Part 2 out of 3
against that kind of deadliness if Bob was not.
On the other hand, the whole character of my mission was affected by the
decision at which I had now arrived. There was no longer a necessity to
speak plainly to anybody. That odious duty was eliminated from my plan
of campaign, and the "frontal attack" of recent history discarded for
the "turning movement" of the day. So I had learnt something in South
Africa after all. I had learnt how to avoid hard knocks which might very
well do more harm than good to the cause I had at heart. That cause was
still sharply defined before my mind. It was the first and most sacred
consideration. I wrote a reassuring despatch to Catherine Evers, and
took it myself to the little post-office opposite the hotel that very
evening before dressing for dinner. But I cannot say that I was thinking
of Catherine when I proceeded to spoil three successive ties in the
Yet I can only repeat that I felt absolutely "proof" against the real
cause of my solicitude. It is the most delightful feeling where a
handsome woman is concerned. The judgment is not warped by passion or
clouded by emotion; you see the woman as she is, not as you wish to see
her, and if she disappoint it does not matter. You are not left to
choose between systematic self-deception and a humiliating admission of
your mistake. The lady has not been placed upon an impossible pedestal,
and she has not toppled down. In this case the lady started at the most
advantageous disadvantage; every admirable quality, her candour, her
courage, her spirited independence, her evident determination to piece a
broken life together again and make the best of it, told doubly in her
favour to me with my special knowledge of her past. It would be too much
to say that I was deeply interested; but Mrs. Lascelles had inspired me
with a certain sympathy and dispassionate regard. Cultivated she was
not, in the conventional sense, but she knew more than can be imbibed
from books. She knew life at first hand, had drained the cup for
herself, and yet could savour the lees. Not that she enlarged any
further on her own past. Mrs. Lascelles was never a great talker, like
Catherine; but she was certainly a woman to whom one could talk. And
talk to her I did thenceforward, with a conscientious conviction that I
was doing my duty, and only an occasional qualm for its congenial
character, while Bob listened with a wondering eye, or went his own way
without a word.
It is easy to criticise my conduct now. It would have been difficult to
act otherwise at the time. I am speaking of the evening after my walk
with Mrs. Lascelles, of the next day when it rained, and now of my third
night at the hotel. The sky had cleared. The glass was high. There was a
finer edge than ever on the silhouetted mountains against the stars. It
appeared that Bob and Mrs. Lascelles had talked of taking their lunch to
the Findelen Glacier on the next fine day, for he came up and reminded
her of it as she sat with me in the glazed veranda after dinner. I had
seen him standing alone under the stars a few minutes before: so this
was the result of his cogitation. But in his manner there was nothing
studied, much less awkward, and his smile even included me, though he
had not spoken to me alone all day.
"Oh, no, I hadn't forgotten, Mr. Evers. I am looking forward to it,"
said my companion, with a smile of her own to which the most jealous
swain could not have taken exception.
Bob Evers looked hard at me.
"You'd better come, too," he said.
"It's probably too far," said I, quite intending to play second fiddle
next day, for it was really Bob's turn.
"Not for a man who has been up to the Cricket-ground," he rejoined.
"But it's dreadfully slippery," put in Mrs. Lascelles, with a
sympathetic glance at my sticks.
"Let him get them shod like alpenstocks," quoth Bob, "and nails in his
boots; then they'll be ready when he does the Matterhorn!"
It might have passed for boyish banter, but I knew that it was something
more; the use of the third person changed from chaff to scorn as I
listened, and my sympathetic resolution went to the winds.
"Thank you," I replied; "in that case I shall be delighted to come, and
I'll take your tip at once by giving orders about my boots."
And with that I resigned my chair to Bob, not sorry for the chance; he
should not be able to say that I had monopolised Mrs. Lascelles without
intermission from the first. Nevertheless, I was annoyed with him for
what he had said, and for the moment my actions were no part of my
scheme. Consequently I was thus in the last mood for a familiarity from
Quinby, who was hanging about the door between the veranda and the hall,
and who would not let me pass.
"That's awfully nice of you," he had the impudence to whisper.
"What do you mean?"
"Giving that poor young beggar another chance!"
"I don't understand you."
"Oh, I like that! You know very well that you've gone in on the military
ticket and deliberately cut the poor youngster--"
I did not wait to hear the end of this gratuitous observation. It was
very rude of me, but in another minute I should have been guilty of a
worse affront. My annoyance had deepened into something like dismay. It
was not only Bob Evers who was misconstruing my little attentions to
Mrs. Lascelles. I was more or less prepared for that. But here were
outsiders talking about us--the three of us! So far from putting a stop
to the talk, I had given it a regular fillip: here were Quinby and his
friends as keen as possible to see what would happen next, if not
betting on a row. The situation had taken a sudden turn for the worse. I
forgot the pleasant hours that I had passed with Mrs. Lascelles, and
began to wish myself well out of the whole affair. But I had now no
intention of getting out of the glacier expedition. I would not have
missed it on any account. Bob had brought that on himself.
And I daresay we seemed a sufficiently united trio as we marched along
the pretty winding path to the Findelen next morning. Dear Bob was not
only such a gentleman, but such a man, that it was almost a pleasure to
be at secret issue with him; he would make way for me at our lady's
side, listen with interest when she made me spin my martial yarns, laugh
if there was aught to laugh at, and in a word, give me every conceivable
chance. His manners might have failed him for one heated moment
overnight; they were beyond all praise this morning; and I repeatedly
discerned a morbid sporting dread of giving the adversary less than fair
play. It was sad to me to consider myself as such to Catherine's son,
but I was determined not to let the thought depress me, and there was
much outward occasion for good cheer. The morning was a perfect one in
every way. The rain had released all the pungent aromas of the mountain
woods through which we passed. Snowy height came in dazzling contrast
with a turquoise sky. The toy town of Zermatt spattered the green hollow
far below. And before me on the narrow path went Bob Evers in a flannel
suit, followed by Mrs. Lascelles and her red parasol, though he carried
her alpenstock with his own in readiness for the glacier.
Thither we came in this order, I at least very hot from hard hobbling to
keep up; but the first breath from the glacier cooled me like a bath,
and the next like the great drink in the second stanza of the Ode to a
Nightingale. I could have shouted out for pleasure, and must have done
so but for the engrossing business of keeping a footing on the sloping
ice with its soiled margin of yet more treacherous _moraine_. Yet on the
glacier itself I was less handicapped than I had been on the way, and
hopped along finely with my two shod sticks and the sharp new nails in
my boots. Bob, however, was invariably in the van, and Mrs. Lascelles
seemed more disposed to wait for me than to hurry after him. I think he
pushed the pace unwittingly, under the prick of those emotions which
otherwise were in such excellent control. I can see him now, continually
waiting for us on the brow of some glistening ice-slope, leaning on his
alpenstock and looking back, jet-black by contrast between the blinding
hues of ice and sky.
But once he waited on the brink of some unfathomable crevasse, and then
we all three cowered together and peeped down; the sides were green and
smooth and sinister, like a crack in the sea, but so close together that
one could not have fallen out of sight; yet when Bob loosened a lump of
ice and kicked it in we heard it clattering from wall to wall in
prolonged diminuendo before the faint splash just reached our ears. Mrs.
Lascelles shuddered, and threw out a hand to prevent me from peering
farther over. The gesture was obviously impersonal and instinctive, as
an older eye would have seen, but Bob's was smouldering when mine met it
next, and in the ensuing advance he left us farther behind than ever.
But on the rock where we had our lunch he was once more himself, bright
and boyish, careless and assured. So he continued till the end of that
chapter. On the way home, moreover, he never once forged ahead, but was
always ready with a hand for Mrs. Lascelles at the awkward places; and
on the way through the woods, nothing would serve him but that I should
set the pace, that we might all keep together. Judge therefore of my
surprise when he came to my room, as I was dressing for the absurdly
early dinner which is the one blot upon Riffel Alp arrangements, with
the startling remark that we "might as well run straight with one
"By all means, my dear fellow," said I, turning to him with the lather
on my chin. He was dressed already, as perfectly as usual, and his hands
were in his pockets. But his fresh brown face was as grave as any
judge's, and his mouth as stern. I went on to ask, disingenuously
enough, if we had not been "running straight with each other" as it was.
"Not quite," said Bob Evers, dryly; "and we might as well, you know!"
"To be sure; but don't mind if I go on shaving, and pray speak for
"I will," he rejoined. "Do you remember our conversation the night you
"More or less."
"I mean when you and I were alone together, before we turned in."
"Oh, yes. I remember something about it."
"It would be too silly to expect you to remember much," he went on after
a pause, with a more delicate irony than heretofore. "But, as a matter
of fact, I believe I said it was all rot that people talked about the
impossibility of being mere pals with a woman, and all that sort of
"I believe you did.'"
"Well, then, _that_ was rot. That's all."
I turned round with my razor in mid-air,
"My dear fellow!" I exclaimed.
"Quite funny, isn't it?" he laughed, but rather harshly, while his
mountain bronze deepened under my scrutiny.
"You are not in earnest, Bob!" said I; and on the word his laughter
ended, his colour went.
"_I_ am," he answered through his teeth. "_Are you_?"
Never was war carried more suddenly into the enemy's country, or that
enemy's breath more completely taken away than mine. What could I say?
"As much as you are, I should hope!" was what I ultimately said.
The lad stood raking me with a steady fire from his blue eyes.
"I mean to marry her," he said, "if she will have me."
There was no laughing at him. Though barely twenty, as I knew, he was
man enough for any age as we faced each other in my room, and a man who
knew his own mind into the bargain.
"But, my dear Bob," I ventured to remonstrate, "you are years too
"That's my business. I am in earnest. What about you?"
I breathed again.
"My good fellow," said I, "you are at perfect liberty to give yourself
away to me, but you really mustn't expect me to do quite the same for
"I expect precious little, I can tell you!" the lad rejoined hotly.
