Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

Countess Glika by Warwick Deeping

 

Jack Barrington was cutting corners at forty miles an hour on the Grand Corniche road, when he caught sight of that white landaulette in front of him. There was no mistaking this particular car, its white body picked out with black. Jack Barrington had been haunted by it for the last month, a mystery car that always travelled at a high speed, often with the blinds pulled down over the windows. Once he had seen it draw up outside a costumier's at Monte Carlo, and he had purposely loitered to see who would get out. His curiosity had not brought him any romantic satisfaction, for a swarthy old lady had emerged showing a very solid foot and ankle, and a harsh, equine face, decorated with a big brown mole over the right eyebrow.

Jack Barrington had loitered on, with a critical glance at the exquisite lines of the white car and the luxurious refinement of its fittings. He had caught a glimpse of a bouquet of red carnations in a silver vase, of a whole row of bijou books bound in red morocco, of silver-topped scent bottles and a little mirror that hinted at legitimate and picturesque vanities. And in the exuberance of his vitality he had refused to believe that all these provoking details were wasted on the swarthy old lady with the brown mole and the stodgy ankles.

He had even made enquiries, and hunted up the registered lettering and numbering of the car. The latter had referred him to a big motor concern in Paris. Even the gossips and the habitues were dumb. They were not interested in the white landaulette; it did not appear to have haunted them as it had haunted Jack Barrington. All he had learnt was that it belonged to a hypothetical Countess Glika.

But that night Jack Barrington gave chase. He was an irresponsible youngster of eight-and-twenty, and being one of the richest commoners in England he could be as irresponsible as he pleased. There had been a splendid and rather restless virility in all his activities. He had climbed the Rockies, hunted his way through Central Africa, and nearly got himself shot in Persia. He had driven a car in the Grand Prix, and his latest achievement had been to fly to Corsica and back in a new 80 h.p. monoplane.

The white landaulette was travelling at a fast pace, but Barrington soon began to overhaul it. The Corniche is a road of interminable curves, winding as it does through wild and rocky country hundreds of feet above the sea, and for several minutes this chase of Barrington's was a game of hide and seek, the white car whisking out of sight round some sharp corner and coming into view again where the road straightened out for two or three hundred kilometres.

The landaulette had vanished round one of these curves. It was one of the most solitary portions of the road, without a house in sight. Northwards, a rocky hill-side dotted with stunted pines heaved up towards the sky; southwards, more rocks and pines fell away precipitously towards the sea. The road was a great dusty ribbon, winding between the cut surface of the rock on one side and a stone parapet on the other.

Barrington came round that corner at forty miles an hour. The next second his right hand shot out for the brake lever. He set his teeth hard, felt the big car ripping along the road. Her tail swung round, and missed the wall by inches before Barrington managed to straighten her out and pull up.

For he had seen an amazing thing just ahead of him round the corner. The trunk of a fir tree had been thrown across the road; the white landaulette had pulled up, and two nondescript-looking foreigners in dark coats and soft felt hats came scrambling down the bank and were covering the driver of the white landaulette with a couple of automatic pistols.

Barrington had no time to think. He did the thing that happened to come naturally to him; he sounded his exhaust whistle. It was a particularly strident, rending instrument, especially when at full blast with the throttle wide open.

The result might have appeared ridiculous under less thrilling circumstances, but the thing acted on the two gentlemen with pistols like a steamer's siren on the astonished aborigines of some lost island. They pocketed their pistols, turned and ran, and scrambling up the hillside, disappeared into the ewigkeit.

Jack Barrington climbed out of his car just as the driver of the white landaulette slid out from behind his steering wheel, swearing very creditably in French. He turned and saw Barrington, and snapped at him like an angry dog.

"The devil take these cinematograph swine, I suppose it seems funny to you, monsieur, eh? We are all in the picture! And putting a tree across the road round such a corner!"

Barrington stared at him, and answered him in fairly respectable French.

"That's an idea, certainly. But I'm not part of a cinema show; it struck me as rather too real. You had better push that tree out of the road in case another car comes round in a hurry. I'll keep an eye on the landscape."

The chauffeur saw the reasonableness of the suggestion, and directly he was busy removing the barricade, Barrington seized the opening he had played for. The window blinds were down as usual. He opened the near door, and stood there, hat in hand, outwardly solicitous, but most outrageously inquisitive.

Automatic pistols seemed to be the fashion, for at the same moment the mysterious occupant switched up the blinds and he found himself looking into the ugly muzzle of one of those deadly little weapons.

"Pardon me, madame, I only opened the door to reassure you."

The pistol was lowered. Instead of it a pair of dark eyes covered him, haughty, resolute eyes that showed no fear. He was conscious of a thrill of triumphant satisfaction. This was not the swarthy old lady with the mole over the right eyebrow. The car had its appropriate and mysterious occupant.

"I hope you have not been frightened."

She rebuffed him with perfect sang-froid.

"I am not frightened. I am much obliged to you. Be so good as to close the door."

But he did not close it, being provoked by the discovery that this woman of the mysterious car more than deserved all the curiosity he had lavished on her. She was young, and she had that indefinable air that betrays the grand dame. Barrington knew when a woman was perfectly dressed as a rich and distinguished woman should be dressed. Like her car, she was a study in black and white; he thought she looked Russian, but was not sure.

"Your man seems to think that it was part of the cinematograph show. Would you like me to make any inquiries?"

She looked at him as though his perseverance surprised her.

"Thank you, no."

"It is lucky that I happened to be behind you. Those fellows ran off when I sounded my whistle."

"So there were men?"

"Two, with pistols."

He fancied that her eyes darkened, and that those firm red lips of hers trembled slightly. Moreover, he suddenly became aware of the fact that though that pistol was lying in her lap, she had a hand on it, and the muzzle covered his body.

"Thank you. Will you tell Adolphe, my man, that I want to speak to him?"

"Certainly——"

"Wait."

She smiled, and the whole expression of her face was changed. The eyes softened; the mouth became humorous; there was an archness in the poise of her head.

"You are English, is that not so?"

"Yes."

"That explains so much. You are a very wonderful and eccentric nation."

She changed from French to English, and spoke it with the fluency of a diplomatist.

"I am very much obliged to you. Strange things happen, even on the Grand Corniche. Will you tell my man to drive me home?"

"Yes. And if you will pardon me—I think I ought to follow you in my car. It will make for safety."

"Please do not trouble. Nothing more will happen, Mr.——."

"Barrington, John Barrington."

"The Barringtons?"

"I don't know, I'm sure; I hope so."

"Of course. I see you are one of those men who must try and get killed! And now——"

"I really must insist on guarding you home."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"It is quite unnecessary."

"But I shall regard it as a great pleasure."

"Very well. You English are so obstinate."

He closed the door, and found Adolphe waiting. He had managed to roll the tree out of the road.

"Madame wishes to go home."

"Certainly, monsieur."

"I will follow and keep an eye on the hill-side."

The two cars moved on, and other cars began to pass them, coming from the direction of Italy. There were no more sensational happenings. The white landaulette took a branch road that zigzagged towards the sea. Barrington saw Cap St. Pierre spread out below with its pines, a dark wedge thrusting out into the blue Mediterranean. Here and there a white villa showed amid the dusky masses of the trees.

Ten minutes later they were running between the pinewoods and the sea. Barrington saw Adolphe's arm stretched out, waving him to hold back. The white landaulette swung round, and passed in between two big stone pillars. Barrington pulled up. And before he had decided whether to follow the white car farther, an old man emerged from a lodge, slammed the iron gates to and locked them.

Barrington hailed the old fellow.

"Hallo, monsieur, one moment."

The lodge-keeper stared at him through the bars like a sleepy ox.

"Does the Countess Glika live here?"

The man shook his head, pointed to his ears, and promptly returned to his lodge.

"If you are deaf, my friend, how was it you heard madame's car and rushed out to shut the gates? You can't see along the road from that lodge!"

Barrington drove on a little way, but the high wall and dense belt of pines balked his curiosity, and he could see nothing of the villa. He turned his car and drove back to Monte Carlo, thoroughly piqued by the adventure, and not at all inclined to remain outside those iron gates.

He was having tea next day in the lounge of the Hotel Glorieux. The place suited him, in spite of its name. It was cosmopolitan, and yet jealous of its reputation; irresponsible wealth was not suffered to roll in there as it pleased.

"I say, Pentherby—-"

A white-haired old dandy, who was sitting stiffly in the chair next to him and reading The Times as though the paper had grossly insulted him, turned an eyeglass on Barrington.

"Well—well, what is it?"

"I want your advice."

"What's that? Advice! Who ever asks a man of my age for advice?"

"I do. Can you tell me who is the most scandalous person within two miles of the Casino?"

Sir John Pentherby sat up even more stiffly.

"Go and ask the police, my dear fellow."

"I have been told that you know more——"

"So I am the most scandalous party, am I?"

"Wait a minute. I want to get into touch with someone who knows everybody round here, and everybody's business. I am doing some social research work."

"Who's the woman?"

"I don't know."

"Well, go to another woman. The women seem to like you for some reason or other. Try the Baroness."

"What, old Bromberg?"

"I've heard it's her business to know everything, even to make herself au fait with the indiscretions of Crown Princes and Grand Dukes. Try her. She won't tell you anything of any importance, so you are quite safe."

The Baroness Bromberg was more than a woman; she was Germania personified. She was fat, with protuberant blue eyes and a double chin that hung down like a bag. She looked overfed and stupid, and this air of bland stupidity had been of great use to her on occasions.

The Baroness was a furious gambler, and notoriously mean. Barrington knew of this weakness of hers; three nights a week she was to be seen at the public gaming tables; she preferred to be one of the crowd, rather than pay the subscription that entitled the gambler to haunt the private rooms.

Barrington went to the Casino after dinner; he had a permanent ticket, and the attendants knew him well by sight. He was in search of the Baroness, and after drawing a blank at several tables, he discovered her sitting next a croupier, sucking a pencil and staring at the entries in the little notebook on the table in front of her. As usual, she was dressed in black, with a crowd of rings on her lumpy fingers.

It was obvious that the Baroness had been losing; her flabby face looked sullen; six five-franc pieces remained beside her, piled in a column.

Presently Barrington caught her vague eyes. He bowed and smiled, and for a moment she glared at him intently.

"Faites vos jeux, messieurs."

Suddenly he saw her face brighten. Her hand shot out, seized a rake, and pushed two five-franc pieces on to number ten.

And by some freak ten turned up. The Baroness's face grew beatific. She beamed across at Barrington.

He went and stood behind her.

"I hope it was I who brought you luck, Baroness."

Her laughter was like a sheep coughing.

"So. Is it not wonderful? I see you, I say to myself, Mr. Bon Ton—that is what I call you. Bon Ton becomes bon ten. I stake on ten and win. Ach! I like you."

Barrington was amused, but her good humour seemed opportune. Moreover, he knew that she would abandon play for the night now that she had won.

"Ach, I am so tired."

She gathered up her money with greedy fingers, pushed back her chair and rose.

Barrington constituted himself her cavalier, persuaded her into the restaurant, and fed her on sweet cakes and coffee. She was in excellent temper, like an old bear with a generous harvest of buns.

They chatted, gossiped, removed to one of the lounges, and Barrington smoked cigarettes. He did not want to be too eager and obvious.

"Strange, I have never seen Countess Glika here."

The Bromberg gave him a blank stare.

"Who?"

"The Countess Glika; I believe that is her name."

"Ach, no. She makes her parties at home."

Barrington put on the air of a very frivolous and rather foolish young man.

