Read CHAPTER V - A FLURRY ON THE MENDIPS of Cynthia's Chauffeur , free online book, by Louis Tracy, on ReadCentral.com.

It is a contrariety of human nature that men devoted to venturesome forms of sport should often be tender-hearted as children.  Lord Medenham, who had done some slaying in his time, once risked his life to save a favorite horse from a Ganges quicksand, and his right arm still bore the furrows plowed in it by claws that would have torn his spaniel to pieces in a Kashmir gully had he not thrust the empty barrels of a .450 Express rifle down the throat of an enraged bear.  In each case, a moment’s delay to secure his own safety meant the sacrifice of a friend, but safety won at such a price would have galled him worse than the spinning of a coin with death.

Wholly apart from considerations that he was strangely unwilling to acknowledge, even to his own heart, he now resented Marigny’s cold-blooded pursuit of an unsuspecting girl mainly because of its unfairness.  Were Cynthia Vanrenen no more to him than the hundreds of pretty women he would meet during a brief London season he would still have wished to rescue her from the money-hunting gang which had marked her down as an easy prey.  But he had been vouchsafed glimpses into her white soul.  That night at Brighton, and again to-day in the cloistered depths of the cathedral at Wells, she had admitted him to the rare intimacy of those who commune deeply in silence.

It was not that he dared yet to think of a love confessed and reciprocated.  The prince in disguise is all very well in a fairy tale; in England of the twentieth century he is an anachronism; and Medenham would as soon think of shearing a limb as of profiting by the chance that threw Cynthia in his way.  Of course, a less scrupulous wooer might have devised a hundred plausible methods of revealing his identity was not Mrs. Devar, marriage-broker and adroit sycophant, ready to hand and purchasable? and there was small room for doubt that a girl’s natural vanity would be fluttered into a blaze of romance by learning that her chauffeur was heir to an old and well-endowed peerage.  But honor forbade, nor might he dream of winning her affections while flying false colors.  True, it would not be his fault if they did not come together again in the near future.  He meant to forestall any breach of confidence on the part of Simmonds by writing a full explanation of events to Cynthia herself.  If his harmless escapade were presented in its proper light, their next meeting should be fraught with laughter rather than reproaches; and then well, then, he might urge a timid plea that his repute as a careful pilot during those three memorable days was no bad recommendation for a permanency!

But now, in a flash, the entire perspective had changed.  The Frenchman and Mrs. Devar, between them, threatened to upset his best-laid plans.  It was one thing to guess the nature of the sordid compact revealed at Brighton; it was quite another to be brought face to face with its active development at Cheddar.  The intervening hours had disintegrated all his pet theories.  In a word, the difference lay in himself before and after close companionship with Cynthia.

It must not be imagined that Medenham indulged in this species of self-analysis while fetching a pail of water to replace the wastage from the condenser.  He was merely in a very bad temper, and could not trust himself to speak until he had tended to his beloved engine.

He determined to set doubt at rest forthwith by the simple expedient of finding Miss Vanrenen, and seeing whether or not Marigny had waylaid her already.

“Keep an eye on my machine for a minute,” he said to the guardian of the Du Vallon.  “By the way, is Captain Devar here?” he added, since Devar’s presence might affect his own actions.

“Oh, you know him, do you?” cried the other.  “No, he didn’t come with us.  We left him at Bristol.  He’s a bird, the captain.  Played some johnny at billiards last night for a quid, and won.  He told the guv’nor this morning that there is another game fixed for to-day, and you ought to have seen him wink.  It’s long odds again’ the Bristol gent, or I’m very much mistaken.  Yes, I’ll keep any amatoor paws off your car, and off my own as well, you bet.”

To pass from the stable yard to the garden it was not necessary to enter the hotel.  A short path, shaded by trellis-laden creepers and climbing roses, led to a rustic bridge over the stream.  When Medenham had gone halfway he saw the two women sitting with Marigny at a table placed well apart from other groups of tea-drinkers.  They were talking animatedly, the Count smiling and profuse of gesture, while Cynthia listened with interest to what was seemingly a convincing statement of the fortunate hazard that led to his appearance at Cheddar.  The Frenchman was too skilled a stalker of shy game to pretend a second time that the meeting was accidental.

