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- A Fascinating Traitor - 4/66 -
The service is beastly--beastly!" and the youth fled quickly away.
Major Alan Hawke nodded affably, and slowly mounted the staircase to his room, wondering if the aid-de-camp was destined by the gods to furnish forth his purse for the return to India. "He's pretty well set up now, and he evidently has his eye upon this brown-eyed nixie. Dare I rush my luck? The boy's a bit stupid at cards." With downcast eyes the anxious adventurer wandered along the corridor in the dimly-lighted second story. It was the turning point of his career.
There was the rapid rustle of silk, the patter of gliding feet, a warm, trembling hand seized his own, and in the darkness of a window recess he was aware that he was suddenly made the prize of the fair corsair ci la Houbigant. "Quick, quick, tell me! Do you go with him?" the strange enchantress said, in excited tones, using the English tongue as if to the manner born.
"Madame! I hardly understand," cautiously said the astounded Major.
"I want you to help me! You must help me! I must see him! I must find out all." The sound of a servant's steps arrested her incoherent remarks. "Wait here!" the excited woman whispered, as she walked back down the hall. There was a whispered colloquy, and Alan Hawke caught the gleam of the silver neck chain of the maitre d'hotel. The sound of an opening door was heard, and, in a few moments the flying Camilla returned to her hidden prey.
"Tell me truly," she panted, "what will you do with him? He wishes me to ride with him; my answer depends on you. You are in trouble; I can see it in your haggard eyes. Help me now, and--and I will help you!" And then Alan Hawke spoke truly to the waif of Destiny, whom chance had thrown in his way.
"I only wish to play with him for a couple of hours; if luck turns my way, that will be time enough!"
"Ah! you would have money! Let him go away in peace! Help me to-morrow, here, and I will give you money!"
"What is your own scheme?" the doubting vaurien demanded.
"I must know all of this Hugh Johnstone, all about this girl," she whispered, her lips almost touching his cheek.
"Let me play with him to-night; I am yours as soon as he departs!" sullenly said Hawke.
"Then, finish in two hours," the woman said, gathering her draperies to flee away, "for I will ride with him to-night!"
"Just a bit unconventional," murmured Alan Hawke. "Who the devil can this French-English woman be anyway." He realized that some subtle game depended upon the memories of the past strangely evoked by the artless Anstruther's babble. As he strolled back to the smoking-room, he saw the maitre d'hotel slyly deliver a twisted bit of paper to the all too unconcerned looking young Adonis, and the gleam of a napoleon shone out in the grave faced Figaro's hand. "Now for our cafe noir, a good pousse cafe--and--a dash at the painted beauties. I can't play very long," was Anstruther's salutation, as he complacently twisted his mustache en hussar. Major Hawke bowed in a silent delight.
And so it fell out that both wolf and panther--hungry vulpine prowler and sleek feminine soft-footed enemy--gathered closely, around the young British Lion, whose easy self-complacency led him into the snare, hoodwinked by the fair unknown Delilah.
Alan Hawke strode to the windows of Anstruther's rooms and standing there, watched the drifting moonbeams mantling on the spectral blue lake, while his chance-met friend rang for a waiter. There was the murmur of confidential orders, and then Anson Anstruther with a bright smile dropped easily into the role of host. The young staff officer was so elated by the apparently flattering selection of the fair anonyma that he never considered the idea of possible foul play. It was evident that Major Hawke had not noticed the little by-play which was the delightful undercurrent of the table d'hotel dinner. There was no time lost in the preliminaries of the card duel.
Through curling blue wreaths of aromatic incense, over the brandy-dashed coffee, the two men sententiously struggled for the smiles of Fortune, with impassive faces, in a rapid duel of wits as the fleeting moments sped along.
The tide of luck was set dead against Anstruther, who strangely seemed to be now possessed of a merry devil. He made perilous excursions into the land of brandy and soda, gayly faced his bad fortune, and feverishly chattered over the well-worn Anglo-Indian gossip adroitly introduced by the now nerve-steadied Hawke. General Renwick's loss of his faded and feeble spouse, the far-famed "Poor Thing" of much polite apology for her socially aristocratic ailments; Vane Tempest's singular elopement with the beautiful wife of a green subaltern; Harry Chillingly's untoward end while potting tigers; Count Platen's enormous winnings at Baccarat; Fitzgerald Law's falling into a peerage; and Mrs. Claire Atterbury, the wealthy widow's purchase of a handsome boy-husband fresh from Sandhurst. All this with Jack Blunt's long expected ruin, and a spicy court-martial or two, furnished a running accompaniment to Anstruther's expensive "personally conducted tour" into the intricacies of ecarte, led on by the coolest safety player who ever fleeced a griffin. Truly these were golden moments. The Major's cool steady eyes were sternly fixed on his cards.
