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   Chapter 4 A CHAPTER OF HUMILIATIONS

My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 28230

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response to a gesture, the porters advanced in line, like the Three Graces; and counting rapid

ly, I made out that their load consisted of one good-sized "Innovation" cabin box, two enormous alligator-skin dressing bags, one small bag, and two capacious hold-alls, umbrellas, parasols, and a tea-basket.

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

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

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

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

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

"I should think you'd know."

"How could I know?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Phew!"

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

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

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

"To his uncle?" I echoed.

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

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

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

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

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

"Then it must have come by train."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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