bolt into the
midst of other people's tragedies, comedies, or romances, just catching
a fleeting glimpse of their possibilities and tearing on again. But
there are some creatures we meet that I'm glad to lose sight of. Not
those who glare anarchically, unconsciously betraying their outlook on
life; not the poor slow old people who blunder in the way, and stare
vacantly up at our fiery chariot--so strange a development of the world
for them; not the dogs that yelp, and are furious if we don't realize
that they're frightening us. No, but the horrid little jeering boys, who
run beside the car at their best speed when we're forging up
perpendicular hills on _our_ lowest. These are the creatures I would
wipe out of existence with one fierce wish, if I had it in me. To think
that they--_they_--should have the power to humiliate us. I don't get
back my self-respect till we're on a level, or my _joie de vivre_ until
we're shooting downhill, and can hold our own with a forty horse-power
motor, to say nothing of a one-horse, Italian village boy."

"What a revelation of vindictiveness, where one would least expect it!"
exclaimed Mr. Barrymore. "But the rain's over. Shall we go on?" And we
all agreed eagerly, as we probably should in Paradise, if it were a
question of motoring.



XVIII

A CHAPTER ACCORDING TO SHAKSPERE


"Another Cuneo!" groaned Aunt Kathryn, at sight of the hotel in the
steep little town of Desenzano, on Lake Garda; but later she apologized
to the quaint courtyard for her misunderstanding, and was more than
tolerant of her vast bedroom draped with yellow satin, and opening on an
arboured terrace worthy even of a Countess Dalmar.

For miles our way towards Verona next morning was pink and white with
chestnut bloom. Even the shadows seemed warmly pink under the long
unbroken arch of flowering trees. Far away, behind the green netting of
their branches, we caught blue flashes of lake and mountain peaks of
amethyst, while Beechy wished for a dozen noses dotted about here and
there at convenient intervals on her body, so that she might make the
most of the perfumed air. "But you would want them all cut off when you
got to the nearest town," remarked Aunt Kathryn.

Ever since Brescia, the road had been so smooth and well kept that it
was as if we had come into a different country; but Mr. Barrymore said
it was because we were now under the jurisdiction of Venice--Venice, as
rich and practical as romantic. And I had to repeat the name over and
over in my mind--Verona and Padua too--to make myself believe that we
were actually so near.

Horses were better trained in this district, and "knew a motor when they
saw it." Even a drove of sheep (near the wonderful fortress of Peschiera
with its coiled python of a river) seemed comparatively indifferent as
they surged round us in a foaming wave of wool. But then, sheep have no
facial expression. All other four-footed things show emotion by a change
of countenance, just as human beings do--more, because they don't
conceal their feelings--but sheep look as if they wore foolishly smiling
masks. Even when, as their ranks closed in around the automobile, we
broke a chain with a pretty little tinkling noise, and some of the sheep
tripped up on it, they did nothing but smile and merely mention "ba-a"
in an indifferent, absent-minded way.

"If you only _knew_ how much nicer you are with mint sauce!" Beechy
taunted them, as we swept round a corner and were in the labyrinth of
the fortress, which was, our men told us, part of the once famous
quadrilateral that made trouble for Italy in '48.

"There's something pathetic about old, obsolete forts as grand as
Peschiera," Mr. Barrymore said to me. "So much thought and money spent,
the best military science of the day employed to make a stronghold as
feeble against modern arms as a fort of cards. Such a fortress seems
like an aged warrior, past his fighting days, or an old hunting dog, as
keen on the chase as ever, poor fellow, but too old to move from before
the fire, where he can only lie and dream of past triumphs."

"I was thinking almost exactly the same!" I exclaimed, and I liked Mr.
Barrymore all the better; for it draws you nearer to a person when you
find that your thoughts resemble each other in shape and colour. Oddly
enough, it's often so with Mr. Barrymore and me; which is the reason
it's so agreeable to have the place beside him when he drives.

No more than half a dozen miles from Peschiera we saw the Tower of San
Martino, raised on the great battlefield of Solferino. By this time we
had left the lake behind; but we had exchanged the low, amethyst
mountains for tall white ones, glorious pinnacles of snow which were the
higher Austrian Alps. Everything was impressive on this road to Verona,
even the farmhouses, of an entirely different character from those of
the "yesterday country;" and then, at last, we came in sight of Verona
herself, lying low within a charmed circle of protecting hills, on which
castles and white villas looked down from among cypresses and rose-pink
almond trees.

I was glad that the gateway by which we entered Verona was the finest
through which we had passed, for though Mr. Barrymore called the town
"an inn for the great travellers of history," it was more for me. It was
the home of romance; for was it not Juliet's home and Romeo's?

That gateway, and the splendid old crenellated bridge of dark red brick
(toning deliciously with the clear, beryl-green of the swift-rushing
Adda) made a noble, preface for the city. And then, each old, old street
into which we turned was a new joy. What lessons for modern architects
in those time-softened brick façades, with the moulded arches of
terra-cotta framing the green open-work of the shutters!

I began to feel a sense of exaltation, as if I had listened to an anthem
played by a master hand on a cathedral organ. I couldn't have told any
one, but I happened to glance at Mr. Barrymore, and he at me, just as he
had driven into the _piazza_ where Dante's house looks down over the
tombs of the Scaligers. Then he smiled, and said, "Yes, I know. I always
feel like that, too, when I come here--but even more in Venice."

"How _am_ I feeling?" I asked, smiling with him.

"Oh, a little bit as if your soul had got out of your body and taken a
bath in a mountain spring, after you'd been staggering up some of the
steep paths of life in the dust and sun. Isn't that it?"

"Yes. Thank you," I answered. And we seemed to understand each other so
well that I was almost frightened.

"I want all these streets for mine," said Beechy, in a chattering mood.
"Oh, and especially the market-place, with that strange old fountain,
and the booths under the red umbrellas like scarlet mushrooms. Mamma,
have you got money enough to buy them for me, and have them packed up in
a big box with dried moss, like the toy villages, and expressed to
Denver?"

"Speaking of dried moss, all these lovely old churches and palaces and
monuments look as if history had covered them with a kind of delicate
lichen," I said, more to Mr. Barrymore than to Beechy. "And it enhances
their beauty, as the lace of a bride's veil enhances the beauty of her
face."

"Or a nun's veil," cut in Beechy. I wonder why she says things like that
so often lately? Well, perhaps it's best that I should be reminded of my
vocation, but it gives me a cold, desolate feeling for a minute, and
seems to throw a constraint upon us all.

We had made the Chauffeulier stop three or four times in every street to
look at some beautiful bit; a gate of flexible iron-work that even
Ruskin must have admired, the doorway of a church, the wonderful windows
of a faded palace; but suddenly I felt ready to go to the hotel, where
we were to stop for the night, that we might do our sight-seeing slowly.

It was a delightful hotel, itself once a palace, and to be there was to
be "in the picture," in such a place as Verona. The Prince had arrived
before us, as his motor is retrieving its reputation, and we all lunched
together, making plans for the afternoon.

As usual, he was _blasé_--so different from Mr. Barrymore, who has seen
the best things in Italy as often as Prince Dalmar-Kalm has, yet never
tires; indeed, finds something new each time.

The Prince began by announcing that Verona bored him. But one could
always go to sleep.

"That's what I mean to do," said Aunt Kathryn, who generally takes her
cue from him. "I consider that I've seen Verona now, and I shall lie
down this afternoon. Perhaps later I shall write a few letters in the
hall."

I was unkind enough to fancy this a hint for the Prince, but perhaps I
wronged her. And anyway, why should she not give him hints if she likes?
He has been very attentive to her, although for the last few days I
don't think they have been quite so much in "each others' pockets" (as
Beechy calls it) as before.

A little attention was needed by the automobile, it appeared--such as a
tightening up of chains, and a couple of lost grease-cups to replace;
therefore Mr. Barrymore's time would be filled up without any
sight-seeing. But Sir Ralph offered to take Beechy and me anywhere we
liked to go. I was very glad that the Prince said nothing about
accompanying us, for somehow I'd been afraid he would.

We consulted guide-books until we were bewildered, but in the midst of
confusion I held fast to two things. We had seen Romeo's house, towering
picturesquely behind the Scaligers' tombs; but I wanted to see where
Juliet had lived, and where she had been buried.

"The Prince says it's all nonsense," exclaimed Aunt Kathryn. "If there
was a slight foundation for the story in a great family scandal here
about Shakspere's time, anyhow there's none for the houses or the
tomb--"

Beechy stopped her ears. "You're _real mean_," she said, "you and the
Prince both. It's just as bad as when you thought it your duty to tell
me there was no Santa Claus. But I don't care; there _is_. I shall
believe it when I'm _seventeen_; and I believe in the Romeo and Juliet
houses too."

But when we were in the street of Juliet's house--she and Sir Ralph and
I--Beechy pouted. Standing with her hands behind her, her long braids of
hair dangling half-way down her short skirt as she threw back her head
to gaze up, she looked incredibly modern and American. "There were no
tourists' agencies in those days," she remarked, regretfully, "so I
suppose Shakspere _had_ to trust to hearsay, and somebody must have told
him a big tarradiddle. I guess Juliet was really on a visit to an aunt
in the country when she first met Romeo, for fancy a girl in her senses
yelling down from that balcony up at the top of a tall house to _any_
lover, let alone a secret one? Besides, there wouldn't have been enough
rope in Verona to make the ladder for Romeo to climb up."

After this speech, I decided that, fond as I really am of her, I could
_not_ visit Juliet's tomb in Beechy's society. I gave no hint of my
intentions, but after an exquisite hour (which nobody could spoil) in
that most adorable of churches, San Zenone, and another in Sant'
Anastasia, I slipped away while Beechy and Sir Ralph were picking out
the details of St. Peter's life on the panels of a marvellous pilaster.

We had had a cab by the hour; and when they should discover my absence,
they would take it for granted that I had got tired and gone home. They
would then proceed to carry out their programme of sight-seeing very
happily without me, for Beechy amuses Sir Ralph immensely, child as she
is, and she makes no secret of taking pleasure in his society. She
teases him, and he likes it; he draws her out, and her wit brightens in
the process.

I hurried off when their backs were turned. Not far away I found a
prowling cab, and told the man to drive me to Juliet's tomb. He stared,
as if in surprise, for I suppose girls of our class don't go about much
alone in Italian towns; but he condescended to accept me as a fare.
However, to show his disapproval maybe, he rattled me through streets
old and beautiful, ugly and modern (why should most modern things be
ugly, even in Italy?) at a tremendous pace. At last he stopped before a
high, blank wall, in a most dismal region, apparently the outskirts of
the town. I would hardly believe that he had brought me to the right
place, but he reassured me. In the distance another cab was approaching,
probably on the same errand. I rang a bell, and a gate was opened by a
nice-looking woman, who knew well what I wanted without my telling, and
she spoke so clearly that I was able to understand much of what she
said. Instead of feeling that the romance of visiting Juliet's
burial-place was destroyed by traversing the great open square of the
communal stables, where an annual horse show is held, I was conscious of
a strange charm in the unsuitable surroundings. It was like coming upon
a beautiful white pearl in a battered old oyster-shell, to pass through
this narrow gateway at the far end of a dusty square, and find myself
face to face with a glimmering tomb in a quiet cloister.

The strong contrast between the sordid exterior and this dainty, hidden
interior was nothing less than dramatic. The lights and shadows played
softly at hide-and-seek, like dumb children, over the grass, among the
pillars of the little cloister, over the tomb itself. I was thankful to
be alone, troubled by no fellow-tourists, safe from little Beechy's too
comical fancies, free to be as sentimental as I liked. And I liked to be
very sentimental indeed.

I stood by the tomb, feeling almost like a mourner, when a voice made me
start. "Is it Juliet's spirit?" asked Prince Dalmar-Kalm.

I would rather it had been any one else. "How odd that you should come
here!" I exclaimed, while my face must have shown that the surprise was
not too pleasant.

"It is not at all odd. You are here," answered the Prince. "You said at
_déjeuner_ that you were coming, if you had to come alone. _Eh bien?_ I
saw Miss Beechy and Sir Ralph Moray driving together, deep in Baedeker.
My heart told me where you were; and I arrive to find you looking like
Juliet come to life again. Perhaps it is so indeed. Perhaps you were
Juliet in another incarnation. Yes, I feel sure you were. And I was
Romeo."

"I'm sure you were not," I replied; but I could not help laughing at his
stagey manner, though I was more annoyed than ever now, and annoyed with
myself too. "I particularly wished to be alone here, or I wouldn't have
slipped away from Beechy and Sir Ralph, so--"

"And I particularly wished to be alone here with you, or I wouldn't have
followed when you _had_ slipped away from them," he broke in. "Oh, Miss
Destrey--my Madeleine, you must listen to me. There could be no place in
the world more appropriate to the tale of a man's love for a woman than
this, where a man and woman died for love of one another."

"I thought you called all this 'nonsense'?" I cut him short. "No,
Prince, neither here nor anywhere must you speak of love to me, for I
don't love you, and never could."

"I know that you mean to shut yourself away from the world," he
interrupted me again. "But you shall not. It would be sacrilege.
You--the most beautiful, the most womanly girl in the world--to--"

"No more, please!" I cried. "It doesn't matter what my future is to be,
for you will not be in it. I--"

"I must be in it. I adore you. I can't give you up. Haven't you seen
from the first how I loved you?"

"I _thought_ I saw you liked trying to flirt when no one was looking.
That sounds rather horrid, but--it's the truth."

"You misjudged me cruelly. Have you no human ambition? I could place you
among the highest in any land. With me, your beauty should shine as it
never could in your own country. Is it nothing to you that I can make
you a Princess?"

"Less than nothing," I answered, "though perhaps it would be pretty of
me to thank you for wanting to make me one. So I do thank you; and I'll
thank you still more if you will go now, and leave me to my thoughts."

"I cannot go till I have made you understand how I love you, how
indispensable you are to me," he persisted. And I grew really angry; for
he had no right to persecute me, when I had refused him.

"Very well, then, _I_ shall go," I said, and would have passed him, but
he seized my hand and held it fast.

It was this moment that Mr. Barrymore chose for paying his respects to
Juliet's tomb; and I blushed as I have never blushed in my life, I
think--blushed till the tears smarted in my eyes. I was afraid he would
believe that I'd been letting Prince Dalmar-Kalm make love to me. But
there was nothing to say, unless I were willing to have a scene, and
that would have been hateful. Nor was there anything to do except the
obvious thing, snatch my hand away; and that might seem to be only
because some one had come. But how I should have loved to box the
Prince's ears! I never dreamed that I had such a temper. I suppose,
though, there must be something of the fishwife in every
woman--something that comes boiling up to the surface once in a while,
and makes _noblesse oblige_ hard to remember.

The one relief to my feelings in this situation was given by my queer
little new pet--the wisp of a black doggie I've named Airole, after the
village where he grew. I'd brought him into the cloister in my arms
hidden under a cape, because he had conceived a suspicious dislike of
the cabman. Now he said all the things to the Prince that I wanted to
say, and more, and would have snapped, if the Prince had not retired his
hand in time.

The process of quieting Airole gave me the chance to make up my mind
what I should do next. If I went away, I couldn't prevent Prince
Dalmar-Kalm from going with me, and Mr. Barrymore would have a right to
imagine that I wished to continue the interrupted scene. If I stayed it
was open for him to fancy that I wanted to be with _him_; but between
two evils one chooses the less; besides, a nice thing about Mr.
Barrymore is that, notwithstanding his good looks and cleverness, he's
not conceited--not conceited enough, I sometimes think, for he lets
people misunderstand his position and often seems more amused than angry
at a snub.

Acting on my quick decision, I said, "Oh, I'm glad you've come. You know
so much about Verona. Please talk to me of this place--only don't say it
isn't authentic, for that would be a jarring note."

"I'm afraid I don't care enough whether things are authentic or not," he
answered, both of us ignoring the Prince. "You know, in my country,
legend and history are a good deal mixed, which makes for romance.
Besides, I'm inclined to believe in stories that have been handed down
from generation to generation--told by grandfathers to their
grandchildren, and so on through the centuries till they've reached us.
When they're investigated by the cold light of reason, at least they can
seldom be disproved."

I agreed, and the conversation went on, deliberately excluding the
Prince. Each minute I said to myself, "Surely he'll go." But he did not.
He stayed while Mr. Barrymore and I discussed the genius of Shakspere,
chiming in now and then as if nothing had happened, and remaining until
we were ready to go.

At the cab there was another crisis. I hadn't yet entirely realized the
Prince's stupendous capacity for what Beechy would put into one short,
sharp word "Cheek." But I fully appreciated it when he calmly manifested
his intention of getting into my cab, as if we had come together.

Something had to be done instantly, or it would be too late.

Leaning from my seat so that the Prince had to wait with his foot on the
step, I exclaimed, "Oh! Mr. Barrymore, won't you let me give you a lift?
Prince Dalmar-Kalm has his own cab, and I'm alone in this."

"Thanks very much, I shall be delighted," said the Chauffeulier.

Even the Prince's audacity wasn't equal to the situation created by
these tactics. He retired, hat in hand, looking so furious that I could
hardly help laughing. Mr. Barrymore got in beside me, and we drove off
leaving the Prince with nobody but his own cabman to vent his rage on.

I rather hoped, for a minute, that Mr. Barrymore would say something
which would give me the chance for a vague word or two of explanation;
but he didn't. He simply talked of indifferent things, telling me how
the work on the car was finished, and how he had had time after all to
wander among his favourite bits of Verona. And then, in a flash of
understanding, I saw how much more tactful and manly it was in him not
to mention the Prince.



XIX

A CHAPTER OF PALACES AND PRINCES


What a pity clocks don't realize the interesting work they do in the
making of history, as they go on ticking out moments which never before
have been and never will be again! It would be such a reward for their
patience; and I should like my watch to know how often I've thanked it
lately for the splendid moments it has given me.

Some of those I had in Verona (no thanks to the Prince!) have really
helped to develop my soul, and it used to need developing badly, poor
dear; I see that now, though I didn't then. I never thought much about
the development of souls, except that one must try hard to be good and
do one's duty. But now I begin dimly to see many things, as if I caught
glimpses of them, far away, and high up on some of the snowy
mountain-tops we pass.

Must one live through several incarnations, I wonder, for true
development? Are some people great-minded because they have gone through
many such phases, and are the wondrous geniuses of the world--such as
Shakspere--the most developed of all? Then the poor commonplace or
stupid people, who never have any real thoughts of their own, are they
the undeveloped souls who haven't had their chance yet? If they are, how
kind those who have gone further ought to be to them, and what generous
allowances they ought to make, instead of being impatient, and pleased
with themselves because they are cleverer.

I think I should like to send whole colonies of those poor "beginners"
to Italy to live for a while, because it might give them a step up for
their next phase. As for myself, I'm going further every day, almost as
fast, I hope, as the automobile goes.

"She," as the Chauffeulier affectionately calls her, went especially
fast and well the morning we swept out of Verona. There was an
entrancing smell of Italy in the air. There is no other way to describe
it--it is that and nothing else.

As long as Verona was still within sight, I kept looking back, just as
you drink something delicious down to the last drop, when you know there
can be no dregs. Only to see how the town lay at the foot of the
mountains of the north, was to understand its powers of defence, and its
importance to the dynasties and princes of the past. With Mr.
Barrymore's help, I could trace one line of fortification after another,
from the earliest Roman, through Charlemagne and the Scaligers, down to
the modern Austrian.

No wonder that Verona was the first halting-place for the tribes of
Germans, pouring down from their cold forests in the north to cross the
Alps and rejoice in the sunshine of Italy! For Verona's nearness to the
north and her striking difference to the north impressed me sharply, as
a black line of shadow is cut out by the sun. Up a gap in the dark
barrier of mountains I gazed where Mr. Barrymore pointed, towards the
great Brenner Pass, leading straight to Innsbruck through Tyrol. How
close the northern nations lay, yet in the warm Italian brightness how
far away they seemed.

