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Away From The Warpath







From: The World Peril Of 1910

When Lennard entered the little drawing-room in the house in Westbourne
Terrace, where Norah Castellan and her aunt were staying, he had decided
to do something which, without his knowing it, probably made a very
considerable difference in his own fortunes and those of two or three
other people.

During his brief but exciting experiences on board the Ithuriel, he
had formed a real friendship for both Erskine and Castellan, and he had
come to the conclusion that Denis's sister and aunt would be very much
safer in the remote seclusion of Whernside than in a city which might
within the next few days share the fate of Portsmouth and Gosport. He
was instantly confirmed in this resolution when Mrs O'Connor and her
niece came into the room. Never had he seen a more perfect specimen of
the Irishwoman, who is a lady by Nature's own patent of nobility, than
Mrs O'Connor, and, with of course one exception, never had he seen such
a beautiful girl as Norah Castellan.

He was friends with them in half an hour, and inside an hour he had
accepted their invitation to dine and sleep at the house and help them
to get ready for their unexpected journey to the North the next morning.

He went back to the Grand and got his portmanteau and Gladstone bag and
returned to Westbourne Terrace in time for afternoon tea. Meanwhile, he
had bought the early copies of all the evening papers and read up the
condition of things in London, which, in the light of his experiences at
Portsmouth, did not appear to him to be in any way promising. He gave
Norah and her aunt a full, true and particular account of the assault on
Portsmouth, the doings of the Ithuriel, the great Fleet action, and
the brilliant ruse de guerre which Admiral Beresford had used to
capture the First French Army Corps that had landed in England--and
landed as prisoners.

The news in the afternoon papers, coupled with what he already knew of
the tactics of the enemy, impressed Lennard so gravely that he succeeded
in persuading Mrs O'Connor and Norah to leave London by the midnight
sleeping-car train from St Pancras for Whernside, since no one knew at
what time during the night John Castellan or his lieutenants might not
order an indiscriminate bombardment of London from the air. He was also
very anxious, for reasons of his own, to get back to his work at the
observatory and make his preparations for the carrying out of an
undertaking compared with which the war, terrible as it was and would
be, could only be considered as the squabblings of children or lunatics.

His task was not one of aggression or conquest, but of salvation, and
the enemy he was going to fight was an invader not of states or
countries, but of a whole world, and unless the assault of this invader
from the outer wilderness of Space were repelled, the result would not
be merely the destruction of ships and fortresses, or the killing of a
few hundreds or thousands of men on the battlefield; it would mean
nothing less than a holocaust which would involve the whole human race,
and the simultaneous annihilation of all that the genius of man had so
laboriously accumulated during the slow, uncounted ages of his progress
from the brute to the man.

They left the train at Settle at six o'clock the next morning, and were
at once taken charge of by the station-master, who had had his
instructions by telephone from the Parmenter mansion on the slopes of
Great Whernside. He conducted them at once to the Midland Hotel, where
they found a suite of apartments, luxuriously furnished, with fires
blazing in the grates, and everything looking very cosy under the soft
glow of the shaded electric lights. Baths were ready and breakfast would
be on the table at seven. At eight, Mr Parmenter, who practically owned
this suite of rooms, would drive over with Miss Parmenter in a couple of
motor-cars and take the party to the house.

"Sure, then," said Mrs O'Connor, when the arrangements had been
explained to her, "it must be very comfortable to have all the money to
buy just what you want, and make everything as easy as all this, and
it's yourself, Mr Lennard, we have to thank for making us the guests of
a millionaire, when neither Norah nor myself have so much as seen one.
Is he a very great man, this Mr Parmenter? It seems to me to be
something like going to dine with a duke."

"My dear Mrs O'Connor," laughed Lennard, "I can assure you that you will
find this master of millions one of Nature's own gentlemen. Although he
can make men rich or poor by a stroke of his pen, and, with a few others
like him, wield such power as was never in the hands of kings, you
wouldn't know him from a plain English country gentleman if it wasn't
for his American accent, and there's not very much of that."