"Not that it matters twopence so long as you are not misled by anything
I said the other day. I prefer to run straight with you--you can run as
you like with me. I only didn't want you to think that I was saying one
thing and doing another. As a matter of fact I meant all I said at the
time, or thought I did, until you came along and made me look into
myself rather more closely than I had done before. I won't say how you
managed it. You will probably see for yourself. But I'm very much
obliged to you, whatever happens. And now that we understand each other
there's no more to be said, and I'll clear out."
There was, indeed, no more to be said, and I made no attempt to detain
him; for I did see for myself, only too clearly and precisely, how I had
managed to precipitate the very thing which I had come out from England
expressly to prevent.
PRAYERS AND PARABLES
I had quite forgotten one element which plays its part in most affairs
of the affections. I mean, of course, the element of pique. Bob Evers,
with the field to himself, had been sensible and safe enough; it was my
intrusion, and nothing else, which had fanned his boyish flame into this
premature conflagration. Of that I felt convinced. But Bob would not
believe me if I told him so; and what else was there for me to tell him?
To betray Catherine and the secret of my presence, would simply hasten
an irrevocable step. To betray Mrs. Lascelles, and _her_ secret, would
certainly not prevent one. Both courses were out of the question upon
other grounds. Yet what else was left?
To speak out boldly to Mrs. Lascelles, to betray Catherine and myself to
I shrank from that; nor had I any right to reveal a secret which was
not only mine. What then was I to do? Here was this lad professedly on
the point of proposing to this woman. It was useless to speak to the
lad; it was impossible to speak to the woman. To be sure, she might not
accept him; but the mere knowledge that she was to have the chance
seemed enormously to increase my responsibility in the matter. As for
the dilemma in which I now found myself, deservedly as you please, there
was no comparing it with any former phase of this affair.
"O, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!"
The hackneyed lines sprang unbidden, as though to augment my punishment;
then suddenly I reflected that it was not in my own interest I had begun
to practise my deceit; and the thought of Catherine braced me up,
perhaps partly because I felt that it should. I put myself back into the
fascinating little room in Elm Park Gardens. I saw the slender figure in
the picture hat, I heard the half-humorous and half-pathetic voice.
After all, it was for Catherine I had undertaken this ridiculous
mission; she was therefore my first and had much better be my only
consideration. I could not run with the hare after hunting with the
hounds. And I should like to have seen Catherine's face if I had
expressed any sympathy with the hare!
No; it was better to be unscrupulously stanch to one woman than weakly
chivalrous toward both; and my mind was made up by the end of dinner.
There was only one chance now of saving the wretched Bob, or rather one
way of setting to work to save him; and that was by actually adopting
the course with which he had already credited me. He thought I was
"trying to cut him out." Well, I would try!
But the more I thought of him, of Mrs. Lascelles, of them both, the less
sanguine I felt of success; for had I been she (I could not help
admitting it to myself), as lonely, as reckless, as unlucky, I would
have married the dear young idiot on the spot. Not that my own marriage
(with Mrs. Lascelles) was an end that I contemplated for a moment as I
took my cynical resolve. And now I trust that I have made both my
position and my intentions very plain, and have written myself down
neither more of a fool nor less of a knave than circumstances (and one's
own infirmities) combined to make me at this juncture of my career.
The design was still something bolder than its execution, and if Bob did
not propose that night it was certainly no fault of mine. I saw him with
Mrs. Lascelles on the terrace after dinner; but I had neither the heart
nor the face to thrust myself upon them. Everything was altered since
Bob had shown me his hand; there were certain rules of the game which
even I must now observe. So I left him in undisputed possession of the
perilous ground, and being in a heavy glow from the strong air of the
glacier, went early to my room; where I lay long enough without a wink,
but quite prepared for Bob, with news of his engagement, at every step
in the corridor.
Next day was Sunday, and chiefly, I am afraid, because there was neither
blind nor curtain to my dormer-window, and the morning sun streamed full
upon my pillow, I got up and went to early service in the little tin
Protestant Church. It was wonderfully well attended. Quinby was there,
a head taller than anybody else, and some sizes smaller in heads. The
American bridegroom came in late with his "best girl." The late Vice
Chancellor, with the peeled nose, and Mr. Belgrave Teale, fit for Church
Parade, or for the afternoon act in one of his own fashion-plays, took
round the offertory bags, into which Mr. Justice Sankey (in race-course
checks) dropped gold. It was not the sort of service at which one cares
to look about one, but I was among the early comers, and I could not
help it. Mrs. Lascelles, however, was there before me, whereas Bob Evers
was not there at all. Nevertheless, I did not mean to walk back with her
until I saw her walking very much alone, a sort of cynosure even on the
way from church, though humble and grave and unconscious as any country
maid. I watched her with the rest, but in a spirit of my own. Some
subtle change I seemed to detect in Mrs. Lascelles as in Bob. Had he
really declared himself overnight, and had she actually accepted him? A
new load seemed to rest upon her shoulders, a new anxiety, a new care;
and as if to confirm my idea, she started and changed colour as I came
"I didn't see you in church," she remarked, in her own natural fashion,
when we had exchanged the ordinary salutations.
"I am afraid you wouldn't expect to see me, Mrs. Lascelles."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't, but I suppose," added Mrs.
Lascelles, as her rich voice fell into a pensive (but not a pathetic)
key, "I suppose it is you who are much more surprised at seeing me. I
can't help it if you are, Captain Clephane. I am not really a religious
person. I have not flown to that extreme as yet. But it has been a
comfort to me, sometimes; and so, sometimes, I go."
It was very simply said, but with a sigh at the end that left me
wondering whether she was in any new need of spiritual solace. Did she
already find herself in the dilemma in which I had imagined her, and was
it really a dilemma to her? New hopes began to chase my fears, and were
gaining upon them when a flannel suit on the sunlit steps caused a
temporary check: there was Bob waiting for us, his hands in his
pockets, a smile upon his face, yet in the slope of his shoulders and
the carriage of his head a certain indefinable but very visible
attention and intent.
"Is Mrs. Evers a religious woman?" asked my companion, her step slowing
ever so slightly as we approached.
"Not exactly; but she knows all about it," I replied.
"And doesn't believe very much? Then we shouldn't hit it off," exclaimed
Mrs. Lascelles, "for I know nothing and believe all I can! Nevertheless,
I'm not going to church again to-day."
The last words were in a sort of aside, and I afterwards heard that Bob
and Mrs. Lascelles had attended the later service together on the
previous Sunday; but I guessed almost as much on the spot, and it put
out of my head both the unjust assumption of the earlier remark,
concerning Catherine, and the contrast between them which Mrs. Lascelles
could hardly afford to emphasise.
"Let's go somewhere else instead--Zermatt--or anywhere else you like," I
suggested, eagerly; but we were close to the steps, and before she
could reply Bob had taken off his straw hat to Mrs. Lascelles, and flung
me a nod.
"How very energetic!" he cried. "I only hope it's a true indication of
form, for I've got a scheme: instead of putting in another chapel I
propose we stroll down to Zermatt for lunch and come back by the train."
Bob's proposal was made pointedly to Mrs. Lascelles, and as pointedly
excluded me, but she stood between the two of us with a charming smile
of good-humoured perplexity.
"Now what am I to say? Captain Clephane was in the very act of making
the same suggestion!"
Bob glared on me for an instant in spite of Eton and all his ancestors.
"We'll all go together," I cried before he could speak. "Why not?"
Nor was this mere unreasoning or good-natured impulse, since Bob could
scarcely have pressed his suit in my presence, while I should certainly
have done my best to retard it; still, it was rather a relief to me to
see him shake his head with some return of his natural grace.
"My idea was to show Mrs. Lascelles the gorge," said Bob, "but you can
do that as well as I can; you can't miss it; besides, I've seen it, and
I really ought to stay up here, as a matter of fact, for I'm on the
track of a guide for the Matterhorn."
We looked at him narrowly with one accord, but he betrayed no signs of
desperate impulse, only those of "climbing fever," and I at least
"But if you want a guide," said I, "Zermatt's full of them."
"I know," said he, "but it's a particular swell I'm after, and he hangs
out up here in the season. They expect him back from a big trip any
moment, and I really ought to be on the spot to snap him up."
So Bob retired, in very fair order after all, and not without his
laughing apologies to Mrs. Lascelles; but it was sad to me to note the
spurious ring his laugh had now; it was like the death-knell of the
simple and the single heart that it had been my lot, if not my mission,
to poison and to warp. But the less said about my odious task, the
sooner to its fulfilment, which now seemed close at hand.
It was not in fact so imminent as I supposed, for the descent into
Zermatt is somewhat too steep for the conduct of a necessarily delicate
debate. Sound legs go down at a compulsory run, and my companion was
continually waiting for me to catch her up, only to shoot ahead again
perforce. Or the path was too narrow for us to walk abreast, and you
cannot become confidential in single file; or the noise of falling
waters drowned our voices, when we stood together on that precarious
platform in the cool depths of the gorge, otherwise such an admirable
setting for the scene that I foresaw. Then it was a beautiful walk in
itself, with its short tacks in the precipitous pine-woods above, its
sudden plunge into the sunken gorge below, its final sweep across the
green valley beyond; and it was all so new to us both that there were
impressions to exchange or to compare at every turn. In fine, and with
all the will in the world, it was quite impossible to get in a word
about Bob before luncheon at the Monte Rosa, and by that time I for one
was in no mood to introduce so difficult a topic.
But an opportunity there came, an opportunity such as even I could not
neglect; on the contrary, I made too much of it, as the sequel will
show. It was in the little museum which every tourist goes to see. We
had shuddered over the gruesome relics of the first and worst
catastrophe on the Matterhorn, and were looking in silence upon the
primitive portraits of the two younger Englishmen who had lost their
lives on that historic occasion. It appeared that they had both been
about the same age as Bob Evers, and I pointed this out to my companion.
It was a particularly obvious remark to make; but Mrs. Lascelles turned
her face quickly to mine, and the colour left it in the half-lit,
half-haunted little room, which we happened to have all to ourselves.