Mrs. Devar’s shrill accents traveled clearly across the lawn.

“Just fancy that ... finding James at Bath, and persuading him to come to Bristol on the chance that we might all dine together to-night!  Naughty boy he is why didn’t he run out here in your car?”

Count Edouard said something.

“Business!” she cackled, “I am glad to hear of it.  James is too much of a gad-about to earn money, but people are always asking him to their houses.  He is a dear fellow.  I am sure you will like him, Cynthia.”

Medenham had heard enough.  He noted that the table was gay with cut flowers, and a neat waitress had evidently been detailed by the management to look after these distinguished guests; Marigny’s stage setting for his first decisive move was undoubtedly well contrived.  It was delightfully pastoral a charming bit of rural England and, as such, eminently calculated to impress an American visitor.

Cynthia poured out a cup of tea, heaped a plate with cakes and bread and butter, and gave some instructions to the waitress.  Medenham knew what that meant.  He hurried back by the way he had come, and found that Marigny’s chauffeur had lifted the bonnet off the Mercury.

“More I see of this engine the more I like it What’s your h.p.?” asked the man, who clearly regarded the Mercury’s driver as a brother in the craft.

“38.”

“Looks a sixty, every inch.  I wonder if you could hold my car at Brooklands?”

“Perhaps not, but I may give you some dust to swallow over the Mendips.”

The chauffeur grinned.

“Of course you’d say that, but it all depends on what the guv’nor means to do.  He’s a dare-devil at the wheel, I can tell you, an’ never says a word to me when I let things rip.  But he’s up to some game to-day.  He’s fair crazy about that girl you have in tow what’s her name?  Vanrenen, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Medenham, replacing the hood after a critical glance at the wires, though he hardly thought that this sturdy mechanic would play any tricks on him.

“Which of you men is called Fitzroy?” demanded a serving-maid, carrying a tray.

“I,” said Medenham.

“Here, Miss,” broke in the other, “my name’s Smith, plain Smith, but I can do with a sup o’ tea as well as anybody.”

“Ask Miss Vanrenen to give you another cup for Count Marigny’s chauffeur,” said Medenham to the girl.

“Oh, he’s a count, is he?” said the waitress saucily.  “My, isn’t he mashed on the young one?”

“Who wouldn’t be?” declared Smith.  “She’s the sort of girl a fellow ’ud leave home for.”

“Fine feathers go a long way.  There’s as good as her in the world,” came the retort, not without a favorable glance at Medenham.

“Meanwhile the tea is getting cold,” said he.

“Dear me, you needn’t hurry.  Her ma is goin’ to write half-a-dozen picture postcards.  But what a voice!  The old girl drowns the waterfall.”

The waitress flounced off.  She was pretty, and no wandering chauffeur had ever before turned aside the arrows of her bright eyes so heedlessly.

“Then you have seen Miss Vanrenen?” inquired Medenham, sipping his tea.

“Ra-ther!” said Smith.  “Saw her in Paris, at the Ritz, when my people sent me over there to learn the mechanism of this car.  The Count was always hanging about, and I thought he wanted the old man to buy a Du Vallon, but it’s all Lombard Street to a china orange that he was after the daughter the whole time.  I don’t blame him.  She’s a regular daisy.  But you ought to know best.  How do you get on with her?”

“Capitally.”

“Why did Dale and you swop jobs?”

“Oh, a mere matter of arrangement,” said Medenham, who realized that Smith would blurt out every item of information that he possessed if allowed to talk.

“He’s a corker, is Dale,” mused the other.  “I can do with a pint or two meself when the day’s work is finished an’ the car safely locked up for the night.  But that Dale! he’s a walkin’ beer-barrel.  Lord love a duck! what a soakin’ he gev’ me in Brighton.  Some lah-di-dah toff swaggered into the garage that evenin’, and handed Dale a fiver five golden quidlets, if you please which my nibs had won on a horse at Epsom.  I must say, though, Dale did the thing handsome quart bottles o’ Bass opened every ten minutes.  Thank you, my dear” this to the waitress, “next to beer give me tea.  Now, my boss, bein’ a Frenchy, won’t touch eether wine an’ corfee are his specials.”

