Louis Joseph Vance.

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lace and linen. Then she looked round with a tentative smile that was
wholly captivating. She was one of those rare women who can afford to cry.

"It's so humiliating!" she protested with racial ingenuousness - one of her
most compelling charms. "But it's ridiculous, too. I was so sure no one
would ever know."

"No one but an expert ever would, madame."

"You see" - apparently she had forgotten that Lanyard was anything but a
lifelong friend - "I needed money so badly, I had them reproduced and sold
the originals."

"Madame la princesse - if she will permit - commands my profound sympathy."

"But," she remembered, drying her eyes, "you called me an adventuress,

"But," he contended, gravely, "you had already called me the Lone Wolf."

"But what do you expect, monsieur, when I find you in my rooms - ?"

"But what does madame la princesse expect when I find she had been to
mine - and brought something valuable away with her, too!"

"I had a reason - "

"So had I."

"What was it?"

"Perhaps it was to see madame la princesse alone - secretly - without
exciting the jealousy, which I understand is supernormal, of monsieur le

"But why should you wish to see me alone?" she demanded, with widening

"Perhaps to beg madame's permission to offer her what may possibly prove
some slight consolation."

She weighed his words in dark distrust. What was this consolation? What his
game? His attitude remained consistently too deferential and punctilious
for one to suspect that by consolation he meant love-making.

"But how did you get in?"

"By the front door, madame. I find it ajar - one assumes, through oversight
on the part of one of the servants - it opens to a touch, I walk in - et

His levity was infectious. In spite of herself, she smiled in sympathy.

"And what, pray, is this wonderful consolation you would offer me?"

He produced from a pocket a packet of papers.

"I think madame la princesse is interested in these," he said. "If she will
be so amiable as to accept them from me, with my compliments and one little
word of advice...."

"Ah, monsieur!" Look and tone thanked him more than words could ever. "You
are too kind! And your advice - ?"

"They tell too much, madame, those letters. And I see you have a fire in
the grate ..."

"Monsieur has reason...."

She rose, went to the fireplace and, half kneeling, thrust the letters one
by one into the incandescent bed of coals. A ceremony of sentiment at any
other time, but not now: her thoughts were far from the man with whose
memory these letters were linked, they were in fact not wholly articulate.
Just what was passing through her mind she herself would have found it hard
to define; she was mainly conscious of a flooding emotion of gratitude
to Lanyard; but there was something more, a feeling not unakin to

The reaction of her vital young body from a desperate physical conflict,
the rapid play of her passions from anger and despair through triumph and
delight to gratification and content, from the bitterest sense of
frustration and peril to one of security; the uprush of those strange
instincts which had lain dormant till roused by the knowledge that she was
free at length from the maddening stupidity of social life, together with
her recent, implicit self-dedication to a life in all things its converse:
these influences were working upon her so strongly as to render her mood
more dangerous than she guessed.

Disturbed in her formless reverie, an aimless groping through a bewildering
maze of emotions but vaguely apprehended, she started up, faced round and
saw Lanyard, topcoat over arm and hat in hand, about to open the door.


He looked back, coolly quizzical. "Madame?"

"What are you doing?"

"Taking my unobtrusive departure, madame la princesse, by the way I came."

"But - wait - come back!"

He shrugged agreeably, released the door-knob, and stood before her, or
rather over her - for he was the taller by a good five inches - looking down,
quietly at her service.

"I haven't thanked you."

"For what, madame? For treating myself to an amusing adventure?"

"It has cost you dear!"

"The fortunes of war ..."

Her hands rose unconsciously, with an uncertain movement. Her face was soft
with an elusive bloom of unwonted feeling. Her eyes held a puzzled look, as
if she did not quite understand what was moving her so deeply.

"You are a strange man, monsieur...."

"And what shall one say of madame la princesse?"

She could but laugh; and laughter rings the death-knell of constraint.

But Lanyard remembered uneasily that somebody - Solomon or some other who
must have led an interesting life - had remarked that the lips of a strange
woman are smoother than oil.

"None the less, monsieur, I am deeply in your debt."

His smile of impersonal courtesy failed. He was becoming more sensitive
than he liked to her charm and the warm sentiment she was giving out to
him. This strange access in her of haunting loveliness, the gentle shadows
that lay beneath her wide - yet languorous eyes, the almost imperceptible
tremor of her sweetly fashioned lips, all troubled him profoundly. He
exerted himself to break the spell upon his senses which this woman,
wittingly or not, was weaving. But the effort was at best half-hearted.

