Call Mr. Fortune/The Hottentot Venus
THE HOTTENTOT VENUS
IT WAS a night in June. The Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department was pensive. "Did you ever want to marry, Fortune?" he murmured.
"Often; but never one at a time." Reggie Fortune looked curiously at his host. The dinner had been good, the claret very good, the cigars were of the most benignant. But still—"Why this touch of sentiment, Lomas?" said he.
"Some students say women have no minds," Lomas murmured drowsily. "But that's partiality. The trouble is, women aren't human beings. Consider the parallel case of the dog. He is intelligent. But he sets different values on things from our values. Inhuman values. Think of bones, cats, boots. It is so also with women."
"'I love a lassie'—but she ate my best pumps. Lomas, my good child, are you merely drivelling or shall we come to something soon?"
"I am much exposed to women," said the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department pathetically, and roused himself. "But this is a family skeleton. I have a sister, Fortune. She is intelligent. She is almost as omniscient as you, my dear fellow, and much more practical. But she can be quite maddening. She is maddening me now. Unfortunately she has no husband. She had too much intelligence. She owns a princely school at Tormouth. I believe it makes her as rich as Rockefeller. She certainly does herself very well. A month ago she wrote to me that a strange thing had happened. In the night one of the mistress's rooms had been turned upside down."
"Do they rag much at girls' schools?" Reggie yawned. "It might be picturesque."
"My wonderful sister wanted me to tell her what it meant. I'm not proud, Fortune. I know my limitations. I did not see myself in a girls' school. Especially as an official. Now she has been writing to me that there are extraordinary developments. The room of another mistress has been upset."
"They do rag in girls' schools! Another advance of women."
"You show levity, Fortune. My sister would not like it. This is a crime. A number of photographs were taken—photographs of girls at the school. And there is no clue to the criminal."
"The great Tormouth mystery. Leader in the Daily Scream—'Brains for Scotland Yard'. But the independent expert found a pink hairpin in the mouth of the dachshund next door but two and brought the foul deed home to the junior curate."
"I envy your spirits, Fortune," Lomas sighed. "You have no sister—no maiden sister."
And the desultory conversation turned feebly to something else. In fact, both men were feeling the strain of that tangled and squalid crime, the Pimlico murder. They had at last contrived to hang (you remember it) the reluctant borough councillor; but only Reggie Fortune could take a holiday. As he was going, he said that he thought of motoring in Devonshire.
"You'd better call on my sister and investigate her case." Lomas smiled sourly. "If it is a case. Sometimes I think it's a dream."
"Ragging in Girls' Schools. By our Special Commission. 'Orrible Revelations."
Lomas shook his head. "I'm afraid my sister won't take to you. She's not flippant."
"Lomas, don't be improper. A flippant headmistress. I blush."
A few days later Reggie Fortune drove into Tormouth, liked it, liked its hotel, and called on the Hon. Evelyn Lomas. Miss Lomas was her brother's sister in face and shape, correctly handsome, slight, dapper, not the least like her brother in manner. She was frankly middle-aged, brisk and direct.
"So glad you could spare time, Mr. Fortune." She sat down to her writing-table. "My brother tells me I can have every confidence in your discretion."
"So good of him," Reggie murmured. He was annoyed with Lomas. He had meant only to make friends with the good lady. It appeared that he was to be an official investigator of the silly girls' school mystery. An embarrassing position. And Miss Lomas was visibly without humour.
"You will understand that discretion is essential in this case, Mr. Fortune. Anything in the nature of publicity would be unpardonable. You look very young."
"I try to be," Reggie said modestly.
Miss Lomas coughed. "These are the facts, Mr. Fortune."
With minute and tiresome detail Reggie heard it all over again and learnt nothing new. One mistress's room turned upside down in the night, nothing spoilt or taken—an interval—another mistress's room turned upside down and a number of photographs of girls taken. Only that and nothing more. Reggie was bored, and let his eyes wander from the intensity of Miss Lomas. When at last she stopped, frowning at his lack of attention, and waited in angry majesty for him to say something—
"Are you interested in archæology?" was what he said.
"I beg your pardon," said Miss Lomas, in an awful voice.
"I was wonderin' about this," Reggie murmured, and took up from her table a little yellowish thing modelled into something like the shape of a woman. "Fascinatin', isn't she?"
"It seems to me childish or disgusting, Mr. Fortune," Miss Lomas snapped at him. "It has nothing to do with the case. But I am afraid my affairs merely amuse you, Mr. Fortune."
"Oh, please, please," Reggie protested. "You see, you're so lucid, Miss Lomas. These odd affairs are hardly ever lucid. Anything may have to do with anything. Just consider. You tell me that in your school there has been happening something unusual."
