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- A Fascinating Traitor - 6/66 -
that functionary. "My friend--Major Hawke?"
"Gone up the lake for two or three days, sir. Going to Lausanne and Chillon. Keeps all his luggage here, though. Shall I give him any message for you?" With a view to artfully veiling his coming meeting with the beautiful Egeria a la Houbigant, the captain deposited a card marked "P. P. C."
"A devilish pleasant fellow and a right stunning hand at ecarte." Anstruther prudently walked for a couple of squares, and then hailed a passing voiture, directing him to the very cosiest restaurant in the snug city of Bonnivard.
Major Hawke, far away now, entertained a slight resentment toward the man who had so coolly aspired to les bonnes fortunes, and ignored his own possible interference with the Lady of the Lake. It was with a grim satisfaction, however, that he saw on the boat the Misses Phenie and Genie Forbes, of Chicago, the bright particular stars of the traveling upper tendom. "Popper" and "Mommer" were deep in certain red-bound Baedeker's and busied in delving for "historic facts," while the artful Alan Hawke glided into a fast and familiar flirtation with the two bright-eyed, sharp-voiced damsels. Both the heiresses were dressed as if for a reception, with judiciously selected jewelry samples, evidencing the wondrous success of machine conducted pig demolition. They glittered in the sun as Fortune's bediamonded favorites.
And, so, while Madame Berthe Louison and Captain Anstruther lingered au cabinet particulier, over their Chablis and Ostend oysters, the recouped gambler extended his store of mental acquirement, by tender converse with the two sprightly belles of the Windy City. In fact, the whistle of the steamer was heard long before Alan Hawke could extricate himself from the clinging tentacles of the audacious beauties. He was somewhat repaid for his social exertions, however, as he sped back to keep his tryst at Geneva, by the acquisition of a large steel-engraved business card inscribed, "Forbes, Haygood & Co., Chicago," loftily tendered him by "Popper." He smiled at the whispered assurances of the Misses Phenie and Genie that they "should soon meet again."
"Bring your friend--that other Lord," cried the departing Miss Genie, waving a thousand-franc lace fan, as she sagely observed, "Two's company--three's none. We'll have a jolly lark--us four. Don't forget, now!" The polite Major laid his hand upon his heart and played the amiable tiger, although burning inwardly now, in a fierce personal jealousy of Anstruther as he wandered alone around the cold gray halls of the museum, and gazed upon the pinched features of the permanently eclipsed shining lights of the "Bulwark of Civil and Religious Liberty." There was no charm for him in the bigoted ferocity of Calvin's lean, dark face, smacking his thin lips over the roasted Servetus. He abhorred the departed heroes of the golden evolution from Eidegenossen into Higuerios and later Huguenots. They interested him not, neither did he love Professor Calame's scratchy pictures, nor the jumbled bric-a-brac of art and history. None of these charmed him. He waited only for the gliding step, the clasp of a burning hand, and the flash of the lustrous dark-brown eyes. It was his own innings now.
He had referred to his watch for the fiftieth time, when, from a closed carriage, the object of his mental vituperations gracefully alighted at last. It was with the very coldest of bows that the irritated man received the graceful, self-possessed woman, whose lovely face was but partially hidden by her coquettishly dotted veil.
"She dresses like a Parisienne, walks like an Andalu-sian, and has all the seductiveness of a Polish countess!" the quick-witted rascal thought, as they strolled into the museum, which the departed General Rath knew not would be the scene of many a hidden love intrigue, when he endowed it with a benevolent vanity. The two wary strangers strolled along until they found a retired corner. Madame Louison seated herself, waving her lace parasol with the impatient gesture of one accustomed to command.
Alan Hawke was in no gentle humor, and his cheeks reddened as he felt the calm scrutiny of the woman's searching glances. He was now determined to take the whip hand, and to keep it. His accents were staccato as he said, "Tell me now who you are, and what you wish of me!" A clock, hung high over them on the dreary, drab walls, ticked away brusquely, as the angered woman gazed steadily into his face.
"And so your little windfall of last night has already made you impudent? If you cannot find another tone at once, I will find another agent! The man whom you plucked has told me the story of your wonderful skill at cards!" The sneer cut the renegade like a whip lash, and Alan Hawke sprang up in anger. Madame Berthe Louison coolly settled herself down into the red cushions.
"The way to India is before you, but five hundred pounds is not a fortune for Major Alan Hawke! Listen! I watched you carefully yesterday, in your vigil upon Rousseau's Island. Your telltale face betrayed you. You were left stranded here in Geneva. An accident has brought us together. You cannot divine my motives. I can fathom yours easily. Tell me now, of yourself, of your past in India--of your present standing there. If you are frank, I may contribute to your fortune; if not--our ways part here!"
