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- A Fascinating Traitor - 3/66 -
had vanished at last, leaving behind them expanding wave circles of sharply echoing comment. The noisy Teutons had devoured their seven francs worth, and the fair bird of passage on their left was left alone, woman-like, dallying with the last sweets and finishing her demi bouteille with true French deliberation. "It's a case of the wolf and the sheep-fold!"
"Not that; not at all!" gayly answered Anstruther. "I have a long leave, and I only ran over here to oblige His Excellency." He spoke with all the easy disdain of all underlings born of an Indian official life--the habitual disregard of the Briton for his inferior surroundings. "By Jove! you may help me out yourself! You're an old Delhi man!" He gazed earnestly at Hawke, who started nervously, and then said:
"You know I've been away for a good bit of the ten years in the far Orient, but I used to know them all, before I went out of the line."
"Then you surely know old Hugh Johnstone, the rich, old, retired deputy commissioner of Oude?" Alan Hawke slowly sipped his champagne, for his Delhi memories were both risky and uncertain ground.
"I fail to recall the name, Johnstone--Johnstone," murmured Hawke.
"Why, everyone knows old Johnstone; he is an old mutiny man. You surely do! He was Hugh Fraser until he took the name of Johnstone, ten years or so ago, on a Scotch relative leaving him a handsome Highland estate!" There was a warning rustle at Hawke's left, as the fair stranger prepared for her flitting.
"I was very intimate with Hugh Fraser in my griffin days. But I thought he had retired and gone back home. He is enormously rich, and an old bachelor! I know him very well; he was a good friend of mine in the old days, too!"
Anstruther leaned toward Hawke, as he signed to the waiter to refill his hearer's glass. "Well, I can surprise even you! He has turned up with a beautiful daughter--at Delhi--just about the prettiest girl I ever--"
"Je demande mills pardons, Madame!" politely cried Major Hawke, as his fair neighbor's wineglass went shivering down in a crystalline wreck.
"Pas de quoi, Monsieur," suavely replied the woman whom till now he had hardly noticed. A moment later the slight damage was repaired, and then Captain the Honorable Anson Anstruther had his little innings.
With courtly hospitality he offered the creamy champagne as a remplacement for the lost vin du pays.
A charming smile rewarded the gallant youth, while Major Hawke turned with interest to the renewal of the interrupted narrative. He had caught a glance of burning intensity from the dark brown eyes of the lady a la Houbigant, which set every nerve in his body tingling. It was a challenge to a companionship, and, as he led on the triumphant Anstruther, he deeply regretted the absence of that most necessary organ,--an eye in the back of the head. He was dimly aware that his beautiful neighbor was very leisurely drinking the peace offering of the susceptible son of Mars. "I will bet hundreds to ha'pennies she speaks English!" quickly reflected the now aroused Major.
"You astound me, Anstruther," the Major said. "Not a lawful child! Some Eurasian legacy--a relic of the old days of the Pagoda Tree! Why, the old commissioner always was a woman hater, and absolutely hostile to all social influences!" The Captain was now stealing longing glances at the willowy figure of the beautiful woman whose glistening dark brown eyes were turned to him with a languid glance, as Alan Hawke leaned forward. To prolong the sight of that bewitching half profile, with the fair, low brows, the velvet cheeks, a Provencale flush tinting them, the parted lips a dainty challenge speaking, and the rich masses of dark brown hair nobly crowning her regal outlines, Anstruther yielded to the spell and babbled on. "The whole thing is a strange melange of official business and dying gossip!" dreamily said Anstruther with his eyes straying over the ivory throat, the superbly modeled bust and perfect figure of the young Venus Victrix.
He was duly rewarded by a glance of secret intelligence when he leaned back, dreamily closing his eyes. "You see, they were going to make old Hugh Fraser or Hugh Johnstone, as he is now called, a baronet for some secret services to the Crown of an important nature, rendered about the time when mad Hodson piled up the whole princely succession to the House of Oude in a trophy of naked corpsess pistoling them with his own hand." He ordered a third bottle of Pommery, with a wave of his hand, and proceeded: "Of course, you know, Her Majesty's Government always closely investigate the social antecedents of the nominee in such cases. The change of name is all right; it is regularly entered at Herald's College and all that sort of thing, but the Chief has heard of the sudden appearance of this beautiful daughter. Now, old Johnstone surely never looked the way of woman in India! It's true that he went back about twenty years ago to England on a two years' leave. He has lived the life of a splendid recluse in his magnificent old bungalow on the Chandnee Chouk."
Anstruther paused, fishing for another fugitive smile. He caught it behind the back of the wary adventurer.