But soon Verona disappeared, and we were speeding along a level road
with far-off purple peaks upon our left, and away in front some floating
blue shapes which it thrilled me to hear were actually the Euganean
Hills. The Chauffeulier set them to music by quoting from Shelley's
"Lines Written in Dejection in the Euganean Hills"--a sweet
old-fashioned title of other days, and words so beautiful that for a
moment I was depressed in sympathy--though I couldn't help feeling that
_I_ should be happy in the Euganean Hills. They called across the plain
with siren voices, asking me to come and explore their fastnesses of
blue and gold, but Aunt Kathryn couldn't understand why. "They're not
half so imposing as lots of mountains we've passed," she said. "And
anyway, I think the beauty of mountains is overestimated. What are they
to admire so much, anyhow, when you think of it, more than flat places?
They are only great lumps at best."

"Well," replied Sir Ralph, "if it comes to that, what's the sea but a
big wet thing?"

"And what are people but a kind of superior ant, and the grandest
palaces but big anthills?" Beechy chimed in. "I've often thought,
supposing there were--well, Things, between gods and men, living here
somewhere, invisible to us as we are to lots of little creatures, what
kind of an idea _would_ They get of us and our ways? They'd be always
spying on us, of course, and making scientific observations, as we do on
insects. I used to believe in Them, and be awfully afraid, when I was
younger, because I used to think all the accidents and bad things that
happened might be due to Their experiments. You see They'd be wondering
why we did certain things; why lots of us all run to one place--like
Venice, or any show city--instead of going to another nest of anthills;
or why we all crowded into one anthill (like a church or theatre) at a
particular time. So a theatre-fire would be when They'd touched the
anthill with one of their cigars, to make the ants run out. Or a volcano
would have an eruption because They'd poked the mountain with a great
pin to see what would happen. Or when we're cut or hurt in any way, it's
because They've marked us to know one from the other, as we run about. I
do hope They're not thinking about _us_ now, or They'll drop something
and smash the automobile."

"Oh, don't, Beechy! You make my blood run cold!" cried Aunt Kathryn. "Do
let's talk of something else quickly. How gracefully the vines are
trained here, draped along those rows of trees in the meadows. It's much
prettier than ordinary vineyards. You might imagine fairies playing tag
under these arbours."

"Or fauns chasing nymphs," said Sir Ralph. "No doubt they did a few
years ago and caught them too."

"I'm glad they don't now," replied Aunt Kathryn, "or this would be no
fit place for ladies to motor."

But I wasn't glad, for the whole country was one wide background for a
pre-Raphaelite picture, and the mountains to which Aunt Kathryn had
applied so insulting a simile were even grander in size and nobler in
shape than before. We had seen many old châteaux (though never a
surfeit), but the best of all had been reserved for to-day. Far away on
our left, as we drove towards Padua, it rose above the little town that
crawled to the foot of the castle's hill to beg protection; and it was
exactly like a city painted by Mantegna or Carpaccio, Mr. Barrymore
said. Up the hill ran the noblest and biggest wall that an Old Master's
imagination could have conceived. Many men might walk on it abreast; and
at every few yards it bristled with sturdy watch-towers, not ruined, but
looking as ready to defy the enemy to-day as they were six hundred years
ago. The culmination was the castle itself, so magnificently
proportioned, so worthily proud of its place, that it seemed as if the
spirit of the Middle Ages were there embodied, gazing down in haughty
resignation upon a new world it did not even wish to understand.

The name of the castle was Soave; but when I heard that nothing
startling enough to please me had happened there, I wouldn't know its
history, for my fancy was equal to inventing one more thrilling. There
was plentiful sensation, though, in the stories the Chauffeulier could
tell of Napoleon's battles and adventures in this neighbourhood. I
listened to them eagerly, especially to that which covered his falling
into a marsh while fighting the Austrians, and standing there, unable to
get out, while the battle of Arcole raged around him. We were at the
point of the rescue and the victory of the French, when we arrived at
another gateway, another octroi, another city, to enter which was like
driving straight into an old, old picture.

In a long street of palaces, all with an elusive family resemblance to
one another, we paused for consultation. This was Vicenza, the
birthplace and beloved town of Palladio; these palaces with fronts
crusted with bas relief; these Corinthian pillars, these Arabesque
balconies, these porticoes that might have been stolen from Greek
temples, all had been designed by Palladio the Great. And the beautiful
buildings seemed to say pensively, like lovely court ladies whose day is
past, "We are not what we were. Time has changed and broken us, it is
true; but even so we are worth seeing."

It was that view which our Chauffeulier urged, but Aunt Kathryn was for
going on without a stop, until Sir Ralph said, "It's not patriotic of
you to pass by. Palladio built your Capitol at Washington, and all the
fine old colonial houses you admire so much in the East."

"Dear me, did he?" exclaimed Aunt Kathryn. "Why, I never heard of him."

"Moray doesn't mean his words to be taken undiluted," said Mr.
Barrymore. "If it hadn't been for Palladio, there would have been no
Inigo Jones and no Christopher Wren, therefore if you'd had a Capitol at
all, it wouldn't be what it is now. And to understand the colonial
architecture of America, you have to go back to Palladio."

"Well, here we are at him," sighed Aunt Kathryn. "But I hope we won't
have to get _out_?"

Mr. Barrymore laughed. "The Middle Ages revisited, _en automobile_!
However, I'll do my best as showman in the circumstances."

So he drove us into a splendid square, where Palladio was at his
grandest with characteristic façades, galleries, and stately colonnades.
Then, slowly, through the street of palaces and out into the open
country once more--a rich country of grain-fields (looking always as if
an unseen hand softly stroked their silver hair) and of hills swelling
into a mountainous horizon. There was a bright little flower-bordered
canal too, and I've grown fond of canals since the neighbourhood of
Milan, finding them as companionable as rivers, if more tame. Indeed,
they seem like rivers that have gone to live in town, where they've
learned to be a bit stilted and mechanical in manner.

The farmhouses, standing but a short distance back from the level of the
road, were manorial in a queer way; two or three of them, exquisite old
things, their great roofed balconies covered with ivy and blossoming
creepers. The women we met were pretty, too--so pretty often that, as
Sir Ralph said, it wouldn't have been safe for them to walk out in the
feudal ages, as they would promptly have been kidnapped by the nearest
seignior. We might have guessed that we were not far out from Venice by
the gorgeous Titian hair of the peasant children playing by the wayside,
or a copper coil twisted above a girl's dark eyes.

"How long a time shall we spend in Padua, Countess?" asked the
Chauffeulier as we came within sight of a gateway, some domes and
campanili.

"Oh, don't let's make up our mind till we get there," replied Aunt
Kathryn comfortably.

"But we are there," said he. "In another minute the little men of the
_dazio_ will be tapping our bags as a doctor taps his patient's lungs."

Padua! Each time that we actually arrived in one of these wonderful old
places, it was an electric shock for me. I had to shake myself,
mentally, to make it seem true. But if it was like a dream to enter the
place of Petruchio's love story, what would it be by-and-by--oh, a very
quick-coming by-and-by--to see Venice? I hardly dared let my thoughts go
on to that moment for fear they should get lost in it, and refuse to
come back. Sufficient for the day was the Padua thereof.

Not so beautiful as Verona, still the learned and dignified old city had
a curiously individual charm of its own, which I felt instantly. I loved
the painted palaces, especially those where most of the paint had worn
off, leaving but a lovely face, or some folds of a velvet robe, or a
cardinal's hat to hint its story to the imagination. The old arcaded
streets were asleep, and grass sprouted among the cobbles. Where they
followed the river we had glimpses of gardens and arbours backed with
roses, or an almond tree--like a rosy bride leaning on a
soldier-lover's neck--peeped at us, side by side with a dark ilex, over
a high brick wall.

"How long _ought_ we to stay in Padua?" Aunt Kathryn deigned to ask, as
if in delayed answer to the Chauffeulier's question, when he helped her
out of the car at the Stella d'Oro, where we were to lunch.

"A week," said Mr. Barrymore, his eyes twinkling.

Her face fell, and he took pity.

"If we weren't motor maniacs," he went on. "In that case we would have
come here on a solemn pilgrimage to do full justice to the adorable
Giotto, to the two best churches--not to be surpassed anywhere--and the
dozen and one other things worth seeing. But as we are mad we shall be
able to 'do' Padua, and satisfy our consciences though not our hearts,
in three hours. My one consolation in this deplorable course, lies in
the thought that it will make it possible to give you your first sight
of Venice between sunset and moonrise."

Beechy clapped her hands, and my heart gave a throb. Somehow, my eyes
happened to meet Mr. Barrymore's. But I must not get into the habit of
letting them do that, when I'm feeling anything deeply. I can't think
why it seems so natural to turn to him, as if I'd known him always; but
then we have _all_ got to be great friends on this trip, and know each
other better than if we'd been meeting in an ordinary way for a year.
All except the Prince. I leave him out of that statement, as I would
leave him out of everything concerning me nearly, if I could. I believe
that _none_ of us know him, or what is in his mind. But sometimes
there's a look in his eyes if one glances up suddenly, which would
almost frighten one, if it were not silly and melodramatic. That is the
only way in which he has troubled me since the horrid little incident at
Juliet's tomb--with these occasional, strange looks; and as he wrote me
a note of apology for his bad conduct then, I ought to forgive and
forget.

The hotel where we lunched was not in a quaint riverside street, but in
a square so modern it was hard to realize for the moment that we were
in the oldest city of Northern Italy, dating from before Roman days.
However, the Stella d'Oro was old enough to satisfy us, and I should
have been delighted with the nice Italian dishes Mr. Barrymore knew so
well how to order, if I hadn't been longing to rush off with a bit of
bread in my hand, not to waste a Paduan moment on so dull a deed as
eating.

It was only twelve when we arrived, and before one we were out of the
huge, cool dining-room, and in the May sunlight again. The Prince was
with us; had been just ahead of us, or just behind us, all through the
journey from Verona. But I thought by keeping close to Aunt Kathryn and
Beechy there would be no danger that he would trouble me. Unfortunately,
the pattern of our progress arranged itself a little differently from my
plan.

All was simple enough in the churches, which we visited first, not to
give them time to close up for their afternoon siesta. Mr. Barrymore was
of the party, and we all listened to him--the Prince because he must, we
others because we wished--while he ransacked his memory for bits of
Paduan history, legend or romance. He showed us the Giottos (which he
had done well to call adorable) at the Madonna of the Arena; he took us
to pay our respects to St. Anthony of Padua (that dear, obliging Saint
who gives himself so much trouble over the lost property of perfect
strangers) in his extraordinary and well-deserved Basilica of bubbly
domes and lovely cloisters. He guided us to Santa Giustina, where I
would stop at the top of the steps, to pet two glorious old red marble
beasts which had crouched there for four centuries. One of them--the
redder of the two--had been all that time wrestling with an
infinitesimal St. George whom he ought to have polished off in a few
hours; while the other--the one with an unspeakable beard under his chin
and teeth like the gearing of our automobile--had been engaged for the
same period in eating a poor little curly lion.

The inside of the church--too strongly recommended by Baedeker to
commend itself to me--made me feel as if I had eaten a lemon water-ice
before dinner, on a freezing cold day; and it was there that the
Chauffeulier departed to get ready the motor-car. There it was, too,
that the pattern disarranged itself.

When we had finished looking at a splendid Paolo Veronese, we hurried
out into the Prato della Valle (which has changed its name to something
else not half so pretty, though more patriotic), and Sir Ralph took
Beechy away, so that Aunt Kathryn and I were left to the Prince. He
hardly talked to her at all, which hurt her feelings so much that she
turned suddenly round, and said she must speak to Beechy.

I could have cried, for the piazza was so beautiful that I wanted some
one congenial with me, to whom I could exclaim about it. It was girdled
by a belt of clear water, with four stone bridges and a double wall on
which stood a goodly company of noble gentlemen. There was the history
of Padua's greatness perpetuated in marble--charming personages, one and
all, if you could believe their statues, and it would have seemed
treacherous not to. Each stood to be admired or revered in the attitude
most expressive of his profession: Galileo pointing up, graceful,
spiritual, enthusiastic; a famous bishop blessing his flock; some great
poet dreaming over a book--his own, perhaps, just finished; and so on,
all along the happy circle of writers, priests, scientists, soldiers,
artists. I felt as if I wanted to know them--those faithful friends of
all who love greatness, resting now in each others' excellent society,
their sole reflection those in the watery mirror.

But Prince Dalmar-Kalm thought himself of importance even in this king's
garden. "Did you get my letter?" he asked. "And do you forgive me?" he
said. "And will you trust me, and not be unkind, now that I've promised
to think of you only as a friend?" he persisted.

I didn't see why he should look upon me even as a friend; but a cat may
look at a king, if it doesn't fly up and scratch; so why not a prince at
an American girl? To save argument and not to be unchristian, I pledged
myself to some kind of superficial compact almost before I knew. When it
was done, it would have been too complicated to undo again; and so I let
it go.



XX

A CHAPTER IN FAIRYLAND


"Nobody can ever quite know Venice who goes by rail from Padua," said
the Chauffeulier to me, when we had started in the car. "The sixteen
miles of road between the two places is a link in Venetian history, and
you'll understand what I mean without any explanation as you pass
along."

This made me post my wits at the windows of my eyes, and tell them not
to dare sleep for an instant, lest I should disappoint expectations.
But, after all, the meaning I had to understand was not subtle, though
it was interesting.

The way was practically one long street of time-worn palaces and
handsome villas which had once been the summer retreats of the rich
Venetians; and I guessed it without being told. I guessed, too, that the
owners came no more or seldom; that they were not so rich as they had
been, or that, because of railways and automobiles, it was easier and
more amusing to go further afield. But what I didn't know without
telling was that the proprietors had been accustomed, in the good old
leisurely days, to step into their gondolas in front of their own
palaces in Venice and come up the Brenta to their summer homes without
setting foot to ground.

If I hadn't been told, too, that the Brenta was a river big in Venetian
history if not in size, I should have taken it for one of my favourite
canals, with its slow traffic of lazy barges, and its hundred canals
crossing it with long green arms that stretched north and south to the
horizon. But at Stra I must have respected it in any case; and it was
near Stra, also, that we passed the most important palace of any on that
strange, flat road. The very garden wall told that here was a house
which must have loomed large in historic eyes, and through magnificent
gateways we caught flashing glimpses of a noble building in a neglected
park.

"It belonged to the Pisani, a famous family of Venice," said the
Chauffeulier as we sailed by. "But Napoleon took it--as he took so many
other good things in this part of the world--and gave it to his stepson
Eugène Beauharnais."

"I've never thought about Napoleon in connection with Venice, somehow,"
I said.

"But you will, when your gondola takes you under the huge palace where
he lived," he answered.

"Talking of gondolas, I forgot to tell you what a nice plan the Prince
has for us," said Aunt Kathryn, with the air of breaking news. "As soon
as I mentioned at what time you had arranged to leave Padua, he said he
would telegraph to some dear friends of his at Venice, the Conte and
Contessa Corramini, to send their beautiful gondola to meet us at Mestre
(wherever that is) so that we needn't go into Venice by train across the
bridge. Isn't that lovely of him?"

No one would have answered if it hadn't been for Mr. Barrymore. He said
that it was a very good plan indeed, and would be pleasanter for us than
the one he had made, which he'd meant for a surprise. He had telegraphed
from Padua to the Hotel Britannia, where we would stay, ordering
gondolas to the tram-way station in Mestre to save our sneaking into
Venice by the back-door. Now those gondolas would do very well for our
luggage, while the party of five made the journey more luxuriously.

"Party of six, you mean, unless the Prince has had an accident," amended
Beechy.

"No; for I shan't be with you. I must drive the car to the garage at
Mestre, and see that she's all right. Moray'll be with you to arrange
everything at the Britannia, which you'll find one of the nicest places
in the world, and I'll come when I can. Now, here's the turning for
Mestre, and you must look for something interesting on the sky-line to
the right, before long."

I couldn't help being disappointed, because I'd wanted the Chauffeulier
to be with us when I saw Venice first; but I couldn't say that; and I'm
afraid he thought, as everybody was silent, that nobody cared.

There was nothing to show the turning to Mestre, except a small tablet
that we might easily have missed; and the road was laughably narrow,
running along a causeway with a deep ditch on either hand. Aunt Kathryn
was so afraid that a horse would come round one of the sharp bends
walking on its hind legs, that she was miserable, but I trusted Mr.
Barrymore and enjoyed the country--real country now, with no more
palaces, villas, or beautiful arcaded farmhouses.

The distance was hidden by long, waving grasses, over which the blue
line of the Corinthian Alps seemed to hover like a cloud. There was a
pungent smell of salt and of seaweed in the air, that meant the nearness
of the lagoon--and Venice. Then, suddenly, the "something" Mr. Barrymore
had told us to look for, grew out of the horizon--dim and mysterious,
yet not to be mistaken; hyacinth-blue streaks that were pinnacles and
campanili, bubbles that were domes, floating between the gold of the
sunset and the grey-green of the tall grass, for no water was visible
yet.

"Venice!" I whispered; but though Beechy and Aunt Kathryn each cried:
"Oh, there it is! _I_ saw it first!" they were so absorbed in a
discussion as to what the Prince's friends ought to be called, and they
soon lost interest in the vision.

"Conte! It's like Condy's Fluid!" said Beechy. "I won't call him
'Conte.' I should laugh in his face. If plain Count isn't good enough
for him, and Countess for her, I shall just say 'You'--so there!"

Soon we saw a great star-shaped fortress as we ran into a town, which
was Mestre; and at the same time we lost shadow-Venice. Passing a
charming villa set back behind an avenue of cypresses and plane trees
that gave an effect of dappling moonlight even in full day, some one in
the tall gateway waved his hand.

"By Jove, it's Leo Bari, the artist!" exclaimed Sir Ralph. "I forgot his
people lived here. I know him well; he comes to the Riviera to paint. Do
slow down, Terry."

So "Terry" slowed down, and a handsome, slim young man ran up, greeting
Sir Ralph gaily in English. He was introduced to us, and his sister, a
lovely Italian girl with Titian hair, was invited to leave the becoming
background of the gateway to make our acquaintance.

They were interested in the details of our tour, especially when they
heard that, after a week in Venice, we were going into Dalmatia.

"Why, I'm going down to Ragusa to paint," said he. "I've been before,
but this time I take my sister Beatrice. She paints too. We go by the
Austrian Lloyd to-morrow. Perhaps we see you there?"

"Have you ever been down as far as Cattaro?" asked Aunt Kathryn, from
whose tongue the names of Dalmatian towns fall trippingly, since she
"acquired" a castle and a title there.

"Oh, yes, and to Montenegro," replied the artist.

"And do you remember the houses of the neighbourhood?" went on Aunt
Kathryn.

"It is already but two years I was there, so a house would have to be
young for me not to remember," replied the young man, unconscious of the
funny little twist of his English.

"I am thinking of a very old house; Slosh--er--the Castle of Hrvoya.
Have you seen it?"

"Ah, that old ruin!" exclaimed the artist. "I seen it, yes. But there is
not more much Schloss Hrvoya to see, only the rock for it to stand."

Poor Aunt Kathryn! I was sorry for her. But she bore the blow well, and,
after all, it's the title, not the castle for which she cares
most--that, and the right to smear everything with crowns.

"Perhaps I'll ask you to paint Hrvoya for me some day," she said. But
afterwards, when we had bidden the handsome brother and sister _au
revoir_, she remarked that she was afraid Mr. Bari hadn't an artistic
eye.

The good-byes said, we swept through the picturesque town to make up for
lost time, and presently encountered a little electric tram running
seaward on a causeway. We followed over a grass-grown road, and suddenly
found Venice again, so near that we could actually distinguish one
building from another. Beyond a broad stretch of water the dream city
floated on the sea.

"Look; I did this for _you_, so that you would go into Venice in a way
worthy of yourself," the Prince murmured in my ear, when the car had
stopped, joining his which was waiting. He waved his hand towards a
wonderful gondola, with a gesture such as Aladdin's Genie might have
used to indicate the magic palace. The glossy black coat of the
swan-like thing brought out the full value of the rich gold ornaments. A
long piece of drapery trailed into the water behind, and two gondoliers,
like bronze statues dressed in dark blue, crimson, and white, stood up
tall and erect against a background of golden sea and sky.