"I am well repaid," he said a bit stiffly, "by the knowledge that the
honour of madame la princesse is safe."

Sofia laughed breathlessly. Somehow her hands had found the way to his. Her
glance wavered and fell.

"But is it?" she asked in a tone so intimate that it was barely audible.
And she laughed once more. "I am not so sure ... as long as monsieur is

Lanyard's mouth twitched, slow colour mounted in his face, the light in his
eyes was lambent. He found himself looking deep into other eyes that were
like pools of violet shadow troubled by a deep surge and resurge of feeling
for which there was no name. Aware that they revealed more than he ought to
know, he sought to escape them by bending his lips to Sofia's hands.

Sighing softly, she resigned them to his kisses.



It was late when Lanyard got home, but not too late: when he entered his
living-room enough life lingered in the embers in the grate to betray to
him a feline shape on all-fours creeping toward his bedchamber door. As he
switched up the lights it bounded to its feet and dived through the
portières with such celerity that he saw little more of it than coat-tails
level on the wind.

Dropping hat and canvas, Lanyard gave chase and overhauled the marauder as
he was clambering out through the open window, where a firm hand on his
collar checked his preparations to drop half a dozen feet to the flagged

Victor swore fretfully and lashed out a random fist, which struck Lanyard's
cheek a glancing blow that carried just enough sting to kindle resentment.
So the virtuous householder was rather more than unceremonious about
yanking the princely housebreaker inside and lending him a foot to
accelerate his return to the living-room; where Victor brought up, on
all-fours again, in almost precisely the spot from which he had risen.

He bounced up, however, with a surprising amount of animation and ambition,
and flew back to the offensive with flailing fists. In this his judgment
was grievously in fault. Lanyard sidestepped, nipped a wrist, twitched it
smartly up between the man's shoulder-blades (with a wrench that won a
grunt of agony), caught the other arm from behind by the hollow of its
elbow, and held his victim helpless - though ill-advised enough to continue
to hiss and spit and squirm and kick.

A heel that struck Lanyard's shin earned Victor a shaking so thoroughgoing
that he felt the teeth rattle in his jaws. When it was suspended, he was
breathless but thoughtful, and offered no objection to being searched.
Lanyard relieved him of a revolver and a dirk, then with a push sent Victor
reeling to the table, where he stood panting, quivering, and glaring
murder, while his captor put the dagger away and examined the firearm.

"Wicked thing," he commented - "loaded, too. Really, monsieur le prince
should be more careful. One of these fine days, if you don't stop playing
with such weapons, one of these will go off right in your hand - and the
next high-light in your history will be when the judge says: 'And may the
Lord have mercy on your soul!'"

Victor confided his sentiments to a handkerchief with which he was mopping
his face. Lanyard sat down and wagged a reproving head.

"Didn't catch," he said; "perhaps it's just as well, though; sounded
like bad words. Hope I'm mistaken, of course: princes ought to set
impressionable plebeians a better pattern."

He cocked a critical eye. "You're a sight, if you don't mind my saying
so - look as if the sky had caved in on you. May one ask what happened? Did
it stub its toe and fall?"

Victor suspended operations with the handkerchief to bend upon his
tormentor a louring, distrustful stare. His head was still heavy, hot, and
painful, his mental processes thick with lees of coma; but now he began to
appreciate, what naturally seemed apparent, that Lanyard must be
unacquainted with the cause of his injuries.

A searching look round the room confirmed him in this error. The canvas lay
where Lanyard had dropped it on entering, not in the spot where Victor
remembered seeing it last, but where conceivably an unheeded kick might
have sent it in the course of his struggle with Sofia. She must have
forgotten it, then, when she fled from what she probably thought was
murder, and what might well have been.

He was much too sore and shaken to be subtle; and the general trend of his
conjectures was perfectly legible to Lanyard, who without delay set himself
to conjure away any lingering suspicion of his guilelessness.

"Not squiffy, are you, by any chance?" he enquired with the kindliest
interest. "You look as if you'd wound up a spree by picking a fight with a
bobby. Your cheek's cut and all (shall we say, in deference to the
well-known prejudices of the dear B.P.?) ensanguined. Sit down and pull
yourself together before you try to explain to what I owe this honour - and
so forth."