"I say, Baroness, I had quite a funny adventure with her—this afternoon. You know that white car?"

He described the incident of the afternoon to her, facetiously, as though it were an immense joke and he was in a mood to be amusing. The Baroness listened like a placid cow. She did not betray any great interest.

"And was it not for the cinematograph?" she asked him. "I do not believe in brigands."

"Oh, we may hear, see something in the papers. But really, Baroness, the Countess delighted me. I am going to follow up the adventure."

A queer glint flashed momentarily into the old lady's eyes, and vanished just as swiftly. Her face remained expressionless; no one could have looked more stupid.

"Ach, she is pretty, I suppose? Yes, I have seen her; she is handsome, but too thin, and I do not think she is married. You should never make love to unmarried women, my Barrington, it is too dangerous."

Barrington laughed as though he thought her wit immense.

"But I love danger, my dear Baroness. It excites me. The thing is—to approach the lady. You see, I know nothing about her."

She looked at him placidly, stupidly, with her heavy swollen eyes. No one would have imagined that a peculiarly cunning brain was on the alert behind that obese stolidity. She was studying Barrington, summing him up, nor had he any idea that she had discovered that he might be useful.

"What should I know, my friend? I believe she is from Borovia, that she is a widow. An old dragon, Madame Maclou, lives with her. She receives very few people, I am told."

"The more room for me, Baroness."

"Ach, so. You are a young madman; you English are all mad. Why not fly over her villa, fall into the grounds, and pretend yourself hurt?"

"An idea, Baroness, certainly. But it would be rather difficult in such a place to arrange how much one got hurt. I might present her with a corpse, and the affair would have no more interest for me."

She yawned, openly and without shame.

"I am so sleepy. You will find a way, my friend; the English are both mad and persevering. I think I will go home."

And Barrington saw her to her cab.

A full moon had risen, and far across the bay the pine-clad cape of St. Pierre looked like the snout of some huge crocodile lying asleep upon the water. A motor-boat had rounded the headland of Monaco. It passed the Casino with its thousand lights, and held on eastwards towards St. Pierre. The motor-boat had come from Nice.

In the garden of the Villa Biron a woman was walking to and fro between hedges of Banksia roses. Palm trees and pines were outlined against the moon; a row of cypresses made a screen of ebony through which the moonlight poured upon a stretch of grass. The villa itself with its cream white walls looked like a great casket of ivory.

The Countess Glika seemed in a restless mood. She was wearing a coat of sables, and a scarf of some gauzy stuff about her hair. The moonlight was so strong that she could tell the time by the watch strapped to her wrist. She glanced at it repeatedly as though she were waiting for someone who was late.

The night was very still, and the place where she was walking was not more than a hundred yards from the sea. There was hardly a ripple against the rocks where the stone pines almost overhung the water.

She stopped and stood listening, her intent face turned towards the moon.

And suddenly a man appeared on the stretch of grass where the moonlight fell. He had come along a path through the pine woods, a path that led to the sea.

For a moment he stood there in the moonlight, and then, moving to where the cypresses threw a deep shadow, he became lost in the gloom.

The Countess walked down the path until she, too, was in the shadow of the cypresses. A dim figure was waiting there, a figure that put its heels together and saluted.

She started, and paused as though surprised.

"Who is it?"

"Captain Prague, madame."

"Ah, Prague, of course. But I was expecting——"

He bowed apologetically.

"Madame, I bring regrets, explanations. Monsieur has been unavoidably detained; he sends you passionate apologies. To-morrow or the day after he will drive over from Nice; he will dine with you. To-day it was not safe."

She gave a gesture of impatience; she was angry.

"Not safe! He is considerate. And to-day I was in danger of being shot."

Prague rocked on his heels.

"Shot, madame?"

"Ah—well, I have counted the cost. I am not afraid——"

"But monsieur will be in anguish."

"It may be good for him, Prague. How did you come?"

"By sea."

"Carry back my felicitations to monsieur, and tell him that I expect him."

"I am your servant, madame."

He bowed, and vanished down the path that led to the sea.

But Anna Countess Glika returned to the house, walking slowly, with the air of one who had received grave news. It was she—the woman—who had faced real danger that day; he—the man—had disappointed her, made excuses. Nor was it the first time that he had disappointed her. In bringing him into the world, Fate had intended him to take his place among the great ones of the earth, but Anna had doubted his greatness; sometimes she even doubted his courage.

She entered the house, and, passing up a flight of marble stairs, crossed a broad gallery decorated in the style of Louis Quinze, and unlocked the door of a room with a key that she wore fastened to her waist by a gold curb. The turn of a switch flooded the room with light. It was half boudoir, half library, a gem of a room, whose colour scheme was black, white, and old rose. The furniture was of ebony, inlaid with ivory; the walls white; the carpet, cushions, and hangings a soft rose. There were pink and white carnations everywhere, masses of them in black porcelain bowls and vases.

Anna locked the door. A restlessness born of vague doubts was still upon her. She went to the ebony bureau, opened the flap, and pressed a spring that formed part of the ivory patterning of the inlay. A shallow drawer shot forward. She took papers from it, a photograph, and a packet of letters.

She sat down, glanced through the papers, read some of the letters, and then picked up the photo and studied it. It was the photo of a youngish man, round-headed, full-eyed, Germanic, with upturned, aggressive moustache, and an expression of forced arrogance. And yet, when analysed, especially by the subtle perceptions of a woman, the face was weak, for all its pride of caste. The mouth was sentimental and a little flabby, and those rather staring eyes: she had seen them fogged with fear. And this was the man who loved her, who had sought her love in turn, passionately and with a kind of fury. This was the man upon whom she counted to lead her country towards an ideal that to her was sacred, inspired. She had not given herself to him, because she desired to keep the subtle chain of her fascination strong and unstrained. In her heart of hearts she knew that she did not love him, but when he would pledge himself, take that irrevocable step that should bind him to the great Slav country that she loved, then she had determined to sacrifice herself in turn, to offer up her womanhood on the altar of a great ideal.

Presently she sighed, and put the papers and the portrait back into the drawer. She was in a mood that mistrusted her own fate. She knew, too, what merciless and cunning influences were arrayed against her, all the secret and unprincipled diplomacy of a great state—treacherous, greedy, cruel.

Had she possessed the gift of second sight, and been able to follow that boat westwards along the track of the moon, she would have had a further cause for doubt and unrest. For Captain Prague's launch did not repass the black headland of Monaco. It glided in nearer to the glitter of the casino, and, shooting into the harbour of Monaco, landed Prague at the western quay.

Prague told the men to wait. He went off with long strides along the quay, deigning to bend his military bearing into a civilian's slouch. He had turned up the collar of his overcoat, and pulled the brim of his hat down over his eyes.

Prague made his way up the hill towards the casino, but its lure was not for him that night. He passed the Café de Paris, walked up through the gardens, and in five minutes found himself at his destination, the vestibule of a big block of flats. The concierge was sitting reading a paper.

"Yes, monsieur?"

Prague walked past him as though the man did not exist.

"Excuse me, monsieur——"

Prague turned on him brusquely.

"The Baroness is at home?"

"She returned half an hour ago."

"Good."

The concierge watched him disappear up the stairs; he had seen this gentleman before, but he did not like him any the better for that. And one had to be careful at Monte Carlo. It was a strange place.

The Baroness's maid knew him as Herr Schmidt, and under that vague pseudonym he was admitted without demur. He found the old lady sitting by the radiator, and drinking cocoa and eating sweet cakes, in spite of the fact that she had dined and that Barrington had fed her a little more than an hour ago.

"I am glad to see you. Please open the door, my dear Schmidt. Ach—so that second room serves as a guard-room; no one can sneak in and listen while that door is open. Well, how is the Prince's heart?"

Prague sat down opposite her. He had high cheek bones, and a big flaxen moustache, and his eyes were humorous and shrewd, and none too honest.

"He did not come—to-day. I have been there to present his regrets.

"Himmel, what has happened?"

"Monsieur was a little nervous. I had presented a secret report. And she—the Glika—told me she had been in danger."

He laughed unpleasantly. The Baroness remained absolutely unmoved.

"It must have been that fool Bulow. I shall have to get him severely lectured. We have no need of those clumsy methods. Besides, such an adventure might give her more sentimental influence over the Prince. She is clever and knows how to handle him."

Prague nodded.

"If she would only compromise herself," he said.

The Baroness took a mouthful of cake, and washed it down with cocoa.

"It might be managed, my dear friend. I had an idea to-night; an English fool gave it me. He may prove of use, this Englishman, a young man who is for ever trying to get himself killed. The Glika has always been circumspect. If we can but get some mud to stick to her, monsieur will be disillusioned."

They talked on for an hour before Prague bowed over the Baroness's fat hand, kissed it, and made his way back to the harbour.

Jack Barrington scanned the papers next morning, but he could find nothing about the attack made on the Countess Glika's car on the Corniche road, but the fact did not surprise him. The police did their best to prevent such affairs being noised abroad. The papers refrained from publishing accounts of them. Such unpleasant incidents did not advertise the French Riviera in a way that was desirable.

No one had ever accused Jack Barrington of lack of enterprise. He spent the morning at the golf club up at La Turbie, and lunched at Ré's. He had ordered his car to be outside the Hotel Glorieux at three o'clock. At a quarter-past three he was sounding his hooter outside the gates of the Villa Biron.

The deaf lodge-keeper came rushing out. He appeared to have received very particular orders, for he unlocked the gates and flung them open without waiting to examine either the man or the car. And Barrington was throwing away no opportunities. His machine went in with a rush, and he was out of sight round a corner of the winding drive before the lodge-keeper began to wonder whether he had made a mistake or not.

Barrington drew up outside the great white porte-cochère of the Villa Biron. Masses of palms, oranges, conifers, and eucalyptus trees sheltered the place; the mimosa was in bloom. There were camellias in pots ranged along below the wall of the terrace.

He climbed out, and rang the bell. A manservant opened the door, a man with a discreet, stolid face and the look of a Russian. He eyed Barrington intently.

"Is the Countess at home?"

"I do not know, monsieur."

Barrington handed him a card.

"I have come to inquire for her good health after the affair of yesterday."

The man looked at the card, looked again at Barrington, and realised that he was English. For some reason or other the fact seemed to reassure him.

"Will monsieur wait, here, in the lounge. I will go and see."

Anna was in the blue saloon, a room that overlooked the garden, when the manservant brought her Barrington's card.

"What is it, Dmitri?"

"A gentleman, madame, English, to ask after your good health."

She took the card from the salver, read it, and for a moment she hesitated. It was a mere vague impulse that decided her, one of those seemingly wayward decisions that often prove of extraordinary significance.

"I will see him, Dmitri."

"Here, madame?"

"Here."

It was said that many women had been in love with Barrington, perhaps because he never appeared to care whether he was with women or with men. He was always at full gallop on some adventure; danger fascinated him; he loved a horse, or a car, or an aeroplane, the charge of a rhino, the thrill of some ticklish situation faced and tackled. Some women had said that he had no heart, that he was a big schoolboy playing games. But the one particular woman had never come his way as yet, the woman who could play a big game, and stake her all on the chance of triumph.

Countess Glika had her back turned as Dmitri showed him into the blue saloon. He did not realise that she was watching him in a mirror with an interest that might have been flattering.

"Monsieur Barrington, madame."

She turned, rose, and bowed to him, looking him straight in the eyes.

"I am grateful to you for your courtesy, Mr. Barrington."

He smiled at her frankly. Dmitri had closed the door.

