In the afternoon Denry went down to Montreux and returned with an opal bracelet, which Nellie wore at dinner.
“Oh! What a ripping bracelet!” said a girl.
“Yes,” said Nellie. “My husband gave it me only to-day.”
“I suppose it’s your birthday or something,” the inquisitive girl ventured.
“No,” said Nellie.
“How nice of him!” said the girl.
The next day Captain Deverax appeared in riding breeches. They were not correct for ski-running, but they were the best he could do. He visited a tailor’s in Montreux.
The Countess Ruhl had a large sleigh of her own, also a horse; both were hired from Montreux. In this vehicle, sometimes alone, sometimes with a male servant, she would drive at Russian speed over the undulating mountain roads; and for such expeditions she always wore a large red cloak with a hood. Often she was thus seen, in the afternoon; the scarlet made a bright moving patch on the vast expanses of snow. Once, at some distance from the village, two tale-tellers observed a man on skis careering in the neighbourhood of the sleigh. It was Captain Deverax. The flirtation, therefore, was growing warmer and warmer. The hotels hummed with the tidings of it. But the Countess never said anything; nor could anything be extracted from her by even the most experienced gossips. She was an agreeable but a mysterious woman, as befitted a Russian Countess. Again and again were she and the Captain seen together afar off in the landscape. Certainly it was a novelty in flirtations. People wondered what might happen between the two at the fancy-dress ball which the Hotel Beau-Site was to give in return for the hospitality of the Hotel Metropole. The ball was offered not in love, but in emulation, almost in hate; for the jealousy displayed by the Beau-Site against the increasing insolence of the Metropole had become acute. The airs of the Captain and his lieges, the Clutterbuck party, had reached the limit of the Beau-Site’s endurance. The Metropole seemed to take it for granted that the Captain would lead the cotillon at the Beau-Site’s ball as he had led it at the Metropole’s.
And then, on the very afternoon of the ball, the Countess received a telegram—it was said from St Petersburg—which necessitated her instant departure. And she went, in an hour, down to Montreux by the funicular railway, and was lost to the Beau-Site. This was a blow to the prestige of the Beau-Site. For the Countess was its chief star, and, moreover, much loved by her fellow-guests, despite her curious weakness for the popinjay, and the mystery of her outings with him.