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The Count's Chauffeur

William Le Queux

  Produced by D Alexander and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at (This file wasproduced from images generously made available by TheInternet Archive)



  _Copyright in the United States of America by William Le Queux, 1907._

















  In Paris, in Rome, in Florence, in Berlin, in Vienna--in fact, over halfthe face of Europe, from the Pyrenees to the Russian frontier--I am nowknown as "The Count's Chauffeur."

  An Englishman, as my name George Ewart denotes, I am of cosmopolitanbirth and education, my early youth having been spent on the Continent,where my father was agent for a London firm.

  When I was fourteen, my father, having prospered, came to London, andestablished himself as an agent in Wood Street, City, representing agreat firm of silk manufacturers in Lyons.

  At twenty I tried City life, but an office with a high stool, a dustyledger, and sandwich lunches, had no attraction for me. I had always hada turn for mechanics, but was never allowed to adopt engineering as aprofession, my father's one idea being that I should follow in hisfootsteps--a delusive hope entertained by many a fond parent.

  Six months of office life sufficed me. One day I went home to Teddingtonand refused to return again to Wood Street. This resulted in an openquarrel between my father and myself, with the result that a week laterI was on my way to Canada. In a year I was back again, and, after somemonths of semi-starvation in London, I managed to obtain a job in amotor factory. I was then entirely in my element. During two years Ilearned the mechanism of the various petrol-driven cars, until I becameclassed as an expert driver and engineer.

  At the place I was employed there was manufactured one of the best andmost expensive makes of English car, and, being at length placed on thetesting staff, it was my duty to take out each new chassis for itstrial-run before being delivered to a customer.

  Upon my certificate each chassis was declared in perfect running order,and was then handed over to the body-makers indicated by the purchaser.

  Being an expert driver, my firm sent me to drive in the Tourist Trophyraces in the Isle of Man, and I likewise did the Ardennes Circuit andcame in fourth in the Brescia race for the Florio Cup, my successes, ofcourse, adding glory and advertisement to the car I drove.

  Racing, however, aroused within me, as it does in every motorist, anardent desire to travel long distances. The testing of those chassis inRegent's Park, and an occasional run with some wealthy customer out onthe Great North Road or on the Bath or Brighton roads, became too quieta life for me. I was now seized by a desire to tour and see Europe.True, in my capacity of tester, I met all classes of men. In the seatbeside me have sat Cabinet Ministers, Dukes, Indian Rajahs, Members ofParliament, and merchant princes, customers or prospective purchasers,all of whom chatted with me, mostly displaying their ignorance of thefirst principles of mechanics. It was all pleasant enough--a merry lifeand good pay. Yet I hated London, and the height of my ambition was agood car to drive abroad.

  After some months of waiting, the opportunity came, and I seized it.

  By appointment, at the Royal Automobile Club one grey December morning,I met Count Bindo di Ferraris, a young Italian aristocrat, whose aspect,however, was the reverse of that of a Southerner. About thirty, he wastall, lithe, and well dressed in a dark-brown lounge suit. Hiscomplexion, his chestnut hair, his erect, rather soldierly bearing, hisclean-shaven face, and his open countenance gave him every appearance ofan English gentleman. Indeed, I at first took him for an Englishman, forhe spoke English so perfectly.

  When he had examined my testimonials and made a number of inquiries, heasked--

  "You speak French?"

  "Yes," was my reply; "a little Italian, and a little German."

  "Italian!" he exclaimed in surprise. "Excellent!"

  Then, while we sat alone, with no one within hearing, he told me theterms upon which he was willing to engage me to drive on the Continent,and added--

  "Your salary will be doubled--providing I find you entirely loyalto me. That is to say, you must know how to keep your mouthclosed--understand?"

  And he regarded me rather curiously, I thought.

  "No," I answered; "I don't quite understand."

