_MISS CAYLEY'S ADVENTURES_ (1899), ch. 1
by Grant Allen
published by Grant Richards
THE ADVENTURE OF THE CANTANKEROUS OLD LADY
ON the day when I found myself with twopence in my pocket, I
naturally made up my mind to go round the world.
It was my stepfather's death that drove me to it. I had
never seen my stepfather. Indeed, I never even thought of
him as anything more than Colonel Watts-Morgan. I owed him
nothing, except my poverty. He married my dear mother when
I was a girl at school in Switzerland; and he proceeded to
spend her little fortune, left at her sole disposal by my
father's will, in paying his gambling debts. After that, he
carried my dear mother off to Burma; and when he and the
climate between them had succeeded in killing her, he made
up for his appropriations at the cheapest rate by allowing
me just enough to send me to Girton. So, when the Colonel
died, in the year I was leaving college, I did not think it
necessary to go into mourning for him. Especially as he
chose the precise moment when my allowance was due, and
bequeathed me nothing but his consolidated liabilities.
'Of course you will teach,' said Elsie Petheridge, when I
explained my affairs to her. 'There is a good demand just
now for high-school teachers.'
I looked at her, aghast. 'Teach! Elsie, I cried (I had
come up to town to settle her in at her unfurnished
lodgings.) 'Did you say teach? That's just like you dear
good schoolmistresses! You go to Cambridge, and get
examined till the heart and life have been examined out of
you; then you say to yourselves at the end of it all, "Let
me see; what am I good for now? I'm just about fit to go
away and examine other people!" That's what our Principal
would call "a vicious circle"--if one could ever admit there
was anything vicious at all about you, dear. No, Elsie, I
do not propose to teach. Nature did not cut me out for a
high-school teacher. I couldn't swallow a poker if I tried
for weeks. Pokers don't agree with me. Between ourselves,
I am a bit of a rebel.'
'You are, Brownie,' she answered, pausing in her papering,
with her sleeves rolled up--they called me 'Brownie,' partly
because of my dark complexion, but partly because they could
never understand me. 'We all knew that long ago.'
I laid down the paste-brush and mused.
'Do you remember, Elsie,' I said, staring hard at the
paper-board, 'when I first went to Girton, how all you girls
wore your hair quite straight, in neat smooth coils, plaited
up at the back about the size of a pancake; and how of a
sudden I burst in upon you, like a tropical hurricane, and
demoralised you; and how, after three days of me, some of
the dear innocents began with awe to cut themselves artless
fringes, while others went out in fear and trembling and
surreptitiously purchased a pair of curling-tongs? I was a
bomb-shell in your midst in those days; why, you yourself
were almost afraid at first to speak to me.'
'You see, you had a bicycle,' Elsie put in, smoothing the
half-papered wall; 'and in those days, of course, ladies
didn't bicycle. You must admit, Brownie, dear, it was a
startling innovation. You terrified us so. And yet, after
all, there isn't much harm in you.'
'I hope not,' I said devoutly. 'I was before my time that
was all; at present, even a curate's wife may blamelessly
'But if you don't teach,' Elsie went on, gazing at me with
those wondering big blue eyes of hers, 'whatever will you
do, Brownie?' Her horizon was bounded by the scholastic
'I haven't the faintest idea,' I answered, continuing to
paste. 'Only, as I can't trespass upon your elegant
hospitality for life, whatever I mean to do, I must begin
doing this morning, when we've finished the papering. I
couldn't teach' (teaching, like mauve, is the refuge of the
incompetent); 'and I don't, if possible, want to sell
'As a milliner's girl?' Elsie asked, with a face of red
'As a milliner's girl; why not? 'Tis an honest calling.
Earls' daughters do it now. But you needn't look so
shocked. I tell you, just at present, I am not contemplating
'Then what do you contemplate?'
I paused and reflected. 'I am here in London,' I
answered, gazing rapt at the ceiling; London, whose streets
are paved with gold though it looks at first sight like
flagstones; London, the greatest and richest city in the
world, where an adventurous soul ought surely to find some
loophole for an adventure. (That piece is hung crooked,
dear; we shall have to take it down again.) I devise a
Plan, therefore. I submit myself to fate; or, if you prefer
it, I leave my future in the hands of Providence. I shall
stroll out this morning, as soon as I've "cleaned myself,"
and embrace the first stray enterprise that offers. Our
Bagdad teems with enchanted carpets. Let one but float my
way, and, hi, presto, I seize it. I go where glory or a
modest competence waits me. I snatch at the first offer,
the first hint of an opening.'
