Down-stairs I found Philpotts in the cabin, busily engaged in putting her “doll” to bed in the third berth.
“Are you at all afraid of being left with these wretches?” I asked a little doubtfully, counting upon her devotion, but loth to lay too great a burden on her.
“Why, how can you suppose such a thing, my lady? What can they do to me? They will be furiously angry, of course, but the laugh will be against them. If the worst comes to the worst they will appeal to the captain, and they will get no satisfaction from him. I can take care of myself, never fear. You shall hear from Tripoli to the same hotel in Marseilles.”
“If we go on your letter will follow us. Come back there as soon as you possibly can and you will find further instructions. Now it must be good-bye, there goes the bell to warn people ashore. One last word: I advise you when well out to sea to go to my lord and offer to go over to his side and desert me altogether. Tell him you will help him to get the child,—that you will put it into his hands indeed,—at a price.”
“As if I would touch his dirty money, my lady!”
“It will be only spoiling the Egyptians! Squeeze all you can out of him, I say. But that is as you please. You know I shall always be your firm friend whatever you do, and that I shall never forget what I owe you.”
I should have said much more, but now the second bell was ringing, and if I was to carry out my scheme it was time for me to go.
On leaving the cabin I walked forward along the lower deck seeking another issue, the position of which I had fixed the day before, having visited the Oasis on purpose. In a minute I had emerged into the open air, and found myself in the midst of the sailors sending down cargo into the forehold. I should have been utterly confused, bewildered, and terrified, but I felt a strong, firm hand close on mine, and a quiet, steady voice in my ear.
“This way, Lady Claire, only a couple of steps,” said the Colonel as he led me to the side of the steamer farthest from the shore. A ladder was fixed here and a boat was made fast to the lowest rung. Carefully, tenderly guided by my ever trusty henchman I made the descent, took my seat in the stern of the small boat, it was cast loose, and we pushed off into the waterway. Half an hour later we were back at the Terminus Hotel.
For the first time in all that stirring and eventful week I breathed freely. At any rate the present peril was overpast, we had eluded pursuit, and had a clear time of perfect security to consider our situation and look ahead.
As soon as Henriette was visible, I went up to her room to talk matters over. She was very humble and apologetic, and disarmed me if I had intended to take her to task for all the trouble and anxiety she had caused us. But when I magnanimously said, “I am not going to scold you,” she was in my arms at once.