"To be quite honest—I have seized an opportunity. I am always being told that I am an impudent beast. That car of yours has been haunting me for a long time."

Somehow his smile made her eyes brighten.

"Sit down. I was not conscious of having been at all conspicuous."

"I should not have dared to use so crude a word. That study in black and white kept passing me, and you know, as a rule, the blinds were down."

She laughed.

"A fatal lure to a man!"

"To me, at all events. I confess that I loitered one day on the pavement when your car stopped outside a shop. I wanted to see who would emerge."

"And then?"

"A very admirable gentlewoman stepped out. I have no doubt that she is charming, but——"

"It was poor old Maclou, Madame Maclou; she stays with me from time to time."

"Madame, let me hasten to say that I speak in no mocking spirit, but I must confess that I was disappointed. Your dear friend was an anti-climax; she did not live up to my idea of mystery. I was convinced that I had not seen the real woman who owned the car."

"Indeed! You must have a great deal of time to waste."

"I must dare to disagree with you. Yesterday I had my opportunity. I took it."

A sudden suspicion suggested itself to her.

"What—you had planned that affair? Hired those men——"

"Good heavens, no. I confess to having chased your car, and I confess to having opened the door in order to discover who was inside, Madame Maclou—or——" He paused, half apologetically.

"You must think me an impudent ass, but when I get into an adventure I must go along with it."

She smiled rallyingly.

"You must have had many adventures."

"A few—with machines and wild men, and beasts and things."

"Things! Does that not include the most dangerous thing of all?"

His eyes questioned her quite ingenuously.

"You mean——"

"Woman."

His sudden seriousness amused her, but made her like him the better.

"I don't know. I don't think so. Somehow, I always seem to have been too busy. I have come across good comrades——"

Then he seemed to realise the suggestiveness of all that he had said.

"Please turn me out if you think me impudent. Really—I am not a conceited fool; I did not come here to try and see you just to call it a joke. I am not that sort of beast. It is queer—but I had to come."

She, too, had grown serious. She knew something of men, but she had never met one quite like him. And she believed every word he said.

"I have not suspected you of that kind of impertinence. All this is very unusual—but I, for one, have led an unusual life. I do not feel it my duty to call Madame Maclou."

His keen face brightened somewhat at that.

"Thank you. I expect you are much cleverer than I am. I have always been busy doing things."

"I have heard of some of them."

But he was very English in that he diverged at once from any discussion of his own adventures. He attacked again in his frank, easy way, and she was not affected by the knowledge that she was being attacked. He had a kind of steel-bright courage that appealed to her; he reminded her of one or two notable English sailors whom she had met. A woman—as a woman—had nothing to fear from such a man.

"You never come out among our people."

"Hardly ever."

"At least I have never met you."

"No, I dare say not."

He was not the fool to hint that he would like to be told her reason. She had been extravagantly magnanimous already. That was his impression.

He smiled and rose.

"You have been very merciful to me, you know. I wish you knew some of my friends, Lady Bland and Grace Fortescue and their set. They are the very best that we can show."

She hesitated.

"I might know them if——"

"You mean you would?"

"I might."

"I say, that's splendid."

She laughed at his freshness, she who had seen so much of the sad and problematic side of the great world.

"You might suggest it."

"By George! I will."

An extraordinary melancholy descended on her when Jack Barrington had gone. It was as though he had taken the freshness of life away with him, and the blue saloon felt oppressive and exotic. She had to rally herself and to drive herself out into the garden where the cypresses were being bent by a crisp north wind; the sea was an intense blue and ridged with foam.

It was absurd, this sudden plunge into depression. What did it mean, what did it suggest? That she was growing old and a little cynical, yet sensitive enough to be saddened by the strenuous enthusiasm of youth. Good heavens! why should this rather extraordinary interview with an absolute stranger have affected her thus? Had he over-stimulated her vitality, and was this the reaction? She had to confess that he had come like this north wind, whipping a deeper blue into the sea, filling the world with a sense of swift movement and of adventure.

She remembered that monsieur would be with her in less than an hour. The thought left her cold, even repelled her. And she would have to be charming to him, to play up to his greatness, to remind herself that this thick-set man with the dull blue eyes and the weak mouth might be a maker of history. The mere glamour of his birth and power had fallen from him. She knew him, studied him as a man.

Jack Barrington and the Prince passed each other on the road, Barrington at the wheel of his own car, royalty muffled up in furs and looking at life with sulky eyes. The inevitable Prague accompanied his master, spruce, well-fleshed, cunning. He was a traitor to this royal romance, while pretending to be the obsequious servant.

Monsieur was in the sulks. He made no attempt to conceal the fact, and it is easy, when one is a person of singular importance, to vent one's temper impartially upon friends and subordinates.

"Well, here I am."

They were alone together in the blue saloon, and her first glance at him had warned her that he was in one of his sullen moods. How often had she to combat them, to put out all her brilliance and charm him into laughter! It was a dead, boorish weight, this temper of his, and he had never helped her to lift it; and to-day she felt an inclination to rebel, to refuse the labour of persuading a royal boor to behave as his own gentlemen were expected to behave.

"I expected you yesterday."

"I could not come."

For once she gave him no help, and, like a spoilt child, he felt the lack of it. He had traded on her desire to please him, to win him over to her visualising of the future.

"You expect me to explain, make excuses?"

She smiled, and her smile was a provocation.

"No; I should not presume. But I was in danger yesterday."

He started up and began to stamp about the room, setting his heels down heavily, a trick of his when he was angry.

"Thunder! you women are insatiable. You must have everything, you must not be thwarted! And I run no danger, eh, dangling after you, I, one of the best watched men in Europe? Was there ever a woman who was reasonable?"

She said nothing, and her silence was a prick of the goad to a bull. His short, thick neck reddened, his eyes began to glare.

"And what do I gain by it, mein Gott? It is like sitting at a table with flowers and silver and the plates ready, but no food and no wine. I am not going on living on airs and graces and the cut of a gown and just a glimpse of your white skin. You have got to give me more than that, Anna. Do you hear me? You have got to give me more than that."

He came and stood in front of her, and she looked at him steadily.

"And what do you promise in return?"

"Promise! You women are all bargains, you cannot love. And you do not consider what I am risking for your sake, and you ask me to smell the scent on your handkerchief, admire your dress and the curve of your foot. I'm a man, Anna; I want realities before I give——"

He threw himself on his knees and tried to seize her, but she was on the alert, and, slipping aside, rose and left him with open arms before an empty chair. He looked rather ridiculous, but a prince is not taught to suspect that his dignity can suffer.

"Let us go out and walk on the terrace. I have given to you what I have given to no other man—a promise. But I have a right to name my terms. Why should I give you the most precious thing a woman possesses, just as I would give you a glass of wine? How often have we spoken of this? You know that I shall keep my word."

He got up, and some of the anger had died out of him. He was a weakling, even in his physical passions, ever ready to pity himself, to demand sympathy, and to accuse her of withholding it.

"You have a heart of stone. You tantalise me with your prudery. As though I have not made sacrifices for your sake!"

She passed out by the French window on to the terrace.

"Believe me, Friedrich, I am not ungrateful."

"Then show your gratitude."

She turned and looked at him.

"We first met, I believe, in Bucharest. You remember it?"

"Perfectly."

"And I was not an obscure girl there, sire."

"No, no."

"Men admired me. I know what they said of me."

She had thrown a characteristic audacity into her attitude towards him; she had often succeeded in playing upon his vanity.

"What did they say of me, Friedrich?"

"Thunder! That you were the most fascinating woman in Europe!"

"Well?"

She looked at him proudly.

"Well, for your sake I renounced all that triumphant life. I had given myself to no man. And you—well, my friend, your romances have been legion. For your sake I have been living the life of a nun, nor have I ever taken your money. That is rare in a woman, is it not?"

His eyes scanned her longingly.

"Yes, yes, you are wonderful, Anna; almost too wonderful. I wish that you were more human."

"Like some of the fools whom you played with for a month, and tired of when they had given you everything! You must not count me among them, my friend. I demand more from you—I demand the utmost. I am a new sort of woman to you, Friedrich; you have not met my like before. I stand at your level, even above you. I do not stoop, I do not surrender. I treat as one proud nation treats with another."

The sentimental side of him was touched.

"You are incomparable! And what have I not dared for your sake, my Anna?"

"I ask you to dare still more."

"Yes, yes; you are a meteor; sometimes you terrify me."

She managed to charm the sulks out of him, but all his boorishness returned when he found that Madame Maclou and Prague were to dine with them. He waved Prague out of the room, and most royally and pettishly refused to sit down while old Maclou remained.

"Very well, my friend, we will dine, and you shall watch us."

She was as good as her word, and his high and mightiness fumed for a while, shocked and astonished. He withstood the soup, but the next course conquered him. He joined them; the dinner was exquisite, and he had all the greed of the Teuton. Warmed by champagne, he began to feel himself a rather fine and magnanimous fellow. He told droll stories rather feebly; and Prague indulged in dutiful laughter.

Anna gave him a few minutes alone before he drove off.

"Have I not overwhelmed you? Did I not take it well?"

"You were hungry," she answered bluntly.

He fired up.

"And I sat down with that brown-faced gorilla of a Frenchwoman!"

"My Prince, do you never consider that I am a woman, that I may value my reputation?"

He stared. He was just a little vinous.

"Most of them have been proud—in a hurry."

And knowing herself as she did, she sat and wondered after he had gone whether she could face the ultimate sacrifice that might be required of her.

John Barrington had driven back to the Hotel Glorieux in a strangely serious mood. He had succeeded beyond his hopes, but the affair had suddenly refused to be bounded by the mere spirit of adventure. An irresponsible curiosity had come back chastened and silenced. He was more than a little ashamed of it, and he found that he had said things that he had never thought of saying when he had started out for the Villa Biron. He had never met such a woman before. In an hour she had become the mysterious and central figure round which all the varied and cosmopolitan life of the place revolved. Perhaps it dawned on him that he had fallen in love with her, that he had been half in love with the imagined woman hidden in that elusive white landaulette. He had been hunting a shadow. The shadow had materialised, and he was a little in awe of his own discovery.

But one thing he never suspected: that this visit of his to the Villa Biron would be of any interest to such a person as the Baroness Bromberg. Yet a rather shabby gentleman in an ulster and a battered hat left a note at the Baroness's flat. It was written in cipher, and the Baroness smiled when she read what the shabby man had written:

"Monsieur Barrington was at the Villa Biron this afternoon. He stayed there nearly an hour."

Barrington was popular; he had a genius for getting other people to do things for him, perhaps because he knew how to ask. He did not demand too much; he was not aggressive; and he had an air that suggested a delightful and flattering belief in the altruism of his victims.

"My dear Lady Bland, fate and coincidence have introduced me to the Countess Glika. She's charming, but I believe she's awfully lonely. If you'll call on her I'll drive you over."

The Countess Glika was a mystery, rather a problematical person. Perhaps that was why all these good ladies consented to call on her. They went to explore the personality of this mysterious Eve, and being women of the world, they came back fascinated, and yet a little alarmed.

As Grace Fortescue put it: "Jack Barrington always plunges for big risks. She's no ordinary woman. I'm rather worried."

The mistral was blowing one morning when Barrington drove over to the Villa Biron. The pine woods were making a great clamour, and on the hills the olives looked sad and grey, but the sea was an intense and strenuous blue, with foam flecking it and flashing in the sunlight.

Dmitri smiled at Barrington. He was very wise was Dmitri; he trusted the Englishman, but he did not trust Captain Prague.

