WeirdSpace Digital Library - Culture without borders
Arnold Bennett (1911) Country of origin: UK
Available texts by the same author here
Chapter 11: In the Alps
Although Denry was extremely happy as a bridegroom, and capable of the most foolish symptoms of affection in private, he said to himself, and he said to Nellie (and she sturdily agreed with him): "We aren't going to be the ordinary silly honeymooners." By which, of course, he meant that they would behave so as to be taken for staid married persons. They failed thoroughly in this enterprise as far as London, where they spent a couple of nights, but on leaving Charing Cross they made a new and a better start, in the light of experience.
Their destination, it need hardly be said, was Switzerland. After Mrs Capron-Smith's remarks on the necessity of going to Switzerland in winter if one wished to respect one's self, there was really no alternative to Switzerland. Thus it was announced in the Signal (which had reported the wedding in ten lines, owing to the excessive quietude of the wedding) that Mr and Mrs Councillor Machin were spending a month at Mont Pridoux, sur Montreux, on the Lake of Geneva. And the announcement looked very well.
At Dieppe they got a through carriage. There were several through carriages for Switzerland on the train. In walking through the corridors from one to another Denry and Nellie had their first glimpse of the world which travels and which runs off for a holiday whenever it feels in the mood. The idea of going for a holiday in any month but August seemed odd to both of them. Denry was very bold and would insist on talking in a naturally loud voice. Nellie was timid and clinging. "What do you say?" Denry would roar at her when she half-whispered something, and she had to repeat it so that all could hear. It was part of their plan to address each other curtly, brusquely, and to frown, and to pretend to be slightly bored by each other.
They were outclassed by the world which travels. Try as they might, even Denry was morally intimidated. He had managed his clothes fairly correctly; he was not ashamed of them; and Nellie's were by no means the worst in the compartments; indeed, according to the standard of some of the most intimidating women, Nellie's costume erred in not being quite sufficiently negligent, sufficiently "anyhow." And they had plenty, and ten times plenty of money, and the consciousness of it. Expense was not being spared on that honeymoon. And yet.... Well, all that can be said is that the company was imposing. The company, which was entirely English, seemed to be unaware that any one ever did anything else but travel luxuriously to places mentioned in second-year geographies. It astounded Nellie that there should be so many people in the world with nothing to do but spend. And they were constantly saying the strangest things with an air of perfect calm.
"How much did you pay for the excess luggage?" an untidy young woman asked of an old man.
"Oh! Thirteen pounds," answered the old man, carelessly.
And not long before Nellie had scarcely escaped ten days in the steerage of an Atlantic liner.
After dinner in the restaurant car--no champagne, because it was vulgar, but a good sound, expensive wine--they felt more equal to the situation, more like part-owners of the train. Nellie prudently went to bed ere the triumphant feeling wore off. But Denry stayed up smoking in the corridor. He stayed up very late, being too proud and happy and too avid of new sensations to be able to think of sleep. It was a match which led to a conversation between himself and a thin, drawling, overbearing fellow with an eyeglass. Denry had hated this lordly creature all the way from Dieppe. In presenting him with a match he felt that he was somehow getting the better of him, for the match was precious in the nocturnal solitude of the vibrating corridor. The mere fact that two people are alone together and awake, divided from a sleeping or sleepy population only by a row of closed, mysterious doors, will do much to break down social barriers. The excellence of Denry's cigar also helped. It atoned for the breadth of his accent.
He said to himself:
"I'll have a bit of a chat with this johnny."
And then he said aloud:
"Not a bad train this!"
"No!" the eyeglass agreed languidly. "Pity they give you such a beastly dinner!"
And Denry agreed hastily that it was.
Soon they were chatting of places, and somehow it came out of Denry that he was going to Montreux. The eyeglass professed its indifference to Montreux in winter, but said the resorts above Montreux were all right, such as Caux or Pridoux.
And Denry said:
"Well, of course, shouldn't think of stopping in Montreux. Going to try Pridoux."