"And his daughter, Miss Auriole, what's she like?" said Norah. "A
beauty, of course."

Lennard flushed somewhat suspiciously, and a keen glance of Norah's
Irish eyes read the meaning of that flush in an instant.

"Miss Parmenter is considered to be very beautiful," he replied, "and I
must confess that I share the general opinion."

"I thought so," said Norah, with a little nod that had a great deal of
meaning in it. "Now, I suppose we'd better go and change, or we'll be
late for breakfast. I certainly don't want the beautiful Miss Parmenter
to see me in this state for the first time."

"My dear Miss Castellan, I can assure you that you have not the
faintest reason to fear any comparison that might be made," laughed
Lennard as he left the room and went to have his tub.

Punctually at eight a double "Toot-toot" sounded from the street in
front of the main entrance to the hotel. Norah ran to the window and saw
two splendidly-appointed Napier cars--although, of course, she didn't
know a Napier from a Darracq. Something in female shape with peaked cap
and goggles, gauntleted and covered from head to foot in a heavy fur
coat, got out of the first car, and another shape, rather shorter but
almost similarly clad, got out of the second. Five minutes later there
was a knock at the door of the breakfast-room. It opened, and Norah saw
what the cap and the goggles and the great fur coat had hidden. During
the next few seconds, two of the most beautiful girls in the two
hemispheres looked at each other, as only girls and women can look. Then
Auriole put out both her hands and said, quite simply:

"You are Norah Castellan. I hope we shall be good friends. If we're not,
I'm afraid it will be my fault."

Norah took her hands and said:

"I think it would more likely be mine, after what Mr Lennard has been
telling us of yourself and your father."

At this moment Lennard saved the situation as far as he was concerned by
making the other introductions, and Mrs O'Connor took the hand which
wielded the terrible power of millions and experienced a curious sort of
surprise at finding that it was just like other hands, and that the
owner of it was bending over hers with one of those gestures of simple
courtesy which are the infallible mark of the American gentleman. In a
few minutes they were all as much at home together as though they had
known each other for weeks. Then came the preparation of Norah and her
aunt for the motor ride, and then the ride itself.

The sun had risen clearly, and there was a decided nip of frost in the
keen Northern air. The roads were hard and clean, and the
twenty-five-mile run over them, winding through the valleys and climbing
the ridges with the heather-clad, rock-crowned hills on all sides, now
sliding down a slope or shooting along a level, or taking a rise in what
seemed a flying leap, was by far the most wonderful experience that
Norah and her aunt had ever had.

Auriole drove the first car, and had Norah sitting beside her on the
front seat. Her aunt and the mechanician were sitting in the tonneau
behind. Mr Parmenter drove the second car with Lennard beside him. His
tonneau was filled with luggage.

At the end of the eighteenth mile the cars, going at a quite illegal
speed, jumped a ridge between two heather-clad moors, which in South
Africa would have been called a nek, and dived down along a white road
leading into a broad forest track, sunlit now, but bordered on either
side by the twilight of towering pines and firs through which the
sunlight filtered only in little flakes, which lay upon the last year's
leaves and cones, somewhat as an electric light might have fallen on a
monkish manuscript of the thirteenth century.

Then came two more miles on hard, well-kept roads, so perfectly graded
that the upward slope was hardly perceptible.

"We're on our own ground now and I guess I'll let her out," said Miss
Auriole. "Don't be frightened, Norah. These things look big and strong,
but it's quite wonderful what they'll do when there's a bit of human
sense running them. See that your goggles are right and twist your veil
in a bit tighter, I'm going to give you a new sensation."

She waved her hand to her father in the car behind and put on the fourth
speed lever, and said: "Hold tight now."

Norah nodded, for she could hardly breathe as it was. Then the pines and
firs on either side of the broad drive melted into a green-grey blur.
The road under them was like a rapidly unwinding ribbon. The hilltops
which showed above the trees rose up now to the right hand and now to
the left, as the car swung round the curves. Every now and then Norah
looked at the girl beside her, controlling the distance-devouring
monster with one hand on a little wheel, her left foot on a pedal and
her right hand ready to work the levers if necessary.

