The slave of the lamp, p.17
The Slave of the Lamp,
The London express rolled with stately deliberation into Brayportstation. Mr. Bodery folded up his newspapers, reached down his bag fromthe netting, and prepared to alight. The editor of the _Beacon_ hadenjoyed a very pleasant journey, despite broiling sun and searchingdust. He knew the possibilities of a first-class smoking-carriage--howto regulate the leeward window and chock off the other with a woodenmatch borrowed from the guard.
He stepped from the carriage with the laboured sprightliness of a manpast the forties, and a moment later Sidney Carew was at his side.
"The same. You are no doubt Mr. Carew?"
"Yes. Thanks for coming. Hope it didn't inconvenience you?"
"Not at all," replied the editor, breaking his return ticket.
"D----n!" said Sidney suddenly.
He was beginning to rise to the occasion. He was one of those men whoare usually too slack to burthen their souls with a refreshingexpletive.
"What is the matter?" inquired Mr. Bodery gravely.
"There is a man," explained Sidney hurriedly, "getting out of the trainwho is coming to stay with us. I had forgotten his existence. _Don't_look round!"
Mr. Bodery was a Londoner. He did not look round. Nine out of tencountry-bred people would have indulged in a stare.
"Is this all your luggage?" continued Sidney abruptly. He certainly wasrising.
"Then come along. We'll bolt for it. He'll have to get a fly, and thatmeans ten minutes' start if the porter is not officious and mullsthings."
They hurried out of the station and clambered into the dog-cart. Sidneygathered up the reins.
"Hang it," he exclaimed. "What bad luck! There is a fly waiting. It isnever there when you want it."
Mr. Bodery looked between the shafts.
"You need not be afraid of that fly," he said.
"No--come up, you brute!"
Mr. Bodery turned carelessly to put his bag in the back of the cart.
"Let him have it," he exclaimed in a low voice. "Your friend sees you,but he does not know that you have seen him. He is pointing you out tothe station-master."
As he spoke the cart swung round the gate-post of the station yard,nearly throwing him out, and Sidney's right hand felt for thewhip-socket.
"There," he said, "we are safe. I think I can manage that fly."
Mr. Bodery settled himself and drew the dust-cloth over his chubbyknees.
"Now," he said, "tell me all about Vellacott."
Sidney did so.
He gave a full and minute description of events previous to ChristianVellacott's disappearance, omitting nothing. The relation was somewhatdisjointed, somewhat vague in parts, and occasionally incoherent. Thenarrator repeated himself--hesitated--blurted out some totallyirrelevant fact, and finished up with a vague supposition (possessing asolid basis of truth) expressed in doubtful English. It suited Mr.Bodery admirably. In telling all about Vellacott, Sidney unconsciouslytold all about Mrs. Carew, Molly, Hilda, and himself. When he reachedthe point in his narration telling how Vellacott had been attracted intothe garden, he became extremely vague and his style notably colloquial.Tell the story how he would, he felt that he could not prevent Mr.Bodery from drawing his own inferences. Young ladies are not in thehabit of whistling for youthful members of the opposite sex. Few of themmaster the labial art, which perhaps accounts for much. Sidney Carew wasconscious that his style lacked grace and finish.
Mr. Bodery did draw his own inferences, but the countenance into whichSidney glanced at intervals was one of intense stolidity.
"Well, I confess I cannot make it out--at present," he said; "Vellacotthas written to us only on business matters. We publish to-morrow a verygood article of his purporting to be the dream of an overworked_attache_. It is very cutting and very incriminating. The Governmentcannot well avoid taking some notice of it. My only hope is that he isin Paris. There is something brewing over there. Our Paris agent wiredfor Vellacott this morning. By the way, Mr. Carew, is there a monasterysomewhere in this part of the country?"
"Down that valley," replied Sidney, pointing with his whip.
"In Vellacott's article there is mention of a monastery--not toominutely described, however. There are also some remarkable suppositionsrespecting an old foreigner living in seclusion. Could that be the manyou mentioned just now--Signor Bruno?"
"Hardly. Bruno is a harmless old soul," replied Sidney, pulling up toturn into the narrow gateway.
There was no time to make further inquiries.