"Madame is in the woods, monsieur, out of the wind."

He took Barrington through the house and garden, and showed him the path.

"Go straight forward, monsieur." And again he smiled.

The tops of the pines were swaying overhead, but below in the shelter of their dark boles it was peaceful and very still. Masses of white heather were in bloom. The green boughs made a fretwork through which one saw the blue of the sky.

The path opened suddenly and surprisingly into a kind of glade in the thick of the pine woods. It was like a great green bowl, two hundred yards long and a hundred yards wide, fenced in by the trees. Purple Apennine anemones bloomed in the grass. The sky was a blue awning stretched from the tops of the pines.

Barrington caught sight of a long cane chair and a white sunshade. She was lying there in the sun, a book on her lap, her eyes closed.

He paused with the sunlight in his eyes, and perhaps he drew his breath more deeply. Then he went forward, came close to her, but she did not stir.

"Are you asleep?"

She opened her eyes with a start and sat up, the red cushion that had been under her head falling to the ground.

"You? How did you come here?"

"Dmitri sent me. I'm sorry. I've driven your dreams away. But Dmitri is a good fellow."

He picked up her cushion, and put it back in its place.

"May I stay a little while?"

"You have discovered the secret of my labyrinth."

"But I see no minotaur here. I should never have guessed there was a piece of grassland in the middle of these woods. I have brought a letter from Lady Bland."

He sat down on the grass beside her, and handed her a letter.

"There is to be a bal masqué at the Moscow. We want you to join our party."

She flushed slightly, and opened the letter.

"But that—that is impossible."

"Why?"

She lay back, and tilted her sunshade so that he could not see her face.

"It is impossible. You must not ask me to explain."

"What right have I to ask you to explain! And yet, no one would know you."

She still screened herself behind the sunshade.

"I have not danced for nearly a year. And dancing is in my blood."

"Be reckless."

She laughed.

"Oh, you do not know! You must think me a strange, mysterious creature. I have been taught to trust no one, to look on everybody as a spy."

"You can trust me."

"Are you not here—in my labyrinth!"

He was frowning; he wanted her to move that sunshade, to give him a glimpse not only of her face, but of her inner life—the life that baffled him.

"You need tell me nothing, Anna."

It was the first time that he had used that name, and yet she could not accuse him of presumption.

"Nothing! Then you assume me to be a mystery?"

"Perhaps."

She tilted the sunshade aside, and allowed him to see her face.

"True; I am a mystery. Are you content to look on me as a mystery?"

"I am content to do what pleases you."

"And still believe in me?"

He flushed, and his blue eyes were the eyes of a fighter.

"Of course. You might turn the world upside down, and I should believe you had some reason for it."

She regarded him fixedly.

"I believe you would. You are unusual. You are like Dmitri; you do not ask selfish questions and insist on having them answered. You are content to allow that other people may have to keep silence, that they can act honourably, without being talkative about it. Well, I will come to the ball."

He betrayed himself in the look he gave her.

"How will you be dressed? I must know."

She smiled at his ingenuous directness.

"I will come as Flame. And you?"

The corner of his mouth twitched humorously.

"As Ice? No, I think not. I will come as Icarus. Am I Greek enough for that?"

"You dare to fly near the sun," she said half sadly.

He was staring reflectively across the glade, with its smooth turf and its encircling wall of trees.

"I say, what a place for a landing. They are pretty rare along this coast."

"You mean—for an aeroplane?"

"Yes."

"But you could not land here. Surely there is not room."

He was measuring the ground with his eyes.

"Oh, yes—just enough. Of course, it would be a little ticklish, but a high-powered machine would get out again all right. My Vampire would do it. You see, one would have to get off the ground quickly in order to clear the tree-tops."

She watched his face, and its keenness and its virility delighted her. He was the man of action talking of what he knew.

"It would be too dangerous."

He turned with a smile.

"Now you are challenging me."

"No, no; I forbid you."

"Let me see, there is Dmitri and your chauffeur, and I believe you keep two gardeners. Just enough. Have you ever been up?"

"Never. But I absolutely forbid you to try and land here."

"But I might be here at five in the morning, before you were up. Don't forbid me; it's dangerous."

She laughed at his audacity; it was a trait in him that tempted her to be reckless.

"Very well. But I have promised to come to the bal masqué."

He scrambled up and bowed to her.

"It's a concession—an immense concession. I'm grateful. Now I must really be going. I have to lunch at Nice."

"Good-bye, Icarus. Be warned by me."

He smiled down at her.

"Sometimes one gets killed by being too cautious."

This glade in the pine wood might be sheltered from the wind, but it was no secure refuge from Mother Bromberg's German spies. A fat man, ridiculous and yet effective, had advanced on his paunch, with a kind of swimming motion, through a mass of heather, and he had lain there all the while, within hearing of what these two had said. It seemed an absurd attitude for a mature member of a great nation, but Germany has always been ready to crawl anywhere on its belly, and to shiver in its shirt listening at keyholes, thorough even in the slime of its secret service.

And the Bromberg heard all about that meeting in the pine wood, the masked ball that was to be held at the Hotel Moscow, and the costumes of the two persons concerned. She was exultant, and bit her finger-nails more assiduously than usual. Prague was wired for. He came, and there was a great pow-wow.

The Baroness gave him excellent advice.

"Never forget, my friend, that we are a sentimental nation. That wretched Nietzsche never understood us; he thought us beasts. This affair must be handled sentimentally. You must look very sorrowful, my Schmidt, and—and very troubled."

Prague grinned.

"He will ask me if I have overeaten myself."

"Ach! but for that you have a different expression. This must be Bavarian—soulful, moonlight and swan boats. He will ask you what is the matter; you will pretend to be surprised, you will appear embarrassed. You will confess unwillingly that you have discovered something that concerns his heart and his honour."

Prague understood.

"I will see that he has had champagne and music," he said, "then he will be in a mood to behave like one of Schiller's fools."

Prague went back to Nice, and in two days he had fallen into such a state of extreme melancholy that it forced itself upon monsieur's attention. It was the pander's abominable dullness that surprised and annoyed him. Prague did not laugh at his jokes, or tell those indecent and scandalous little tales of his. Monsieur thought he had indigestion.

"Go and see a doctor, Prague. You eat too much."

Prague looked grieved, denied that he was ill in body, and hinted at soul sickness, spiritual qualms. He contrived to pique the Prince's curiosity, and in a little while Prague disburdened himself of his doubts and sorrows.

Monsieur was not wholly unimpressed by Prague's sympathy, but the news threw him into a jealous rage.

"I shall go to this ball, Prague."

"It is private, sire."

"Himmel! I go anywhere—and everywhere."

"They will ask you for your ticket, sire, at the door, and will not let you enter. But I can provide you with a ticket."

He did.

That bal masqué at the Moscow was a very pretty affair. Barrington arrived early, shed a heavy coat, and stepped forth from the cloak-room as Icarus, winged with golden pinions, in a tunic of purple, his black mask fastened by a golden fillet. And the part suited him; he had a lean and youthful symmetry that could show itself gracefully naked to the knee and shoulder. He walked like an athlete, and he was not self-conscious.

He stood chatting to Grace Fortescue, who had come as Britannia, but though his tongue was busy his eyes and thoughts were elsewhere. The band had struck up, and was playing a wild, vibrant waltz. The masked figures began a swirling movement, but Barrington stood still and waited.

Then she came, a tall figure in a close-fitting dress the colour of flame. It was a mere sheath, sensuous, superbly modelled. On her forehead burnt a tongue of fire. She carried a mimic torch in her hand.

Barrington made his way round the room.

"Greetings. Icarus salutes you."

Her eyes smiled at him through the openings in her black mask.

"You know me—you are sure?"

"Your voice would be sufficient. Don't let us miss this waltz; it is gorgeous. May I take you?"

"Yes."

He laughed.

"I must leave these wings behind, or they will be scorched—so near to the sun."

He unbuckled them from his arms, and left them on a settee.

"Now—I know you can dance like fire."

"How do you know that?"

"One has only to see you move to guess it."

That dance was a great emotional experience for both of them. Their whole attitude towards each other seemed to change, to grow more intimate and subtly comprehensive. They moved together without effort, with the instinctive sympathy of two people who had danced many times together, not perfunctorily, but as lovers. They hardly spoke, but when the music ceased they felt the exultation of a mysterious understanding.

"I knew you would set fire to me."

"Go and find some cold Englishwoman to quench it."

"Perhaps I do not wish it quenched."

They danced a second waltz together, and then she ordered him to leave her; she was a little breathless, glowing under her flame-coloured dress.

"We are too conspicuous; return presently. Yes, and you may bring me some English partners."

Barrington was passing through into the card-room in search of one or two reliable acquaintances, when a man dressed as a Death's Head Hussar shouldered him rudely. It was done so clumsily, and with such aggressiveness, that it almost escaped appearing as an accident.

"Hallo, sir!"

He stared hard at the man, and saw a pair of sullen eyes behind the fellow's mask.

"Did you do that on purpose?"

"It is possible."

"Then you are a silly ass, whoever you are. Such things aren't done at a private dance. Good night!"

He walked on, picked out an English soldier, and carried him off to introduce him to Countess Glika. He himself was due to dance with Grace Fortescue. As they glided round he saw the hussar watching them.

"I say, do you know who that fellow is?"

"Which one?"

"The hussar."

"That robust-looking person? No. I don't think I can even guess."

"He shouldered me just now, as though I were his mortal enemy."

"Perhaps you are. You may have trodden on his toes—somewhere."

"Well, I hope I did. The fellow has the look of a Teuton."

Presently he found himself again with Countess Glika. They sat in an alcove behind some palms, while a few enthusiasts "tangoed" with infinite seriousness.

"You have not told me how you like my dress."

"I like it too much to say how much."

She laughed.

"What a dear, dull partner you found me."

"But then you said you did not want to be conspicuous. No woman could be conspicuous with Major Browne. They used to call him Reliability Browne."

"You funny English! If one is dull, one is good. I feel wicked, audacious to-night."

"Well, you look splendid."

He glanced up suddenly, and saw the Death's Head Hussar staring at them insolently as he passed across the opening of the alcove.

"I should like to kick that German," was Barrington's reflection.

For a while he had other partners to serve, and the Countess Glika chose to believe that she was tired. He left her half hidden behind the palms, watching the dancers, a symbolical figure with that flame upon her forehead.

A mood of sadness seized her. It was as though some joyous playfellow had taken her by the hand and drawn her out into the sunlight, and in looking back she discovered how sinister and problematical that other life of hers had been. And yet she could not escape from it without sacrificing a passionate and patriotic dream. She was a vowess; she had pledged herself; it was her fate to go forward through this land of intricate and treacherous hatreds and ambitions.

"So you enjoy yourself!"

She started and then sat rigid, staring up at a man whom she found standing beside her. It was the Death's Head Hussar, and in spite of his mask she knew him by his voice.

"You here!"

He bowed.

"You did not expect me! No. And yet it was only last week you declared that you were living the life of a nun."

"Well, it was true."

His eyes gleamed dully. There was greed in them, anger, the unrestrained passion of a man who had always satisfied his desires. He stretched out a hand and touched her shoulder.

"This is the dress of a nun, eh? Fire—and the flesh!"

She swept his hand aside with a gesture of proud distaste. She was cold as snow now, watchful, on her guard.

"You think I should not be here? And why?"

"If I had been warned I should have had no cause to reprimand you."

"Reprimand! Be careful what words you use to me. My pride can outmatch yours, sire. And have you forgotten that I am a woman and young? And do you straightway rush into dishonourable suspicions because I choose to laugh and enjoy myself for one night?"