The eyeglass said it wasn't going so far as Switzerland yet; it meant to stop in the Jura.
"Geneva's a pretty deadly place, ain't it?" said the eyeglass after a pause.
"Ye-es," said Denry.
"Been there since that new esplanade was finished?"
"No," said Denry. "I saw nothing of it."
"When were you there?"
"Oh! A couple of years ago."
"Ah! It wasn't started then. Comic thing! Of course they're awfully proud in Geneva of the view of Mont Blanc."
"Yes," said Denry.
"Ever noticed how queer women are about that view? They're no end keen on it at first, but after a day or two it gets on their nerves."
"Yes," said Denry. "I've noticed that myself. My wife...."
He stopped, because he didn't know what he was going to say. The eyeglass nodded understandingly.
"All alike," it said. "Odd thing!"
When Denry introduced himself into the two-berth compartment which he had managed to secure at the end of the carriage for himself and Nellie, the poor tired child was as wakeful as an owl.
"Who have you been talking to?" she yawned.
"The eyeglass johnny."
"Oh! Really," Nellie murmured, interested and impressed. "With him, have you? I could hear voices. What sort of a man is he?"
"He seems to be an ass," said Denry. "Fearfully haw-haw. Couldn't stand him for long. I've made him believe we've been married for two years."
They stood on the balcony of the Hôtel Beau-Site of Mont Pridoux. A little below, to the right, was the other hotel, the Métropole, with the red-and-white Swiss flag waving over its central tower. A little below that was the terminal station of the funicular railway from Montreux. The railway ran down the sheer of the mountain into the roofs of Montreux, like a wire. On it, two toy trains crawled towards each other, like flies climbing and descending a wall. Beyond the fringe of hotels that constituted Montreux was a strip of water, and beyond the water a range of hills white at the top.
"So these are the Alps!" Nellie exclaimed.
She was disappointed; he also. But when Denry learnt from the guide-book and by inquiry that the strip of lake was seven miles across, and the highest notched peaks ten thousand feet above the sea and twenty-five miles off, Nellie gasped and was content.
They liked the Hôtel Beau-Site. It had been recommended to Denry, by a man who knew what was what, as the best hotel in Switzerland. "Don't you be misled by prices," the man had said. And Denry was not. He paid sixteen francs a day for the two of them at the Beau-Site, and was rather relieved than otherwise by the absence of finger-bowls. Everything was very good, except sometimes the hot water. The hot-water cans bore the legend "hot water," but these two words were occasionally the only evidence of heat in the water. On the other hand, the bedrooms could be made sultry by merely turning a handle; and the windows were double. Nellie was wondrously inventive. They breakfasted in bed, and she would save butter and honey from the breakfast to furnish forth afternoon tea, which was not included in the terms. She served the butter freshly with ice by the simple expedient of leaving it outside the window of a night. And Denry was struck by this house-wifery.
The other guests appeared to be of a comfortable, companionable class, with, as Denry said, "no frills." They were amazed to learn that a chattering little woman of thirty-five, who gossiped with everybody, and soon invited Denry and Nellie to have tea in her room, was an authentic Russian Countess, inscribed in the visitors' lists as "Comtesse Ruhl (with maid), Moscow." Her room was the untidiest that Nellie had ever seen, and the tea a picnic. Still, it was thrilling to have had tea with a Russian Countess.... (Plots! Nihilism! Secret police! Marble palaces!).... Those visitors' lists were breath-taking. Pages and pages of them; scores of hotels, thousands of names, nearly all English--and all people who came to Switzerland in winter, having naught else to do. Denry and Nellie bathed in correctness as in a bath.
