Read CHAPTER III - THE LADY IN THE GARDEN of Captain Dieppe , free online book, by Anthony Hope, on ReadCentral.com.

It is possible that Captain Dieppe, full of contentment with the quarters to which fortune had guided him, under-rated the merits and attractions of the inn in the village across the river.  Fare and accommodation indeed were plain and rough at the Aquila Nera, but the company round its fireside would have raised his interest.  On one side of the hearth sat the young fisherman, he in whom Dieppe had discovered a police-spy on the track of the secrets in that breast-pocket of the Captain’s.  Oh, these discoveries of the Captain’s!  For M. Paul de Roustache was not a police-spy, and, moreover, had never seen the gallant Captain in his life, and took no interest in him ­a state of things most unlikely to occur to the Captain’s mind.  Had Paul, then, fished for fishing’s sake?  It by no means followed, if only the Captain could have remembered that there were other people in the world besides himself ­and one or two others even in the Count of Fieramondi’s house.  “I ’ll get at her if I can; but if she ’s obstinate, I ’ll go to the Count ­in the last resort I ’ll go to the Count, for I mean to have the money.”  Reflections such as these (and they were M. de Roustache’s at this moment) would have shown even Captain Dieppe ­not, perhaps, that he had done the fisherman an injustice, for the police may be very respectable ­but at least that he had mistaken his errand and his character.

But however much it might be abashed momentarily, the Captain’s acumen would not have been without a refuge.  Who was the elderly man with stooping shoulders and small keen eyes, who sat on the other side of the fire, and had been engaged in persuading Paul that he too was a fisherman, that he too loved beautiful scenery, that he too travelled for pleasure, and, finally, that his true, rightful, and only name was Monsieur Guillaume?  To which Paul had responded in kind, save that he had not volunteered his name.  And now each was wondering what the other wanted, and each was wishing very much that the other would seek his bed, so that the inn might be sunk in quiet and a gentleman be at liberty to go about his private business unobserved.

The landlord came in, bringing a couple of candles, and remarking that it was hard on ten o’clock; but let not the gentlemen hurry themselves.  The guests sat a little while longer, exchanged a remark or two on the prospects of the weather, and then, each despairing of outstaying the other, went their respective ways to bed.

Almost at the same moment, up at the Castle, Dieppe was saying to his host, “Good night, my friend, good night.  I ’m not for bed yet.  The night is fine, and I ’ll take a stroll in the garden.”  A keen observer might have noticed that the Captain did not meet his friend’s eye as he spoke.  There was a touch of guilt in his air, which the Count’s abstraction did not allow him to notice.  Conscience was having a hard battle of it; would the Captain keep on the proper side of the barricade?

Monsieur Guillaume, owing to his profession or his temperament, was a man who, if the paradox may be allowed, was not surprised at surprises.  Accordingly when he himself emerged from the bedroom to which he had retired, took the path across the meadow from the inn towards the river, and directed his course to the stepping-stones which he had marked as he strolled about before dinner, he was merely interested and in no way astonished to perceive his companion of the fireside in front of him, the moon, nearly full, revealed Paul’s Tyrolean headpiece mounting the hill on the far side of the stream.  Guillaume followed it, crossed the river at the cost of wet boots, ascended the slope, and crouched down behind a bush a few yards from the top.  He had gained on Paul, and arrived at his hiding-place in time to hear the exclamation wrung from his precursor by the sudden sight of the barricade:  from the valley below the erection had been so hidden by bushes as to escape notice.

“What the devil’s that for?” exclaimed Paul de Roustache in a low voice.  He was not left without an answer.  The watcher had cause for the smile that spread over his face, as, peeping out, he saw a man’s figure rise from a seat and come forward.  The next moment Paul was addressed in smooth and suave tones, and in his native language, which he had hurriedly employed in his surprised ejaculation.

“That, sir,” said Dieppe, waving his hand towards the barricade, “is erected in order to prevent intrusion.  But it does n’t seem to be very successful.”

“Who are you?” demanded Paul, angrily.

“I should, I think, be the one to ask that question,” Dieppe answered with a smile.  “It is not, I believe, your garden?” His emphasis on “your” came very near to an assertion of proprietorship in himself.  “Pray, sir, to what am I indebted for the honour of this meeting?” The Captain was enjoying this unexpected encounter with his supposed pursuer.  Apparently the pursuer did not know him.  Very well; he would take advantage of that bit of stupidity on the part of the pursuer’s superior officers.  It was like them to send a man who did n’t know him!  “You wish to see some one in the house?” he asked, looking at Paul’s angry and puzzled face.