They helped us in, hat in hand; and not the Chauffeulier's absence nor
the Prince's presence could spoil for me the experience that followed.

Sunk deep in springy cushions, I half sat, half lay, while the bronze
statues swayed against the gold, softly plying their long oars, and
wafting me--_me_--to Venice.

I felt as if I were moving from the wings of a vast theatre onto the
stage to play a heroine's part. Evening bells, chanting a paen to the
sunset, floated across the wide water faint as spirit-chimes, and they
were the _leitmotif_ for my entrance.

"What a shame to be in motoring things!" I said to Beechy. "Women should
have special gondola dresses; I see that already--a different one each
day. I should like to have a deep crimson gown and a pale green
one--lilac too, perhaps, and sunrise-pink, all made picturesquely, not
in any stiff modern way."

"The costume of your Sisterhood would be pretty in a gondola," Beechy
answered. And again that coldness fell upon me which I always feel at a
reminder, intentional or unintentional, of the future. But the chill was
gone in a moment--lost in the luminous air, which had a strange
brilliancy, as if reflected from a stupendous mirror. I had never seen
anything even remotely resembling it before. It was as though we were
living inside a great opal, like flies in amber. And it seemed that in a
world so wonderful everything one did, or looked, or thought, ought to
be wonderful too, lest it should be out of tune with all surrounding
beauty.

Sea and sky were of one colour, except that the sea appeared to be on
fire underneath its glassy surface. The violet sky was strewn with blown
rose-petals and golden feathers; the tiny waves were of violet ruffled
with rose and gold, and spattered with jewelled sparks which might be
flashes from a Doge's vanished ring.

In the distance, sails of big ships were beaten into gold leaf by the
sinking sun; and nearer, there were other sails bright as flowers--a sea
picture-gallery of Madonnas, of arrow-wounded hearts, of martyred
saints, or bright-robed earthly ladies.

We were rowing straight into the sunset, straight into fairy-land, and I
knew it; but--what would happen when the rose-and-golden glory had
swallowed us up?

The sparkle of the water and air got into my blood, and I felt that it
must be sparkling too, like champagne. I was more alive than I had ever
been when I was on earth; for of course this was not earth--this Venice
to which I was going.

No other road but this water-road could have consoled me for the thought
that there would be no more motoring for a week. And clearly it was a
road of which it was necessary for the gondoliers to know every
oar-length; for it was defined by stakes, standing up out of the lagoon
singly, or gathered into clusters like giant bunches of asparagus.

Turning my back to the arched railway bridge, which accompanied us too
far, I looked only at sky and water, and at Venice rising from the sea.

The tide was running out, the Prince said (among other chatterings,
while I wished everybody woven in a magic spell of silence) and the
gondola made swift progress, rocking lightly like a shell, over the
bright ripples of the lagoon.

The nearer we drew to Venice the more like a vision of enchantment did
the city seem. Not a sound came to us, for the music of the bells had
died. All was still as in a dream--for in dreams, does one ever hear a
sound? I think I never have. And now the gold had faded from the clouds,
leaving them pink and violet, transparent as gauze, through which the
rising moon sifted silver dust. How could the others talk? I did not
understand.

Aunt Kathryn was saying, "If I hire a gondolier, I want to get a
singer." As if he were a sewing-machine, or a canary-bird! And Beechy
was complaining that she felt "very funny;" she believed the motion of
the gondola was making her seasick, just as she used to be in her
cradle, when she was too young to protest except by a howl.

It was a relief to my feelings when we turned out of the wide lagoon
into a canal, for then they did at least speak of the scene around them,
asking questions about the tall palaces that walled us in; who lived
here; who lived there; what was the name or history of that?

The odour of seaweed was more pungent, and there was a smell of water
mingling with it too; something like fresh cucumbers, and the roots of
flowers when they have just been pulled out of the earth. I could not
have believed that water could have such clearness and at the same time
hold so many colours, as the water in this, my first canal of Venice. It
was like a greenish mirror, full of lights, and wavering reflected tints
from the crumbling palaces whose old bricks, mellow pink, gold, and
purple, showed like veins through the skin of peeling stucco. Down
underneath the shining mirror, one could see the old marble steps,
leading up to the shut mystery of water gates. There were shimmering
gleams of pearly white and ivory yellow, under beardy trails of moss old
as the marble out of which it grew. And over high walls, delicate
branches of acacia and tamarisk beckoned us, above low-hung drapery of
wistaria, that dropped purple tassels to the lapping water's edge.

So we wound through one narrow, palace-walled Rio after another, until
Venice began to seem like a jewelled net, with its carved precious
stones intricately strung on threads of silver; and then suddenly, to my
surprise, we burst into a great canal.

I saw a bridge, which I knew from many pictures must be the Rialto, but
there was no disappointment, no flatness in the impression of having
seen this all before, for not the greatest genius who ever lived could
paint Venice at her every day best. Palace after palace; and by-and-by a
church with a front carved in ivory by the growing moonlight, thrown up
against a background of rose.

"Palladio, it must be!" I cried.

"Yes; it's San Georgio Maggiore, Terry Barrymore's favourite church in
Venice," said Sir Ralph, who had been almost as silent as I. "And here
we are at the Hotel Britannia."

"Why, it has a garden!" exclaimed Aunt Kathryn. "I never thought of a
garden in Venice."

"There are several of the loveliest in Italy," replied Sir Ralph. "But
the Britannia's the only hotel that has one."

"My friend's palazzo has a courtyard garden with a wonderful old marble
well-head, and beautiful statues," said the Prince. "He and his wife are
coming to call on you to-morrow, and you will have the opportunity of
thanking them for their gondola. Also, they will probably invite you to
leave the hotel, and visit them during the rest of your stay, as they
are very hospitable."

"I'll wager you won't want to leave the Britannia, once you are settled
there," said Sir Ralph quickly. "It's the most comfortable hotel in
Venice, and Terry and I have wired for rooms with balconies overlooking
the Grand Canal, and the garden. There isn't a palace going that I
would forsake the Britannia for."

By this time the gondola had slipped between some tall red posts, and
brought us to the steps of the hotel. I was glad that they were marble
steps and that the house had once been a palace, otherwise I should not
have felt I was making the most of Venice.

If I live to be a hundred (one of the Sisters is close on eighty) I
shall never forget that first night in the City of the Sea.

It was good to see Mr. Barrymore back again for dinner in the big red
and gold, brightly frescoed dining-room; and it was he who suggested
that we should have coffee in the garden, at a table on a balcony built
over the water, and then go out in gondolas.

We hired three; and as there are only two absolutely delightful seats in
a gondola, I was trembling lest the Prince should fall to my unlucky
lot, when Aunt Kathryn called to him, "Oh, do sit with me, please. I
want to ask about your friends who are coming to see us." So of course
he went to her, and Sir Ralph jumped in with Beechy; therefore the
Chauffeulier was obliged to be nice to me, whether he liked or not. We
all kept close together, and soon the three gondolas, following many
others, grouped round a lighted music-barge like a pyramid of
illuminated fruit floating on the canal.

Either the voices were sweet, or they had the effect of being sweet in
the moonlight on the water; but the airs they sang got strangely tangled
with the songs in other barges, so that I longed to unwind one skein of
tunes from another, and wasn't sorry to steal away into the silence at
last.

We were not the only ones who flitted. The black forms of gondolas moved
soundlessly hither and thither on the surface of the dark lagoon, their
single lights like stars in the blue darkness.

Far away twinkled the lamps of the Lido, where Byron and Shelley used to
ride on the lonely sands. Near-by, on the Piazzetta where the twin
columns towered against the silver sky, white bunches of lights
glimmered like magic night-blooming flowers, with bright roots trailing
deep down into the river.

We talked of the countless great ones of the world who had lived and
died in Venice, and loved it well; of Byron, who slept in Marino
Faliero's dreadful cell before he wrote his tragedy; of Browning, whose
funeral had passed in solemn state of gondolas down the Grand Canal; of
Wagner, who found inspiration in this sea and sky, and died looking upon
them from his window in the Palazzo Vendramin. But through our talk I
could hear Aunt Kathryn in her gondola close by, saying how like the
Doge's palace was to a big bird-cage she once had; and the Prince was
continually turning his head to see if we were near, which was
disturbing. We had nothing to say that all the world might not have
heard, yet instinctively we spoke almost in whispers, the Chauffeulier
and I, not to miss a gurgle of the water nor the dip of an oar, which in
the soft darkness made the light flutter of a bird bathing.

I remembered suddenly how Sir Ralph had said one day, "You'll like Terry
in Venice." I did like Terry in Venice; and I liked him better than ever
at the moment of our return to the hotel, for there began a little
adventure of which he became the hero.

As I stepped out of the gondola there was a flash and a splash. "Oh my
gold bag!" I exclaimed. "Your present, Aunt Kathryn. It's in the canal;
I shall never see it again."

"Yes, you will," said Mr. Barrymore. "I--"

"If there was much money in it, you had better have a professional diver
come early to-morrow morning from the Arsenal," the Prince broke in.

"I know an amateur diver who will get back the bag to-night--now, within
the next half-hour I hope," went on the Chauffeulier.

"Indeed? Where do you propose to find him at this time?" asked the
Prince.

"I shall find him inside the hotel, and have him out here, ready for
work in ten minutes," said Mr. Barrymore.

"What fun!" exclaimed Beechy. "We'll wait here in the moonlight and see
him dive. It will be lovely."

Mr. Barrymore was gone before she finished.

It was nearly eleven o'clock. The music-barges had gone; the hotel
garden was deserted, and scarcely a moving star of light glided over the
canal. Our three gondolas, drawn up like carriages at the marble steps
of the Britannia, where the water lapped and gurgled, awaited the great
event. The Prince pooh-poohed the idea that Mr. Barrymore could find a
diver, or that, if he did, the bag could be retrieved in such an
amateurish way. But I had learned that when our Chauffeulier said a
thing could be done, it _would_ be done, and I confidently expected to
see him returning accompanied by some obviously aquatic creature.

What I did see however, was a great surprise. Something moved in the
garden, under the curtain of creepers that draped the nearest
overhanging balcony. Then a tall, marble statue, "come alive," vaulted
over the iron railing and dropped into the lagoon.

It didn't seem at all strange that a marble statue should "come alive"
in Venice; but what did seem odd was that it should exactly resemble Mr.
Barrymore, feature for feature, inch for inch.

"Hullo, Terry, I didn't know you meant to do that!" exclaimed Sir Ralph.
"You _are_ a lightning change artist."

For it was the Chauffeulier, in a bathing suit which he must have
hurriedly borrowed from one of the landlord's tall young sons, and he
was swimming by the side of my gondola.

"I meant nothing else," laughed the statue in the water, the moon
shining into his eyes and on his noble white throat as he swam. "Now,
Miss Destrey, show me exactly how you stood when you dropped your bag,
and I think I can promise that you shall have it again in a few
minutes."

"If I'd dreamed of this I wouldn't have let you do it," I said.

"Why not? I'm awfully happy, and the water feels like warm silk. Is
this where you dropped it? Look out for a little splash, please. I'm
going down."

With that he disappeared under the canal, and stayed down so long that I
began to be frightened. It seemed impossible that any human being could
hold his breath for so many minutes; but just as my anxiety reached
boiling point, up he came, dripping, laughing, his short hair in wet
rings on his forehead, and in his hand, triumphantly held up, the gold
bag.

"I knew where to grope for it, and I felt it almost the first thing," he
said. "Please forgive my wet fingers."

"Why, there's something red on the gold. It's blood!" I stammered,
forgetting to thank him.

"Is there? What a bore! But it's nothing. I grazed the skin of my hands
a little, grubbing about among the stones down there, that's all."

"It's a great deal," I said. "I can't bear to think you've been hurt for
me."

"Why, I don't even feel it," said the Chauffeulier. "It's the bag that
suffers. But you can have it washed."

Yes, I could have it washed. Yet, somehow, it would seem almost
sacrilegious. I made up my mind without saying a word, that I would not
have the bag washed. I would keep it exactly as it was, put sacredly
away in some box, in memory of this night.



XXI

A CHAPTER OF STRANGE SPELLS


"Never since Anne Boleyn has a woman so lost her head over a man with a
title as Mamma over Prince Dalmar-Kalm," said Beechy, after our week at
Venice was half spent. And I wished that, in fair exchange, he would
lose his over Aunt Kathryn instead of wasting time on me, and casting
his shadow on beautiful days.

Roses and lilies appeared on my writing-desk; they were from him.
Specimens of Venetian sweets (crystallized fruits stuck on sticks, like
fat martyrs) adorned large platters on the table by the window--gifts
from the Prince. If I admired the little gargoylish sea-horses, or the
foolish shell ornaments at the Lido, I was sure to find some when I came
home. And the man hinted in whispers that the attentions of the Comte
and Contessa were for me.

All this was annoying though he put it on the grounds of friendship; and
I didn't like the Corraminis, although their influence opened doors that
would otherwise have been closed. Through them we saw the Comte de
Bardi's wonderful Japanese collection of the Palazzo Vendramin, the
finest in the world; through them we had glimpses of the treasures in
more than one old palace; they gave us a picnic dinner in their lighted
gondola, on the lagoon, with many elaborate courses cooked in
chafing-dishes, which the gondoliers served. They took us to Chioggia on
their steam yacht which--it seemed--they must let half the year to
afford the use of it the other half.

The "County" (as Aunt Kathryn pronounces him) must have been handsome
before his good looks were ravaged by small-pox. As it is, Beechy
compares his dark face to a "plum cake, from which somebody has picked
out all the plums;" and the black eyes, deep set in this scarred mask,
gaze out of it with sinister effect. Yet his manner is perfect, witty,
and gracious. He speaks English fluently, and might be of any age
between thirty-five and fifty. As for the Contessa, she has the profile
of a Boadicea (with which I could never feel thoroughly at home if it
were mine) and the walk of a bewitched table, so stout she is, and so
square. Her principal efforts at conversation with me were in praise of
Prince Dalmar-Kalm, so I scarcely appreciated them. Indeed, the
Corraminis repelled me, and I was glad to spare all their distinguished
society to Aunt Kathryn.

Each day in Venice (not counting the hours spent with them and the
Prince) was more wonderful, it seemed, than the day before.

First among my pictures was San Marco, which I went out to see alone
early in the morning, but met Mr. Barrymore as I inquired my way. I
could have wished for that, though I wouldn't have dreamed of asking him
to take me. As we went through the narrow streets of charming shops, we
played at not thinking of what was to come. Then, Mr. Barrymore said
suddenly, "Now you may look." So I did look, and there it was, the
wonder of wonders, more like a stupendous crown of jewels than a church.
Like a queen's diadem, it gleamed in the grey-white Piazza, under the
burning azure dome of the sky.

"Oh, we've found the key of the rainbow, and come close to it!" I cried.
"What a marvel! Can human beings really have made it, or did it make
itself as gems form in the rocks, and coral under the sea?"

"The cornice does look as if it were the spray of the sea, tossing up
precious stones from buried treasures beneath the waves," he answered.
"But you're right. We've got the key of the rainbow, and we can go in."

I walked beside him, awe-struck, as if I were passing under a spell.
There could be no other building so beautiful in the world, and it was
harder than ever to realize that man had created it. The golden mosaic
of the domed roof, arching above the purple-brown of the alabaster
walls, was like sunrise boiling over the massed clouds of a dark
horizon. Light seemed generated by the glitter of that mosaic; and the
small white windows of the dome gained such luminous blues and pale gold
glints, from sky without and opal gleams within, that they were changed
to stars. The pavement was opaline, too, with a thousand elusive tints
and jewelled colours, waving like the sea. It was all I could do not to
touch Mr. Barrymore's arm or hand for sympathy.

We didn't speak as we passed out. I was almost glad when the spell was
broken by the striking of the great, blue clock opposite San Marco, and
the slow procession of the life-size mechanical figures which only open
their secret door on fête days, such as this chanced to be.

Watching the stiff saints go through their genuflexions put me in a good
mood for an introduction to the pigeons, which I longed to have for
friends--strange little stately ruffling things, almost as mechanical in
their strut as the figures of the clock; so metallic, too, in their
lustre, that I could have believed them made of painted iron.

Some wore short grey Eton jackets, with white blouses showing behind;
these were the ladies, and their faces were as different as possible
from those of their lovers. So were the dainty little coral feet, for
alas! the masculine shoes were the pinker and prettier; and the males,
even the baby ones, were absurdly like English judges in wigs and gowns.

It was charming to watch the developments of pigeon love-stories on that
blue-and-gold day, which was my first in the Grand Piazza of San Marco.
How the lady would patter away, and pretend she didn't know that a
rising young judge had his eye upon her! But she would pause and feign
to examine a grain of corn, which I or some one else had thrown, just
long enough to give him a chance of preening his feathers before her,
spreading out his tail, and generally cataloguing his perfections. She
would pretend that this demonstration had no effect upon her heart, that
she'd seen a dozen pigeons within an hour handsomer than he; but the
instant a rival belle chanced (only it wasn't chance really) to hop that
way and offer outrageous inducements to flirtation, she decided that,
after all, he was worth having--and, alas! sometimes decided too late.

That same afternoon Mr. Barrymore took me to the little church of San
Giorgio degli Schiavoni to see the exquisite Carpaccios, because he was
of opinion that Aunt Kathryn and Beechy would prefer to go shopping.
Yet, after all, who should appear there but Beechy and Sir Ralph!

Beechy thought the dragon a delightful beast, with a remarkable eye for
the picturesque, judging from the way in which he had arranged the
remains of his victims; and she was sorry for him, dragged into the
market-place, so pitifully shrunken, beaten, and mortified was he. She
wanted to live in all the mediæval castles of the picture-backgrounds,
and was of opinion that the basilisk's real intentions had been
misunderstood by the general public of his day. "I should love to have
such a comic, trotty beast to lead about in Central Park," said she.
"Why the octopi that the people cook and sell in the streets here now,
are ever so much horrider. One might run away from them, if you like.
Loathsome creatures! I do draw the line at an animal whose face you
can't tell from its--er--waist. And only think of _eating_ them! I'd a
good deal rather eat a basilisk."

Beechy was also convinced--before she crossed the Bridge of Sighs--that
many people, especially Americans, would pay large sums or even commit
crimes, in order to be put in prison at Venice. "Such a lovely
situation," she argued, "and lots of historical associations too." But
afterwards, when she had seen where Marino Faliero lay, and the young
Foscari, she was inclined to change her mind. "Still," she said, "it
would be an experience; and if you couldn't afford to stop at a hotel,
it might be worth trying, if you didn't have to do anything very bad,
and were sure of getting a cell on the canal."

Neither Beechy nor Aunt Kathryn cared much for the churches or the
pictures, so they and Sir Ralph bargained for Venetian point or the lace
of Burano, or went to the glass makers', or had tea at the Lido with the
Corraminis, while Mr. Barrymore took me to the Frari, the Miracoli, and
other churches that he loved best, or wandered with me among the
glorious company of artists at the Accademia, and in the Doges' Palace.
But Beechy did join in my admiration and respect (mingled with a kind of
wondering pity) for the noble army of marble lions in Venice.

Oh, those poor, splendid lions! How sad they look, how bitter is the
expression of their ponderous faces. Especially am I haunted by the
left-hand lion in the Piazza degli Lioni, hard by San Marco. What can
have happened to him, that he should be so despairing? Whatever it was,
he has never got over it, but has concentrated his whole being in one,
eight-century-long howl ever since. He is the most impressive of the
tribe; but there are many others, big and little, all gloomy, sitting
about in Piazzas, or exposed for sale in shops, or squatting on the
railings of balconies. When I think of that fair city in the sea, I
shall often want to run back and try to comfort some of those lions.

Beechy was with me in this; and as for Aunt Kathryn, even the flattering
attentions of the Corraminis did not please her more than our experience
at the antiquaries', which we owed to Mr. Barrymore.

We hadn't been in Venice for twenty-four hours before we saw that the
Chauffeulier knew the place almost as if he had been born there. He was
even well up in the queer, soft Venetian _patois_, with hardly a
consonant left in it, so well up that he announced himself capable of
bandying words and measuring swords with the curiosity-shop keepers, if
we liked to "collect anything."