"Don't let him go up, Captain Clephane; don't let him, please!"
"Do you mean Bob Evers?" I asked, to gain time while I considered what
to say; for the intensity of her manner took me aback.
"You know I do," said Mrs. Lascelles, impatiently; "don't let him go up
the Matterhorn to-night, or to-morrow morning, or whenever it is that he
means to start."
"But, my dear Mrs. Lascelles, who am I to prevent that young gentleman
from doing what he likes?"
"I thought you were more or less related?"
"Rather less than more."
"But aren't you very intimate with his mother?"
I had to meet a pretty penetrating look.
"I was once."
"Well, then, for his mother's sake you ought to do your best to keep him
out of danger, Captain Clephane."
It was my turn to repay the look which I had just received. No doubt I
did so with only too much interest; no doubt I was equally clumsy of
speech; but it was my opportunity, and something or other must be said.
"Quite so, Mrs. Lascelles; and for his mother's sake," said I, "I not
only will do, I have already done, my best to keep the lad out of harm's
way. He is the apple of her eye; they are simply all the world to one
another. It would break her heart if anything happened to
him--anything--if she were to lose him in any sense of the word."
I waited a moment, thinking she would speak, prepared on my side to be
as explicit as she pleased; but Mrs. Lascelles only looked at me with
her mouth tight shut and her eyes wide open; and I concluded--somewhat
uneasily, I will confess--that she saw for herself what I meant.
"As for the Matterhorn," I went on, "that, I believe, is not such a very
dangerous exploit in these days. There are permanent chains and things
where there used to be polished precipices. It makes the real
mountaineers rather scornful; anyone with legs and a head, they will
tell you, can climb the Matterhorn nowadays. If I had the legs I'd go
with him, like a shot."
"To share the danger, I suppose?"
"And the sport."
"Ah," said Mrs. Lascelles, "and the sport, of course! I had forgotten
Yet I did not perceive that I had been found out, for nothing was
further from my mind than to prolong the parable to which I had stooped
in passing a few moments before. It had served its purpose, I conceived.
I had given my veiled warning; it never occurred to me that Mrs.
Lascelles might be indulging in a veiled retort. I thought she was
annoyed at the hint that I had given her. I began to repent of that
myself. It had quite spoilt our day, and so many and long were the
silences, as we wandered from little shop to little shop, and finally
with relief to the train, that I had plenty of time to remember how much
we had found to talk about all the morning.
But matters were coming to a head in spite of me, for Bob Evers waylaid
us on our return, and, with hardly a word to Mrs. Lascelles, straightway
followed me to my room. He was pale with a suppressed anger which flared
up even as he closed my door behind him, but though his honest face was
now in flames, he still kept control of his tongue.
"I want you to lend me one of those sticks of yours," he said, quietly;
"the heaviest, for choice."
"What the devil for?" I demanded, thinking for the moment of no
shoulders but my own.
"To give that bounder Quinby the licking he deserves!" cried Bob: "to
give it him now at once, when the post comes in, and there are plenty of
people about to see the fun. Do you know what he's been saying and
spreading all over the place?"
"No," I answered, my heart sinking within me. "What has he been saying?"
The colour altered on Bob's face, altered and softened to a veritable
blush, and his eyes avoided mine.
"I'm ashamed to tell you, it makes me so sick," he said, disgustedly.
"But the fact is that he's been spreading a report about Mrs. Lascelles;
it has nothing on earth to do with me. It appears he only heard it
himself this morning, by letter, but the brute has made good use of his
time! _I_ only got wind of it an hour or two ago, of course quite by
accident, and I haven't seen the fellow since; but he's particularly
keen on his letters, and either he explains himself to my satisfaction
or I make an example of him before the hotel. It's a thing I never
dreamt of doing in my life, and I'm sorry the poor beast is such a
scarecrow; but it's a duty to punish that sort of crime against a woman,
and now I'm sure you'll lend me one of your sticks. I am only sorry I
didn't bring one with me."
"But wait a bit, my dear fellow," said I, for he was actually holding
out his hand: "you have still to tell me what the report was."
"Divorce!" he answered in a tragic voice. "Clephane, the fellow says she
was divorced in India, and that it was--that it was her fault!"
He turned away his face. It was in a flame.
"And you are going to thrash Quinby for saying that?"
"If he sticks to it, I most certainly am," said Bob, the fire settling
in his blue eyes.
"I should think twice about it, Bob, if I were you."
"My dear man, what else do you suppose I have been thinking of all the
"It will make a fresh scandal, you see."
"I can't help that."
And Bob shut his mouth with a self-willed snap.
"But what good will it do?"
"A liar will be punished, that's all! It's no use talking, Clephane; my
mind is made up."
"But are you so sure that it's a lie?" I was obliged to say it at last,
reluctantly enough, yet with a wretched feeling that I might just as
well have said it in the beginning.
"Sure?" he echoed, his innocent eyes widening before mine. "Why, of
course I'm sure! You don't know what pals we've been. Of course I never
asked questions, but she's told me heaps and heaps of things; it would
fit in with some of them, if it were true."
Then I told him that it was true, and how I knew that it was true, and
my reason for having kept all that knowledge to myself until now. "I
could not give her away even to you, Bob, nor yet tell you that I had
known her before; for you would have been certain to ask when and how;
and it was in her first husband's time, and under his name."
It was a comfort to be quite honest for once with one of them, and it is
a relief even now to remember that I was absolutely honest with Bob
Evers about this. He said almost at once that he would have done the
same himself, and even as he spoke his whole manner changed toward me.
His face had darkened at my unexpected confirmation of the odious
rumour, but already it was beginning to lighten toward me, as though he
found my attitude the one redeeming feature in the new aspect of
affairs. He even thanked me for my late reserve, obviously from his
heart, and in a way that went to mine on more grounds than one. It was
as though a kindness to Mrs. Lascelles was already the greatest possible
kindness to him.
"But I am glad you have told me now," he added, "for it explains many
things. I was inclined to look upon you, Duncan--you won't mind my
telling you now--as a bit of a deliberate interloper! But all the time
you knew her first, and that alters everything. I hope to out you still,
but I sha'n't any longer bear you a grudge if you out me!"
I was horrified.
"My dear fellow," I cried, "do you mean to say this makes no
"It does to Quinby. I must keep my hands off him, I suppose, though to
my mind he deserves his licking all the more."
"But does it make no difference to _you_? My good boy, can you at your
age seriously think of marrying a woman who has been married twice
already, and divorced once?"
"I didn't know that when I thought of it first," he answered, doggedly,
"and I am not going to let it make a difference now. Do you suppose I
would stand away from her because of anything that's past and over? Do
they stand away from us for--that sort of thing?"
Of course I said that was rather different, with as much conviction as
though the ancient dogma had been my own.
"But, Duncan, you know it's the very last thing you're dreaming of doing
And again I argued, as feebly as you please, that it was quite different
in my case--that I was a good ten years older than he, and not my
mother's only son.
Bob stiffened on the spot.
"My mother must take care of herself," said he; "and I," he added, "I
must take care of myself, if you don't mind. And I hope you won't, for
you've been most awfully good to me, you know! I never thought so until
these last few minutes; but now I sha'n't forget it, no matter how it
all turns out!"
Well, I made a belated attempt to earn my young friend's good opinion. I
kept out of his way after dinner, and went in search of Quinby instead.
I felt I had a crow of my own to pluck with this gentleman, who owed to
my timely intervention a far greater immunity than he deserved. It was
in the little billiard-room I found him, pachydermatously applauding the
creditable attempts of Sir John Sankey at the cannon game, and as
studiously ignoring the excellent shots of an undistinguished clergyman
who was beating the judge. Quinby made room for me beside him, with a
civility which might have caused me some compunction, but I repaid him
by coming promptly to my point.
"What's this report about Mrs. Lascelles?" I asked, not angrily at all,
for naturally my feeling in the matter was not so strong as Bob's, but
with a certain contemptuous interest, if a man can judge of his own
outward manner from his inner temper at the time.
Quinby favoured me with a narrow though a sidelong look; the room was
very full, and in the general chit-chat, punctuated by the constant
clicking of the heavy balls, there was very little danger of our being
overheard. But Quinby was careful to lower his voice.
"It's perfectly true," said he, "if you mean about her being divorced."
"Yes, that was what I heard; but who started the report?"
"Who started it. You may well ask! Who starts anything in a place like
this? Ah, good shot, Sir John, good shot!"
"Never mind the good shots, Quinby. I really rather want to talk to you
about this. I sha'n't keep you long."
"Talk away, then. I am listening."
"Mrs. Lascelles and I are rather friends."
"So I can see."
"Very well, then, I want to know who started all this. It may be
perfectly true, as you say, but who found it out? If you can't tell me
I must ask somebody else."
The ruddy Alpine colouring had suddenly become accentuated in the case
"As a matter of fact," said he, "it was I who first heard of it, quite
by chance. You can't blame me for that, Clephane."
"Of course not," said I encouragingly.
"Well, unfortunately I let it out; and you know how things get about in
"It was unfortunate," I agreed. "But how on earth did you come to hear?"
Quinby hummed and hawed; he had heard from a soldier friend, a man who
had known her in India, a man whom I knew myself, in fact Hamilton the
sapper, who had telegraphed to Quinby to secure me my room. I ought to
have been disarmed by the coincidence; but I recalled our initial
conversation, about India and Hamilton and Mrs. Lascelles, and I could
not consider it a coincidence at all.
"You don't mean to tell me," said I, aping the surprise I might have
felt, "that our friend wrote and gave Mrs. Lascelles away to you of his
But Quinby did not vouchsafe an answer. "Hard luck, Sir John!" cried
he, as the judge missed an easy cannon, leaving his opponent a still
easier one, which lost him the game. I proceeded to press my question in
a somewhat stronger form, though still with all the suavity at my
"Surely," I urged, "you must have written to ask him about her first?"