The only persons in the hotel with whom they did not "get on" nor "hit it off" were a military party, chiefly named Clutterbuck, and presided over by a Major Clutterbuck and his wife. They sat at a large table in a corner--father, mother, several children, a sister-in-law, a sister, a governess--eight heads in all; and while utterly polite they seemed to draw a ring round themselves. They grumbled at the hotel; they played bridge (then a newish game); and once, when Denry and the Countess played with them (Denry being an adept card-player) for shilling points, Denry overheard the sister-in-law say that she was sure Captain Deverax wouldn't play for shilling points. This was the first rumour of the existence of Captain Deverax; but afterwards Captain Deverax began to be mentioned several times a day. Captain Deverax was coming to join them, and it seemed that he was a very particular man. Soon all the rest of the hotel had got its back up against this arriving Captain Deverax. Then a Clutterbuck cousin came, a smiling, hard, fluffy woman, and pronounced definitely that the Hôtel Beau-Site would never do for Captain Deverax. This cousin aroused Denry's hostility in a strange way. She imparted to the Countess (who united all sects) her opinion that Denry and Nellie were on their honeymoon. At night in a corner of the drawing-room the Countess delicately but bluntly asked Nellie if she had been married long. "No," said Nellie. "A month?" asked the Countess, smiling. "N-no," said Nellie.
The next day all the hotel knew. The vast edifice of make-believe that Denry and Nellie had laboriously erected crumbled at a word, and they stood forth, those two, blushing for the criminals they were.
The hotel was delighted. There is more rejoicing in a hotel over one honeymoon couple than over fifty families with children.
But the hotel had a shock the same day. The Clutterbuck cousin had proclaimed that owing to the inadequacy of the bedroom furniture she had been obliged to employ a sofa as a wardrobe. Then there were more references to Captain Deverax. And then at dinner it became known-- Heaven knows how!--that the entire Clutterbuck party had given notice and was seceding to the Hotel Métropole. Also they had tried to carry the Countess with them, but had failed.
Now, among the guests of the Hôtel Beau-Site there had always been a professed scorn of the rival Hotel Métropole, which was a franc a day dearer, and famous for its new and rich furniture. The Métropole had an orchestra twice a week, and the English Church services were held in its drawing-room; and it was larger than the Beau-Site. In spite of these facts the clients of the Beau-Site affected to despise it, saying that the food was inferior and that the guests were snobbish. It was an article of faith in the Beau-Site that the Beau-Site was the best hotel on the mountain-side, if not in Switzerland.
The insolence of this defection on the part of the Clutterbucks! How on earth could people have the face to go to a landlord and say to him that they meant to desert him in favour of his rival?
Another detail: the secession of nine or ten people from one hotel to the other meant that the Métropole would decidedly be more populous than the Beau-Site, and on the point of numbers the emulation was very keen. "Well," said the Beau-Site, "let 'em go! With their Captain Deverax! We shall be better without 'em!" And that deadliest of all feuds sprang up --a rivalry between the guests of rival hotels. The Métropole had issued a general invitation to a dance, and after the monstrous conduct of the Clutterbucks the question arose whether the Beau-Site should not boycott the dance. However, it was settled that the truly effective course would be to go with critical noses in the air, and emit unfavourable comparisons with the Beau-Site. The Beau-Site suddenly became perfect in the esteem of its patrons. Not another word was heard on the subject of hot water being coated with ice. And the Clutterbucks, with incredible assurance, slid their luggage off in a sleigh to the Métropole, in the full light of day, amid the contempt of the faithful.
Under the stars the dancing section of the Beau-Site went off in jingling sleighs over the snow to the ball at the Métropole. The distance was not great, but it was great enough to show the inadequacy of furs against twenty degrees of mountain frost, and it was also great enough to allow the party to come to a general final understanding that its demeanour must be cold and critical in the gilded halls of the Métropole. The rumour ran that Captain Deverax had arrived, and every one agreed that he must be an insufferable booby, except the Countess Ruhl, who never used her fluent exotic English to say ill of anybody.
The gilded halls of the Métropole certainly were imposing. The hotel was incontestably larger than the Beau-Site, newer, more richly furnished. Its occupants, too, had a lordly way with them, trying to others, but inimitable. Hence the visitors from the Beau-Site, as they moved to and fro beneath those crystal chandeliers from Tottenham Court Road, had their work cut out to maintain the mien of haughty indifference. Nellie, for instance, frankly could not do it. And Denry did not do it very well. Denry, nevertheless, did score one point over Mrs Clutterbuck's fussy cousin.
