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My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 16094

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Beechy was ill next morning; nothing serious; but the Prince, it seemed, had brought her in the evening a box of some rich Turkish confection; and though she doesn't care for the man, she couldn't resist the sweet stuff. So she had eaten, only a little, she said; but the box contradicted her, and the poor child kept her bed.

Aunt Kathryn and I were with her until eleven o'clock. Then she was sleepy, and told us to go away. So we went, and took a drive to the pretty harbour of Gravosa, with Mr. Barrymore and Sir Ralph in the motor, unaccompanied by the Prince, whose car was said to be somehow disabled.

We expected, if Beechy were well, to get on next day; but the Chauffeulier was troubled about the road between Ragusa and Cattaro-and no proper "route-book" existing for that part of the world, unexplored by motors, he could find out surprisingly little from any one. Prince Dalmar-Kalm was as ignorant as others, or appeared to be, although this was his own land; and so it seemed doubtful what would be our next adventure.

The spin was a very short one, for the day was hot, and we didn't care to leave Beechy long alone. But when we came back she was asleep still; and I was getting rid of my holland motor-coat in my own room when Aunt Kathryn tapped at the door. "Don't take off your things," she said, "but come out again-that's a dear-for a drive to Gravosa."

"We've just come back from Gravosa," I answered, surprised.

"Yes, but we didn't see the most interesting thing there. You know the yacht standing out at a little distance in the harbour, that I said looked like the Corraminis'? Well, it is the Corraminis'. The Prince wants us to drive with him-not on the automobile, for it isn't mended yet, but in a cab, and go on board the yacht for lunch with the County and Contessa."

"Oh, you'd better go without me," I said.

Aunt Kathryn pouted like a child. "I can't," she objected. "The Prince says I can't, for it would be misunderstood here if a lady drove out alone with a gentleman. Do come."

"I suppose I shall have to, then," I answered ungraciously, for I hated going. At the last minute little Airole darted after me, and to save the trouble of going back I caught him up in my arms. I was rewarded for the sacrifice I had made by being let alone during the drive. The Prince was all devotion to Aunt Kathryn, and scarcely spoke a word to me.

At the harbour there was a little boat sent out from the Corraminis' "Arethusa" to fetch us, so it was evident that we had been expected and this was not an impromptu idea of the Prince's.

On board the yacht, which we had visited once or twice in Venice, Count Corramini met us, his scarred face smiling a welcome.

"I am more than sorry that my wife is suddenly indisposed," he said, in his careful English. "She is subject to terrible headaches, but she sends messages and begs that Countess Dalmar will take the head of the table in her absence."

We lunched almost at once, and as it was a simple meal, finished soon. Coffee was served on deck under the awning, and its shadow was so cool, the air so fresh on the water, and the harbour so lovely that I was growing contented, when suddenly I grew conscious of a throb, throb of the "Arethusa's" heart.

"Why, we're moving!" I exclaimed.

"A short excursion the Prince and I have arranged for a little surprise," explained Count Corramini. "We hoped it might amuse you. You do not object, Countess?"

"I think it will be lovely, this hot afternoon," said Aunt Kathryn, who was radiant with childish pleasure in the exclusive attentions of the two men.

"But poor little Beechy!" I protested.

"Probably she will sleep till late, as she couldn't lunch," said Aunt Kathryn comfortably. "And if she wakes, the 'other Beatrice' as she calls Signorina Bari, will sit with her. She offered to, you know."

I raised no further objection to the plan, as evidently Aunt Kathryn was enjoying herself. But when we had steamed out of the Bay of Ombla, far away from Ragusa's towering fortifications, and on for more than an hour, I ventured to suggest to Count Corramini that it was time to turn back. "We shan't get to the hotel till after three, as it is," I said, glancing at my watch.

"Let us consult the Countess," he replied. "Here she comes now."

Aunt Kathryn and the Prince had left us twenty minutes before, to stroll up and down the deck, and had been leaning over the rail for some time, talking in low voices, but with great earnestness. As the Count answered me, they had moved and were coming slowly in our direction, Aunt Kathryn looking excited, as if the Prince had been saying something strange.

"Don't you think we ought to go back to Beechy?" I asked, as she came nearer.

She sat down in the deck chair without replying for a moment, and then she said, in an odd, quavering tone, "Maida, I've just heard a thing from the Prince, that I'll have to talk to you about. County, can I take her into the sallong?"

The Count jumped up. "It is for Dalmar-Kalm and me to go, if you wish to speak with Mees Destrey alone," he exclaimed. And laying his hand on the Prince's shoulder, the two men walked away together.

My only thought was that Prince Dalmar-Kalm must have told Aunt Kathryn of my refusal and asked her to "use her influence." But her first words showed me that I was mistaken.

