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Chapter XXXVII - Mr. Marx is Wanted

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« on: December 07, 2022, 04:39:09 am »

It was long past midnight before the last little knots of guests had wished one another good night, and even then Lord Penraven and a few chosen companions only adjourned to a smaller smoking-room in the back regions of the Castle. I knew that Mr. Ravenor was not with them, however, for I had seen him, after having outstayed all save this handful of his guests, cross the hall and enter the library. In about half an hour I followed him.

I had expected to find him resting after the great strain which the multitude and importance of his guests must have imposed upon him during the day. But I found him very differently employed. He was bending low over his writing-table, with a cup of tea by his side, and already several sheets of closely-written foolscap were scattered about the table. At the sound of my entrance he looked up at once and laid down his pen.

“Sit there,” he said, pointing to an easy-chair opposite to him. “I want to see your face while you are talking. Now, what is this tale which you have to tell me?”

His manner was far from encouraging and his face wore a severe expression. Altogether I felt a little nervous. But it had to be done, so I began.

First I told him all about Leonard de Cartienne, his bad influence over Cecil, and his correspondence with Mr. Marx. He listened without remark. Then I paused to take breath.

“I don’t know what you’ll say about the rest of my story,” I went on. “I scarcely know what to think of it myself. But here it is. There is an inn in Little Drayton kept by a man named Hart, and Cecil and de Cartienne go there—sometimes. About a month before I went to Borden Tower the man Hart disappeared. He left home on a journey, the nature of which he kept secret even from his daughter, and has never returned or been heard of. All the information which his daughter can give is that he has left home before on a similar errand and invariably returned with money after three or four days.”

I paused and glanced at Mr. Ravenor. He was looking a little puzzled, but not particularly interested.

“About a month before I left here for Borden Tower,” I went on, “I met Mr. Marx in Torchester and drove home with him late at night. On the moor we were furiously attacked by a man who seemed to be mad and Mr. Marx was slightly injured. Two days afterwards Mr. Marx was assaulted by the same man in the park, and if I had not turned up he would probably have been killed. The man was a lunatic in every respect, save one. He recognized Mr. Marx as his enemy and made deliberate attempts upon his life.”

Mr. Ravenor softly pulled down the green lampshade on the side nearest to him, and in the subdued light I could scarcely see his face, but I felt that his interest in my story was growing.

“Well, of course, when Cecil began talking about this man Hart’s disappearance,” I continued, “and I heard a good deal about it at Little Drayton, I began to think about this lunatic whom no one knew anything about. I put down the exact dates, and I found that Hart must have left Little Drayton about a week before the first attack on Mr. Marx by the unknown madman. Of course, this by itself was scarcely worth thinking about, but the strangest part of it is to come. More out of curiosity than anything, I asked to see a photograph of Mr. Hart. His daughter took us into the sitting-room to look at one and to her amazement found it gone. All search was unavailing. Someone had taken it away. Well, I found out where it had been taken and went to order a copy. It was no use. The negative had been sold to the same person who alone could have entered Miss Hart’s sitting-room and abstracted the photograph. That person was Leonard de Cartienne, and he has been in communication with Mr. Marx, the man whom the lunatic tried to murder. Can you make anything of that, sir?”

Apparently Mr. Ravenor had made something of it. He was leaning a little forward in his chair and at the sight of his face a great fear came upon me. A ghastly change had crept into it. His eyes were burning with a dry, fierce fire, and the pallor extended even to his lips.

He sat forward, with his long, wasted fingers, stretched out convulsively before his face, like a man who sees a hideous vision pass before his sight and yet remains spellbound, powerless to speak, or move, or break away from the loathsome spectacle. Sickly beads of perspiration stood out upon his clammy forehead and his dry lips were moving, although no sound came from them.

I gazed at him in a speechless horror, and as I looked the room and all its contents seemed to swim around me. What could Mr. Ravenor have found so awful in the story which I had told and how could it concern him?

Suddenly he rose from his seat and stood over me. I was more than ever alarmed at his strange expression.

“There is a third connection,” he said hoarsely. “Do you remember that a man called to see me, whom I declined to admit, on the night of your first visit here? When I changed my mind he had disappeared.”

I gave a little cry and felt my blood run cold. “Mr. Marx had something to do with that,” I faltered out. “I met him under the trees in the avenue and he was horribly frightened to see me. I had heard a cry. I was listening.”

Mr. Ravenor stretched out his hand to the bell and rang it violently. We sat in silence, dreading almost to look at one another until it was answered. “Go to Mr. Marx’s room and bid him come here at once,” Mr. Ravenor commanded. The man bowed and withdrew. When he reappeared he carried in his hand a letter.

“Mr. Marx left this on his desk for you, sir,” he said.

“Left it! Where is he? Is he not in the Castle?” questioned Mr. Ravenor sharply.

“No, sir. He had a dog cart about half-past four to catch the London express at Mellborough.”

Mr. Ravenor tore open the note and then threw it across to me. There were only a few words:

“Dear Mr. Ravenor,—Kindly excuse me for a day or two. Important business of a private nature calls me hurriedly to London. If you are writing to me, my address will be at the Hotel Metropole. M.”

There was a silence between us. Then I looked into Mr. Ravenor’s colourless face.

“We must find that lunatic,” I whispered.

Mr. Ravenor turned from me with a shudder.

“We must do nothing of the sort.”

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