"Extraordinary, unprecedented, and disturbing," Miss Lomas cried.
"And then I find this lyin' about—a Hottentot Venus in a girls' school—that's very highly unusual."
"The thing is just a little ivory idol," said Miss Lomas and took it from him and looked at it with disgust. It was crudely and oddly shaped, like a child's modelling.
"It's not ivory, and probably it wasn't an idol," Reggie snapped. His excellent temper found Miss Lomas trying. "It's a horse's tooth, and was no doubt carved as a doll or a work of art. But how did it come into a girls' school?"
"I quite agree that it is most unsuitable. I should myself call it indecent. That is why I keep it on my desk." (Reggie mastered a smile.) "It was found recently in the library. No doubt one of the girls having relations in India or Africa was given the thing as an odd savage trinket. She lost it and, recognizing that it was an undesirable thing, is afraid to claim it. As a matter of school discipline I am disturbed and annoyed. I cannot conceive that it concerns you, Mr. Fortune."
"It's the only thing that interests me," said Reggie. He was tired of the lady. "You don't understand the question, madame. This isn't the kind of trinket any one can pick up. It's a jewel. This little lady"—he handled her affectionately—"she's fifteen thousand years old. She's palæolithic. There's only a few of her in the world. Some Frenchman called her type the Hottentot Venus, because she's a little like the women of that tribe. But the woman she was modelled on may have been an ancestor of yours or mine."
"I think not, Mr. Fortune." Miss Lomas was horrified.
"We have had time to improve on her, madame," Reggie bowed. "This is the point. Outside national museums, there are only half a dozen collections which own one of these ladies. Who's the quaint savant that gives them to a schoolgirl to play with? May I see the names of your girls?"
"I only accept pupils with the highest references, sir," said Miss Lomas, overawed but fuming.
So Reggie was allowed to inspect her register. He studied it in vain. No name suggested connection with any of the few archaeologists likely to own a Hottentot Venus. He gave it up.
"Well, sir?" Miss Lomas was triumphant and disdainful. "I am very much obliged to you for your courtesy. I regret exceedingly that I have troubled you with my affairs. I need not ask you to waste any more of your valuable time on the case that I foolishly submitted to you."
"But, my dear Miss Lomas, I'm just gettin' interested," said Reggie, with an engaging smile. "You know, my first thoughts were that your children had been ragging."
"Really, Mr. Fortune! Your way of putting things! Please understand that the girls in my school do not 'rag'—as you call it. I think my sex leaves that to young men, Mr. Fortune."
"Women are so revoltin' nowadays," Reggie murmured. "I wonder—you have no new woman in the flock? No bold, bad rebel?" The face of Miss Lomas answered him. "I thought so. We must have the second solution. Somebody wanted somebody's photograph."
"But why? Why should one girl want to steal photographs of the other girls? It's nonsensical."
"Oh, it's all nonsense," Reggie agreed cheerfully. "It's gibberish till we find the key. But here's one odd thing for certain, the Hottentot Venus. I expect to find a lot more before we've done."
"Do you wish to alarm me, Mr. Fortune?"
"I'm only tryin' to keep you interested. Now all these things have happened recently. Has any one new come to the school recently? Any new servant? Any new teacher? Well, any new girl?"
"It's very unusual to have any new girls this term. But we have had one—Alice Warenne. She came with the highest introductions, Mr. Fortune. The Countess of Spilsborough asked me to take her."
"And who are Alice Warenne's people?"
"Her father is English but lives abroad. A distinguished-looking man, obviously well off. He has friends, as you see, in the best society. Her mother, I believe, has been long dead. She was brought up in France, and speaks French better than English. But this is all waste of time, Mr. Fortune. Alice Warenne is a delightful girl—a sweet nature. I can't imagine anything against her. Pray don't form idle prejudices."
"And has anybody called to see Alice Warenne since the affair of the photographs?"
Miss Lomas showed some surprise. "Dear me, Mr. Fortune—now you mention it, yes. Her father was over in England and came down to see her a few days ago. He had another man with him, I remember."
"Another? Do fond fathers often bring a faithful friend down to see how their daughters are growing?"
"Now you mention it, I suppose it is unusual." Miss Lomas looked at Reggie with apprehension. "Still, it's quite reasonable, Mr. Fortune."
"Well—if he were a brother—or a selected fiancé."
"Really, Mr. Fortune! Alice is a child. Not more than sixteen. This other man was older than her father. I wish I could remember his name."
"So do I," Reggie agreed.
"It was nothing uncommon, I think. He was rather an uncommon-looking man—big and handsome, but artistic or Bohemian in his clothes."
"And after the fond father and the faithful friend saw Alice you found this little lady"—he held up the Hottentot Venus—"in the library?"