Elsie stared at me, more aghast and more puzzled than
ever. 'But, how?' she asked. 'Where? When? You are so
strange! What will you do to find one?'
'Put on my hat and walk out,' I answered. 'Nothing could
be simpler. This city bursts with enterprises and
surprises. Strangers from east and west hurry through it in
all directions. Omnibuses traverse it from end to end--
even, I am told, to Islington and Putney; within, folk sit
face to face who never saw one another before in their
lives, and who may never see one another again, or, on the
contrary, may pass the rest of their days together.'
I had a lovely harangue all pat in my head, in much the
same strain, on the infinite possibilities of entertaining
angels unawares, in cabs, on the Underground, in the aerated
bread shops; but Elsie's widening eyes of horror pulled me
up short like a hansom in Piccadilly when the inexorable
upturned hand of the policeman checks it. 'Oh, Brownie,'
she cried, drawing back, 'you don't mean to tell me you're
going to ask the first young man you meet in an omnibus to
I shrieked with laughter, 'Elsie,' I cried, kissing her
dear yellow little head, 'you are impayable. You never will
learn what I mean. You don't understand the language. No,
no; I am going out, simply in search of adventure. What
adventure may come, I have not at this moment the faintest
conception. The fun lies in the search, the uncertainty,
the toss-up of it. What is the good of being penniless--
with the trifling exception of twopence--unless you are
prepared to accept your position in the spirit of a masked
ball at Covent Garden?'
'I have never been to one,' Elsie put in.
'Gracious heavens, neither have I! What on earth do you
take me for? But I mean to see where fate will lead me.'
'I may go with you?' Elsie pleaded.
'Certainly not, my child,' I answered--she was three years
older than I, so I had the right to patronise her. 'That
would spoil all. Your dear little face would be quite
enough to scare away a timid adventure.' She knew what I
meant. It was gentle and pensive, but it lacked initiative.
So, when we had finished that wall, I popped on my best
hat, and popped out by myself into Kensington Gardens.
I am told I ought to have been terribly alarmed at the
straits in which I found myself--a girl of twenty-one, alone
in the world, and only twopence short of penniless, without
a friend to protect, a relation to counsel her. (I don't
count Aunt Susan, who lurked in ladylike indigence at
Blackheath, and whose counsel, like her tracts, was given
away too profusely to everybody to allow of one's placing
any very high value upon it.) But, as a matter of fact, I
must admit I was not in the least alarmed. Nature had
endowed me with a profusion of crisp black hair, and plenty
of high spirits. If my eyes had been like Elsie's--that
liquid blue which looks out upon life with mingled pity and
amazement--I might have felt as a girl ought to feel under
such conditions; but having large dark eyes, with a bit of a
twinkle in them, and being as well able to pilot a bicycle
as any girl of my acquaintance, I have inherited or acquired
an outlook on the world which distinctly leans rather
towards cheeriness than despondency. I croak with
difficulty. So I accepted my plight as an amusing
experience, affording full scope for the congenial exercise
of courage and ingenuity.
How boundless are the opportunities of Kensington Gardens
--the Round Pond, the winding Serpentine, the mysterious
seclusion of the Dutch brick Palace! Genii swarm there.
One jostles possibilities. It is a land of romance, bounded
on the north by the Abyss of Bayswater, and on the south by
the Amphitheatre of the Albert Hall.
But for a centre of adventure I choose the Long Walk; it
beckoned me somewhat as the North-West Passage beckoned my
seafaring ancestors--the buccaneering mariners of
Elizabethan Devon. I sat down on a chair at the foot of an
old elm with a poetic hollow, prosaically filled by a
utilitarian plate of galvanised iron. Two ancient ladies
were seated on the other side already--very grand-looking
dames, with the haughty and exclusive ugliness of the
English aristocracy in its later stages. For frank
hideousness, commend me to the noble dowager. They were
talking confidentially as I sat down; the trifling episode
of my approach did not suffice to stem the full stream of
their conversation. The great ignore the intrusion of their
'Yes, it's a terrible nuisance,' the eldest and ugliest of
the two observed--she was a high-born lady, with a
distinctly cantankerous cast of countenance. She had a
Roman nose, and her skin was wrinkled like a wilted apple;
she wore coffee-coloured point-lace in her bonnet, with a
complexion to match. 'But what could I do, my dear? I
simply couldn't put up with such insolence. So I looked her
straight back in the face--oh, she quailed, I can tell you;
and I said to her, in my iciest voice--you know how icy I
can be when occasion demands it'--the second old lady nodded
an ungrudging assent, as if perfectly prepared to admit her
friend's rare gift of iciness--'I said to her, Celestine,
you can take your month's wages, and half an hour to get out
of this house." And she dropped me a deep reverence, and
she answered: Oui, madame, merci beaucoup, madame; je ne
desire pas mieux, madame." And out she flounced. So there
was the end of it.'