  "Well, well, there are matters--private family matters--of which youwill probably become cognisant. Truth to tell, I want help--the help ofa good, careful driver who isn't afraid, and who is always discreet. Imay as well tell you that before I wrote to you I made certain secretinquiries regarding you, and I feel confident that you can serve me verymuch to our mutual advantage."

  This puzzled me, and my curiosity was further aroused when he added--

  "To be plain, there is a certain young lady in very high society in thecase. I need not tell you more, need I? You will be discreet, eh?"

  I smiled and promised. What did it all mean? I wondered. My employerwas mysterious; but in due course I should, as he prophesied, obtainknowledge of this secret--a secret love affair, no doubt.

  The Count's private affairs did not, after all, concern me. My duty wasto drive on the Continent, and for what he was to pay me I was to servehim loyally, and see that his tyre and petrol bills were not tooexorbitant.

  He went to the writing-table and wrote out a short agreement which hecopied, and we both signed it--a rather curiously worded agreement bywhich I was to serve him for three years, and during that time ourinterests were "to be mutual." That last phrase caused me to wonderbut I scribbled my name and refrained from comment, for the paymentwas already double that which I was receiving from the firm.

  "My car is outside," he remarked, as he folded his copy of the agreementand placed it in his pocket. "Did you notice it?"

  I had not, so we went out into Piccadilly together, and there, standingat the kerb, I saw a car that caused my heart to bound with delight--amagnificent six-cylinder forty horse-power "Napier," of the very latestmodel. The car was open, with side entrance, a dark green body withcoronet and cipher on the panels, upholstered in red, with glassremovable screen to the splashboard--a splendid, workmanlike car justsuitable for long tours and fast runs. Of all the cars and of all themakes, that was the only one which it was my ambition to drive.

  I walked around it in admiration, and saw that every accessory was thebest and very latest that money could buy--even to the newly inventedgas-generator which had only a few weeks ago been placed upon themarket. I lifted the long bonnet, looked around the engine, and sawthose six cylinders in a row--the latest invention of a celebratedinventor.

  "Splendid!" I ejaculated. "There's nothing yet to beat this car. ByJove! we can get a move on a good road!"

  "Yes," smiled the Count. "My man Mario could make her travel, but he's afool, and has left me in a
fit of temper. He was an Italian, and weItalians are, alas! hot-headed," and he laughed again. "Would you liketo try her?"

  I assented with delight, and, while he returned inside the Club to gethis fur coat, I started the engine and got in at the steering-wheel.A few moments later he seated himself beside me, and we glided downPiccadilly on our way to Regent's Park--the ground where, day after day,it had been my habit to go testing. The car ran perfectly, the enginessounding a splendid rhythm through the Regent Street traffic into broadPortland Place, and on into the Park, where I was afforded some scopeto see what she could do. The Count declared that he was in no hurry,therefore we went up through Hampstead to Highgate Station, and then onthe Great North Road, through East End, Whetstone, Barnet, and Hatfield,to Hitchin--thirty-five miles of road which was as well known to me asthe Strand.

  The morning was dry and cold, the roads in excellent condition bar a fewpatches of new metal between Codicote and Chapelfoot, and the sharp eastwind compelled us to goggle. Fortunately, I had on my leather-linedfrieze coat, and was therefore fully equipped. The North Road betweenLondon and Hitchin is really of little use for trying the speed of acar, for there are so many corners, it is mostly narrow, and it aboundsin police-traps. That twenty miles of flat, straight road, with perfectsurface, from Lincoln to New Holland, opposite Hull, is one of the bestplaces in England to see what a car is worth.

  Nevertheless, the run to Hitchin satisfied me perfectly that the car wasnot a "roundabout," as so many are, but a car well "within the meaningof the Act."

  "And what is your opinion of her, Ewart?" asked the Count, as we satdown to cold beef and pickles in the long, old-fashioned upstairs roomof the Sun Inn at Hitchin.

  "Couldn't be better," I declared. "The brakes would do with re-lining,but that's about all. When do we start for the Continent?"