But Paul began to recover his coolness.

“I am indeed to blame for my intrusion,” he said.  “I ’m passing the night at the inn, and tempted by the mildness of the air ­”

“It is certainly very mild,” agreed Dieppe.

“I strolled across the stepping-stones and up the hill.  I admire the appearance of a river by night.”

“Certainly, certainly.  But, sir, the river does not run in this garden.”

“Of course not, M. Comte,” said Paul, forcing a smile.  “At least I presume that I address ?”

Dieppe took off his hat, bowed, and replaced it.  He had, however, much ado not to chuckle.

“But I was led on by the sight of this remarkable structure.”  He indicated the barricade again.

“There was nothing else you wished to see?”

“On my honour, nothing.  And I must offer you my apologies.”

“As for the structure ­” added Dieppe, shrugging his shoulders.

“Yes?” cried Paul, with renewed interest.

“Its purpose is to divide the garden into two portions.  No more and no less, I assure you.”

Paul’s face took on an ugly expression.

“I am at such a disadvantage,” he observed, “that I cannot complain of M. Comte’s making me the subject of pleasantry.  Under other circumstances I might raise different emotions in him.  Perhaps I shall have my opportunity.”

“When you find me, sir, prowling about other people’s gardens by night ­”

“Prowling!” interrupted Paul, fiercely.

“Well, then,” said Dieppe, with an air of courteous apology, “shall we say skulking?”

“You shall pay for that!”

“With pleasure, if you convince me that it is a gentleman who asks satisfaction.”

Paul de Roustache smiled.  “At my convenience,” he said, “I will give you a reference which shall satisfy you most abundantly.”  He drew back, lifted his hat, and bowed.

“I shall await it with interest,” said Dieppe, returning the salutation, and then folding his arms and watching Paul’s retreat down the hill.  “The fellow brazened it out well,” he reflected; “but I shall hear no more of him, I fancy.  After all, police-agents don’t fight duels with ­why, with Counts, you know!” And his laugh rang out in hearty enjoyment through the night air.  “Ha, ha ­it ’s not so easy to put salt on old Dieppe’s tail!” With a sigh of satisfaction he turned round, as though to go back to the house.  But his eye was caught by a light in the window next to his own; and the window was open.  The Captain stood and looked up, and Monsieur Guillaume, who had overheard his little soliloquy and discovered from it a fact of great interest to himself, seized the opportunity of rising from behind his bush and stealing off down the hill after Paul de Roustache.

“Ah,” thought the Captain, as he gazed at the window, “if there were no such thing as honour or loyalty, as friendship ­”

“Sir,” said a timid voice at his elbow.

Dieppe shot round, and then and there lost his heart.  One sight of her a man might endure and be heart-whole, not two.  There, looking up at him with the most bewitching mouth, the most destructive eyes, was the lady whom he had seen at the end of the passage.  Certainly she was the most irresistible creature he had ever met; so he declared to himself, not, indeed, for the first time in his life, but none the less with unimpeachable sincerity.  For a man could do nothing but look at her, and the man who looked at her had to smile at her; then if she smiled, the man had to laugh; and what happened afterwards would depend on the inclinations of the lady:  at least it would not be very safe to rely on the principles of the gentleman.

But now she was not laughing.  Genuine and deep distress was visible on her face.

Madame la Comtesse ­” stammered the dazzled Captain.

For an instant she looked at him, seeming, he thought, to ask if she could trust him.  Then she said impatiently:  “Yes, yes; but never mind that.  Who are you?  Oh, why did you tell him you were the Count?  Oh, you ’ve ruined everything!”

“Ruined ?”

“Yes, yes; because now he ’ll write to the Count.  Oh, I heard your quarrel.  I listened from the window.  Oh, I did n’t think anybody could be as stupid as you!”

“Madame!” pleaded the unhappy Captain.  “I thought the fellow was a police-agent on my track, and ­”

“On your track?  Oh, who are you?”

“My name is Dieppe, madame ­Captain Dieppe, at your service.”  It was small wonder that a little stiffness had crept into the Captain’s tones.  This was not, so far, just the sort of interview which had filled his dreams.  For the first time the glimmer of a smile appeared on the lady’s lips, the ghost of a sparkle in her eyes.

“What a funny name!” she observed reflectively.

“I fail to see the drollery of it.”

“Oh, don’t be silly and starchy.  You ’ve got us into terrible trouble.”

“You?”