'Still, you go to Schlangenbad on Monday?'
'That's the point. On Monday. If it weren't for the
journey, I should have been glad enough to be rid of minx.
I'm glad as it is, indeed; for a more insolent upstanding,
independent, answer-you-back-again young woman, with a sneer
of her own, I never saw, Amelia--but I must get to
Schlangenbad. Now, there the difficulty comes in. On the
one hand, if I engage a maid in London, I have the choice of
two evils. Either I must take a trapesing English girl--and
I know by experience that an English girl on the Continent
is a vast deal worse than no maid at all: you have to wait
upon her, instead of her waiting upon you; she gets seasick
on the crossing, and when she reaches France or Germany,
she hates the meals, and she detests the hotel servants, and
she can't speak the language, so that she's always calling
you in to interpret for her in her private differences with
the fille-de-chambre and the landlord; or else I must pick
up a French maid in London, and I know equally by experience
that the French maids one engages in London are invariably
dishonest--more dishonest than the rest even; they've come
here because they have no character to speak of elsewhere,
and they think you aren't likely to write and enquire of
their last mistress in Toulouse or St. Petersburg. Then,
again, on the other hand, I can't wait to get a Gretchen, an
unsophisticated little Gretchen of the Taunus at
Schlangenbad--I suppose there are unsophisticated girls in
Germany still--made in Germany--they don't make 'em any
longer in England, I'm sure--like everything else, the trade
in rustic innocence has been driven from the country. I
can't wait to get a Gretchen, as I should like to do, of
course, because I simply daren't undertake to cross the
Channel alone and go all that long journey by Ostend or
Calais, Brussels and Cologne, to Schlangenbad.'
'You could get a temporary maid,' her friend suggested, in
a lull of the tornado.
The Cantankerous Old Lady flared up. 'Yes, and have my
jewel-case stolen! Or find she was an English girl without
one word of German. Or nurse her on the boat when I want to
give my undivided attention to my own misfortunes. No,
Amelia, I call it positively unkind of you to suggest such a
thing. You're so unsympathetic! I put my foot down there.
I will not take any temporary person.'
I saw my chance. This was a delightful idea. Why not
start for Schlangenbad with the Cantankerous Old Lady?
Of course, I had not the slightest intention of taking a
lady's-maids place for a permanency. Nor even, if it comes
to that, as a passing expedient. But if I wanted to go
round the world, how could I do better than set out by Rhine
country? The Rhine leads you on to the Danube, the Danube
to the Black Sea, the Black Sea to Asia; and so, by way of
India, China and Japan, you reach the Pacific and San
Francisco; whence one returns quite easily by New York and
the White Star Liners. I began to feel like a globe-trotter
already; the Cantankerous Old Lady was the thin end of the
wedge--the first rung of the ladder! I proceeded to put my
foot on it.
I leaned around the corner of the tree and spoke.
'Excuse me,' I said, in my suavest voice, 'but I think I see
a way out of your difficulty.'
My first impression was that the Cantankerous Old Lady
would go off in a fit of apoplexy. She grew purple in the
face with indignation and astonishment, that a casual
outsider should venture to address her; so much so, indeed,
that for a second I almost regretted my well-meant
interposition. Then she scanned me up and down, as if I
were a girl in a mantle shop, and she contemplated buying
either me or the mantle. At last, catching my eye, she
thought better of it, and burst out laughing.
'What do you mean by this eavesdropping?' she asked.
I flushed up in turn. 'This is a public place,' I
replied, with dignity; 'and you spoke in a tone which was
hardly designed for the strictest privacy. If you don't
wish to be overheard, you oughtn't to shout. Besides, I
desired to do you a service.'
The Cantankerous Old Lady regarded me once more from head
to foot. I did not quail. Then she turned to her
companion. 'The girl has spirit,' she remarked, in an
encouraging tone, as if she were discussing some absent
person. 'Upon my word, Amelia, I rather like the look of
her. Well, my good woman, what do you want to suggest to
'Merely this,' I replied, bridling up and crushing her.
'I am a Girton girl, an officer's daughter, no more a good
woman than most others of my class; and I have nothing in
particular to do for the moment. I don't object to going to
Schlangenbad. I would convoy you over, as companion, or a
lady-help, or anything else you choose to call it; I would
remain with you there for a week, till you could arrange
with your Gretchen, presumably unsophisticated; and then
would leave you. Salary is unimportant; my fare suffices.
