The Laughing Girl
скачать книгу бесплатно
"W-what the devil's the matter with everything to-day!" I exclaimed, getting up and beginning to pace the room.
But there was no use blustering. I suspected what the matter was. I was falling in love with Thusis.
"Good Lord!" said I in unfeigned distress, "an adventuress camouflaged as a servant! Has an O'Ryan come to this?"
Smith opened the door. He was in his shirt sleeves and had a pipe in one hand, a book in the other.
"Whatthehellsthematter?" he asked. "You're thumping about in here like an epileptic cat."
I told him I was exercising.
"Well, you'd better exercise your legs down the stairs," he remarked; "there's a wagonful of tourists at the front door."
"The deuce there is!"
"Look out of the window and then get a wiggle on."
Sure enough! From the window I beheld them. They already were disembarking.
"Where's Thusis!" I exclaimed. "This is the limit. It's Ц it's a confounded nuisance."
"Better go below, mine host," said Smith, resuming his recumbent attitude on his bed and opening his book. He puffed at his pipe, swatted a fly with a paper-knife, and looked at me.
"Mine host," he said, "you should greet your guests on the doorstep wearing a napkin over one arm."
I turned on my heel and went out, and met Thusis in the hallway.
"What the dickens is all this?" I demanded. "Have those tourists the impudence to come here and ask for accommodations in my house?"
She seemed surprised and also I thought a trifle excited.
"But, Monsieur, was it not understood?"
"Oh, yes, of course it was understood because the idiotic Swiss law must be obeyed," said I, gnawing my lip in vexation. "What do they want Ц these tourists? Tea?"
"I think," said Thusis, "they intend to stay."
"Hang it all!" I blurted out. "That spoils our perfectly delightful privacy."
Thusis observed me sideways. She wore the fine chemisette of some sheer stuff and the velvet bodice of the peasantry, both coquettish and cut low. Her straight short wool skirt and buckled slippers set off the fascinating costume of the Canton; but no peasant ever possessed such slender and thoroughbred loveliness.
I glanced down at her slim feet, at her hands so smooth and so prettily fashioned; I looked up into her gray eyes uneasily. And I thought to myself that I'd show the door to any guest who tried any nonsense with Thusis.
"Where are these tourists?" I asked sulkily.
"In the big lounging room."
As I started to descend the stairs Thusis touched me on the arm. A tiny and complex shock went quite through me at the contact.
"Are you still vexed at me?"
"Because Ц I was rude to you. I did provoke you. I did lay myself open to light treatment from you. But Ц I do respect you, Don Michael."
"You are always laughing at me."
"I know.It's my way Ц if I like a personЕ I plague them a littleЕ If I like them."
"But you not only plague me, you ridicule me!"
"You don't understand. You couldn't understand. I myself don't understand why I laugh at you and torment youЕ Because I never before did that to a manЕ To my sister Ц to my girl friends, yes. But never before to any man."
She stood near me, smiling, watching my expression.
"I like you, Don Michael," she said.
"And I you, Thusis."
"I know it. It won't do, either. I mean that we may laugh a little together, now and then. But it is safer not to think of each other as Ц as socially Ц equal."
I said magnanimously: "I am beginning to think of you in that way already."
"Are you really?" Her smile flashed out, mischievous, almost mocking.
"A servant?" she added. "Possibly even an adventuress? An agent, anyway, in the service of some government not yours? You consider admitting such a woman on terms of social equality? Oh, Don Michael! If you like me as much as that you must care a little more for me than mere liking."
She began to laugh Ц a hushed, delicious sort of laughter, checked suddenly by my quick flush.
"If I take the trouble to be serious with you," said I, "as much is due me from you, I think."
It was, for me, utterly impossible to define the series of complex expressions which succeeded one another in her face.
She seemed inclined to laugh again but bit her lip and looked at me out of brilliant eyes. Mirth, surprise, gay disdain, a fleeting uncertainty, a slight blush,†Ц then the familiar sweet mockery once more Ц these I read and followed as I watched her.
"Such a strange young man," I heard her murmur to herself.
"And such a strange girl, Thusis."
"I know. And you and I have no business to play together. And we can't unless we're very, very careful. We ought not to. You think so from your standpoint, and I know it from mine. And yet Ц if you will be very, very careful Ц I'll risk it Ц a little while longerЕ Because I Ц I don't know why Ц I like to laugh at you, Don MichaelЕ And I laugh at those only whom I like."
"I think," said I, "that I'm rather near to falling in love with you, Thusis."
"Oh!" she cried with her breathless, bewildering smile, "I couldn't permit you to do that!"
"No. You mustn't. That would never do! No Ц no indeed! Never! Just find me gay and frivolous and rather pretty in my way Ц just attractive enough to remain good humored when I plague you."
"If I should fall in love with you I couldn't help it."
"But it would be such a mistake. You mustn't do it. I don't wish to think about such things. It wouldn't do for me. Or for you. I mean as far as I am concerned."