At first Aunt Kathryn thought that she wouldn't bother; there would be
too much trouble with the custom house at home; but, when Beechy
happened to say what a rare thing a marble well-head or a garden statue
five hundred years old would be considered in Denver, she weakened, and
fell.

The idea popped into Beechy's head just as our gondola (it was towards
the end of our week in Venice) was gliding by a beautiful, shabby old
palace in a side canal.

A canopy of grape-vines, heavy with hanging clusters of emeralds and
here and there an amethyst, shadowed a carved water-gate. Under the
jade-green water gleamed the yellow marble of the steps, waving with
seaweed like mermaids' hair; and in the dim interior behind the open
doors there were vague gleams of gilded chairs, pale glints of statuary,
and rich streaks of colour made by priests' vestments or old altar
hangings.

"I don't believe even Mrs. Potter Adriance has got anything like this in
her house, though they call it so elegant," remarked Beechy.

That speech was to Aunt Kathryn what valerian is to a pussy cat; for
Mrs. Potter Adriance (as I've often heard since I made acquaintance with
my relations) is the leader of Denver society, and is supposed once to
have said with a certain emphasis: "_Who_ are the Kidders?"

"Perhaps I'll just step in and see what they've got here," said Aunt
Kathryn.

"It isn't a cheap place," replied Mr. Barrymore. "This man knows how to
charge. If you want any marbles, he has some fine ones; but for other
things I'll take you somewhere else, where I promise you shall be amused
and not cheated."

"I think our yard at home is big enough for two or three statues; and a
marble well-head and a sundial would be lovely," exclaimed Aunt Kathryn.

"We'll look at some," said Mr. Barrymore, motioning to the gondolier.
"But now, unless you're to pay six times what everything's worth, you
must put yourselves in my hands. Remember, you don't care to glance
either at statues, well-heads, or sun-dials."

"But that's what we're here for!" cried Aunt Kathryn.

"Ah, but the man mustn't guess that for the world! We appear to be
searching for--let's say, mirrors; but not finding the kind we want, we
_may_ deign to look at a few marbles as we pass. We don't fancy the
fellow's stock; still, the things aren't bad; we may decide to save
ourselves the trouble of going further. Whatever you do, don't mention a
price, even in English. Appear bored and indifferent, never pleased or
anxious. When I ask if you're willing to pay so and so, drawl out 'no'
or 'yes' without the slightest change of expression."

As we landed on the wet marble steps and passed into the region of
gilded gleams and pearly glints, our hearts began to beat with
suppressed excitement, as if we were secret plotters, scheming to carry
through some nefarious design.

Immediately on entering, I caught sight of two marble baby lions sitting
on their haunches side by side on the floor with ferocious expressions
on their little carved faces.

"I must have those for myself," I murmured to Mr. Barrymore in a
painfully monotonous voice, as we passed along a narrow aisle between
groves of magnificent antique furniture. "They appeal to me. Fate means
us for each other."

But at this moment an agreeable and well-dressed Italian was bowing
before us. He was the proprietor of the antiques, and he looked more
like a philanthropic millionaire than a person with whom we could haggle
over prices. Without glancing at my lions (I knew they were mine; and
wanted them to know it) or Aunt Kathryn's statues and well-heads, Mr.
Barrymore announced that he would glance about at paintings of old
Venice. What had Signore Ripollo of that sort? Nothing at present? Dear
me, what a pity! Lacquered Japanese temples, then? What, none of those?
Very disappointing. Well, we must be going. Hm! not a bad well-head,
that one with the procession of the Bucentaur in _bas relief_. Too
obviously repaired; still, if Signore Ripollo would take three hundred
lire for it, the thing might be worth picking up. And that little pair
of lions. Perhaps the ladies might think them good enough to keep a door
open with, if they didn't exceed fifteen lire each.

Signore Ripollo looked shocked, but laughed politely. He knew Mr.
Barrymore, and had greeted him on our entrance as an old acquaintance,
though, in his exaggerated Italian way, he gave the Chauffeulier a title
more exalted than Beechy had bestowed.

"Milord will always have his joke; the well-head is two thousand lire;
the lions fifty each," I thought I understood him to remark.

But not at all. Milord was not joking. Would the Signore sell the things
for the price mentioned--yes or no?

The philanthropic millionaire showed now that he was hurt. Why did not
Milord ask him to give away the whole contents of his shop?

After this the argument began to move at express speed, and I would have
lost track of everything had it not been for the gestures, like danger
signals, all along the way. Mr. Barrymore laughed; Signore Ripollo
passed from injured dignity to indignation, then to passion; and there
we sat on early Renaissance chairs, our outward selves icily regular,
splendidly null, our features as hard as those of the stone lions, our
bodies in much the same attitudes, on our uncomfortable seats. But
inwardly we felt like Torturers of the Inquisition, and I knew by Aunt
Kathryn's breathing that she could hardly help exclaiming, "Oh, _do_ pay
the poor man whatever he asks for everything."

"Will you give five hundred lire for the well-head?" Mr. Barrymore
finally demanded, with a reminder of past warnings in his eye.

"Yes," answered Aunt Kathryn languidly, her hands clenched under a lace
boa.

"And will you give twenty lire each for the lions? They are very good."
(This to me, drawlingly.)

"Ye-es," I returned, without moving a muscle.

The offers were submitted to Signore Ripollo, who received them with
princely scorn, as I had felt sure he would, and my heart sank as I saw
my lions vanishing in the smoke of his just wrath.

"Come, we will go; the Signore is not reasonable," said Mr. Barrymore.

We all rose obediently, but our anguish was almost past hiding.

"I can't and won't live without the lions," I remarked in the tone of
one who says it is a fine day.

"I will _not_ leave this place without that well-head, the statue of
Neptune, and the yellow marble sundial," said Aunt Kathryn in a casual
tone which masked a breaking heart.

Nevertheless, Mr. Barrymore continued to lead us towards the door. He
bowed to Signore Ripollo; and by this time we were at the steps of the
water-gate. The gondoliers were ready. Driven to desperation we were
about to protest, when the Italian, with the air of a falsely accused
Doge haled to execution, stopped us. "Have your way, milord, as you
always do," he groaned. "I paid twice more for these beautiful things
than you give me, but--so be it. They are yours."

True to our instructions we dared not betray our feelings; but when the
business had actually been arranged, and our gondola had borne us away
from the much-injured antiquary, Aunt Kathryn broke out at the
Chauffeulier.

"How _could_ you?" she exclaimed. "I never was so sick in my life. That
poor man! You've made us rob him. I shall never be able to hold up my
head again."

"On the contrary, he's delighted," said Mr. Barrymore jauntily. "If we'd
given him what he asked he would have despised us. Now we've earned his
respect."

"Well, I never!" gasped Aunt Kathryn inelegantly, forgetful for the
moment that she was a Countess. "I suppose I can be happy, then?"

"You can, without a qualm," said Mr. Barrymore.

"Where's that other place you spoke of?" she inquired, half-ashamed.
"There's a--a kind of excitement in this sort of thing, isn't there? I
feel as if it might grow on me."

"We'll go to Beppo's," replied the Chauffeulier, laughing.

Beppo was a very different man from Signore Ripollo, nor had he a palace
with a water-gate to show his wares. We left the gondola, and walked up
a dark and narrow rioterrà with coquettish, black-shawled grisettes
chatting at glowing fruit-stalls and macaroni shops. There, at a barred
iron door, Mr. Barrymore pulled a rope which rang a jangling bell. After
a long interval, a little, bent old man in a shabby coat and patched
trousers appeared against a background of mysterious brown shadow. Into
this shadow we plunged, following him, to be led through a labyrinth of
queer passages and up dark stairways to the top of the old, old house.
There, in the strangest room I ever saw, we were greeted by a small
brown woman, as shabby as her husband, and a supernaturally clever black
cat.

A grated window set high up and deep in the discoloured wall, allowed a
few rays of yellow sunlight to fall revealingly upon a motley collection
of antiquities. Empire chairs were piled upon Louis Quinze
writing-desks. Tables of every known period formed a leaning tower in
one corner. Rich Persian rugs draped huge Florentine mirrors; priests'
vestments trailed from half-open chests of drawers. Brass candlesticks
and old Venetian glass were huddled away in inlaid cabinets, and
half-hidden with old illuminated breviaries and pinned rolls of lace.

A kind of madness seized Aunt Kathryn. She must have thought of Mrs.
Potter Adriance, for suddenly she wanted everything she saw, and said
so, _sotto voce_, to Mr. Barrymore.

Then the bargaining began. And there was nothing Dog-like about Beppo.
He laughed high-keyed, sardonic laughter; he scolded, he quavered, he
pleaded, he was finally choked with sobs; while as for his wife, she,
poor little wisplike body, early succumbed to whatever is Venetian for
nervous prostration.

Surely the Chauffeulier could not bear the strain of this agonizing
scene? Our consciences heavy with brass candlesticks and Marquise sofas,
we stood looking on, appalled at his callousness. Beppo and Susanna
cried weakly that this would be their ruin, that we were wringing the
last drops of blood from their hearts, we cruel rich ones, and in
common humanity I would have intervened had the pair not suddenly and
unexpectedly wreathed their withered countenances with smiles.

"What has happened? Are you giving them what they wanted?" I asked
breathlessly; for long ago I had lost track of the conversation.

"No; I promised them twenty lire over my first offer for that whole
lot," said Mr. Barrymore, indicating a heap of miscellaneous articles
reaching half-way to the ceiling, for which, altogether, Beppo had
demanded two thousand lire, and our offer had been seven hundred.

I could have prayed the poor old peoples' forgiveness, but to my
astonishment, as we went out they beamed with pleasure and thanked us
ardently for our generosity.

"Is it sarcasm?" I whispered.

"No, it's pure delight," said Mr. Barrymore. "They've done the best
day's work of the season, and they don't mind our knowing it--now it's
over."

"Human nature is strange," I reflected.

"Especially in antiquarians," he replied.

But we arrived at the hotel feeling weak, and were thankful for tea.



XXII

A CHAPTER BEYOND THE MOTOR ZONE


We all felt when we had said good-bye to Venice that we had a definite
object in view, and there was to be no more pleasant dawdling. It was ho
for Schloss Hrvoya! Aunt Kathryn had suddenly discovered that she was
impatient to see the ancient root from which blossomed her cherished
title, and nothing must delay her by the way.

I should have wondered at her change of mood, and at the Prince's new
enthusiasm for the Dalmatian trip--which, until our arrival in Venice,
he'd tried to discourage--but Beechy explained frankly as usual. It
seemed that Count Corramini (said by Prince Dalmar-Kalm to possess vast
funds of legal knowledge) had intimated that the Countess Dalmar-Kalm
was not rightfully a Countess until every penny was paid for the estate
carrying the title. That same day, without waiting to be asked, she had
given the Prince a cheque for the remaining half of the money. Now if
she finds scarce one stone left upon another at Schloss Hrvoya, she
can't cry off her bargain, so it's easy to understand why the Prince is
no longer anxious. Exactly why he should seem so eager to get us to our
destination is more of a puzzle; but perhaps, as Beechy thinks, it's
because he hopes to influence Aunt Kathryn to rebuild. And certainly he
has influenced her in some way, for she could hardly wait to leave
Venice at the last.

We went as we had come, by water, for we wouldn't condescend to the
railway; and at the landing-place for Mestre our grey automobile stood
waiting for us, so well-cared for and polished that it might just have
come from the makers, instead of having charged at full tilt "up the
airy mountains and down the rushy glens" of half Europe.

It was goddess-like to be in the car again, yet I regretted Venice as
I've regretted no other place I ever saw. Even when there, it seemed too
beautiful to be real, but when we lost sight of its fair towers and
domes, in bowling northward along a level road, I grew sadly convinced
that Venice was a fairy dream.

We saw nothing to console us for what we had lost (though the scenery
had a soft and melancholy charm) until we came to old fortified Treviso,
with its park, and the green river Dante knew, circling its high walls.

At Conegliano--where Cima lived--we ran into the town between its
guardian statues, gave a glance at the splendid old castle which must
have given the gentle painter many an inspiration, and then turned
eastward. There was a shorter way, but the route-book of the Italian
Touring Club which the Chauffeulier pinned his faith to in emergencies,
showed that the surface of the other road was not so good. Udine tried
to copy Venice in miniature, and I loved it for its ambition; but what
interested me the most was to hear from Mr. Barrymore how, on the spot
where its castle stands, Attila watched the burning of Aquileia. That
seemed to take me down to the roots of Venetian history; and I could
picture the panic-stricken fugitives flying to the lagoons, and
beginning to raise the wattled huts which have culminated in the queen
city of the sea. From Udine we went southward; and at the Austrian
custom house, across the frontier, we had to unroll yards of red tape
before we were allowed to pass. Almost at once, when we were over the
border, the scenery, the architecture, and even the people's faces,
changed; not gradually, but with extraordinary abruptness, or so it
seemed to me.

Just before dark we sailed into a great, busy town, with a surprising
number of enormous, absolutely useless-looking buildings. It was
Trieste, Austria's biggest port; and the Prince, who had kept near us
for the hundred and thirty miles from Venice, began to wear an air of
pride in his own country. He wanted us to admire the fine streets and
shops, and made us notice how everywhere were to be seen Greek, Russian,
Polish, French, German, Italian, and even English names. "That proves
what a great trade we do, and how all the world comes to us," he said.

Our hotel was close to the quay, and there were a thousand things of
interest to watch from the windows when we got up next morning, as there
always are in places where the world "goes down to the sea in ships."

At breakfast there was a discussion as to our route, which, owing to
suggestions and counter-suggestions from the Prince, hadn't been
decided. The Chauffeulier wanted to run through Istria and show us
Capodistria (another copy of Venice), Rovigno, and Pola, which he said
had not only a splendid Roman amphitheatre, but many other sights worth
making a détour for. I was fired by his description, for what I've seen
of Northern Italy has stimulated my love for history and the
architecture of the ancients; but Prince Dalmar-Kalm persuaded Aunt
Kathryn that, as the neighbourhood of Cattaro is our goal, it would be a
waste of time to linger on the threshold of Dalmatia.

"Why, a little while ago you thought it stupid to go into Dalmatia at
all," said Beechy. "You warned us we'd have trouble about petrol, about
roads, about hotels, about everything."

"I have been talking since with Corramini," replied the Prince
unruffled. "He has motored through the country we are going to, and I
see from his accounts, that the journey is more feasible than I had
thought, knowing the way as I did, only from a yacht."

"Funny he should be more familiar with the country than you, as you've
got a castle there," Beechy soliloquized aloud.

"I make no secret that I have never lived at Hrvoya," the Prince
answered. "Neither I, nor my father before me. The house where I was
born is at Abbazzia. That is why I want you to go that way. It is no
longer mine; but I should like you to see it, since you cannot at
present see Schloss Kalm, near Vienna."

"You seem so fond of selling your houses, why don't you offer Mamma the
one near Vienna, if it's the best?" persisted naughty Beechy.

"I could not sell it if I would," smiled the Prince, who for some reason
is almost always good-natured now. "And if I offer it to a lady, she
must be the Princess Dalmar-Kalm."

I felt that a glance was thrown to me with these words, but I looked
only at my plate.

The conversation ended by the Prince getting his way, as he had made
Aunt Kathryn think it _her_ way: and we gave up Istria. Soon after ten
we were _en route_ for Abbazzia--close to Fiume--slanting along the neck
of the Istrian peninsula by a smooth and well-made road that showed the
Austrians were good at highways.

It was but thirty miles from sea to sea, and so sweetly did the car run,
so little were we troubled by cantankerous creatures of any sort, that
we descended from high land and before twelve o'clock ran into as
perfect a little watering place as can exist on earth.

Aunt Kathryn was prepared to like Abbazzia before she saw it, because it
was the scene of Prince Dalmar-Kalm's birth, and also because she'd been
told it was the favourite resort of Austrian aristocracy. I hadn't
listened much, because I had clung to the idea of visiting historic
Pola; but Abbazzia captured me at first glance.

Everywhere was beauty and peace. The Adriatic spread itself pure and
clean as a field of spring flowers, and as full of delicate changing
colour. Away on a remote horizon--remote as all trouble and worry
seemed, in this fair spot--hovered islands, opaline and shimmering, like
a mirage. Nearer rose a stretch of green hills, travelling by the
seashore until they fell back for Fiume, a white town veiled with a
light mist of smoke.

But for Abbazzia itself, it seemed the most unconventional pleasure
place I ever knew. Instead of a smart "parade" all along the rocky
indentations which jutted into or receded from the sea, ran a winding
rustic path, tiny blue waves crinkling on one side; on the other,
fragrant groves of laurel, olives, magnolias, and shady chestnut-trees.

We walked there, after lunching at quite a grand hotel, which, the
Prince told Aunt Kathryn, was full of "crowned heads" in winter and
earlier spring. Nowhere else have I seen the beauty of sea and shore so
exquisitely mingled as on this path overhanging the Adriatic, nor have I
smelled more heavenly smells, even at Bellagio. There was the salt of
the sea, the rank flavour of seaweed, mingled with the sharp fragrance
of ferns, of young grass, of budding trees, and all sweet, woodsy
things.

Along the whole length of the gay, quaint town, ran the beautiful path,
winding often like a twisted ribbon, but never leaving the sea. Behind
it, above and beyond, was the unspoiled forest only broken enough for
the cutting of shaded streets, and the building of charming houses,
their fronts half windows and the other half balconies.

The dark rocks starred with flowers to the water's edge, looked as if
there had been a snow-storm of gulls, while the air was full of their
wistful cries, and the singing of merry land birds that tried to cheer
them.

Each house by the sea (the one where Prince Dalmar-Kalm first saw the
light, among others) had its own bathing place, and pretty young girls
laughed and splashed in the clear water. Up above, in the town, were
public gardens, many hotels, theatres, and fascinating shops displaying
embroideries and jewelry from Bosnia, which made me feel the nearness of
the East as I hadn't felt it before, even in Venice.

We could not tear ourselves away in the afternoon, but spent hours in a
canopied boat, dined in the hotel garden, and bathed in the creamy sea
by late moonlight, the Chauffeulier giving me a lesson in swimming. Aunt
Kathryn grudged the time, but we overruled her, and atoned by promising
to go on each day after this to the bitter end, whatever that might be.

Next morning, by way of many hills and much fine scenery we travelled
towards a land beyond the motor zone. Though the roads were good enough,
if steep sometimes, judging by the manners of animals four-legged and
two-legged, automobiles were unknown. Only children were not surprised
at us; but then, children aren't easily surprised by new things, I've
noticed. They have had so few experiences to found impressions on, that
I suppose they would think a fiery chariot nothing extraordinary, much
less a motor-car. The costumes began to change from ordinary European
dress to something with a hint of the barbaric in it. Here and there we
would see a coarse-featured face as dark as that of a Mongolian, or
would hear a few curious words which the Chauffeulier said were Slavic.
The biting, alkaline names of the small Dalmatian towns through which we
ran seemed to shrivel our tongues and dry up our systems. There was much
thick, white dust, and, to the surprise of the amateurs of the party, we
once or twice had "side slip" in it.

How we hated the "mended" roads with their beds of stone, though near
rivers they were not so bad, as the pebbles instead of being sharp were
naturally rounded. But Aunt Kathryn wouldn't hear a word against the
country, which was _her_ country now. Once, when the cylinders refused
to work, for some reason best known to themselves or the evil spirits
that haunt them, we were "hung up" for twenty minutes, and surrounded
with strange, dark children from a neighbouring hamlet, Aunt Kathryn
insisted on giving each a coin of some sort, and received grinning
acknowledgments with the air of a crowned queen. "I daresay I shall have
tenants and retainers like these people," said she, with a wave of her
hand.

For a part of our journey down the narrow strip of strange coast, we had
on one side a range of stony mountains; on the other, only a little way
across the sea, lay desolate islands rising in tiers of pink rock out of
the milk-white Adriatic. But before long we lost the sea and the lonely
islands; for at a place named Segna our road turned inland and climbed a
high mountain--the Velebit--at whose feet we had been travelling.