"It was—the day after," Miss Lomas cried. "Good gracious!"
"We are getting on, aren't we?" Reggie smiled. "But I wonder where we are getting to?"
"They saw her in the library. I shall certainly ask Alice for an explanation," Miss Lomas said.
Reggie put the Hottentot Venus in his pocket and smiled at her. "I'm sure you're much too wise. Let's say nothing till we can say something sensible. I should like to see Alice. Just 'for to admire', you know."
"The girls will be in the playing-field now."
"Delightful. Suppose you walk me through. Treat me as if I was intendin' to be a parent
"I beg your pardon?" said Miss Lomas, with emphasis.
"Oh, I mean a fond father comin' to see if it was all nice enough for my darlin' daughter. Don't let Alice think I'm interested in her."
"Very well, Mr. Fortune." Miss Lomas went off for her hat.
The playing-field was a pleasant place set about with old oaks, in the freshest of their leaves then, through which there were glimpses of the sunlit Devon sea. Comely girls in white, clustered, arms in the air, at basket ball, or ran and smote across the tennis-courts.
Reggie paused and sank down on a seat. "This is very soothin' and pretty," he murmured. "Here are our young barbarians all at play. Why will they grow up, Miss Lomas? They're so much more satisfying now."
Miss Lomas stared at him. "Naturally they grow up," she explained. "They can't be children all their lives."
"Some of us never were," Reggie sighed. "Charming, charming. Like the young things in Homer, what? The maidens and the princess of the white arms they fell to playing at ball. Charming—especially that one. Yes. Which did you say was Alice?"
"That is Miss Warenne." Miss Lomas pointed with her sunshade to two girls arm in arm. One was a tall creature, a woman already in body and stately, with a fine, bold face, and red-brown hair that glowed.
"Why, she's a goddess!" Reggie said.
"Oh, dear, no," said Miss Lomas. "That's Hilda Crowland. Alice is the little one."
"Let's go and look at the basket ball," Reggie suggested, and to do that walked across the field on a line which brought them for a moment face to face with little Alice Warenne. She was a tiny creature, and had appropriately a round baby face. She was dark and plump and dimpled. But although her hair was not yet up, she need not have been younger than her magnificent companion.
Reggie Fortune's interest in basket ball was soon exhausted. They went back across the field at an angle which brought them again face to face with Alice Warenne and her imposing friend, and while they passed, Reggie (rather loudly) was asking Miss Lomas questions about the school games and the school timetable. As soon as they were out of hearing of the two girls he broke this off with a sharp, "Great friends are they, those two?"
"They are always together," Miss Lomas admitted.
"And who is the magnificent creature?"
"Hilda Crowland? Why, she's been with me for years."
"And she's the bosom friend of this girl, who's only been here a couple of months!"
"Now you mention it, that is odd, Mr. Fortune."
"Oh, Lord, everything's odd!" Reggie said irritably. "Who is Hilda Crowland?"
"Well, her mother is a widow and very well off, I believe. She lives in Cornwall. Hilda came to me through Lady de Burgh. Of course you understand, Mr. Fortune, that that implies irreproachable family connections."
"I dare say. I dare say. Well, Miss Lomas, it's a queer case. I will take it up and go into it further. Something is being planned rather elaborately in which your school, probably a girl in your school, is concerned. It may be a matter outside your responsibilities. It may be something unpleasant."
"Good gracious, Mr. Fortune, what do you suggest?" Miss Lomas was rather excited than alarmed.
"I don't suggest anything. I have no information. The trouble is, Miss Lomas, you know nothing about your girls."
"Really, Mr. Fortune! As I have told you, I insist upon——"
"Good references. Anybody can find good references. Did your brother never tell you about the Prime Minister's butler? He came from an Archbishop."
"Is there anything you advise me to do?"
"Be ordinary. Absolutely ordinary. I shall stay in Tormouth at present. I'm at the Bristol."
So he left Miss Lomas rather ruffled, but under that deeply gratified, because her case really was a serious case, her acumen was vindicated, her brother put to shame. Her school found her more masterful than ever.
Reggie's room at the Bristol had a balcony which looked on the sea. There he sat before an empty plate which had held muffins, and lit one of his largest cigars. "Now where the devil have I seen that little minx before?" said he.
Upon that question he concentrated his mind, and (omitting the adventures into blind alleys) his thoughts were like this: "Typewriting . . . why does sweet Alice suggest typewriting? . . . mes petites munches de satinette . . . my little satinette sleeves . . . now what in wonder is that? . . . Oh, my aunt! She was the demure little typist in that play at the Variétés last year. What was her name? Alice Ducher! . . . Oh, Peter! A soubrette from the Variétés in a blameless English girls' school! Ye stately homes of England! Give me air!"