He sat down beside her, and she noticed the whiteness of the knuckles of the hand that rested on his knee; it was clenched in a fury. For a moment he did not speak. He was trying to steady himself.

"You do not know what my pride is, Anna. To see you dancing with that bare-legged, bare-armed English fool!"

"Be careful."

"I am a man, and more than a man. I permit no subject, no stranger, to come within my circle, to touch the hand that I have honoured."

"Ah, the superman! Are you so great an egoist?"

"My blood is not the blood of these bourgeois English, that nation of brewers and shopkeepers."

She held her head high, looking straight in front of her.

"So you do not trust me? Very good. Let us say no more. I am not a woman who can deign to accept mistrust."

"Insolence is no answer," he retorted.

He found her smiling at him, and her smile was not comforting to his majesty.

"I hold a court of my own, sire. And I dismiss you—to-night; the audience is ended. Come to me in a less tyrannical spirit, and I will listen to you to-morrow. But do not dare to be jealous and to assault me with your jealousy. I will bid you good night."

She rose and walked away, leaving him behind the palms. And he did not follow her; he was a little dazed, astonished. No woman had ever dared to treat him as this woman treated him, and he could not understand it.

In the ballroom she met Barrington coming to take her to supper.

"Will you have my car sent round?"

"But you are not going! We have just arranged a table for supper."

"I have decided to go. Come down with me, Jack; I want to say something."

He was surprised, troubled, but wholly at her service.

"I'll have the car sent round at once."

He asked for no reasons, and she appreciated his delicacy. The lounge at the foot of the staircase was nearly deserted.

"Get my cloak for me; here is the number. I will wait here."

He called a porter, and sent him for the Countess Glika's car; and then went off to the cloakroom, wondering why she was leaving so abruptly. When he returned to the lounge with a cloak of sable over his arm, he found her sitting in a chair that was screened from the staircase by a curtain.

"I'm terribly disappointed——"

She held up her hand.

"You had better know why I am going. Someone whom I know discovered me here, and made it impossible for me to stay. No, don't be angry. It has been splendid; that first dance of ours was a rhapsody. But—you may have suspected that I am a politician, a schemer, and here—I was being insulted by the suspicions of someone whom I have to regard as a friend."

"Insulted? You have been insulted here? But there is no one——"

"There is an unbidden, or rather, an unknown guest present. But I ask you to say nothing, do nothing. I trust you."

He stood looking down at her with sudden deep concern.

"I will do just what you ask me to do. But, Anna——"

She held up a hand.

"Be silent—be silent. The man is coming to say my car is at the door. I must go."

He helped her with her cloak, gave her his arm, and saw her into her car.

"I'm sorry."

She smiled as she gave him her hand.

"You have been so good tempered. Good night!"

"Good night!"

The white landaulette drove off, and he returned to the ballroom, puzzling himself by wondering who the unknown was who had been responsible for her leaving so abruptly. Was it a man or a woman? And that vague hint of hers as to some political intrigue!

Mystery still surrounded her, and mystery did not displease him. He was piqued, challenged by it. She seemed made for mystery and for adventure. Flame! He knew now that his blood had taken fire.

But Barrington was a sportsman and a cavalier. He laughed and talked through supper, was gallant to women to whom a little generous gallantry meant much, and danced to the end. He had forgotten all about the Death's Head Hussar, till he discovered that the gentleman had disappeared after causing some curiosity.

"Who was he?"

"He never danced, and he never spoke to anyone."

"Oh, but he did. I saw him talking to the Woman in that flame-coloured dress."

Barrington caught the remark, and found it infinitely suggestive. So it was that German beast who had insulted her; and there had been some reason for the fellow's shouldering him in that doorway.

Captain Prague had been in attendance on monsieur, and had spent a couple of hours at a famous restaurant, enjoying the most elaborate supper that could be obtained in Monte Carlo. Monsieur's car had been ordered to be in waiting at midnight outside the Moscow, and Prague, sleepy and surfeited, dozed inside it under a bearskin rug. He was roused by the door being opened suddenly, and by somebody treading heavily on his foot.

"The devil!"

"Wake up, you fool!"

Prague woke up very thoroughly then.

"A thousand pardons, sire. I was tired, and had dropped off for a few seconds."

The Prince pulled the rug over his knees, and the chauffeur closed the door. In a few seconds they were moving away towards Nice.

The Prince was very silent. Once he smote the floor of the car with his heel. Prague was very much awake now, and bristling with curiosity.

"May I hope, sire, that your evening proved enjoyable?"

The Prince tore off his mask and threw it out of the window.

"Enjoyable, Prague—most enjoyable. My God! you were right. Never have I been spoken to as I was spoken to to-night."

"Was the Countess present, sire?"

"Prague, you will carry a letter to the Villa Biron to-morrow morning. I will give her a chance to apologise to me—to explain. She never expected to see me there to-night."

He laughed viciously.

"A cigar. I left my case at home."

Prague produced his, and monsieur smoked all the way to Nice; and Prague, who knew his moods, did not disturb him.

Now the Countess Glika took her coffee and rolls in bed next morning. She had slept but little, and had opened her eyes with a feeling of lassitude and of dreaminess, but it was not an unpleasant feeling. Something had happened—something of very peculiar significance, and she wanted to lie still and think. And through all the texture of her thoughts ran like a red thread the vibrant emotion of the waltz that she had danced with the Englishman. Nothing else seemed of great account. Her quarrel with monsieur made her smile, and yet it had been serious; she realised that; but the conviction lacked edge—it did not cut deep into her consciousness.

Her maid had just finished dressing her hair when Dmitri knocked at the door.

"Captain Prague, Madame. He has brought a letter."

"Bring it to me, Susette. Tell Captain Prague, Dmitri, that I will see him presently."

"He has gone, Madame. He did not wait."

She dismissed Susette, and, sitting before her dressing-table, opened and read the letter:

"ANNA,—You will see me this afternoon. I shall leave my car outside the sea-gate, and walk through the pine wood.

"You may wish to say certain things to me. I am sufficiently magnanimous to give you that opportunity.—F."

So His Highness was still high in the saddle. He would deign to come and grant her the chance of abasing herself, of throwing herself metaphorically at his Teutonic feet! She smiled. It was plain that he had not learnt his lesson. He wanted her to behave as other women had behaved. He had not realised that she was not as other women—that her empire was not to be a thing of the flesh, a mere incident that he could forget when it might no longer be pleasant for him to remember it.

And sitting there looking into her mirror she seemed to see beyond herself, beyond that pale face of hers, with its soul-troubling eyes. It was a moment of illumination. So many men had made love to her that she had grown a little jaded, inclined to look on love as a lure and a bauble. This morning she looked deeper into the glass of her fate, saw something that shocked her—something that made her pause.

Even if she surrendered herself in the end, could she count on this man's loyalty? He might repudiate her, repudiate her pledges, bribe right and left, even set others moving who would know how to create silence. Her eyes dilated. For these were no vain imaginings, no panic thoughts. Pistol and knife and poison lay beneath the soft folds of all this Germanic diplomacy. They had tried to frighten her, but she had refused to be frightened. They had not touched her yet, because monsieur had stood between.

She faced the afternoon calmly, determined to keep her pride in the air, and to make him respect it. She would judge him by the way he behaved to her after this quarrel. It should be the crisis, the knife edge on which she would balance the future.

She waited for him in the great clearing in the middle of the pine wood, lying on a chaise longue, a book in her lap, a vacant chair beside her. Overhead the sky was a flawless shield of blue. The day was very still; the tops of the trees absolutely motionless.

She heard a car coming down the road towards Cap St. Pierre. It stopped, and she guessed that it was his car. Suspense had gripped her. She wanted him to come, to speak, to show his true self. Then she could judge, decide, hold him in vassalage, or let him go.

Then he appeared where the path opened from the wood, and it struck her that he was too short and squat. She had seen him on horseback reviewing troops; he could ride, but he could not walk, and to-day his dignity was very martial and needed a horse.

She did not move, but just smiled at him and pointed to the empty chair.

"So we are to have a friendly talk. What could be better?"

He bowed, with rigid hauteur.

"As usual, you are very informal."

"Am I to get up and stand like a schoolgirl, and say: 'Yes, sir; no, sir'? Come, this is my villa. You are just Monsieur Friedrich, and I am Madame Anna."

His eyes were sullen. The aggressive tusks of his moustache annoyed her; they had no right to be so aggressive when the mouth under them was so weak.

"You know why I have come?"

"To give me an opportunity to throw myself at your feet!"

"You are frivolous; you have no sense of dignity."

"Oh, sire, but I have a sense of humour!"

She lay back and laughed, and even as she lay looking at the tops of the trees a queer, droning sound seemed to come from over the sea. For the moment she attached no significance to the sound; it is possible that she did not notice it.

Monsieur was sitting very stiff and square in his chair.

"May I suggest, madame, that I did not come here to be laughed at?"

"Well, shall I frown at you? It seems to me that you desire to be too exacting—too tyrannical."

"I demand, madame, what is due to me, what is due to my position and honour. I do not choose to share you with English brewers and French swine."

That whirring noise overhead grew so insistent that it could not be ignored. Countess Glika noticed a great shadow sweeping across the grassy space, like the shadow of a huge bird. She looked skywards, and her face was the face of one suddenly confronted with some desperate dilemma.

"An aeroplane!"

Monsieur stared upwards in a bored way. The thing was black against the sun, but it came sweeping round till its wings glistened in the blue sky. They could see the little dark figure of the pilot leaning forward slightly, as though he were scanning the country under him.

Anna held her breath. She had realised that Jack Barrington had come to prove to her that he could bring his machine to earth on that grassy arena in the thick of the pine wood.

But what a predicament!

She frowned and glanced at monsieur. He was watching the machine with the evident arrogance of a royal egoist, who attached a personal meaning to all the phenomena that life could offer.

"What does the fellow want to fly about over here for? Some precious spy."

The aeroplane circled overhead. Then the whir of the motor ceased abruptly.

"The devil—but he is going to descend! He will get smashed on the trees."

He started up excitedly.

"Look!"

She threw book and sunshade aside and stood up with a queer feeling of panic. She was trembling, almost unnerved.

The aeroplane was descending in a great spiral, gliding lower and lower along an aerial curve. The last loop of the spiral looked as though it must bring the machine crashing into the tops of the trees. But no such thing happened. It cleared them and ended its volplane with a beautiful little glide to the ground, and, running along the grass, came to a standstill about twenty yards from the fir boles at the farther end of the clearing.

The Countess Glika's eyes were smiling. In half a minute she had passed through a supreme experience, touched the realities of life, discovered what mattered and what did not matter. In that half-minute of suspense monsieur had ceased to be of infinite importance. She refused to be posed by a dilemma. Chance had taken the decision out of her hands.

"Anna!"

She roused herself and found his eyes fixed meaningly upon her face.

"Have I surprised you a second time?"

"It seems that my friend the Englishman has surprised us to-day. Do not vex yourself, Friedrich. If your temper cannot behave itself, why—go. It is very simple."

He almost shouted at her.

"Remember to whom you are speaking! No; I shall stay here. I shall know how to treat this fellow."

She gave him one look and then moved forward across the grass to meet Barrington, who had climbed out of his pilot's seat and was walking towards her. His blue eyes looked keen and adventurous. He smiled at her and saluted.

"My helmet will not take itself off. I hope Icarus has not got himself into disgrace? I told you I could do it."

"Oh, vainglorious man!"

