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Chapter XLIII - About Town

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« on: December 07, 2022, 06:03:14 am »

We passed up the heavily-carpeted steps into the central hall of the hotel. The Count stopped for a moment to inquire for letters at the chief porter’s bureau, and as we turned away we came face to face with Lord Langerdale.

He hesitated when he saw us together, but only for a moment. Then he advanced with a genial smile upon his well-cut, handsome face.

“You’re the very man I wanted to see, de Cartienne,” he said. “I suppose you know your young friend’s name by this time? Will you introduce us?”

The Count looked distinctly annoyed, but he complied at once.

“Lord Langerdale,” he said coldly, “this is Mr. Morton. Mr. Morton—Lord Langerdale.”

Lord Langerdale held out his hand frankly and drew me a little on one side, although not out of the Count’s hearing.

“Mr. Morton,” he said pleasantly, “I am going to make a somewhat extraordinary request. My only excuse for it is a lady’s will, and when you reach my age you will know that it is a thing by no means to be lightly regarded. My wife has been very much impressed by what she terms a marvellous likeness between you and—and a very near relative of hers whom she had lost sight of for a long while. She is most anxious to make your acquaintance. May I have the honour of presenting you to her?”

For a moment my head swam. The likeness of Lady Langerdale to my mother, and then this strange fancy on her part! What if they should be something more than coincidences? The very thought was bewildering. But how could it be? No; the thing was impossible. Still, the request was couched in such terms that there could be but one answer.

“I shall be extremely pleased!” I declared readily.

“Then come into the drawing-room for a few minutes, will you?” Lord Langerdale said. “Good-night, Eugène! No use asking you to join us, I know.”

Count de Cartienne turned on his heel with brow as black as thunder.

“Good-night, Lord Langerdale!” he said stiffly; “Good-night, Mr. Morton!”

“But I am coming with you, you know!” I exclaimed, surprised at his manner. “Couldn’t you wait for me five minutes?”

“It is impossible!” he answered shortly; “we are late already! My carriage must have been waiting half an hour. I had no idea of the time.”

It was rather an embarrassing moment for me. The Count evidently expected me to keep my engagement with him, and would be offended if I did not do so. On the other hand, Lord Langerdale was waiting to take me to his wife, and, from the slight frown with which he was regarding de Cartienne, I judged that he did not approve of his interference.

Inclination prompted me strongly to throw my engagement with the Count to the winds and to place myself under Lord Langerdale’s guidance. But, after all, the sole purpose of my journey to London was to discover Mr. Marx, and if I neglected this opportunity I might lose sight of the only man who could help me in my search. Clearly, therefore, my duty was to fulfil my prior engagement.

“If M. de Cartienne cannot wait,” I said regretfully, “I am afraid, Lord Langerdale, that the pleasure you offer me must be deferred. Would Lady Langerdale allow me to call at your rooms to-morrow?”

Evidently he was displeased, for his manner changed at once.

“I will leave a note for you with the hall porter,” he said. “Good-night.”

I turned away with the Count, who preserved a perfectly unmoved countenance. Before we had taken half a dozen steps, however, he was accosted by a gentleman entering the hotel, and, turning round, he begged me to excuse him for a moment.

I strolled away by myself, waiting. Suddenly, I felt a light touch on my arm, and, looking round, I found Lord Langerdale by my side.

“I just want to ask you a question, Mr. Morton, if you’ll allow me,” he said kindly. “Remember that I’m an old man—old enough to be your father—and a man of the world, and you are a very young one. You won’t mind a word of advice?”

“Most certainly not!” I assured him heartily.

“Well, then, Count de Cartienne is quite a new acquaintance of yours, is he not?”

“I never saw him before this evening,” I admitted.

“And you—pardon me, but you look very young, and a great deal too fresh and healthy for a town man—you don’t know much of London life, do you?”

“Nothing at all,” I answered. “This is my first visit to London, and I only arrived this afternoon.”

Lord Langerdale looked very serious.

“Look here, Mr. Morton,” he said earnestly, “I feel sure from your face that I can trust you, and that what I am going to say you will consider in confidence. I should be the last one to say anything against Eugène de Cartienne, for he received a terrible injury from one of my family, or, rather, my wife’s family, and I fear that has exercised an evil influence over his life. But, all the same, I cannot see you, a youngster, perfectly inexperienced, starting out to spend your first night in town with him without feeling it my duty to tell you that I consider him one of the most unfortunate and most dangerous companions whom you could have chosen. There! I hope you’re not offended?”

“How could I be?” I answered gratefully. “But I am not going out with him from choice, or for the sake of amusement. We are together simply because, as far as I know, he is the only man who can solve a mystery which I have come up to London to try to clear up.”

Lord Langerdale started, and his manner became almost agitated.

“This is most extraordinary!” he declared. “Mr. Morton, you must—ah, here comes de Cartienne!” he broke off in a tone of deep annoyance. “Breakfast with me to-morrow morning at ten—no, nine o’clock!” he added, in a lower key. “I have something most important to say to you.”

I nodded assent and the Count joined us.

There was a faint flush on his pale cheeks and his eyes were flashing brightly, as he looked at us standing close together. It might have been the result of his recent conversation, of course; but, coupled with his frowning brow and quick, suspicious glance, it looked a great deal more like a sudden fit of anger at seeing us engaged in what appeared like a confidential talk. But there was no trace of it in his tone when he addressed us.

“Really, you two might be conspirators,” he said lightly. “Well, Mr. Morton, have you changed your mind, or am I to have the honour of your company this evening?”

“I am ready to start when you are,” I answered. “Good-night once more, Lord Langerdale.”

He shook my hand warmly, nodded to the Count, who returned the salute with a stiff bow, and left us. We descended into the street, and a very small, neat brougham, drawn by a pair of dark, handsome bays, drew up at the entrance. The coachman’s livery was perfectly plain, save that he wore a cockade in his hat, and there was neither coat-of-arms nor crest upon the panel of the door. We stepped inside, and the Count held a speaking-tube for a moment to his mouth while he consulted his watch. There was no footman.

“Frivolity Theatre,” he directed. And we drove off at a smart pace into the Strand.

We reached our destination in a few moments and had no difficulty in obtaining seats. It was all new to me, and I felt a little bewildered as I endeavoured to follow the performance. I soon had enough of that. The piece was a screaming farce, vulgar and stupid.

“I don’t think Mr. Marx is here,” I whispered to de Cartienne.

“I don’t think he is,” was the rejoinder. “I had a good look round for him when we came in. Have you had enough of this performance? If so, we’ll go. I think I know where we shall find Marx.”

“Then let us go at once,” I urged.

We passed out of the theatre into the street, The brougham was there waiting for us.

“Jump in!” said the Count, opening the door. “I’m going to tell the fellow where to drive to.”

I obeyed him, and waited for nearly a minute before he had given his directions and joined me. Then he took his seat by my side and we drove quickly off.

“Why did you not use the speaking-tube?” I asked idly.

He answered without looking at me. “It is rather an out-of-the-way place,” he said slowly, “and I did not wish the man to make a mistake.”

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