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BELLA DEMONIA., Issue 7946, 29 June 1889, Supplement
A STORY OF THE FRANCOPRUSSIAN WAR.
[By Ski.ina Dolauo.]
CHAPTER 11. Till) lIAUONKSS Al.TllOKn
. Notwithstanding tho late, hour of his re urn frmu tho.ball, and the fact that after lii-i rttiirn he had spent an Imur in fruitless w mder on the events or rather the event - ol 111': it was a go"d two hours before iniu-.Ly wh'-nC.iptiiuAuhynGnddard lett Ims imt-i;l 1.i),l proceed., d t» stroll almus\ unconsciously in trie direction of the place of liis rendezvous.
To say th.at he was interested and perplexed is to use amiserahly inadequate form of words; but the main outcome ol his reflections was that he put the whole thing down aa a (ml-ir.axqtte, intrigue of a rather more than uuial interest, aa regarded its commencement at any rate. There was something indescribably baffling about the woman lie had escorted to tho street, and whom ha hoped to see again within a couple of hours. There was nothing in her voice or manner that betrayed aught but perfect gentleness of birth and breeding. The idea of risking a word of reproof from those wonderful lips, or a look of disdain from tiiose amazing eyes, was quite out of the question ; aucl yet she had made his A Jquaintmce in almost orthodox bed-masque style, and had given him a rendezvous for the morrow in quite orthodox bal-masqne stylo. To the Queen's Messenger on service, adventures of all kinds are necessarily a forbidden luxury, and yet Goddard would not for one moment admit to himself that he Was running into auy personal danger. Me could not retrospectively satisfy himself of the woman's nationality. She spoke very perfect English ; and yet there was a pretty uncertainty about her r's that betrayed either foreign birth or long residence abroad, Of the manner of his coming reception, however, ho had no doubt. He would be ushered into a boudoir from which daylight Would be carefully excluded, a scent of musk or something equally 3cnsuous would hang in the air, the room would be hung with soft silks and decorated with heavily-per-fumed exotic flowers, and the woman herself would either be reclining ou a divan, or would .eDtcr the room with the upward sweep of a shapely arm through velvet portieres, clad in some bewitching and laeocovered ntglicjd. The woman herself, he felt certain, would bo dark, and of a heavy, sensuous type of beauty. The face would be not quite innocent of the veloiUiue of Fay, and would be cither of a brilliant coloring or of a properly improper ivory pallor. Together they would partake of a delicate and recherche repast, and after breakfast she would sing to him, accompanying herself on the piano, or more probably on the guitar. And then Well, why anticipate ? He was sufficiently " experienced" to know exactly what to expect. His reflections were suddenly cut short by his arrival at the very house, " The Villa Altdorff," which the incognita of the night before had inscribed upon the card she had given him. It was situated quite on the outskirts of the city, where the suburbs begin to assume a distinctly rural appearance. A high quickset hedge divided and hid the grounds of the villa from the road, but a barred gate opened upon a curving drive that led up to the house. A glance at the house did not serve to enlighten the Queen's Messenger. It had the appearance of beinc* deserted. All the windows were closed with heavy shutters. No smoke rose from the clustered chimneys, no sign ol life appeared within the gate, which was securely fastened. With difficulty restraining an exclamation of surprise, and forgetting, in his astonishment, his promise not to make inquiries, (ioddard turned to a municipal gardener who was sweeping under the tulip trccu that lined the quiet suburban road, " What is this house ':" lie asked. "That," returned the man, eyeing him suspiciously, " ia the Villa Altdorff.'"
" And who lives there ?" *• No one." ■ •'How? No one?" " No. It has been closed ever since the death of the Baroness Altdoiff, three years ago." " But it doe 9 not look neglected." "No; the family keep the gardens neat, bit it is never occupied," "You are sure?"
The man vouchsafed no answor. He had turned once more to his work, and studiously ignored the questioner, whom he probahly took for a gentlemanly burglar compiling notes for a campaign. So this was the end of his adventure! Better so, after all, thought the Queen's Messenger, since he had to be at the Foreign Office at four to receive Andrassy'd despatches. The end ? Stay ! it wanted yet an iiour of mid-day ; he would continue his ■walk and return at the time appointed : at 1 )ast should chance ever throw him against his dazzling domino again she should not be able to reproach him with not having fulfilled the terms of her invitation.
