Her Royal Highness. A Romance of the Chancelleries of Europe - William Le Queux - ebook

Her Royal Highness. A Romance of the Chancelleries of Europe ebook

William Le Queux

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A large, square wooden veranda covered by a red and white awning, above a wide silent sweep of flowing river, whose huge rocks, worn smooth through a thousand ages, raised their backs about the stream, a glimpse of green feathery palms and flaming scarlet poinsettias on the island opposite, and beyond the great drab desert, the illimitable waste of stony, undulating sands stretching away to the infinite, and bathed in the blood-red light of the dying day.

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Liczba stron: 401

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Contents

I. THE NILE TRAVELLERS.

II. AROUSES CERTAIN SUSPICIONS.

III. IN THE HOLY OF HOLIES.

IV. CONTAINS A BITTER TRUTH.

V. A SURPRISE.

VI. MORE CONCERNING THE STRANGER.

VII. THE NIGHT OF THE GOLDEN PIG.

VIII. THE GREAT GHELARDI.

IX. AT DOWNING STREET.

X. SOME CURIOUS STORIES.

XI. STRICTLY INCOGNITA.

XII. THE KING'S CONFIDENCES.

XIII. HIS MAJESTY'S SECRET.

XIV. IS MAINLY PROBLEMATICAL.

XV. BEHIND THE THRONE.

XVI. HER ROYAL HIGHNESS.

XVII. THE CIPHER DISPATCH.

XVIII. TOLD IN THE CAFE METROPOLE.

XIX. AT THE COURT BALL.

XX. REVEALS HUBERT'S SECRET.

XXI. A CONFIDENTIAL REPORT.

XXII. "THE THRUSH."

XXIII. HER HIGHNESS'S WARNING.

XXIV. ROOM NUMBER 164.

XXV. GOVERNMENT SECRETS.

XXVI. GATHERING CLOUDS.

XXVII. REVEALS AN INTRIGUE.

XXVIII. THE EYEWITNESS.

XXIX. REVEALS THE BONDAGE.

XXX. MIJOUX FLOBECQ.

XXXI. THE BOND REVEALED.

XXXII. THROUGH THE NIGHT.

XXXIII. SPREADING THE NET.

XXXIV. THE TRUTH IS TOLD.

I. THE NILE TRAVELLERS.

THE mystic hour of the desert afterglow.

A large, square wooden veranda covered by a red and white awning, above a wide silent sweep of flowing river, whose huge rocks, worn smooth through a thousand ages, raised their backs about the stream, a glimpse of green feathery palms and flaming scarlet poinsettias on the island opposite, and beyond the great drab desert, the illimitable waste of stony, undulating sands stretching away to the infinite, and bathed in the blood-red light of the dying day.

On the veranda sat a crowd of chattering English men and women of wealth and leisure–taking tea. The women were mostly in white muslins, and many wore white sun-helmets though it was December, while the men were mostly in clean suits of “ducks.” An orchestra from Italy was playing Musetta’s waltz-song from “La Boheme,” and the same people one meets at the opera, at supper at the Savoy or the Ritz, were chattering over tea and pastries served by silent-footed, dark-faced Nubians in scarlet fezes and long white caftans.

The Cataract Hotel at Assouan is, at five o’clock, when the Eastern desert is flooded by the wonderful green and crimson of the fading sun, the most select yet cosmopolitan circle in all the world, the meeting-place of those seekers after sunshine who have ascended the Nile to the spot where rain has never fallen within the memory of man.

The poor old played-out Riviera has still its artificial attractions, it is true. One can, for once in one’s life, enjoy the pasteboard of the Nice carnival, the irresponsible frolic of the Battle of Flowers, the night gaiety of Ciro’s, breathe the combined odour of perspiration and perfume in the rooms at Monte, eat the gateaux at Vogarde’s, play the one-franc game of boule at the Casino Municipal, or lunch off the delicious trout from the tanks at the Reserve at Beaulieu. But the Cote d’Azur and its habitues, its demi-mondaines and its escrocs soon pall upon one; hence Society nowadays goes farther afield–to Egypt, the land of wonders, where there is ever-increasing charm, where the winter days amid those stupendous monuments of a long-dead civilisation are rainless, the land where Christmas is as warm as our English August, where all is silent and dreamy beside the mighty Nile, and where the brown-faced sons of the desert kneel Mecca-wards at sunset and praise the name of Allah the One. Allah is just; Allah is merciful. There is no God but Allah!

