Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- A Fascinating Traitor - 2/66 -
a Captain" was in every line of his resolute, martial figure. His well-set-up, graceful form, his nobly poised head and easy soldierly bearing contrasted sharply with the lazy shuffle of the prosperous Swiss denizens and the listless lolling of the sporadic foreign tourists. Crisp, curling, tawny hair, a sweeping soldierly moustache, with a resolute chin and gleaming blue eyes accentuated a handsome face burnt to a dark olive by the fiery Indian sun. An easy insouciance tempered the habitual military smartness of the man who had known several different services in the fifteen years of his wasted young manhood. As he swung into the glare of the hospitable doorway of the Grand Rational, the obsequious head porter doffed his gold banded cap.
"Table d'hote serving now, Major!" With the mere social instinct of long years, Alan Hawke recognized the man's perfunctory politeness, tipped him a couple of francs, and then, mechanically sauntered to a seat in the superb salle a manger. "I'll get out of here to-night," he muttered, and then he bent down his head over the carte du jour and peered at the wine list, as the chatter of happy voices, the animated faces of lovely women and the eager hum of social life around, recalled him to that world from which he contemplated an unceremonious exit. It was in a deference to old habit, and the "qu en dira't on," that he ordered a half bottle of excellent Chambertin and then proceeded to dine with all the scrupulous punctilio of the old happy mess days.
Something of defiance seemed to steal back into his veins with the generous warmth of the wine--a touch of the old gallant spirit with which he had faced a hard world, since the unfortunate incident which had abruptly terminated his connection with "The Widow's" Service. His eye swept carelessly over the international detachment seated at the splendid table. Lively and chattering as they were, it was a human Sahara to him. He easily recognized the "Ten-Pounder" element of wandering Britons; poor, anxious-eyed beings grudgingly furloughed from shop and desk, and now sternly determined to descend at Charing Cross without breaking into the few reserve sovereigns. Serious-looking women, clad in many colors, and stolid cockneys, hostile to all foreign innovation, met his eye. He sighed as he cast his social net and drew up nothing.
There was a vacant chair at his left. Very shortly, without turning his eyes, he was made aware of the proximity of a woman, young, evidently a continental, from her softly murmured French.
"Houbigant's Forest Violets," he murmured. "She is at least semi-civilized!" He was dreaming of the far off lotos land which he had left, as he felt the rebellious protest of his young blood and the defiant spirit awaked by the mechanical luxury of the well-ordered dinner. "These human pawns seem to be all prosperous, if not happy! I'll have another shy at it! By God! I must get back to India!" The whole checkered past rushed back over his mind! The fifteen years of his "wanderjahre"! Scenes which even he dared not recall! Incidents which he had never dared to own to any European! He but too well knew the origin of his loosely applied title of Major--a field officer's rank more honored at the easygoing clubs of Yokahama, Shanghai, and Hong Kong than on the Army List--a rank best known at the ring-side of Indian sporting grounds, and only tacitly accepted in the extra-official circles of Hindustan. For it figured not in the official Army List, either as active or retired. The whole panorama of the mystic land of the Hindus was unrolled once more by the memories of fifteen clouded years, He saw again his far-away theater of varied action, with its huge grim mountains towering far over the snow line, its arid wastes, its fertile plains bathed in intense sunshine, its mystic rivers, and its silent, solemn shrines of the vanished gods.
Major Alan Hawke silently ran over his slender professional accomplishments. "I'm not too heavy to ride yet. I've a fair hand at cards--tough nerves, and even a bit of staying power. Luck may turn my way yet and there's always the Pamirs! At the worst, the Russians--the Afghans,--or those fellows up in Sikkim and Hill Tipperah! An artillerist is always welcome there!" But even in his moral desperation, he hung his head, for a flush of his boyhood's bright ambitions returned to shame him. An old song jingled in his memory, "When I first put this uniform on." He lapsed into a bitter reverie!
The soldier of fortune was finally aroused from a brown study by the impassive steward presenting two great dishes. The clatter of some late convive seating himself also caused him to turn his head.
"Hello, Anstruther! You are a long way from staff headquarters here!" quietly said Hawke, as the new arrival gazed at him in a mute surprise.
Captain the Honorable Anson Anstruther put up his monocle and duly answered: "I thought that you were still in Calcutta, Hawke." There was a faint noli me tangere air in the young staff officer's manner, and yet mere propinquity drew them together in a few minutes. With the insouciance of men bred in club and at mess, the two soldiers soon drifted into an easy chat, meeting on safe grounds. They calmly ignored the surrounding civilians, regardless of the attractions of two falcon-eyed Chicago beauties, loud of voice and brilliantly overdressed, who were guiding "Popper" and "Mommer" over the continent. These resplendent daughters of Columbia already boasted a train consisting of a French count (of a very old and shadowy regime), a singularly second-hand looking Italian marquis, a wooden-soldier figured German baron, and a sad-eyed, distant-looking Russian prince, whose bold Tartar glances rested hungrily upon both Miss "Phenie" and Miss "Genie" Forbes.
