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My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 44119

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fifteen!" laughed our chauffeur over his shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mamma, you'd send a mummied cat into hysterics," giggled Beechy. "I guess together we'd make the fortune of a dime museum, if they could show us now. But the cars didn't run over us, did they?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Galatea?" I suggested.

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

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

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

"What she means?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dropped a penny into his palm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As he spoke a douanier lounged out of his little whitewashed lair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had Aladdin rubbed his lamp in the days before his unfortunate misunderstanding with the Geni and demanded the most beautiful of gardens, the fulfilment of his wish could have taken no fairer form than this. Strange, tropical flowers, vivid as flame, burned in green recesses; water-sprites

upset their caskets of pearls over rock-shelves into translucent pools where lilies lay asleep, dreaming of their own pale beauty. Long, green pergolas, starred with flowers, framed blue-veiled pictures of distant coast-line, and medi?val strongholds, coloured with the same burnt umber as the hills on which they stood, gloomed and glowed across a cobalt sea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Coil of rope? For what purpose?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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