Some winter idlers go to Cairo, and there indulge in the gaieties of Shepheard’s, the Savoy, or the Gezireh Palace, or the teas and dances at Mena House, or the breath of freedom at Heliopolis. But Cairo is not Egypt. To see and to know Egypt one must ascend the Nile a farther eight hundred miles to Luxor–the town where once stood ancient Thebes, the City of a Hundred Gates, or to Assouan, the Aswan of the days of the Pharaohs.

It is there, on the borders of the glowing desert of Nubia, far removed from the stress of modern life, that one first begins to experience the new joy of existence–life in that limitless wilderness of sky and sand, life amid the relics of a mighty and wonderful age long since bygone and forgotten.

On that afternoon of early December a merry party of four young people– two girls and two men–sat at one of the small tables on the veranda.

The gay quartette, waited upon by Ahmed, an erect bronze statue, picturesque in his white caftan and red sash, were laughing merrily as the elder of the two men recounted the amusing progress of a party whom he had accompanied on camels into the desert that afternoon.

Around them everywhere was loud chatter and laughter, while the orchestra played dreamily, the music floating across the slowly darkening river which flowed on its course from unexplored regions of Central Africa away to the far-distant Mediterranean.

“I went across to Philae this morning to see the temples–Pharaoh’s Bed, and the rest. Hardy pulled me out of bed at six o’clock,” exclaimed the younger of the two men–a tall, clean-shaven Englishman of a decided military type. “But I must confess that after flogging the Nile for nearly three weeks and Mahmoud taking us to see every temple along its banks, I’m getting just a bit fed up with antiquities and ruins.”

“Oh, my dear fellow,” cried the elder man in quick reproach, “you must never admit such a thing in Upper Egypt. It’s horribly bad form. Mademoiselle will agree–eh?”

And the broad-shouldered, handsome man of thirty-five or so in a clean white linen suit leaned back in his chair and laughed at the pretty, dark-haired vivacious French girl he had addressed. She was not more than twenty, with a refined oval face, wonderfully expressive eyes, and a small delicate mouth which parted as she shrugged her shoulders and smiled back at him in assent.

“Ah, Waldron, but you’re a diplomat, you know!” replied the younger man. “You fellows always say the right thing in the right place. We chaps in the Service, however, have a habit of speaking bluntly, I fear.”

“It is just as easy to be diplomatic, my dear Chester, as to be indiscreet,” replied the Honourable Hubert Waldron, M.V.O., who was second secretary at His Britannic Majesty’s Embassy at Madrid, and was now on leave for a winter holiday.

Not yet forty, a smart, well-groomed, athletic, clean-cut Englishman, he nevertheless possessed the distinct Foreign Office air, and was, at the same time, a cosmopolitan of cosmopolitans. Essentially a ladies’ man, as every good diplomat should be, he was, in addition, decidedly handsome, with pale, refined features, a strong face with straight nose, a pair of dark, deep-set, thoughtful eyes, and a dark, well-trained moustache.

At Court functions, balls, receptions, official dinners and such-like festivities when, with his colleague, he was bound to be on show in his perfect-fitting diplomatic uniform, women always singled him out as a striking figure, as, indeed, he was, and at Stockholm, Brussels, and Lima, where he had respectively served as attache he had attained great popularity among the corps diplomatique, and the gay, giddy world of Society which, in every capital, revolves about it.

The quartette had made each other’s acquaintance since leaving Cairo, having found themselves fellow-passengers on board the fine new river-steamer, the Arabia–members of a smart party of wealthy idlers which included two of America’s most famous millionaires. The party numbered thirty, all told, and during the three weeks they had travelled together and had all spent a time which each declared to be the most delightful of their lives.