Sidney led the way into the drawing-room. The ladies were there.
"My mother, Mr. Bodery--my sister; my sister Hilda," he blurted outawkwardly.
Mrs. Carew shook hands, and the two young ladies bowed. They were alldisappointed in Mr. Bodery. He was too calm and comfortable--also therewas a suggestion of cigar smoke in his presence, which jarred.
"I am sorry," said the Londoner, with genial self-possession, "to owethe pleasure of this visit to such an unfortunate incident."
Molly felt that she hated him.
"Then you have heard nothing of Christian?" said Mrs. Carew.
"Nothing," replied Mr. Bodery, removing his tight gloves. "But it is toosoon to think of getting anxious yet. Vellacott is eminently capable oftaking care of himself--he is, above all things, a journalist. Thingsare disturbed in Paris, and it is possible that he has run acrossthere."
Mrs. Carew smiled somewhat incredulously.
"It was a singular time to start," observed Hilda quietly.
Mr. Bodery turned and looked at her.
"Master mind in _this_ house," he reflected.
"Yes," he admitted aloud.
He folded his gloves and placed them in the pocket of his coat. Theothers watched him in silence.
"Do you take sugar and cream?" inquired Hilda sweetly, speaking for thesecond time.
"Please--both. In moderation."
"I say," interrupted Sidney at this moment, "the Vicomte d'Audierne isfollowing us in a fly. He will be here in five minutes."
Mrs. Carew nodded. She had not forgotten this guest.
"The Vicomte d'Audierne," said Mr. Bodery, with considerable interest,turning away from the tea-table, cup in hand. "Is that the man who gotout of my train?"
"Yes," replied Sidney; "do you know him?"
"I have heard of him." Mr. Bodery turned and took a slice of bread andbutter from a plate which Hilda held.
At this moment there was a rumble of carriage wheels.
"By the way," said the editor of the _Beacon_, raising his voice so asto command universal attention, "do not tell the Vicomte d'Audierneabout Vellacott. Do not let him know that Vellacott has been here. Donot tell him of my connection with the _Beacon_."
The ladies barely had time to reconsider their first impression of Mr.Bodery when the door was thrown open, and a servant announced M.d'Audierne.
He who entered immediately afterwards--with an almost indecenthaste--was of middle height, with a certain intrepid carriage of thehead which appeals to such as take pleasure in the strength andendurance of men. His face, which was clean shaven, was the face of ahawk, with the contracted myope vision characteristic of that bird. Itis probable that from the threshold he took in every occupant of theroom.
"Mrs. Carew," he said in a pleasant voice, speaking almost faultlessEnglish, "after all these years. What a pleasure!"
He shook hands, turning at the same time to the others.
"And Sid," he said, "and Molly--wicked little Molly. Never mind--yourantecedents are safe. I am silent as the grave."
This was not strictly true. He was as deep, and deeper than theresting-place mentioned, but his method was superior to silence.
"And Hilda," he continued, "thoughtful little Hilda, who was always toobusy to be naughty. Not like Molly, eh?"
"Heavens! How old it makes one feel!" he exclaimed, turning to Mrs.Carew.
The lady laughed.
The two men bowed.
"Much pleasure," said the Frenchman.
Mr. Bodery bowed again in an insular manner, which just escapedawkwardness, and said nothing.
Then Molly offered the new-comer some tea, and the party broke up intogroups. But the Vicomte's personality in some subtle manner pervaded theroom. Mr. Bodery lapsed into monosyllables and felt ponderous. Monsieurd'Audierne had it in his power to make most men feel ponderous when thespirit moved him in that direction.
As soon as tea was finally disposed of Mrs. Carew proposed anadjournment to the garden. She was desirous of getting Mr. Bodery toherself.
It fell to Hilda's lot to undertake the Frenchman. They had been greatfriends once, and she was quite ready to renew the pleasantrelationship. She led her guest to the prettiest part of the garden--theold overgrown footpath around the moat.
As soon as they had passed under the nut-trees into the open space atthe edge of the water, the Vicomte d'Audierne stopped short and lookedround him curiously. At the same time he gave a strange little laugh.
