“Scold me! I should think not! I have been scolded quite enough these last twenty-four hours. I never met a man I disliked so much as your fine friend, that Colonel Annesley, the rudest, most presuming, overbearing wretch. He talked to me and ordered me about as if I was still in the schoolroom, he actually dared to find fault with my actions, and dictated to me what I should do next. I—I—”
“Did it, Henriette? Like a lamb, eh? That’s a way he has, my dear,” I laughed.
“I don’t envy you one bit, Claire. You’ll be a miserable woman. You hate to give way, and he’ll make you. He’ll tame you, and lord it over you, he’ll be a hard, a cruel master, for all he thinks so much of you now.”
“And does he?” What sweeter music in a woman’s ear than to be told of the sway she exercises over the man of her choice?
“Why, of course, he thinks all the world of you. He would say nothing, decide nothing until you had been consulted. Your word is law to him, your name always on his lips. You know of your latest conquest, I suppose?”
“There are things one does not care to discuss, my dear, even with one’s sister,” I answered, rather coldly. I was a little hurt by her tone and manner, although what she told me gave me exquisite pleasure.
“Come, come,” Henriette rallied me. “Make a clean breast of it. Confess that you are over head and ears in love with your Colonel. Why not? You are free to choose, I was not,” and her eyes filled with tears at the sad shipwreck of her married life.
I strove hard to calm her, to console her, pointing to her little Ralph, and promising her a future of happiness with her child.
“If I am allowed to keep him, yes. But how can I keep him after that wicked decision of the Court, and with such a persistent enemy as Ralph Blackadder? For the moment we are safe, but by and by he will come back, he will leave no stone unturned until he finds me, and I shall lose my darling for ever.”
The hopelessness of evading pursuit for any time sorely oppressed me, too. There seemed no safety but in keeping continually on the move, in running to and fro and changing our hiding place so soon as danger of discovery loomed near. We were like pariahs ostracized from our fellows, wandering Jews condemned to roam on and on, forbidden to pause or find peace anywhere.
Yet, after a pleasant dejeuner, the three of us held a council of war.
“The thing is perfectly simple,” said my dear Colonel, in his peremptory, but to me reassuring fashion. “I have thought it all out and can promise you immediate escape from all your difficulties. You must go as quickly as you can get there, to Tangier.”
“Tangier!” I cried, amazed.
“Yes, Lady Claire, Tangier. It is the only refuge left for criminals—forgive me, I mean no offence,” and he laughed heartily as he went on. “You have broken the law, you are flying from the law, and you are amenable to it all the world over, save and except in Morocco alone. You must go to Tangier, there is no extradition, the King’s warrant does not run there. You will be perfectly safe if you elect to stay there, safe for the rest of your days.”