"You mean you could not respond, Thusis?"
"Oh, no, I couldn't." In her hurried voice there was a faint hint of alarm, I thought.
I was falling in love. I knew it.
"Unless you take me lightly Ц unless you are willing that we play together," she said, "I couldn't talk to you, Don Michael. I may not take you seriously; nor you, me. That is essential."
"I may not p-pay court to you, Thusis?"
"Oh, that? Yes Ц in the nice way you have been doing. At least I thought you had been doing it, haven't you?"
"Yes Ц not realizing it. Yes Ц that's what I have really been doingЕ Am I not to make love to you, Thusis?"
"W-what kind of love?"
"Honest, of course."
"D-demonstrative Ц love?"
"Oh, no! No, not that sort. No, please." For I had taken her smooth little hand in mine, and she withdrew it swiftly.
"You know," she said, "your guests are waiting."
She laughed. Then she came up to me slowly:
"Don Michael, do you really like me?"
"Then Ц will you do something for me?"
"It is this. In the presence of these tourists remember always that I am your servant and a Swiss peasant. Never by word or glance permit them to believe otherwise. Do you promise?"
She smiled, laid both her hands frankly in mine.
"I'm going to tell you something," she said. "Your guests below are the ex-king Constantine of Greece, his wife, the ex-queen; Ferdinand, King of Bulgaria Ц or Tzar of all the Bulgars Ц as he loves to call himself; Ц and their several assorted shadows."
My eyes were widening at every word.
"Thusis," I said, "what nonsense are you talking?"
"Michael," she said, using my given name for the first time without some absurd prefix, "I am telling you the truth. Those are the people who, dressed like ordinary tourists, are now seated below drinking coffee and cognac and eating nice little cakes prepared by Josephine and served by my sister Clelia."
"Do you mean to say that the ex-king and queen of Greece, and King Ferdinand of Bulgaria are in Switzerland incognito?" I demanded incredulously.
"They are,†Ц that is, Ferdinand is here incognito for the first time. You know, of course, that Constantine and his queen were living in Berne since the Allies kicked them out of Greece?"
"I have heard so."
"Well, then, here they are, incognito, without servants or any outward show, dressed like any tourists, arriving in an ordinary wagon. Yes, here they are, evidently desiring to escape observation, arm in arm with him of Bulgaria. I thought I'd tell you, Michael."
There was an odd little glint in her gray eyes; an odd smile on her lips.
"What the devil are these birds doing here?" I asked, astonished.
"These allies of Germany?"
"Yes," I said, disgusted; "what do you suppose these fancy gentlemen are doing here in a little obscure inn among the Alps while all the world which they have helped to set on fire is in flames around them?"
Her firm hands pressed mine, very slightly.
"Do you feel it so keenly, Michael?"
"That these kings below have helped set the world afire?"
"Certainly I do."
She stood looking at me, her hands still resting in mine.
"And now," she mused, "the Americans are in it. But you are not a YankeeЕ Otherwise Ц "
"But you are a Chilean."
"I'm a human being, too. What do you want me to do, Thusis?"
"Permit me to assign them their rooms."
I said: "You are here to watch these kings. You knew they were coming. You are here to watch them in the interest of your government."
"Is it so?"
I looked at her in wonder, dismay, and deep concern.
This young girl Ц this fresh, sweet, laughing, slender little thing a spy? And yet I had vaguely supposed her to be some sort of political agent masquerading in my service for purposes occult.
But the sinister agent who lurks at the heels of suspects Ц the shadow that haunts marked men Ц the unseen, unheard presence that lingers by doors ajar, by unlighted corridors, in the shade of trees!†Ц I had not thought of Thusis in such a way.
Something of this I think she read in my eyes fixed on her, for she flushed slightly and made as though to withdraw her hands.
But, still looking at her, I lifted her hands tightly imprisoned between my own, and touched them lightly with my lips.
"Oh," she said faintly, and I felt her sudden impulsive clasp.
"You are fine, Michael," she whispered. "I ask nothing in the way of help, only that you give me my chance in this affair."
"Take it," said I. "There are those imbecile kings! Raise the devil with them if you like. And if you need help Ц "
" Ц You know where to look for it," I ended. "But for goodness' sake be careful, Thusis. Not that I care about myself. The chances are that I'll enlist anyway. But they'd intern you here in Switzerland if they catch you at anything militant. And that would worry me half to death."
In her laughing voice there was the vaguest hint of a softness I had never heard there.
"Yes, it would." I drew her a little toward me, but she turned grave, immediately, and we stood so in silence while her gray eyes regarded me.
Then she gently disengaged herself.
"Be nice to me. Michael, even when I don't deserve it," she said; "even when" Ц she laughed almost maliciously Ц "even when I seem to court destruction."
"Nevertheless," said I, reddening, "I shall pay court to you."
"And make love to you, Thusis."
"That," she said, "is not even on the knees of the gods: it is impossible."