  "The day after to-morrow. I'm staying just now at the Cecil. We'll runthe car down to Folkestone, ship her across, and then go by Paris andAix to Monte Carlo first; afterwards we'll decide upon our itinerary.Ever been to Monty?"

  I replied in the negative. The prospect of going on the Riviera soundeddelightful.

  After our late luncheon we ran back from Hitchin to London, but, notarriving before lighting-up time, we had to turn on the head-lightsbeyond Barnet. We drove straight to the fine garage on the Embankmentbeneath the Cecil, and after I had put things square and receivedorders for ten o'clock next day, I was preparing to go to my lodgings inBloomsbury to look through my kit in preparation for the journey when myemployer suddenly exclaimed--

  "Come up to the smoking-room a moment. I want to write a letter for youto take to Boodle's in St. James's Street, for me, if you will."

  I followed him upstairs to the great blue-tiled smoking-room overlookingthe Embankment, and as we entered, two well-dressed men--Englishmen, ofaristocratic bearing--rose from a table and shook him warmly by thehand.

  I noticed their quick, apprehensive look as they glanced at me as thoughin inquiry, but my employer exclaimed--

  "This is my new chauffeur, Ewart, an expert. Ewart, these are myfriends--Sir Charles Blythe," indicating the elder man, "and Mr.Henderson. These gentlemen will perhaps be with us sometimes, so you hadbetter know them."

  The pair looked me up and down and smiled pleasantly. Sir Charles wasnarrow-faced, about fifty, with a dark beard turning grey; his companionwas under thirty, a fair-haired, rather foppishly dressed young fellow,in a fashionable suit and a light fancy vest.

  Then, as the Count went to the table to write, Sir Charles inquiredwhere we had been, and whether I had driven much on the Continent.

  When the Count handed me the letter, I saw that he exchanged a meaningglance with Sir Charles, but what it was intended to convey I could notguess. I only know that, for a few seconds, I felt some vague distrustof my new friends, and yet they treated me more as an equal than as amere chauffeur.

  The Count's friends were certainly a merry, easy-going pair, yet somehowI instinctively held them in suspicion. Whether it was on account of thecovert glance which Sir Charles shot across at my employer, or whetherthere was something unusual about their manner, I cannot tell. I am onlyaware that when I left the hotel I went on my way in wonder.

  Next day, at ten punctually, I ran the car from the Strand into thecourtyard of the hotel and pulled up at the restaurant entrance, so asto be out of the way of the continuous cab traffic. The Count, however,did not make his appearance until nearly half an hour later, and when hedid arrive he superintended the despatch by cab of a quantity of luggagewhich he told me he was sending forward by _grande vitesse_ to MonteCarlo.

  After the four-wheeler had moved off, the hall-porter helped him on withhis big fur coat, and he, getting up beside me, told me to drive toPiccadilly.

  As we were crossing Trafalgar Square into Pall Mall, he turned to me,saying--

  "Remember, Ewart, your promise yesterday. If my actions--I mean, if youthink I am a little peculiar sometimes, don't trouble your head aboutit. You are paid to drive--and paid well, I think. My affairs don'tconcern you, do they?"

  "Not in the least," I answered, nevertheless puzzled.

  He descended at a tobacconist's in Bond Street, and bought a couple ofboxes of cigars, and then made several calls at shops, also visiting twojewellers to obtain, he remarked, a silver photograph frame of a certainsize.

  At Gilling's--the third shop he tried--he remained inside some littletime--quite twenty minutes, I should think. As you know, it is in thenarrowest part of Bond Street, and the traffic was congested owing tothe road at the Piccadilly end being partially up.

  As I sat in my place, staring idly before me, and reflecting that Ishould be so soon travelling due South over the broad, well-kept Frenchroads, and out of the gloom and dreariness of the English winter, Isuddenly became conscious of a familiar face in the crowd of hurryingfoot-passengers.