I accept the chance as a cheap opportunity of attaining
The yellow-faced old lady put up her long-handled
tortoise-shell eyeglasses and inspected me all over again.
'Well, I declare,' she murmured. 'What are girls coming to,
wonder? Girton, you say; Girton! That place at Cambridge!
You speak Greek, of course; but how about German?'
'Like a native,' I answered, with cheerful promptitude.
'I was at school in Canton Berne; it is a mother tongue to
'No, no,' the old lady went on, fixing her keen small eyes
on my mouth. 'Those little lips could never frame
themselves to "schlecht" or "wunderschon"; they were not cut
out for it.'
'Pardon me,' I answered, in German. 'What I say, that I
mean. The never-to-be-forgotten music of the
Fatherland's-speech has on my infant ear from the
first-beginning impressed itself.'
The old lady laughed aloud.
'Don't jabber it to me, child,' she cried. 'I hate the
lingo. It's the one tongue on earth that even a pretty
girl's lips fail to render attractive. You yourself make
faces over it. What's your name, young woman?'
'Lois! What a name! I never heard of any Lois in my life
before, except Timothy's grandmother. You're not anybody's
grandmother, are you?'
'Not to my knowledge,' I answered, gravely.
She burst out laughing again.
'Well, you'll do, I think,' she said, catching my arm.
'That big mill down yonder hasn't ground the originality
altogether out of you. I adore originality. It was clever
of you to catch at the suggestion of this arrangement. Lois
Cayley, you say; any relation of a madcap Captain Cayley
whom I used once to know, in the Forty-second Highlanders?'
'His daughter,' I answered, flushing. For I was proud of
'Ha! I remember; he died, poor fellow; he was a good
soldier--and his'--I felt she was going to say 'his fool of
a widow,' but a glance from me quelled her; 'his widow went
and married that good-looking scapegrace, Jack Watts-
Morgan. Never marry a man, my dear, with a double-barrelled
name and no visible means of subsistence; above all, if
he's generally known by a nickname. So you're poor Tom
Cayley's daughter, are you? Well, well, we can settle this
little matter between us. Mind, I'm a person who always
expects to have my own way. If you come with me to
Schlangenbad, you must do as I tell you.'
'I think I could manage it--for a week,' I answered,
She smiled at my audacity. We passed on to terms. They
were quite satisfactory. She wanted no references. 'Do I
look like a woman who cares about a reference? What are
called characters are usually essays in how not to say it.
You take my fancy; that's the point! And poor Tom Cayley!
But, mind, I will not be contradicted.'
'I will not contradict your wildest misstatement,' I
'And your name and address?' I asked, after we had settled
A faint red spot rose quaintly in the centre of the
Cantankerous Old Lady's sallow cheek. 'My dear,' she
murmured 'my name is the one thing on earth I'm really
ashamed of. My parents chose to inflict upon me the most
odious label that human ingenuity ever devised for a
Christian soul; and I've not had courage enough to burst out
and change it.'
A gleam of intuition flashed across me, 'You don't mean to
say,' I exclaimed, 'that you're called Georgina?'
The Cantankerous Old Lady gripped my arm hard. 'What an
unusually intelligent girl!' she broke in. 'How on earth
did you guess? It is Georgina.'
'Fellow-feeling,' I answered. 'So is mine, Georgina Lois.
But as I quite agree with you as to the atrocity of such
conduct, I have suppressed the Georgina. It ought to be
made penal to send innocent girls into the world so
'My opinion to a T! You are really an exceptionally
sensible young woman. There's my name and address; I start
I glanced at her card. The very copperplate was noisy.
'Lady Georgina Fawley, 49 Fortescue Crescent, W.'
It had taken us twenty minutes to arrange our protocols.
As I walked off, well pleased, Lady Georgina's friend ran
after me quickly.
'You must take care,' she said, in a warning voice.
'You've caught a Tartar.'
'So I suspect,' I answered. 'But a week in Tartary will
be at least an experience.'
'She has an awful temper.'
'That's nothing. So have I. Appalling, I assure you.
And if it comes to blows, I'm bigger and younger and
stronger than she is.'
'Well, I wish you well out of it.'
'Thank you. It is kind of you to give me this warning.
But I think I can take care of myself. I come, you see, of
a military family.'
I nodded my thanks, and strolled back to Elsie's. Dear
little Elsie was in transports of surprise when I related my
'Will you really go? And what will you do, my dear, when
you get there?'
'I haven't a notion,' I answered; 'that's where the fun
comes in. But, anyhow, I shall have got there.'
'Oh, Brownie, you might starve!'