He took from his pocket the Hottentot Venus and contemplated her severely. "I don't know which of you is worse, darling," he said. "You or Ducher. What are you at, anyway? Lord, I wouldn't have thought she had anything to do with palæolithic dolls! What's the connection, darling?" The Hottentot Venus was naturally silent.
Reggie sighed and put her away, and began to contemplate the beauties of nature. Tormouth, you know, is placed upon an agreeable bay, itsare white, and its headlands of a dark rock which in a flood of sunshine discover gleams of crystal amid a reddish glow. So Reggie saw them as the western sky grew crimson and the flood-tide sparkled in a thousand golden jewels. A delectable scene. It was laborious to go on thinking. Tormouth is an anchorage favoured by yachts, and though it was early summer two or three white craft lay out in the bay. Reggie went into his room and came out again to the balcony with a binocular. The influence of the evening was upon him and he felt a need of futile diversion. He focused the glasses upon the yachts. There was a big schooner and two steam-boats—one a small packet with the white ensign of the R.Y.S., the other a big craft under the Italian flag. He could not make out the names.
A waiter came to take his tea away. "I want the local paper. And do you keep Shearn's Yacht List? "
Both were brought. The yachts in Tormouth Bay were reported as Sheila, Lorna, and Giulia. He turned them up in the list and whistled. The owner of the Giulia was the Prince of Ragusa.
"This is getting relevant," said he.
The Prince of Ragusa, hereditary ruler of some ten square miles and fabulously wealthy, was known to the learned as a zealous archæologist. He was one of the half-dozen men in the world whose collection might contain a Hottentot Venus. But, unless his reputation belied him, he was very unlikely to know or care anything about a soubrette from Paris. And why should he send his Hottentot Venus to a girls' school?
"Still several unknown quantities," Reggie reflected. And yet there was the Hottentot Venus in the Tormouth school and there off Tormouth lay the Prince of Ragusa. "I think we'll make Brer Lomas sit up and take notice," said Reggie, and devoted himself to the composition of Latin prose. Thus:
"De academia sororis nonnihil timeo nec quid timean certe scio. Sunt qui conjurarint et fortasse in flagitium. Si quid improvisum vel mihi vel academiae eveniret principem de Ragusa et navem eius caperc oporteret."
This he wrote on telegraph forms, and with his own hand presented to the lady at the post office, who was justly horrified.
"But what language is it?" she protested.
"There you have me," Reggie confessed. "It would like to be Latin, but I left school when I was young."
The lady sniffed but, looking at it again, saw that it was addressed to Scotland Yard, and said, "Ah, I understand."
"I wish I did," Reggie murmured. For the sense of that mysterious telegram is: "I am anxious about your sister's school, and don't quite know what I am afraid of. There is a conspiracy on foot which may be criminal. If anything unforeseen happens to me or the school, catch the Prince of Ragusa and his yacht." "Yes. Nuts to crack for Lomas," said Reggie. And he went to dinner.
It is now necessary to employ the narrative of Miss Somers, B.Sc. On the next day there was a lecture given in the Tormouth assembly rooms by Mr. Horatio Bean, the photographer of a recent expedition to the Arctic regions. To such edifying entertainments Miss Lomas was accustomed to send her girls. Miss Somers, B.Sc., was in charge of the detachment which marched to the assembly rooms on this occasion. Her narrative, purged of emotion unfit for a female bachelor of science, goes like this: She noticed nothing till the pictures began—that is, till the room was darkened. Then two girls got up in a hurry. One of them, who was Alice Warenne, whispered to her as she passed that Hilda Crowland didn't feel very well. Alice was going out with her and would look after her. They went. At the close of the lecture, one of the attendants approached Miss Somers and said he had been asked to tell her that the two young ladies had gone back to the school.
Upon this naturally follows the report of Constable Stewer of the Tormouth borough police. To this effect: Was on duty 3.30 p.m. on the quay; motor-launch from Italian yacht came in and lay by number one steps; two young ladies came in a hurry and entered launch; gentleman who had been smoking cigar in vicinity thrust paper and half-crown into my hands, saying "Constable, wire that immediate"; gentleman then took flying leap into launch, which was already shoved off, and engine started; launch steered for Italian yacht; returned to station to make report.
The paper when examined by inspector on duty was found to bear these words: "Lomas, Scotland Yard. Two girls on Giulia. Me too.—F." A telegram was sent. About tea-time Scotland Yard telephoned to know whether the yacht Giulia was still at Tormouth. A sergeant hurrying to the harbour found P. C. Stewer back at his post watching a smudge of smoke on the horizon. About that time Miss Lomas called at the police station to ask if anything had been heard or seen of two of her girls. So we leave the inspector almost exploding with a sense of the importance of his office.
