“Precisely what I should like to do, my fine fellow. I can guess what your business is. Nothing reputable, I feel sure.”
“I’m not ashamed of it, and I have powerful friends behind me. I am acting for—”
“Yes?” he asked me mockingly, for I had checked my tongue, fearing to say too much.
“It is my affair. Enough that you will feel the weight of their hands if you interfere with me in carrying out their instructions.”
“Well, anyhow, tell me who you are. I’ve a right to know that in exchange. You chose to help yourself to my name; now I insist upon knowing yours.”
I told him, not very readily, as may be supposed.
“Domenico Falfani? Is that your own or a ‘purser’s’ name? Come, you know what I mean. It’s part of your stock in trade to understand all languages, including slang. Is that the name he has given you?”—this to the conductor. “Show me your way-bill, your feuille de route.”
Jules at a nod from me produced it, and no doubt understood my reason when in my turn I claimed to see it.
“I have a clear right,” I insisted, overruling all objections raised by the Colonel; and taking it into my hands I read the names aloud, “Colonel Annesley, Mrs. Blair, maid and child.” I pronounced the name with great contempt.
“You talk of purser’s names,” I said sneeringly. “What do you think of this? Blair, indeed! No more the woman’s name than Smith or Jones, or what you please.”
“Speak more respectfully of a lady,” cried the Colonel, catching me tightly by the arm.
“Lady? Oho! Don’t, Colonel, drop it. At any rate, she is not Mrs. Blair; you may take that from me,” I said as impressively as a judge on the bench. “And what’s more, Colonel, I wouldn’t press charges you can’t substantiate against me, or I may hit back with another not so easy to meet. Try to stop me at the next station, and I’ll stop your pal—ah, don’t”—he had a cruelly strong hand—“your Mrs. Blair, and she’ll find herself in a particularly tight place.”
“We’ll see about that,” said the Colonel, who kept a stiff face, but was, I think, rather crestfallen. “I shall act as I think best. Anyhow, get out of this, both of you. This is my private berth, and you are trespassing.”
Whatever may have been the Colonel’s intentions when he caught me in his compartment, something, and I think my last words, led him to modify them. He felt, probably, that if he attacked me I might retaliate unpleasantly. I ought to be able to hold my own with him, although in truth I was not over happy at the course events had taken, and I could not compliment myself on my good management.
I had not been overprudent; I had pressed my attentions on him rather abruptly, although I had the excuse that I usually found them well received, thanks to my affable address; again I had behaved most incautiously in penetrating his identity.