“He seemed to be enjoying his tea when I caught sight of him in the garden a little while ago,” said Medenham.

“That’s his artfulness, my boy.  You wait a bit.  You’ll see something before you reach Bristol to-night; anyway, you’ll hear something, which amounts to pretty much the same in the end.”

“They’re just off to the caves,” put in the girl.

“While Mrs. Devar writes her postcards, I suppose?” said Medenham innocently.

“What!  Is that the old party with the hair?  I thought she was the young lady’s mother.  She’s gone with them.  She looks that sort of meddler not half.  Two’s company an’ three’s none is my motto, cave or no cave.”

She tried her most bewitching smile on Medenham this time.  It was a novel experience to be the recipient of a serving-maid’s marked favor, and it embarrassed him.  Smith, his mouth full of currant bun, spluttered with laughter.

“A fair offer,” he cried.  “You two dodge outside and see which cave the aristocracy chooses.  Then you can take a turn round the other one.  I’ll watch the cars all right.”

The girl suddenly blushed and looked demure.  A sweet voice said quietly: 

“We shall remain here half an hour or more, Fitzroy.  I thought I would tell you in case you wished to smoke or occupy your time in any other way.”

The pause was eloquent:  Cynthia had heard.

“Thank you, Miss Vanrenen,” he said, affecting to glance at his watch.

He felt thoroughly nonplussed.  She would surely think he had been flirting with this rosy-cheeked servant, and he might never have an opportunity of telling her that his sole reason for encouraging the conversation lay in his anxiety to learn as much as possible about Marigny and his associates.

“My, ain’t she smart!” said the girl when Cynthia had gone.

Medenham put his hand in his pocket and gave her half-a-crown.

“They have forgotten to tip you, Gertie,” he said.  Without heeding a stare of astonishment strongly tinctured with indignation, he stooped in unnecessary scrutiny of the Mercury’s tires.  The minx tossed her head.

“Some folks are as grand as their missuses,” she remarked, and went back to her garden.

But Smith looked puzzled.  Medenham, no good actor at any time, had dropped too quickly the air of camaraderie which had been a successful passport hitherto.  His voice, his manner, the courtly insolence of the maid’s dismissal, evoked vague memories in Smith’s mind.  The square-shouldered, soldierly figure did not quite fit into the picture, but he seemed to hear that same authoritative voice speaking to Dale in the Brighton garage.

The conceit was absurd, of course.  Chauffeurs do not swagger through the world dressing for dinner each night and distributing gold in their leisure moments.  But Smith’s bump of inquisitiveness was well developed, as the phrenologists say, and he was already impressed by the fact that no firm could afford to send out for hire a car like Medenham’s.

“Funny thing,” he said at last.  “I seem to have met you somewhere or other.  Who do you work for?”

“Myself.”

Medenham caught the note of bewilderment, and was warned.  He straightened himself with a smile, though it cost him an effort to look cheerful.

“Have a cigarette?” he said.

“Don’t mind if I do.  Thanks.”  Then, after a pause, and some puffing and tasting:  “Sorry, old man, but this baccy ain’t my sort.  It tastes queer.  What is it?  Flor de Cabbagio?  Here, take one of mine!”

Medenham, in chastened mood, accepted a “five a penny” cigarette, and saw Smith throw away the exquisite brand that Sevastopolo, of Bond Street, supplied to those customers only who knew the price paid by connoisseurs for the leaf grown on one small hillside above the sun-steeped bay of Salonika.

“Yes,” he agreed, bravely poisoning the helpless atmosphere, “this is better suited to the occasion.”

“A bit of all right, eh?  I can’t stand the Count’s cigarettes eether French rubbish, you know.  An’ the money they run into well, there!”

“But if he is a rich man ”

“Rich!” Smith exploded with merriment.  “If he had what he owes he might worry along for a year or so, but, you mark my words, if he doesn’t Well, it’s no business of mine, only just keep your eyes open.  You’re going through with this tour?”

“I believe so,” said Medenham slowly and thus he took the great resolution which till that moment was dim in his mind.

