“Oh! really, pray introduce me to his lordship,” said one. “Does your lordship propose to make a long stay in Aix? Can we be of any use to you?” “You mustn’t mind Basil Annesley; he’s always full of his games.” “Hope he didn’t hurt you. He didn’t mean it really;” and I could see that the Earl could hardly contain himself in his rage.
Then, suddenly muttering something about “bounders” and “cads,” he forced his way through and hurried off, shouting his parting instructions to us to join him as soon as possible at the Hotel Hautecombe on the hill.
We followed quickly, and were ushered at once into his private apartment. It was essential to confer and decide upon some plan of action; but when I asked him what he proposed to do next, he received my harmless request with a storm of invective and reproach.
“You miserable and incompetent fools! Don’t expect me to tell you your business. Why do I pay you? Why indeed? Nothing you have done has been of the very slightest use; on the contrary, through your beastly mismanagement I have been dragged into this degrading position, held up to ridicule and contempt before all the world. And with it all, the whole thing has failed. I sent you out to recover my child, and what have you done? What has become of that abominable woman who stole it from under your very noses? Blackguards! Bunglers! Idiots! Fat-headed asses!”
“Nay, my lord,” pleaded Tiler humbly, for I confess I was so much annoyed by this undeserved reprimand I could not bring myself to speak civilly. “I think I can assure your lordship that matters will soon mend. The situation is not hopeless, believe me. You may rely on us to regain touch with the fugitives without delay. I have a clue, and with your lordship’s permission will follow it at once.”
I saw clearly that he was set upon the absurd notion he had conceived that the lady had gone westward, and I felt it my duty to warn the Earl not to be misled by Tiler.
“There is nothing in his clue, my lord. It is pure assumption, without any good evidence to support it.”
“Let me hear this precious clue,” said his lordship. “I will decide what it is worth.”
Then Tiler propounded his theory.
“It might be good enough,” I interjected, “if I did not know the exact contrary. The lady with her party was seen going in exactly the opposite direction. I know it for a fact.”
“And I am equally positive of what I saw,” said Tiler.
His lordship looked from one to the other, plainly perplexed and with increasing anger.
“By the Lord Harry, it’s pleasant to be served by a couple of such useless creatures who differ so entirely in their views that they cannot agree upon a common plan of action. How can I decide as to the best course if you give me no help?”
“Perhaps your lordship will allow me to make a suggestion?” I said gravely, and I flatter myself with some dignity, for I wished to show I was not pleased with the way he treated us.