"Mille pardons, mademoiselle," said Reggie, as he arrived in the launch and grabbed at his hat and, involuntarily, sat down upon Miss Crowland. With a firm and friendly hand she assisted him to recover his balance. She was in all respects made to sustain shocks. Her grey eyes smiled at him.
A man—an oldish, solemn man who was horrified—confronted Reggie. "You cannot come here, monsieur," he cried in French.
"I dare to assure you of the contrary," says Reggie in the same language.
"This is a private launch."
"Perfectly. Of the Prince of Ragusa. It is why I have arrived. I have news for the Prince of Ragusa—news which will surprise him marvellously."
The solemn man was embarrassed. "Nevertheless I protest, sir."
"I make a note of your protest," said Reggie, and bowed.
The solemn man bowed—and seemed satisfied.
Reggie sat down beside the little Alice Warenne, who had been watching all this very demurely, a contrast to Miss Crowland, who was frankly amused. "Permit a lover of art to address you, mademoiselle, said he. "I desire infinitely to thank you for the great pleasure which you have given me."
"How, sir? I do not understand." She looked more a baby than ever.
"Your little sleeves of satinette," Reggie murmured. "Your adorable little sleeves of satinette."
And then she laughed, and Reggie knew that he had made no mistake. She was the soubrette of the Variétés. The laugh of Mile Ducher was unforgettable. "I am a great artist, sir, am I not?"
Hilda Crowland smiled at her. "Monsieur is a friend of yours, Alice?" she said in English.
"All in good time. Only an admirer at present, darling." She gave Reggie a glance which was not the least childish.
"I dare to hope," Reggie said, and again she laughed.
They were alongside the yacht. The ladies were handed to the gangway, and Reggie went up it close on their heels. There seemed to be a deputation waiting for them on deck, a middle-aged deputation which, on the coming of the girls, bared its grey and bald heads. Two men stood out from it who lifted their caps, but put them on again, one a young fellow of a sprightly air, the other grey and grave, with a certain assured stateliness. At him Alice made a saucy curtsy. He came forward and took Hilda Crowland's hand. "My dear child," he said in English, "be very welcome," and he kissed her on both cheeks.
She flushed faintly. "I do not understand you, sir." She withdrew herself.
"I present to you your cousin, the Comte de Spoleto." The young man smiled at her and kissed her hand. The elder man turned to the others. "Gentlemen—I receive to-day my daughter, the Duchesse de Zara." One by one they came forward and were presented and kissed the wondering girl's hand. And at the end of them marched Reggie and stood before His Highness the Prince of Ragusa, who became immediately the most amazed of men. "I do not know you, sir," he said, with intense disgust. "Who is this, Audagna?" He turned to the man who had been on the launch.
"I represent her mother," said Reggie.
A wave of emotion shook the deputation. Hilda flushed and looked at Alice, who laughed. His Highness stood very stiff.
"I have not desired that her mother should be represented," he announced.
"I cannot defend the conduct of your Highness," said Reggie blandly.
"I do not admit your right to be here, sir," the Prince cried.
"That makes your conduct still more suspicious," said Reggie.
"Suspicious!" The Prince gasped and turned upon the others. "He says suspicious!" Horror overwhelmed them all. The Prince was the first to recover his self-control. "Be pleased to follow me, sir," he said, with awful courtesy. "Hilda, my dear child." He gave her his arm. "Spoleto!"
The family party and Reggie went down to His Highness's cabin. Only Hilda was asked to sit, and in perfect calm she sat. Nothing but a shade more colour in her cheeks, a brighter gleam in her eye, confessed that her stately head deigned to take any interest in her strange situation.
The Prince of Ragusa turned to Reggie. "I do not yet know your name, sir." So Reggie gave him a card. "Mr. Reginald Fortune—a lawyer, sir?"
"I am a surgeon. But let's hope we shan't need my professional qualifications."
"It is very well. You are here to represent my wife. I do not allow that my wife has any right to share my plans for my daughter. But since you have intruded, sir I do not choose to conceal my intentions. I have resumed my control of my daughter because she is now of an age to take her proper place at my side, to perform her duty to her family, and to carry out the plans which I have formed for her."
"Admirable. And shall we hear Miss Crowland's intentions in the matter?" Reggie looked at the girl.
"Be pleased to speak of my daughter as the Duchesse de Zara."
A throb passed through the yacht. Reggie looked out of the port-hole and saw the water sliding by. "So we're off," he smiled.
"The yacht sails immediately for Ragusa. I shall not be able to put you ashore, sir. For any discomfort you undergo be pleased to blame yourself and your employer. I see a rashness in your actions which I should have expected from my wife."
Reggie chuckled. "Well, well. And, of course, you don't like being rash!"