As we were trying to make a run of more than a hundred and twenty-five
miles--a good deal for a heavily-loaded car of twelve horse-power--the
Chauffeulier kept the automobile constantly going "for all she was
worth." He had planned that we should spend the night at the sea-coast
town of Zara--that place so inextricably tangled up in Venetian
history--for there we might find a hotel fit to stop at.

About midday we lunched at a mean town called Gospic, and vast was the
upheaval that our advent caused.

As we drove in, looking right and left for the cleanest inn, every
able-bodied person under seventy and several considerably over ran to
follow, their figures swarming after us as a tail follows a comet. At
the door of our chosen lunching-place they surged round the car,
pressing against us, and even plucking at our dresses as we pushed
through into the house. Spray from this human wave tossed into the
passage and eating-room in our wake, until the burly innkeeper, his
large wife, and two solid handmaidens swept it out by sheer weight.

Mr. Barrymore was afraid to leave the car, lest it should be damaged, so
he sat in it, eating bread and cheese with imperturbable good humour,
though every mouthful he took was watched down his throat by a hundred
eager eyes.

The landlord waited upon us himself, and could speak German and Italian
as well as his own Croatian or Slavish dialect. We were surprised at the
goodness of the luncheon, and Sir Ralph was surprised at the cheapness
of the bill. "It will be different when they've turned this coast into
the Austrian Riviera, as they 're trying to do," he said.

When we appeared at the door again, ready to go on, there fell a heavy
silence on the Chauffeulier's audience. Not only had they had the
entertainment of watching him feed, but had observed with fearful awe
the replenishing of the petrol and water-tanks and examination of the
lubricators. Now they had the extra pleasure of seeing us put on our
motor-masks and take our places. When all was ready Mr. Barrymore seized
the starting handle, and gave it the one vigorous twist which wakes the
engine when it is napping. But almost for the first time the motor was
refractory. The handle recoiled so violently and unexpectedly that the
Chauffeulier staggered back and trod on the toes of the fat man of the
crowd, while at the same time there burst from the inner being of the
car a loud report. At this sign of the motor's power and rebellion
against him whom it should have obeyed, the audience uttered cries,
scattering right and left, so as to leave a large ring round the
automobile which before had not had room to breathe.

"Misfire, that's all," said Mr. Barrymore, laughing and showing his nice
white teeth in a comforting way he has when anything alarming has
happened. Next instant the motor was docile as a lamb; the engine began
to purr; the Chauffeulier jumped to his seat, and, followed by a vast
sigh from the crowd, we darted away at thirty miles an hour.

The rest of the day was a changing dream of strange impressions, which
made Aunt Kathryn feel as if Denver were at least a million miles away.
We climbed once more up to the heights of the Velebit, seeing from among
the dark, giant pines which draped it in mourning, the great forests of
Croatia, Lika, and Krabava, with their conical mountains, and far off
the chains of Bosnia. Then, at a bound, we leaped into sight of the
Adriatic again and sped down innumerable _lacets_ overlooking the
beautiful land-locked sea of Novigrad, to tumble at last upon the little
town of Obrovazzo. Thence we flew on, over an undulating road, towards
Dalmatia's capital, Zara.

Just as anachronistic electric lights had shown us the way through
curiously Italian streets, with beautifully ornamented windows, past a
noble Corinthian column and out onto a broad space by the sea, without a
warning sigh the automobile stopped.

"Our last drop of petrol!" exclaimed Mr. Barrymore. "Lucky it didn't
give out before, as I began to be afraid it might, owing to the hills."

"By Jove! this doesn't look the sort of town to buy food and drink for
motors!" remarked Sir Ralph ruefully.

The Chauffeulier laughed. "Ours won't starve," said he. "I thought you
knew I'd ordered tins of petrol to meet us at every big town, for fear
of trouble. It will come down by boat, and I shall find the Zara lot
waiting for me at the Austrian Lloyd's storehouse. You'd have remembered
that arrangement if your wits hadn't been wool-gathering a bit lately."

"I wonder if they have?" soliloquized Sir Ralph. "Well, here we are
within three yards of a hotel which, if I've any brains left, is the
very one you selected from Baedeker."

We all got out as if we had stopped on purpose, and the hotel which Fate
and our Chauffeulier had chosen proved very fair, though too modern to
be in the picture.

If the automobile had flashed us to Mars things could hardly have been
more unfamiliar to our eyes than when we walked out next morning to find
ourselves in the midst of a great fête.

Flags were everywhere: in arched windows, rich with sculptured stone;
flying over the great gates of the city; festooned in the charming
little houses with fountain courts surrounded by columns. The peasants
of the country round had flocked to town for the holiday. Dark,
velvet-eyed girls in short dresses of bright-coloured silk heavy with
gold embroidery, their hair hidden by white head-dresses flashing with
sequins, and tall men in long frock coats of dark crimson or yellow,
were exactly like a stage crowd in some wonderful theatre; while
handsome Austrian officers wearing graceful blue cloaks draped over one
shoulder, might have been operatic heroes.

There was strange music in the streets, and a religious procession,
which we followed for some time on our way to the maraschino factory
which Mr. Barrymore said we must see. Of course, some monks had invented
the liqueur, as they always do, but perhaps the cherries which grow only
among those mountains, and can't be exported, had as much to do with
the original success of the liqueur as the existence of the recipe.

If Aunt Kathryn had listened to Mr. Barrymore and me we would have gone
from Zara inland to a place called Knin, to visit the cataract of Krka,
described as a combination of Niagara and the Rhine Falls. But she said
that the very sound of the names would make a cat want to sneeze, and
she was sure she would take her death of cold there. So the proposal
fell to the ground, and we kept to the coast route, the shortest way of
getting to Ragusa and Cattaro.

When we had climbed out of Zara by the old post road, begun by Venice
and finished by Austria, our way lay among the famous cherry-trees which
have made Zara rich. There were miles of undulating country and fields
of wheat, interspersed with vines and almond trees which mingled with
the cherries. The pastures where sheep and goats grazed were blue and
pink with violets and anemones; here and there was an old watch-tower,
put up against the Turks; and the rich peasants drove in quaint flat
chaises, which looked as if the occupants were sitting in large
pancakes.

With a motor it was not far to Sebenico, which called itself modestly a
"little Genoa;" and it was so pretty, lying by the sea, with its
narrowest streets climbing up a hill to an ancient fortress, that I
should have loved to linger, but Aunt Kathryn was for pushing on; and,
of course, it is her trip, so her wishes must be obeyed when they can't
be directed into other channels. We stopped only long enough for an
omelette, and passed on after a mere glimpse of close-huddled houses
(with three heads for every window, staring at the motor) and a
cathedral with an exquisite doorway. Then we were out of the town,
spinning on through the wild, unreal-looking country towards Spalato.

"What new ground for honeymooners!" exclaimed Sir Ralph, enchanted with
everything, in his half-boyish, half-cynical way. "I shall recommend it
in _The Riviera Sun_ for a wedding trip _en automobile_. Shouldn't you
like to do it, Miss Beechy--dawdling, not scorching?"

"I think when I get married," Beechy replied judicially, "I shan't want
to _go_ anywhere. I shall just _stay_ somewhere for a change."

"It's early to decide," remarked Sir Ralph.

"I don't know. It's always well to be prepared," said Beechy, with the
enigmatical look she sometimes puts on, which (in spite of her
ankle-short dresses and knee-long tails of hair) makes her appear at
least sixteen.

Beyond Sebenico the Dalmatian landscape frowned upon us, but we liked
its savage mood. The road, winding inland, was walled with mountains
which might have struck a chill to the heart of Childe Roland on his way
to find the Dark Tower. On a rocky shoulder here and there crouched a
sinister little hamlet, like a black cat huddling into the neck of a
witch. Sometimes, among the stony pastures where discouraged goats
browsed discontentedly, we would spy a human inhabitant of one of those
savage haunts--a shepherd in a costume more strange than picturesque,
with a plait of hair almost as long as Beechy's, hanging down his
back--a sullen, Mongolian-faced being, who stared or scowled as we flew
by, his ragged dog too startled by the rush of the motor even to bark,
frozen into an attitude of angry amazement at his master's feet. One
evidence only of modern civilization did we see--the railway from
Sebenico to Spalato, the first we had come near in Dalmatia; and we
congratulated ourselves that we were travelling by automobile instead.
No tunnels to shut out some wonderful view, just as our eyes had
focussed on it, no black smoke, no stuffy air, no need to think of time
tables!

When at last we sighted the Adriatic again, a surprise awaited us. The
land of desolation lay behind; beyond, a land of beauty and full summer.
We ran beside an azure sea, transparent as gauze, fringing a tropical
strand; and so came into the little town of Trau, which might have been
under a spell of sleep since mediæval days. Its walls and gates, its
ornate houses, its fort and Sanmicheli tower, all set like a mosaic of
jewels in a ring of myrtles, oleanders, and laurels, delighted our
eyes; and the farther we went on the way to Spalato, keeping always by
the glittering sea, the more beautiful grew the scene. The walls along
our road were well-nigh hidden with agaves and rosemary. Cacti leered
impudently at us; palms and pomegranates made the breeze on our faces
whisper of the south and the east. Not a place we passed that I would
not have loved to spend a month in, studying in the carved stones of
churches and ruined castles the history of Venetian rule, or the wild
romance of Turkish raids.

Spalato we reached at sunset, as the little waves which creamed against
the pink rocks were splashed with crimson; and Spalato was by far the
most imposing place Dalmatia had shown us yet. As in Italy, the ancient
and modern towns held themselves apart from one another, as if there
could be no sympathy between the two, though the new houses were pushing
and would have encroached now and then if they could. We stayed all
night; and by getting up at sunrise Beechy and I, with Mr. Barrymore and
Sir Ralph, had time for a glimpse of Diocletian's palace, grand in
ruinous desolation.

Still we went on beside the sea, and from Spalato to Almissa--sheltered
under high rocks at the mouth of a river, was a splendid run leading us
by the territory of an ancient peasant republic--Poljica; one of those
odd little self-governing communities, like San Marino, which have
flourished through troubled centuries under the very noses of great
powers. Poljica had had its Jeanne d'Arc, who performed wondrous feats
of valour in wars against the Turks, and I bought a charming little
statuette of her.

At Almissa we bade good-bye to the blue water for a while to run by the
banks of the Cetina, a big and beautiful river; for the range of the
Biokovo Hills had got between us and the sea; but we threaded our way
out to it again, after switchbacking up and down an undulating road
close to the frontier of Herzegovina; and at the end of a wonderful day
descended upon a harbour in an almost land-locked basin of water. It was
Gravosa, the port of Ragusa, still hidden by an intervening tongue of
land. It was a gay scene by the quay, where native coasting ships were
unloading their queer cargoes. Dark-faced porters in rags carried on
their shoulders enormous burdens; men in loose knickerbockers,
embroidered shirts, and funny little turbans lounged about, and stared
at us as if they were every-day people and we extraordinary. And the
setting for the lively picture was the deeply-indented bay, surrounded
with quaintly pretty houses among vineyards and olive groves, which
climbed terrace after terrace to a mountainous horse-shoe, hemming in
the port.

All this we saw in the moment or two that we halted by the quay, before
turning up the road to Ragusa. It was a mile-long road, and like a
pleasure garden all the way, with the whiteness of wild lilies flung
like snow drifts against dark cedars, and trails of marvellous roses,
strangely tinted with all shades of red and yellow from the palest to
the deepest, clambering among the branches of umbrella pines. There were
villas, too, with pergolas, and two or three dignified old houses of
curious architecture, of which we had a flashing glimpse through
doorways in enormous walls.

We bounded up the saddle of a hill, then down again, and so came to a
charming hotel, white, with green verandahs, set in a park that was half
a garden. We were to spend the night and go on next day, after seeing
the town; but the Chauffeulier said that we should not see it to the
same advantage by morning light as in this poetic flush of sunset. So
after greeting Signore Bari and his sister, who were painting in the
park, we drove on, through a crowded _place_ where music played, crossed
a moat, and were swallowed by the long shadow of the city gate, black
with a twisted draping of ancient ivy.

A throng of loungers, theatrically picturesque, fell back in
astonishment to give us passage, and a moment later we were caught in a
double row of fortifications with a sharp and difficult turn through a
second gate. It was almost like a trap for a motor-car, but we got out,
and sprang at the same instant into the main street of a town that
might have been built to please the fancy of some artist-tyrant.

"It's a delicious mixture of Carcassonne and Verona set down by the sea,
with something of Venice thrown in, isn't it?" said Mr. Barrymore: and I
thought that part of the description fitted, though I had to be told
about splendid, fortified Carcassonne with its towering walls and
bastions, before I fully understood the simile.

"Yes, a Verona and Venice certainly," I answered, "with a sunny coast
like that of the French Riviera, and inhabited by people of the Far
East."

I think one might search the world over in vain to find just such
another fascinating street as that broad street of Ragusa, with its
exquisitely proportioned buildings that gave one a sense of gladness,
the extraordinary great fountain, the miniature palace of the Doges, the
noble churches and the colourful shops brilliant with strange,
embroidered costumes exposed for sale, Eastern jewelry, and quaint,
ferocious-looking weapons. And then, the queer signs over the shops, how
they added to the bewildering effect of unreality! Many of the letters
were more like hooks and eyes, buckles and bent pins, than respectable
members of an alphabet, even a foreign one. And the people who sold, and
the people who bought, were more wonderful than the shops themselves.

There were a few ordinary Europeans, though it was past the season now;
and plenty of handsome young Austrian officers in striking uniforms,
pale blue and bright green; but the crowd was an embroidered, sequined,
crimson and silver, gold and azure crowd, with here and there a
sheepskin coat, the brown habit of a monk, and the black veil of a nun.

Through half-open doorways we peeped into courtyards where fountains
flashed a diamond spray, all pink with sunset, between arcaded columns.
We saw the cathedral planted on the site of the chapel where Richard
Coeur de Lion worshipped; then, wheeling at the end of the street, we
returned as we had come while the rose-pink air was full of chiming
church bells and cries of gulls, whose circling wings were stained with
sunset colour.

Altogether this day had been one of the best days of my life. So good a
day, that it had made me sad; for I thought as I leaned on the rail of
my balcony after dinner, there could not be many days so radiant in my
life to come. Many thoughts came to me there, in the scented darkness,
and they were all tinged with a vague melancholy.

There was no moon, but the high dome of the sky was crusted with stars,
that flashed like an intricate embroidery of diamonds on velvet. From
the garden the scent of lilies came up with the warm breeze, so
poignant-sweet that it struck at my heart, and made it beat, beat with a
strange tremor in the beating that was like vague apprehension, and a
kind of joy as strange and as inexplicable.

Far away in the _place_ some one was singing a wild, barbaric air, with
a wonderful voice that had in its _timbre_ the same quality the lilies
had in their fragrance. For some reason that I didn't understand, my
whole spirit was in a turmoil, yet nothing had happened. What was the
matter? What did it mean? I couldn't tell. But I wanted to be happy. I
wanted something from life that it had never given, never would give,
perhaps. There was a voice down below in the garden--Mr. Barrymore
talking to Sir Ralph. I listened for an instant, every nerve tingling as
if it were a telegraph wire over which a question had been sent, and an
answer was coming. The voice died away. Suddenly my eyes were full of
tears; and surprised and frightened, I turned quickly to go in through
my open window, but something caught my dress and drew me back.

"Maida!" said another voice, which I knew almost as well as that other I
had heard--and lost.

Prince Dalmar-Kalm had come out of a window onto a balcony next mine,
and leaning over the railing had snatched at a fold of my gown.

"Let me go, please," I said. "And that name is not for you."

"Don't say that," he whispered, holding me fast, so that I could not
move. "It must be for me. _You_ must be for me. You shall. I can't live
without you."

His words jarred so upon my mood that I could have struck him.

"If you don't let me go, I'll cry out," I said, in a tone as low as his,
but quivering with anger. "I would be nothing to you if you were the
last man in the world."

"Very well. I _will_ be the last man in your world. Then--we shall see,"
he answered; and dropped my dress.

In another instant, I was in my room and had fastened the shutters. But
the words rang in my ears, like a bell that has tolled too loud.



XXIII

A CHAPTER OF KIDNAPPING


Beechy was ill next morning; nothing serious; but the Prince, it seemed,
had brought her in the evening a box of some rich Turkish confection;
and though she doesn't care for the man, she couldn't resist the sweet
stuff. So she had eaten, only a little, she said; but the box
contradicted her, and the poor child kept her bed.

Aunt Kathryn and I were with her until eleven o'clock. Then she was
sleepy, and told us to go away. So we went, and took a drive to the
pretty harbour of Gravosa, with Mr. Barrymore and Sir Ralph in the
motor, unaccompanied by the Prince, whose car was said to be somehow
disabled.

We expected, if Beechy were well, to get on next day; but the
Chauffeulier was troubled about the road between Ragusa and Cattaro--and
no proper "route-book" existing for that part of the world, unexplored
by motors, he could find out surprisingly little from any one. Prince
Dalmar-Kalm was as ignorant as others, or appeared to be, although this
was his own land; and so it seemed doubtful what would be our next
adventure.

The spin was a very short one, for the day was hot, and we didn't care
to leave Beechy long alone. But when we came back she was asleep still;
and I was getting rid of my holland motor-coat in my own room when Aunt
Kathryn tapped at the door. "Don't take off your things," she said, "but
come out again--that's a dear--for a drive to Gravosa."

"We've just come back from Gravosa," I answered, surprised.

"Yes, but we didn't see the most interesting thing there. You know the
yacht standing out at a little distance in the harbour, that I said
looked like the Corraminis'? Well, it _is_ the Corraminis'. The Prince
wants us to drive with him--not on the automobile, for it isn't mended
yet, but in a cab, and go on board the yacht for lunch with the County
and Contessa."

"Oh, you'd better go without me," I said.

Aunt Kathryn pouted like a child. "I can't," she objected. "The Prince
_says_ I can't, for it would be misunderstood here if a lady drove out
alone with a gentleman. Do come."

"I suppose I shall have to, then," I answered ungraciously, for I hated
going. At the last minute little Airole darted after me, and to save the
trouble of going back I caught him up in my arms. I was rewarded for the
sacrifice I had made by being let alone during the drive. The Prince was
all devotion to Aunt Kathryn, and scarcely spoke a word to me.

At the harbour there was a little boat sent out from the Corraminis'
"Arethusa" to fetch us, so it was evident that we had been expected and
this was not an impromptu idea of the Prince's.

On board the yacht, which we had visited once or twice in Venice, Count
Corramini met us, his scarred face smiling a welcome.

"I am more than sorry that my wife is suddenly indisposed," he said, in
his careful English. "She is subject to terrible headaches, but she
sends messages and begs that Countess Dalmar will take the head of the
table in her absence."

We lunched almost at once, and as it was a simple meal, finished soon.
Coffee was served on deck under the awning, and its shadow was so cool,
the air so fresh on the water, and the harbour so lovely that I was
growing contented, when suddenly I grew conscious of a throb, throb of
the "Arethusa's" heart.

"Why, we're moving!" I exclaimed.

"A short excursion the Prince and I have arranged for a little
surprise," explained Count Corramini. "We hoped it might amuse you. You
do not object, Countess?"

"I think it will be lovely, this hot afternoon," said Aunt Kathryn, who
was radiant with childish pleasure in the exclusive attentions of the
two men.

"But poor little Beechy!" I protested.

"Probably she will sleep till late, as she couldn't lunch," said Aunt
Kathryn comfortably. "And if she wakes, the 'other Beatrice' as she
calls Signorina Bari, will sit with her. She offered to, you know."

I raised no further objection to the plan, as evidently Aunt Kathryn was
enjoying herself. But when we had steamed out of the Bay of Ombla, far
away from Ragusa's towering fortifications, and on for more than an
hour, I ventured to suggest to Count Corramini that it was time to turn
back. "We shan't get to the hotel till after three, as it is," I said,
glancing at my watch.

"Let us consult the Countess," he replied. "Here she comes now."

Aunt Kathryn and the Prince had left us twenty minutes before, to stroll
up and down the deck, and had been leaning over the rail for some time,
talking in low voices, but with great earnestness. As the Count answered
me, they had moved and were coming slowly in our direction, Aunt Kathryn
looking excited, as if the Prince had been saying something strange.