The Anglo-Indians, however, calmly pursued their dinner and gossip regardless of the fact that Miss "Phenie" had violently nudged Miss "Genie," and whispered in a stage aside: "Say, Genie, look at those two English fellows! They are something like--I bet you that they are two Lords!" The approval of the gilded Western maidens, whose father systematically assassinated a thousand porkers per diem, was lost upon the chance-met acquaintances. "I must get back to India, by hook or crook," mused Alan Hawke, and therefore, he very delicately played his wary fish, the sybaritic young swell of the staff. Captain the Honorable Anson Anstruther's reserve soon melted under the skillful bonhomie of the astute Alan Hawke. An easy-going patrician of the staff, he was in the magic circle of the viceroy. The heir to an inevitable fortune, and already vested with substantially stratified deposits at "Coutts" and Glyn, Carr and Glyn's, he would have been envied by most luckless mortals the heavy balances which he always carried at "Grind-lay's," a fortune for any less fortunate man.
He was already interested in the remarkably fetching looking young woman at Alan Hawke's left, being a squire of dames par excellence, while Major Alan Hawke himself wondered how Anstruther had drifted so far away from the direct line of travel to London.
Thawing visibly under the influence of Hawke's gracefully modulated camaraderie, the susceptible Anstruther was attentively examining his fair neighbor in silence, while he tried vaguely to recall some story which he had once heard, quite detrimental to the cosmopolitan Major.
He gave it up as a bad job! "Hang it!" he thought. "It may have been some other chap. Verylikely!" It was the strange story of a sharp encounter with the hostile Kookies, in which a couple of English mountain guns, long before abandoned by a British expeditionary force, had been served with due professional skill and most desperate dash by a reckless man, easily recognized as an English refugee artillerist. The wounded escaped British soldier, who had died after denouncing the deserting adventurer, had left his parting advice to the Royal Artillery to burn the fearless renegade, should he ever be captured. It was the Story of a nameless traitor!
But, the vague distrust of the curled darling of Fortune soon faded away under Hawke's measured social leading. A silver wine cooler stood behind their chairs, and the old yarn of a British officer playing Olivier Pain became very misty under the subtle influence of the Pommery Sec. Alan Hawke guarded the expected story of his own wanderings, waiting craftily until Bacchus and Venus had sufficiently mollified Anstruther.
He duplicated the champagne, knowing well the warming influence of "t'other bottle." The Major of a shadowy rank had early learned the graceful art of effacing himself, and on this occasion, it stood greatly to his credit. Anstruther was now quite sure that the graceful head of the beautiful neighbor swayed in an unconscious recognition of his witty sallies. A true son of Mars--ardent, headlong, and gallant as regarded le beau sexe--he talked brilliantly and well, aiming his boomerang remarks at a woman whom he knew to be young and graceful, and whose beauty he was gayly taking upon trust; an old, old interlude, played many a time and oft.
"What is going on here in this beastly slow old town? Nothing much for to-night, I fancy," said the aid-de-camp, wondering if a promenade au clair de la lune or a carriage ride to Ferney would be possible! He already had noted the purity of the French accent of the fair unknown. No guttural Swiss patois there, but that crisp elegance of tone which promised him a flirtation en vraie Parisienne.
"Only Philemon and Baucis, an antique opera, at the Grand Opera House, and sung by a band of relics of better days, wandering over here!" said Hawke.
And then it finally dawned upon the blase young staff officer that he had met Alan Hawke in certain circles where plunging had chased away the tedium of Indian club life with the delightful sensations of raking in other people's money.
"Better come up to my rooms then, and have a weed and a bit of ecarte!" slowly said Anstruther. "We may manage a ride afterward!" Alan Hawke nodded, and a thirsty gleam lit up his crafty eyes. He instinctively felt for the little card case containing that solitary twenty-pound note; it was a gentleman's stake after all. And the would-be suicide silently invoked the fickle goddess Fortuna!
Captain Anstruther, however, furtively murmured a few words to the solemn head steward and then leaned back contentedly in his chair. His ostensible orders for cafe noir and cards, as well as the least murderous of the obtainable cigars, covered the plan of using a five-pound note in an adroit personal inquiry. For, the Honorable Anson Anstruther proposed to ride that very evening, and he did not wish to bore Major Hawke with his company. He nursed a little scheme of his own. "Do you make a long stay?" carelessly said the wary Major.
"I intend to leave to-morrow night," gayly answered the other. "I came over here on a very strange errand. I've got to see an eminent Gorgon of respectability, who has a finishing school here for the young person [bien clevee," said Anstruther, eyeing the unknown.
"Hardly in your line, Anstruther!" laughed Hawke, casting his eyes around the depleted table, for Miss Phenie and Miss Genie Forbes
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 10 20 30 40 50 60 66
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything