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قراءة كتاب A Cabinet Secret

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‏اللغة: English
A Cabinet Secret

A Cabinet Secret

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 6

Casting a withering glance at the unhappy functionary, she departed into the hotel, every hair of her head bristling with indignation, while the Commissionaire, shrugging his shoulders, went forward to receive a tall, picturesque individual, who at that moment had driven up.

The new-comer interested me exceedingly. In my own mind I instantly set him down as a dilettante Englishman of good birth and education. He looked the sort of being who would spend the greater part of his time in foreign picture-galleries and cathedrals; who would carry his Ruskin continually in his pocket, and who would probably end by writing a volume of travels "for private circulation only." I should not have been surprised had I been told that he dabbled a little in water-colours, or to have heard that he regarded Ruskin as the greatest writer, and Turner as the greatest painter, of our era. One thing at least was self-evident, and that was the fact that he was a person of considerable importance at this particular hotel. The Commissionaire bowed before him as if he were a foreign potentate, while the maître d'hôtel received him with as much respect as if he had been an American millionaire. When he in his turn disappeared into the building, I beckoned the Commissionaire to my side.

"Who is that gentleman that has just entered the hotel?" I enquired.

"Is it possible that Monsieur does not know him?" the man replied, with an expression of wonderment upon his face.

His answer more than ever convinced me that the other was a very great man, at least a German princeling, perhaps an Austrian archduke.

"No," I said, "I do not know him. As a matter of fact, I do not remember ever having seen him before. Who is he?"

"He is Monsieur Dickie Bucks," answered the Commissionaire, with as much respect as if he were talking of the Czar of all the Russias.

My illusion vanished in a trice. "Dickie Bucks,—Dickie Bucks," I repeated to myself. "Gracious heavens! what a name for such a man! And pray who is Mr Dickie Bucks, for I assure you his fame has not yet reached me?"

"Monsieur surely knows the great bookmaker," said the man, with an air of incredulity. "He is the great bookmaker, the very greatest, perhaps, in all England. Monsieur is not perhaps aware that there are races at Auteuil to-morrow."

And so my dilettante Englishman, my artist, my amateur author, was, after all, nothing more than a famous betting man, who, had I spoken to him of Ruskin, would probably have offered to lay me five to one against him for the Lincolnshire Handicap, and would have informed me that there was a general opinion in Sporting Circles that "Sesame and Lilies" was not the stayer she was popularly supposed to be. Well, well, it only proves how little our judgment is to be trusted, and how important it is that we should not pin our faith upon externals.

I was still moralising in this fashion when a smart equipage drove up to the steps, and the Commissionaire once more went forward to do his duty. In the carriage a lady and gentleman were seated, and it was evident, from the fact that a man,—who until that moment had been sitting near the hotel door—hastened forward to greet them, that their arrival had been expected by one person in the hotel at least. As the trio I am now about to describe to you are destined to play an extraordinary part in the story I have to tell, I may, perhaps, be excused if I bestow upon them a little more attention than I should otherwise feel justified in doing. Out of gallantry, if for no other reason, it is only proper that I should commence with the lady.

That she was not English was quite certain. It was difficult to say, however, to what European nation she belonged. Her face, from the moment I first saw it, interested me strangely. And yet, while it was beautiful, it was not that which altogether attracted me. I say altogether, for the reason that it owed more, perhaps, to its general expression than to the mere beauty of any individual feature. It was a countenance, however, that once seen would not be likely to be forgotten. The eyes were large and thoughtful, and of a darkness that suggested Southern birth. The mouth was small, but exquisitely moulded, the lips full, and the teeth, when they showed themselves, delightfully white and even. Her hair was black and, what is not commonly the case with hair of that colour, was soft and wavy. Though it would have been difficult to find fault with her attire, a fastidious critic might have observed that it was not of the very latest fashion. In London, it is possible it might have passed muster, but in Paris it was just one pin-prick behind the acme of the prevailing mode. As I looked at her I wondered who she might be. The eyes, at a hazard, might have been set down as Italian, the hair as Spanish, the nose had a suggestion of the Greek, while the sum total spoke for Southern France, or, at any rate a country bordering upon the Mediterranean.

As I have already said, her companions were two in number. The elder, who had driven up with the lady I have been endeavouring to describe, was a tall and handsome man of a little past middle age. He carried himself with considerable erectness, might very well have once been a soldier, and was possibly the lady's father. When he descended from the carriage, I noticed that he was a little lame on his left leg, and that he walked with a stick. Like his companion he was the possessor of dark eyes, but with the difference that they looked out upon the world from beneath white bushy eyebrows, a fact which, combined with his fierce grey moustache, produced a most singular effect. He also was fashionably attired, that is to say, he wore the regulation frock coat and silk hat, but, as was the case with the lady, there was the suggestion of being just a trifle behind the times.

As much could not be said of the second man, the individual who had been seated near the door awaiting their coming. So far as outward appearances were concerned he was the pink of fashion, and not only of fashion, but of everything else. Tall, lithe, handsome, and irreproachably turned out, from the curl of his dainty moustache to his superbly shod feet, he appeared at first glance to be a typical boulevardier. Yet when one looked more closely at him, he did not strike one as being the sort of man who would idle his life away on the pavements or in the clubs. I could very well imagine his face looking out from beneath a helmet or kepi, under a tarbush with Arabi, or a sombrero with Balmaceda—anywhere, in point of fact, where there was vigorous life and action. He would certainly be a good shot, and, I reflected, not very particular what he shot at, that is to say, whether it was at man or beast, or both. For the moment, however, he was content to hand his fair friend from her carriage with the most fastidious politeness. They stood for a moment talking at the foot of the steps. Then they ascended, and, entering the hotel, were lost to my sight; whereupon I resettled myself in my chair with the reflection that they were the most interesting people I should be likely to see that afternoon, and then went on to wonder why De Belleville did not put in an appearance. Then another carriage drove up, and a moment later he stood before me.

"I must offer you ten thousand pardons, cher ami," said he, as we shook hands. "I fear I have kept you waiting an unpardonable time. Forgive me, I implore you; I am prostrated with sorrow."

The words were apologetic enough, but the face belied the assertion. A more