"Captain Deverax has come," said this latter. "He was very late. He'll be downstairs in a few minutes. We shall get him to lead the cotillon."
"Captain Deverax?" Denry questioned.
"Yes. You've heard us mention him," said the cousin, affronted.
"Possibly," said Denry. "I don't remember."
On hearing this brief colloquy the cohorts of the Beau-Site felt that in Denry they possessed the making of a champion.
There was a disturbing surprise, however, waiting for Denry.
The lift descended; and with a peculiar double action of his arms on the doors, like a pantomime fairy emerging from an enchanted castle, a tall thin man stepped elegantly out of the lift and approached the company with a certain mincingness. But before he could reach the company several young women had rushed towards him, as though with the intention of committing suicide by hanging themselves from his neck. He was in an evening suit so perfect in detail that it might have sustained comparison with the costume of the head waiter. And he wore an eyeglass in his left eye. It was the eyeglass that made Denry jump. For two seconds he dismissed the notion.... But another two seconds of examination showed beyond doubt that this eyeglass was the eyeglass of the train. And Denry had apprehensions....
"Captain Deverax!" exclaimed several voices.
The manner in which the youthful and the mature fair clustered around this Captain, aged forty (and not handsome) was really extraordinary, to the males of the Hôtel Beau-Site. Even the little Russian Countess attached herself to him at once. And by reason of her title, her social energy, and her personal distinction, she took natural precedence of the others.
"Recognise him?" Denry whispered to his wife.
Nellie nodded. "He seems rather nice," she said diffidently.
"Nice!" Denry repeated the adjective. "The man's an ass!"
And the majority of the Beau-Site party agreed with Denry's verdict either by word or gesture.
Captain Deverax stared fixedly at Denry; then smiled vaguely and drawled, "Hullo! How d' do?"
And they shook hands.
"So you know him?" some one murmured to Denry.
"Know him?... Since infancy."
The inquirer scented facetiousness, but he was somehow impressed. The remarkable thing was that though he regarded Captain Deverax as a popinjay, he could not help feeling a certain slight satisfaction in the fact that they were in some sort acquaintances.... Mystery of the human heart!... He wished sincerely that he had not, in his conversation with the Captain in the train, talked about previous visits to Switzerland. It was dangerous.
The dance achieved that brightness and joviality which entitle a dance to call itself a success. The cotillon reached brilliance, owing to the captaincy of Captain Deverax. Several score opprobrious epithets were applied to the Captain in the course of the night, but it was agreed nemine contradicente that, whatever he would have done in front of a Light Brigade at Balaclava, as a leader of cotillons he was terrific. Many men, however, seemed to argue that if a man who was a man led a cotillon, he ought not to lead it too well, on pain of being considered a cox-comb.
At the close, during the hot soup, the worst happened. Denry had known that it would.
Captain Deverax was talking to Nellie, who was respectfully listening, about the scenery, when the Countess came up, plate in hand.
"No, no," the Countess protested. "As for me, I hate your mountains. I was born in the steppe where it is all level--level! Your mountains close me in. I am only here by order of my doctor. Your mountains get on my nerves." She shrugged her shoulders.
Captain Deverax smiled.
"It is the same with you, isn't it?" he said turning to Nellie.
"Oh, no," said Nellie, simply.
"But your husband told me the other day that when you and he were in Geneva a couple of years ago, the view of Mont Blanc used to--er--upset you."
"View of Mont Blanc?" Nellie stammered.
Everybody was aware that she and Denry had never been in Switzerland before, and that their marriage was indeed less than a month old.
"You misunderstood me," said Denry, gruffly. "My wife hasn't been to Geneva."
"Oh!" drawled Captain Deverax.