"Don't you think we ought to go back to Beechy?" I asked, as she came
nearer.

She sat down in the deck chair without replying for a moment, and then
she said, in an odd, quavering tone, "Maida, I've just heard a thing
from the Prince, that I'll have to talk to you about. County, can I take
her into the sallong?"

The Count jumped up. "It is for Dalmar-Kalm and me to go, if you wish to
speak with Mees Destrey alone," he exclaimed. And laying his hand on the
Prince's shoulder, the two men walked away together.

My only thought was that Prince Dalmar-Kalm must have told Aunt Kathryn
of my refusal and asked her to "use her influence." But her first words
showed me that I was mistaken.

"I'm very angry with the Prince, but I can't help thinking what he's
done is romantic. He and the County have _kidnapped_ us."

"What do you mean?" I exclaimed.

"Oh, you needn't look so horrified. They're only taking us to Cattaro by
yacht instead of our going by automobile, that's all."

"All?" I echoed. "It's the most impudent thing I ever heard of. Didn't
you tell him that you wouldn't go, that you--"

"Well, I'd like to know what good my saying _'Wouldn't'_ could do? I
can't stop the yacht."

"It's Count Corramini's yacht, not the Prince's," I said, "and whatever
else they may be, they're gentlemen, at least by birth. They can't run
off with us like this against our wills."

Aunt Kathryn actually chuckled. "Well, they _have_, anyhow," she
retorted. "And the Prince says, if only we knew what the road to Cattaro
was like, I'd thank instead of scolding him."

"Nonsense!" I exclaimed. "We must go back. What's to become of Beechy
left alone in Ragusa ill, with nobody but Mr. Barrymore and Sir Ralph to
look after her? It's monstrous!"

"Yes, of course," said Aunt Kathryn, more meekly. "But Signorina Bari's
there. It isn't so dreadful, Maida. Beechy isn't _very_ sick. She'll be
well to-morrow, and when they find we're gone, which they can't till
late this afternoon, they won't waste time motoring down; they'll take a
ship which leaves Ragusa in the morning for Cattaro. The Prince says
they're sure to. We'll all meet by to-morrow noon, and meanwhile I guess
there's nothing for us to do but make the best of the joke they've
played on us. Anyway, it's an exciting adventure, and you like ad--"

"You call it a joke!" I cried. "I call it something very different. Let
me speak to the Prince."

I sprang up, forgetting poor Airole asleep on my lap, but Aunt Kathryn
scrambled out of her low chair also, and snatched my dress. "No, I'm not
going to have you insult him," she exclaimed. "You shan't talk to him
without me. He's _my_ friend, not yours, and if I choose to consider
this wild trick he's playing more a--a compliment than anything else,
why, it won't hurt you. As for Beechy, she's _my_ child, not yours."

This silenced me for the moment, but only until the men appeared. "Are
we forgiven?" asked the Prince.

"Maida's very angry, and so am I, of course," replied Aunt Kathryn,
bridling, and showing both dimples.

"Dear ladies," pleaded the Count, "I wouldn't have consented to help
this mad friend of mine, if he hadn't assured me that you were too much
under the influence of your rather reckless chauffeur, who would
probably break your bones and his companion's car, in his obstinate
determination to go down to Cattaro by motor."

"Why, lately the Prince has been encouraging it!" I interrupted.

"Ah, you have misunderstood him. A wilful fool must have his way; that
was what he thought of your gentleman chauffeur, no doubt. This will
give the self-willed young man an excuse to take the boat to Cattaro
to-morrow. You will have a run on Dalmar-Kalm's motor (which he has put
on board on purpose) this afternoon from Cattaro to Schloss Hrvoya. It
will not be serious for Miss Beechy. You can wire, and get her answer
that Signorina Bari is playing nurse and chaperon very nicely."

"You must understand, Miss Destrey, as I have made the Countess
understand already," put in Prince Dalmar-Kalm, "that I only chose this
course because I knew it would be useless trying to dissuade Mr.
Chauffeur Barrymore from attempting the trip by road; but this will
effectually stop him."

"You are very, very naughty, Prince," chattered Aunt Kathryn; and I was
so angry with her for her frivolity and vanity that I should hardly have
dared to speak, even if words hadn't failed me.

"At least, we have thought of your comfort," said Count Corramini.
"There are two cabins ready for your occupation, with everything you
will need for the toilet, so that you can sleep in peace after your trip
to Hrvoya."

"I must protest," I said, just able to control my voice. "I think this
an abominable act, not worthy of gentlemen. Knowing that one of us feels
so strongly, Count, won't you order your yacht to turn back to Ragusa?"

He bowed his head, and shrugged his eyebrows. "If I had not given my
word to my friend," he murmured. "For to-day "Arethusa" is his."

"I believe he's bribed you!" the words sprang from my lips, without my
meaning to speak them; but they hit their mark as if I had taken close
aim. The scarred features flushed so painfully that they seemed to
swell; and with the lightning that darted from under the black
thundercloud of his brows, the man was hideous. He bit his lip to keep
back an angry answer, and Aunt Kathryn screamed at me, "Maida! I'm
_ashamed_ of you. You'd better go to your cabin and not come out till
you're in a--a more _ladylike_ frame of mind."

I took her at her word and walked sharply away with Airole trotting at
my heels.

There were six cabins on "Arethusa", as I knew, because I had been shown
them all. I knew also which was Count Corramini's, which his wife's,
which her maid's, and which were reserved for guests. Now I walked into
one of the spare cabins, of which the door stood open, and whether it
was meant for me or for Aunt Kathryn I wasn't in a mood to care.

Various toilet things had been ostentatiously laid out, and there was a
bunch of roses in a glass, which in my anger I could have tossed out of
the window; but I hate people who are cruel to flowers almost as much as
those who are cruel to animals, and the poor roses were the only
inoffensive things on board.

"Oh, Airole," I said, "she takes it as a _compliment_!
Well--well--_well_!"

My own reflections and the emphasis of Airole's tiny tail suddenly
brought my anger down from boiling point to a bubbly simmer; and I went
on, thrashing the matter out in a conversation with the dog until the
funny side of the thing came uppermost. There was a _distinctly_ funny
side, seen from several points of view, but I didn't intend to let
anybody know that I saw it. I made up my mind to stay in the cabin
indefinitely; but it was not necessary to the maintenance of dignity
that I should refrain from enjoying as much of the scenery as the
porthole framed in a picture. Accordingly I knelt on the bed, looking
out, too excited to tire of the strained position.

We had passed a long tongue of land, beaten upon by white rollers of
surf, that seemed as if they strove to overwhelm the old forts set far
above their reach. A rocky island too, rising darkly out of a golden
sea; and then we entered the mouth of a wonderful bay, like the pictures
of Norwegian fords. As we steamed on, past a little town protected by a
great square-towered, fortified castle, high on a precipitous rock, I
guessed by the formation of the bay, which Mr. Barrymore had shown me on
a map, that we were in the famous Bocche di Cattaro.

"Yes," I told myself, "that must be Castelnuovo. Mr. Barrymore said the
bay was like the Lake of Lucerne, with its starfish arms. This can't be
anything else."

The yacht glided under the bows of two huge warships, with officers in
white, on awninged decks, and steamed into a long canal-like stretch of
water, only to wind out again presently into a second mountain-ringed
bay. So we went from one to another, passing several pretty towns, one
beautiful one which I took to be Perasto, if I remembered the name
aright, and two exquisite islands floating like swans on the shining
water, illuminated by the afternoon sun. Then, at last we were slowing
down within close touch of as strange a seaside place as could be in the
world. Close to the water's edge it crept, but climbed high on the rocks
behind the houses of the foreground, with a dark belt of ancient wall
circling the lower town and upper town, and finishing at the top with
fortifications marvellous enough for a dream. In the near background
were green hills; but beyond, towered desolate grey mountains crowned
with dazzling snow, and on their rugged faces was scored a tracery of
white lines seemingly scratched in the rock. I knew that they must mean
the twistings of a road, up and up to the junction of mountain and sky,
but the wall of grey rock looked so sheer, so nearly perpendicular, that
it was impossible to imagine horses, or even automobiles mounting there.

In my interest and wonder as to whether we had arrived at Cattaro
already I had forgotten my injuries for the moment, until I was reminded
of them by Aunt Kathryn's voice.

"It's Cattaro," she called through the door. "Let me in, please. I've
something to say."

I slipped back the bolt and she came in hurriedly, as if she were afraid
of being kept out after all.

"See here, Maida," she said, "to save time the Prince is having his
motor put on shore the minute we get in to the quay, and he'll drive us
up to Schloss Hrvoya this afternoon. It's only four o'clock, and he
says, though it's away up in the mountains and we'll be two hours
getting there, we shall run down in half the time, so we shall be back
soon after seven and can dine on board. It's quite appropriate that I
should be with the Prince, whose ancestral home it was, when I look on
Hrvoya first. He's fully persuaded me of that. I think the whole thing's
most dramatic, and I do hope you won't spoil it by being disagreeable
any longer."

"I think you're the--the _unwisest_ woman I ever saw!" I couldn't help
exclaiming.

"Well, I think _you're_ very rude. I do believe you're jealous of me
with the Prince. That's _his_ idea, anyway, though he'd be vexed if he
thought I'd told you, and I wouldn't if you hadn't aggravated me. Oh
dear, you do make me so nervous and miserable! _Will_ you come to
Schloss Hrvoya or will you not?"

I thought very quickly for a few seconds before answering. Perhaps it
would be better to go than to stay on "Arethusa" without Aunt Kathryn,
especially as I had now made Count Corramini my enemy. Mr. Barrymore and
Sir Ralph and Beechy couldn't arrive at Cattaro by ship till to-morrow,
even if they found out what had become of us, and followed at the
earliest opportunity without waiting to hear. No, there was nothing to
keep me on the yacht, or in the town of Cattaro, and hateful as the
whole expedition was, it would be better to cling to Aunt Kathryn than
be anywhere else alone in a strange place, among people whose language I
neither spoke nor understood.

"Yes, I will come," I said.

"Arethusa" touched the quay as I spoke, and there was a great bustle on
deck, no doubt landing the Prince's motor, which had stood concealed on
the forward deck under an enormous tarpaulin.

Aunt Kathryn, triumphant, hurried off to get ready, and I began slowly
to follow her example.



XXIV

A CHAPTER ON PUTTING TRUST IN PRINCES


When I had put on my hat and coat, which I'd taken off in the cabin, I
went on deck with Airole tucked under my arm, expecting to find Aunt
Kathryn, as I had not made haste. She was not there, but on shore close
to the quay stood the automobile, which had been put off in a kind of
sling; and on the front seat was the familiar, plump figure in its long,
light brown coat, and the mushroom-like mask with the talc window.

I had not brought my mask, but evidently Aunt Kathryn must have had hers
stuffed into one of the big pockets of her coat, as she often did. The
Prince stood talking to her, and seeing that all was ready I crossed the
gang-plank and walked quickly to the car.

Aunt Kathryn neither spoke to me nor turned her head, which scarcely
surprised me, considering the bad terms we were upon, for the first time
in all the months of our acquaintance.

The Prince "hoped that I wouldn't mind sitting in the tonneau," and
explained a pile of rugs on the seat opposite mine by saying that it
would grow chilly as we ascended into the mountains, and he did not wish
his passengers to suffer.

"Where's Joseph?" I asked, addressing him for the first time since
taking him to task on deck.

"I left him in Ragusa," replied the Prince. "He will not be needed."
With this, the tonneau door was shut, the car started, and we bounded
away. A few men and women, in very interesting, Eastern costumes, quite
different from anything we had seen yet, watched our progress in
silence and with imperturbable faces, dark and proud.

Angry as I still was with Prince Dalmar-Kalm for the trick he had so
impudently played upon us, and the part forced upon me for Aunt
Kathryn's sake, I could not be blind to the beauty of this strange
world, or suppress all joy in it.

Cattaro seemed to lie plastered against a tremendous wall of sheer rock
rising behind the ringed town and its fortress; and I saw, soon after
starting, that we must be bound for the mountain with the silken skein
of road, which I had gazed at in wonder from my porthole. We had not
long left Cattaro, when our way began to mount in long zigzags, doubling
back again and again upon itself. Presently we could look down upon the
town, prone at the foot of its fortified hill on the very edge of the
sea, which as we climbed, assumed the shape and colour of a great
shimmering blue silk sleeve.

Mountains towered all around us, mountains in every direction as far as
the eye could reach, many crowned by low, green forts, connected with
the lower world by the lacings of thread-like roads.

Still we mounted, the car going well and the Prince driving in silence.
Though the gradient was steep--sometimes so steep as to be terrible for
horses--we seemed to travel so fast that it was surprising to find
ourselves apparently no nearer the mountain-tops than when we started.
Though we gazed down so far that all things on the sea level had shrunk
into nothingness, and the big warship we had seen in coming was no
larger than a beetle, we gazed still farther up to the line where sky
and mountain met. And always, there were the grey-white, zigzag lines
scored on the face of the sheer rock.

I longed for some one to talk with, some one sympathetic to exclaim to;
in fact, I wished I were driving up this magnificent, this appalling
road, beside the Chauffeulier instead of in Prince Dalmar-Kalm's
tonneau. I wondered that Aunt Kathryn--usually so impulsive--could
restrain herself here, and expected at any moment to have her turn to
me, our differences forgotten. But no, she neither moved nor spoke, and
I realized how angry she must be with me, to visit her vexation upon
herself, and the Prince also.

I had thought the Col di Tenda wonderful, and the way down to Bellagio
over the mountains still more thrilling; but here, they were dwarfed
into utter insignificance. I could have imagined nothing like this feat
of engineering, nothing so wild, so majestic as the ever-changing views
from these incredible heights.

My respect for Schloss Hrvoya and its environment increased with every
ascending mile; but the distance was proving itself so great that I did
not see how it would be possible for the Prince to keep his promise, and
get us back to Cattaro before eight. And we had left summer warmth as
far behind as the level which it enriched with tropical flowers. The
Prince suggested to Aunt Kathryn that she should wrap round her a
shawl-like rug, and though I hated to follow his advice or take any
favours from him, I decided that it would be foolish to make myself a
martyr. So I, too, swaddled myself in woolly folds, and was thankful.

Now the windings of the Bocche di Cattaro revealed themselves
completely. The bay was no longer a silk sleeve; but a vast star,
seemingly cut out of a _lapis lazuli_, was set mosaic-like in the midst
of green and blue-grey mountains that soared up from it--up, up, in
shapes strange as a goblin's dream. Then, the azure star vanished, and
rocky heights shut away the view of the distant sea. Vegetation grew
sparse. At last we had reached the desolate and stony top of the
mountain-range which a little while ago had touched the sky. Clouds like
huge white swans swam in the blue air below us, where we could look down
from some sheer precipice. But where was Schloss Hrvoya? And would Aunt
Kathryn never speak to me?

Almost as if he read my thoughts, Prince Dalmar-Kalm turned his head,
checking the speed of the motor. "Don't be discouraged," he said,
cheerfully. "We shall be going down now, for a time, instead of up; and
shortly we shall be at our journey's end."

"But soon it will be twilight," I answered. "Do you know, it is after
six, and you said we would be back in Cattaro before eight. That's
impossible now; and I'm afraid that there won't be much daylight for
Aunt Kathryn to have a first look at her castle."

"It will be more imposing by twilight," replied the Prince; and though
my words had been a bid for notice from Aunt Kathryn, she made no sign
of having heard.

Once more Prince Dalmar-Kalm turned his attention to driving, and, as he
had prophesied, we began to plunge down heights almost as tremendous as
those we had climbed. The road, though splendidly engineered, was
covered with loose, sharp stones; and the surging mountain-tops on every
side were like the tossing waves of a desolate sea, turned to stone in
some fierce spasm of nature. Then, in the midst of this petrified ocean,
we flashed through a tiny village, and my hopes of reaching Schloss
Hrvoya before nightfall brightened.

From the little group of low, stone buildings, men who must have sprung
from a race of giants, rushed out in answer to the voice of our motor. I
had never seen such wonderful men, unless, perhaps, Mr. Barrymore might
be like them, if dressed as they were. Not one of the splendid band was
under six feet in height, and many were much taller. On their handsome,
close-cropped heads they wore gold-braided turbans over one ear. Their
long coats, falling to the knee, were of green, or red, or white, open
to show waistcoats crusted with gold embroidery. Round their slim waists
were wound voluminous sashes stuck full of sheathed knives and huge
pistols. Some had richly ornamented leather boots reaching half way up
their long, straight legs, while others wore white leggings, with
knitted stockings pulled up over them.

In a moment these gorgeous giants and their mean village were gone for
us; but our road took us past persons walking towards the town; men,
young and old, tall, beautiful boys, and white-clad women driving sheep,
who knitted their husbands' stockings as they walked.

Here and there in a deep pit among the tumbled grey rocks would be a
little vivid green dell, with a fairy ring of cultivated vegetation.
This would be guarded, perhaps, by a hut of stone, almost savage in the
crudeness of its construction. It was as if the proud people of this
remote, mountain world, wishing to owe their all to their own country,
nothing to outsiders, had preferred to make their houses with their own
hands out of their own rocks, hewing the walls and roofing them with
thatch from grass grown in their own pastures.

Impressed, almost terrified by the loneliness of this desolate land of
giants, lit fiercely now by the lurid glow of sunset, I searched the
distance for some towering hill crowned by a castle which might be
Hrvoya. But there were no castles, even ruined castles, in this region
of high rocks and lonely huts, and the red horizon was hemmed coldly in
by a range of ghostly, snow-clad mountains.

"What mountains are those, far away?" I could not resist asking.

"They are the mountains of Albania," the Prince answered.

"Why, but that sounds as if we were at the end of the world!" I cried,
startled.

He laughed over his shoulder. "And I am the last man in it! What did I
say to you yesterday?"

This reminder brought back the anger I was forgetting in my need of
human fellowship, and I did not speak again, but hugged little Airole
the closer, nestled under the warm rug.

At the end of a long, straight road that stretched before us I could see
a single, pale yellow light suddenly flash up in the twilight like a
lonely primrose, and farther on a little knot of other lights blossomed
in the dusk.

"We shall be there now in a few minutes," I was saying to myself, when
suddenly I was startled by a loud report like a pistol-shot. Aunt
Kathryn gave a shriek which was quite hoarse and unlike her natural
voice, but I was silent, holding Airole trembling and barking under my
arm.

The car swerved sharply, and my side of the tonneau seemed to settle
down. I was sure that an invisible person must have shot at us, and
wished sincerely that the Prince would drive on instead of slacking
pace. But he stopped the engine, exclaiming in an angry voice, "A tyre
burst! Thousand furies, why couldn't it have waited twenty minutes
more?"

"Is it serious?" I asked; for we had never had this experience before,
on any of the rough roads we had travelled.

"No," he answered shortly, "not serious, but annoying. We can crawl on
for a little way. I was a fool to stop the motor; did it without
thinking. Now I shall have the trouble of starting again."

Grumbling thus, he got out; but the motor wouldn't start. The engine was
as sullenly silent as Aunt Kathryn. For ten minutes, perhaps, the Prince
tried this device and that--no doubt missing Joseph; but at last he gave
up in despair. "It is no use," he groaned. "I am spending myself for
nothing. If you will sit quietly here for a few moments, I will go ahead
to that house where the light is, to see if I can get you ladies taken
in, and the car hauled into a place where I can work at it."

"What language do they speak here?" I asked, a chill of desolation upon
me.

"Slavic," he answered. "But I can talk it a little. I shall get on, and
you will see me again almost at once."

So saying, he was off, and I was alone with the statue of Aunt Kathryn.

At first I thought that, whatever happened, I wouldn't be the one to
begin a conversation, but the silence and deepening darkness were too
much for my nerves. "Oh, Aunt Kathryn, don't let's be cross to each
other any longer," I pleaded. "I'm tired of it, aren't you? And oh, what
wouldn't I give to be back in sweet Ragusa with Beechy and--and the
others!"

