“I retract that. I will not go with you; certainly not in the dark. You must tell me first where you think of going, what you mean to do. Is it likely that I should trust myself alone with an almost complete stranger—a man who has shown me so little consideration, who has been so unkind, so cruel, and who now wants to carry me off goodness knows where, because he is so obstinately determined that his is the right way to proceed.”
“Lady Henriette,” I said civilly but very coldly, and putting the drag on myself, for I confess she was trying me very hard, “let there be no misunderstanding between us. Either you consent to my proposals absolutely and unhesitatingly, or I shall withdraw altogether from your service. I have felt that I had a duty to Lady Claire, and I have been honestly anxious to discharge it, but by your present attitude I feel myself absolved from that duty. I am not unwilling to accept responsibility, but only if I am allowed to act as I please.”
“Oh, how like a man! Of course you must have your own way, and every one else must give in to you,” she cried with aggravating emphasis, giving me no credit for trying to choose the wisest course.
“I know I’m right,” I urged, a little feebly perhaps, for I was nearly worn out by her prejudice and utterly illogical refusal to see how the land lay. But I quickly recovered myself, and said quite peremptorily, “You shall have half an hour to make up your mind, not a minute more, Lady Henriette. You shall give me my answer when I return. I warn you that I shall bring a carriage in half an hour, and I strongly advise you to be ready to start with me. Have everything packed, please, and the bill paid. I will take no denial, remember that.”
I returned to my hotel vexed and irritated beyond measure by my passage at arms with Lady Henriette Standish, and hating the prospect of any further dealings with her. I very cordially echoed her repeated cry for Lady Claire. Matters would have been very different had her strong-minded sister been on the spot to use her influence and help us with her counsel. What a contrast between the two women! I was more and more drawn to the one, and more and more heartily despised the other.
With my mind full of the beautiful creature who had made me a willing captive to her charms, her gracious presence was recalled to me by a message from under her own hand. As I passed the threshold of my hotel, the hall porter gave me a telegram from Lady Claire. It had come via London, but the office of origin was Marseilles.
“Reached so far,
yesterday,” it said. “One of them
this morning—have no fear—exchange not effected—shall
remain here for the present—Hotel Terminus.
I read and re-read this passage with a delightful feeling that it brought me into touch with my love, and I may be permitted for seeing in it clear proof of her bright wit and intelligence. She told me just exactly all that it was essential to know: of the pursuit, of the absence of pressing danger, of the abortive attempt to exchange babies, and where she was to be found. Suppose that I had not met Lady Henriette, I was fully prepared for anything that might occur.