“In that case we’ll be having a jaw some other time, and then, mebbe, we’ll both be older an’ wiser.”

Notwithstanding the community of taste established by Smith’s weeds, the man was still furtively racking his brains to account for certain discrepancies in his new acquaintance’s bearing and address.  Medenham’s hands, for instance, were too well kept.  His boots were of too good a quality.  His reindeer driving gloves, discarded and lying on the front seat, were far too costly.  The disreputable linen coat might hide many details, but not these.  Every now and then Smith wanted to say “sir,” and he wondered why.

Medenham was sure that at the back of Smith’s head lay some scheme, some arranged trick, some artifice of intrigue that would find its opportunity between Cheddar and Bristol.  The distance was not great perhaps eighteen miles by a fairly direct second-class road, and on this fine June evening it was still safe to count on three long hours of daylight.  It was doubly irritating, therefore, to think that by his own lack of diplomacy he had almost forfeited Smith’s confidence.  Twice had the man been on the very brink of revelation, for he was one of those happy-go-lucky beings not fitted for the safeguarding of secrets, yet on each occasion his tongue faltered in subconscious knowledge that he was about to betray his master’s affairs.

Feeling that Dale would have managed this part of the day’s adventures far better than himself, Medenham took his seat and touched the switch.

“We have to make Bristol by seven o’clock, so I shall pull out in front; I suppose Count Marigny will give the ladies the road?” he remarked casually.

Smith was listening to the engine.

“Runs like a watch, don’t it?” was his admiring cry.

“And almost as quietly, so you heard what I said.”

“Oh, I hear lots, but I reckon it a good plan to keep my mouth shut,” grinned the other.

“Exactly what you have failed to do,” thought Medenham, though he nodded pleasantly, and, with a “So long!” passed out of the yard.  Smith went to the exit and looked after him.  The man’s face wore a good-humored sneer.  It was as though he said: 

“You wait a bit, my dandy shuffer you ain’t through with his Countship yet not by any manner o’ means.”

And Medenham did wait, till nearly seven o’clock.  He saw Cynthia and her companions come out of Gough’s Cave and enter Cox’s.  These fairy grottoes of nature’s own contriving were well worthy of close inspection, he knew.  Nowhere else in the world can stalactites that droop from the roof, stalagmites that spring from the floor, be seen in such perfection of form and tint.  But he fretted and fumed because Cynthia was immured too long in their ice-cold recesses, and when, at last, she reappeared from the second cavern and halted near a stall to purchase some curios, impatience mastered him, and he brought the car slowly on until she turned and looked at him.

He raised his cap.

“The gorge is the finest thing in Cheddar, Miss Vanrenen,” he said.  “You ought to see it while the light is strong.”

“We are going now,” she answered coldly.  “Monsieur Marigny will take me to Bristol, and you will follow with Mrs. Devar.”

He did not flinch from her steadfast gaze, though those blue eyes of hers seemed definitely to forbid any expression of opinion.  Yet there was a challenge in them, too, and he accepted it meekly.

“I was hoping that I might have the pleasure of driving you this evening,” he said.  “The run through the pass is very interesting, and I know every inch of it.”

He fancied that she was conscious of some mistake, and eager to atone if in the wrong.

She hesitated, yielded almost, but Mrs. Devar broke in angrily: 

“We have decided differently, Fitzroy.  I have some few postcards to dispatch, and Count Marigny has kindly promised to run slowly up the hill until we overtake him.”

“Yes, you ought to have waited in the yard of the inn for orders,” said the ever-smiling Marigny.  “My car can hardly pass yours in this narrow road.  Back a bit to one side, there’s a good fellow, and, when we have gone, pull up to the door.  Come, Miss Vanrenen.  I am fierce to show you the paces of a Du Vallon.”

The concluding sentences were in French, but Count Edouard spoke idiomatic English fluently and with a rather fascinating accent.

Cynthia, slightly ruffled by her own singular lack of purpose, made no further demur.  The three walked off down the hill, and Medenham could only obey in a chill rage that, were Marigny able to gauge its intensity, might have given him “furiously to think.”