For the first time Barrington noticed that she was not alone. The Prince was standing in the shadow of the trees, and Barrington had been absorbed in making that adventurous landing.

"I say, I hope I'm not in the way. I can clear out and come back for the machine presently."

She was watching his face, and she saw that it did not betray an egoist's impatience. His eyes remained clear and unclouded. He meant what he said.

"It is a friend of mine; he has driven over from Nice to see me. Strange that both of you should have come from Nice. Come and be introduced."

Her sense of humour carried her away. She was delightfully curious to see how monsieur would bear himself as man to man. And in her heart she was being tempted to draw comparisons.

"One word—he is just a little eccentric. Don't be surprised if he behaves rather queerly. He has held a very responsible post for years, and is just a little inflated."

"I see."

"Can you speak German?"

"Very little."

"Then let it be French."

She introduced the two men, referring to monsieur as Herr Weissmann. Barrington held out a hand, but the Prince stood stock still, his arms pressed stiffly against his sides, his head unbending. He stared at the Englishman. It was about as insolent an attitude as any man could have adopted.

Barrington's hand had to make a dignified retreat. He frowned slightly and then smiled.

Anna looked meaningly at monsieur. She returned to her chaise longue, and it was Barrington who picked up her sunshade and her cushion.

Then an absurd thing happened. Both men caught hold of the solitary chair at exactly the same moment. Both refused to let go.

"I have the right to sit, sir, while others stand."

Barrington's eyes beamed on him.

"I was about to offer you the chair, Herr Weissmann. Allow me to place it for you."

He gave a twist of the wrist and the chair was his. He placed it within a yard of the Countess and bowed to monsieur.

"It is yours, sir."

He threw himself on the grass on the other side of Anna's chaise longue, but the Prince remained standing. He had been worsted in the matter of manners. Dignity and a sulky temper refused to let him sit down.

Countess Glika held the centre of the balance between these two men. She had seen everything, appreciated everything. Barrington looked amused; monsieur had a face of thunder—thunder that lacked the lightning.

"So you flew from Nice. It is a perfect day—no wind."

"Perfect. I came along the coast, and the sea was quite still. I could see all the rocks patterned out under the water. It is a grand machine, that Vampire."

"Is it the one that took you to Corsica and back?"

"Yes."

She turned her head and had a side glance of a stiff and sulky figure standing with inflated chest and moustache bristling.

"Do you not wish that you could fly, Herr Weissmann?"

He appeared to swallow something.

"I do not do such things, madame. I pay men to do them for me."

Barrington glanced up at monsieur behind the Countess's sunshade, and then the truth dawned on him. This was the Death's Head Hussar, the man who had shouldered him in the doorway and spoilt the evening for Madame Flamme.

Barrington had been taught to think and act quickly. He had had to face round and meet a charging rhino, and keep his head and straighten out an aeroplane after it had flopped into an air pocket. He realised that he had dropped into a delicate situation, that he did not know how the wind blew, that he was flying in a fog. The humorous aspect of the affair vanished. He became conscious of a complex and mysterious atmosphere, a feeling of tension that held him on the alert.

He began to talk easily and with the frankness of a man who had fine manners. If he had been the cause of embarrassment, it was up to him to lift the dead weight off Anna's shoulders.

"I dare say you drive a car, sir? Well, it's the same thing, only a little more delicate, and you can't stop and sit still and admire the view. If you are staying at Nice I should be glad to take you up some day."

Monsieur was silent a moment.

"I have been forbidden to fly," he said.

"Oh, your doctor? Then you are quite right."

"No, sir; my life happens to be too precious."

"If one looks at it in that way, of course one stays on the ground. I happen to be an idiot with plenty of money and no wife; I can please myself as to taking risks."

Monsieur ceased to pay any attention. He looked bored, pulled out his watch, and glanced with venomous impatience at Barrington. His natural instinct was to hint very plainly to this commoner that he was in the way, that his presence could be dispensed with, but Herr Weissmann could not expect to be accorded the arbitrary authority of a royal personage. Elsewhere, it would have been so easy to order the fellow to get into his confounded machine and exhibit himself a few hundred feet nearer the sun.

He remarked on the time, ostentatiously and with emphasis. And he was astonished when the Countess Glika understood him to be suggesting that he must go.

"I know what a man of affairs you are. What a pity you will not let Mr. Barrington take you back to Nice."

That last thrust of hers was final. He bowed to her with a meaning glare in his eyes, and, ignoring the Englishman, marched off along the path that led through the pine wood.

For a moment neither Barrington nor the Countess Glika said a word. Barrington looked serious. He was wondering whether she was angry.

"Please say the severest things you can think of. I will take them without a murmur."

"Do you feel guilty?"

"I ought not to have dropped on you out of the skies. It annoyed your friend considerably. I soon realised that I had acted like an irresponsible fool. Are you angry?"

She was lying back, looking at the sky.

"No."

"You mean it?"

"Yes."

He moved round so that he was facing her.

"Still, the fact that you are generous does not clear my conscience."

She sighed, but it was a sigh of relief, not of regret. A sensitive smile played about her mouth.

"Do not vex yourself, my friend. Perhaps I am grateful to you; perhaps you have done me a great service by sweeping down out of the skies:"

"I can only say that I am glad. I was afraid that I had blundered in like a bumble-bee."

She sat up, clasped her hands about her knees and looked at him fixedly.

"Is it possible that you are devoid of curiosity?"

"On the contrary, I am one of the most inquisitive beasts that ever poked its nose into adventure."

"Then you have very fine manners. You can make yourself appear just like a blue-eyed boy, with no thoughts under the surface."

He flushed.

"Thank you. I take that as precious praise."

"But you have no desire to ask questions?"

"The desire is there, but I can plead no authority."

Her eyes looked at him in a way that made his blood run faster.

"Supposing I give you that authority?"

"I'll try to deserve it."

"Very well, ask any question you wish and I will answer it."

He said nothing for a moment, but just looked at her with an intense, blue-eyed seriousness.

"Anna, I am a man who can hold myself in, but if you once give me the right to rush into the wind, I warn you you will have trouble with me."

She met his steady gaze just as steadily.

"I give you that right; I am going to trust you. And I think I can tell you what your first question will be," she said.

"Well?"

"Who my friend—Herr Weissmann—is."

He nodded.

"He was at the Moscow, dressed as a hussar?"

"Yes."

"I'll ask that question," he said—"who is he?"

She turned right and left to see that they were alone, and then, bending slightly towards him, spoke in a whisper.

Barrington's head went up like the head of a boxer dodging a blow on the jaw.

"Good God! Prince Friedrich of——"

"S-s-sh! Now you understand why he behaved to you as he did. The arrogance of Empire! You English dog, eh?"

But Barrington's face looked like iron.

"Yes, I grasp all that. But this is amazing! It means——"

He hesitated.

"It means more questions?"

"Yes."

"Ask them."

He looked at her with kindling eyes.

"No, I'll not do it. It would be a kind of insolence towards you that I cannot possibly dream of. I'll ask nothing."

Her spirit mounted to him.

"I honour you for that. But is there no reason why I should not tell you?"

"There is one great reason, Anna."

"Ah! Perhaps—have I guessed it?—that might be to accuse me of arrogance. But I will tell you. For the last year it has been the heart's core of my life, and my heart is in Russia."

He did not speak, but waited for her to go on.

"Perhaps you English love England. You will realise it some day when the eagle plucks at the lion's heart. All Europe is one great maze, where men plot and whisper and try to delude each other. No doubt you have heard of our Prince?"

"Gossip."

"And what does gossip say?"

"That he is something of a mystery—that he is suspected of Slav sympathies."

"There you have the riddle. And can you not guess now who influenced him?"

He sat back and stared at her.

"Good God, Anna, what have I done?"

"You?"

"Yes, blundered like a fool of a wasp into your web and torn it."

She gave a queer, breathless laugh and stretched out her hands.

"No, no. You have saved me from making a mad sacrifice that I now see would have been useless. This man loved me. Did I love him in return? You can guess. I thought that I might inspire him, draw him away from that brutal and arrogant race that is ready to cry 'God' and 'Kultur,' and to stab humanity in the back. I weighed him, tried him, and doubted. And what have I found him?—a boor, selfish, none too brave, sometimes a sentimental fool, sometimes half a savage. He would have broken my heart. If I had given myself to him he would have taken my body and betrayed my soul."

He had the air of one under a spell, for all that calm, pale beauty of hers had blazed into a passionate splendour. And she was speaking to him, pouring all the fire of herself into his ears.

He spoke with a curious humility.

"I suppose I ought to thank God that this has happened. I know that I am very proud that you should have chosen to trust me."

She caught up those last words of his.

"Yes, why have I trusted you? Why have I told you things that no other living creature knows? Ah, well, I suppose I could not help myself. I was very lonely and you came, and you had the eyes of a sailor, the eyes of a man who had faced danger, a man whom danger has strengthened and made clean."

"You choose to think me better than I am. We men have a way of showing off. But if ever a man was in earnest——"

He sprang up and looked keenly into the wood. "I thought I heard something moving. Let's walk farther away from the trees."

She joined him, and they strolled in the direction of the aeroplane.

"Supposing our friend shows temper?"

"It is possible, but I do not fear it greatly. Besides, all those who were against me will be glad."

"True."

She glanced over her shoulder.

"Can you guess what it feels like to know that someone may shoot you in your own garden or when you are driving back from the theatre? I have lived with that fear. It is not pleasant."

He swung nearer to her suddenly as they walked. Her hand was hanging, and then he found himself holding it.

"Anna, I want to look after you. I want to stand between you and our friend's spite."

Her dark eyes met his; she did not attempt to withdraw her hand.

"I am a very worldly creature, Jack."

"I do not believe it."

"Yes, but I am. How do you know that I am not fooling you, using you to make another man jealous?"

"Because you could not do it."

"But how do you know that? Are we such old friends?"

He answered her with impressive simplicity.

"You are not that sort of woman. I have no reasons to give you. It is like believing in God; that's all."

They wandered through the pine woods to the sea, and the sun was low in the west before they returned. Dmitri had to be sent to find the two gardeners and the chauffeur to help Barrington turn his machine and to hold it while the engine got going.

Anna glanced anxiously at the tops of the firs.

"There looks so little room."

His eyes and voice reassured her.

"Do you think I would risk it now if I did not know that it was pretty safe?"

His amateur helpers served him well, and the Vampire's engine was in perfect fettle. Anna held her breath as the aeroplane went running towards the trees. Would it never rise? It looked as though it must go crashing straight into those brown trunks! Then the machine lifted swiftly and, soaring, cleared the tree-tops easily. She gave a sigh of relief. He was a man of action and a man of his word.

Captain Prague was asleep in a comfortable chair when Prince Friedrich's car drew up outside the villa that he had hired for the season. Prague could have slept through a bombardment, especially after one of those gargantuan lunches of his. He was roused by the sound of a door being slammed.

He yawned, blinked, and then started up, putting on his courtier's manner with eager alacrity. For the Prince was standing there, staring at him with a face of thunder.

"Himmel! Prague, you are like an old dog, always curling up and getting trodden on."

"I did not expect you so soon, sire."

Something had happened. It looked as though the Countess Glika and Herr Weissmann had quarrelled.

The Prince walked out on to the balcony and stood there, looking out over the sea. He brushed the points of his moustache and drummed irritably on the iron railing with his fingers. He appeared to be watching for something.

"Prague!"

"Sire."

"Come here."

Prague went. The Prince gripped his arm and pointed seawards.

"Look there!"