"And, if I warn Anson Anstruther that you are a mere adventuress, if I notify my old friend Hugh Fraser (soon to be Sir Hugh Johnstone), then your little game will be spoiled, Madame Louison!" defiantly said Hawke. The woman leaned back and laughed merrily in his face.
"You are like all professional lady killers, a mere fool in the hands of the first woman of wit. I dare you to cross my path! I will then join Captain the Honorable Anson Anstruther, in Paris, at the Hotel Binda! I will also see that you are excluded from every club in India! Your occupation will be gone, my Knight of Ecarte. Anstruther waits for me." She tossed him a card. "See for yourself. He was kind enough at breakfast, and, he will help me, if I ask him."
"And why do you not fly to his arms?" sneered Alan Hawke, who had quickly resigned the bullying tone of his abordage.
"Because he is a nice boy and a gentleman," the woman said, with a cutting emphasis. "Now, let me read you, Monsieur le Major, a lesson in manners. Never be rough with a woman! That is the road which always leads on to failure. I wish you a good appetite for your breakfast, which I have delayed, and for which I beg your pardon!" She rose and swept along with her Juno strides, and had reached the second Hall of Antiquities before Alan Hawke overtook her. It had flashed across his mind that he had for once in his life met a woman who was not afraid of the future, whatever had been her past. A single malicious letter from Anstruther would ruin him in India, for there was an ominous cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, lingering in that hiatus between his old rank of Lieutenant of Bengal Artillery, and the shadowy tenure of his self-dubbed Majority. This Aspasia hid none of her methods. She had boldly captivated the passing Pericles, and, evidently, she was the desired one.
"Let me explain," he began, as the woman looked calmly into his face.
"We are only losing time, Major," Madame Louison remarked, as she sought a corner. "I see that you have already repented. Do you know any one in Geneva?"
"Not one of the seventy-five thousand here," frankly answered Hawke. "The only man I came here to see, the English Consul, is away on leave."
"Then I can use you safely," answered the stranger. "Now, I owe you a breakfast. Will you put me in my carriage? I know the town thoroughly. Remember that it is only business that brings us together, and yet we may become better friends." In a half an hour they were seated in an arbor by the lake, where a homely German restaurant offered good cheer.
The Lady of the Lake did the honors ceremoniously, and Major Alan Hawke was permitted a cigar after the lake trout, filet, pears, cheese, Chambertin, and black coffee had been discussed. He was both conquered and repentant, and had adroitly atoned for his mauvais debut by a respectful demeanor, which was not feigned. He answered the running fire of questions which had led him from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, and from Chittagong to the Khyber Pass.
"You are sure that no one in Geneva knows your face?" Berthe Louison asked at last.
"I have been here only two days, and it is twenty years since I first roved over Switzerland on schoolboy leave," was the truthful answer.
"Then I can use you if you will decide to aid me, after you have heard me. I know, already, all that young Anstruther knows of the whole Johnstone matter. I do not intend to meet him at Paris," she demurely said. "I am absolutely untrammeled in this world. I am free to act as a woman's moods sway her. I have plenty of money, a fact which lifts me above the degradation of man's chase, and I indulge in no illusions. I am a soldier's daughter, and my dead father was the son of one of Napoleon's heroes of La Grande Armee. My whole life has been most unconventional; and I am free to dispose of myself, body and soul, and will, but for one thing." She was pleased with Alan Hawke's mute glance of inquiry. "Only the business which brought me to Geneva! We are all the slaves of circumstance! The veriest fools of fortune! I do not blame you for your surmises! I had vainly sought, for two years, the very information which I gained last night by chance at a Geneva table d'hote. It was from Anstruther that I discovered the changed name under which Hugh Fraser's daughter has been hidden from me for years. For I owe this all to chance, to Anstruther's susceptibility, and to my playing the risqu'e part which you saw fit me so well." The woman's eyes were now flashing ominously.
"But you led me on--you deceived me!" stammered Alan Hawke.
"I had nothing to risk!" the resolute beauty replied. "My name is not Berthe Louison, as you may well imagine! As for the little amourette de voyage, I will leave the laurels to your handsome young friend and yourself. I do not play with boys, and, as for you, I should always guard myself against you!
"Now, I will be practical! I know Europe; I do not know India! I need a man brave, cool, and unscrupulous; I need a resolute man to aid me in the one purpose of my life! I wish to go out to India to face this Hugh Fraser, to lift up the curtain of the dead past, and I need a protector--a paid champion--a man who values the only thing which is concrete power in life; a man who knows the power
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