"That's my business, I fancy," said Quinby, with a peculiarly aggressive
specimen of the nasal snigger of which enough was made in a previous
chapter, but of which Quinby himself never tired.
"Quite," I agreed; "but do you also consider it your business to inquire
deliberately into the past life of a lady whom I believe you only know
by sight, and to spread the result of your inquiries broadcast in the
hotel? Is that your idea of chivalry? I shall ask Sir John Sankey
whether it is his," I added, as the judge joined us with genial
condescension, and I recollected that his proverbial harshness toward
the male offender was redeemed by an extraordinary sympathy with the
women. Thereupon I laid a general case before Sir John, asking him
point-blank whether he considered such conduct as Quinby's (but I did
not say whose the conduct was) either justifiable in itself or conducive
to the enjoyment of a holiday community like ours.
"It depends," said the judge, cocking a critical eye on the now furious
Quinby. "I am afraid we most of us enjoy our scandal, and for my part I
always like to see a humbug catch it hot. But if the scandal's about a
woman, and if it's an old scandal, and if she's a lonely woman, that
quite alters the case, and in my opinion the author of it deserves all
At this Quinby burst out, with an unrestrained heat that did not lower
him in my estimation, though the whole of his tirade was directed
exclusively against me. I had been talking "at" him, he declared. I
might as well have been straightforward while I was about it. He, for
his part, was not afraid to take the responsibility for anything he
might have said. It was perfectly true, to begin with. The so-called
Mrs. Lascelles, who was such a friend of mine, had been the wife of a
German Jew in Lahore, who had divorced her on her elopement with a
Major Lascelles, whom she had left in his turn, and whose name she had
not the smallest right to bear. Quinby exercised some restraint in the
utterances of these calumnies, or the whole room must have heard them,
but even as it was we had more listeners than the judge when my turn
"I won't give you the lie, Quinby, because I am quite sure you don't
know you are telling one," said I; "but as a matter of fact you are
giving currency to two. In the first place, this lady is Mrs. Lascelles,
for the major did marry her; in the second place, Major Lascelles is
"And how do you know?" inquired Quinby, with a touch of genuine surprise
to mitigate an insolent disbelief.
"You forget," said I, "that it was in India I knew your own informant. I
can only say that my information in all this matter is a good deal
better than his. I knew Mrs. Lascelles herself quite well out there; I
knew the other side of her case. It doesn't seem to have struck you,
Quinby, that such a woman must have suffered a good deal before, and
after, taking such a step. Or I don't suppose you would have spread
yourself to make her suffer a little more,"
And I still consider that a charitable view of his behaviour; but Quinby
was of another opinion, which he expressed with his offensive little
laugh as he lifted his long body from the settee.
"This is what one gets for securing a room for a man one doesn't know!"
"On the contrary," I retorted, "I haven't forgotten that, and I have
saved you something because of it. I happen to have saved you no less
than a severe thrashing from a stronger man than myself, who is even
more indignant with you than I am, and who wanted to borrow one of my
sticks for the purpose!"
"And it would have served him perfectly right," was the old judge's
comment, when the mischief-maker had departed without returning my
parting shot. "I suppose you meant young Evers, Captain Clephane?"
"I did indeed, Sir John. I had to tell him the truth in order to
The old judge raised his eyebrows.
"Then you hadn't to tell him it before? You are certainly consistent,
and I rather admire your position as regards the lady. But I am not so
sure that it was altogether fair toward the lad. It is one thing to
stand up for the poor soul, my dear sir, but it would be another thing
to let a nice boy like that go and marry her!"
So that was the opinion of this ripe old citizen of the world! It ought
not to have irritated me as it did. It would be Catherine's opinion, of
course; but a dispassionate view was not to be expected from her. I had
not hitherto thought otherwise, myself; but now I experienced a perverse
inclination to take the opposite side. Was it so utterly impossible for
a woman with this woman's record to make a good wife to some man yet? I
did not admit it for an instant; he would be a lucky man who won so
healthy and so good a heart; thus I argued to myself with Mrs. Lascelles
in my mind, and nobody else. But Bob Evers was not a man, I was not sure
that he was out of his teens, and to think of him was to think at once
with Sir John Sankey and all the rest. Yes, yes, it would be madness and
suicide in such a youth; there could be no two opinions about that; and
yet I felt indignant at the mildest expression of that which I myself
could not deny.
Such was my somewhat chaotic state of mind when I had fled the
billiard-room in my turn, and put on my overcoat and cap to commune with
myself outside. Nobody did justice to Mrs. Lascelles; it was terribly
hard to do her justice; those were perhaps the ideas that were oftenest
uppermost. I did not see how I was to be the exception and prove the
rule; my brief was for Bob, and there was an end of it. It was foolish
to worry, especially on such a night. The moon had waxed since my
arrival, and now hung almost round and altogether dazzling in the little
sky the mountains left us. Yet I had the terrace all to myself; the
magnificent voice of our latest celebrity had drawn everybody else in
doors, or under the open drawing-room windows through which it poured
out into the glorious night. And in the vivid moonlight the very
mountains seemed to have gathered about the little human hive upon their
heights, to be listening to the grand rich notes that had some right to
break their ancient silence.
"If doughty deeds my lady please,
Right soon I'll mount my steed;
And strong his arm, and fast his seat,
That bears frae me the meed.
I'll wear thy colours in my cap,
Thy picture at my heart;
And he that bends not to thine eye
Shall rue it to his smart!"
It was a brave new setting to brave old lines, as simple and direct as
themselves, studiously in keeping, passionate, virile, almost inspired;
and the whole so justly given that the great notes did not drown the
words as they often will, but all came clean to the ear. No wonder the
hotel held its breath! I was standing entranced myself, an outpost of
the audience underneath the windows, whose fringe I could just see round
the uttermost angle of the hotel, when Bob Evers ran down the steps, and
came toward me in such guise that I could not swear to him till the last
"Don't say a word," he whispered excitedly. "I'm just off!"
"Off where?" I gasped, for he had changed into full mountaineering garb,
and there was his greased face beaming in the moonlight, and the blue
spectacles twinkling about his hat-band, at half-past nine at night.
"Up the Matterhorn!"
"At this time of night?"
"It is a bit late, and that's why I want it kept quiet. I don't want any
fuss or advice. I've got a couple of excellent guides waiting for me
just below by the shoemaker's hut. I told you I was on their tracks.
Well, it was to-night or never as far as they were concerned, they are
so tremendously full up. So to-night it is, and don't you remind me of
I was thinking of her when he spoke; for the song had swung through a
worthy refrain into another verse, and now I knew it better. It was
Catherine who had introduced me to all my lyrics; it was to Catherine I
had once hymned this one in my unformed heart.
"But I thought," said I, as I forced myself to think, "that everybody
went up to the _Cabane_ overnight, and started fresh from there in the
"Most people do, but it's as broad as it's long," declared Bob, airily,
rapidly, and with the same unwonted excitement, born as I thought of
his unwonted enterprise. "You have a ripping moonlight walk instead of a
so-called night's rest in a frowsy hut. We shall get our breakfast there
instead, and I expect to start fresher than if I had slept there and
been knocked up at two o'clock in the morning. That's all settled,
anyhow, and you can look for me on top through the telescope after
breakfast. I shall be back before dark, and then--"
"Well, what then?" I asked, for Bob had made a significant and yet
irresolute pause, as though he could not quite bring himself to tell me
something that was on his mind.
"Well," he echoed nonchalantly at last, as though he had not hesitated
at all, "as a matter of fact, to-morrow night I am to know my fate. I
have asked Mrs. Lascelles to marry me, and she hasn't said no, but I am
giving her till to-morrow night. That's all, Clephane. I thought it a
fair thing to let you know. If you want to waltz in and try your luck
while I'm gone, there's nothing on earth to prevent you, and it might be
most satisfactory to everybody. As a matter of fact, I'm only going so
as to get over the time and keep out of the way."
"As a matter of fact?" I queried, waving a little stick toward the
lighted windows. "Listen a minute, and then tell me!"
And we listened together to the last and clearest rendering of the
"Then tell me how to woo thee, Love;
O tell me how to woo thee!
For thy dear sake, nae care I'll take,
Tho' ne'er another trow me!"
"What tosh!" shouted Bob (his mother should have heard him) through the
applause. "Of course I'm going to take care of myself, and of course I
meant to rush the Matterhorn while I'm here, but between ourselves
that's my only reason for rushing it to-night."
Yet had he no boyish vision of quick promotion in the lady's heart, no
primitive desire to show his mettle out of hand, to set her trembling
while he did or died? He had, I thought, and he had not; that shining
face could only have reflected a single and candid heart. But it is
these very natures, so simple and sweet-hearted and transparent, that
are least to be trusted on the subject of their own motives and
emotions, for they are the soonest deceived, not only by others but in
themselves. Or so I venture to think, and even then reflected, as I
shook my dear lad's hand by the side parapet of the moonlit terrace, and
watched him run down into the shadows of the fir-trees and so out of my
sight with two dark and stalwart figures that promptly detached
themselves from the shadows of the shoemaker's hut. A third figure
mounted to where I now sat listening to the easy, swinging, confident
steps, as they fell fainter and fainter upon the ear; it was the
shoemaker himself who had shod my two sticks with spikes and my boots
with formidable nails; and we exchanged a few words in a mixture of
languages which I should be very sorry to reproduce.
"Do you know those two guides?" is what I first asked in effect.
"Very well, monsieur."
"Are they good guides?"
"The very best, monsieur."
THE LAST WORD
"Is that you?"
It was an hour or so later, but still I sat ruminating upon the parapet,
within a yard or two of the spot where I had first accosted Bob Evers
and Mrs. Lascelles. I had retraced the little sequence of subsequent
events, paltry enough in themselves, yet of a certain symmetry and some
importance as a whole. I had attacked and defended my own conduct down
to that hour, when I ought to have been formulating its logical
conclusion, and during my unprofitable deliberations the night had aged
and altered (as it were) behind my back. There was no more music in the
drawing-room. There were no more people under the drawing-room windows.