"An aeroplane, sire?"

"Yes. That dog of an Englishman. He has been at the Villa Biron. Prague, I have been grossly fooled, grossly insulted."

Prague looked shocked, incredulous.

"Impossible, sire!"

The Prince stamped on the stone floor of the balcony.

"It is true. The gossip you heard came from someone who is wiser than I am. That woman has been playing with me, Prague, playing with me! It is astounding!"

Prague appeared voiceless, but he was doing some subtle thinking.

"Are you sure, sire, that you are not mistaken?"

"Mistaken! Don't talk like a fool, Prague."

"But it is incredible that a woman like the Countess Glika should risk your favour, sire, for the sake of an English plutocrat!"

He reflected.

"You will pardon me, sire, but if you will suffer me to sift the matter, to approach certain people who can find out the truth——"

"Have them watched, my friend?"

"That is your right, sire. Your dignity must be guarded from designing enemies. No one must be allowed to laugh at you, sire."

"Laugh at me! How dare you suggest such a thing, Prague! It is unthinkable."

"It is, sire. But have I your permission——"

"Thunder! Yes, have them watched. And get me a cigar."

Three days passed. The Prince spent two of them at Monte Carlo and lost much money there, which did not glorify his outlook on life. One whole day he sat in the chaume of his villa garden, smoking and watching Nice and the sea, He saw an aeroplane fly eastwards, and later he saw it return.

Captain Prague was busy, in spite of a love affair with a noted houri at Monte Carlo. He visited the Baroness Bromberg, and was also received by a very exalted personage who was spending a month in retirement on the Riviera. The exalted personage had the look of a lean, old, grey-feathered bird. His nose was as hard as a vulture's beak, his mouth a mere slit below it.

The exalted personage had a reputation for being laconic.

"Tell him the woman's a ——," he said. "And send him to see me."

And Prague admired the exalted personage immensely. He was one of those grey eagles who would tear Europe to pieces and give the Teutonic people the remnants to tag together into a new Empire.

On the fourth day Prague went to see the Bromberg, and found her vastly amused at life. She had photographs to show him, and she heaved and chortled over them.

"That fellow Müller of mine is a genius. Look at these, my dear friend. How he managed to get them puzzles me."

Prague examined the photographs, and gave way to fat laughter.

"Immense! The fellow must have been crawling about like a lizard!"

"Take them home with you, Prague. And here is a confidential report. The Prince may like to read it after he has looked at the pretty pictures."

"Himmel, he will go mad!"

Prague chuckled and rolled to and fro in his chair.

"Did Müller produce this?"

The Baroness's eyes lit up for a moment.

"I did, my friend. I amplified Müller's notes and gave them a touch of literary realism."

"Immense! The spell will be broken and the witch discredited."

"She must be more than discredited. The royal protection will be withdrawn, and then——"

"And then?"

"Something will happen to her, Prague. She will cease to be fascinating. How dared she try to thwart us?"

Prague took those photographs and the confidential report back to Nice and presented them to the Prince with an air of sympathetic depression. They were sealed up in a big envelope, and Prague pretended that he had not examined the contents; but he let it be understood that the hints he had received were not flattering to madame.

He expected an outburst, and he was not disappointed. Herr Weissmann's hands trembled as he examined those photographs and turned the pages of the report. His face went an earthy colour. It was not a pleasant face, with its vindictive eyes and weak, malicious mouth.

"My God! she shall pay for this. And that dog of an Englishman!"

He was beside himself, wild with an hysterical jealousy that clamoured for self-expression. He rushed to a bureau, took a revolver out of a drawer, and looked to see that it was loaded.

Prague threw himself in the way.

"Sire, calm yourself, calm yourself. If this woman has wronged you, you have friends who will wipe out the insult. It is beneath your dignity, sire, to chasten her with your own hands."

"I am going to kill her, Prague."

"My Prince, for God's sake, listen to me. It is impossible for you to soil your hands with such an affair. There are people whose business it is to do such things. It is a public necessity, and we honour the men and women who perform it. But for you, sire, no."

Prague had an anxious and an argumentative half-hour, but he knew his master and his master's temper. The Prince was a coward, and Prague was able to persuade him to be cruel. Moreover, there was that exalted personage to be considered. Prague was very anxious that the Prince should listen to the wise words of that Nestor.

The revolver was put away, and Prague spent ten minutes getting into touch on the telephone with the exalted personage.

"Bring him to dine with me," said the voice over the wire.

And at half-past seven the Prince entered his car and was driven to the exalted personage's villa.

It was a grand night, and after dinner the Prince and his host sat on the terrace under the palms, smoked, and chatted like father and son. A brilliant moon shone over the sea, but the exalted personage saw to it that romance did not shiver in the Prince's blood.

"I am indeed thankful," he said, "that your good sense has shown you what manner of woman this is, and how she has tried to use you. I was convinced that a man of your cleverness would in the end discover the truth for himself. The woman is a worthless adventuress. She is rotten with intrigue. And yet I admit that she is dangerous."

The Prince's mood was one of sullen and bitter vindictiveness, and the exalted personage diagnosed his temper and used it for his own ends.

"So long as you extended your favour to her we stood aside and spared this woman. But we cannot afford to be merciful to such enemies. For the sake of the Fatherland we have to silence them."

The Prince's face looked white and hard in the moonlight.

"I shall forget her," he said. "I surrender her to your wise justice."

"There speaks the true patriot. Another cigar, my son? We will set a heel on the head of this serpent."

The Prince lit a second cigar.

"It will please me to know that she has been punished," he said.

That night a professional-looking person in spectacles met the Baroness Bromberg as she left the gaming rooms. He bowed to her, beaming mildly, his face wrinkling like the face of an ape.

"May I present a letter to you, Baroness?"

Her staring eyes met his meaningly.

"It is permitted, Herr Schiller."

He handed her a letter, bowed, and went away smiling dreamily to himself, the most innocent looking creature imaginable, a Teutonic type that has contrived to impose itself on the more credulous believers in universal peace.

During those days Countess Glika ascended into heaven. Love flew out of the west, swooped upon that grassy space in the pine woods on Cap St. Pierre, snatched her up and carried her soaring into the blue. Somehow she had such faith in him that she was not afraid, though the physical part of her squirmed a little when, for the first time in her life, she felt the fierce pressure of the wind and saw the earth sliding below her. But it was a game that appealed to her audacity, and there was a subtle pleasure in feeling herself at his mercy. His air-mastery delighted her. She liked to watch his brown hands on the levers and that adventurous face of his gazing out over the world.

The blue of the sea bit into the grey and green of the land as they flew up and down the coast. White villas looked like blocks of freshly quarried stone lying amid herbage. Mentone, Monte Carlo, Nice were toy towns with red roofs and miniature trams and cars crawling along the threadlike streets. And through it all sounded the roar of the engine and the whirring of the propeller, while they seemed to force their way against the will of a stubborn wind.

He had flown over one afternoon, and was having tea with her, tea made in a samovar. Wistaria, masses of mauve bloom, covered the little Japanese shelter below the terrace. There was a scent of violets in the air, and the foliage of the orange and lemon trees seemed bathed in a mellow light.

They decided to fly together towards Nice, for it was a perfect evening, windless and warm. Anna went in to put on a heavy coat and to wrap her thick veil over her hair, while Barrington strolled on to the glade in the pine woods to make some trivial adjustment to his machine. And just where the path opened into the grassy space he found Dmitri waiting, leaning against a tree.

"Are the men coming, Dmitri?"

"Yes, monsieur."

But Dmitri looked at him in a queer way, and then nodded in the direction of the aeroplane.

"Will monsieur examine the machine?"

"Why, don't you trust it, Dmitri?"

"I ask monsieur to examine it, that is all."

They crossed the grass together, Dmitri silent, but with a glint of restlessness in his eyes. He stood and watched Barrington testing the controls and examining stays and wires.

"Hallo! what the——"

A subtle smile spread over Dmitri's face.

"You find something, monsieur?"

"I should think I do, Dmitri. Someone has been here with a hacksaw and a file and some white lead."

He turned, and his eyes were fierce.

"The machine has been tampered with. That wing would have buckled up and we should have been smashed."

Dmitri nodded.

"I am a suspicious soul, monsieur. I see more than other people. It so happened that I was inquisitive, and strolled down here—softly as the snow falls. And I saw a man busy at the machine. He did not see me, and when he had finished he slunk away into the wood."

"And you didn't follow him?"

Dmitri shrugged his shoulders.

"I knew what was of importance, and I had no pistol with me. They go armed, these Germans."

"Germans! What sort of man was it?"

"Just a little man, monsieur, with spectacles and a beard. I expect he changed his face in the wood."

Barrington's eyes looked ugly.

"Look here, Dmitri, you are to be trusted. What does this mean?"

"That they do not love my mistress, monsieur; that she is dangerous to them. And so they send their rats to come and nibble——"

For a moment Barrington almost doubted the whole business. It seemed so extraordinary, so damnable; but there was the machine with its cunningly weakened wing, and Dmitri's stolid and assured face to convince him.

"Good God! Look here, Dmitri, your mistress must know nothing of this. I'll tell her I have found a flaw in the machine, that it will not be safe to fly it till I have had the faulty parts replaced."

"As you wish, monsieur. They will try something else."

"What do you mean, man?"

"The Prince has not been here, monsieur, for many days."

"Then you know——"

Dmitri nodded.

"He is her enemy now. He will not defend her. They can do as they please."

"Do you mean to tell me, Dmitri, that there are people near us who are bent on deliberate murder?"

"Of course, monsieur. You are English, you do not live with such things. But in our countries people disappear, or they commit suicide, or they are found robbed and dead in the river. It is not the little criminals who do these things, but the great political criminals, monsieur."

Barrington stood stock still, thinking. And in those moments of thought he realised that it was he who had brought this peril into the life of the woman he loved. And he looked into Dmitri's stolid, loyal face and knew in his heart that the man had spoken the truth.

"Then there is only one thing to be done, Dmitri—madame will disappear."

"Yes, monsieur."

"And there seems to be only one country where these scoundrels cannot do as they please. Would you trust yourself in a train, Dmitri, if they had marked you down?"

"No, monsieur, I should not."

"Very well. I shall come to-night in my car. After all, it is better that madame should be told the truth about that machine. I will tell her, Dmitri."

"Yes, monsieur, I will be ready. And she is coming, monsieur; she is here."

Dmitri had taught himself the art of self-effacement, and there was much delicacy and discretion beneath that stolid surface. He watched his mistress with the eyes of a dog as she came out from the shadow of the pines.

"We shall need Adolphe and Etienne, Dmitri. Are they coming?"

He bowed and seized his chance..

"I will go and bring them, madame."

He disappeared, but he did not go more than fifty yards. He wanted to make sure that no one was in the wood, and so he patrolled it, keeping out of sight of the two in the clearing.

Now, it may have been that Barrington could not hide what was in his heart, for she came to him smiling, her dark hair all swathed up in a soft pink veil, and the thought flashed over him that in an hour she might have been lying dead, all that beauty of hers desecrated, but for Dmitri's shrewdness. A great anger gave a grim intensity to his love.

The smile dried out of her eyes.

"Oh, mon ami, why do you look so fierce?"

"I will show you."

He led her to the machine and pointed out to her how the wing supports had been tampered with.

"We owe our lives to Dmitri. He saw some scoundrel at this while I was out of the way. That wing might have buckled up at any moment, just when we were wanting to clear the tops of the trees, or perhaps when we were five hundred feet up and a puff of wind struck us."

She was white, silent, staring at him with tragic eyes.