The younger Englishman was Chester Dawson, son of Sir Forbes Dawson, M.P., and a lieutenant in the 19th Hussars, who, like Waldron, was on leave, while of the two ladies the younger was French, though she spoke English perfectly, and the other, ten years her senior, was slightly angular and decidedly English.

Mademoiselle Lola Duprez had attracted Hubert Waldron from the first moment when they had met on the upper deck an hour after leaving Cairo. She was bright, vivacious, and extremely chic, possessing all the daintiness of the true Parisienne without her irritating mannerisms. Slightly petite, with an extremely pretty and refined face, big eyes, a perfect complexion and a slim, erect figure, she was–judged from the standpoint of a connoisseur of female beauty as Hubert Waldron undoubtedly was–unusually beautiful and attractive. On many of the excursions into the desert when the party had landed to visit the ancient monuments, the pyramid of Sakkara, the Tomb of Thi, the temples of Abydos Denderah and the rest, Hubert had ridden a donkey at her side, or spent the long, idle, sunny afternoon hours on deck, lolling in the padded cane-chairs sipping coffee and gossiping as the steamer, with its Arab reis or pilot squatting in the bow smoking cigarettes, made her way up the broad stream.

Thus, in the three delightfully lazy weeks which had gone, they had become most excellent friends, while Chester Dawson had, with all the irresponsibility of the young cavalry officer, admired a striking go-ahead American girl named Edna Eastham who, with her father, had come from Chelsea, Massachusetts. Mother, father, and daughter were a loud-speaking, hard-faced trio who bought all the false antiques offered to them by Arab pedlars.

Mademoiselle’s companion, a Miss Gabrielle Lambert, was a woman of quite a different stamp. She was nearly thirty, with a rather sad, thoughtful face, but unmistakably a lady by birth and breeding, half English, half French, though she never spoke much of herself. Travelling with the two girls was an old and peculiarly shrewd grey-haired Frenchman, an uncle of mademoiselle named Jules Gigleux, a good type of the dandified though elderly Parisian, yet to Hubert–a student of men–he was from the first something of a mystery.

Ahmed, the silent dignified servant with the face of bronze, handed mademoiselle a small plate of bon-bons. She took one, and then turning to the diplomat, exclaimed in her pretty broken English:

“I’ve at last persuaded uncle to take us up to Wady Haifa! I’m longing to see the Second Cataract. We have booked berths by the steamer next Monday.”

“Next Monday!” Waldron echoed. “Why then we shall be fellow-passengers again, mademoiselle. I booked my berth a month ago. I’ve been up there before. You will be much impressed by the rock-hewn Temple of Abu Simbel, the finest and most remarkable sight on the Nile.”

“I read all about it in the guide-books on board the Arabia,” she said with her pretty French accent. “It is to see the wonderful temple that I want to go there, although my uncle has been trying all day to put obstacles in the way. It takes a fortnight, and he seems to want to get back to Paris–whatever for, I fail to imagine.”

“He’s tired of the Nile, like our young friend Chester,” laughed Waldron mischievously. “I really believe Chester prefers a motor-run to Brighton with lunch at Crawley and tea at the Metropole.”

“All this jargon about Rameses, the great god, Osiris, good old Horus, Amen Ra, and all those gods with weird heads of birds and horned animals, the cartouches which the Pharaohs stuck upon everything–oh, it becomes so horribly boring,” declared the young fellow with a yawn. “And everywhere one goes some Arab appears from nowhere pestering you to buy an imitation scarab or some blue beads made in Birmingham a few weeks ago. Why on the Prince Luitpold Regent from Marseilles we had a man bringing over a fresh consignment of Egyptian antiques for the season! He showed me some!”

“Ah!” laughed Lola, “I see you are not held by the spell of Egypt, as we all are. Personally, I love it, and enjoy every moment of the day. It is all so very different to everything else I have seen.”

“You have travelled a good deal, eh, mademoiselle?” asked Waldron, his tea-cup in his hand.

