Anna the Adventuress
Anna the Adventuress
THE CARPET-KNIGHT AND THE LADY
The girl paused and steadied herself for a moment against a field gate. Her breath came fast in little sobbing pants. Her dainty shoes were soiled with dust and there was a great tear in her skirt. Very slowly, very fearfully, she turned her head. Her cheeks were the colour of chalk, her eyes were filled with terror. If a cart were coming, or those labourers in the field had heard, escape was impossible.
The terror faded from her eyes. A faint gleam of returning colour gave her at once a more natural appearance. So far as the eye could reach, the white level road, with its fringe of elm-trees, was empty. Away off in the fields the blue-smocked peasants bent still at their toil. They had heard nothing, seen nothing. A few more minutes, and she was safe.
Yet before she turned once more to resume her flight she schooled herself with an effort to look where it had happened. A dark mass of wreckage, over which hung a slight mist of vapour, lay half in the ditch, half across the hedge, close under a tree from the trunk of which the bark had been torn and stripped. A few yards further off something grey, inert, was lying, a huddled-up heap of humanity twisted into a strange unnatural shape. Again the chalky pallor spread even to her lips, her eyes became lit with the old terror. She withdrew her head with a little moan, and resumed her flight. Away up on the hillside was the little country railway station. She fixed her eyes upon it and ran, keeping always as far as possible in the shadow of the hedge, gazing fearfully every now and then down along the valley for the white smoke of the train.
She reached the station, and mingling with a crowd of excursionists who had come from the river on the other side, took her place in the train unnoticed. She leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. Until the last moment she was afraid.
Arrived in Paris she remembered that she had not the money for a fiacre. She was in ill trim for walking, but somehow or other she made her way as far as the Champs Elysées, and sank down upon an empty seat.
She had not at first the power for concealment. Her nerves were shattered, her senses dazed by this unexpected shock. She sat there, a mark for boulevarders, the unconscious object of numberless wondering glances. Paris was full, and it was by no means a retired spot which she had found. Yet she never once thought of changing it. A person of somewhat artificial graces and mannerisms, she was for once in her life perfectly natural. Terror had laid a paralyzing hand upon her, fear kept her almost unconscious of the curious glances which she was continually attracting.
Then there came briskly along the path towards her, an Englishman. He was perhaps forty-five years of age. He was dressed with the utmost care, and he set his feet upon the broad walk as though the action were in some way a condescension. He was alert, well-groomed, and yet--perhaps in contrast with the more volatile French type--there was a suggestion of weight about him, not to say heaviness. He too looked at the girl, slackened his pace and looked at her again through his eye-glasses, looked over his shoulder after he had passed, and finally came to a dead stop. He scratched his upper lip reflectively.
It was a habit of his to talk to himself. In the present case it did not matter, as there was no one else within earshot.
"Dear me!" he said. "Dear me! I wonder what I ought to do. She is English! I am sure of that. She is English, and apparently in some distress. I wonder----"
He turned slowly round. He was inclined to be a good-natured person, and he had no nervous fears of receiving a snub. The girl was pretty, and apparently a lady.
"She cannot be aware," he continued, "that she is making herself conspicuous. It would surely be only common politeness to drop her a hint--a f