  I glanced up quickly as a man bustled past. Was I mistaken? I probablyhad been; but the thin, keen, bearded countenance was very much likethat of Sir Charles Blythe. But no. When I looked back after him I sawthat his figure was much more bent and his appearance was not half sosmart and well groomed as the Count's friend.

  At one moment I felt absolutely positive that the man had really beenwatching me, and was now endeavouring to escape recognition, yet at thenext I saw the absurdity of such a thought. Sir Charles's face had, Isuppose, been impressed upon my memory on the previous evening, and thepasser-by merely bore some slight resemblance.

  And so I dismissed it from my mind.

  A few moments later a man in a frock-coat, probably the jeweller'smanager, opened the door, looked up and down the street for a fewmoments, shot an inquisitive glance at me, and then disappeared within.

  I found that the clock on the splashboard required winding, and was inthe act of doing this when my eyes fell upon a second person who wasequally a mystery. This time I felt convinced that I was not mistaken.The fair-moustached young man Henderson went by, but without recognisingme.

  Did either of the pair recognise the car? If so, what object had they innot acknowledging me?

  My suspicions were again aroused. I did not like either of the two men.Were they following my master with some evil intent? In London, andespecially in certain cosmopolitan circles, one cannot be too cautiousregarding one's acquaintances. They had been slightly too over-dressedand too familiar with the Count to suit me, and I had resolved thatif I had ever to drive either of them I would land them in someout-of-the-world hole with a pretended breakdown. The non-motorist isalways at the mercy of the chauffeur, and the so-called "breakdowns" arefrequently due to the vengeance of the driver, who gets his throttlestuck, or some trouble which sounds equally serious, but which isremedied in one, two, three, or four hours, according to how long thechauffeur decides to detain his victim by the roadside.

  I wondered, as I sat ruminating, whether these two men were really"crooks"; and so deep-rooted were my suspicions that I decided, when theCount returned, to drop him a hint th
at we were being watched.

  I am not nervous by any means, and, moreover, I always carry for my ownprotection a handy little revolver. Yet I admit that at that moment Ifelt a decidedly uncomfortable feeling creeping over me.

  Those men meant mischief. I had detected it in their eyes on theprevious night. By some kind of mysterious intuition I became aware thatwe were in peril.

  Almost at that moment the shop door was opened by the manager, and theCount, emerging, crossed to me and said--

  "Go into the shop, Ewart, and wait there till I return. I'm just goinground to get some money," and seeing a boy passing, he called him,saying, "Just mind this car for ten minutes, my boy, and I'll give youhalf a crown. Never mind the police; if they say anything, tell themI'll be back in ten minutes."

  The lad, eager to earn a trifle, at once consented, and descending, Ientered the shop, the door of which was being still held open for me,while the Count hailed a hansom and drove away.

  The shop is one of the finest in Bond Street, as you know. At thatmoment there were, however, no other customers. The manager politelyinvited me to be seated, saying--

  "His lordship will only be a short time," and then, standing with hishands behind his back, he commenced to chat with me.

  "That's a very fine car of yours," he said. "You ought to be able totravel pretty fast, eh?"

  "Well, we do, as a matter of fact," I replied.

  Then he went to the door, and looking over the panes of frosted glass,asked what horse-power it was, and a number of other questions withwhich non-motorists always plague the chauffeur.

  Then, returning to me, he remarked what a very nice gentleman hislordship was, adding that he had been a customer on several occasions.

  "Have you been long in his service?" he inquired.

  "Oh yes," I replied, determined not to be thought a new hand. "Quite along time. As you say, he is a very charming man."

  "He's very wealthy, according to report. I read something about him inthe papers the other day--a gift of some thousands to the HospitalFund."

  This rather surprised me. I never remembered having seen the name ofCount Bindo di Ferraris in the papers.

  Presently I got up, and wandering about the shop, inspected some of thebeautiful jewels in the fine show-cases, many of them ornaments ofenormous value. The manager, a pleasant, elderly man, took me round andshowed me some of the most beautiful jewellery I had ever seen. Then,excusing himself, he retired to the office beyond the shop, and left meto chat with one of the assistants.

