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   Chapter 25 A CHAPTER OF CHASING

My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 23779

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


I wondered why the ladies didn't come to lunch, for the last thing they had said when we brought them back in the motor was, "We shall see you again at half-past twelve."

Ralph and Bari and his sister and I, waited for a quarter of an hour; then we sat down, for the Signorina thought they might have changed their minds and be lunching with the little invalid. But at half-past one, while we were still at the table, a message came from Miss Beechy. She had waked up from her nap, "sent her compliments," and would be glad to know when her Mamma and cousin would return to her.

That took the Signorina flying to the bedroom, and there was an interval of some suspense for Ralph and me; for the absence of the ladies, with this new light thrown upon it, began to appear a little strange.

The Italian girl was away for an age, it seemed, and we knew the instant we saw her, that she was not the bearer of reassuring news. Her pretty face looked worried and excited.

"The Countess and Miss Destrey have not been up-stairs," she announced in her native tongue. "The little Bicé has been awake for an hour, wondering why they never came. Will you make inquiries of the landlord?"

I lost not a moment in obeying this request; and even before I got my answer, I seemed to know that Dalmar-Kalm would be mixed up in the affair. The ladies had driven away with His Highness in a hired cab not many minutes after we had brought them to the hotel door with the motor.

On the face of it, it looked ridiculous to fear mischief, yet I was uneasy. If I had not worshipped Her so much-but then, there had ceased to be any "if" in it long ago. I had very little hope that she could ever be got to care, even if I could reconcile it with common decency to ask a girl to think of a stony-broke beggar like me. But in some moods I was mad to try my luck, when I reflected on what she had before her if I-or some other brute of a man-didn't snatch her from it. But whether or no she were ever to be more to me than a goddess, the bare thought of trouble or harm coming to her was enough to drive me out of my wits.

While I was smoking two cigarettes a minute on the verandah, and asking myself whether I should be Paddy the Fool to track her down, with her aunt and the Prince, Signorina Bari (who had run up to Beechy with the latest developments) came out to us. "Sir Ralph," said she, "little Miss Kidder says she must see you, in a great hurry. She has something important to tell, that she can't tell to any one else; so she has got up, and is on the sofa in a dressing-gown, in the Countess's private sitting-room."

Ralph looked surprised, but not displeased, and was away twenty minutes.

"Miss Beechy wants us to find out where Dalmar-Kalm has taken her mother and Miss Destrey," said he, when he returned from the interview.

The order was welcome. Nothing was known at the hotel concerning the destination of the Prince and his companions in the cab, so I hurried to get the car, and Ralph and I drove off together, meaning to make inquiries in the town.

"Did Miss Beechy's mysterious communication have anything to do with her cousin? "I couldn't resist asking Ralph, who sat beside me, in that blessed seat sacred so long to the One Woman.

"Yes, it had," he replied discreetly.

"And with Dalmar-Kalm?"

"Distinctly with Dalmar-Kalm."

That sent some blood up behind my eyes, and I saw Ragusa red, instead of pink.

"By Jove, you've got to tell me what she did say, now!" I exclaimed.

"Can't, my dear chap. It's a promise-after a confidence. But I don't mind letting out this much. It seems Miss Beechy has been playing dolls with us, as she calls it, on this trip, without any of us suspecting it-or at least seeing the game in its full extent. Owing to her manipulation of her puppets, there's the dickens to pay, and she thinks she has reason to know that Dalmar-Kalm had better not be allowed to take a long excursion with Miss Destrey, even chaperoned by our dear, wise Countess."

"Good Heavens!" I jerked out. "What do you mean?"

"I don't exactly know myself. Things mayn't be as serious as the little girl thinks in her present remorseful mood, no doubt intensified by her late illness. 'When the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be,' you know-and the rest of it. Still, we're safe in finding out where the party has gone and taking steps accordingly."

"There's Joseph, mooning about with his hands in his pockets, like a lost soul," I exclaimed.

"Have lost souls pockets?"