'And I might starve in London. In either place, I have
only two hands and one head to help me.'
'But, then, here you are among friends. You might stop
with me for ever.'
I kissed her fluffy forehead. 'You good, generous little
Elsie,' I cried; 'I won't stop here one moment after I have
finished the painting and papering. I came here to help
you. I couldn't go on eating your hard-earned bread and
doing nothing. I know how sweet you are; but the last thing
I want is to add to your burdens. Now let us roll up our
sleeves again and hurry on with the dado.'
'But, Brownie, you'll want to be getting your own things
ready. Remember, you're off to Germany on Monday.'
I shrugged my shoulders. 'Tis a foreign trick I picked up
in Switzerland. 'What have I got to get ready?' I asked.
'I can't go out and buy a complete summer outfit in Bond
Street for twopence. Now, don't look at me like that: be
practical, Elsie, and let me help you paint the dado.' For
unless I helped her, poor Elsie could never have finished it
herself. I cut out half her clothes for her; her own ideas
were almost entirely limited to differential calculus. And
cutting out a blouse by differential calculus is weary,
uphill work for a high-school teacher.
By Monday I had papered and furnished the rooms, and was
ready to start on my voyage of exploration. I met the
Cantankerous Old Lady at Charing Cross, by appointment, and
proceeded to take charge of her luggage and tickets.
Oh my, how fussy she was! 'You will drop that basket! I
hope you have got through tickets, via Malines, not by
Brussels--I won't go by Brussels. You have to change there.
Now, mind you notice how much the luggage weighs in English
pounds, and make the man at the office give you a note of it
to check those horrid Belgian porters. They'll charge you
for double the weight, unless you reduce it at once to
kilogrammes. I know their ways. Foreigners have no
consciences. They just go to the priest and confess, you
know, and wipe it all out, and start fresh again on a career
of crime next morning. I'm sure I don't know why I ever go
abroad. The only country in the world fit to live in is
England. No mosquitoes, no passports, no--goodness
gracious, child, don't let that odious man bang about my
hat-box! Have you no immortal soul, porter, that you crush
other people's property as if it was blackbeetles? No, will
not let you take this, Lois; this is my jewel-box--it
contains all that remains of the Fawley family jewels. I
positively decline to appear at Schlangenbad without a
diamond to my back. This never leaves my hands. It's hard
enough nowadays to keep body and skirt together. Have you
secured that coupe at Ostend?'
We got into our first-class carriage. It was clean and
comfortable; but the Cantankerous Old Lady made the porter
mop the floor, and fidgeted and worried till we slid out of
the station. Fortunately, the only other occupant of the
compartment was a most urbane and obliging Continental
gentleman--I say Continental, because I couldn't quite make
out whether he was French, German, or Austrian--who was
anxious in every way to meet Lady Georgina's wishes. Did
madame desire to have the window open? Oh, certainly, with
pleasure; the day was so sultry. Closed a little more?
Parfaitement, there was a current of air, il faut
l'admettre. Madame would prefer the corner? No? then
perhaps she would like this valise for a footstool?
Permettez--just thus. A cold draught runs so often along
the floor in railway carriages. This is Kent that we
traverse; ah, the garden of England! As a diplomat, he knew
every nook of Europe, and he echoed the mot he had
accidentally heard drop from madame's lips on the platform:
no country in the world so delightful as England!
'Monsieur is attached to the Embassy in London?' Lady
Georgina inquired, growing affable.
He twirled his grey moustache: a waxed moustache of some
distinction. 'No, madame; I have quitted the diplomatic
service; I inhabit London now pour mon agrement. Some of my
compatriots call it triste; for me, I find it the most
fascinating capital in Europe. What gaiety! What movement!
What poetry! What mystery!'
'If mystery means fog, it challenges the world,' I
He gazed at me with fixed eyes. 'Yes, madamemoiselle,' he
answered in quite a different and markedly chilly voice.
'Whatever your great country attempts--were it only a fog--
it achieves consummately.'
I have quick intuitions. I felt the foreign gentleman
took an instinctive dislike to me.
To make up for it, he talked much, and with animation, to
Lady Georgina. They ferreted out friends in common, and
were as much surprised at it as people always are at that
'Ah yes, Madame, I recollect him well in Vienna. I was
there at the time, attached to our Legation. He was a
charming man; you read his masterly paper on the Central
Problem of the Dual Empire?'
'You were in Vienna then!' the Cantankerous Old Lady mused
back. 'Lois, my child, don't stare'--she had covenanted
from the first to call me Lois, as my father's daughter, and
I confess I preferred it to being Miss Cayley'd. 'We must
surely have met. Dare I ask your name, monsieur?'
