MoboReader> Literature > My Friend the Chauffeur


My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 22838

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked rather taken aback.

"We-er-haven't motor things yet," she demurred.

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

Still the lady hesitated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

"Something under twenty," I conservatively replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top