The Honorable Aubyn Goddard walked on, beyond the outer fortifications. Punctually at twelve o'clock he found b/mself once more at the gate of the Villa AltdorfY; and now a new surprise uwaited him. The gate stood open ! He entered. As he walked up the drive he noted with ever-increasing wonderment that the slnrtjrs were all thrown open, as were the lower windows. From one chimney a column of smoke rose into the air, On the verandah in front stood two chairs, and some Oriental rugs lay belore then'. On one of them lay a B'iawl and a book, giving evidence of recent occupation. From one corner of the rug a very British fox-terrier rose, stretched himself, and trotted down the drive to meet him and assure himself that the perfume of the visitor was a friendly perfume. As he reached the door it was opened by n. grave butler in the correctest black—not by the pert Parisian maid he had anticipated who ushered him at once into a drawing r JOtn matted with Indian grass and furnished throughout in the white-gold Btylc ascribed t) Louis XV. Dazed beyond the power of expression, Goddard was walking to a window to inspect the exterior, whin the full soft voice that had been echoing in his bruin for the past ten hours said behind him—•'Captain Goddard." He turned, to sen his hostess advancing towards him with outstretched hand. True to hh anticipation!), she was dark ; but there the correctness of hin anticipation began and ended. The gorgeous figure wit? hold with etately creotuess, and whs clad fcom throat to foot in tho most correctly fitting of tailor-made suits (" Turned out by Morgan, for a fiver ! " ejaculated Goddard to himself), at the throat and wrists a collar and cuffs of the snowiest linen, secured by plain gold buttons. Her only ornament was a crimson rose thrust into the bosom of the dress. The raven-black hair was carried smoothly off the high white forehead and drawn to a simple coil at the back of the head. The vision beforo him was one of ideal health, perfect womanly beauty, and eminent "good form." Auhyn Goddard stood speechless. The Baroness Altdorfl was, of course, perfectly self-possessed. " You are punctual, Captain Goddard. That is well. We shall have the more time in which to make each other's acquaintance —or rather to improve it." "Pardon me," said Goddard, in reply, •' if for a few moments I am too bewildered to talk rationally. You have me at a great disadvantage. Will you tell me where we have met before to-day ?" "Not now. But before we part—yes. Let me see : at four o'clock you must be at the Foreign OfHcc, at five you leave Vienna. I am right, am I not? Yes? Then I propose that we breakfast at once and talk afterwards." . " I am completely at Madame s service, "Don't make any rash announcements ! You ought to mistrurt me profoundly. Admit at least that my conduct has been highly irregular." " Well, I " " The fact is," broke in the woman, in n serious tone, "I have long wished to make your acquaintance. The opportunity arrived for mo to do you a service, unknown to yourself, and in doing it I killed two lirds with ona stone : I took the part of Captain Attbyn Goddard in a diplomatic war, and
made his acquaintance into the bargain. All is fair, you know in war." "And in love!" concluded Goddard, with a nervous laugh. " Exactly," replied the Baroness Altdorff, with a slight blush, "but at present the former alone engrosses our attention. But come ; breakfast is ready. Will you follow mc ? Unlike most women who make gentlemen's acquaintances under romantic circumstances, 1 am ravenously hungry." She led fl:- 1 way into the dining room, where a breakfast w.v-! served in perfect taste hat supreme simplicity. "At least you will begin," said Goddard, .!.') lie seated himself, " by giving me a lew words (if explanation. First, how did you know my name? and, second, did you send me the ticket for yesterday';; hall'.'" " 1 know ymir name, for in the society of Vienna not to know Captain Aubyn Goddard, of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service, is to argue one'n self unknown. It teas 1 who sent you the ticket for last night's ball, for reasons that I will explain to you presently. lain very much interested in the questions that have brought you to Vienna four times in as many months, and chance favored mc last night in bringing about a meeting to which I have long looked forward."
She spoke with charming frankness, looking him straight in tho eyes, and it was with a, to him, altogether new sensation that he replied, with a little inclination : " Whatever may have been your motive, baroness, believe me, 1 congratulate myself, more profoundly than I can eay on so short an acquaintance, on the' chance that has thrown us together—at last."
A ring cf intense earnestness had come into his voice as he answered, returning her gaze. The woman flushed perceptibly as she turned the conversation :
" Your profession must be a strangely interesting one. You are so much behind the scenes. Tho Powers will unite in Conference about December or January, will they not ?" He glanced at her keenly. "I cannot tell," replied he, cautiously, " but it looks like it at present." " It seems so strange to me that England should submit eo calmly to tho dictation of Russia. I should have thought that your Government would have despatched a fleet to the Levant."
"That would not take place unless the Conference should prove abortive." " Ah! then the step is already considered ?''
"i do not know," repliod Goddard, shortly, as he suddenly perceived that he had been led into an important disclosure. Then he added: " You seem vastly interested in European politics. Ladies do not uaually trouble about such matters." " Oh, I adore them," replied the baroness, with a laugh ; "but it annoys me when I see your English interests calmly flung into the lap of Gortschakoff by your Mr Gladstone."