The lights in all the lower windows were not what they had been; it was
the bedroom tiers that were illuminated now. But I did not realise that
there was less light outside until I awoke to the fact that Mrs.
Lascelles was peering tentatively toward me, and putting her question in
such an uncertain tone.
"That depends who I am supposed to be," I answered, laughing as I rose
to put my personality beyond doubt.
"How stupid of me!" laughed Mrs. Lascelles in her turn, though rather
nervously to my fancy. "I thought it was Mr. Evers!"
I had hard work to suppress an exclamation. So he had not told her what
he was going to do, and yet he had not forbidden me to tell her. Poor
Bob was more subtle than I had supposed, but it was a simple subtlety, a
strange chord but still in key with his character as I knew it.
"I am sorry to disappoint you," said I. "But I am afraid you won't see
any more of Bob Evers to-night."
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Lascelles, suspiciously.
"I wonder he didn't tell you," I replied, to gain time in which to
decide how to make the best use of such an unforeseen opportunity.
"Well, he didn't; so please will you, Captain Clephane?"
"Bob Evers," said I, with befitting gravity, "is climbing the Matterhorn
at this moment."
"At least he has started."
"When did he start?"
"An hour or more ago, with a couple of guides."
"He told you, then?"
"Only just as he was starting."
"Was it a sudden idea?"
"More or less, I think."
I waited for the next question, but that was the last of them. Just then
the interloping cloud floated clear of the moon, and I saw that my
companion was wrapped up as on the earlier night, in the same
unconventional combination of rain-coat and golf-cape; but now the hood
hung down, and the sudden rush of moonlight showed me a face as full of
sheer perplexity and annoyance as I could have hoped to find it, and as
free from deeper feeling.
"The silly boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Lascelles at last. "I suppose it really
is pretty safe, Captain Clephane?"
"Safer than most dangerous things, I believe; and they are the safest,
as you know, because you take most care. He has a couple of excellent
guides; the chance of getting them was partly why he went. In all human
probability we shall have him back safe and sound, and fearfully pleased
with himself, long before this time to-morrow. Meanwhile, Mrs.
Lascelles," I continued with the courage of my opportunity, "it is a
very good chance for me to speak to you about our friend Bob. I have
wanted to do so for some little time."
"Have you, indeed?" said Mrs. Lascelles, coldly.
"I have," I answered imperturbably; "and if it wasn't so late I should
ask for a hearing now."
"Oh, let us get it over, by all means!"
But as she spoke Mrs. Lascelles glanced over the shoulder that she
shrugged so contemptuously, toward the lights in the bedroom windows,
most of which were wide open.
"We could walk toward the zig-zags," I suggested. "There is a seat
within a hundred yards, if you don't think it too cold to sit, but in
any case I needn't keep you many minutes. Bob Evers," I continued, as my
suggestion was tacitly accepted, "paid me the compliment of confiding in
me somewhat freely before he started on this hare-brained expedition of
"So it appears."
"Ah, but he didn't only tell me what he was going to do; he told me why
he was doing it," said I, as we sauntered on our way side by side. "It
was difficult to believe," I added, when I had waited long enough for
the question upon which I had reckoned.
"He said he had proposed to you."
And again I waited, but never a word.
"That child!" I added with deliberate scorn.
But a further pause was broken only by my companion's measured steps and
my own awkward shuffle.
"That baby!" I insisted.
"Did you tell him he was one, Captain Clephane?" asked Mrs. Lascelles,
dryly, but drawn so far at last.
"I spared his feelings. But can it be true, Mrs. Lascelles?"
"It is true."
"Is it a fact that you didn't give him a definite answer?"
"I don't know what business it is of yours," said Mrs. Lascelles,
bluntly; "and since he seems to have told you everything, neither do I
know why you should ask me. However, it is quite true that I did not
finally refuse him on the spot."
This carefully qualified confirmation should have afforded me abundant
satisfaction. I was over-eager in the matter, however, and I cried out
"But you will?"
"Refuse the boy!"
We had reached the seat, but neither of us sat down. Mrs. Lascelles
appeared to be surveying me with equal resentment and defiance. I, on
the other hand, having shot my bolt, did my best to look conciliatory.
"Why should I refuse him?" she asked at length, with less emotion and
more dignity than her bearing had led me to expect. "You seem so sure
about it, you know!"
"He is such a boy--such an utter child--as I said just now." I was
conscious of the weakness of saying it again, and it alone, but my
strongest arguments were too strong for direct statement.
This one, however, was not unfruitful in the end.
"And I," said Mrs. Lascelles, "how old do you think I am? Thirty-five?"
"Of course not," I replied, with obvious gallantry. "But I doubt if Bob
is even twenty."
"Well, then, you won't believe me, but I was married before I was his
age, and I am just six-and-twenty now."
It was a surprise to me. I did not doubt it for a moment; one never did
doubt Mrs. Lascelles. It was indeed easy enough to believe (so much I
told her) if one looked upon the woman as she was, and only difficult in
the prejudicial light of her matrimonial record. I did not add these
things. "But you are a good deal older," I could not help saying, "in
the ways of the world, and it is there that Bob is such an absolute
"But I thought an Eton boy was a man of the world?" said Mrs. Lascelles,
quoting me against myself with the utmost readiness.
"Ah, in some things," I had to concede. "Only in some things, however."
"Well," she rejoined, "of course I know what you mean by the other
things. They matter to your mind much more than mere age, even if I had
been fifteen years older, instead of five or six. It's the old story,
from the man's point of view. You can live anything down, but you won't
let us. There is no fresh start for a woman; there never was and never
I protested that this was unfair. "I never said that, or anything like
it, Mrs. Lascellcs!"
"No, you don't say it, but you think it!" she cried back. "It is the one
thing you have in your mind. I was unhappy, I did wrong, so I can never
be happy, I can never do right! I am unfit to marry again, to marry a
good man, even if he loves me, even if I love him!"
"I neither say nor think anything of the kind," I reiterated, and with
some slight effect this time. Mrs. Lascelles put no more absurdities
into my mouth.
"Then what do you say?" she demanded, her deep voice vibrant with
scornful indignation, though there were tears in it too.
"I think he will be a lucky fellow who gets you," I said, and meant
every word, as I looked at her well in the moonlight, with her shining
eyes, and curling lip, and fighting flush.
"Thank you, Captain Clephane!"
And I thought I was to be honoured with a contemptuous courtesy; but I
"He ought to be a man, however," I went on, "and not a boy, and still
less the only child of a woman with whom you would never get on."
"So you are as sure of that," exclaimed Mrs. Lascelles, "as of
everything else!" It seemed, however, to soften her, or at least to
change the current of her thoughts. "Yet you get on with her?" she added
with a wistful intonation.
I could not deny that I got on with Catherine Evers.
"You are even fond of her?"
"Then do you find me a very disagreeable person, that she and I couldn't
possibly hit it off, in your opinion?"
"It isn't that, Mrs. Lascelles," said I, almost wearily. "You must know
what it is. You want to marry her son--"
Mrs. Lascelles smiled.
"Well, let us suppose you do. That would be quite enough for Mrs. Evers.
No matter who you were, how peerless, how incomparable in every way, she
would rather die than let you marry him at his age. I don't say she's
wrong--I don't say she's right. I give you the plain fact for what it is
worth: you would find her from the first a clever and determined
adversary, a regular little lioness with her cub, and absolutely
intolerant on that particular point."
I could see Catherine as I spoke, the Catherine I had seen last, and
liked least to remember; but the vision faded before the moonlit reality
of Mrs. Lascelles, laughing to herself like a great, naughty, pretty
"I really think I must marry him," she said, "and see what happens!"
"If you do," I answered, in all seriousness, "you will begin by
separating mother and son, and end by making both their lives miserable,
and bringing the last misery into your own."
And either my tone impressed her, or the covert reminder in my last
words; for the bold smile faded from her face, and she looked longer and
more searchingly in mine than she had done as yet.
"You know Mrs. Evers exceedingly well," Mrs. Lascelles remarked.
"I did years ago," I guardedly replied.
"Do you mean to say," urged my companion, "that you have not seen her
I did not altogether like her tone. Yet it was so downright and
straightforward, it was hard to be the very reverse in answer to it, and
I shied idiotically at the honest lie. I had quite lost sight both of
Bob and his mother, I declared, from the day I went to India until now.
"You mean until you came out here?" persisted Mrs. Lascelles.
"Until the other day," I said, relying on a carefully affirmative tone
to close the subject. There was a pause. I began to hope I had
succeeded. The flattering tale was never finished.
"I believe," said Mrs. Lascelles, "that you saw Mrs. Evers in town
before you started."
It was too late to lie.
"As a matter of fact," I answered easily, "I did."
I built no hopes on the pause which followed that. Somehow I had my face
to the moon, and Mrs. Lascelles had her back. Yet I knew that her
scrutiny of me was more critical than ever.
"How funny of Bob never to have told me!" she said.
"Told you what?"
"That you saw his mother just before you left."
"I didn't tell him," I said at length.
"That was funny of you, Captain Clephane."
"On the contrary," I argued, with the impudence which was now my only
chance, "it was only natural. Bob was rather raw with his friend
Kennerley, you see. You knew about that?"
"And why they fell out?"
"Well, he might have thought the other fellow had been telling tales,
and that I had come out to have an eye on him, if he had known that I
happened to see his mother just before I started."
There was another pause; but now I was committed to an attitude, and
prepared for the worst.
"Perhaps there would have been some truth in it?" suggested Mrs.
"Perhaps," I agreed, "a little."
The pause now was the longest of all. It had no terrors for me. Another
cloud had come between us and the moon. I was sorry for that. I felt
that I was missing something. Even the fine upstanding figure before me
was no longer sharp enough to be expressive.