He got up, clapped a hand on Prince Victor's shoulder, and steered him into
an easy chair.

"Anything more I can do to put you at your ease? Would a brandy and soda
help, do you think?"

The suggestion was acceptable: Victor signified as much with an ungracious
mumble. Lanyard fetched glasses, a decanter, a siphon-bottle, and supplied
his guest with a liberal hand before helping himself.

Victor took the drink without a word of thanks and gulped it down noisily.
Lanyard drank sparingly, then crossed the room to a bell-push. Seeing his
finger on it Prince Victor started from his chair, but Lanyard hospitably
waved him back.

"Don't go yet," he pleaded. "You've only just dropped in, we haven't had
half a chance to chat. Besides, you mustn't forget I've got your pistol and
your dirk and the upper hand and a sustaining sense of moral superiority
and no end of other advantages over you."

"Why," the prince demanded, nervously - "why did you ring?"

"To call a cab for you, of course. I don't imagine you want to walk
home - do you? - in your present state of shocking disrepair. Of course, if
you'd rather ... But do sit down: compose yourself."

"Let me be," the other snapped as Lanyard offered good-naturedly to thrust
him back into the chair. "I am - quite composed."

"That's good! Excellent! Hand steady enough to write me a cheque, do you

"What the devil!"

"Oh, come now! Don't go off your bat so easily. I'm only going to do you a
service - "

"Damn your impudence! I want no services of you!"

"Oh, yes you do!" Lanyard insisted, unabashed - "or you will when you learn
what a kind heart I've got. Now do be nice and stop protesting! You see,
you've touched my heart. I'd no idea you were so passionate about that
painting. If I had for one instant imagined you cared enough about it to
burglarize my rooms ... But now that I do understand, my dear fellow, I
wouldn't deny you for worlds; I make you a free present of it, at the price
I paid - twenty thousand and one hundred guineas - exacting no bonus or
commission whatever. You'll find blank cheques in the upper right-hand
drawer of my desk there; fill in one to my order, and the Corot's yours."

For a moment longer the prince stared, hate and perplexity in equal measure
tincturing his regard. Then slowly the look of doubt gave way to the ghost
of a crafty smile.

What a blazing fool the fellow was (he thought) to accept a cheque on which
payment could be stopped before banking hours in the morning - !

Such fatuity seemed incredible. Yet there it was, egregious, indisputable.
Why not profit by it, turn it to his own advantage? To secure what he had
sought, the letters concealed between the canvases, and turn them against
Sofia, and to play this Lanyard for a fool, all at one stroke - the
opportunity was too rich to be slighted.

He dissembled his exultation - or plumed himself on doing so.

"Very well," he mumbled, sulkily. "I'll draw the cheque."

"That's the right spirit!" Lanyard declared, and escorted him to the desk.

A knock sounded. Lanyard called: "Come in!" A sleepy manservant,
half-dressed and warm from his bed, entered.

"You rang, sir?"

"Yes, Harris." Lanyard tossed him a sovereign. "Sorry to rout you out so
late, but I need a cab. Whistle up a growler, will you?"

"'Nk-you, sir."

The man retired cheerfully, rewarded for many a night of broken slumber.
Prince Victor got up from the desk and proffered Lanyard the cheque.

"I fancy," he said with a leer, "you'll find that all right."

Lanyard scrutinized the cheque minutely, nodded his satisfaction.

"Thanks ever so ... No, not a word!" He forbade inflexibly a wholly
imaginary interposition on the part of Prince Victor. "You don't know how
to thank me - do you? Then why try? I know I'm too good, but I really can't
help it, it's my nature - and there you are! So what's the good of bickering
about it?... Now where did you leave your coat and hat? On my bed, as you
came in?"

He smiled charmingly and darted through the portières, returning with the
articles in question. "Do let me help you."

The prince struggled into the coat and grunted an acknowledgment of the
service. Lanyard pressed the hat into his hand, picked up the canvas,
replaced it in its frame, and tucked both under the princely arm.

Another knock: Harris returned.

"The four-wheeler is w'iting, sir."