  I looked at the clock, and saw that nearly half an hour had elapsedsince the Count had left. A constable had looked in and inquired aboutthe car, but I had assured him that in a few minutes we should be off,and begged, as a favour, that it might be allowed to remain until mymaster's return.

  Another quarter of an hour elapsed, when the door opened, and thereentered two respectably dressed men in dark overcoats, one wearing asoft brown felt hat and the other a "bowler."

  They asked to see the manager, and the assistant who had been chattingto me conducted them through the shop to the office beyond. Both menwere of middle age and well set up, and as they entered, I saw that athird man, much younger, was with them. He, however, did not come in,but stood in the doorway, idly glancing up and down Bond Street.

  Within the office I distinctly heard the manager utter an exclamation ofsurprise, and then one of the men, in a deep, low voice, seemed to enterinto a long explanation.

  The elder of the two strangers walked along the shop to the door, andgoing outside, spoke some words to the man who had accompanied them.On re-entering, he passed me, giving me a sharp glance, and thendisappeared again into the office, where, for five minutes or so, heremained closeted with the manager.

  Presently the last-named came out, and as he approached me I noticed anentire change in his manner. He was pale, almost to the lips.

  "Will you step into my office for one moment?" he asked. "There's--well,a little matter upon which I want to speak to you."

  This surprised me. What could he mean?

  Nevertheless, I consented, and in a few moments found myself in a large,well-lit office with the manager and the two strangers.

  The man in the brown felt hat was the first to speak.

  "We want to ask you a question or two," he said. "Do you recognisethis?" and he produced a small square photograph of a man upon whosecoat was a white ticket bearing a bold number. I started when my eyesfell upon it.

  "My master!" I ejaculated.

  The portrait was a police photograph! The men were detectives!

  The inspector, for such he was, turned to the jeweller's manager, andregarded him with a significant look.

  "It's a good job we've arrested him with the stuff on him," he remarked,"otherwise you'd never have seen the colour of it again. He's worked thesame dodge in Rome and Berlin, and both times got clear away. I supposehe became a small customer, in order to inspire confidence--eh?"

  "Well, he came in this morning, saying that he wished to give his wife atiara for the anniversary of her wedding, and asked that he might havetwo on approval, as he was undecided which to choose, and wished her topick for herself. He left his car and chauffeur here till his return,and took away two worth five thousand pounds each. I, of course, had notthe slightest suspicion. Lord Ixwell--the name by which we know him--isreputed everywhere to be one of the richest peers in the kingdom."

  "Yes. But, you see, Detective-Sergeant Rodwell here, chanced to see himcome out of the shop, and, recognising him as the jewel-thief we'vewanted for months past, followed his cab down to Charing Cross Station,and there arrested him and took him to Bow Street."

  I stood utterly dumbfounded at this sudden ending of what I had believedwould be an ideal engagement.

  "What's your name?" inquired the inspector.

  "George Ewart," was my answer. "I only entered the Count's serviceyesterday."

  "And yet you told me you had been his chauffeur for a long time!"exclaimed the jeweller's manager.

  "Well," said the elder of the detectives, "we shall arrest you, at anyrate. You must come round to Bow Street, and I warn you that anystatement you may make will be taken down and used as evidence againstyou."

  "Arrest me!" I cried. "Why, I haven't done anything! I'm perfectlyinnocent. I had no idea that----"

  "Well, you have more than an idea now, haven't you?" laughed thedetective. "But come along; we have no time to lose," and he asked themanager to order a four-wheeled cab.

  I remonstrated in indignation, but to no avail.

  "What about the car?" I asked anxiously, as we went outside together andstepped into the cab, the third police-officer, who had been on guardoutside, holding open the door, while the constable who had beenworrying me about the car stood looking on.