His "Oh!" contained so much of insinuation, disdain, and lofty amusement that Denry blushed, and when Nellie saw her husband's cheek she blushed in competition and defeated him easily. It was felt that either Denry had been romancing to the Captain, or that he had been married before, unknown to his Nellie, and had been "carrying on" at Geneva. The situation, though it dissolved of itself in a brief space, was awkward. It discredited the Hôtel Beau-Site. It was in the nature of a repulse for the Hôtel Beau-Site (franc a day cheaper than the Métropole) and of a triumph for the popinjay. The fault was utterly Denry's. Yet he said to himself:
"I'll be even with that chap."
On the drive home he was silent. The theme of conversation in the sleighs which did not contain the Countess was that the Captain had flirted tremendously with the Countess, and that it amounted to an affair.
Captain Deverax was equally salient in the department of sports. There was a fair sheet of ice, obtained by cutting into the side of the mountain, and a very good tobogganing track, about half a mile in length and full of fine curves, common to the two hotels. Denry's predilection was for the track. He would lie on his stomach on the little contrivance which the Swiss call a luge, and which consists of naught but three bits of wood and two steel-clad runners, and would course down the perilous curves at twenty miles an hour. Until the Captain came, this was regarded as dashing, because most people were content to sit on the luge and travel legs-foremost instead of head-foremost. But the Captain, after a few eights on the ice, intimated that for the rest no sport was true sport save the sport of ski-running. He allowed it to be understood that luges were for infants. He had brought his skis, and these instruments of locomotion, some six feet in length, made a sensation among the inexperienced. For when he had strapped them to his feet the Captain, while stating candidly that his skill was as nothing to that of the Swedish professionals at St Moritz, could assuredly slide over snow in manner prodigious and beautiful. And he was exquisitely clothed for the part. His knickerbockers, in the elegance of their lines, were the delight of beholders. Ski-ing became the rage. Even Nellie insisted on hiring a pair. And the pronunciation of the word "ski" aroused long discussions and was never definitely settled by anybody. The Captain said "skee," but he did not object to "shee," which was said to be the more strictly correct by a lady who knew some one who had been to Norway. People with no shame and no feeling for correctness said brazenly, "sky." Denry, whom nothing could induce to desert his luge, said that obviously "s-k-i" could only spell "planks." And thanks to his inspiration this version was adopted by the majority.
On the second day of Nellie's struggle with her skis she had more success than she either anticipated or desired. She had been making experiments at the summit of the track, slithering about, falling, and being restored to uprightness by as many persons as happened to be near. Skis seemed to her to be the most ungovernable and least practical means of travel that the madness of man had ever concocted. Skates were well-behaved old horses compared to these long, untamed fiends, and a luge was like a tricycle. Then suddenly a friendly starting push drove her a yard or two, and she glided past the level on to the first imperceptible slope of the track. By some hazard her two planks were exactly parallel, as they ought to be, and she glided forward miraculously. And people heard her say:
And then people heard her say:
For her pace was increasing. And she dared not strike her pole into the ground. She had, in fact, no control whatever over those two planks to which her feet were strapped. She might have been Mazeppa and they mustangs. She could not even fall. So she fled down the preliminary straight of the track, and ecstatic spectators cried: "Look how well Mrs Machin is doing!"
Mrs Machin would have given all her furs to be anywhere off those planks. On the adjacent fields of glittering snow the Captain had been giving his adored Countess a lesson in the use of skis; and they stood together, the Countess somewhat insecure, by the side of the track at its first curve.
Nellie, dumb with excitement and amazement, swept towards them.
"Look out!" cried the Captain.
In vain! He himself might perhaps have escaped, but he could not abandon his Countess in the moment of peril, and the Countess could only move after much thought and many efforts, being scarce more advanced than Nellie. Nellie's wilful planks quite ignored the curve, and, as it were afloat on them, she charged off the track, and into the Captain and the Countess. The impact was tremendous. Six skis waved like semaphores in the air. Then all was still. Then, as the beholders hastened to the scene of the disaster, the Countess laughed and Nellie laughed. The laugh of the Captain was not heard. The sole casualty was a wound about a foot long in the hinterland of the Captain's unique knicker-bockers. And as threads of that beautiful check pattern were afterwards found attached to the wheel of Nellie's pole, the cause of the wound was indisputable. The Captain departed home, chiefly backwards, but with great rapidity.