"Oh, my God! And it is not enough that they wish me dead. They would have killed you too! Jack, forgive me!"

She held out her hands.

"Am I, then, one of those fatal women who bring disaster and madness to men? For myself I did not fear; I had counted the cost. I thought that you were in no danger, and I was happy. I wanted to live, were it for a week or a month——"

He caught her hands and drew her close to him. She felt the muscles of his arms all tense and rigid.

"Anna, why did you not tell me your life was in danger?"

"Because I hoped that they would no longer trouble about me; because I believed that you would be safe, whatever their devil's mood might be."

"Safe! Do I ask for safety for myself? Yes, Dmitri has opened my eyes; Dmitri is a man to be trusted. And by God! Anna, I'm the savage now, the savage with the club in his fist. I love you, and I'm going to keep you. And by God! if anything happens to you, in spite of me, I'll drag our friend the Prince out into his own garden and put a bullet through him."

She drew nearer still and put her face up to his.

"No, no, Jack. I know that these people have no mercy. They have put their mark against me and I'll face them alone. You have made me very happy, dear. Kiss me and go. Yes; I mean it."

His arms went round her. Their lips met. And then he held her at arm's length, his hand-set firmly upon her shoulders. His eyes were full of a grim yet laughing tenderness.

"You let me kiss you and tell me to go. And what a poor fool I should be! I would rather get into that machine and smash myself up somewhere between here and Nice. And am I going to give you up, leave you to be poisoned or shot by these infernal Germans? I think not. We are going to fool them, Anna. We shall be half across France by to-morrow morning."

She shook her head.

"I love you, but I'll not let you risk your life."

He laughed.

"Oh, very well, then. I'll call Dmitri and your men and I'll go up in that machine. I mean it, Anna; I'm not bluffing. Do you think I am going to let you make me a coward?"

"You are no coward, but——"

"But I'm in love with you. That's a very serious consideration. Now, then, am I to go up in that machine?"

She looked into his eyes, faltered, and then clung to him with sudden passion.

"Well, take me. Do what you will, I'm yours. And yet——"

"Listen, Anna. Your man will drive me back to Nice. By ten o'clock I shall be here with my car. Be ready. We'll drive through the night and straight on to Calais. There is not a machine in Nice that can catch us, even if they have the pluck to try it. Wrap up well, and get Dmitri to have a hamper of food ready. We'll take our meals on the road."

That English cheeriness of his, the spirit that dares and laughs, was like a stirrup-cup before a gallop. Her natural audacity returned to her. She was no longer afraid.

"What recklessness! Am I to leave everything here and run away with you to England all in one night?"

He slipped an arm about her and swung her round.

"What a mate I have won! What won't we do together, you and I! You have such pluck."

"Have I? Perhaps; but you will have to be less reckless."

"Well, I'm in love with you, dear; I shall not be in a hurry to break my neck."

In twenty minutes he was being driven along the Nice road in the white landaulette, nor did Barrington ever forget that drive. The whole atmosphere of it remained with him vividly—the blue sea, the grey mountains blackening in the west against the redness of a rather stormy sky, the villas perched upon the hill-side, the white dust of the winding road.

But he missed one detail that would have had a sinister significance. It was the rusty figure of a hairy little man in spectacles leaning over the parapet where the road skirted the sea, and staring towards Cap St. Pierre as though he were waiting to see the moon rise over the pines. Barrington did not notice him as they whirled past, nor did the little man glance up at the car. He was watching for an aeroplane, an aeroplane that had been tampered with.

Barrington had temporary quarters in a hotel at Nice. His big car was in the hotel garage. He tipped Adolphe, sent the white landaulette back to the Villa Biron, and went to his room to change.

The manager of the hotel was a German Swiss, a dapper, polite and rather insinuating little man. Barrington met him in the lounge as he came downstairs after packing his own kit bag. He had left his valet at the Glorieux.

The Swiss made conversation.

"Monsieur has had a good day? He did not return on his aeroplane?"

The average Englishman is a confident and trusting person. He does not go about the world suspecting every foreigner he meets of being a secret agent. The Swiss had been very polite, very obliging.

"No; I drove back. You might let me have my bill, Herr Zwingli. I have to be back in Monte Carlo to-night."

"Certainly, monsieur, certainly."

Barrington made his way to the garage that was at the back of the hotel, and found a sallow man in blue overalls polishing the brasswork of his car.

"Hallo, Pierre, I want twenty cans of spirit."

"Twenty, monsieur?"

"Yes; fill up the tank and pack the rest away in the tonneau. And put in a couple of gallons of oil."

"Monsieur is going far?"

"I may have to meet a friend at Marseilles."

Within ten minutes the Swiss manager had heard that Barrington had loaded up twenty cans of petrol and was making ready for a long run. Herr Zwingli shut himself in the telephone-box, called up somebody, and held a significant conversation.

"Herr B. Yes, yes. Leaving to-night. Is taking twenty cans of spirit on his car. Speaks of Marseilles. Yes, yes. Italy? Very likely. Genoa. He returned here in a white car."

Herr Zwingli came out of the telephone-box smiling. He, too, was one of the tiny cogs in the great wheel.

Barrington dined at Nice, drove on to Monte Carlo, paid his bill at the Glorieux, and packed up some of his luggage. It was about half-past nine when he left Monte Carlo, and following the curves of the coast road, saw the full moon rising across the bay above the pine woods of St. Pierre. He could hardly bring himself to believe that there was any danger in the adventure, with the moon shining so calmly on the sea and all those villa lights twinkling on the hillsides. Even the steady purr of the powerful engine seemed to suggest a civilised and well-balanced security. Yet he had an automatic pistol in the pocket of his leather-lined coat, a coward's weapon to his way of thinking, but essential when one might have to deal with political fanatics who were out for murder.

When he left the main road for the one that led along the Cape, Barrington switched off all his lights and slowed the car up to an almost noiseless glide. The shadow of the pine woods covered the road here and there. Barrington found the lodge gates open, and the deaf lodge-keeper standing in the doorway of his lodge.

Dmitri was waiting on the steps when Barrington pulled up outside the villa.

"All well, Dmitri?"

"All well, monsieur."

"We shall leave you in charge here, Dmitri. Have you any objection to that? Things must be looked after. I shall write to the English Consul and get him to put matters through for us."

"I will do what you wish, monsieur. But madame has been very good to me, and——"

"You will follow us to England, Dmitri, of course. We are not going to lose you. Is madame ready?"

"Yes; this way, monsieur."

She was in the blue salon sipping coffee and smoking a Russian cigarette. A magnificent black fur coat lined with ermine lay over the back of the sofa. She had more colour than usual, and her eyes were very bright.

Dmitri left them and went to stand guard over the car. As he reached the top of the steps something crawled away across the drive, keeping behind the car, and Dmitri did not see it. The crawling figure squirmed its way in between the shrubs and trees lining the road. It was the little bearded man with spectacles. He sat down, tucked a folding rule back into the breast-pocket of his coat, and seemed to be making calculations. He had been measuring the height of Barrington's car. So much depended on the height of the wind-screen and the slope of the seats. In the blue salon Barrington was bending over the couch; his hands held Anna's, and he was looking into her eyes.

"So you are not afraid, dear heart? I know what it means—a new life and a new country."

She smiled up at him dearly.

"I am only afraid that you will not take care of yourself. I shall make you promise that your adventures shall be my adventures."

"Even if we rough it in Central Africa?"

"I want to go all over the world with you."

They kissed with passion.

"Come along, playmate. We must be moving."

He picked up a cerise-coloured woollen coat that lay over the back of a chair.

"This first. You have got to wrap up as though we were going on an Arctic expedition or into Siberia. Fancy yourself in a troika for twenty-four hours. It will be bitterly cold when we get towards Avignon, and we are going full speed all night."

He made her wrap her throat and head up in a woollen shawl. The coat had a hood that could be turned forward.

"That's splendid, nothing but two eyes and a nose and a red mouth."

He kissed her.

"You have got fur gauntlets? Good. Now for our dash through the night."

He had turned the car before entering the villa, and left the engine running dead slow. Dmitri was lifting a big luncheon basket in on top of the petrol cans. Susette stood waiting with fur rugs and cushions.

Barrington took his place at the steering wheel.

"Settle yourself down comfortably. That's it, the cushions are behind you; draw those rugs well up. And sit low, I'm going to drop the wind-screen a bit for the first twenty miles. Loose that nut, will you, Dmitri? That's it. I like to see over the top—till it gets too cold."

Dmitri kissed his mistress's hands.

"May the good God watch over you."

"We shall see you in England, Dmitri," she said in a whisper.

He turned away and started running down the drive.

"I will see that François has the gates open."

The drive to the Villa Biron was about two hundred yards long and shaped like an S. Dmitri had covered about a hundred yards, when something caught him across the forehead and flung him heavily on his back.

Dazed for a moment, he scrambled up, flung out his arms, and struck something tense and metallic, something that quivered and hummed like a harp string. And suddenly he heard the car behind him, coming at a fair speed down the drive.

He tore at the wire, but could not break it; it only cut his hands.

Then he turned and ran, waving his arms and shouting, "Stop—stop!"

Barrington had switched on the electric headlights, and they showed him Dmitri running like a madman straight at the car. He threw out the clutch and jammed on both brakes, and stopped within five yards of the death-trap with Dmitri sprawling over the bonnet.

"Down, dear, down!"

He thrust her unceremoniously into the bottom of the car.

"What is it, Dmitri?"

"A wire—a wire across the road! Wait, monsieur. If I force it upwards with my hands you can pass underneath."

"The devil! We should have had our heads off!"

Dmitri sprang back, and Barrington saw him thrusting something upwards with his hands. He let the car glide forward very slowly, and, bending his head, found that he could just pass under the wire.

"Wait, monsieur."

Barrington had pulled the pistol out of his pocket, and he drove with one hand on the wheel. Dmitri was running towards the lodge with his arms stretched up and out before him.

Barrington spoke softly to Anna.

"Keep down, dear, keep out of sight."

He saw Dmitri standing in the moonlight by the open gates.

"Come, monsieur."

Dmitri ran out into the road, peering right and left, a pistol ready in his fist. He waved Barrington forward, seized hold of the hood-brackets as the car glided out, and, jumping on the running-board, swarmed over on to the back seat.

"Quick, monsieur, they may shoot, and I will shoot back."

There was no chance of the wire trick being played on them now they were beyond the lodge, for there were trees on only one side of the road, a low stone wall and the sea on the other. Barrington opened the throttle wide, and the powerful car went speeding under the shadows of the pines, while Dmitri knelt on the back seat, ready to fire at any threatening figure or at the red flash of a pistol.

Nothing happened. They reached the main road, but Barrington still kept the car going at a high speed. The electric headlights threw a brilliant stream of light; they were strong enough to blind anyone meeting them till the car had passed.

Barrington slackened up as they reached the outskirts of Monte Carlo. Anna had refused to remain crouching in the bottom of the car. She sat there beside him with a certain proud air, muffled up in her black furs.

"What is yours is mine," she said; "is not this our first adventure?"

At the top of the casino gardens Barrington slowed the car up, and Dmitri opened the door and jumped out.

"Bon voyage!"

He waved a hand.

"Au revoir, Dmitri; take care of yourself."

They left Dmitri hatless and smiling.

"I am quite safe, monsieur. They will hope to persuade me with money."

All through the night Barrington drove the car, watchful, imperturbable, but very happy. And Anna fell asleep at his side, and her head rested on his shoulder. They had begun the great adventure of life together.

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page