  "Diplock, you can drive a motor-car," exclaimed the inspector, turningto the detective at the cab door. "Just bring that round to Bow Streetas quick as you can."

  The constable took in the situation at a glance. He saw that I had beenarrested, and asked the detectives if they needed any assistance. Butthe reply was negative, and with the inspector at my side and thesergeant opposite, we moved off towards Piccadilly, the jeweller'smanager having been requested to attend at Bow Street Police Station inan hour, in order to identify the stolen property. By that time thecharge would be made out, and we should, the inspector said, be upbefore the magistrate for a remand before the Court rose.

  As we drove along Piccadilly, my heart fell within me. All my dreams ofthose splendid, well-kept roads in the sunny South, of touring to allthe gayest places on the Continent, and seeing all that was to be seen,had been shattered at a single blow. And what a blow!

  I had awakened to find myself under arrest as the accomplice of one ofthe most expert jewel-thieves in Europe!

  My companions were not communicative. Why should they have been?

  Suddenly I became aware of the fact that we had driven a considerabledistance. In my agitated state of
mind I had taken no notice of ourroute, and my captors had, it seemed, endeavoured to take my attentionoff the direction we had taken.

  Collecting my scattered senses, however, I recollected that we hadcrossed one of the bridges over the Thames, and looking out of thewindow, I found that we were in a long, open road of private houses,each with a short strip of railed-off garden in front--a South Londonthoroughfare evidently.

  "This isn't the way to Bow Street!" I exclaimed in wonder.

  "Well, not exactly the straight way," grinned the inspector. "Aroundabout route, let's call it."

  I was puzzled. The more so when I recognised a few minutes later that wehad come down the Camberwell New Road, and were passing CamberwellGreen.

  We continued up Denmark Hill until, at the corner where Champion Hillbranches off, the inspector called to the cabman to stop, and we alldescended, the detective-sergeant paying the fare.

  Where were they taking me? I wondered. I asked, but they only laughed,and would vouchsafe no reply.

  Together we walked up the quiet, semi-rural Champion Hill, until wereached Green Lane, when at the sharp right angle of the road, as weturned, I saw before me an object which caused me to hold my breath inutter amazement.

  The car was standing there, right before me in the lonely suburban road,and in it, seated at the wheel, a man whom I next second recognised asthe Count himself! He was evidently awaiting me.

  He was wearing a different motor-coat, the car bore a different number,and as I approached I noticed that the coronet and cipher had beenobliterated by a dab of paint!

  "Come on, Ewart!" cried the Count, jumping down to allow me to take hisplace at the steering.

  I turned to my captors in wonder.

  "Yes, away you go, Ewart," the inspector said, "and good luck to you!"

  Without another second's delay, I sprang upon the car, and while theCount, as he jumped up at my side, shouted good-bye to my captors, Istarted away towards Lordship Lane and the open country of Surrey.

  "Where shall we go?" I inquired breathlessly, utterly amazed at ourextraordinary escape.

  "Straight on through Sydenham, and then I'll tell you. The sooner we'reout of this, the better. We'll run along to Winchester, where I have alittle house at Kingsworthy, just outside the city, and where we can lielow comfortably for a bit."

  "But shan't we be followed by those men?" I asked apprehensively.

  "Followed--by them? Oh dear no!" he laughed. "Of course, you don'tunderstand, Ewart. They all three belong to us. We've played a smartishgame upon the jeweller, haven't we? They had to frighten you, of course,because it added a real good touch of truth to the scheme. We ought tobe able to slip away across the Channel in a week's time, at latest.They'll leave to-night--in search of me!" and he laughed lightly tohimself.

  "Then they were not detectives?" I exclaimed, utterly staggered by themarvellous ingenuity of the robbery.

  "No more than you are, Ewart," was his reply. "But don't bother yourhead about them now. All you've got to look after is your driving. Let'sget across to Winchester as quickly as possible. Just here!--sharp tothe right and the first to the left takes us into the Guildford road.Then we can move."