Still not a word. It seemed incredible that she could bear malice so;
but there was no cure for it. If she would not be softened by that plea
of mine, nothing I could say would melt her. I should have liked to cry,
for it was so lonely here, and so dreadful to be estranged from one's
only friend. But that would have been too childish, and I took what
comfort I could from Airole's tiny presence.

A quarter of an hour passed, perhaps, and then the Prince came back
accompanied by a man so huge that the tall Austrian seemed a boy beside
him. They looked at the car, communicating by gestures, and then the
Prince said, if we would walk to the house the woman there would receive
us, while he and his companion pushed the automobile into a shed which
the man had.

I made no further attempt to extract a relenting word from Aunt Kathryn,
as we tramped side by side along the road. Reaching a two-storied stone
box of a house, she dropped behind at the doorway, leaving me to
confront a hard-faced woman in a white jacket, with a graceful
head-dress half-hiding her black hair. In one hand she had a partly
finished stocking with knitting-needles in it; in the other she held a
candle in a quaintly made iron candlestick. Something she said to us in
a strange, but rather soft-sounding language, of which I couldn't
understand one syllable; but seeing my hopelessly blank expression she
smiled, nodded, and motioned us to cross the threshold.

The room was bare, with a floor of pounded earth. There was a wooden
table in it, a few shelves, and a long bench; but beyond was a more
attractive interior, for in an inner apartment she had lighted a fire of
sticks on a rude hearth.

I stood aside to let Aunt Kathryn pass in before me, which she did
without a word. We both stood before the fire, holding out gloved hands
to the meagre blaze, while little Airole ran about, whimpering and
examining everything with unconcealed disapproval.

I had just time to notice how oddly shabby Aunt Kathryn's gloves were,
and to wonder if she didn't intend to take off the "mushroom" (the talc
window of which the firelight transformed into a pane of red glass),
when Prince Dalmar-Kalm appeared. Without asking permission he walked
in, and looking at Aunt Kathryn, said in French, "You may go,
Victorine."

I stared, as bewildered as if the unfamiliar scene were turning to a
dream; but as the cloaked and mushroomed figure reached the door, the
spell broke.

I took a step after it, exclaiming, "Aunt Kathryn--Kittie!"

The door shut almost in my face. "That is not your Aunt Kathryn," said
the Prince, in a voice which, though low, vibrated with excitement. "It
is one of the Contessa Corramini's servants, chosen to play this part
because her figure is enough like your aunt's to resemble it closely in
a motor-coat. All that is of your aunt is that coat, the hat, the mask
of silk. You must hear the truth now, for it is time, and know what you
have to face."

"I don't understand you," I stammered weakly. It was more than ever as
if I were in a dream. I actually told myself that I would wake up in bed
at the Hotel Imperial in Ragusa. And oh, how I wished that I would wake
soon!

"I will _make_ you understand," went on the Prince. "You know--you've
known for many days--how I love you. You have forced me to do this
thing, because you were obstinate, and would not give me yourself,
though I could not live without you. Because I could not, I have done
this. It was planned as long ago as Venice. I confided all to Corramini,
though not to his wife, and he promised to help me because he is in
money difficulties, and I agreed to do something for him. But if you had
been kind last night in Ragusa, when I gave you one more chance to
repent, you might have been spared this. It was only to happen if all
else failed."

"Still I don't understand," I said slowly.

"Then your brain is not as quick as usual, my dear one. I hoped Miss
Beechy would be ill to-day, for she was the one I feared. There was a
little medicine in that pink, Turkish stuff--not to hurt her much, but
enough for my purpose. If I could, I would have got rid of the aunt,
too; only she was needed as the cat's-paw. You would never have come
without her. Contessa Corramini knows nothing of this, though she has a
suspicion that something mysterious goes on. She was not on the
'Arethusa.' At this moment she is in Venice. Victorine was the one
woman beside yourself and the aunt on the yacht, and Victorine has been
well paid for the part she plays. She took the aunt's coat and hat and
mask out of the cabin, when the lady was on deck with Corramini and me,
wrapped in a becoming blue cloak with a hood, left on board by Contessa
Corramini. While the aunt was looking everywhere for her missing things,
you joined the masked lady in the car. Now, we are farther from Schloss
Hrvoya than from Cattaro. You are in Montenegro, where I have brought
you because the Austrian Consul is my friend, and he will marry us."

"He will not!" I cried, choking and breathless.

"He must. It is the only thing for you, now. Let me show you the
situation, in case you do not yet understand all. Your aunt is far away.
She will be enraged with you, and believe you to blame for the
humiliating trick played on her. Never will she forgive you. If there is
a scandal, she will do her best to spread it. I know women well. Don't
you remember, 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?' There will be
others, too. Victorine will tell a dramatic tale to the Contessa
Corramini, and Corramini will gossip at his clubs in Venice, Rome,
Florence, Paris, where many of your rich compatriots are members. The
rights of the story will never quite be known, but it will leak out that
you came to Montenegro with me alone, and spent many hours. The only
safeguard is to make it an elopement, and that safeguard I offer you,
with my heart and all that is mine. You must leave this place as the
Princess Dalmar-Kalm, or it would be better for your future that you
should never leave it. See, I am the last man in your world now, and it
is necessary that you take me."

"I didn't know," I answered in the dream, "that men like you existed out
of novels or stage plays. That is why I failed to understand at first. I
was giving you the benefit of the doubt. But I understand now. Let me
go--"

He laughed. "No! And if I did, what good would it do you? It is night;
you are many miles from anywhere, in the wildest mountains of Europe.
You do not speak one word of the language, or any one in this land a
word of yours. Practically, you are alone in the world with me. Even
your wretched little dog is not here to snarl. His curiosity took him
outside, and he cannot get back through the keyhole of the door, small
as he is. Presently the Consul will be at this house. I had meant to go
to his had it not been for the accident, but I will send for him. He is
my very good friend. He will do what I ask."

"But if I do not consent?" I flung at him.

"You will have to consent," he said; "and soon you will see that for
yourself."



PART V

TOLD BY TERENCE BARRYMORE



XXV

A CHAPTER OF CHASING


I wondered why the ladies didn't come to lunch, for the last thing they
had said when we brought them back in the motor was, "We shall see you
again at half-past twelve."

Ralph and Bari and his sister and I, waited for a quarter of an hour;
then we sat down, for the Signorina thought they might have changed
their minds and be lunching with the little invalid. But at half-past
one, while we were still at the table, a message came from Miss Beechy.
She had waked up from her nap, "sent her compliments," and would be glad
to know when her Mamma and cousin would return to her.

That took the Signorina flying to the bedroom, and there was an interval
of some suspense for Ralph and me; for the absence of the ladies, with
this new light thrown upon it, began to appear a little strange.

The Italian girl was away for an age, it seemed, and we knew the instant
we saw her, that she was not the bearer of reassuring news. Her pretty
face looked worried and excited.

"The Countess and Miss Destrey have not been up-stairs," she announced
in her native tongue. "The little Bicé has been awake for an hour,
wondering why they never came. Will you make inquiries of the landlord?"

I lost not a moment in obeying this request; and even before I got my
answer, I seemed to know that Dalmar-Kalm would be mixed up in the
affair. The ladies had driven away with His Highness in a hired cab not
many minutes after we had brought them to the hotel door with the
motor.

On the face of it, it looked ridiculous to fear mischief, yet I was
uneasy. If I had not worshipped Her so much--but then, there had ceased
to be any "if" in it long ago. I had very little hope that she could
ever be got to care, even if I could reconcile it with common decency to
ask a girl to think of a stony-broke beggar like me. But in some moods I
was mad to try my luck, when I reflected on what she had before her if
I--or some other brute of a man--didn't snatch her from it. But whether
or no she were ever to be more to me than a goddess, the bare thought of
trouble or harm coming to her was enough to drive me out of my wits.

While I was smoking two cigarettes a minute on the verandah, and asking
myself whether I should be Paddy the Fool to track her down, with her
aunt and the Prince, Signorina Bari (who had run up to Beechy with the
latest developments) came out to us. "Sir Ralph," said she, "little Miss
Kidder says she must see you, in a great hurry. She has something
important to tell, that she can't tell to any one else; so she has got
up, and is on the sofa in a dressing-gown, in the Countess's private
sitting-room."

Ralph looked surprised, but not displeased, and was away twenty minutes.

"Miss Beechy wants us to find out where Dalmar-Kalm has taken her mother
and Miss Destrey," said he, when he returned from the interview.

The order was welcome. Nothing was known at the hotel concerning the
destination of the Prince and his companions in the cab, so I hurried to
get the car, and Ralph and I drove off together, meaning to make
inquiries in the town.

"Did Miss Beechy's mysterious communication have anything to do with her
cousin?" I couldn't resist asking Ralph, who sat beside me, in that
blessed seat sacred so long to the One Woman.

"Yes, it had," he replied discreetly.

"And with Dalmar-Kalm?"

"Distinctly with Dalmar-Kalm."

That sent some blood up behind my eyes, and I saw Ragusa red, instead of
pink.

"By Jove, you've got to tell me what she did say, now!" I exclaimed.

"Can't, my dear chap. It's a promise--after a confidence. But I don't
mind letting out this much. It seems Miss Beechy has been playing dolls
with us, as she calls it, on this trip, without any of us suspecting
it--or at least seeing the game in its full extent. Owing to her
manipulation of her puppets, there's the dickens to pay, and she thinks
she has reason to know that Dalmar-Kalm had better not be allowed to
take a long excursion with Miss Destrey, even chaperoned by our dear,
wise Countess."

"Good Heavens!" I jerked out. "What do you mean?"

"I don't exactly know myself. Things mayn't be as serious as the little
girl thinks in her present remorseful mood, no doubt intensified by her
late illness. 'When the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be,' you
know--and the rest of it. Still, we're safe in finding out where the
party has gone and taking steps accordingly."

"There's Joseph, mooning about with his hands in his pockets, like a
lost soul," I exclaimed.

"_Have_ lost souls pockets?"

"Shut up. I'm going to catechize him. He rather likes me, and has
several times relieved his mind on the subject of his master, by
spitting venom to his brother chauffeur until I refused to listen."

With this I stopped the car in front of the gaudy shop which had
attracted the dismal little Joseph.

"Is your car mended already?" I asked him in French.

"It was not broken, Monsieur."

"Really. I understood the Prince to say it was."

"I know not what he said. Is there anything that His Highness would not
say, if it pleased him? But so far from the car being injured, I was
kept up most of the night by his command, putting it in the best order,
looking to every nut, seeing that the grease-cups were filled, and
everything as fine as though to try for first prize in a show. This
morning did I get a moment's sleep? On the contrary, I must drive the
automobile at eight o'clock, before any one was up, down to the harbour,
and with much trouble put it on the yacht of the Conte Corramini, which
had come into this port, the saints alone know why."

"I should say the saints had little to do with the affair," remarked
Ralph, but I cut him short.

"What then?" I asked.

"Then it must be covered up, His Highness said, in case of rain--though
the sky was as dry as my throat--till you could not tell the automobile
from a haystack, on the forward deck where it had been placed."

"And after that?"

"After that I know nothing, except that His Highness condescended to
remark that he would go away for a trip to-day, and I was to wait for
him until I heard further. That will be soon, for when it comes to real
work on the car it breaks his heart. He can drive, but apart from that
he knows no more of the automobile than does the little black dog
adopted by the beautiful mademoiselle."

"I suppose you'll get a wire to-morrow at latest," said I. "Well, _au
revoir_. We're turning here."

"Going to the harbour?" Ralph asked, dryly, and I nodded.

I am afraid that we did the mile to Gravosa in a good deal less than the
legal limit, but luckily no one was the worse for it, and there were no
policemen about.

At Gravosa we found some men on the quay who could talk Italian, and in
five minutes I knew for certain what I had suspected. A white yacht
answering the description I gave of "Arethusa," had sent a boat before
noon to meet a cab bringing to the port two ladies and a gentleman. The
Signore were in long brownish coats and close hats. One was stout, with
much colour; the other, a young girl, transcendently beautiful.

"That impudent fellow has whisked them off to Cattaro, to see his
beastly ancestral ruin," suggested Ralph. "That's what he's done. He's
probably chuckling now with savage glee to think that willy-nilly
Countess Kidder-Dalmar can't get out of her bargain."

"I don't believe they would willingly have left the little girl lying
there ill, to say nothing of leaving us in the lurch without a word,"
said I. "Ralph, there's something pretty devilish under this, or I'll
eat my hat."

"Well, I should expect to see you devouring it, if--I hadn't heard
Beechy's confess--if she hadn't told me some things," Ralph amended his
sentence.

"I'm hanged if I won't give chase!" I exclaimed.

"How can you? You were saying at lunch that so far as you'd been able to
fog it out, there wasn't more than the ghost of a road after Castelnuovo
on to Cattaro; and it's to Cattaro one must go for the ancestral ruin."

"If there's a ghost of a road, it will do for me and this motor," I
said. "What does it matter if we're both smashed, if only we get there
first?"

"Men and motors don't get far when they're smashed. You'll have to wait
till to-morrow morning, when we can all go flying down by the Austrian
Lloyd, if the truants don't turn up in the meantime."

"Wait till to-morrow morning? My name isn't Terence Barrymore if I do
that, or if I wait one minute longer than it will take me to go back
where I came, and load up with petrol enough to see me through this job
for good or evil."

"You'll start off at once, without finding out any more--and road or no
road?"

"There's no more to find out this side of Cattaro, unless I'm far out of
my reckoning; and if there's no road after Castelnuovo, I'll--I'll get
through somehow, never fear."

"I don't fear much, when you set your jaw that way, my son. I suppose
you'll just give me time to make my will, and--er--say good-bye to Miss
Beechy?"

"You're not going, Ralph. I must travel light, for speed; I don't want
an unnecessary ounce of weight on board that car to-day, for she's got
to show her paces as she never did before. You must stop behind, and
instead of saying good-bye, try to cheer Miss Beechy."

"Well, needs must, when _somebody_ drives," mumbled Ralph. But he did
not look very dismal.

I made no preparations, save to fill up with petrol and put all the
spare _bidons_ sent by the Austrian Lloyd in the tonneau. I was in
flannels, as the day was not to be a motoring day, and I wouldn't have
delayed even long enough to fetch my big coat, if I hadn't suddenly
thought that I might be glad of it for Her. Ralph saw me off, making me
promise to wire from Cattaro--if I ever got there!--as soon as there was
news for Beechy of her mother and cousin.

Once out on the open road I gave the old car her head, and she bounded
along like an India rubber ball, curtseying to undulations, spinning
round curves along the sea coast, and past quaint old towns which I
thought of only as obstacles.

Often when you wish your car to show what she can do, she puts on the
air of a spoiled child and shames you. But to-day it was as if the motor
knew what I wanted, and was straining every nerve to help me get it. In
a time that was short even to my impatience, she and I did the
thirty-odd miles to Castelnuovo. A few questions there as to the
feasibility of trying to reach Cattaro by road, brought no information
definite enough to make the experiment worth the risk of failure. At
best there would be many rough miles to cover, in rounding the numerous
arms of that great starfish, the Bocche di Cattaro, and no boat of the
Austrian Lloyd or Hungarian Croatian lines was available to-day, even if
shipping the motor in that way wouldn't have involved endless red tape,
delay and bother. Nevertheless, with a simmering inspiration in my mind,
I steered the car down a narrow road that led to the harbour, a crowd
pattering after me which, no doubt, was very picturesque if I had been
in the mood to observe it. But my eyes were open for one thing only, and
at the port under the high walls of the fortresses that leap to the
sky, I knew that I had found it.

A good-sized fishing boat with a painted sail aflap against the mast,
lay alongside the quay. Beside it stood gossiping two fine sailor-men,
heroically tall, with features cut in bronze. At the thrum of the motor
and clatter of the crowd they turned to stare, and I drove straight at
them, but in order not to give them a fright stopped short a good five
yards away.

The proud men of these parts are not easily scared, and all that these
two did was to take their black pipes out of their mouths. Not a word of
Slavic have I to bless myself with, but I tumbled out Italian sentences,
and they understood, as I was pretty sure they would. What I asked was,
would they take me and my motor in their boat, immediately, on the
instant, to Cattaro? One grinned; the other shook his head; but he
hadn't wagged it from left to right before I pulled a handful of
Austrian gold and silver out of my pockets, which were luckily
well-filled with the hard-earned money of my chauffeurhood.

The man who had grinned, grinned wider; the man who had shaken his head
did not shake it again. I bargained just enough to please them with the
notion that they were plucking me; and five minutes later we three were
hauling a few planks scattered on the quay, to form a gangway to the
boat.

As for the fascinated crowd, not a man Jack of them but was at my
service, after the display of coin which no bright eye had missed. In no
time we had our gangway laid on to the gunwale, and a couple of sloping
planks to roll the motor on board. The next thing was for me to jump
into the car and begin to drive gently ahead, directing the sailors with
nods and becks to steady her by grasping the spokes of her wheels. Thus
we got her into the boat, none the worse for the ordeal; then, picking
up a rope, I was about to make her fast when professional spirit woke in
my two hosts, and taking the rope from me they lashed the car as none
but seamen can.

While one stalwart fellow poled the boat off from the quay, his mate
hoisted the yard that carried the triangular sail. A following wind,
which had been detestable on the dusty road, gave us good speed on our
errand; the broad-bowed old boat made creaking progress, a shower of
silver foam hissing from her cutwater.

My furious energy had been contagious, and perhaps, seeing my desire for
haste, the fishers hoped to earn something further from the madman's
gratitude. All they could do to urge their craft they did.

In other circumstances--say with Her by my side--I should have been
filled with enthusiasm for the Bocche di Cattaro and its scenery, for
never had I seen anything quite like it; but now I grudged each screen
of rock that stopped the breeze, each winding of the water.

From the narrow opening where the Adriatic rushes into Cattaro at the
hidden end of the great sheet of lakes, can't be more than fifteen miles
as the crow flies; but so does the course twist that it is much longer
for mere wingless things, going by water. How I wished for a motor-boat!
But we did not do badly in the big fishing smack. I feared at last that
in the straits the wind might die, but instead it blew as through a
funnel. We were swept finely up the narrow channel, and so into the last
lake with Cattaro and its high fort at the end of it; and my heart gave
a bound as I saw "Arethusa" lying anchored at the quay.

We had more trouble in landing the motor than in getting her aboard, but
the thing was done at last; more coins changed hands, and there was the
car on shore with another crowd round her. I engaged one of my bronzed
fishermen to stand guard lest mischief should be done, and stalked off
to the yacht; but before I reached her I was met by Corramini himself,
all smiles and graciousness.

"I heard your motor," said he, "and guessed your mission. You have come,
of course, to see the ladies?"

"Yes," said I, not troubling to waste words on him. "Miss Kidder is
anxious."

"Ah, then did they not leave word? I suppose there wasn't time, as I
understand the excursion was planned in a hurry. I don't know the
details. It has only been my duty, as my pleasure, to act as host.
Dalmar-Kalm desired to show the ladies Schloss Hrvoya, and brought his
automobile on board for that purpose. He started almost as soon as we
arrived here, well before five o'clock, and should have been back some
time ago, according to his calculation. But I suppose it was a
temptation to linger, or else there has been trouble with the motor.
Unfortunately the chauffeur was left at Ragusa, as my friend is inclined
to be a little vain of his driving. But I doubt his powers as an
engineer, and have been somewhat anxious for the past half hour."

"It is after seven o'clock," I said.

"Yes. I was dining when I heard your motor. I would ask you on board to
have something, but I see by your face that you have it in mind to run
to the rescue; and perhaps it would be kind as well as wise. Do you know
how to reach Schloss Hrvoya?"

"I have seen it on the map," I replied, "and can easily find it, no
doubt, by inquiries."

"Or you may meet the other automobile _en route_. Well, your coming is a
relief to my mind. I shall be glad to hear on your return that all is
well."

"Thanks," said I rather stiffly, for the man's personality was repellent
to me, and in Venice I'd heard some stories, not very nice ones,
concerning his career. He is of good family, is tolerated by society for
his dead father's sake and his wife's, but once or twice a crash has
nearly come, so the whisper runs about the clubs.