"I have been harking back," explained Mrs. Lascelles, eventually. "Now I
begin to follow. You saw his mother, you heard a report, and you
volunteered or at least consented to come out and keep an eye on the
dear boy, as you say yourself. Am I not more or less right so far,
Her tone was frozen honey.
"More or less," I admitted ironically.
"Of course, I don't know what report that other miserable young man may
have carried home with him. I don't want to know. But I can guess. One
does not stay in hotel after hotel without getting a pretty shrewd idea
of the way people talk about one. I know the sort of things they have
been saying here. You would hear them yourself, no doubt, Captain
Clephane, as soon as you arrived."
I admitted that I had, but reminded Mrs. Lascelles that the first person
I had spoken to was also the greatest gossip in the hotel. She paid no
attention to the remark, but stood looking at me again, with the look
that I could never quite see to read.
"And then," she went on, "you found out who it was, and you remembered
all about me, and your worst fears were confirmed. That must have been
an interesting moment. I wonder how you felt.... Did it never occur to
you to speak plainly to anybody?"
"I wasn't going to give you away," I said, stolidly, though with no
conscious parade of virtue.
"Yet, you see, it would have made no difference if you had! Did you
seriously think it would make much difference, Captain Clephane, to a
really chivalrous young man?" I bowed my head to the well-earned taunt.
"But," she went on, "there was no need for you to speak to Mr. Evers.
You might have spoken to me. Why did you not do that?"
"Because I didn't want to quarrel with you," I answered quite honestly;
"because I enjoyed your society too much myself."
"That was very nice of you," said Mrs. Lascelles, with a sudden although
subtle return of the good-nature which had always attracted me. "If it
is sincere," she added, as an apparent afterthought.
"I am perfectly sincere now."
"Then what do you think I should do?" she asked me, in the soft new tone
which actually flattered me with the idea that she was making up her
mind to take my advice.
"Refuse this lad!"
"And then?" she almost whispered.
I hesitated. I found it hard to say what I thought, hard even upon
myself. We had been good friends. I admired the woman cordially; her
society was pleasant to me, as it always had been. Nevertheless, we had
just engaged in a duel of no friendly character; and now that we seemed
of a sudden to have become friends again, it was the harder to give her
the only advice which I considered compatible alike with my duty and the
varied demands of the situation. If she took it as she seemed disposed
to do, the immediate loss would be mine, and I foresaw besides a much
more disagreeable reckoning with Bob Evers than the one now approaching
an amicable conclusion. I should have to stay behind to face the music
of his wrath alone. Still, at the risk of appearing brutal I made my
proposal in plain terms; but, to minimise that risk, I ventured to take
the lady's hand and was glad to find the familiarity permitted in the
same friendly spirit in which it was indulged.
"I would have no 'and then,'" I said, "if I were you. I should refuse
him under such circumstances that he couldn't possibly bother you, or
himself about you, again. Now is your opportunity."
"Is it?" she asked, a thrilling timbre in her low voice. And I fancied
there was a kindred tremor in the firm warm hand within mine.
"The best of opportunities," I replied, "if you are not too wedded to
this place, and can tear yourself away from the rest of us." (Her hand
lay loose in mine.) "Mrs. Lascelles, I should go to-morrow morning" (her
hand fell away altogether), "while he is still up the Matterhorn and I
shouldn't let him know where I--shouldn't give him a chance of finding
A sudden peal of laughter cut me short. I could not have believed it
came from my companion. But no other soul was near us, though I looked
all ways. It was the merriest laughter imaginable, only the merriment
was harsh and hard.
"Oh, thank you, Captain Clephane! You are too delicious! I saw it
coming; I only wondered whether I could contain myself until it came.
Yet I could hardly believe that even you would commit yourself to that
finishing touch of impudence! Certainly it is an opportunity, _his_
being out of the way. _You_ were not long in making use of it, were you?
It will amuse him when he comes down, though it may open his eyes. I
shall tell him everything, so I give you warning. Every single thing,
that you have had the insolence to tell me!"
She had caught up her skirts from the ground, she had half turned away
from me, toward the hotel. The false merriment had died out of her. The
true indignation remained, ringing in every accent of the deep sweet
voice, and drawn up in every inch of the tall straight figure. I do not
remember whether the moon was hid or shining at the moment. I only know
that my lady's eyes shone bright enough for me to see them then and ever
after, bright and dry with a scorn that burnt too hot for tears; and
that I admired her even while she scorned me, as I had never thought to
admire any woman but one, but this woman least of all.
So we both stood, intent, some seconds, looking our last upon each other
if I was wise. Then I lifted my hat, and offered my congratulations
(more sincere than they sounded) to her and Bob.
"Did I tell you why he is going up?" I added. "It is to pass the time
until he knows his fate. If only we could let him know it now!"
Mrs. Lascelles glanced toward the mountain, and my eyes followed hers.
A great cloud hid the grim outstanding summit.
"If only you had prevented him from going!" she cried back at me in a
last reproach; and to me her tone was conclusive, it rang so true, and
so invidiously free from the smaller emotions which it had been my own
unhappiness to inspire. It was the real woman who had spoken out once
more, suddenly, perhaps unthinkingly, but obviously from her heart. And
as she turned, I followed her very slowly and without a word; for now
was I surely and deservedly undone.
THE LION'S MOUTH
It was a chilly morning, with rather a high wind; from the haze about
the mountains of the Zermatt valley, which were all that I could see
from my bedroom window, it occurred to me that I might look in vain for
the Matterhorn from the other side of the hotel. It was still visible,
however, when I came down, a white cloud wound about its middle like a
cloth, and the hotel telescope already trained upon its summit from the
shelter of the glass veranda.
"See anybody?" I asked of a man who sat at the telescope as though his
eye was frozen to the lens. He might have been witnessing the most
exciting adventure, where the naked eye saw only rock and snow, and cold
grey sky; but he rose at last with a shake of the head, a great gaunt
man with kind keen eyes, and the skin peeled off his nose.
"No," said he, "I can't see anybody, and I'm very glad I can't. It's
about as bad a morning for it as you could possibly have; yet last night
was so fine that some fellows might have got up to the hut, and been
foolish enough not to come down again. But have a look for yourself."
"Oh, thanks," said I, considerably relieved at what I heard, "but if you
can't see anybody I'm sure I can't. You have done it yourself, I
The gaunt man smiled demurely, and the keen eyes twinkled in his flayed
face. He was, indeed, a palpable mountaineer.
"What, the Matterhorn?" said he, lowering his voice and looking about
him as if on the point of some discreditable admission. "Oh, yes, I've
done the Matterhorn, back and front and both sides, with and without
guides; but everybody has, in these days. It's nothing when you know the
ropes and chains and things. They've got everything up there now except
an iron staircase. Still, I should be sorry to tackle it to-day, even if
they had a lift!"
"Do you think guides would?" I asked, less reassured than I had felt at
"It depends on the guides. They are not the first to turn back, as a
rule; but they like wind and mist even less than we do. The guides know
what wind and mist mean."
I now understood the special disadvantages of the day and realised the
obvious dangers. I could only hope that either Bob Evers or his guides
had shown the one kind of courage required by the occasion, the moral
courage of turning back. But I was not at all sure of Bob. His stimulus
was not that of the single-minded, level-headed mountaineer; in his
romantic exaltation he was capable of hailing the very perils as so many
more means of grace in the sight of Mrs. Lascelles; yet without doubt he
would have repudiated any such incentive, and that in all the sincerity
of his simple heart. He did not know himself as I knew him.
My fears were soon confirmed. Returning to the glass veranda, after the
stock breakfast of the Swiss hotel, with its horseshoe rolls and
fabricated honey, I found the telescope the centre of an ominous crowd,
on whose fringe hovered my new friend the mountaineer.
"We were wrong," he muttered to me. "Some fools are up there, after
"How many?" I asked quickly.
"I don't know. There's no getting near the telescope now, and won't be
till the clouds blot them out altogether."
I looked out at the Matterhorn. The loincloth of cloud had shaken itself
out into a flowing robe, from which only the brown skull of the mountain
protruded in its white skull-cap.
"There are three of them," announced a nasal voice from the heart of the
little crowd. "A great long chap and two guides."
"He can't possibly know that," remarked the mountaineer to me, "but
let's hope it is so."
"They're as plain as pike-staffs," continued Quinby, whose bent blond
head I now distinguished, as he occupied the congenial post of Sister
Anne. "They seem stuck.... No, they're getting up on to the snow-slope,
and the front man's cutting steps."
"Then they're all right for the present," said the mountaineer. "It's
the getting down that's ticklish."
"You can see the rope blowing about between them ... what a wind there
must be ... it's bent out taut like a bow, you can see it against the
snow, and they're bending themselves more than forty-five degrees to
"All very well going _up_," murmured the mountaineer: there was a
sinister innuendo in the curt comments of the practical man.
I turned into the hall. It, however, was quite deserted. I had hoped I
might see something of Mrs. Lascelles; she was not one of those in the
glass veranda. I now looked in the drawing-room, but neither was she
there. Returning to the empty hall, I passed a minute peering through
the locked glass door of the pigeon-holes in which the careful concierge
files the unclaimed letters. There was nothing for me that I could
discern, in the C pigeon-hole; but next door but one, under E, there lay
on the very top a letter which caught my eye and more. It had not been
through any post. It was a note directed to R. Evers, Esq., in a hand
that I knew instinctively to be that of Mrs. Lascelles, though I had
never seen it in my life before. It was a good hand, but large and bold
and downright as herself.
The concierge stood in the doorway, one eye on the disappearing
Matterhorn, one on the experts and others in animated conclave round the
still inaccessible telescope. I touched the concierge on the arm.
"Did you see Mrs. Lascelles this morning?"
The man's eyes opened before his lips.
"She has gone away, sir."
"I know," I said, having indeed divined no less. "What train did she
"The first one from here. That also catches the early train from
"I am sorry," I said after a pause. "I hoped to see Mrs. Lascelles
before she went; now I must write. She left you an address, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"I shall ask you for it later on. No letters for me, I suppose?"