I could see the foreign gentleman was delighted at this
turn. He had played for it, and carried his point. He
meant her to ask him. He had a card in his pocket,
conveniently close; and he handed it across to her. She
read it, and passed it on: 'M. le Comte de
Laroche-sur-Loiret.' Oh, I remember your name well,' the
Cantankerous Old Lady broke in. 'I think you knew my
husband, Sir Evelyn Fawley, and my father, Lord Kynaston.'
The Count looked profoundly surprised and delighted.
'What! you are then Lady Georgina Fawley!' he cried striking
an attitude. 'Indeed, miladi, your admirable husband was
one of the very first to exert his influence in my favour at
Vienna. Do I recall him, ce cher Sir Evelyn? If I recall
him! What a fortunate rencounter! I must have seen you
some years ago at Vienna, miladi, though I had not then the
great pleasure of making your acquaintance. But your face
had impressed itself on my sub-conscious self!' (I did not
learn till later that the esoteric doctrine sub-conscious
self was Lady Georgina's favourite hobby.) The moment
chance led me to this carriage this morning, I said to
myself, "That face, those features: so vivid, so striking: I
have seen them somewhere With what do I connect them
in the recesses of my memory? A high-born family; genius;
rank; the diplomatic service; some unnameable charm; some
faint touch of eccentricity. Ha! I have it. Vienna, a
carriage with footmen in red livery, a noble presence, a
crowd of wits--poets, artists, politicians--pressing eagerly
round the landau." That was my mental picture as I sat and
confronted you: I understand it all now; this is Lady
I thought the Cantankerous Old Lady, who was a shrewd
person in her way, must surely see through this obvious
patter; but I had under-estimated the average human capacity
for swallowing flattery. Instead of dismissing his fulsome
nonsense with a contemptuous smile, Lady Georgina perked
herself up with a conscious air of coquetry, and asked for
more. 'Yes, they were delightful days in Vienna,' she said
simpering; 'I was young then, Count; I enjoyed life with a
'Persons of miladi's temperament are always young,' the
Count retorted, glibly, leaning forward and gazing at her.
'Growing old is a foolish habit of the stupid and the
vacant. Men and women of esprit are never older. One
learns as one goes on in life to admire, not the obvious
beauty of mere youth and health'--he glanced across at me
disdainfully--'but the profounder beauty of deep character
in a face--that calm and serene beauty which is imprinted on
the brow by experience of the emotions.'
'I have had my moments,' Lady Georgina murmured, with her
head on one side.
'I believe it, miladi,' the Count answered, and ogled her.
Thenceforward to Dover, they talked together with
ceaseless animation. The Cantankerous Old Lady was capital
company. She had a tang in her tongue, and in the course of
ninety minutes she had flayed alive the greater part of
London society, with keen wit and sprightliness. I laughed
against my will at her ill-tempered sallies; they were too
funny not to amuse, in spite of their vitriol. As for the
Count, he was charmed. He talked well himself, too, and
between them I almost forgot the time till we arrived at
It was a very rough passage. The Count helped us to carry
our nineteen hand-packages and four rugs on board; ut I
noticed that, fascinated as she was with him, Lady Georgina
resisted his ingenious efforts to gain possession of her
precious jewel-case as she descended the gangway. She clung
to it like grim death, even in the chops of the Channel.
Fortunately I am a good sailor, and when Lady Georgina's
sallow cheeks began to grow pale, I was steady enough to
supply her with her shawl and her smelling-bottle. She
fidgeted and worried the whole way over. She would be
treated like a vertebrate animal. Those horrid Belgians had
no right to stick their deck-chairs just in front of her.
The impertinence of the hussies with the bright red hair--a
grocer's daughters, she felt sure--in venturing to come and
on the same bench with her--the bench 'for ladies only,'
under the lee of the funnel! 'Ladies only,' indeed! Did
the baggages pretend they considered themselves ladies? Oh,
that placid old gentleman in the episcopal gaiters was their
father, was he? Well, a bishop should bring up his
daughters better, having his children in subjection with all
gravity. Instead of which--' Lois, my smelling-salts!'
This was a beastly boat; such an odour of machinery; they
had no decent boats nowadays; with all our boasted
improvements, she could remember well when the cross-Channel
service was much better conducted than it was at present.