"Shut up. I'm going to catechize him. He rather likes me, and has several times relieved his mind on the subject of his master, by spitting venom to his brother chauffeur until I refused to listen."

With this I stopped the car in front of the gaudy shop which had attracted the dismal little Joseph.

"Is your car mended already?" I asked him in French.

"It was not broken, Monsieur."

"Really. I understood the Prince to say it was."

"I know not what he said. Is there anything that His Highness would not say, if it pleased him? But so far from the car being injured, I was kept up most of the night by his command, putting it in the best order, looking to every nut, seeing that the grease-cups were filled, and everything as fine as though to try for first prize in a show. This morning did I get a moment's sleep? On the contrary, I must drive the automobile at eight o'clock, before any one was up, down to the harbour, and with much trouble put it on the yacht of the Conte Corramini, which had come into this port, the saints alone know why."

"I should say the saints had little to do with the affair," remarked Ralph, but I cut him short.

"What then?" I asked.

"Then it must be covered up, His Highness said, in case of rain-though the sky was as dry as my throat-till you could not tell the automobile from a haystack, on the forward deck where it had been placed."

"And after that?"

"After that I know nothing, except that His Highness condescended to remark that he would go away for a trip to-day, and I was to wait for him until I heard further. That will be soon, for when it comes to real work on the car it breaks his heart. He can drive, but apart from that he knows no more of the automobile than does the little black dog adopted by the beautiful mademoiselle."

"I suppose you'll get a wire to-morrow at latest," said I. "Well, au revoir. We're turning here."

"Going to the harbour?" Ralph asked, dryly, and I nodded.

I am afraid that we did the mile to Gravosa in a good deal less than the legal limit, but luckily no one was the worse for it, and there were no policemen about.

At Gravosa we found some men on the quay who could talk Italian, and in five minutes I knew for certain what I had suspected. A white yacht answering the description I gave of "Arethusa," had sent a boat before noon to meet a cab bringing to the port two ladies and a gentleman. The Signore were in long brownish coats and close hats. One was stout, with much colour; the other, a young girl, transcendently beautiful.

"That impudent fellow has whisked them off to Cattaro, to see his beastly ancestral ruin," suggested Ralph. "That's what he's done. He's probably chuckling now with savage glee to think that willy-nilly Countess Kidder-Dalmar can't get out of her bargain."

"I don't believe they would willingly have left the little girl lying there ill, to say nothing of leaving us in the lurch without a word," said I. "Ralph, there's something pretty devilish under this, or I'll eat my hat."

"Well, I should expect to see you devouring it, if-I hadn't heard Beechy's confess-if she hadn't told me some things," Ralph amended his sentence.

* * *

"I'm hanged if I won't give chase!" I exclaimed.

"How can you? You were saying at lunch that so far as you'd been able to fog it out, there wasn't more than the ghost of a road after Castelnuovo on to Cattaro; and it's to Cattaro one must go for the ancestral ruin."

"If there's a ghost of a road, it will do for me and this motor," I said. "What does it matter if we're both smashed, if only we get there first?"

"Men and motors don't get far when they're smashed. You'll have to wait till to-morrow morning, when we can all go flying down by the Austrian Lloyd, if the truants don't turn up in the meantime."

"Wait till to-morrow morning? My name isn't Terence Barrymore if I do that, or if I wait one minute longer than it will take me to go back where I came, and load up with petrol enough to see me through this job for good or evil."

"You'll start off at once, without finding out any more-and road or no road?"

"There's no more to find out this side of Cattaro, unless I'm far out of my reckoning; and if there's no road after Castelnuovo, I'll-I'll get through somehow, never fear."

"I don't fear much, when you set your jaw that way, my son. I suppose you'll just give me time to make my will, and-er-say good-bye to Miss Beechy?"

"You're not going, Ralph. I must travel light, for speed; I don't want an unnecessary ounce of weight on board that car to-day, for she's got to show her paces as she never did before. You must stop behind, and instead of saying good-bye, try to cheer Miss Beechy."