"On our arrival at Ragusa you may, if you choose, remain and be present at my daughter's marriage."
"Oh. Shall I be present, sir?" said Hilda, with a dangerous meekness.
"My dear child!" His Highness said affectionately. " Mr. Fortune—you have the happiness to be present at the betrothal of my daughter, the Duchesse de Zara, to my nephew, the Comte de Spoleto."
It was Reggie who preserved an appropriate calm. He only gave one chuckle.
"How? But—but it is incredible!" Spoleto cried in French, and recoiled, gesticulating.
The Prince flushed and glared at him.
Hilda stood up. "This is ridiculous, sir," she said, and was pale.
"Ridiculous, that is the word," Spoleto cried.
"Be silent, Spoleto. My dear child, you do not understand."
"I understand enough. You say you are my father. I think I ought to know my father. I—I do not mind knowing you. But this—it is absurd and insulting. I will not hear any more about it. This gentleman—I know nothing about him." She surveyed Spoleto with disdain. "I do not wish to make his acquaintance."
"Thank you very much," Spoleto cried.
"Hilda! Be pleased to remember that you are now to do your duty as my daughter. I do not permit disobedience."
"It's no use to talk so," said Miss Crowland. "I am not a baby."
His Highness, whose grey hair was becoming dishevelled, made a violent gesture. "English! She is as English as her mother."
"Oh. If you are going to say things against my mother I will go," said Miss Crowland. "You came from my mother, sir. I should like to speak to you."
Reggie bowed and opened the door for her. As they went out he heard Spoleto say in French, "Do you see, my uncle, this does not do," and then a storm. The house of Ragusa was divided against itself in throes.
On deck, Miss Crowland seemed to have some difficulty in making up her mind what to say. "Does my mother know about this?" she broke out at last.
"That's between you and your conscience, isn't it?" Reggie smiled.
"I haven't told her anything, but she has never told me anything," Miss Crowland said fiercely. "How did she come to send you here?"
"Some rather odd things happened at school, you know."
"Did they?" said Miss Crowland, in delighted amazement. "What things?"
"I wonder if you know who little Alice Warenne really is? She is an actress from the Theatre des Variétés in Paris." Miss Crowland laughed. "She was employed to get a photograph of you, to find out all about you, to arrange for you to be kidnapped like this, and to persuade you to come aboard."
"Monsieur is a detective!" Alice slid up between them. "Oh, but a very great detective."
"I knew all that. Except that she is an actress." Miss Crowland turned to her. "Are you an actress?"
"Darling!" Alice laughed all over her baby face. "That is the prettiest compliment, is it not, M. the detective?"
"If you think she has cheated me, she has not. She told me that the Prince of Ragusa said he was my father, and that he wanted me to come on his yacht. My mother never would tell me anything about my father. I didn't think that was fair. So I came. And now, Mr.—Mr. Fortune, what will my mother do?"
"What shall we all do?" Reggie laughed. "You're in a hole and your mother's in a hole, and the Prince of Ragusa is in the deepest hole of the three."
"Excepting always M. the detective," Alice laughed. "Look, monsieur—the beautiful England—she vanishes! Adieu, the respectable country and the nice policemen!"
"Do you imagine you are here to look after me?" said Miss Crowland fiercely.
"Think of me as a mother," said Reggie, and she went away in a rage.
"Well, monsieur?" Alice laughed at him. "You are making friends everywhere. You are content?"
"If I had a razor and a clean shirt," Reggie said.
"Alas, monsieur, I have none. I do not play—how do you call them?—principal boys. Bon voyage, monsieur." She tripped away.
It was made clear to Reggie that he was not going to be popular on board. The retinue of the Prince avoided him emphatically. The royal family remained below. He was taken to a cabin, and there dinner was served him.
"And not a bad dinner either," said Reggie, as he went on deck again.
It was dark and a moonless night. The yacht was meeting a southerly breeze and the first of the ocean swell and grew lively. Reggie had the deck to himself. He was nearly at the end of his cigar before any one disturbed his humorous meditations.
"Mr. Fortune? You amuse yourself?" It was the Comte de Spoleto.
"I can smile."
"In effect, my friend, we are ridiculous. My uncle he is a dreamer—a student. He sees a thing in his mind it is logical, it is to his desire, and he conceives it done. He has been like that always. A temperament! He is not a man of the world."
"I guessed that," Reggie murmured.
"But what to do? The situation is impossible, my friend. Conceive my feelings. This young girl—she is fresh, she is superb as a morning in the mountains—and by me she is exposed to this humiliation. And I—whatever I do, I am ludicrous. I beg of you, my friend, believe that I feel it. Imagine my position."