In the afternoon Denry went down to Montreux and returned with an opal bracelet, which Nellie wore at dinner.
"Oh! What a ripping bracelet!" said a girl.
"Yes," said Nellie. "My husband gave it me only to-day."
"I suppose it's your birthday or something," the inquisitive girl ventured.
"No," said Nellie.
"How nice of him!" said the girl.
The next day Captain Deverax appeared in riding breeches. They were not correct for ski-running, but they were the best he could do. He visited a tailor's in Montreux.
The Countess Ruhl had a large sleigh of her own, also a horse; both were hired from Montreux. In this vehicle, sometimes alone, sometimes with a male servant, she would drive at Russian speed over the undulating mountain roads; and for such expeditions she always wore a large red cloak with a hood. Often she was thus seen, in the afternoon; the scarlet made a bright moving patch on the vast expanses of snow. Once, at some distance from the village, two tale-tellers observed a man on skis careering in the neighbourhood of the sleigh. It was Captain Deverax. The flirtation, therefore, was growing warmer and warmer. The hotels hummed with the tidings of it. But the Countess never said anything; nor could anything be extracted from her by even the most experienced gossips. She was an agreeable but a mysterious woman, as befitted a Russian Countess. Again and again were she and the Captain seen together afar off in the landscape. Certainly it was a novelty in flirtations. People wondered what might happen between the two at the fancy-dress ball which the Hôtel Beau-Site was to give in return for the hospitality of the Hôtel Métropole. The ball was offered not in love, but in emulation, almost in hate; for the jealousy displayed by the Beau-Site against the increasing insolence of the Métropole had become acute. The airs of the Captain and his lieges, the Clutterbuck party, had reached the limit of the Beau-Site's endurance. The Métropole seemed to take it for granted that the Captain would lead the cotillon at the Beau-Site's ball as he had led it at the Métropole's.
And then, on the very afternoon of the ball, the Countess received a telegram--it was said from St Petersburg--which necessitated her instant departure. And she went, in an hour, down to Montreux by the funicular railway, and was lost to the Beau-Site. This was a blow to the prestige of the Beau-Site. For the Countess was its chief star, and, moreover, much loved by her fellow-guests, despite her curious weakness for the popinjay, and the mystery of her outings with him.
In the stables Denry saw the Countess's hired sleigh and horse, and in the sleigh her glowing red cloak. And he had one of his ideas, which he executed, although snow was beginning to fall. In ten minutes he and Nellie were driving forth, and Nellie in the red cloak held the reins. Denry, in a coachman's furs, sat behind. They whirled past the Hôtel Métropole. And shortly afterwards, on the wild road towards Attalens, Denry saw a pair of skis scudding as quickly as skis can scud in their rear. It was astonishing how the sleigh, with all the merry jingle of its bells, kept that pair of skis at a distance of about a hundred yards. It seemed to invite the skis to overtake it, and then to regret the invitation and flee further. Up the hills it would crawl, for the skis climbed slowly. Down them it galloped, for the skis slid on the slopes at a dizzy pace. Occasionally a shout came from the skis. And the snow fell thicker and thicker. So for four or five miles. Starlight commenced. Then the road made a huge descending curve round a hollowed meadow, and the horse galloped its best. But the skis, making a straight line down the snow, acquired the speed of an express, and gained on the sleigh one yard in every three. At the bottom, where the curve met the straight line, was a farmhouse and outbuildings and a hedge and a stone wall and other matters. The sleigh arrived at the point first, but only by a trifle. "Mind your toes," Denry muttered to himself, meaning an injunction to the skis, whose toes were three feet long. The skis, through the eddying snow, yelled frantically to the sleigh to give room. The skis shot up into the road, and in swerving aside swerved into a snow-laden hedge, and clean over it into the farmyard, where they stuck themselves up in the air, as skis will when the person to whose feet they are attached is lying prone. The door of the farm opened and a woman appeared.