"Well, needs must, when somebody drives," mumbled Ralph. But he did not look very dismal.

I made no preparations, save to fill up with petrol and put all the spare bidons sent by the Austrian Lloyd in the tonneau. I was in flannels, as the day was not to be a motoring day, and I wouldn't have delayed even long enough to fetch my big coat, if I hadn't suddenly thought that I might be glad of it for Her. Ralph saw me off, making me promise to wire from Cattaro-if I ever got there!-as soon as there was news for Beechy of her mother and cousin.

Once out on the open road I gave the old car her head, and she bounded along like an India rubber ball, curtseying to undulations, spinning round curves along the sea coast, and past quaint old towns which I thought of only as obstacles.

Often when you wish your car to show what she can do, she puts on the air of a spoiled child and shames you. But to-day it was as if the motor knew what I wanted, and was straining every nerve to help me get it. In a time that was short even to my impatience, she and I did the thirty-odd miles to Castelnuovo. A few questions there as to the feasibility of trying to reach Cattaro by road, brought no information definite enough to make the experiment worth the risk of failure. At best there would be many rough miles to cover, in rounding the numerous arms of that great starfish, the Bocche di Cattaro, and no boat of the Austrian Lloyd or Hungarian Croatian lines was available to-day, even if shipping the motor in that way wouldn't have involved endless red tape, delay and bother. Nevertheless, with a simmering inspiration in my mind, I steered the car down a narrow road that led to the harbour, a crowd pattering after me which, no doubt, was very picturesque if I had been in the mood to observe it. But my eyes were open for one thing only, and at the port under the high walls of the fortresses that leap to the sky, I knew that I had found it.

A good-sized fishing boat with a painted sail aflap against the mast, lay alongside the quay. Beside it stood gossiping two fine sailor-men, heroically tall, with features cut in bronze. At the thrum of the motor and clatter of the crowd they turned to stare, and I drove straight at them, but in order not to give them a fright stopped short a good five yards away.

The proud men of these parts are not easily scared, and all that these two did was to take their black pipes out of their mouths. Not a word of Slavic have I to bless myself with, but I tumbled out Italian sentences, and they understood, as I was pretty sure they would. What I asked

was, would they take me and my motor in their boat, immediately, on the instant, to Cattaro? One grinned; the other shook his head; but he hadn't wagged it from left to right before I pulled a handful of Austrian gold and silver out of my pockets, which were luckily well-filled with the hard-earned money of my chauffeurhood.

The man who had grinned, grinned wider; the man who had shaken his head did not shake it again. I bargained just enough to please them with the notion that they were plucking me; and five minutes later we three were hauling a few planks scattered on the quay, to form a gangway to the boat.

As for the fascinated crowd, not a man Jack of them but was at my service, after the display of coin which no bright eye had missed. In no time we had our gangway laid on to the gunwale, and a couple of sloping planks to roll the motor on board. The next thing was for me to jump into the car and begin to drive gently ahead, directing the sailors with nods and becks to steady her by grasping the spokes of her wheels. Thus we got her into the boat, none the worse for the ordeal; then, picking up a rope, I was about to make her fast when professional spirit woke in my two hosts, and taking the rope from me they lashed the car as none but seamen can.

While one stalwart fellow poled the boat off from the quay, his mate hoisted the yard that carried the triangular sail. A following wind, which had been detestable on the dusty road, gave us good speed on our errand; the broad-bowed old boat made creaking progress, a shower of silver foam hissing from her cutwater.

My furious energy had been contagious, and perhaps, seeing my desire for haste, the fishers hoped to earn something further from the madman's gratitude. All they could do to urge their craft they did.

In other circumstances-say with Her by my side-I should have been filled with enthusiasm for the Bocche di Cattaro and its scenery, for never had I seen anything quite like it; but now I grudged each screen of rock that stopped the breeze, each winding of the water.

