The Vanity Box/Chapter 22
Miss Ricardo," Nora said after dinner, "I want very much to speak to Ian at once. I must speak to him."
Terry looked doubtful. "But if you're so afraid of his being discovered——" she began.
Nora cut her short. "I know. You will think I'm never sure of my own mind. And of course when I begged you to let me carry out this plan, I told you I didn't mean ever to see him alone. You were simply an angel to take pity on me, and allow us this chance of being near each other for a few days, so that we might try to arrange for the future, and I oughtn't to take advantage of your goodness. You mustn't be drawn into trouble through us, whatever comes. Ian says that, and I feel it as much as he. But—I must talk to him alone to-night."
"Would it do if we sent, and had him come to the door here as if taking orders for to-morrow?" Terry asked. "Or perhaps he might come inside for five or six minutes, without its being thought odd, even by curious persons. I could go into my own room while you spoke together."
I thought you would be angelic enough to suggest something like that," said Nora. But you see that might involve you, if harm came of it, and I don't believe Ian would consent, even if I would. While you were in your room—just while the waiter was clearing the table, I scribbled a few words in pencil, and sent them off. I told Ian to meet me in the garden at the back of the hotel, at a quarter past ten."
Then I think you were very imprudent," exclaimed Terry. "As for involving me, that doesn't matter." She was tempted to add that her complicity in the plan of disguise had already involved her almost as deeply as she could be involved in the affair; but she would not point this out to the girl, who did not realize it fully.
"Oh, wait, dear Miss Ricardo, before you've made up your mind, until I've explained a little more," Nora pleaded. "I thought I could run down soon and sit on the balcony. Then, after awhile, say about ten, I could go into the garden and walk about as if to take a little exercise before bedtime. You see, it will be just too late for many people to be about, and too early for it to look odd that I should be out of doors, especially if I'd been sitting for awhile on the balcony already. Then, I don't need to speak with Ian more than three or four minutes. I've thought it all over, and there can't be any danger, can there—in a place like this? I begin to feel now that there's nobody watching us. I believe we've thrown off suspicion."
"There's probably no real danger. Still, I don't like it," said Terry.
"Neither do I like it," answered the girl. "But it's a choice between evils. And it's too late to change. Ian must have had my note a long time, and he may not be in his hotel. I shall have to go, you see."
"I suppose so," agreed Terry.
"Have I abused your kindness?" asked Nora, looking so lovely and so miserable that Terry's heart melted completely.
She had been caught by the romance of the strange plan the girl had proposed. And because her own first and last love had been broken abruptly and cruelly, when she was about Nora Verney's age, her sympathy with Nora in her tragic separation from her lover was almost morbidly intense. Terry had not received many confidences from the young girl; but she had been told that Nora was forced to part from Ian Barr; that their engagement had never been ended, nevertheless; that they had hoped to marry some day, "until that dreadful murder changed everything." With tears, and hands that clung to Terry's, the girl had sworn her certainty of Ian Barr's innocence. "All his motives in everything he had done were the noblest and bravest, and most unselfish," she had sobbed to her friend. "Because he is noble and unselfish, both our lives may be ruined, his and mine. But we've had no time to plan things. Do help us. Do give us this one chance."
So Terry had given the one chance, hardly knowing whether she were right or wrong, or what was her position morally and legally. Sometimes she regretted what she had done; but as Nora asked, "Have I abused your kindness?" she was conscious of no regret. She and the girl kissed each other; and, wrapping a lace scarf round her head and shoulders, Nora Verney went down to sit on the balcony.
Hardly any one was there. Though a number of people were stopping in the hotel, they mostly sat in the reading-room, for fear of the night air, glancing at the papers or playing games, or else they went to bed in default of something more amusing to do.
Nora glanced about hurriedly, and was glad not to see Sir Ian Hereward or Major Smedley. Two German ladies were talking very fast and both at the same time about their babies and servants at home; and there was a young man, whom Terry and Nora had noticed once or twice following their road since Chamounix. If he had not been such an inoffensive, fussy little fellow, apparently a Frenchman of the bourgeois class, the girl might have regarded him with some anxiety; but she and Miss Ricardo had decided that he was a consumptive Frenchman who had been ordered to travel for his health. He had never appeared to take the slightest interest in them, or their movements, and when Nora came out on to the balcony, he had apparently gone to sleep over a book, or else the high-hung electric lights had tired his eyes, for he had covered them with a plaid silk handkerchief such as—Nora thought pityingly—no human being except a very common foreigner would use.
