“So much depends upon it, you see. Everything indeed. It would be a very serious matter if—if—”
“The contrary was the case,” I wanted to say, yet how could I? I should be charging her directly with wilfully misleading me, and deceiving me in this moment of extreme peril.
“But what will happen now?” she said, her voice faltering, her eyes filling, and seemingly on the very verge of hysterics. “What if Blackadder should find that I am here, and—and—”
“He can do nothing to you unless he has a right to act, unless,” I answered unhesitatingly and a little cruelly perhaps, regardless of the scared look in her face, “you have good reason to dread his interference. Lady Henriette, you have not been quite straight with me, I fear. Where is little Lord Aspdale?”
“In there!” she pointed to an inner room, and burst into uncontrollable tears.
To say that I was aghast at the discovery of Lady Blackadder, or, as she preferred to call herself, Lady Henriette Standish, in Aix, and with the precious child, would but imperfectly express my feelings. For the moment I was so utterly taken aback that I could decide upon no new plan of action. I sat there helplessly staring at the poor creature, so full of grief and remorse that I was quite unable to rise to the occasion. I had counted so securely upon tricking Lord Blackadder into a barren pursuit that my disappointment was overwhelming and paralyzed my inventiveness.
Only by slow degrees did I evolve certain definite facts and conclusions. The most essential thing was to get Lord Blackadder away from Aix. So long as he remained he was an ever present danger; our game was up directly he awoke to the true state of affairs. He could appeal now to the police with better result than when claiming my condign punishment. How was he to be got away? By drawing him after me. Clearly I must go, and that not alone, but take them with me, following me under the positive impression that I was leading them straight to their goal. Not one hint, not the slightest suspicion must be permitted to reach them that their quarry was here, just under their feet. Undoubtedly I must adhere to my first plan. When I had gone on with the others at my heels, the coast would be clear for Lady Henriette, and she must double back once more and go into safe hiding somewhere, while the hunt overshot its quarry and rolled on.
So soon as Lady Blackadder recovered from her agitation, I essayed to win her approval of my plans. But the idea of parting from me now that she had laid hold of me was so repugnant to her that she yielded once more to her nerves.
“I beg and implore you, Colonel Annesley, not to leave me again. I cannot possibly stay here alone. Let me go with you, please, please. I’ll do what you like, disguise myself, go third class, anything; but for goodness’ sake don’t desert me, or I don’t know what will happen.”