"_Hein--hein--c'est drole_," he muttered, and the girl remembered thatin the old friendship between the brilliant, middle-aged diplomatist andthe little child they had always spoken French. She liked to hear himspeak his own language, for in his lips it received full justice: it wasthe finest tongue spoken on this earth. But she did not feel disposedjust then to humour him. She looked at him wonderingly as his deep eyeswandered over the scene.
While they stood there, something--probably a kestrel--disturbed therooks dwelling in the summits of the still elms across the moat, andthey rose simultaneously in the air with long-drawn cries.
"Ah! Ah--h!" said the Vicomte, with a singular smile.
And then Hilda forgot her shyness.
"What is it?" she inquired in the language she had always spoken to thisman.
He turned and walked beside her, suiting his steps to hers, for somemoments before replying.
"I was not here at all," he said at length, apologetically; "I was faraway from you. It was impolite. I am sorry."
He intended that she should laugh, and she did so softly. "Where wereyou?" she inquired, glancing at him beneath her golden lashes.
Again he paused.
"There is," he said at length, "an old _chateau_ in Morbihan--manymiles from a railway--in the heart of a peaceful country. It has a moatlike this--there are elms--there are rooks that swing up into the airlike that and call--and one does not know why they do it, and what theyare calling. Listen, little girl--they are calling something. What isit? I think I was _there_. It was impolite--I am sorry, Miss Carew."
She laughed again sympathetically and without mirth; for she was meantto laugh.
He looked back over his shoulder at times as if the calling of the rooksjarred upon his nerves.
"I do not think I like them--" he said, "now."
He was not apparently disposed to be loquacious as he had been at first.Possibly the rooks had brought about this change. Hilda also had herthoughts. At times she glanced at the water with a certain shrinking inher heart. She had not yet forgotten the moments she had passed at theedge of the moat the night before. They walked right round the moat anddown a little pathway through the elm wood without speaking. The rookshad returned to their nests and only called to each other querulously atintervals.
"Has it ever occurred to you, little girl," said the Vicomte d'Audiernesuddenly, "to doubt the wisdom of the Creator's arrangements for ourcomfort, or otherwise, here below?"
"I suppose not," he went on, without waiting for an answer, which sheremembered as an old trick of his. "You are a woman--it is different foryou."
The girl said nothing. She may have thought differently; one cannotalways read a maiden's thoughts.
They walked on together. Suddenly the Vicomte d'Audierne spoke.
"Who is this?" he said.
Hilda followed the direction of his eyes.
"That," she answered, "is Signor Bruno. An old Italian exile. A friendof ours."
Bruno came forward, hat in hand, bowing and smiling in his charming way.
Hilda introduced the two men, speaking in French.
"I did not know," said Signor Bruno, with outspread hands, "that youspoke French like a Frenchwoman."
"Had it," she said, with a sudden inspiration, "been Italian, I shouldhave told you."
There was a singular smile visible, for a moment only, in the eyes ofthe Vicomte d'Audierne, and then he spoke.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "learnt most of it from me. We are oldfriends."
Signor Bruno bowed. He did not look too well pleased.
"Ah--but is that so?" he murmured conversationally.
"Yes; I hope she learnt nothing else from me," replied the Vicomtecarelessly.
Hilda turned upon him with a questioning smile.
"I do not imagine, little girl," replied d'Audierne, "that you couldlearn very much that is good from me."
Hilda gave a non-committing little laugh, and led the way through thenut-trees towards the house. The Vicomte d'Audierne followed, and SignorBruno came last. When they emerged upon the lawn in view of Mrs. Carewand Mr. Bodery, who were walking together, the Vicomte dropped hishandkerchief. Signor Bruno attempted to pick it up, and there was aslight delay caused by the interchange of some Gallic politeness.
Before the two foreigners came up with Hilda, who had walked on, SignorBruno found time to say:
"I must see you to-night, without fail; I am in a very difficultposition. I have had to resort to strong measures."
"Where?" inquired the Vicomte d'Audierne, with that pleasant nonchalancewhich is so aggravating to the People.
"In the village, any time after nine; a yellow cottage near the well."
And they joined Hilda Carew.
The Slave of the Lamp by Henry Seton Merriman / Actions & Adventure have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes