“Ha!” I said, “that’s a brilliant idea. How do you mean to work it out?”
“Take the telegram out of his waistcoat pocket, read it, or bring it to you.”
“Bring it; that will be best,” I interrupted, feeling a tinge of suspicion.
“But I must put it straight back,” continued l’Echelle, “for he is sure to ask for it directly he returns to the hotel.”
Within a few minutes he had gone in and out again, carrying now one of the black linen bags used by valets de chambres to carry their masters’ clothes in. He winked at me as he passed, and we walked together to a shady, retired spot in the little square where the cab-stand is, and sat in the newspaper kiosk on a couple of straw-bottomed chairs of the Central cafe.
“Read that,” he said triumphantly, as he handed me the familiar scrap of blue paper.
“Have got safely so far with nurse and baby—entreat you to follow with all possible speed—dying to get on.—CLAIRE, Hotel Cavour, Milan.”
“Excellent!” I cried, slapping my thigh. “This settles all doubts. So much for that fool Tiler. My lord will be very grateful to you,” and I handed him back the telegram, having first copied it word for word in my note-book.
“It means, I suppose,” suggested l’Echelle, “that you will make for Milan, too?”
“No fear—by the first train. You’ll be clever if you get the start of us, for I presume you will be moving.”
“I haven’t the smallest doubt of that; we shall be quite a merry party. It will be quite like old times.”
[Colonel Annesley again.]
I had no reason to complain of the course of events culminating in the affair at Culoz. I defended to myself the assault upon Lord Blackadder as in a measure provoked and justifiable under the circumstances, although I was really sorry for him and at the poor figure he cut before the police magistrate and gendarmes. But I could not forget the part he had played throughout, nor was I at all disposed to turn aside from my set purpose to help the ladies in their distress. Every man of proper feeling would be moved thereto, and I knew in my secret heart that very tender motives impelled me to the unstinting championship of Lady Claire.
I was still without definite news of what had happened between the two sisters while I was covering their movements at Culoz. I could not know for certain whether or not the exchange had actually been effected, and I did not dare inquire about the station, for it might betray facts and endanger results. I had no hope of a message from Lady Henriette, for she would hardly know where to address me. Lady Claire would almost certainly telegraph to me via London at the very earliest opportunity, and I was careful to wire from Culoz to the hall porter of my club, begging him to send on everything without a moment’s delay.