"I know the old house well," said Hawke with an affected unconcern. "Men were always entertained royally there, but I never saw a woman of station in its vast saloons."
"Now there you are!" cried Anstruther, lightly resuming: "I was sent up to Delhi to delicately find out about this alleged daughter, for the Chief does not want to throw Johnstone's baronetcy over. The fact is before they packed the toothless old King of Oude away to Rangoon to die with his favorite wife and their one wolf cub out there, Hugh Fraser skillfully extorted a surrender of a huge private treasure of jewels from these people while they were hidden away in Humayoon's tomb. There's one trust deposit yet to be divided between the Government and this sly old Indo-Scotch-man, and I fancy the empty honor of the baronetcy is a quid pro quo." Alan Hawke laughed heartily. "It is really diamond cut diamond, then."
"Precisely," said Anstruther, as he most calmly waved his hand to the steward, who silently refilled even the glass of the Venus Anonyma. A slight inclination of the head and parthian glance number three, encouraged Anstruther to hasten and conclude, for the moon was sailing grandly over the lake now.
Love thrilled in the young man's vacant heart, sounding the chords of the Harp of Life. He had been in a glittering Indian exile long enough to be very susceptible. "I spent two weeks up there with the expectant Sir Hugh Johnstone," lightly rattled on the aid. "I verified the fact that the young woman is his acknowledged daughter. He has no other lineal heir to the title, for an old, dry-as-dust, retired Edinburgh professor, a brother, childless and eccentric, is living near St. Helier's, in Jersey, in a beautiful Norman chateau farm mansion, where old Hugh proposed once to end his days. It seems to be all square enough. I was as delicate as I could be about it, and the matter is apparently all right. The papers have all gone on, and, in due time, Hugh Fraser will be Sir Hugh Johnstone!"
Anstruther quaffed a beaker with guileful ideas of detaining his fair neighbor, now ruffling her plumage for departure, for only a sporadic knot of diners here and there lingered at the long table. "The girl herself?" asked Hawke, with a strange desire to know more.
"Report has duly magnified her hidden charms," replied Anstruther. "She is called "The Veiled Rose of Delhi," and no manner of man may lift that mystic veil. I was treated en prince, but held at arm's length."
Hawke smiled softly, and said in a low voice, "I hardly see how all this brings you over here. The Rose blooms by the far-away Jumna."
"Then know, my friend," laughed Anstruther, "such a rose as the peerless Nadine Johnstone must have a duenna." He deftly caught an impassioned glance from the softly shining brown eyes, and hastily went on. "She was educated right here in this emporium of watches, musical boxes, correct principles, and scientific research. Mesdames Justine and Euphrosyne Delande, No. 122 Rue du Rhone, conduct an institute (justly renowned) where calisthenics, a view of the lake, a little music, a great deal of bad French, and the Conversations Lexicon, with some surface womanly graces, may all be had for some two hundred pounds a year. Miss Justine Delande, a sedately gray-tinted spinster, has been tempted to remain on guard for a year out in India, having safely conducted this Pearl of Jeunes Personnes Bien Elevees out to the old Qui Hai. I have been charged with some few necessary explanations and negotiations, the delivery of some presents, and, when I have visited this first-class institute, enjoying all the attractions of the Jardm Anglais and the Promenade du Lac, I shall flee these tranquil slopes of the Pennine Alps. Incidentally, the records of Mademoiselle Euphrosyne will confirm the very natural story of the would-be Sir Hugh, whose vanished wife no Anglo-Indian has ever seen. She is supposably dead. A last official note after I have run on to Paris will close up the whole awkward matter. I will call there tomorrow and then take the early train, as I am on for a lot of family visits and sporting events before I can settle down to have my bit of a fling."
"It's a very strange story," murmured Alan Hawke. "No man ever suspected Hugh Fraser of family honors."
"And 'the Rose of Delhi!' will probably marry some lucky fellow out there, as old Johnstone has lacs and lacs of rupees," said Anstruther, "for he cannot keep her in his great gardens forever, guarded by the stony-eyed Swiss spinster, or let her run around as the Turks do their priceless pet sheep with a silver bell around her neck. There was some old marital unhappiness, I suppose, for the girl is evidently born in wedlock, and the story is straight enough."
"Have you seen her?" eagerly inquired Hawke.
"Just a few stolen glimpses," hastily replied Anstruther, politely rising and bowing as the fair unknown suddenly left her seat, in evident confusion.
The two men strolled out of the salle & manger together, Major Alan Hawke critically observing the heightened color and evident elan of his aristocratic friend.
"Oh! I say, Hawke," cried Anstruther, "they'll show you up to my rooms in a few moments. I'll go and see the maitre d'hotel here!
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