She sat down under an electric light and pretended to read. The German ladies glanced at her, and then returned to their harrowing tale, that of a cook who had selfishly indulged in the measles. The young man did not wake up. Altogether, it seemed fantastic to trouble about taking precautions; nevertheless Nora faithfully carried out the programme she had detailed to Terry. She read for a while; then feigned to tire of her book, and leaned back, gazing over the hotel garden with a dreamy air. At last she rose, laid her book on the chair as if to keep her place, and began sauntering up and down the balcony. No one paid the slightest attention to her, but she continued to act her part, and presently seemed to hesitate at the top of the steps, whether to descend or stop where she was. Eventually she decided to descend slowly, rather listlessly, and to hover about below, examining the flowers, and smelling a rose here and there. Then she saw a path which pleased her, and strolled along it, disappearing from the sight of any one on the balcony who might happen to be observant.
The garden of this little hotel at St. Pierre de Chartreuse was not walled in. It was a mere green setting which added charm to the house. There were flower beds all round, back and front, under the verandah, and the rest was lawn, intersected by a few paths, and furnished with three or four cheap rustic seats where scarcely any one ever chose to sit. Nora walked to the seat farthest from the house, which was placed behind the shelter of a small buttress of rock, over which nasturtiums ran in gay riot.
The sky was sown with stars, otherwise the night was dark, and when Nora had sat down on the seat behind the rock, trees and bushes even at a short distance were blurred in shape, forming mere masses of black shadow. She was sure, however, that Ian Barr would find her, and he did, three minutes before the time appointed.
Neither spoke at first. The young man held out his arms, and the girl slipped into them. Still in silence she lifted her face, and he kissed her.
"Darling—precious darling!" he murmured.
"Oh, Ian," she breathed. "It's like Heaven to be in your arms again. The first time since—that awful day."
"Still, to have seen each other is something," he said. "It has been much to me. You can't realize how much."
"Yes, I can, by what I feel myself," she answered in a low, soft voice.
"These last three days have been worth years of life," he whispered.
"Yes—years of separation," she said. "But Ian, we can't be separated. I can't live without you. I always thought so. I know it now. That's one thing I wanted to tell you again to-night—but it's not why I sent for you. Sir Ian is here."
"Here, in this hotel!"
"Yes. It was a surprise to Miss Ricardo, and to him to find us. But here he is. It can't be he has found out anything about you, and has been following?"
"Impossible," said Ian Barr. "Besides, he would do nothing."
"He might. How can we tell? He knows you are suspected. Anything to save himself, perhaps!"
"You don't know him!"
"Do you know him, Ian? After that day——"
"Mr. Ian Barr, I believe," said an English voice, with a slight French roll of the "r's," speaking close to the lovers.
They started apart, and saw a small, slight figure step out from the shelter of the flower-draped rock.
"It's useless saying you're Giuseppe Verdi, for everything's known, and the game's up," went on the voice, that had a note of triumph in it. "You'd better not——"
"Run!" advised the girl, sharply.
"If he does I'll shoot," said the little man. "S'il vous plaît, Messieurs!" He raised his tone, and two men in the uniform of French police appeared at the turn of the path.
As he remarked, "the game s up"; abandoning pretence, or any thought of escape, if he had had it, Ian Barr stood firmly by Nora s side.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" he asked.
"I am Michel, of Scotland Yard," returned the other, shortly; and with a pang Nora recognized him as the fussy little French tourist, "travelling for his health." "I have been following you for some time."
"You have been following me!" she exclaimed. "You coward—you sneak!"
"We get called hard names occasionally, but they break no bones," was Michel's nonchalant answer. "I'm very sorry, though, Miss Verney, to cause you annoyance."
"Please leave us, Nora," said Ian Barr.
"No, I can't. I couldn't bear it! Please don't send me away yet," she implored him, and for the moment Barr yielded.
"I suppose you want me as a witness in the Hereward case," he said to the detective. "Is that it?"
That's what you were wanted for at the time of the first inquest," replied Michel. "It's more serious now. Owing to certain circumstances, there's a warrant out for your arrest in England."
"This isn't England."
"No. But you are charged with the murder of Lady Hereward; and you must know there's extradition for the crime of murder.
"All the same you have no power to arrest me on French soil."
"If you choose to make trouble for me, these gentlemen will ask to see your licence to drive in France. If you can't produce satisfactory evidence that you are entitled to any licence you may hold, they will arrest you for breach of French law."
Ian Barr laughed. "I see," he said. That is well thought out. You are clever. If I wanted to fight, I could knock all three of you into cocked hats, and I think you must know that; but——"
"You don't want to fight, first for the lady's sake and then because it would only make things worse for her and you afterward."
"Oh, Ian, this is all my fault!" Nora cried, her voice agonized.
"No," he said, "it's the fault of Fate. Remember what I said about what the three days were worth. And remember all you promised me."
"What is going to happen now?" she asked.
"I am not arrested, but I am going to do whatever they want me to do, till I'm extradited. Afterward—well, I wish them joy of me!" Again he laughed, a strange laugh that had something of desperate courage as well as bitterness in it. And to Nora Verney it was like the knell of hope.