" Mr Gladstone will have nothing to do with it," replied Goddard, dryly. " The entertainment of 1871 will not be repeated, I can assure you. So long as Lord Beaconsfield lives, you may be sure that the Pruth will bound Russia on the south-west, and Batoum and Constantinople will not become Russian military seaports." He spoke with quick indignation, for Goddard was of the true Tory faith, and the light tone of this foreign woman stung him in a sensitive place. The Baroness Altdorff plunged her eyes deep into his, and leaned forward as she replied:
"That is how 1 like to hear a man talk. That is the substance cf your despat es, on this mission ?"
Goddard was about to lie promptly in expressing his ignorance, but something in the woman's look made hia heart leap into his throat, and he answered nothing, as the color rose to the roots of his hair.
"That is right," she said, softly. "I could not imagine you lying to me.'' "No," answered the man, shortly ; "I cannot lie to you." Tho Baroness Altdorff rose.
" Let us go into the drawing room." Mir diiid with a Midden change of manner. " We have yet iiu hour before you need start. At half-past three my coupe will take you to the Foreign Ollioe, and tlicneeto the station. Will you oblige me by sending my man from the Olliee to settle your bill and bring your luggage from your hotel? I do not want you to return." "Really, 1 feel ashamed to take advantage " began Goddard. " Promise me ! promise mc I " she interrupted, eagerly, " Certainly, it shall be as you wish. But, in heaven's name, give me some explanation of all this mystery." "Very well," replied she; "I will. I need not tell Captain Goddard that diplomacy in Russia sticks at nothing. I happened to have learned that an effort would bo made to detain you in Vienna by the Russian agents there. \ov were to be summoned from your hotel last night. They laid their plans well. I sent you the ticket to ensure your absence, and came myself to the ball to see that you were safely there. The hunchback whom you saw persecuting me adopted that course to mix you up in a most unpleasant esclundre. He kn«w that an English gentleman would not suffer an unprotected woman to be insulted in his presence. It is needless to say that he was a political spy. Had we left the operahouse by the main entrance you would have found yourself this morning in a duel or a police court. It was necessary to hide you to day. 1 thought of this place as wo sought my carriage. They have watched for you at your hotel all day. Remember, you have promised not to return there with your despatches." "Do you think I am going to run away from the creature, said Goddard indignantly, "It is your duty to guard your despatches," answered the woman calmly. " You are right," answered he simply, after a pause. The conversation took another turn. Her interest drew from Goddard—almost, I was going to say, a story of his life, and when the cbek struck half-past three it was almost with a start that he recalled himself to the present. It was the Baroness Altdorff who cut the conversation short. "It is time for you to go," she said. "I am sorry." "And I too, baroness," replied Goddard. "I have not half expressed to you my gratitude for all you havo done for mc, still less for these charming hours with you." " Then you forgive, my plot against your liberty ?" " Yen," replied lw, boldly. "AH is fair, as wo said, in love and war, and - and both are here,"
The Baroness Altdorll' criiraoiied despite herself.
"Guod-byiy" said alio, holding out her hand again.
" Not good-bye, I trust," pleaded he, as he held the delicate whito hand in his. They had reached tho front door, where the presence of the grave butler holding open the door of the coupo which stood in readiness placed a restraint upon the wild declaration he waß tempted to pour out to her. " Not good-bye, baroness, but au reroir. Is it not so ?" And he leaned forward a3 he pressed the taper fingers. " I hope eo—believe me," replied she, and her pallor intensified. " Then I go not altogether in despair," said Goddard, gayly, as he descended the steps. As ho took his seat in the carriage he turned to where she stood on the verandah.
"I forgot!" he exclaimed: "You said you would tell me whore we met before today. Where was it?" " At the ball last night."
The servant slammed the door, and the carriage whirled off down the drive. As it turned out of the gate, Goddard looked hastily out of the window. Tho windows of the Villa Altdorfl' were once more shuttered as they had been in the morning. No smoke rose from the chimneys. All signs of human habitation had disappeared.
Tho Villa Altdorff seemed deserted !
Captain the Honorable Aubyn Goddard flung himself back on the cushions of the coupe. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, "this carriage is real enough, or I should believe the whole thing was a dream."
Whilst he transacted his business at the Foreign Office, the went to his hotel for his luggage. Tho servant brought back word that two
gentlemen, refusing to give their names, had been waiting for him since mid-day. They were waiting still. [Left sitting.]
BELLA DEMONIA., Issue 7946, 29 June 1889, Supplement
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