I drove straight to the Hotel de la Poste, careless that my tormentors were accompanying me; they could do me no more harm, and Tiler was at hand to help in vindicating our position.
There was no Tiler at the Hotel de la Poste; no Tiler in Brieg. Only a brief telegram from him conveying unwelcome and astounding intelligence. It had been despatched from Vevey about 2 P.M., and it said:
“Lost her somewhere between this
and Lausanne. Am trying back. Shall
wire you again to Brieg. Wait there or leave address.”
My face must have betrayed my abject despair. I was so completely knocked over that I offered no opposition when the Colonel impudently took the telegram out of my hand and read it coolly.
“Drawn blank!” he cried, unable to contain himself for joy. “By the Lord Harry, that’s good.”
[The Statement of the Second Detective, Ludovic Tiler.]
I travelled via Ostend, Brussels and Strasburg, and was due at Basle from that side at 4.35 A.M. My instructions were to look out for Falfani there, and thought I might do so if our train was fairly punctual, as it was. We were “on time,” and the answer to my first question was that the Lucerne express was still at the platform, but on the point of departure.
I got one glimpse of Falfani and one word with him. He was in trouble himself; they had nipped him, caught him tight, and thrown him off the scent. I was now to take up the running.
“You’ve got your chance now, Ludovic,” he said hurriedly, as he leaned out of the carriage window. “I’m not jealous, as you often are, but it’s deuced hard on me. Anyhow, stick to her like wax, and keep your eyes skinned. She’s got the wiles of the devil, and will sell you like a dog if you don’t mind. Hurry now; you’ll pick her up in the waiting-room or restaurant, and can’t miss her.”
He gave me the description, and I left him, promising him a wire at the telegraph office, Lucerne. He was right, there was no mistaking her. Few people were about at that time in the morning, and there was not a soul among the plain-headed, commonplace Swiss folk to compare with her, an English lady with her belongings.
She was quite a beauty, tall, straight, lissom, in her tight-fitting ulster; her piquante-looking heather cap perched on chestnut curls, and setting off as handsome a face as I have ever seen. And I have seen and admired many, for I don’t deny that I’ve a strong penchant for pretty women, and this was the pick of the basket. It was rather a bore to be put on to her in the way of business; but why should I not get a little pleasure out of it if I could? I need not be disagreeable; it might help matters and pass the time pleasantly, even if in the end I might have to show my teeth.
I saw her looking me over as I walked into the waiting-room, curiously, critically, and for a moment I fancied she guessed who I was. Had she seen me talking to Falfani?