“Yes; all of us.  Because now ­” She broke off abruptly.  “How do you come to be here?” she asked in a rather imperious tone.

Dieppe gave a brief account of himself, concluding with the hope that his presence did not annoy the Countess.  The lady shook her head and glanced at him with a curious air of inquiry or examination.  In spite of the severity, or even rudeness, of her reproaches, Dieppe fell more and more in love with her every moment.  At last he could not resist a sly reference to their previous encounter.  She raised innocent eyes to his.

“I saw the door was open, but I did n’t notice anybody there,” she said with irreproachable demureness.

The Captain looked at her for a moment, then he began to laugh.

“I myself saw nothing but a cat,” said he.

The lady began to laugh.

“You must let me atone for my stupidity,” cried Dieppe, catching her hand.

“I wonder if you could!”

“I will, or die in the attempt.  Tell me how!” And the Captain kissed the hand that he had captured.

“There are conditions.”

“Not too hard?”

“First, you must n’t breathe a word to the Count of having seen me or ­or anybody else.”

“I should n’t have done that, anyhow,” remarked Dieppe, with a sudden twinge of conscience.

“Secondly, you must never try to see me, except when I give you leave.”

“I won’t try, I will only long,” said the Captain.

“Thirdly, you must ask no questions.”

“It is too soon to ask the only one which I would n’t pledge myself at your bidding never to ask.”

“To whom,” inquired the lady, “do you conceive yourself to be speaking, Captain Dieppe?” But the look that accompanied the rebuke was not very severe.

“Tell me what I must do,” implored the Captain.

She looked at him very kindly, partly because he was a handsome fellow, partly because it was her way; and she said with the prettiest, simplest air, as though she were making the most ordinary request and never thought of a refusal: 

“Will you give me fifty thousand francs?”

“I would give you a million thousand ­but I have only fifty.”

“It would be your all, then!  Oh, I should n’t like to ­”

“You misunderstand me, madame.  I have fifty francs, not fifty thousand.”

“Oh!” said she, frowning.  Then she laughed a little; then, to Dieppe’s indescribable agony, her eyes filled with tears and her lips quivered.  She put her hand up to her eyes; Dieppe heard a sob.

“For God’s sake ­” he whispered.

“Oh, I can’t help it,” she said, and she sobbed again; but now she did not try to hide her face.  She looked up in the Captain’s, conquering her sobs, but unable to restrain her tears.  “It’s not my fault, and it is so hard on me,” she wailed.  Then she suddenly jumped back, crying, “Oh, what were you going to do?” and regarding the Captain with reproachful alarm.

“I don’t know,” said Dieppe in some confusion, as he straightened himself again.  “I could n’t help it; you aroused my sympathy,” he explained ­for what the explanation might be worth.

“You won’t be able to help me,” she murmured, “unless ­unless ­”

“What?”

“Well, unless you ’re able to help it, you know.”

“I will think,” promised Dieppe, “of my friend the Count.”

“Of the ?  Oh yes, of course.”  There never was such a face for changes ­she was smiling now.  “Yes, think of your friend the Count, that will be capital.  Oh, but we ’re wasting time!”

“On the contrary, madame,” the Captain assured her with overwhelming sincerity.

“Yes, we are.  And we ’re not safe here.  Suppose the Count saw us!”

“Why, yes, that would be ­”

“That would be fatal,” said she decisively, and the Captain did not feel himself in a position to contradict her.  He contented himself with taking her hand again and pressing it softly.  Certainly she made a man feel very sympathetic.

“But I must see you again ­”

“Indeed I trust so, madame.”

“On business.”

“Call it what you will, so that ­”

“Not here.  Do you know the village?  No?  Well, listen.  If you go through the village, past the inn and up the hill, you will come to a Cross by the roadside.  Strike off from that across the grass, again uphill.  When you reach the top you will find a hollow, and in it a shepherd’s hut ­deserted.  Meet me there at dusk to-morrow, about six, and I will tell you how to help me.”

“I will be there,” said the Captain.

The lady held out both her hands ­small, white, ungloved, and unringed.  The Captain’s eyes rested a moment on the finger that should have worn the golden band which united her to his friend the Count.  It was not there; she had sent it back ­with the marriage contract.  With a sigh, strangely blended of pain and pleasure, he bent and kissed her hands.  She drew them away quickly, gave a nervous little laugh, and ran off.  The Captain watched her till she disappeared round the corner of the barricade, and then with another deep sigh betook himself to his own quarters.

The cat did not mew in the passage that night.  None the less Captain
Dieppe’s slumbers were broken and disturbed.