I lay down to take a short rest, but was roused in time to be again on the platform at 4 A.M. to meet my friends. It was a joyful meeting, but we lost little time over it. Henriette was fairly worn out, and all but broke down when she saw me. The Colonel came to the rescue as usual, and said briefly, after we had shaken hands:
“Take charge of her, Lady Claire, I will see to everything now. We can talk later.”
“Can you be at the entrance to the hotel in a couple of hours’ time? I shall want your advice, probably your assistance.”
“You know you have only to ask,” he answered, with the prompt, soldierlike obedience, and the honest, unflinching look in his eyes that I knew so well and loved in him. Here was, indeed, a brave, loyal soul, to be trusted in implicitly, and with my whole heart.
I felt now that I should succeed in the difficult task I had set myself. The plan I had conceived and hoped to work out was to send Lord Blackadder to sea, all the way to Tripoli, with Philpotts and the sham child.
We drove down, Philpotts and I, to the wharf where the steamers of the Transatlantique Company lie. The Oasis had her blue peter flying, and a long gangway stretched from her side to the shore, up and down which a crowd passed ceaselessly, passengers embarking, porters with luggage, and dock hands with freight. At the top of the slope was the chief steward and his men, in full dress, white shirts, white ties, and white gloves, who welcomed us, asking the number of our stateroom, and offering to relieve us of our light baggage.
One put out his arms to take the baby from Philpotts, but she shook her head vigorously, and I cried in French that it was too precious.
Next moment a voice I recognized said:
“Certainly they are there, and they have it with them. Why not seize it at once?”
“Not so fast, Lord Blackadder,” I interposed, turning on him fiercely. “No violence, if you please, or you may make the acquaintance of another police commissary.”
I had heard the whole story of the affair at Aix from the Colonel, who I may say at once I had seen shortly before, and who was at no great distance now.
“Go on, Philpotts, get down below and lock yourself in,” I said boldly. “Our cabin is thirty-seven—” checking myself abruptly as though I had been too outspoken.
“But, Lady Claire, permit me,” it was Lord Blackadder behind, speaking with quite insinuating softness. “Do be more reasonable. Surely you perceive how this must end? Let me entreat you not to drive me to extremities. I mean to have the child, understand that; but we ought to be able to arrange this between us. Give it up to me of your own accord, you shall not regret it. Ask what you choose, anything—a pearl collar or a diamond bracelet—”
“Can you really be such a base hound, such an abject and contemptible creature, as to propose terms of that sort to me? How dare you think so ill of me? Let me pass; I cannot stay here, it would poison me to breathe the same air. Never speak to me again,” I almost shouted, filled with bitter shame and immeasurable scorn, and I turned and left him.