In a few minutes the Du Vallon scurried by.  Smith was driving, and there was a curious smirk on his red face as he glanced at Medenham.  Cynthia sat in the tonneau with the Frenchman, who drew her attention to the limestone cliffs in such wise that she did not even see the Mercury as she passed.

Medenham muttered something under his breath, and reversed slowly back to the inn.  He consulted his watch.

“I’ll give the postcard writer ten minutes then I shall jar her nerves badly,” he promised himself.

Those minutes were slow-footed, but at last he closed the watch with a snap.  He called to a waitress visible at the end of a long passage.  The girl happened to be his friend of tea-time.

“Would you like to earn another half crown?” he asked.

She had wit enough to grasp essentials, and it was abundantly clear that this man was not her lawful quarry.

“Yes sir,” she said.

“Take it, then, and tell the elderly lady belonging to my party she is somewhere inside that Fitzroy says he cannot wait any longer.  Use those exact words and be quick!”

The girl vanished.  An irate yet dignified Mrs. Devar came out.

“Do I understand ” she began wrathfully.

“I hope so, madam.  Unless you get in at once I intend going to Bristol, or elsewhere, without you.”

“Or elsewhere?” she gasped, though some of her high color fled under his cold glance.

“Precisely.  I do not intend to abandon Miss Vanrenen.”

“How dare you speak to me in this manner, you vulgar person?”

For answer Medenham set the engine going.

“I said ‘At once,’” he replied, and looked Mrs. Devar squarely in the eyes.

She had her fair share of that wisdom of the serpent which is indispensable to evildoers, and had learnt early in life that whereas many men say they will do that which they really will not do if put to the test, other men, rare but dominant, can be trusted to make good their words no matter what the cost.  So she accepted the unavoidable; quivering with indignation, she entered the car.

“Drive me to the post-office,” she said, with as much of acid repose as she could muster to her aid.

Medenham seemed to be suddenly afflicted with deafness.  After negotiating a line of vehicles, the Mercury leaped past the caves of Gough and Cox as though the drip of lime-laden water within those amazing depths were reeling off centuries in a frenzy of haste instead of measuring time so slowly that no appreciable change has been noted in the tiniest stalactite during fifty years.  Mrs. Devar then grew genuinely alarmed, since even a designing woman may be a timid one.  She bore with the pace until the car seemed to be on the verge of rushing full tilt against a jutting rock.  She could endure the strain no longer, but stood up and screamed.

Medenham slackened speed.  When the curving road opened sufficiently to show a clear furlong ahead, he turned and spoke to the limp, shrieking creature clinging to the back of his seat.

“You are not in the slightest danger,” he assured her, “but if you wish it I will drop you here.  The village is barely half a mile away.  Otherwise, should you decide to remain, you must put up with a rapid speed.”

“But why, why?” she almost wailed.  “Have you gone mad, to drive like that?”

“Again I pledge my word that there is no risk.  I mean to overtake Miss Vanrenen before the light fails that is all.”

“Your conduct is positively outrageous,” she gasped.

“Please yourself, madam.  Do you go, or stay?”

She collapsed into the comfortable upholstery with a gesture of impotent despair.  Medenham was sure she would not dare to leave him.  What wretched project she and Marigny had concocted he knew not, but its successful outcome evidently depended on Mrs. Devar’s safe arrival in Bristol.  Moreover, it was a paramount condition that he should be delayed at Cheddar, and his chief interest lay in defeating that part of the programme.  Without another word, he released the brakes, and the car sped onward.

Now they were plunging into a magnificent defile shadowed by sheer cliffs that on the eastern side rose to a height of five hundred feet.  Fluttering rock pigeons circled far up in the azure riband that spanned the opposing precipices.  From many a towering pinnacle, carved by the ages into fantastic imageries of a castle, a pulpit, a lion, or a lance, came the loud, clear calling of innumerable jack-daws.  It was dark and gloomy, most terrifying to Mrs. Devar, down there on the twining road where the car boomed ever on like some relentless monster rushing from its lair.  But the Cheddar gorge, though majestic and awe-inspiring, is not of great extent.  Soon the valley widened, the road took longer sweeps to round each frowning buttress, and at last emerged, with a quality of inanimate breathlessness, on to the bleak and desolate tableland of the Mendips.