But that was before we had compulsory education. The
working classes were driving trade out of the country, and
the consequence was, we couldn't build a boat which didn't
reek like an oil-shop. Even the sailors on oar were French
--jabbering idiots; not an honest British Jacktar among the
lot of them; though the stewards were English, and very
inferior Cockney English at that, with their off-hand ways,
and their School Board airs and graces. She'd School Board
them if they were her servants; she'd show them the sort of
respect that was due to people of birth and education. But
the children of the lower classes never learnt their
catechism nowadays; they were too much occupied with
literatoor, jography, and free-'and drawrin'. Happily for
my nerves, a good lurch to leeward put a stop for a while to
the course of her thoughts on the present distresses.
At Ostend the Count made a second gallant attempt to
capture the jewel-case, which Lady Georgina automatically
repulsed. She had a fixed habit, I believe, of sticking
fast to that jewel-case; for she was too overpowered by the
Count's urbanity, I feel sure, to suspect for a moment his
honesty of purpose. But whenever she travelled, I fancy,
she clung to her case as if her life depended upon it; it
contained the whole of her valuable diamonds.
We had twenty minutes for refreshments at Ostend during
which interval my old lady declared with warmth that I must
look after her registered luggage; though, as it was booked
through to Cologne, I could not even see it till we crossed
the German frontier; for the Belgian douaniers seal up the
van as soon as the through baggage for Germany is unloaded.
To satisfy her, however, I went through the formality of
pretending to inspect it, and rendered myself hateful to the
head of the douane by asking various foolish and inept
questions, on which Lady Georgina insisted. When I had
finished this silly and uncongenial task--for I am not by
nature fussy, and it is hard to assume fussiness as another
person's proxy--I returned to our coupe which I had arranged
for in London. To my great amazement, I found the
Cantankerous Old Lady and the egregious Count comfortably
seated there. 'Monsieur has been good enough to accept a
place in our carriage,' she observed, as I entered.
He bowed and smiled. 'Or, rather, madame has been so kind
as to offer me one,' he corrected.
'Would you like some lunch, Lady Georgina?' I asked, in my
chilliest voice. 'There are ten minutes to spare, and the
buffet is excellent.'
'An admirable inspiration,' the Count murmured. 'Permit
me to escort you, miladi.'
'You will come, Lois?' Lady Georgina asked.
'No, thank you,' I answered, for I had an idea. 'I am a
capital sailor, but the sea takes away my appetite.'
'Then you'll keep our places,' she said, turning to me.
'I hope you won't allow them to stick in any horrid
foreigners! They will try to force them on you unless you
insist. I know their tricky ways. You have the tickets, I
trust? And the bulletin for the coupe? Well, mind you
don't lose the paper for the registered luggage. Don't let
those dreadful porters touch my cloaks. And if anybody
attempts to get in, be sure you stand in front of the door
as they mount to prevent them.'
The Count handed her out; he was all high courtly
politeness. As Lady Georgina descended, he made yet another
dexterous effort to relieve her of the jewel-case.
I don't think she noticed it, but automatically once more
she waved him aside. Then she turned to me. 'You'd better
take care of it. If I lay it down in the buffet while I am
eating my soup; some rogue may run away with it. But mind,
don't let it out of your hands on any account. Hold it so,
on your knee; and, for Heaven's sake, don't part with it.'
By this time my suspicions of the Count were profound.
From the first I had doubted him; he was so blandly
plausible. But as we landed at Ostend I had accidentally
overheard a low whispered conversation when he passed a
shabby-looking man, who had travelled in a second-class
carriage from London. 'That succeeds?' the shabby-looking
man had muttered under his breath in French, as the haughty
nobleman with the waxed moustache brushed by him.
'That succeeds admirably,' the Count had answered, in the
same soft undertone. 'Ca reussit a merveille.'
I understood him to mean that he had prospered in his
attempt to impose on Lady Georgina.
They had been gone five minutes at the buffet, when the
Count came back hurriedly to the door of the coupe with a
nonchalant air. 'Oh, mademoiselle,' he said, in an off-hand
tone, 'Lady Georgina has sent me to fetch her jewel-case.'
I gripped it hard with both hands. 'Pardon, M. le Comte,'
I answered; 'Lady Georgina intrusted it to my safe keeping,
and, without her leave, I cannot give it up to any one.'
'You mistrust me?' he cried, looking black. 'You doubt my
honour? You doubt my word when I say that miladi has sent
'Du tout,' I answered, calmly. 'But I have Lady
Georgina's orders to stick to this case; and till Lady
Georgina returns I stick to it.'
He murmured some indignant remark below his breath, and
walked off. The shabby-looking passenger was pacing up and
down the platform outside in a badly-made dust-coat. As
they passed their lips moved. The Count's seemed to mutter,
'C'est un coup, manque.'
