The weight of the unexpended blow carried Dupont off his feet. He fell in a heap, and Mama Therese, charging wildly after Sofia, tripped on his body and deposited fourteen stone of solid flesh squarely in the small of Dupont’s back with a force that drove the breath out of him in one agonized blast.
Karslake laughed aloud: it was all as good as a cinema. Then he followed Sofia.
It was a dark and silent street by night, little used, a mere link between two main thoroughfares. Sofia, running for dear life, was still far from the nearest corner. Karslake doubled nimbly across the street to the only vehicle in sight, an impressive Rolls-Royce town-car. Jumping on the running-board he pointed out the fleeing shadow to the chauffeur.
“Lay alongside that young woman before she makes the corner, Albert!”
Without delay the car began to move.
Meanwhile, the Cafe des Exiles was erupting antic shapes, waiters, customers, Dupont, Therese. The quiet hour was made hideous by their yells.
“Stop thief!” “A la voleuse!” “L’arretez!” “A la voleuse!” “Stop thief!”
An entirely superfluous bobby weathered the corner, discovered Sofia in flight across the street, came about, and shaped a diagonal course to cut across her bows. She saw him coming and stopped short with a gasp of dismay. Simultaneously the Rolls-Royce slid smoothly in between them and Karslake hopped down. Sofia uttered a small cry, more of surprise than fright, and hung back, trying to free the arm by which he was trying to guide her to the open door.
“It’s our only chance,” he warned her, coolly. “We’re between two fires. Better not delay!”
She yielded and tumbled in. Karslake followed and slammed the door. The car shot away and rounded into the cross street before the bobby could collect himself enough to look at its license plate. He made after it, but when he had reached the corner it had turned another and was lost.
At the second turning Karslake looked round from the window with a reassuring laugh, and settled back beside Sofia.
“So that ends that!”
She stared wide-eyed through the shadows. She knew him now, she was not in the least afraid, but she was confused beyond measure.
“Why—why—” she faltered—“what—who are you and where are you taking me?”
“Oh, I beg your pardon!” said the young man, contritely. “I forgot. One ought to introduce one’s self before rescuing ladies in distress—but there really wasn’t time, you know. If you’ll overlook the informality, my name’s Karslake, Roger Karslake, Princess Sofia, and I’m taking you to your father.”
HOUSE OF THE WOLF
This startling announcement Sofia received without comment and with a composure quite as surprising. The life which had made her what she was, a young woman singularly unillusioned, well-poised, and well-informed, had brought out in her nature a strong vein of scepticism. She was not easily to be impressed. The more remarkable the circumstance in question, the less inclined was she to exclaim about it, the stronger was her propensity to look shrewdly into the matter and find out for herself just what it was that made it seem so odd.