She saw the skis at her doorstep. She heard the sleigh-bells, but the sleigh had already vanished into the dusk.
"Well, that was a bit of a lark, that was, Countess!" said Denry to Nellie. "That will be something to talk about. We'd better drive home through Corsier, and quick too! It'll be quite dark soon."
"Supposing he's dead!" Nellie breathed, aghast, reining in the horse.
"Not he!" said Denry. "I saw him beginning to sit up."
"But how will he get home?"
"It looks a very nice farmhouse," said Denry. "I should think he'd be sorry to leave it."
When Denry entered the dining-room of the Beau-Site, which had been cleared for the ball, his costume drew attention not so much by its splendour or ingenuity as by its peculiarity. He wore a short Chinese-shaped jacket, which his wife had made out of blue linen, and a flat Chinese hat to match, which they had constructed together on a basis of cardboard. But his thighs were enclosed in a pair of absurdly ample riding-breeches of an impressive check and cut to a comic exaggeration of the English pattern. He had bought the cloth for these at the tailor's in Montreux. Below them were very tight leggings, also English. In reply to a question as to what or whom he supposed himself to represent, he replied:
"A Captain of Chinese cavalry, of course."
And he put an eyeglass into his left eye and stared.
Now it had been understood that Nellie was to appear as Lady Jane Grey. But she appeared as Little Red Riding-Hood, wearing over her frock the forgotten cloak of the Countess Ruhl.
Instantly he saw her, Denry hurried towards her, with a movement of the legs and a flourish of the eyeglass in his left hand which powerfully suggested a figure familiar to every member of the company. There was laughter. People saw that the idea was immensely funny and clever, and the laughter ran about like fire. At the same time some persons were not quite sure whether Denry had not lapsed a little from the finest taste in this caricature. And all of them were secretly afraid that the uncomfortable might happen when Captain Deverax arrived.
However, Captain Deverax did not arrive. The party from the Métropole came with the news that he had not been seen at the hotel for dinner; it was assumed that he had been to Montreux and missed the funicular back.
"Our two stars simultaneously eclipsed!" said Denry, as the Clutterbucks (representing all the history of England) stared at him curiously.
"Why?" exclaimed the Clutterbuck cousin, "who's the other?"
"The Countess," said Denry. "She went this afternoon--three o'clock."
And all the Métropole party fell into grief.
"It's a world of coincidences," said Denry, with emphasis.
"You don't mean to insinuate," said Mrs Clutterbuck, with a nervous laugh, "that Captain Deverax has--er--gone after the Countess?"
"Oh no!" said Denry, with unction. "Such a thought never entered my head."
"I think you're a very strange man, Mr Machin," retorted Mrs Clutterbuck, hostile and not a bit reassured. "May one ask what that costume is supposed to be?"
"A Captain of Chinese cavalry," said Denry, lifting his eyeglass.
Nevertheless, the dance was a remarkable success, and little by little even the sternest adherents of the absent Captain Deverax deigned to be amused by Denry's Chinese gestures. Also, Denry led the cotillon, and was thereafter greatly applauded by the Beau-Site. The visitors agreed among themselves that, considering that his name was not Deverax, Denry acquitted himself honourably. Later he went to the bureau, and, returning, whispered to his wife:
"It's all right. He's come back safe."
"How do you know?"
"I've just telephoned to ask."
Denry's subsequent humour was wildly gay. And for some reason which nobody could comprehend, he put a sling round his left arm. His efforts to insert the eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand were insistently ludicrous and became a sure source of laughter for all beholders. When the Métropole party were getting into their sleighs to go home--it had ceased snowing--Denry was still trying to insert his eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand, to the universal joy.
But the joy of the night was feeble in comparison with the violent joy of the next morning. Denry was wandering, apparently aimless, between the finish of the tobogganing track and the portals of the Métropole. The snowfall had repaired the defects of the worn track, but it needed to be flattened down by use, and a number of conscientious "lugeurs" were flattening it by frequent descents, which grew faster at each repetition. Other holiday-makers were idling about in the sunshine. A page-boy of the Métropole departed in the direction of the Beau-Site with a note.
