When I alighted and asked for “Mrs. Blair,” I was answered abruptly that she was gone.
“Gone? When? How?” I cried, in utter amazement.
“Madame went very soon after monsieur,” said the patronne, in high dudgeon. “She was not complimentary, she said this place was too triste, that it got on her nerves. She called me up and said I was to bring her the Indicateur. Then she must have a carriage as soon as it could be prepared to drive her to Culoz, fifteen miles away, meaning to take the train from there.”
“Not to Aix?”
“Assuredly not, for when I suggested that she could more easily find the train there she told me to hold my tongue, that she knew very well what she was about, and wanted no observations from me.”
To Culoz? She was bound then to follow her sister, I felt sure of it; and I was aghast, foreshadowing the new dangers opening before her.
[The Lady Claire Standish has her say.]
It was as much as I could do to restrain myself when I saw my gallant knight, the Colonel, rush at that despicable creature, Lord Blackadder, and shake him. I wanted to put my head out of the window and cry, “Well done!” But I saw the folly of it, much as I was delighted, and checked any demonstration of joy. I had no time to spare for anything outside our settled plan, so I jumped out on to the platform at once, and closely followed by Philpotts joined Henriette, and cried:
“Quick, quick, dear, the train goes on in less than ten minutes. Give me the child, we must exchange again.”
“What do you mean?” she gasped, and looked at me dazed and bewildered. “Why should I part with my boy, my own boy! I cannot, indeed I cannot. Why? Why?”
“Because Blackadder is over there, and in another minute or two the child will be taken forcibly from you. Luckily I can still save it.”
“Oh, but please, Claire, please explain. I do not understand, not in the least. What am I to do? I haven’t heard, I do not know.”
“Go on to Fuentellato with the dummy. It is the easiest thing in the world. They will follow you, Colonel Annesley will see to that, while I carry our darling to some secure hiding-place and keep out of sight until we can meet. There, do not, for heaven’s sake, delay. Give me the child.”
“I can’t, I can’t. I will not part with it. My own, my precious babe. Never. Nothing will induce me.”
“Upon my word, Henriette, you are too aggravating and impossible. To think that now at the eleventh hour you should fail me and break down. Are you going to spoil everything! Let me take little Ralph;” and I put out my arms for the child, which Victorine held.
But the mother stood between us, seized the baby convulsively, and with a gesture of repulsion cried:
“Go away, go away, you shall not have him. I don’t care what happens, I will keep him against all the world.”