At this point, had Cynthia been there, Medenham would have stopped for a while, so that she might admire the far-flung panorama of the “island valley of Avallon” that stretched below the ravine.  Out of the green pastures in the middle distance rose the ruined towers of Glastonbury.  The purple and gold of Sedgemoor, relieved by the soft outlines of the Polden hills, the grim summits of Taunton Dean and the Blackdown range, the wooded Quantocks dipping to the Severn, and the giant mass of Exmoor bounding the far horizon, these great splashes of color, softened and blended by belts of farmland and the blue smoke of clustering hamlets, formed a picture that not even Britain’s storehouse of natural beauty can match too often to sate the eyes of those who love a charming landscape.

He had, as it were, jealously guarded this vista all day, said not a word of it, even when Cynthia and he discussed the route, so that it might come at last in one supreme moment of revelation.  And now that it was here, Cynthia was hidden somewhere in the gray distance, and Medenham was frowning at a flying strip of white road, with his every faculty intent on exacting the last ounce of power from the superb machine he controlled.

The miles rolled beneath, yet there was no token of the Du Vallon that was to “run slowly up the hill” until overtaken by the industrious writer of postcards.  At the utmost, the French car was given some twelve or thirteen minutes’ start, which meant seven or eight miles to a high-powered automobile urged forward with the determination Medenham himself was displaying.  Marigny’s chauffeur, therefore, must have dashed through that Titanic cleft in the limestone at a speed utterly incompatible with his employer’s excuse of sightseeing.  Of course, it would be an easy matter for Marigny to enlist Miss Vanrenen’s sympathies in the effort of a first-rate engine to conquer the adverse gradient.  She would hardly realize the rate of progress, and, from where she was seated, the speed indicator would be invisible unless she leaned forward for the express purpose of reading it.  Medenham was sure that the Mercury would catch the Du Vallon long before Bristol was reached, but when the last ample fold of the bleak plateau spread itself in front, and his hunter’s eyes could discern no cloud of dust lingering in the still air where the road dipped over the horizon, he began to doubt, to question, to solve grotesque problems that were discarded ere they had well taken shape.

Oddly enough, there came no more expostulation from Mrs. Devar.  Like the majority of nervous people, she was quelled by the need of placing complete trust in one who understood his work.  While Medenham was still searching the sky-line for signs of the vanished car, she did show some interest in his quest.  He felt, since he could not see, that she half rose and looked over his head, bent low behind the partial shelter afforded by a glass screen.  Then she settled back in the seat, and drew a rug comfortably around her knees.  For some reason, she was strangely content.

The incident supplied food for active thought.  So she felt safe!  That which she dreaded as the result of a too strenuous pursuit could not now happen!  Then what was it?  Medenham swept aside the fantasy that Mrs. Devar knew the country well enough to be able to say precisely when and where she might be sure of his failure to snatch Cynthia from that hidden evil the nature of which he could only guess at.  Her world was the artificial one of hotels, and shops, and numbered streets in the real world, of which the lonely wastes of the Mendips provided no meager sample, she was a profound ignoramus, a fat little automaton equipped with atrophied senses.  But she blundered badly in composing herself so cozily for the remainder of the run to Bristol.  Medenham had dwelt many months at a time in lands where just such simple indications of mood on the part of man or beast had meant to him all the difference between life and death.  So now, if ever, he became doubly alert; his eyes were strained, eager, peering; his body still as the wild creatures which he knew to be skulking unseen behind many a rock and grass tuft passed on the way.

This desolate land, given over to stones interspersed with patches of wiry grass on which browsed some hardy sheep, resembled a disturbed ocean suddenly made solid.  It was not level, but ran in long, almost regular undulations.  In the trough between two of these rounded ridges the road bifurcated, the way to Bristol trending to the left, and a less important thoroughfare glancing off to the right.

