I sat up so as not to miss the comedy which was about to set its scenes upon the grim visage of the Count. As his eyes met mine his jaw fell.
“A thousand devils! Who are you?”
“I couldn’t swear,” said I, meekly. “Everybody hereabouts insists that I am some one else. The situation warrants a complete explanation. Perhaps you can give it?” I should have laughed but for those flashing eyes.
“You are a blockhead,” he said to his subaltern.
“He is the man, according to your London correspondent,” responded the other with some show of temper. “I cannot see that the fault lies at my door. You told me that he would enter the country under an assumed name.”
“I presume the affair is ended so far as I am concerned,” I said, shaking the lameness from my legs.
“Of course, of course!” replied the Count, pulling at his gray mustaches, which flared out on either side like the whiskers of a cat.
“I should like to return to the city at once,” I added.
“Certainly. I regret that you have been the victim of a blunder for which some one shall suffer. Your compatriot has caused me a deal of trouble.”
“I assure you that he is in no wise connected with the present matter. According to his latest advices he is at Vienna.”
“I should be most happy to believe that,” was the Count’s rejoinder, which inferred that he didn’t believe it.
“My friend seems to be a dangerous person?”
“All men of brains, coupled with impudence, are dangerous; and I give your friend credit for being as brave as he is impudent. But come, my carriage is at your service. You are a journalist, but you will promise not to make public this unfortunate mistake.”
When the Count and I parted company I had not the vaguest idea that we should ever hold conversation again.
The result of the adventure was, I sent a very interesting story to New York, omitting my part in it. This done, I wired my assistant in London not to expect me for some time yet.
The truth was, I determined to hunt for Hillars, and incidentally for her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia.
As I came along the road, the dust of which had been laid that afternoon by an odorous summer rain, the principal thing which struck my eyes was the quaintness and unquestioned age of the old inn. It was a relic of the days when feudal lords still warred with one another, and the united kingdom was undreamt of. It looked to be 300 years old, and might have been more. From time to time it had undergone various repairs, as shown by the new stone and signs of modern masonry, the slate peeping out among the moss-covered tiles. It sat back from the highway, and was surrounded by thick rows of untrimmed hedges, and was partly concealed from view by oaks and chestnuts.