On leaving his lordship I descended to the grand entrance to the hotel with the intention of beating up the Colonel’s quarters in Aix. Although the hotels were certain to be crowded at this, the height of the season, the town is not really large, the visitors’ lists are well posted with new arrivals, and there are one or two public places where people always turn up at some time or other in the day. The cercle or casino and its succursale the Villa des Fleurs, with their many spacious rooms, reading-room, concert-room, baccarat-room, their restaurants, their beautiful gardens, are thronged at all hours of the day with the smart folk of all nationalities.
I stood on the top of the steps waiting for the private omnibus that plies between the hotel and the town below, when I heard my name called from behind, and turning, was confronted by Jules l’Echelle.
“Hullo!” I cried, eying him suspiciously. “What brings you up here?”
“The Colonel, my master—for I have taken service with him, you must know—sent me here to inquire whether we could have rooms.”
“Why does he choose this hotel of all others?” I asked in a dissatisfied tone, although in my secret heart I was overjoyed.
“It’s the best, isn’t it? Haven’t you come here?”
“My Lord Blackadder has, but that’s another pair of shoes. There’s some difference between him and a beggarly half-pay Colonel who will very likely have to black the boots to work out his bill. They know how to charge here.”
“The Colonel, I take it, can pay his way as well as most people. Anyhow, he’s coming to stop here.”
“For any time?”
“Likely enough. He said something about going through the course, taking the baths, and among the rest asked me to find out the best doctor.”
“That’ll mean a lengthened stay; three weeks at least.”
“Well, why shouldn’t he? He’s his own master.”
“Then he’s finished with that foolish business about the lady; had enough of it, I suppose; burnt his fingers and done no earthly good.”
“How do I know? It’s not my business; but I fancy I have fallen into a snug berth, a soft job, better than making beds in a sleeping-car and being shaken to death in express trains.”
“Good wages, if it’s a fair question?”
“Fifty francs a week, pour tout potage.”
I looked at him hard, revolving in my mind how best to approach him. L’Echelle was a Swiss, and with most of his sort it is only a question of price. How much would it take to buy him?
“Well, how have you fared? Have you succeeded in getting your rooms? Will your Colonel move up?”
“What would his lordship say? Wouldn’t like it much, I expect. Shall I prevent it? It will be easy to say there are no rooms. I’ll do just as you please.”
“You’re very obliging.”
“I’m willing enough to oblige, as I’ve always told you—at a price.”