"I'm very angry with the Prince, but I can't help thinking what he's done is romantic. He and the County have kidnapped us."

"What do you mean?" I exclaimed.

"Oh, you needn't look so horrified. They're only taking us to Cattaro by yacht instead of our going by automobile, that's all."

"All?" I echoed. "It's the most impudent thing I ever heard of. Didn't you tell him that you wouldn't go, that you-"

"Well, I'd like to know what good my saying 'Wouldn't' could do? I can't stop the yacht."

"It's Count Corramini's yacht, not the Prince's," I said, "and whatever else they may be, they're gentlemen, at least by birth. They can't run off with us like this against our wills."

Aunt Kathryn actually chuckled. "Well, they have, anyhow," she retorted. "And the Prince says, if only we knew what the road to Cattaro was like, I'd thank instead of scolding him."

"Nonsense!" I exclaimed. "We must go back. What's to become of Beechy left alone in Ragusa ill, with nobody but Mr. Barrymore and Sir Ralph to look after her? It's monstrous!"

"Yes, of course," said Aunt Kathryn, more meekly. "But Signorina Bari's there. It isn't so dreadful, Maida. Beechy isn't very sick. She'll be well to-morrow, and when they find we're gone, which they can't till late this afternoon, they won't waste time motoring down; they'll take a ship which leaves Ragusa in the morning for Cattaro. The Prince says they're sure to. We'll all meet by to-morrow noon, and meanwhile I guess there's nothing for us to do but make the best of the joke they've played on us. Anyway, it's an exciting adventure, and you like ad-"

"You call it a joke!" I cried. "I call it something very different. Let me speak to the Prince."

I sprang up, forgetting poor Airole asleep on my lap, but Aunt Kathryn scrambled out of her low chair also, and snatched my dress. "No, I'm not going to have you insult him," she exclaimed. "You shan't talk to him without me. He's my friend, not yours, and if I choose to consider this wild trick he's playing more a-a compliment than anything else, why, it won't hurt you. As for Beechy, she's my child, not yours."

This silenced me for the moment, but only until the men appeared. "Are we forgiven?" asked the Prince.

"Maida's very angry, and so am I, of course," replied Aunt Kathryn, bridling, and showing both dimples.

"Dear ladies," pleaded the Count, "I wouldn't have consented to help this mad friend of mine, if he hadn't assured me that you were too much under the influence of your rather reckless chauffeur, who would probably break your bones and his companion's car, in his obstinate determination to go down to Cattaro

by motor."

"Why, lately the Prince has been encouraging it!" I interrupted.

"Ah, you have misunderstood him. A wilful fool must have his way; that was what he thought of your gentleman chauffeur, no doubt. This will give the self-willed young man an excuse to take the boat to Cattaro to-morrow. You will have a run on Dalmar-Kalm's motor (which he has put on board on purpose) this afternoon from Cattaro to Schloss Hrvoya. It will not be serious for Miss Beechy. You can wire, and get her answer that Signorina Bari is playing nurse and chaperon very nicely."

"You must understand, Miss Destrey, as I have made the Countess understand already," put in Prince Dalmar-Kalm, "that I only chose this course because I knew it would be useless trying to dissuade Mr. Chauffeur Barrymore from attempting the trip by road; but this will effectually stop him."

"You are very, very naughty, Prince," chattered Aunt Kathryn; and I was so angry with her for her frivolity and vanity that I should hardly have dared to speak, even if words hadn't failed me.

"At least, we have thought of your comfort," said Count Corramini. "There are two cabins ready for your occupation, with everything you will need for the toilet, so that you can sleep in peace after your trip to Hrvoya."

"I must protest," I said, just able to control my voice. "I think this an abominable act, not worthy of gentlemen. Knowing that one of us feels so strongly, Count, won't you order your yacht to turn back to Ragusa?"

He bowed his head, and shrugged his eyebrows. "If I had not given my word to my friend," he murmured. "For to-day "Arethusa" is his."

"I believe he's bribed you!" the words sprang from my lips, without my meaning to speak them; but they hit their mark as if I had taken close aim. The scarred features flushed so painfully that they seemed to swell; and with the lightning that darted from under the black thundercloud of his brows, the man was hideous. He bit his lip to keep back an angry answer, and Aunt Kathryn screamed at me, "Maida! I'm ashamed of you. You'd better go to your cabin and not come out till you're in a-a more ladylike frame of mind."

I took her at her word and walked sharply away with Airole trotting at my heels.

There were six cabins on "Arethusa", as I knew, because I had been shown them all. I knew also which was Count Corramini's, which his wife's, which her maid's, and which were reserved for guests. Now I walked into one of the spare cabins, of which the door stood open, and whether it was meant for me or for Aunt Kathryn I wasn't in a mood to care.