"Imagine mine. You might lend me a razor. But hardly a tooth-brush."
"He will not touch land before Spain. Oh, yes, he is capable of it, my friend. But this young girl——"
"Did you bring a tooth-brush for her?"
"There is everything for her. Maids, clothes. Oh, he has thought of everything, my uncle. He calls it her trousseau. What a man!"
"Better mutiny. Seize the yacht. Can you navigate? I can't. That was always the trouble in the pirate stories."
"Mutiny? They would all die for him. Oh, you are laughing at me. Mon Dieu! my friend, this is very serious. I beg of you, confide in me. You must have some plan. I promise you, I desire nothing better than to restore mademoiselle to her mother. I——"
They turned. The Prince of Ragusa stood at the head of the companion. "My dear uncle——"
"Spoleto! You are a traitor. You——"
"That is not true!"
"You plot against me with this fellow. It is incredible. It is villainous. It is treachery."
"Sir, I will take that from no man."
"Yes, you will take it. You will—" It seemed to Reggie that His Highness was about to box his nephew's ears. Reggie let himself go as the yacht pitched. They all jostled together. His Highness vanished down the companion with a crash.
"Now you've done it," said Reggie.
Spoleto exclaimed, peered at the body lying below, showed Reggie a white face, and hurried down. Reggie followed slowly.
His Highness was already surrounded by servants and his suite.
"When you have all finished, I'll tell you where he's hurt," said Reggie incisively.
"Ah, yes, you are a surgeon," Spoleto cried. "Stand aside, stand aside. The gentleman is a surgeon. Tell me, is he dead?" His Highness had begun to groan.
"Don't be futile," said Reggie, and knelt and began to straighten out the heap. The process caused His Highness anguish. "Yes. He can't walk. We must get him to bed to examine him."
It was an elaborate process and punctuated with lamentations . . . when at last His Highness lay stripped in bed and groaning faintly, "My aunt, what a patient!" Reggie grimaced to himself.
"I think I am everywhere a bruise, Mr. Fortune," the Prince groaned. "That scoundrel Spoleto!"
"That won't do, sir. I'm sure he meant nothing," said Reggie, with admirable magnanimity. "The—the yacht pitched. Now about the elbow." He began handling it skilfully.
"Ah! Yes. Yes, it is certainly the elbow that is most painful. But my knee also gives me great pain. And my head aches violently."
"The knee. Yes. The knee is badly bruised. There may be—— Ah, well, I can make you more comfortable for the time, sir. But it is my duty to tell you frankly I am anxious about the arm. I must have that elbow X-rayed at once. I am afraid there's a fracture. A small operation may be necessary. Just a screw in, you know."
"A screw in my elbow!" the Prince screamed.
"I suppose you don't wish to lose your arm," Reggie said sternly.
"Lose my right arm! Good God, Mr. Fortune! You don't mean——"
"I mean that I must have an X-ray of your elbow immediately and surgical resources at my disposal or I won't answer for the consequences. The yacht must make for harbour at once."
"Am I in danger, Mr. Fortune?"
"I hope to save your arm if you give me the chance."
"I am in your hands, Mr. Fortune," said the Prince feebly. "Oh! If you could do something to stop this neuralgic pain in my arm——"
In fact, Reggie had a difficult time with him, which you may think was only fair. It was very late before His Highness (who took a morbid interest in his limbs) could be got to sleep; very late—or early—before Reggie went to bed, but all the while the Giulia was steaming back to Tormouth, and when Reggie came on deck again "pink and beautiful", as he remarked to his mirror, thanks to a razor and linen of Spoleto's, the brown Tormouth headlands loomed through the morning haze.
Already upon deck were Spoleto and Hilda, walking together, negotiating, as it appeared, a defensive alliance.
"This is very gratifyin'," said Reggie.
"How is my uncle, Mr. Fortune?" said Spoleto.
"Still asleep, thank Heaven."
"He is not in any danger?" said Hilda.
"Well, you know, he's so anxious about himself."
"I should never forgive myself if anything happened!" Spoleto cried.
"Oh, I should, you know, I should," Reggie murmured thoughtfully. They did not attend to him.
"But you are not to blame." Hilda was interested in Spoleto. "You are not to blame for anything."
"You say that!" Spoleto cried. "Thank you, my cousin," and he kissed her hand.
"Oh, but you are absurd," said Hilda, and flushed faintly and turned away.
Spoleto made a gesture of despair. "Quite, quite," Reggie said. "So we'd better have breakfast." During that meal he might have heard, if he had listened, the full history of the emotions of the Comte de Spoleto. He escaped from them to visit his patient.
The Prince was much cheered by a night of sleep, still excessively interested in his injuries, but now hopeful about them. He gave great honour to Reggie's treatment of the case. "My dear sir, I must consider it providential that you were on board. Oh, but certainly providential."
