“You are, indeed, my true and faithful friend,” she said, as she put out her hand and wished me good night. She left it in mine for just a second, and I flattered myself that its warm pressure was meant to assure me that I had established a substantial claim to her regard.
On leaving Salon No. 17 I descended to the ground floor, seeking the smoking-room and a little stimulant to assist me in deciding the best course of action for the following day.
As I passed along the corridor I caught sight of l’Echelle, whom I considered my man, in close confabulation with Falfani in a quiet corner. They could hardly have seen me, at least l’Echelle made no reference to the fact when he came to me presently and asked if I had any orders for the morning. I answered him sternly:
“What was Falfani saying to you just now? The truth, please, or you get nothing more from me.”
“He is a vaurien and faineant, and thinks others as bad as himself; said my lord would give me five hundred francs to know what you were doing, and find out whether the lady who travelled with us to Basle last Sunday is here in this house.”
“I’ve no objection to your taking his money if you will tell me something. How long does my lord mean to stay here? Have you any idea?”
“They all go on by the early train to Culoz or farther. A pressing telegram has come from their man at Amberieu.”
“Ah! Indeed. Then you may say that I am also going by that early train. They’re not going to shake me off very easily. Tell them that, and that if they want the lady they’d better look for her. She isn’t here.”
I lied in a good cause, for a lady, as a gentleman is bound to do. I shall be forgiven, I think, under the circumstances.
The free use of coin had the desired effect at the railway station. Soon after 5 A.M. I was met at a private door and escorted, with my precious party, by a circuitous route to where the 5.48 was shunted, waiting the moment to run back to the departure platform. There was a coupe ready for Lady Claire, and she took her place quietly, observed by no one but the obsequious official who had managed it all.
As for me, I walked boldly to the hotel and hung about the hall till the Blackadder party appeared and had left for the station. Then I asked the hotel clerk for Lady Claire’s bill, paid it, with my own, and went over to the train, selecting a compartment close to the coupe. As I passed it I knocked lightly on the window pane, giving a signal previously arranged between us.
I do not think that Lord Blackadder saw me then, at the start. But at Bellegarde, the Swiss frontier, where there was a wait of half an hour for the Customs examination, an irritating performance always, but carried out here with the most maddening and overbearing particularity, everyone was obliged to alight from the train, and for the moment I trembled for Lady Claire. But the appeal addressed to the French brigadier, “un galant homme,” of an invalid lady, too ill to be disturbed, was effectual, especially when backed by two five-franc pieces.