"I will look again."
And I looked with him, over his shoulder; but there was nothing; and
the note for Bob Evers now inspired me with a tripartite blend of
curiosity, envy, and apprehension. I would have had a last word from the
same hand myself; had it been never so scornful, this silent scorn was
the harder sort to bear. Also I wanted much to know what her last word
was to Bob--and dreaded more what it might be.
There remained the unexpected triumph of having got rid of my lady after
all. That is not to be belittled even now. It is a triumph to succeed in
any undertaking, more especially when one has abandoned one's own last
hope of such success. The unpleasant character of this particular
emprise made its eventual accomplishment in some ways the greater matter
for congratulation in my eyes. At least I had done my part. I had come
to hate it, but the thing was done, and it had been a fairly difficult
thing to do. It was impossible not to plume oneself a little on the
whole, but the feeling was a superficial one, with deeper and uneasier
feelings underneath. Still, I had practically redeemed my impulsive
promise to Catherine Evers; her son and this woman once parted, it
should be easy to keep them apart, and my knowledge of the woman
forbade me to deny the fullest significance to her departure. She had
gone away to stay away--from Bob. She had listened to me the less with
her ears, because her reason and her heart had been compelled to heed.
To be sure, she saw the unsuitability, the impossibility, as clearly as
we did. But it was I who, at all events, had helped to make her see it;
wherefore I deserved well of Catherine Evers, if of no other person in
Oddly enough, this last consideration afforded me least satisfaction; it
seemed to bring home to me by force of contrast the poor figure that I
must assuredly cut in the eyes of the other two, the still poorer
opinion that they would have of me if ever they knew all. I did not care
to pursue this train of thought. It was a subject upon which I was not
prepared to examine myself; to change it, I thought of Bob's present
peril, which I had almost forgotten as I lounged abstractedly in the
empty hall. If anything were to happen to him, in the vulgar sense! What
an irony, what poetic punishment for us survivors! And yet, even as I
rehearsed the ghastly climax in my mind, I told myself that the mother
would rather see him even thus, than married to a widow who had also
been divorced; it was the younger woman who would never forgive me, or
Disappointed faces met me on my next visit to the veranda. The little
crowd there had dwindled to a group. I could have had the telescope now
for as long as I liked: the upper part of the Matterhorn was finally and
utterly effaced and swallowed up by dense white mist and cloud. My
friend the mountaineer looked grave, but his disfigured face did not
wear the baulked expression of others to which he drew my attention.
"It is like the curtain coming down with the man's head still in the
lion's mouth," said he.
"I hope," said I devoutly, "that you don't seriously think there's any
The climber looked at me steadily, and then smiled.
"Well, no, perhaps I don't think it quite so bad as all that. But it's
no use pretending it isn't dangerous. May I ask if you know who the
foolhardy fellow is?"
I said I did not know, but mentioned my suspicion, only begging my
climbing friend not to let the name go any farther. It was in too many
mouths already, in quite another connection, I was going on to explain;
but the mountaineer nodded, as much as to warn me that even he knew all
about that. It was Bob's office, however, to provide the hotel with its
sensation while he remained, and he was not allowed to perform
anonymously very long. His departure over night leaked out. I was asked
if it was true. The flight of Mrs. Lascelles was the next discovery;
desperate deductions were drawn at once. She had jilted the unlucky
youth and sent him in utter recklessness on his intentionally suicidal
ascent. Nobody any longer expected to see him come down alive; so much I
gathered from the fragments of conversation that reached my ears; and
never was better occupation for a bad day than appeared to be afforded
by the discussion of the supposititious tragedy in all its imaginary
details. As, however, the talk invariably abated at my approach, giving
place to uncomplimentary glances in my direction, I could not but infer
that public opinion had assigned me an unenviable part in the piece.
Perhaps I deserved it, though not from their point of view.
The afternoon was at once a dreariness and a dread. There was no ray of
sun without, no sort of warmth within. The Matterhorn never reappeared,
but seemed the grimmer monster for this sinister invisibility. I
gathered that there was real occasion for anxiety, if not for alarm, and
I nursed mine chiefly in my own room until I heard the news when I went
down for my letters. Bob Evers had walked in as though nothing had
happened, and gone straight up to his room with a note that the
concierge handed him. Some one had asked him whether it was he who had
been up the Matterhorn in the morning, and young Evers had vouchsafed
the barest affirmative compatible with civility. The sunburnt climber
was my informant.
"And I don't mind telling you it is a relief to me," he added, "and to
everybody, though I shouldn't wonder if there was a little unconscious
disappointment in the air as well. I congratulate you, for I could see
you were anxious, and I must find an opportunity of congratulating your
young friend himself."
Meanwhile no such opportunity was afforded me, though I quite expected
and was fully prepared for another visit from Bob in my room. I waited
for him there until dinner-time, but he never came, and I was beginning
to wish he would. It was like the wrapping of the Matterhorn in mist; it
only widened the field of apprehension; and yet it was not for me to go
to the boy. My unrest was further aggravated by a letter which I had
just received from the boy's mother in answer to my first to her. It was
not a very dreadful letter; but I only trusted that no evil impulse had
caused Catherine to write in anything like the same strain to Bob; for
neither was it a very charitable letter, nor one that a man could be
glad to get from the woman whom he had set out on an enduring pinnacle.
There was only this to be said for it, that years ago I had sought in
vain for a really human weakness in Catherine Evers, and now at last I
had found one. She was rather too human about Mrs. Lascelles.
I looked for Bob both at and after dinner, but we were never within
speaking distance and I fancied he avoided even my eye. What had Mrs.
Lascelles said? He looked redder and browner and rougher in the face,
but I heard that he would hardly open his lips at table, that he was
almost surly on the subject of his exploit. Everybody else appeared to
me to be speaking of it, or of Bob himself; but I had him on my nerves
and may well have formed an exaggerated impression about it all. Only I
do not forget some of the things I did overhear that day, and night; and
they now had the effect of sending me in search of Bob, since Bob would
not come near me. "I will have it out with him," I grimly decided, "and
then get out of this myself by the first train going." I had had quite
enough of the place that had enchanted me up to the last four-and-twenty
hours. I began to see myself back in Elm Park Gardens. There, at least,
if also there alone, I should get some credit for what I had done.
It was no use looking for Bob upon the terrace now; yet I did look
there, among other obvious places, before I could bring myself to knock
at his door. There was a light in his room, so I knew that he was there,
and he cried out admittance in so sharp a tone that I fancied he also
knew who knocked. I found him packing in his shirt-sleeves. He received
me with a stare in exact keeping with his tone. What on earth had Mrs.
"Going away?" I asked, as a mere preliminary, and I shut the door behind
me. Bob followed the action with raised eyebrows, then flung me the
shortest possible affirmative, as he bent once more over the suit-case on
But in a few seconds he looked up.
"Anything I can do for you, Clephane?"
"That depends where you are going."
Bob went on packing with a smile. I guessed where he was going. "I
thought there might be something pressing," he remarked, without looking
"There is," said I. "There is something you can do for me on the spot.
You can try to believe that I have not meant to be quite such a skunk as
I may have seemed--to you," I was on the point of adding, but I stopped
short of that advisedly, as I thought of Mrs. Lascelles also.
"Oh, that's all right," said Bob, in a would-be airy tone that carried
its own contradiction. "All's fair, according to the proverb; I no more
blame you than you would have blamed me. I hope, on the contrary, that I
may congratulate you."
And he stood up with a look which, coupled with his words, made it my
turn to stare.
"Indeed you may not," said I.
"Aren't you engaged to her?" he asked.
"Good God, no!" I cried. "What made you think so?"
"Everything!" exclaimed Bob, after a moment's pause of obvious
bewilderment. "I--you see--I had a note from Mrs. Lascelles herself!"
"Yes?" said I, carefully careless, but I wanted more than ever to know
that missive's gist.
"Only a few lines," Bob went on, ruefully; "they are the first thing I
heard or saw when I got down, and they almost made me wish I'd come down
with a run! Well, it's no use talking about it, I only thought you'd
know. It was the usual smack in the eye, I suppose, only nicely put and
all that. She didn't tell me where she was going, or why; she told me I
had better ask you."
"But you wouldn't condescend."
Bob gave a rather friendly little laugh.
"I said I'd see you damned!" he admitted. "But of course I thought you
were the lucky man. I still half believe you are!"
"Well, I'm not."
"Do you mean to say that she's refused you too?"
"She hasn't had the chance."
Bob's eyes opened to an infantile width.
"But you told me you were in earnest!" he urged.
"As much in earnest as you were, I believe was what I said."
"That's the same thing," returned Bob, sharply. "You may not think it
is. I don't care what you think. But I'm very sorry you said you were in
earnest if you were not."
And his tone convinced me that he was no longer commiserating himself;
he was sorry on some new account, and the evident reality of his regret
filled me in turn with all the qualms of a guilty conscience.
"Why are you sorry?" I demanded.
"Oh, not on my own account," said Bob. "I'm delighted, personally, of
"Then do you mean to say--you actually told her--I was as much in
earnest as you were?"
Bob Evers smiled openly in my face; it was the only revenge he ever
took; and even it was tempered by the inextinguishable sweetness of
expression and the childlike wide-eyed candour which were Bob's even in
the hour of his humiliation, and will be, one hopes, all his days.
"Not in so many words," he said, "but I am afraid I did tell her in
effect. You see, I took you at your word. I thought it was quite true.
I'm awfully sorry, Duncan. But it really does serve you right!"
I made no answer. I was looking at the suit-case on the bed. Bob seemed
to have lost all interest in his packing. I turned to leave him without
"I am awfully sorry!" he was the one to say again. I began to wonder
when he would see all round the point, and how it would affect his
feeling (to say nothing of his actions) when he did. Meanwhile it was
Bob who was holding out his hand.
"So am I," I said, taking it.
And for once I, too, was not thinking about myself.
