“And on board the steamer? Going in which direction?” I asked eagerly.
“He shall tell you himself if I can find him when we reach the terminus. It may not be easy, but I could do it if—”
Another and a third five-franc piece solved his doubts, and I abandoned my visit to the terminus hotel to seize this more tangible clue, and proceeded at once to the lake shore.
On reaching the steamboat pier I was introduced to the porter, a shock-headed, stupid-looking creature, whom I forthwith questioned eagerly; but elicited only vague and, I felt sure, misleading replies. The conductor assisted at my interview, stimulating and encouraging the man to speak, and overdid it, as I thought. I strongly suspected that this new evidence had been produced in order to bleed me further. Had he really seen this English lady? Would he describe her appearance to me, and that of her companion? Was she tall or short? Well dressed, handsome, or the reverse? What was her companion like? Tall or short? How dressed, and did he suppose her condition to be that of a lady like the other, equal in rank, or an inferior?
The answers I got were not encouraging. Ladies? Of course they were ladies, both of them. Dressed? In the very latest fashion. They were very distinguished people.
“Were they carrying anything, either of them?” I inquired.
“Yes, when I saw them first they had much baggage. It was for that they summoned me. Handbags, sacs de nuit, rugs, wrappers, bonnet-boxes, many things, like all travellers.”
“And you noticed nothing big, no parcel for which they were particularly concerned?”
“They were anxious about everything, and worried me about everything, but about no one thing especially that I can remember.”
This did not tally with my own observation and the extreme care taken of the child in the woman’s arms. I began to believe that my friend was a humbug and could tell me nothing of his own knowledge.
“What time was it?” I went on.
“Some hours ago. I did not look at the clock.”
“But you know by the steamers that arrive. You men must know which are due, and when they pass through.”
“Come, come, Antoine,” broke in the conductor, determined to give him a lead, “you must know that; there are not so many. It would be about 2 P.M., wouldn’t it, when the express boat comes from Vevey and Bouveret?”
“Yes, I make no doubt of that,” said the man, with a gleam of intelligence upon his stolid face.
“And the ladies went on board it, you say? Yes? You are sure?”
“It must have been so; I certainly carried their traps on board.”
“Now, are you quite positive it was the two o’clock going that way, and not the quarter past two returning from Geneva?” I had my Bradshaw handy, and was following the time-table with my fingers.