Not trusting his fluent affability, I hesitated whether to believe him
and start, or to say I would accept his suggestion to go on board, in
order that I might have a look round "Arethusa" before committing myself
to anything. As I stood in doubt I was hailed from the deck of the
yacht, and there, to my surprise, stood our Countess, showing
dishevelment even in the distance and twilight.

"Oh, Mr. Terrymore, is that _you_?" she cried to me.

I gave the Corramini a look, as I shouted in reply, but he shrugged his
shoulders. "I had no time to mention yet that the Countess was not of
the party for Schloss Hrvoya," said he, "for thereby hangs a tale, as
your great poet says, and it would have taken too long to tell; but now
I suppose she must delay you. It is a pity."

I had no answer for him. It was clear that, whatever had occurred, it
had been his object to deceive me, and hustle me quickly away from the
dangerous neighbourhood of the yacht before I could find out that the
Countess, at all events, was still on board. But chance had thwarted
him, and he was making the best of it with characteristic cleverness,
saving his own skin.

Bareheaded, her wondrous auburn hair disordered, her face blurred with
half-dried tears, the poor woman met me half-way, skipping across the
gangway on to the now almost deserted quay.

"Something awful's happened," she gasped.

"What?" I asked, a sudden tightness in my throat.

"That's the worst of it. I don't know. And the County doesn't know."

"Tell me as well as you can."

"Why, we came here on purpose for the Prince to take me to Slosh Hrvoya.
He wanted it so much. Maida had to be along, because it would have made
talk if he and I'd come alone; but her being with us wasn't of any
importance to _him_, he told me so himself. Well, when his automobile
was landed just where we're standing now, I told Maida to get ready and
went to my cabin to get ready myself, but my things were all gone--my
hat and coat, and motor-mask and everything. I thought, I could have
left them in the sallong, though I was sure I hadn't; but I hurried to
look. They weren't there, and I ran back to Maida's door, thinking it
just possible, to play me a trick--as she was cross--she might have
hidden my things while I was on deck. But she'd gone off and the things
were nowhere. At that minute I heard a noise like a motor, and looked
out of my porthole, but already it was out of sight from there, and I
got up on deck again only in time to catch sight of the Prince's
automobile flashing away at about a mile a minute."

"Miss Destrey was in the car?"

"Of course. She was sitting in the tonneau; and it looked as if there
was some one beside the Prince; but Maida was in the way, so I couldn't
make sure, and while I was dodging my head about, trying to see, the
automobile disappeared. Did you ever know anything so horrid? I'm
furious, and I don't know what the Prince must be thinking of me."

I was aghast at this unexpected point of view, but her next words
enlightened me. "It's Maida's fault, I know that, though I don't see how
she managed the thing. She was wild with me because I stood up for the
Prince carrying us off like this, and I suppose she just thought she'd
punish me by somehow cheating me out of the pleasure I'd been looking
forward to. I can't think of anything else, and neither can the County.
He says Maida probably told the Prince that at the last minute I'd
refused to go with him; otherwise he never would have driven off with
her and left me like that."

I saw that it would be a simple waste of time to argue with her, and
didn't attempt it. "I'm going to look for them," I said.

"Oh, _do_ take me with you."

I thought for a second or two. The Countess isn't exactly a
featherweight, and speed was an object; but protection for Miss Destrey
was a still greater consideration, and it might be well for her to have
even this foolish little woman's companionship. "Certainly," I replied.
"I shall be very glad."

Wraps of some sort for her head and body were borrowed on board the
yacht, Corramini showing himself kind and helpful, and with but a few
minutes' delay for the lady's preparations, and lighting the lamps, we
were ready to start.

My mind was on the rack of doubt and distraction, but though I trusted
Corramini not at all, I couldn't see why the most likely way to choose
for the chase might not be the road to Hrvoya. Dalmar-Kalm must be more
or less familiar with the neighbourhood, and might have acquaintances
along the route who would help him. Corramini was watching the start, so
I took the direction which, from some previous poring over local maps, I
knew must lead towards Dalmar-Kalm's ruinous inheritance. This I did,
lest he might have some means of communicating with his friend; but once
out of his sight, I slowed down, and addressed every one I met, in
Italian. Had a motor-car been seen driving this way during the
afternoon? Several persons stared blankly, and did not brighten to
intelligence when Italian was exchanged for faulty German; but we had
not gone far when we caught up with a ricketty cab, whose driver was
evidently dawdling homeward to shelter for the night. His pitch was,
perhaps, near the quay, and if so he might be the very man I wanted.

I hailed him, and fortunately he had a little Italian, and more French,
of which he was innocently vain.

"I have seen an automobile," said he, "but it was not coming this way.
There cannot have been another, for till to-day we have seen no such
thing since Prince Jaimé de Bourbon drove here and up to Montenegro,
which made a great excitement for every one some years ago. And this one
to-day has also gone to Montenegro."

I asked him to describe the vehicle, and not only did he give it all the
characteristics of the Prince's car, but said that he had seen it slung
on shore from a white yacht, which ended all doubt upon the motor's
identity, unless by any chance he had been bribed by Dalmar-Kalm to
mislead inquirers. This seemed a far-fetched supposition; but why should
Montenegro be chosen as a destination? I asked this question aloud, half
to myself, half to the Countess, and after a fashion she answered it
from the tonneau.

"Dear me, I can't think why on earth they should go there; but I believe
I _do_ remember the Prince once saying, ever so long ago when we first
talked of driving down into Dalmatia, that he had a friend in
Montenegro--an Austrian Consul, though I don't know in what city
there."

"There's only one--the capital, Cettinje," I said mechanically, and my
thoughts leaped ahead to the place I named.

"The scoundrel!" I muttered under my breath.

"Who, the Austrian Consul?"

"No. For all I know, he may be a splendid fellow and probably is; he
would never do the thing. But that beast might hope it."

"What beast--what thing--hope what?"

"I beg your pardon, Countess. I was talking to myself. Nothing that you
would care to hear repeated."



XXVI

A CHAPTER OF HIGH DIPLOMACY


I had heard travellers speak, and had read in books, of that mighty feat
of engineering the road to Montenegro; but even so I was not prepared
for the thrilling grandeur of that night drive in the mountains.

With a carriage and two horses, counting halts for rests we must have
been seven good hours on the way to Cettinje; but my little twelve
horse-power car worked with me heart and soul (I shall always believe
now that she's got something of the sort, packed away in her engine),
and we reached the lonely Montenegrin frontier, near the mountain-top,
in not much over an hour after our start. I caught the glimmer of the
white stones that mark the dividing line between Austrian ground and the
brave little Principality, and knew what they must mean. Twenty minutes
more saw us at the highest point of the stupendous road; and dipping for
a flight downward, we arrived not long after in the cup-like plain where
the first Montenegrin village showed a few lights. I stopped at a small
inn, ordered brandy for the Countess (who was half dead with cold or
terror of our wild race beside precipices) and inquired of the
German-speaking landlord about the Prince's car.

Yes, a big red automobile had rushed by, much to the surprise of
everyone, about an hour ago. No doubt it was bound for Cettinje; but
there had been no news of it since.

We flashed on without waiting for further parley. It was a long way yet,
but the car devoured the road as if she were starving. At last we saw a
single light to the left, and then a bunch of lights huddled together
in a mountain-ringed plain, half a mile or so beyond. To my annoyance I
had to slacken speed for a flock of belated and bewildered sheep, just
as we were nearing the first light, but in a moment we would have shot
ahead again, had not my attention been caught by the sharp yelping of a
little dog.

It was not the defiant yap of an enemy to motors, but rather a glad
welcome; and the thin shred of sound was curiously familiar. Instead of
putting on speed, I stopped dead in the middle of the road.

"Whist! Airole, is that you?" I called.

In an instant a tiny black form was making wild springs at the car,
trying to get in. It was Airole and no other.

"This is where they are," I said. "In that house, yonder. If it hadn't
been for the dog, we'd have gone on, and--" It wasn't worth while to
finish.

I drove to the side and stopped the engine. The Countess would go with
me, of course, and it was better that she should; for she was the girl's
aunt, and this was the pass her foolishness had brought her to.

Airole pattered before us, leaping at the shut door of a rough,
two-story house of dark stone. I knocked; no one came, and I pounded
again. If there had been no answer that time, I meant to try and break
the door in with my shoulder, which has had some experience as a
battering ram and perhaps those inside guessed at my intentions, for
there followed a scrambling sound. A bolt was slipped back, and then a
tall Montenegrin, belted and armed with knife and big revolver, blocked
up the doorway.

I tried him in Italian. No use; he jabbered protests in Slavic, with a
wife peeping curiously over his shoulder, as the Countess peeped over
mine. Finally, to save time and somebody's blood, perhaps, I offered an
Austrian note and it proved a passport. They let us go in; and entering,
I heard Miss Destrey's voice raised in fear or anger, behind another
closed door.

Then most of the blood in my body seemed to spring to my head, and I
have no very distinct recollection of anything more, till I found that
I had done to that second door what I'd meant to do to the first, and
that Maida had run straight into my arms.

"My darling!" I heard myself exclaiming. I know that I held her tight
against my heart for an instant, saying, "Thank Heaven!" that she seemed
to have been mine for all the past and must belong to me for all the
future. I know that she was sobbing a little, that she clung to me; and
that then, remembering the man and what was owing him, I put her away to
begin his punishment.

"You unspeakable ruffian!" I threw the words at him, and threw myself at
the same time. I think we struggled for a few moments, but I am younger
than he, as well as bigger, so it was not much credit to my prowess that
I soon had my hand twisted in his collar and was shaking him as if he'd
been a rat.

It was the Countess who stopped the fun, by hurling herself between us,
quite like the heroine of old-fashioned melodrama. "Oh, for my sake, for
_my_ sake!" she was wailing. "It wasn't his fault. Wait and let him have
the chance to explain."

One more shake I gave, and threw him off, so that he staggered back
against the wall.

"He threatened to shoot me at last," cried Maida.

"Shall I kill him?" I asked.

"No," she said trembling. "Let him go. You are here. I am safe."

The man stood and glared at us like an animal at bay. I saw his eyes
dart from Maida to me, from me to the Countess, and rest on her as if
begging something. And his hunted instinct was right. If there were hope
left for him anywhere, it was with her.

"Don't believe anything they say of me," he panted, dry-lipped.
"Corramini tricked me by sending his wife's servant in your place,
dressed in your things, wearing your motor-mask. She wouldn't speak. I
didn't know the truth till I got here. I thought it was you I had run
away with to Montenegro, hoping I might persuade you to marry me, when
you were out of the way of your daughter, who hates me, and would ruin
me with you if she could. I would have left Miss Destrey behind, if I
could have hoped you'd come without her. Imagine my feelings when I
found out I'd lost you! If I have frightened her it was in my blind rage
against her and every one concerned in the trick. As for your chauffeur,
he is not worth fighting, and as I am a gentleman, I do not even return
the blows of one who is not--especially before ladies."

"Aunt Kathryn, you must not believe his falsehoods," cried Maida. "If
you do--if you let yourself care for him--he will spoil your life."

The Countess petulantly stopped her ears. "I won't listen to you," was
her answer. "I knew there had been trickery of some sort, and you may as
well save your breath, for whatever you say I will believe nothing
against the man I love."

With that she took her fingers from her ears, and held out both hands to
Dalmar-Kalm. He ran to take them, and pressed his lips ardently first
upon one, then the other plump cushion of dimpled satin.

Disgusted with this exhibition of a woman's folly, while I pitied it, I
could look no more, but turned to Maida.

"Will you let me take you away?" was all that my lips said, but my eyes
said more, in memory of that first moment of our meeting, which was,
please God, to influence our whole future--hers and mine.

"Yes," she answered. "But--I can't leave here without Aunt Kathryn."

"You must go with Miss Destrey, Countess," I insisted. "Whatever you may
decide later in regard to Prince Dalmar-Kalm, in any case you must go
with your niece and me to stop at an hotel in Cettinje, for the night."

The man would not let go her hand. "Promise me you will not leave
Montenegro till you are my wife," he begged. "If you do, I feel I shall
lose you for ever."

"I'll do my best," faltered the lady, as a lady should, I suppose, who
feels herself a heroine of romance. I could almost have respected that
scoundrel for his diplomacy. His motto was, "Get what you want, or if
you can't, take what you can;" and he was living up to it, playing up to
it before an audience as no other man I ever saw could or would. He
didn't seem to care what we thought of him, now that he was gaining his
point. But when fatty degeneration of the soul sets in, there is room
for little real pride in a man's breast.

"You will not allow yourself to be prejudiced against me?" he went on.

"Never," vowed the Countess. "No one had better try it."

"I will not try after to-night, if what I have to tell doesn't change
your mind," said Maida. "But, just this once--"

"No--no!"

"Very well then, I will say nothing except--"

"Be careful!"

"Oh," and the girl turned imploringly to me, "take us somewhere, so that
I can talk to her alone."

"There's said to be a good enough hotel in Cettinje. I'll take you both
there," I ventured.

"Come and see me early--early, Prince," said the Countess.

"Yes. But I am not 'Prince' to you now. I am 'Otto.'"

"Otto, then."

So I got them away, leaving the man behind, to his own devices, and at
the door I had the joy of wrapping Maida in my big coat. How glad I was
that I had brought it! I drove them to a hotel in the _place_ at the end
of the long main street, and when the Countess had hurried
ostentatiously off to her room, that no nefarious attempts might be made
upon her resolution. She and I stood for a moment hand in hand, in the
dim hall.

"You are mine?" I asked.

"Are you sure you want me?"

"I've been sure of that--too sure for my peace of mind since the first
day I saw your dear face--the loveliest on earth. But I never thought
to have you. I never thought that I would have a right to ask, for I'm
poor--horribly poor."

"Oh, as if that mattered!"

"I know it doesn't now, for this that's happened has given us to each
other. I'll work hard and make money. Nothing can part us--I couldn't
bear it. But it seems too good to be true. Is it possible you care for
me?"

"I think I've cared--ever since the first few days. I'd never guessed
that I would meet a man like you. But oh, I did not mean to marry _any_
man."

"I know, darling. I know what you'd planned. I lay awake nights over it,
wondering if, beggar as I was, I couldn't snatch you from that cold
future. But I shouldn't have thought I had the right if this thunder-bolt
hadn't struck me."

"As Aunt Kathryn--poor Aunt Kathryn!--is always saying, 'It must have
been meant.' I never promised that--that I would join the Sisters, you
know. I suppose this is why my father would have me go abroad when I
came of age. He was afraid I might make up my mind before I had--found
my heart."

"Have you found it now--for sure?"

"No. I--I've _lost_ it."

"Angel! But you've got mine instead. You won't mind marrying a beggar
and being a beggaress?"

The adorable creature laughed. "I shall love it," she said. There was no
one in the hall except Airole, and the shadows were asleep--so I kissed
her: and knew why I had been born. I'd often wondered, but I never will
again.

We had a fierce tussle with the Countess to prevent her stopping in
Montenegro and marrying her Prince there and then, as soon as might be.
The truth was, and she owned it, that she was afraid to face Beechy till
she had been made irrevocably a Princess. But finally we prevailed,
almost by force, and tore the poor lady from her lover, who protested
that he would follow, were it to the world's end. I believed he would,
too, for he had threatened to be the last man in Maida's world; the
Countess was now the last woman in his, and he would hold on to her and
her money as a drowning man grasps at a substantial spar.

I shall never forget that drive down from the mountain land where a King
rode to fetch a fairy bride.

At Cattaro we took the fishing boat which had carried me yesterday; and
I think the sailor-men realized, when they saw what I had brought back,
that I wasn't a madman after all.

Then the spin from Castelnuovo to Ragusa that I had taken in such a
different mood fifteen hours before. And at Ragusa, Beechy, still pale
and shaken, springing up from her sofa to meet Maida and me as we opened
the door.

Ralph sprang up too, and his chair had been drawn so close to her sofa
that the rush of her white wrapper--or whatever it was--upset it.

"Where's Mamma?" came the first question, as was natural.

"She's gone to her room, and we're to talk to you before she sees you,"
said Maida. "Oh Beechy, you must be good to her; she's miserable."

Then we told the story, preparing Beechy for her mother's decision, and
I expected hysterics. But she neither laughed nor cried. She only sat
still, looking curiously guilty and meek.

"Isn't it dreadful? But I couldn't do anything," said Maida. "He is a
wicked man--you don't know yet how wicked. He got me up to Montenegro by
a horrid pretence, and when I wouldn't promise to marry him at once he
tried arguments for about an hour, then locked the door of a room in the
house where we were because his motor broke down, and threatened to
shoot me. I don't know if he really would. Perhaps not. But anyway, Mr.
Barrymore saved me. He came just then and burst the door open."

"It's all my fault from beginning to end!" broke out Beechy, tragically.
"I confessed to Sir Ralph yesterday, when I was only worried for fear
something might happen, but now it _has_ happened, I'll confess to you,
too. I got afraid Mamma would really marry the Prince--oh, but that
wasn't the way it began! Just for fun, long ago, when we first started,
I let him pump me--it was great fun _then_--and told him how rich Mamma
was, and would be, even if she married again. I thought it would be such
larks to watch his game, and so it was for a while, till I was in an
awful stew for fear I'd gone too far and couldn't stop things. I was
ready then to do something desperate rather than find myself saddled
with _that_ Prince for my step-father. So I sacrificed you."

"I don't see--" Maida began; but Beechy cut her short.

"Why, when we went to that Sisterhood of yours, I overheard the Mother
Superior, or whatever you call her, confiding to Mamma that you were a
tremendous heiress, that you didn't quite know how rich you were
yourself, and wouldn't be told till you were safely back from Europe. It
was a secret, and I hadn't any business to know. But I let it out to the
Prince, when I was in such a state about him and Mamma, in Bellagio. He
_went_ for you at once, as I knew he would--but what's the matter, Mr.
Barrymore? It isn't for you to be angry with me. It's for Maida."

"I'm not angry with you, but with myself," I said. And then for a minute
I forgot Ralph and Beechy, and remembered only Maida. "Don't think I
knew," I said. "If I had, I wouldn't--"

"Oh, don't say you wouldn't. I love to feel you _had_ to," the Angel
cried. "I hold you to your word, oh, with all my heart in my right to
you. Beechy, your Chauffeulier and I--are engaged."

"There!" the child exclaimed, with a look at Ralph I couldn't fathom.
"Didn't I tell you so?"

"Well, it doesn't matter _now_, does it?" was his retort. "How shall I
feel if you don't wish Miss Destrey your best wishes?"

"Oh, I do, I do," exclaimed the strange child. "And I congratulate the
Chauffeulier. But he must do some congratulating too. I'm going to put
up my hair, come out in a long dress, and be engaged to Sir Ralph."

Maida's great eyes were greater than ever. "Beechy!" she protested. "You
aren't fourteen!"

"No, I know I'm not; but I'm seventeen. And when I told Ralph that, he
proposed at once. You see he's been my father confessor ever since we've
been on this trip, so he knows all that's best and worst of me; and I do
think we shall have real fun when we're married. I told Mamma I'd have
no Princes on _my_ ranch, and I won't. But if she's fool enough to take
that man, after all, she and I can visit each other's ranches after
this, and we'll be all right. Mine's going to be in England or Scotland
in summer, and in winter I'm to live with Félicité and the duck. Oh, I
shall be happy, and so will Ralph, I hope. But I never thought a good
democrat like Papa's daughter would go and marry a man with a title."

"A mere baronet. It needn't go against the grain much," remarked Sir
Ralph. "Think how much worse it is for your poor cousin!"

"Why?"

"To marry a 'real live lord,' who will some day be a marquis."

"Oh!" exclaimed Beechy. "She who said she would like to teach other
American girls a lesson."

"I didn't know," Maida faltered.

"What?" asked Ralph. "You didn't tell her?"

"I forgot all about it," I said. "But Maida, dearest, it doesn't matter.
I--"

"Nothing matters but you," she said.

"And you," I added.


THE END



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       *       *       *       *       *

GUY FAWKES. A Romance of the Gunpowder Treason. By Wm. Harrison
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       *       *       *       *       *

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       *       *       *       *       *

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we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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