What could it all mean? What, indeed?
THE WHITE CAVALIER
While Hugh Henfrey was travelling along that winding road over high headlands and down steep gradients to the sea which stretched the whole length of the Italian Riviera, Dorise Ranscomb in a white silk domino and black velvet mask was pretending to enjoy herself amid the mad gaiety at the Casino in Nice.
The great bal blanc is always one of the most important events of the Nice season, and everyone of note wintering on the Riviera was there, yet all carefully masked, both men and women.
“I wonder what prevented Hugh from coming with us, mother?” the girl remarked as she sat with Lady Ranscomb watching the merriment and the throwing of serpentines and confetti.
“I don’t know. He certainly ought to have let me know, and not have kept me waiting nearly half an hour, as he did,” her mother snapped.
The girl did not reply. The truth was that while her mother and the Count had been waiting for Hugh’s appearance, she had gone to the telephone and inquired for Mr. Henfrey. Walter Brock had spoken to her.
“I’m awfully sorry, Miss Ranscomb,” he had replied. “But I don’t know where Hugh can be. I’ve just been up to his room, but his fancy dress is there, flung down as though he had suddenly discarded it and gone out. Nobody noticed him leave. The page at the door is certain that he did not go out. So he must have left by the staff entrance.”
“That’s very curious, isn’t it?” Dorise remarked.
“Very. I can’t understand it.”
“But he promised to go with us to the ball at Nice to-night!”
“Well, Miss Ranscomb, all I can think is that something—something very important must have detained him somewhere.”
Walter knew that his friend was suspected by the police, but dared not tell her the truth. Hugh’s disappearance had caused him considerable anxiety because, for aught he knew, he might already be arrested.
So Dorise, much perplexed, but resolving not to say to her mother that she had telephoned to the Palmiers, rejoined the Count in the hotel lounge, where they waited a further ten minutes. Then they entered the car and drove along to Nice.
There are few merrier gatherings in all Europe than the bal blanc. The Municipal Casino, at all times the center of revelry, of mild gambling, smart dresses and gay suppers, is on that night an amazing spectacle of black and white. The carnival colours—the two shades of colour chosen yearly by the International Fetes Committee—are abandoned, and only white is worn.