Various toilet things had been ostentatiously laid out, and there was a bunch of roses in a glass, which in my anger I could have tossed out of the window; but I hate people who are cruel to flowers almost as much as those who are cruel to animals, and the poor roses were the only inoffensive things on board.

"Oh, Airole," I said, "she takes it as a compliment! Well-well-well!"

My own reflections and the emphasis of Airole's tiny tail suddenly brought my anger down from boiling point to a bubbly simmer; and I went on, thrashing the matter out in a conversation with the dog until the funny side of the thing came uppermost. There was a distinctly funny side, seen from several points of view, but I didn't intend to let anybody know that I saw it. I made up my mind to stay in the cabin indefinitely; but it was not necessary to the maintenance of dignity that I should refrain from enjoying as much of the scenery as the porthole framed in a picture. Accordingly I knelt on the bed, looking out, too excited to tire of the strained position.

We had passed a long tongue of land, beaten upon by white rollers of surf, that seemed as if they strove to overwhelm the old forts set far above their reach. A rocky island too, rising darkly out of a golden sea; and then we entered the mouth of a wonderful bay, like the pictures of Norwegian fords. As we steamed on, past a little town protected by a great square-towered, fortified castle, high on a precipitous rock, I guessed by the formation of the bay, which Mr. Barrymore had shown me on a map, that we were in the famous Bocche di Cattaro.

"Yes," I told myself, "that must be Castelnuovo. Mr. Barrymore said the bay was like the Lake of Lucerne, with its starfish arms. This can't be anything else."

The yacht glided under the bows of two huge warships, with officers in white, on awninged decks, and steamed into a long canal-like stretch of water, only to wind out again presently into a second mountain-ringed bay. So we went from one to another, passing several pretty towns, one beautiful one which I took to be Perasto, if I remembered the name aright, and two exquisite islands floating like swans on the shining water, illuminated by the afternoon sun. Then, at last we were slowing down within close touch of as strange a seaside place as could be in the world. Close to the water's edge it crept, but climbed high on the rocks behind the houses of the foreground, with a dark belt of ancient wall circling the lower town and upper town, and finishing at the top with fortifications marvellous enough for a dream. In the near background were green hills; but beyond, towered desolate grey mountains crowned with dazzling snow, and on their rugged faces was scored a tracery of white lines seemingly scratched in the rock. I knew that they must mean the twistings of a road, up and up to the junction of mountain and sky, but the wall of grey rock looked so sheer, so nearly perpendicular, that it was impossible to imagine horses, or even automobiles mounting there.

In my interest and wonder as to whether we had arrived at Cattaro already I had forgotten my injuries for the moment, until I was reminded of them by Aunt Kathryn's voice.

"It's Cattaro," she called through the door. "Let me in, please. I've something to say."

I slipped back the bolt and she came in hurriedly, as if she were afraid of being kept out after all.

"See here, Maida," she said, "to save time the Prince is having his motor put on shore the minute we get in to the quay, and he'll drive us up to Schloss Hrvoya this afternoon. It's only four o'clock, and he says, though it's away up in the mountains and we'll be two hours getting there, we shall run down in half the time, so we shall be back soon after seven and can dine on board. It's quite appropriate that I should be with the Prince, whose ancestral home it was, when I look on Hrvoya first. He's fully persuaded me of that. I think the whole thing's most dramatic, and I do hope you won't spoil it by being disagreeable any longer."

"I think you're the-the unwisest woman I ever saw!" I couldn't help exclaiming.

"Well, I think you're very rude. I do believe you're jealous of me with the Prince. That's his idea, anyway, though he'd be vexed if he thought I'd told you, and I wouldn't if you hadn't aggravated me. Oh dear, you do make me so nervous and miserable! Will you come to Schloss Hrvoya or will you not?"

I thought very quickly for a few seconds before answering. Perhaps it would be better to go than to stay on "Arethusa" without Aunt Kathryn, especially as I had now made Count Corramini my enemy. Mr. Barrymore and Sir Ralph and Beechy couldn't arrive at Cattaro by ship till to-morrow, even if they found out what had become of us, and followed at the earliest opportunity without waiting to hear. No, there was nothing to keep me on the yacht, or in the town of Cattaro, and hateful as the whole expedition was, it would be better to cling to Aunt Kathryn than be anywhere else alone in a strange place, among people whose language I neither spoke nor understood.

"Yes, I will come," I said.

"Arethusa" touched the quay as I spoke, and there was a great bustle on deck, no doubt landing the Prince's motor, which had stood concealed on the forward deck under an enormous tarpaulin.

Aunt Kathryn, triumphant, hurried off to get ready, and I began slowly to follow her example.

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