A STERN CHASE
Where had Bob been going, and where was he going now? If these were not
the first questions that I asked myself on coming away from him, they
were at all events among my last thoughts that night, and as it
happened, quite my first next morning. His voice had reached me through
my bedroom window, on the head of a dream about himself. I got up and
looked out; there was Bob Evers seeing the suit-case into the tiny train
which brings your baggage (and yourself, if you like) to the very door
of the Riffel Alp Hotel. Bob did not like and I watched him out of sight
down the winding path threaded by the shining rails. He walked slowly,
head and shoulders bent, it might be with dogged resolve, it might be in
mere depression; there was never a glimpse of his face, nor a backward
glance as he swung round the final corner, with his great-coat over his
In spite of my curiosity as to his destination, I made no attempt to
discover it for myself, but on consideration I was guilty of certain
inquiries concerning that of Mrs. Lascelles. They had not to be very
exhaustive; she had made no secret of her original plans upon leaving
the Riffel Alp, and they did not appear to have undergone much change. I
myself left the same forenoon, and lay that night amid the smells of
Brigues, after a little tour of its hotels, in one of which I found the
name of Mrs. Lascelles in the register, while in every one I was
prepared to light upon Bob Evers in the flesh. But that encounter did
In the early morning I was one of a shivering handful who awaited the
diligence for the Furka Pass; and an ominous drizzle made me thankful
that my telegram of the previous day had been too late to secure me an
outside seat. It was quite damp enough within. Nor did the day improve
as we drove, or the view attract me in the least. It was at its worst as
a sight, and I at mine as a sightseer. I have as little recollection of
my fellow-passengers; but I still see the page in the hotel register at
the Rhone Glacier, with the name I sought written boldly in its place,
just twenty-four hours earlier.
The Furka Pass has its European reputation; it would gain nothing from
my enthusiastic praises, had I any enthusiasm to draw upon, or the
descriptive powers to do it justice. But what I best remember is the
time it took us to climb those interminable zig-zags, and to shake off
the too tenacious sight of the hotel in the hollow where I had seen a
signature and eaten my lunch. Now I think of it, there were two couples
who had come so far with us, but at the Rhone Glacier they exchanged
their mutually demonstrative adieux, and I thought the couple who came
on would never have done waving to the couple who stayed behind. They
kept it up for at least an hour, and then broke out again at each of our
many last glimpses of the hotel, now hundreds of feet below. That was
the only diversion until these energetic people went to see the glacier
cave at the summit of the pass. I am glad to remember that I preferred
refreshment at the inn. After that, night fell upon a scene whose
desolation impressed me more than its grandeur, and so in the end we
rattled into Andermatt: here was a huge hotel all but empty, with a
perfect tome of a visitors' book, and in it sure enough the fine free
autograph which I was beginning to know so well.
"Yes, sare," said the concierge, "the season end suddenly mit the bad
vedder at the beginning of the veek. You know that lady? She has been
here last night; she go avay again to-day, on to Goeschenen and Zuerich.
Yes, sare, she shall be in Zuerich to-night."
I was in Zuerich myself the night after. I knew the hotel to go to, knew
it from Mrs. Lascelles herself, whose experience of continental hotels
was so pathetically extensive. This was the best in Switzerland, so she
had assured me in one of our talks: she could never pass through Zuerich
without making a night of it at the Baur au Lac. But one night of it
appeared to be enough, or so it had proved on this occasion, for again I
missed her by a few hours. I was annoyed. I agreed with Mrs. Lascelles
about this hotel. Since I had made up my mind to overtake her first or
last, it might as well have been a comfortable place like this, where
there was good cooking and good music and all the comforts which I may
or may not have needed, but which I was certainly beginning to desire.
What a contrast to the place at which I found myself the following
night. It was a place called Triberg, in the Black Forest, which I had
never penetrated before, and certainly never shall again. It seemed to
me an uttermost end of the earth, but it was raining when I arrived, and
the rain never ceased for an instant while I was there. About a dozen
hotel omnibuses met the train, from which only three passengers
alighted; the other two were a young married couple at whom I would not
have looked twice, though we all boarded the same lucky 'bus, had not
the young man stared very hard at me.
"Captain Clephane," said he, "I guess you've forgotten me; but you may
remember my best gurl?"
It was our good-natured young American from the Riffel Alp, who had not
only joined in the daily laugh against himself up there, but must needs
raise it as soon as ever he met one of us again. I rather think his best
girl did not hear him, for she was staring through the streaming omnibus
windows into an absolutely deserted country street, and I feared that
her eyes would soon resemble the panes. She brightened, however, in a
very flattering way, as I thought, on finding a third soul for one or
both of them to speak to, for a change. I only wished I could have
returned the compliment in my heart.
"Captain Clephane," continued the young bridegroom, "we came down Monday
last. Say, who do you guess came down along with us?"
"A friend of yours," prompted the bride, as I put on as blank an
expression as possible.
I opened my eyes a little wider. It seemed the only thing to do.
"Captain Clephane," said the bridegroom, beaming all over his
good-humoured face, "it was a lady named Lascelles, and it's to her
advice we owe this pleasure. We travelled together as far as Loocerne.
We guess we'll put salt on her at this hotel."
"So does the Captain," announced the bride, who could not look at me
without a smile, which I altogether declined to return. But I need
hardly confess that she was right. It was from Mrs. Lascelles that I
also had heard of the dismal spot to which we were come, as her own
ultimate objective after Switzerland. It was the only address with which
she had provided the concierge at the Riffel Alp. All day I had
regretted the night wasted at Zuerich, on the chance of saving a day; but
until this moment I had been sanguine of bringing my dubious quest to a
successful issue here in Triberg. Now I was no longer even anxious to do
so. I did not desire witnesses of a meeting which might well be of a
character humiliating to myself. Still less should I have chosen for
such witnesses a couple who were plainly disposed to put the usual
misconstruction upon the relations of any man with any woman.
My disappointment was consequently less than theirs when we drove up to
as gloomy a hostelry as I have ever beheld, with the blue-black forest
smoking wet behind it, to find that here also the foul weather had
brought the season to a premature and sudden end, literally emptying
this particular hotel. Nor did the landlord give us the welcome we might
have expected on a hasty consideration of the circumstances. He said
that he had been on the point of shutting up that house until next
season and hinted at less profit than loss upon three persons only.
"But there's a fourth person coming," declared the disconsolate bride.
"We figured on finding her right here!"
"A Mrs. Lascelles," her husband explained.
"Been and gone," said the landlord, grinning sardonically. "Too lonely
for the lady. She has arrived last night, and gone away again this
morning. You will find her at the Darmstaedterhof, in Baden-Baden,
unless she changes her mind on the way."
I caught his grin. It had been the same story, at every stage of my
journey; the chances were that it would be the same thing again at
Baden-Baden. There may have been something, however, of which I was
unaware in my smile; for I found myself under close observation by the
bride; and as our eyes met her hand slipped within her husband's arm.
"I guess _we_ won't find her there," she said. "I guess we'll just light
out for ourselves, and wish the captain luck."
A stern chase is proverbially protracted, but on dry land it has usually
one end. Mine ended in Baden on the fifth (and first fine) day, rather
early in the afternoon. On arrival I drove straight to the
Darmstaedterhof, and asked to see no visitors' books, for the five days
had taken the edge off my finesse, but inquired at once whether a Mrs.
Lascelles was staying there or not. She was. It seemed incredible. Were
they sure she had not just left? They were sure. But she was not in; at
my request they made equally sure of that. She had probably gone to the
Conversationshaus, to listen to the band. All Baden went there in the
afternoon, to listen to that band. It was a very good band. Baden-Baden
was a very good place. There was no better hotel in Baden-Baden than the
Darmstaedterhof; there were no such baths in the other hotels, these
came straight from the spring, at their natural temperature. They were
matchless for rheumatism, especially in the legs. The old Empress,
Augusta, when in Baden, used to patronise this very hotel and no other.
They could show me the actual bath, and I myself could have pension
(baths excluded) for eight marks and fifty a day. If I would be so kind
as to step into the lift, I should see the room for myself, and then
with my permission they would bring in my luggage and pay the cab.
All this by degrees, from a pale youth in frock-coat and forage-cap, and
a more prosperous personage with _pince-nez_ and a paunch (yet another
concierge and my latest landlord respectively), while I stood making up
my mind. The closing proposition was of some assistance to me. I had no
luggage on the cab, of which the cabman's hat alone was visible, at the
bottom of a flight of steps, at the far end of the flagged approach. I
had left my luggage at the station, but I only recollected the fact upon
being recalled from a mental forecast of the interview before me to
these exceedingly petty preliminaries.
There and then I paid off the cab and found my own way to this
Conversationshaus. I liked the look of the trim, fresh town in its
perfect amphitheatre of pine-clad hills, covered in by a rich blue sky
from which the last clouds were exhaling like breath from a mirror. The
well-drained streets were drying clean as in a black frost; checkered
with sharp shadows, twinkling with shop windows, and strikingly free
from the more cumbrous forms of traffic. If this was Germany, I could
dispense with certain discreditable prejudices. I had to inquire my way
of a policeman in a flaming helm; because I could not understand his
copious directions, he led me to a tiny bridge within earshot of the
band, and there refused my proferred coin with the dignity of a
Hohenzollern. Under the tiny bridge there ran the shallowest and
clearest of little rivers. Up the white walls of the houses clambered a
deal of Virginia creeper, brought on by the rain, and now almost scarlet
in the strong sunlight. Presently at some gates there was a mark to pay,
or it may have been two; immediate admittance to an avenue of
fascinating shops, with an inner avenue of trees, little tables under
them, and the crash of the band growing louder at every yard. Eventual
access to a fine, broad terrace, a fine, long facade, a bandstand, and
people listening and walking up and down, people listening and drinking
beer or coffee at more little tables, people listening and reading on
rows of chairs, people standing to listen with all their ears; but not
for a long time the person I sought.
* * * * *