The two miles of the drive from the gates to the front door of Whernside
House, a long, low-lying two-storeyed, granite-built house, which was
about as good a combination of outward solidity and indoor comfort as
you could find in the British Islands, was covered in two and a half
minutes, and the car pulled up, as Norah thought, almost at full speed
and stopped dead in front of the steps leading up from the broad road to
the steps leading up to the terrace which ran along the whole southward
front of Whernside House.

"I reckon, Miss Castellan--"

"If you say Miss Castellan, I shall get back to Settle by the first
conveyance that I can hire."

"Now, that's just nice of you, Norah. What I was going to say, if I
hadn't made that mistake, was, that this would be about the first time
that you had covered two miles along a road at fifty miles an hour, and
that's what you've just done. Pretty quick, isn't it? Oh, there's Lord
Westerham on the terrace! Come for lunch, I suppose. He's a very great
man here, you know. Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire,
fought through the Boer War, got made a Colonel by some miracle when he
was only about twenty-eight, went to Lhassa, and now he's something like
Commander-in-Chief of the Yeomanry and Volunteers round here--and
without anything of that sort, he's just about the best sort of man you
want to meet. Come along, I'll introduce you."

The two cars stopped at the steps leading up to the terrace, a man in
khaki, with a stretch of a dozen ribbons across the left side of his
tunic, came bareheaded down the steps and opened the side door of
Auriole's motor-car. Auriole pushed her goggles up and held out her
gauntleted hand, and said:

"What! Lord Westerham! Well now, this is nice of you. Come to lunch, of
course. And how's the recruiting going on?"

Then without waiting for a reply, she went on: "Norah, dear, this is
Lord Westerham, Lord-Lieutenant of this part of the County of York,
Colonel commanding the West Riding Yeomanry and lots of other things
that I don't understand."

Norah pushed her goggles up and tilted her hat back. Auriole saw a flash
of recognition pass like lightning between their eyes. She noticed that
Norah's cheeks were a little bit brighter than even the speed of the car
could account for. She saw, too, that there was a flush under the tan of
Lord Westerham's face, and to her these were signs of great comfort.

"I don't know how this particular miracle has been arranged," said Lord
Westerham, as he gave his hand to Norah and took her out of the car,
"but a re-introduction is, if you will allow me to say so, Miss
Parmenter, rather superfluous. I have known Miss Castellan for quite two
years, at least, I had the pleasure of meeting her in Connemara, and we
have fished and shot and sailed together until we became almost
friends."

Auriole's eyes, observant at all times, had been working hard during the
last two or three minutes, and in those few minutes she had learned a
great deal. Arthur Lennard, who also had his eyes wide open, had learnt
in his own slow, masculine way about as much, and perhaps a little more.
He and Lord Westerham had been school-fellows and college chums and good
friends for years, but of late a shadow had come between them, and it's
hardly necessary to say that it was the shadow of a woman. He knew
perfectly well by this time that Lord Westerham was, in the opinion of
Mr Parmenter, the husband-designate, one might say, of Auriole. Young as
he was, he already had a distinguished record as a soldier and an
administrator, but he was also heir to one of the oldest Marquisates in
England with a very probable reversion to a dukedom.

This was what he had been thinking of that night in the observatory when
he told Auriole of the fate that was approaching the world. No one knew
better than he how brilliant a figure she would make in Society as the
Marchioness of Westerham, granted always that the Anglo-Saxon would do
now as he had ever done, fling the invader back upon his own shores or
into the sea which he had crossed: but that swift flash of recognition
seen as his car came up behind Auriole's, and the slight but most
significant change which had come over the features of both of them as
he handed her out of the car, had instantly banished the shadow and made
him a happier man than he had been for a good many months past.

Still he was one of those hard-headed, practical men who rightly
consider that the very worst enemy either to friendship between man and
man, or love between man and woman, is an unexplained misunderstanding,
and so in that moment he decided to "have it out" with his lordship on
the first possible opportunity.





Next: A Glimpse Of The Peril

Previous: How The French Landed At Portsmouth



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