From the narrow opening where the Adriatic rushes into Cattaro at the hidden end of the great sheet of lakes, can't be more than fifteen miles as the crow flies; but so does the course twist that it is much longer for mere wingless things, going by water. How I wished for a motor-boat! But we did not do badly in the big fishing smack. I feared at last that in the straits the wind might die, but instead it blew as through a funnel. We were swept finely up the narrow channel, and so into the last lake with Cattaro and its high fort at the end of it; and my heart gave a bound as I saw "Arethusa" lying anchored at the quay.

We had more trouble in landing the motor than in getting her aboard, but the thing was done at last; more coins changed hands, and there was the car on shore with another crowd round her. I engaged one of my bronzed fishermen to stand guard lest mischief should be done, and stalked off to the yacht; but before I reached her I was met by Corramini himself, all smiles and graciousness.

"I heard your motor," said he, "and guessed your mission. You have come, of course, to see the ladies?"

"Yes," said I, not troubling to waste words on him. "Miss Kidder is anxious."

"Ah, then did they not leave word? I suppose there wasn't time, as I understand the excursion was planned in a hurry. I don't know the details. It has only been my duty, as my pleasure, to act as host. Dalmar-Kalm desired to show the ladies Schloss Hrvoya, and brought his automobile on board for that purpose. He started almost as soon as we arrived here, well before five o'clock, and should have been back some time ago, according to his calculation. But I suppose it was a temptation to linger, or else there has been trouble with the motor. Unfortunately the chauffeur was left at Ragusa, as my friend is inclined to be a little vain of his driving. But I doubt his powers as an engineer, and have been somewhat anxious for the past half hour."

"It is after seven o'clock," I said.

"Yes. I was dining when I heard your motor. I would ask you on board to have something, but I see by your face that you have it in mind to run to the rescue; and perhaps it would be kind as well as wise. Do you know how to reach Schloss Hrvoya?"

"I have seen it on the map," I replied, "and can easily find it, no doubt, by inquiries."

"Or you may meet the other automobile en route. Well, your coming is a relief to my mind. I shall be glad to hear on your return that all is well."

"Thanks," said I rather stiffly, for the man's personality was repellent to me, and in Venice I'd heard some stories, not very nice ones, concerning his career. He is of good family, is tolerated by society for his dead father's sake and his wife's, but once or twice a crash has nearly come, so the whisper runs about the clubs.

Not trusting his fluent affability, I hesitated whether to believe him and start, or to say I would accept his suggestion to go on board, in order that I might have a look round "Arethusa" before committing myself to anything. As I stood in doubt I was hailed from the deck of the yacht, and there, to my surprise, stood our Countess, showing dishevelment even in the distance and twilight.

"Oh, Mr. Terrymore, is that you?" she cried to me.

I gave the Corramini a look, as I shouted in reply, but he shrugged his shoulders. "I had no time to mention yet that the Countess was not of the party for Schloss Hrvoya," said he, "for thereby hangs a tale, as your great poet says, and it would have taken too long to tell; but now I suppose she must delay you. It is a pity."

I had no answer for him. It was clear that, whatever had occurred, it had been his object to deceive me, and hustle me quickly away from the dangerous neighbourhood of the yacht before I could find out that the Countess, at all events, was still on board. But chance had thwarted him, and he was making the best of it with characteristic cleverness, saving his own skin.

Bareheaded, her wondrous auburn hair disordered, her face blurred with half-dried tears, the poor woman met me half-way, skipping across the gangway on to the now almost deserted quay.

"Something awful's happened," she gasped.

"What?" I asked, a sudden tightness in my throat

.

"That's the worst of it. I don't know. And the County doesn't know."

"Tell me as well as you can."

"Why, we came here on purpose for the Prince to take me to Slosh Hrvoya. He wanted it so much. Maida had to be along, because it would have made talk if he and I'd come alone; but her being with us wasn't of any importance to him, he told me so himself. Well, when his automobile was landed just where we're standing now, I told Maida to get ready and went to my cabin to get ready myself, but my things were all gone-my hat and coat, and motor-mask and everything. I thought, I could have left them in the sallong, though I was sure I hadn't; but I hurried to look. They weren't there, and I ran back to Maida's door, thinking it just possible, to play me a trick-as she was cross-she might have hidden my things while I was on deck. But she'd gone off and the things were nowhere. At that minute I heard a noise like a motor, and looked out of my porthole, but already it was out of sight from there, and I got up on deck again only in time to catch sight of the Prince's automobile flashing away at about a mile a minute."