"Thanks, Harris. Half a moment: I want a word with you. You see this
gentleman?" Lanyard caught Victor's look of angry resentment and
interrupted himself. "Don't forget yourself, monsieur le prince.
Remember ..."

He patted significantly the pocket which held the revolver, and turned back
to Harris.

"This gentleman," he said, consulting the signature to the cheque, "is
Prince Victor Vassilyevski. Please remember him. You may have to bear
witness against him in court."

"What insolence is this?" Victor demanded, hotly.

"Calm yourself, monsieur le prince." Lanyard repeated the warning gesture.
"He is a nobleman of Russia, or says he is, and - strangely enough,
Harris! - a burglar. I caught him burglarizing my rooms when I came home
just now. You may judge from his appearance what difficulty I had in
subduing him."

"'E do seem fair used up, sir," Harris admitted, eyeing Victor indignantly.
"Would you wish me to call a bobby and give 'im in charge?"

"Thanks, no. Prince Victor and I have compromised. He doesn't relish going
to jail, and I've no particular desire to send him there. But he does want
what he broke in to steal - that painting you see under his arm - and I've
agreed to sell it to him. Here's the cheque he has just given me. Providing
payment is not stopped on it, Harris, you will hear no more of this
incident. But if by any chance the cheque should come back from his bank - I
may ask you to testify to what you have seen and heard here to-night."

"It is a lie!" Prince Victor shrilled. "You brought me in with you,
assaulted me, blackmailed that cheque out of me! Nobody saw us - "

"Sorry," Lanyard cut in; "but it so happens, that the gentleman who has the
rooms immediately above came in when I did, and can testify that I was
alone. That's all, monsieur le prince. Your carriage waits."

Harris opened the door. Choking with rage, the prince shuffled out, Lanyard
politely escorting him to the curb. There, with a foot lifted to enter the
four-wheeler, Prince Victor turned, shaking an impassioned hand in
Lanyard's face.

"You'll pay me for this!" he spluttered. "I'll square accounts with you,
Lanyard, if I have to follow you to the gates of hell!"

"Better not," Lanyard warned him fairly, "if you do, I'll push you in ...
Bon soir, monsieur le prince!"





She sat all day long - from noon, that is, till late at night - on a high
stool behind the tall, pulpit-like desk of the caisse; flanked on one hand
by the swing door of green baize which communicated with the kitchen, on
the other by a hideous black walnut buffet on which fruits of the season
were displayed, more or less temptingly, to the taste of Mama Thérèse.

But for these articles of furniture, the buffet, the desk, and the door to
the kitchen quarters, uninterrupted rows of tables, square, with
composition-marble tops, lined three walls of the room. The fourth was
mainly plate-glass window, one on either side of the main entrance.

Back of the tables were wall-seats upholstered in red plush, dusty and
threadbare; and, above, a frieze of mirrors. The floor of the restaurant
was a patternless mosaic of small hexagonal tiles, bare in warm weather, in
the winter covered by a thick but well-worn Brussels carpet of peculiarly
repulsive design. The windows wore half-curtains of net which, after
nightfall, were reinforced by ruffled draperies of rep silk. Through the
net curtains, by day, the name of the restaurant was shadowed in reverse by
plain white-enamel letters glued to the glass:


The girl stared so constantly at these letters, during the off hours of the
day, that she sometimes wondered if they were not indelibly stamped upon
her brain, like this:


She gazed in the direction of the windows as a matter of habit, because
Mama Thérèse objected to her reading at the desk (all the same, sometimes
she did it on the sly) because the glimpses she caught, above the
half-curtains, of heads of passersby gave her idle imagination something to
play with, but mostly because it was difficult otherwise to seem
unconscious of the stares that converged toward her from every table
occupied by a masculine patron, whether regular or casual - unless the
patron happened to be accompanied by a lady, in which unhappy event he had
to content himself with furtive, sidelong glances, not always furtive
enough by half.

The feminine patrons stared, too, but from quite another angle of view.

Sofia knew why. If she hadn't, the mirror across the room would have
enlightened even a woman without vanity; which paradox this thoroughly
human young person was not.

