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My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 13845

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And poor Maida has less."

He f

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

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

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

"Who could help being-in hers?"

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

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

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

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

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

"There are other things in life besides society."

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

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

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

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

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

"What is funny?" drearily demanded our chauffeur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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