"Miss Destrey was in the car?"

"Of course. She was sitting in the tonneau; and it looked as if there was some one beside the Prince; but Maida was in the way, so I couldn't make sure, and while I was dodging my head about, trying to see, the automobile disappeared. Did you ever know anything so horrid? I'm furious, and I don't know what the Prince must be thinking of me."

I was aghast at this unexpected point of view, but her next words enlightened me. "It's Maida's fault, I know that, though I don't see how she managed the thing. She was wild with me because I stood up for the Prince carrying us off like this, and I suppose she just thought she'd punish me by somehow cheating me out of the pleasure I'd been looking forward to. I can't think of anything else, and neither can the County. He says Maida probably told the Prince that at the last minute I'd refused to go with him; otherwise he never would have driven off with her and left me like that."

I saw that it would be a simple waste of time to argue with her, and didn't attempt it. "I'm going to look for them," I said.

"Oh, do take me with you."

I thought for a second or two. The Countess isn't exactly a featherweight, and speed was an object; but protection for Miss Destrey was a still greater consideration, and it might be well for her to have even this foolish little woman's companionship. "Certainly," I replied. "I shall be very glad."

Wraps of some sort for her head and body were borrowed on board the yacht, Corramini showing himself kind and helpful, and with but a few minutes' delay for the lady's preparations, and lighting the lamps, we were ready to start.

My mind was on the rack of doubt and distraction, but though I trusted Corramini not at all, I couldn't see why the most likely way to choose for the chase might not be the road to Hrvoya. Dalmar-Kalm must be more or less familiar with the neighbourhood, and might have acquaintances along the route who would help him. Corramini was watching the start, so I took the direction which, from some previous poring over local maps, I knew must lead towards Dalmar-Kalm's ruinous inheritance. This I did, lest he might have some means of communicating with his friend; but once out of his sight, I slowed down, and addressed every one I met, in Italian. Had a motor-car been seen driving this way during the afternoon? Several persons stared blankly, and did not brighten to intelligence when Italian was exchanged for faulty German; but we had not gone far when we caught up with a ricketty cab, whose driver was evidently dawdling homeward to shelter for the night. His pitch was, perhaps, near the quay, and if so he might be the very man I wanted.

I hailed him, and fortunately he had a little Italian, and more French, of which he was innocently vain.

"I have seen an automobile," said he, "but it was not coming this way. There cannot have been another, for till to-day we have seen no such thing since Prince Jaimé de Bourbon drove here and up to Montenegro, which made a great excitement for every one some years ago. And this one to-day has also gone to Montenegro."

I asked him to describe the vehicle, and not only did he give it all the characteristics of the Prince's car, but said that he had seen it slung on shore from a white yacht, which ended all doubt upon the motor's identity, unless by any chance he had been bribed by Dalmar-Kalm to mislead inquirers. This seemed a far-fetched supposition; but why should Montenegro be chosen as a destination? I asked this question aloud, half to myself, half to the Countess, and after a fashion she answered it from the tonneau.

"Dear me, I can't think why on earth they should go there; but I believe I do remember the Prince once saying, ever so long ago when we first talked of driving down into Dalmatia, that he had a friend in Montenegro-an Austrian Consul, though I don't know in what city there."

"There's only one-the capital, Cettinje," I said mechanically, and my thoughts leaped ahead to the place I named.

"The scoundrel!" I muttered under my breath.

"Who, the Austrian Consul?"

"No. For all I know, he may be a splendid fellow and probably is; he would never do the thing. But that beast might hope it."

"What beast-what thing-hope what?"

"I beg your pardon, Countess. I was talking to myself. Nothing that you would care to hear repeated."

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