I was beginning to despair when I saw Cook’s man, who was, as usual, hovering about to assist travellers in trouble, and I beckoned him to approach.
“See that gentleman,” I nodded towards the Colonel. “He wants you; do your best for him.” And when the tourist agent proceeded on his mission to be accosted, I fear rather unceremoniously, I slipped off and hid out of sight.
I felt sure I was unobserved as I took my place in the crowd at the ticket-window, but when I had asked and paid for my place to Locarno I heard, to my disgust, some one else applying for a ticket to exactly the same place, and in a voice that was strangely familiar.
On looking round I saw Jules l’Echelle, the sleeping-car conductor, but out of uniform, and with an amused grin on his face.
“It seems that we are still to be fellow travellers,” he observed casually.
“What is taking you to Lake Maggiore? How about your service on the car?” I asked suspiciously.
“I have business at Locarno, and have got a few days’ leave to attend to it.”
I felt he was lying to me. He had been bought, I was sure. His business was the Colonel’s, who had set him to assist in watching me. I had two enemies then to encounter, and I realized with some misgiving that the Colonel was not a man to be despised.
I secured a place with difficulty; there was rather a rush for the St. Gothard express when it ran in. It was composed as usual of corridor carriages, all classes en suite, and I knew that it would be impossible to conceal the fact that I was on board the train. Within five minutes Jules had verified the fact and taken seats in the immediate neighbourhood, to which he and the Colonel presently came.
“Quite a pleasant little party!” he said in a bantering tone. “All bound for Locarno, eh? Ever been to Locarno before, Mr. Falfani? Delightful lake, Maggiore. Many excursions, especially by steamer; the Borromean islands well worth seeing, and Baveno and Stresa and the road to the Simplon.”
I refused to be drawn, and only muttered that I hated excursions and steamers and lakes, and wished to be left in peace.
“A little out of sorts, I’m afraid, Mr. Falfani. Sad that. Too many emotions, want of sleep, perhaps. You would do too much last night.” He still kept up his hateful babble, and Jules maddened me by his sniggering enjoyment of my discomfiture.
More than ever did I set my brain to puzzle out some way of escaping this horrible infliction. Was it not possible to give them the slip, somehow, somewhere? I took the Colonel’s hint, and pretended to take refuge in sleep, and at last, I believe, I dozed off. It must have been in my dreams that an idea came to me, a simple idea, easy of execution with luck and determination.