There was no sign-post, but a child could scarce have erred if asked to choose the track that led to a big town.  Medenham, having consulted the map earlier in the day, swung to the left without hesitation.  The car literally flew up the next incline, and the dark lines of trees and hedges in the distance proved that tilled land was being neared.  Now he was absolutely sure that he had managed, somehow, to miss the Du Vallon unless, indeed, its redoubtable mechanism was of a caliber he had not yet come across in the highways and byways of Europe.

With him, to decide was to act.  The Mercury slowed up so promptly that Mrs. Devar became alarmed again.

“What is it? a tire gone?” she cried.

“No, I am on the wrong road that is all.”

“But there is no other.  That turning we passed was a mere lane.”

The car stopped where his watchful glance noted a carpet of sand left by the last shower of rain.  He sprang out and examined the marks of recent traffic.  Marigny’s vehicle carried non-skid covers with studs arranged in peculiar groups, and their imprint was plain to be seen.  But they had followed that road once only.  It was impossible to determine off-hand whether they had come or gone, but, if they came from Bristol, then most certainly they had not returned.

Medenham took nothing for granted.  Dusk was advancing, and he must make no mistake at this stage.  He ran the Mercury slowly ahead, not taking his gaze off the telltale signs.  At last he found what he was looking for.  The broad scars left by a heavy cart crossed the studs, and had crossed after the passage of the car.  Thus he eliminated the vagaries of chance.  Marigny had not taken the road to Bristol he must be on the other one since no cart was in sight.

Medenham backed and turned.  Mrs. Devar, of course, grew agitated.

“Where are you going?” she demanded.

Medenham resolved to end this farce of pretense, else he would not be answerable for the manner of his speech.

“I mean to find Miss Vanrenen,” he said.  “Pray let that suffice for the hour.  Any further explanation you may require can be given at Bristol and in her presence.”

Mrs. Devar began to sob.  He heard her, and of all things that he hated it was to become the cause of a woman’s tears.  But his lips closed in a thin seam, and he drove fast to the fork in the roads.  Another halt here, and the briefest scrutiny showed that his judgment had not erred.  The Du Vallon had passed this point twice.  If it came from Bristol in the first instance it had gone now to some unfamiliar wilderness that skirted the whole northeastern slopes of the Mendips.

He leaped back to the driving seat, and Mrs. Devar made one more despairing effort to regain control of a situation that had slipped from her grasp nearly an hour ago.

“Please do be sensible, Fitzroy!” she almost screamed.  “Even if he has made a mistake in a turning, Count Marigny will take every care of Miss Vanrenen ”

It was useless.  She was appealing to a man of stone, and, indeed, Medenham could not pay heed to her then in any circumstances, for the road surface quickly became very rough, and it needed all his skill to guide his highly-strung car over its inequalities without inflicting an injury that might prove disastrous.

His only consolation was provided by the knowledge that the risk to a stout Mercury was as naught compared with the tortures endured by a French-built racer, with its long wheel-base and low chassis.  After a couple of miles of semi-miraculous advance his respect for Smith’s capability as a driver increased literally by leaps and bounds.

But the end was nearer than he thought.  On reaching the top of one of those seemingly interminable land-waves, he saw a blurred object in the hollow.  Soon he distinguished Cynthia’s fawn-colored dust cloak, and his heart throbbed exultantly when the girl fluttered a handkerchief to show that she, too, had seen.

Mrs. Devar rose and clutched the back of the seat behind him.

“I apologize, Fitzroy,” she piped tremulously.  “You were right.  They have lost their way and met with some accident.  How glad I am that I did not insist on your making straight for Bristol!”

Her unparalleled impudence won his admiration.  Such a woman, he thought, was worthy of a better fate than that which put her in the position of a bought intriguer.  But Cynthia was near, waving her hands gleefully, and executing a nymph-like thanksgiving dance on a strip of turf by the roadside, so Medenham’s views of Mrs. Devar’s previous actions were tempered by conditions extraordinarily favorable to her at the moment.

She seemed to be aware instinctively of the change in his sentiments wrought by sight of Cynthia.  It was in quite a friendly tone that she cried: 

“Count Edouard is there; but where is his man?...  Something serious must have happened, and the chauffeur has been sent to obtain help....  Oh, how lucky we hurried, and how clever of you to find out which way the car went!”