At length--the hour was nearing eleven--Captain Deverax, languid, put his head out of the Métropole and sniffed the air. Finding the air sufferable, he came forth on to the steps. His left arm was in a sling. He was wearing the new knickerbockers which he had ordered at Montreux, and which were of precisely the same vast check as had ornamented Denry's legs on the previous night.
"Hullo!" said Denry, sympathetically. "What's this?"
The Captain needed sympathy.
"Ski-ing yesterday afternoon," said he, with a little laugh. "Hasn't the Countess told any of you?"
"No," said Denry, "not a word."
The Captain seemed to pause a moment.
"Yes," said he. "A trifling accident. I was ski-ing with the Countess. That is, I was ski-ing and she was in her sleigh."
"Then this is why you didn't turn up at the dance?"
"Yes," said the Captain.
"Well," said Denry, "I hope it's not serious. I can tell you one thing, the cotillon was a most fearful frost without you." The Captain seemed grateful.
They strolled together toward the track.
The first group of people that caught sight of the Captain with his checked legs and his arm in a sling began to smile. Observing this smile, and fancying himself deceived, the Captain attempted to put his eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand, and regularly failed. His efforts towards this feat changed the smiles to enormous laughter.
"I daresay it's awfully funny," said he. "But what can a fellow do with one arm in a sling?"
The laughter was merely intensified. And the group, growing as luge after luge arrived at the end of the track, seemed to give itself up to mirth, to the exclusion of even a proper curiosity about the nature of the Captain's damage. Each fresh attempt to put the eyeglass to his eye was coal on the crackling fire. The Clutterbucks alone seemed glum.
"What on earth is the joke?" Denry asked primly. "Captain Deverax came to grief late yesterday afternoon, ski-ing with the Countess Ruhl. That's why he didn't turn up last night. By the way, where was it, Captain?"
"On the mountain, near Attalens," Deverax answered gloomily. "Happily there was a farmhouse near--it was almost dark."
"With the Countess?" demanded a young impulsive schoolgirl.
"You did say the Countess, didn't you?" Denry asked.
"Why, certainly," said the Captain, testily.
"Well," said the schoolgirl with the nonchalant thoughtless cruelty of youth, "considering that we all saw the Countess off in the funicular at three o'clock, I don't see how you could have been ski-ing with her when it was nearly dark." And the child turned up the hill with her luge, leaving her elders to unknot the situation.
"Oh, yes!" said Denry. "I forgot to tell you that the Countess left yesterday after lunch."
At the same moment the page-boy, reappearing, touched his cap and placed a note in the Captain's only free hand.
"Couldn't deliver it, sir. The Comtesse left early yesterday afternoon."
Convicted of imaginary adventure with noble ladies, the Captain made his retreat, muttering, back to the hotel. At lunch Denry related the exact circumstances to a delighted table, and the exact circumstances soon reached the Clutterbuck faction at the Métropole. On the following day the Clutterbuck faction and Captain Deverax (now fully enlightened) left Mont Pridoux for some paradise unknown. If murderous thoughts could kill, Denry would have lain dead. But he survived to go with about half the Beau-Site guests to the funicular station to wish the Clutterbucks a pleasant journey. The Captain might have challenged him to a duel but a haughty and icy ceremoniousness was deemed the best treatment for Denry. "Never show a wound" must have been the Captain's motto.
The Beau-Site had scored effectively. And, now that its rival had lost eleven clients by one single train, it beat the Métropole even in vulgar numbers.
Denry had an embryo of a conscience somewhere, and Nellie's was fully developed.
"Well," said Denry, in reply to Nellie's conscience, "it serves him right for making me look a fool over that Geneva business. And besides, I can't stand uppishness, and I won't. I'm from the Five Towns, I am."
Upon which singular utterance the incident closed.