She was, indeed, healthily vain; and when she wasn't focussing dream-dark
eyes upon the windows, or verifying additions and making change, she was as
likely as not to be stealing consultations with the mirror opposite, making
sure she hadn't, in the last few minutes, gone off in her looks. Not that
her comeliness bade fair ever to prove the cause of any real excitement.
Mama Thérèse made a first-rate dragon: she was very much on the job of
discouraging enterprising young men, and this without respect for union
hours or overtime. And when she wasn't functioning as the ubiquitous
wet-blanket, Papa Dupont understudied for her, and did it most efficiently,
too. If anything he was more vigilant and enthusiastic when it came to
administering the snub sufficient than even Mama Thérèse; in Sofia's sight,
indeed, he betrayed some personal feeling in the business; he seemed to
consider alien admiration of his charge an encroachment upon his private
prerogatives, to be resented accordingly.

Sofia understood. At eighteen - thanks to the comprehensive visual education
in the business of life which she could hardly have failed to assimilate
from a coign of vantage overlooking every table of a Soho restaurant - there
were precious few things she didn't understand. But her insight into Papa
Dupont's mind in respect of herself was wholly devoid of sympathy. She was
just a little bit afraid of him, and she despised him without measure. And
this contempt was founded on something more than his weakness for taking
numerous and surreptitious nips (surreptitious, at least, until they became
numerous) while presiding over the zinc in the pantry between the
restaurant proper and the kitchen; and on something more than his
reluctance to let Mama Thérèse make an honest man of him, although these
two had squabbled openly for so many years that most of the house staff
believed them to be married hard and fast enough.

For the matter of that, Sofia herself might have been the dupe of this
popular delusion - which Mama Thérèse did her best to encourage by never
referring to Dupont save as "mon mari" - had they been less imprudent in
recriminations which had passed between them in private when Sofia was of
an age so tender that she was presumed to be safely immature of mind.
Whereas she had always been precocious, if rather a self-contained child.
Almost from infancy she had been conversant with many things which she knew
it wouldn't do to talk about.

Such sympathy as Sofia wasted on the couple was all for Mama Thérèse. What
with keeping an eye on Papa Dupont that prevented his drinking himself to
death seven times per calendar week, and an eye on Sofia that was fondly
credited with being largely responsible for her failure to run away with
each and every presentable man who ogled her, and browbeating the waiters
and frustrating their attempts to cheat the house out of its fair dues, and
supervising the marketing and the cuisine: believe it or not, Mama Thérèse
led a tolerably busy life and deserved whatever gratification she got out
of it, to say nothing of highest commendation for industry, fidelity, and
frugality. But that did nothing to prevent Sofia from not liking her.

Her inability to play up to the relationship in which she stood to Mama
Thérèse in the manner prescribed by sentimentalists worried Sofia more than
a little. She was as hungry to give affection as to receive it; and surely
she ought to be fond of Mama Thérèse, who (Sofia was forever being
reminded) had in the goodness of her great heart adopted her as the
orphaned offspring of a cousin far-removed, and had brought her up at her
own expense, expecting no return (excepting humility, gratitude,
unquestioning affection, and uncomplaining acceptance of a life of
incessant toil at tasks uncongenial when not downright unsavoury, without
spending money or hours of untrammelled liberty in which to spend it).

Surely such nobility ought to be requited with nothing less than love!

Nevertheless, the plain, and to Sofia disquieting, truth was: it wasn't.

She was fond of Mama Thérèse after a fashion. No one was ever more ready to
acknowledge the woman's good qualities. But her faults, which included
avarice, bad temper, gluttony, native cruelty of inclination, and simple
inability to give a damn for anybody but herself, forbade satisfaction of
Sofia's yearnings to give her affections freely through bestowing them upon
the abundant and florid person of Mama Thérèse.

Still, she made no murmur. There was more than a trace of fatalism in the
composition of her spirit. As she conceived it, in this life either things
were or they were not; and as a rule they uncompromisingly were not: one
couldn't have everything.

She was not happy, it would be stretching the truth to say she was content,
but she was resigned, she was patient, she waited not altogether without

All the same, sometimes, as she sat, day in day out, on her high stool,
looking down on familiar aspects of life's fermentation as it manifests in
public restaurants, or peering out of the windows to catch tantalizing
glimpses of its freer, ampler, and - alas! - more recondite phases - sometimes
Sofia wondered whether there were not grimly cynic innuendo in those three
words which the mystery of choice had affixed to the window-panes and

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Online LibraryLouis Joseph VanceRed Masquerade → online text (page 4 of 16)