“Ah, yes; a good deal. I’ve seen most of the capitals of Europe,” was her rather vague reply. “But there is nothing like Egypt–nothing half so interesting as life up here, away from modern civilisation and yet so full of up-to-date comfort. I marvel at everything–even at this hotel. They tell me all the food–even the fish and poultry–comes from Europe. All that we eat is brought a couple of thousand miles!”

“Yes,” Miss Lambert agreed. “The English have done marvels in Egypt without a doubt.”

Waldron glanced at Lola, and thought he had never seen her looking so indescribably charming. She was slightly flushed after riding that afternoon, but in her neat, clean linen gown, with her green-lined sun-helmet set slightly back on her head she presented a delightful picture of feminine daintiness and charm.

At that moment Edna Eastham, a tall, well-built girl of twenty-two, crossed the veranda laughing loudly over to two ladies of the party who sat near, and took a vacant table for tea, whereupon Chester Dawson, with a word of excuse, rose quickly and, crossing, joined her.

“Chester seems quite fed up,” declared Waldron when the young fellow had gone.

“Yes. But he’s coming with us up to Wady Haifa,” said mademoiselle.

“Because Miss Eastham is going,” remarked the diplomat with a sarcastic smile.

“Perhaps so. But do you know,” she went on, “I’ve had such awful trouble to persuade uncle to take me on. He is anxious to get back to Europe–says he has some pressing business and all that.”

“The heat affects him, I believe; it is trying to one not used to it,” the man replied.

“Yes. But I think it would be a shame to turn back now that we have got up here so far. He was saying only last night that the trip up from Shellal to Wady Haifa was not over-safe–that the Nubians are hostile, and we might be attacked and murdered!”

“Not much fear of that nowadays,” Waldron laughed. “Our rule here has straightened things out. I admit, however, that there is a good deal of hostility about here, and I believe there are arms on board the Shellal steamers in case of trouble. But we anchor each night in mid-stream and a good watch is kept, while all the crew, though they are Arabs, have been in the service of the Steamboat Company for many years, and are quite loyal. So don’t be nervous in the least, mademoiselle, for I assure you there is really no necessity.”

“Uncle Jules is always fond of discovering dangers where none exist,” she laughed. “I haven’t given the matter a second thought. We are going on Monday–and that is sufficient.”

The broad-shouldered, rather dandified old Frenchman, Jules Gigleux, sauntered out from the hotel and joined them a few moments later. He was rather stout, grey-haired–with a small, well-clipped moustache, and a pair of sharp beady eyes which seemed to search everywhere–a man who, though burly and apparently easy-going, was nevertheless remarkably shrewd and sly.

These latter traits in Monsieur Gigleux’s character had aroused Hubert’s suspicions. He seemed ever watchful and curiously distrustful and shifty–a man who, though he made pretence of being open and straightforward and easy-going, was full of craft and deep cunning.

“Well, uncle,” exclaimed Lola, dropping into French as the man seated himself in the chair vacated by young Dawson, “we’ve just been discussing the possibility of all of us being murdered by Arabs on our way up to Wady Haifa!” and she laughed mischievously.

“It is not very safe,” snapped the old gentleman in French. “I hear that the Egyptian police have a great deal of trouble to keep the country in order between Shellal and Wady Haifa.”

“Ah!” Waldron exclaimed, “I fear, m’sieur, you are somewhat misinformed. That portion of the Nile runs through Upper Nubia, and the people are more loyal to the British than they are even in Cairo.”

“Cairo,” sniffed the old man. “Why, trouble is expected there every day. Sedition is rife all over Egypt. If your Kitchener had not taken such a strong hand a year ago the country would now be in open revolt. The British are not loved in Europe. I say that,” he added quickly, “without disrespect of your country, m’sieur, please understand.”

“Perfectly,” was the diplomat’s reply. “But while I admit what you say is the truth, and, further, that there is a growing discontent, yet I still feel that, as far as we are concerned, though a little handful of Europeans and a great country peopled by Nubians, we are nevertheless quite safe. I was up there two years ago, and we did not even have a police escort when we landed at Kalabsha or Abu Simbel–indeed, we never saw a policeman.”

“Ah, that was two years ago,” remarked Monsieur Gigleux, quite unconcerned.

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