He was out in the road, to the dancing relief of the governess-cart springs, and waved au revoir to his companion. She nodded, and drove on, while he turned to go back to the wicket. He hummed as he went, a little philandering French air, droning the words in a soft, throaty way, and was still recalling them as he mounted the two steps from the road, opened the gate, and passed through. His eyes, moving in an immobile face, were busy all the time. 'Bites moi, belle enchanter esse,' he sang, 'Qui done vous a donne vos yeux?' just above his breath and suddenly, at a few yards in, eighteen or twenty, swerved from the close narrow track and stepped behind a beech-trunk. And there was a girl hiding from view, her eyes wide, her forefinger crooked to her Up.
' Vos doux yeux, si pleins de tendresse,' hummed M. le Baron, and nodded humorously. 'I thought I recognised you from the road'.
She did not flush up or exclaim ' Me !' or exhibit any of the offensive-defensive pertness of the ordinary housemaid surprised out of bounds. She just stood looking at the intruder, a wonder on her rosy lips, and Le Sage for his part returned her scrutiny at his leisure. His impression of the night before he found more than confirmed by daylight: she was a very Arcadian nymph, with a sweet-briar complexion and eyes and hair of thyme and honey; shapely as a doe, ineffably pretty. He wondered less than ever over Louis's infatuation.
And what was she doing here? Her head was bare; a light waterproof veiled her official livery: it might be concluded without much circumspection that a tryst was in the air.
' I am sorry,' said M. le Baron. ' I did not come to be a spoil-sport. I ought, perhaps, to have pretended to see nothing and pass by. But that rudeness of my man last night sticks in my mind, and it occurred to me to apologise for him'.
She laughed, with a tiny toss of her head. 'Thank you, sir, but I can look after myself'.
'So I perceive,' he said. 'You tone very well with the trees. No eyes, except perhaps the favoured ones, could possibly guess you were here'.
'Except yours, sir,' she said, with just a tiny sauce of irony.
'Except mine, of course,' he agreed; and left her to wonder why, if she would.
'Well,' he said, after a smiling moment, 'that was an unpardonable act of Louis's, only don't visit it further on his head. I have wanted to warn you, and here is my opportunity. He comes of a hot-blooded race, and there's no knowing--. But you can look after yourself; I will take your word for it'.
He believed she could, though she made no further answer to assure him; and, with a nod, he went on his way, taking up again the little murmured burden of his song: ' Yeux, yeux,--Astres divins tombes des cieux.' 'O, eyes!' he said. 'Sweetest eyes were ever seen ! ' From what heaven did you fall to flower in a housemaid's face ! ' There was something suggestive about the girl, more than her surprising beauty-a 'towniness,' a hint, both in speech and manner, of some shrewd quality which was not of the soil. 'When Lamia takes to country service,' thought the Baron, ' let more than rustic hearts look to their locks !' With whom, he wondered, could be her assignation? What if, after all, it were with Louis himself? Would that surprise him? Perhaps not. Cabanis was a handsome and compelling fellow, and women, like the Lord, could chasten whom they loved. But he devoutly hoped it was not so; he desired no amorous complications in his train; and, disturbed by the thought, he inquired for his valet the moment he reached the house-only to learn that the man had gone out some time before and had not yet returned. Somewhat disquieted, Le Sage entered the hall, where he was met by his host.
' Ah, Baron !' hailed Sir Calvin. ' Punctuality itself ! Go into my study, will you, and I'll join you in a moment'.
The study was a comfortable room on the ground floor, with a large bay window overlooking the gardens. Here the table for chess was set ready, with a brace of high easy chairs and, handily contiguous, a smoker's cabinet. There were trophies of the chase and some good sporting pictures on the walls, against them a couple of mahogany bookcases containing well-bound editions of Aiken, Surtees, and others, and, let into an alcove of that one of them which included the fireplace, a substantial safe. Le Sage knew it was there, though it was hidden from sight behind a shallow curtain; and now, as he moved humming about the room, his hands behind his back, his eyes scrutinising a picture or two while he awaited his host's coming, he gravitated gradually towards its place of concealment. Arrived there, he lifted very delicately, and still humming, the hem of the curtain, just exposed the keyhole, and bent to examine it with singular intentness. But a moment later, when the General entered, he was contemplating a coaching print by Flavell over the mantelpiece.
'Indifferent art, I suppose you will admit,' he said. ' But there is something picturesquely direct about these old Sporting pieces'.
'Well, they suit me,' answered Sir Calvin, 'because I understand thenx Red's red and blue's blue to me, and if any artist tells me they are not, I've nothing to answer the fellow but that he's a damned Ear'.
Le Sage laughed--' What is the colour of a black eye, then ? '-and they settled down to their game. The General was a good player; all the best of his mental qualifications -which were otherwise of the standard common among retired officers of an overbearing, obstinate, and undiscerning disposition - were displayed in his astute engineering of his small forces. He was a tactical Napoleon in miniature when it came to chess; he seemed to acquire then a reason and a dignity inconspicuous in his dealings with living people. The chess-men could not misrepresent him; their movements were his movements, and their successes or failures his. If he lost, he had no one but himself he could possibly blame, and his understanding of that condition seemed to bring out the best in him. He was never choleric over the fortunes of the game. For the rest, he was not a wise man, or an amenable man, or anything but a typical despot of his class, having an inordinate pride of family, which owed less than it should have to any moral credit he had brought it in the past. In person he was a leanish, clean-built soldier of fifty-five, with bullying eyebrows and a thick blunt moustache of a grizzled blonde.