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- A Fascinating Traitor - 10/66 -
himself that he was a past master of the art of measuring the depth of a hidden purse. He recalled the brilliant Casimir Wieniawski of eight years past--the curled darling of the hot-hearted ladies of Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Singapore. In a glance of cursory inspection Alan Hawke had noted the doubtful gloss of the dress suit; it was the polish of long wear, not the velvety glow of newness. There was a growing bald spot, scarcely hidden by the Hyperion Polish curls; there were crows'-feet around the bold, insolent eyes, and the man's smile was lean and wolfish when the glittering white teeth flashed through the professional smirk of the traveling artist. The old, easy assurance was still there, but cognac had dulled the fires of genius; the tones of the violin trembled, even under the weakening but still magic fingers, and the splendid sapphire and diamond cluster ring of old was replaced by a too evident Palais Royal work of inferior art.
"Poor devil! It is the downward fluttering of the wearied eagle!" mused Alan Hawke. "Women, roulette, champagne, and high life--all these past riches fade away into the gloomy pleasures of restaurant cognac, dead-shot absinthe, and the vicarious smiles of a broken soubrette or so! And all the more you can be now dangerous to me, Monsieur Casimir Wieniawski, for the old maneater forgets none of his tricks, even when toothless."
Casimir, the handsome Pole, glib of tongue, the heir to a thousand minor graces, reckless in outpouring the wine of Life, had truly gone the downward way with all the abandon of his showy, insincere race. Hawke well knew the final level of misery awaiting the wandering, broken-down artist here in a land where really fine music was a mere drug; where the orchestra was only a cheap lure to enhance the cafe addition. The "Professor" was but a minor staff officer of the grim Teutonic Oberkellner of the Brasserie Concert.
"But how shall I muzzle this Robert Macaire of the bow?" cogitated Hawke, as he anxiously eyed the two windows of Madame Louison's rooms, and then sternly gazed at the open front doors of the Hotel Faucon.
A light broke in upon his brain. "There is the golden lure of the Misses Phenie and Genie Forbes, of Chicago, U. S. A. Those madcap girls will be easily gulled. They arrive to-morrow at nine. A few stage asides, as to the stock romance of every Polish upstart, will do the trick!"
"Russian brutality, fugitive Prince, Siberian wanderings, romantic escape, killed the Russian general who burned his chateau; all that sort of thing will enchant these. This may occupy Casimir and leave me free. When the devil is idle he catches flies, and under the cover of this rosy glow of romance I will get away to India, but only after Madame Alixe Delavigne goes. I can afford to put in ten pounds on Casimir to loosen his lying tongue. In vino veritas may apply even to a gallant and distinguished Pole. If I can get the true story of Alixe Delavigne's life, then I have the key of the Johnstone mystery. Ah! There is now a duty signal for me!" The Major smartly approached the main entrance of that cosiest of Swiss family hotels, the Faucon, as the anxious face of a woman nurse appeared. "Madame veut bien voir Monsieur!" simply announced the servant. Major Hawke brushed by her with a nod and quickly mounted the stair. To his utter surprise, on entering Madame Berthe Louison's apartment, the signs of an approaching departure were but too evident. A stout Swiss maiden was busied stolidly packing several trunks in an indiscriminate haste, while the fair invalid herself sat at the center table poring over an opened Baedeker and the outspread maps brought on by her "business agent." Hawke's murmured astonishment was at once cut short by the decisive notes of Berthe Louison's flutelike voice.
"We have no time to waste, Major!" she said, with an affected cheerfulness. "I am all right now. There is an eleven-thirty train for Constance. I will take that, reach Munich, and get right over to Venice by the Brenner Pass, and thence go down to Aricona, and Brindisi. You can return to Geneva, and, by Mont Cenis and Turin you will reach Brindisi before me. So, I leave to-night; you can go up to Geneva to-morrow night. No one will possibly suspect our business connection in this way. I will have time to see you depart for Bombay, before I take the steamer for Calcutta. I have marked off the sailings. This little occurrence here to-night has brought us both too much under the eyes of other people."
"Bah!" said the astounded Major. "No one knows anything of us here. We are of no importance."
"You think so?" mused the woman, as if careless of his presence. "And yet I have seen a face here, rising out of a past that is long dead and buried. Now, are you ready to meet me at Brindisi?"
Alan Hawke blushed even through the sun-browned complexion of the Nepaul days, as the clear-eyed woman, faintly smiling, discerned his "hedging" policy.