However, he did not desist even so. I saw he meant to go
on with his dangerous little game. He returned to the
buffet and rejoined Lady Georgina. I felt sure it would be
useless to warn her, so completely had the Count succeeded
in gulling her; but I took my own steps. I examined the
jewel-case closely. It had a leather outer covering; within
was a strong steel box, with stout bands of metal to bind
it. I took my cue at once, and acted for the best on my own
When Lady Georgina and the Count returned, they were like
old friends together. The quails in aspic and the sparkling
hock had evidently opened their hearts to one another. As
far as Malines they laughed and talked without ceasing.
Lady Georgina was now in her finest vein of spleen: her acid
wit grew sharper and more caustic each moment. Not a
reputation in Europe had a rag left to cover it as we
steamed in beneath the huge iron roof of the main central
I had observed all the way from Ostend that the Count had
been anxious lest we might have to give up our coupe at
Malines. I assured him more than once that his fears were
groundless, for I had arranged at Charing Cross that it
should run right through to the German frontier. But he
waved me aside, with one lordly hand. I had not told Lady
Georgina of his vain attempt to take possession of her
jewel-case; and the bare fact of my silence made him
increasingly suspicious of me.
'Pardon me, mademoiselle,' he said, coldly; 'you do not
understand these lines as well as I do. Nothing is more
common than for those rascals of railway clerks to sell one
a place in a coupe or a wagon-lit, and then never reserve
it, or turn one out half way. It is very possible miladi
may have to descend at Malines.'
Lady Georgina bore him out by a large variety of selected
stories concerning the various atrocities of the rival
companies which had stolen her luggage on her way to Italy.
As for trains de luxe, they were dens of robbers.
So when we reached Malines, just to satisfy Lady Georgina,
I put out my head and inquired of a porter. As I
anticipated, he replied that there was no change; we went
through to Verviers.
The Count, however, was still unsatisfied. He descended,
and made some remarks a little farther down the platform to
an official in the gold-banded cap of a chef-de-gare, or
some such functionary. Then he returned to us, all fuming.
'It is as I said,' he exclaimed, flinging open the door.
'These rogues have deceived us. The coupe goes no farther.
You must dismount at once, miladi, and take the train just
I felt sure he was wrong, and I ventured to say so. But
Lady Georgina cried, 'Nonsense, child! The chef-de-gare
must know. Get out at once! Bring my bag and the rugs.
Mind that cloak! Don't forget the sandwich-tin! Thanks
Count; will you kindly take charge of my umbrellas? Hurry
up, Lois; hurry up! the train is just starting!'
I scrambled after her, with my fourteen bundles, keeping a
quiet eye meanwhile on the jewel-case.
We took our seats in the opposite train, which I noticed
was marked Amsterdam, Bruxelles, Paris.' But I said
nothing. The Count jumped in, jumped about, arranged our
parcels, jumped out again. He spoke to a porter; then he
rushed back excitedly. 'Mille pardons, miladi,' he cried.
'I find the chef-de-gare has cruelly deceived me. You were
right, after all, mademoiselle! We must return to the
With singular magnanimity, I refrained from saying, 'I
told you so.'
Lady Georgina, very flustered and hot by this time,
tumbled out once more, and bolted back to the coupe. Both
trains were just starting. In her hurry, at last, she let
the Count take possession of her jewel-case. I rather fancy
that as he passed one window he handed it in to the
shabby-looking passenger; but I am not certain. At any
rate, when we were comfortably seated in our own compartment
once more, and he stood on the footboard just about to
enter, of a sudden he made an unexpected dash back, and
flung himself wildly into a Paris carriage. At the
self-same moment, with a piercing shriek, both trains
Lady Georgina threw up her hands in a frenzy of horror.
'My diamonds!' she cried aloud. 'Oh, Lois, my diamonds!'
'Don't distress yourself,' I answered, holding her back,
for I verily believe she would have leapt from the train.
'He has only taken the outer shell, with the sandwich-case
inside it. Here is the steel box!' And I produced it,
She seized it, overjoyed. 'How did this happen?' she
cried, hugging it, for she loved those diamonds.
'Very simply,' I answered. 'I saw the man was a rogue,
and that he had a confederate with him in another carriage.
So, while you were gone to the buffet at Ostend, I slipped
the box out of the case, and put in the sandwich-tin, that
he might carry it off, and we might have proofs against him.
All you have to do now is to inform the conductor, who will
telegraph to stop the train to Paris. I spoke to him about
that at Ostend, so that everything is ready.'
She positively hugged me. ' My dear,' she cried, 'you are
the cleverest little woman I ever met in my life! Who on
earth could have suspected such a polished gentleman? Why,
you're worth your weight in gold. What the dickens shall I
do without you at Schlangenbad?'