"Well, sir, the affair might have taken a different turn without me," Reggie admitted modestly.
"Indeed, yes," said His Highness. "Good God, Mr. Fortune, and how I resented your appearance yesterday!" He became thoughtful. "I think what annoyed me most was that any one should have discovered my plans." He gazed at Reggie. "Are you free to tell me, Mr. Fortune? I am much interested to know what brought you here. Did Hilda say anything to her mother? Or is there a traitor in my camp? Spoleto—that little actress?"
"Here's the traitor, sir." Reggie took out of his pocket the Hottentot Venus.
"Good heavens!" The Prince took her affectionately. "My new palæolithic Venus."
"You left her in the library at the Tormouth school. There are not many men in the world who have a Hottentot Venus to lose. So she suggested to me that the Prince of Ragusa was taking action with regard to Hilda Crowland."
"You have a great deal of acumen, Mr. Fortune," said the Prince, and the sound of the cable broke off the conversation.
There is a hospital at Tormouth. The Comte de Spoleto went on shore to bring off its X-ray man. Reggie stretched himself in a deck chair to wait events. They were not long in arriving. A shore boat brought off the Hon. Stanley Lomas, dapper as ever, and a woman whom Reggie identified by her hair and her magnificent figure as the mother of Hilda—Mrs. Crowland—the Princess of Ragusa. Reggie went down the gangway to meet them.
Lomas sprang out of the boat. The Princess was handed out and went up the gangway. "Good God, Fortune!" Lomas shook hands. "You're a wonder! How did you bring them back?"
The Princess had met her daughter who was not abashed. "Hilda! Why do you do this extraordinary thing?"
And Hilda said quietly, "I wanted to know my father."
"You make us all ridiculous," the Princess cried.
"I don't feel that." Hilda put up her chin.
"May I present Mr. Fortune, ma'am?" Lomas put in.
Reggie bowed. "I am sorry to tell you, madame, that the Prince has had an accident. A fall down the companion. He is in bed. I am waiting for an X-ray to be taken of his arm. But I assure you there is no cause for alarm."
"I am not alarmed," said the Princess. "I wish to see him."
"Certainly. You will not forget that I have told him I represent you."
"It was an impertinence, Mr. Fortune," said the Princess, and swept to the companion. The door of the Prince's cabin was shut on her.
"Jam for the Prince." Reggie made a grimace at Lomas.
"Strictly speaking, what's my locus standi?" said the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department.
"Don't funk, Lomas. I dare say she'll murder him. That's where you come in."
So they were depressed till the return of the anxious Spoleto with his X-ray man. Reggie descended descended upon the Prince and Princess. She was sitting upon his bed. She was smiling. She kissed her hand to His Highness as she went out.
All which Reggie observed with a face of stone.
"I am infinitely your debtor, Mr. Fortune," His Highness beamed. "You are not married, no?"
"It becomes every day less probable," said Reggie grimly.
"One never knows the beauty of a woman's nature till one is suffering," said His Highness.
The X-rays were put to work on the arm, and the operator and Reggie went off to the yacht's dark room. As the plate came out, "I see no injury, Mr. Fortune," the operator complained.
"Fancy that," said Reggie.
Outside the dark room the Princess was impatiently waiting. "Well, Mr. Fortune?"
"Well, madame, there will be no need of an operation."
The Princess frowned at him. "I suppose I am much obliged to you, Mr. Fortune. I wish to hear more of your part in the affair."
Reggie, he has confessed, trembled. The Princess swept on. She opened the door of the music-room. She revealed Hilda and Spoleto. Hilda was being vehemently kissed.
Reggie fled. Professional instinct, he explains, took him back to his patient. "I am very pleased to tell you, sir, that there is no serious injury to the arm. Rest and good nursing are all that is now needed."
His Highness laughed like a boy and began to chatter—all about himself.
Reggie broke in at the first chance. "It is a satisfaction to me that I leave you in such good spirits, sir."
His Highness overflowed with gratitude. He did not know how to thank Mr. Fortune—what to offer him.
"If I might have this little lady, sir." Reggie took up the Hottentot Venus. "It would be a pleasant memento of an interesting adventure." And so he went off with the Hottentot Venus in his pocket. He hurried on deck to the uneasy Lomas. "You were right, Lomas. You are always right. We have no locus standi. And where's that shore boat?" They embarked hurriedly and rowed away from the royal house of Ragusa. "In heaven," said Reggie, "there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. That's why I'm going there. Look at her"—he produced the Hottentot Venus—"she's the only sensible woman I ever knew. Lomas, my dear old man, do you know you will have to explain all this to your sister?"
The Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department groaned aloud.