[Colonel Annesley’s Story]
The crossing from Dover to Calais had been rough; a drizzling rain fell all the time, and most of the passengers had remained below. Strange to say, they were few enough, as I saw on landing. It was a Sunday in late July, and there ought to have been a strong stream setting towards Central Europe. I hardly expected to find much room in the train; not that it mattered, for my place was booked through in the Lucerne sleeping-car of the Engadine express.
Room! When I reached the siding where this train de luxe was drawn up, I saw that I was not merely the first but the only passenger. Five sleeping-cars and a dining-car attached, with the full staff, attendants, chef, waiters—all lay there waiting for me, and me alone.
“Not very busy?” I said, with a laugh to the conductor.
“Parbleu,” replied the man, polyglot and cosmopolitan, like most of his class, but a Frenchman, or, more likely from his accent, a Swiss. “I never saw the like before.”
“I shall have a compartment to myself, then?”
“Monsieur may have the whole carriage if he wishes—the whole five carriages. It is but to arrange.” His eyes glistened at the prospect of something special in this obvious scarcity of coming tips.
“The train will run, I hope? I am anxious to get on.”
“But assuredly it will run. Even without monsieur it would run. The carriages are wanted at the other end for the return journey. Stay, what have we here?”
We stood talking together on the platform, and at some little distance from the railway station, the road to which was clear and open all the way, so that I could see a little party of four approaching us, and distinguish them. Two ladies, an official, probably one of the guards, and a porter laden with light luggage.
As they came up I discreetly withdrew to my own compartment, the window of which was open, so that I could hear and see all that passed.
“Can we have places for Lucerne?” It was asked in an eager, anxious, but very sweet voice, and in excellent French.
“Places?” echoed the conductor. “Madame can have fifty.”
“What did I tell madame?” put in the official who had escorted her.
“I don’t want fifty,” she replied, pettishly, crossly, “only two. A separate compartment for myself and maid; the child can come in with us.”
Now for the first time I noticed that the maid was carrying a bundle in her arms, the nature of which was unmistakable. The way in which she swung it to and fro rhythmically was that of a nurse and child.
“If madame prefers, the maid and infant can be accommodated apart,” suggested the obliging conductor.
But this did not please her. “No, no, no,” she answered with much asperity. “I wish them to be with me. I have told you so already; did you not hear?”