"You will not be put to the slightest inconvenience." She opened a handsome traveling bag. The falcon-eyed Major Hawke observed the gleam of a pearl handled and silver chased revolver of serviceable make, and there was also a very wicked-looking Venetian dagger lying on the table, even then within the lady's reach! "Here is the sum of five hundred pounds in English notes," said Berthe. "That will neatly take you to Delhi, and there is fifty more to liquidate my bill, and pay the medical expenses. I am not desirous that the landlord should know of my departure. You may bring all my trunks on. I will be waiting for you at the 'Vittorio Emmanuele' at Brindisi. Please do telegraph to me from Turin of your arrival."
Cool globe-trotter as he was, Alan Hawke was speechless. "Shall I not see you safely on board the Constance train?" he muttered.
"The nurse will attend to all that; money will do a great deal," the lady said. "I will send her back from Constance. Please do ring the bell." The Major was obedient, and he listened in dumb astonishment, as Madame Louison ordered a very dainty supper for two, with a bottle of Burgundy and a well-iced flask of Veuve Cliquot. When the door had closed upon the gaping servant, the lady merrily laughed:
"Pray take up your sinews of war, Major. I shall consider you as retained in my service, if I am obeyed."
Alan Hawke turned and faced the puzzling "employer" with a half defiant question: "And when shall I know the real nature of my duties?" as he carefully folded up the welcome bundle of notes, without even looking at them.
"Major, you are not an homme d'affaires. Do me the favor to count your money," laughed the mocking convalescent. "Thank you," continued the lady as he obeyed her. "Now I will only detain you here till ten o'clock. Then you must disappear and not know me again until we meet at the Hotel Vittorio Emmanuele at Brindisi. Should any accident occur, you are to take the Sepoy for Bombay direct and go on to Delhi. Leave me a letter at Suez and also one at Aden, care P. and O. Company. I will ask at each of these places. I will go direct to Calcutta, and will then meet you at Delhi. Arriving at Delhi, you may telegraph to me care Grindlay & Co., Calcutta."
"I wonder if she bled Anstruther," inwardly growled Hawke, as he recognized the name of that social butterfly's bankers. But the lady only sweetly continued: "I have some business in Calcutta. You can write to me at the general postoffice at Allahabad, and leave your Delhi address there. I shall probably telegraph for you to come down and meet me there."
Major Hawke, neatly entering the lady's directions in a silver-clasped betting book, murmured lazily without lifting his eyes: "You seem to know a great deal about Hindostan."
"I have made a careful study of it for years--long years," said the woman with a telltale flush of color, as the servants entered with the impromptu feast.
They were left alone, at an imperious signal, and Madame Louison bade Hawke regale himself en garcon. The Major paused with suspended pencil, as he quietly approached the decisive question: "And at Delhi, what am I to do?"
"You are to take up your old friendship with Hugh Fraser--this budding baronet," replied Berthe calmly. She was pouring out a glass of the wine beloved of women, but her hand trembled as she hastily drank off the inspiring fluid. "All this is bravo--mere bravo! She's a very smart woman, and a cool customer!" decided the schemer, who had filled himself up a long drink. He took up at once the object-lesson. They were simply to be comrades--and nothing more.
"I will obey you to the very letter," he said simply, for he was well aware the woman was keenly watching him.
"Then that is all. There is nothing more," soberly concluded his companion. "The letters at Suez and Aden are, of course, to be mere billets de voyage. The correspondence at Allahabad may cover all of moment. Can you not give me a safe letter and telegraph address at Delhi?"
"Give me your notebook," said Alan Hawke, as he carefully wrote down the needed information: "Ram Lal Singh, Jewel Merchant, 16 Chandnee Chouk, Delhi."
"There's the address of my native banker; and as trusty a Hindu as ever sold a two-shilling strass imitation for a hundred-pound star sapphire. But, in his way he is honest--as we all are." And then Alan Hawke boldly said: "How shall I address you at Allahabad?"
The flashing brown eyes gleamed a moment with a brighter luster than pleasure's glow. "You have my visiting card, Major," the woman coldly said. "I travel with a French passport, always en regie."
"By God! she has the nerve!" mused Alan Hawke, as he hastily said: "And now, as we have settled all our little preliminaries, when am I to know whether you trust me or not?"
He was pressing his advantage, for her precipitate departure would rob him of the expected effect of Casimir Wieniawski's disclosures. "If I find you en ami defamille, at Delhi, so that you can confidentially approach Sir Hugh Johnstone, the ci-devant Hugh Fraser, your task will be soon set for you, and your reward easily earned; but under no circumstances are you to make the slightest attempt to a confidential acquaintance with this wonderful Nadine. That is my affair." The tone was almost trifling in its lightness, but Alan Hawke recognized the hand of iron in the velvet glove.
"And now, Sir," coquettishly said Madame Berthe Louison, "you have been a squire of dames in your day. Tell me of social India, for, while I shall get a good maid out at Calcutta, I must depend upon
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