The self-imposed sentence of suicide of the afternoon was indefinitely postponed when Alan Hawke amiably nodded as Anstruther at last apologized for glancing at his watch. "I've a bit to do to get ready for to-morrow, and we'll try one more hand and then I'll say good-night."
"Well, I'll give you your revenge at any time, Anstruther! By the way, what's your London address?" Hawke was complacently good humored as he glanced at a visiting card whereon sundry comfortable figures were roughly totted up.
"Junior United Service, always," carelessly said Anstruther. "They keep run of me, for I'm off for the woods as soon as the shooting season opens. Where will you be this winter?"
Major Hawke assumed a mysterious air, "That depends upon the Russian and Chinese game--the Persian and Afghan intrigues! You see, I am awaiting some ripening affairs in the F. O. I was called back on account of my familiarity with the Pamirs, and there's a good bit of Blue Book work that my knowledge of Penj Deh, and the whole Himalayan line has helped out." The captain was a bit agnostic now.
"You were---" began Anson Anstruther, timidly, the old vague gossip returning to haunt him. His ardor was cooling in view of the very neat sum of his losses in three figures.
"On Major Montgomerie's escort as a raw boy when I came out," promptly interrupted Hawke. "I went all over Thibet in '75 with Nana Singh as a youngster. He was a wonderful chap and besides executing the secret survey of Thibet, he ran all over Cashmere, Nepaul, Sikkim, and Bhootan, secretly charged with securing authentic details of the death of Nana Sahib." The cool assurance of the adventurer disarmed the now serious Anstruther, for both the sagacious English officer and his disguised assistant, Nana Singh, were both dead these many years. "Morley's is my regular address; I keep up no home club memberships now," coolly said Hawke, as at last they threw the cards down.
Anstruther picked up his marker card as he glanced at Hawke's ready money upon the table. There was a ten-pound note folded under the Major's neat pocket case and a plethoric fold of Bank of England notes bulged the neat Russia leather. He never knew that only thirteen one-pound notes made up this brave financial show of his adversary. Alan Hawke was a past master of keeping up a brave exterior and he blessed the Cook's Tourists who had that day left these small bills with the hotel cashier.
"Now, here you are," hastily said Anstruther. "Do you make the same total as I do?" The spoiled partrician boy carelessly shoved out sixty pounds in notes and rummaging over his portmanteau produced a check book. "There, I think that's right. Check on Grindlay, 11 and 12 Parliament Street, for four hundred and twenty-eight." Hawke bowed gravely with the air of a satisfied duelist, and then carelessly swept the check and notes into his breast pocket.
"Tell me, what sort of a girl is this Nadine Johnstone," the wanderer said, by way of a diversion.
"I can't tell you! Only old General Willoughby has pierced the veil. Of course, Johnstone could not refuse a visit from the Commander of Her Majesty's forces. In fact, Harry Hardwicke, of the Engineers, accompanied Willoughby. The old chief treats Hardwicke as a son since he bore the body of the dear old fellow's son out of fire in the Khyber Pass, and won a promotion and the V. C. Harry says the girl is a modern Noor-Mahal! But, she is as speechless and timid as a startled fawn! Now, Major, you will excuse me. I have to leave you!" There was a fretful haste in the passionate boy's manner. The hour was already near midnight.
"Shall I not see you to-morrow?" politely resumed Hawke. "You will not spend your whole morning with the stern damsel in spectacles and steel-like armor of indurated poplin?"
"Do you know I'm afraid I shall miss you," earnestly said the aide. "Hugh Johnstone wishes me to urge Mademoiselle Euphrosyne to allow her sister to remain in India, in charge of the Rose of Delhi until the old eccentric returns. Of course, the girl left alone would be an easy prey to every fortune hunter in India, should anything happen!" There was a ferocious, wild gleam in Alan Hawke's eyes as the aide grasped his hat and stick. "I wish to probe the family records and find out what I can of the 'distaff side of the line,' as Mr. Guy Livingstone would say. I have some really valuable presents, and I am on honor to the Viceroy in this, for, of course, a baronetcy must not be given into sullied hands. Johnstone will probably hermetically seal the girl up till the Kaisar-I-Hind has spoken officially. Then, if this delicate matter of the hidden booty of the King of Oude is settled, the old fellow intends to return to the home place he has bought. I'm told it's the finest old feudal remnant in the Channel Islands, and magnificently modernized. The government does not want to press him. You see they can't! The things went out of the hands of the hostile traitor princes, and Hugh Fraser, as he was, cajoled them from the custody of the go-betweens. We have never gone back on the plighted word of a previous Governor-General! The Queen's word must not be broken. I have a bit of persuading to do, and some other little matters to settle!"
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