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Chapter XLII - News of Mr. Marx

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« on: December 07, 2022, 05:46:43 am »

For a moment or two I remained quite silent, for the simple reason that I was far too astonished to make any remark. My new acquaintance sat looking at me with slightly-raised eyebrows and carelessly toying with his eyeglass; yet, notwithstanding his apparent nonchalance, I felt somehow aware that he was watching me keenly.

“My name appears to be a surprise to you,” he remarked, keeping his eyes fixed steadily upon my face. “Have you heard it before, may I ask?”

“Yes,” I assented, “one of the fellows down at Borden Tower—”

“What, you know Leonard?” he interrupted. “Egad! how strange! Then you are one of Dr. Randall’s pupils, I suppose?”

“Yes; I have only been there a very short time, though. And Leonard is—”

“My son.”

I looked at him intently. Now that the fact itself had been suggested to me, I could certainly trace come faint likeness. But what puzzled me most was that he seemed also to remind me, although more vaguely, of someone else, whom I could not call to mind at all. Neither did he seem particularly anxious for me to assist him, for, as though somewhat annoyed at my close scrutiny, he rose abruptly to his feet.

“Come, what do you say to cigarettes and coffee? We are outstaying everybody here.”

I followed him downstairs into the smoke-room. We seated ourselves upon a luxurious divan, and the Count immediately began to talk about his son. “And so you know Leonard? How strange! Do you see much of one another?”

“Naturally, considering that there are only three of us at Dr. Randall’s,” I reminded him.

“Ah, just so! And your other fellow pupil is young Lord Silchester, is he not? Rather an awkward number, three. Do you all chum together pretty well?”

What was I to say? I could not tell him that my relations with his son were decidedly inimical; so, after a moment’s hesitation, I answered a little evasively:

“I’m afraid we’re not a very sociable trio. You see, Cis and I are very keen on out-of-door amusements, and your son rather prefers reading.”

He nodded.

“Yes; I quite understand. You and Lord Silchester are thoroughly English, and essentially so in your tastes and love of sport. Leonard, now, is more than half a foreigner. His mother was an Austrian lady, and I myself am of French extraction. By the by, Mr. Morton, may I ask you a question—in confidence?” he added slowly.

“Certainly.”

“It is about Leonard. I don’t think that you need have any scruples about telling me, for I am his father, you know, and have a certain right to know everything about him.”

He looked at me gravely, as though for confirmation of his words, and I silently expressed my assent. Leonard de Cartienne was nothing to me; and if his father was going to ask me the question which I hoped he was, he should have a straightforward answer.

“I sent my son to Dr. Randall’s,” he began, sinking his voice to a confidential whisper, “not because he was backward in his studies—for such is not, I believe, the case—but because he has unfortunately inherited a very deplorable taste. I found it out only by accident, and it was a very great shock to me. Leonard is fond—too fond—of playing cards for money. I thought that at Borden Tower he would have no opportunity for indulging this lamentable weakness; but from what I have recently heard about Dr. Randall, it has occurred to me that he is perhaps a little too much of the student and too little of the schoolmaster. You understand me? I mean that he is perhaps so closely wrapped up in his private work, that after the hours which he gives to his pupils for instruction they may secure almost as much liberty as though they were at college.”

“That’s just it,” I answered: “and, M. de Cartienne, now that you have spoken to me of it, I will tell you something. Your son does play a good deal with Lord Silchester. I know that this is so, for I have played myself occasionally.”

“And Lord Silchester wins, I presume?”

Something in the Count’s tone as he asked the question, and something in his face as I glanced up, did not please me. Both seemed to tell the same tale, both somehow seemed to imply that his question to me was altogether sarcastic, and that he knew the contrary to be the case.

It was the first gleam of mistrust which I had felt towards my new acquaintance, and it did not last, for the expression of deep concern and annoyance with which he heard my answer seemed too natural to be assumed.

“On the contrary, your son always wins,” I told him drily.

His finely-pencilled dark eyebrows almost met in a heavy frown, and he threw his cigarette away impatiently.

“I’m very much obliged to you, Mr. Morton, for answering my question,” he said; “but I needn’t tell you that I’m very sorry to hear what you say. Something must be done with Mr. Leonard at once.”

He lit another cigarette and threw himself back in a corner of the divan. Then I made up my mind to speak to him on the subject which was uppermost in my mind.

“You know a Mr. Marx, I believe? I was inquiring for him at the hotel office this afternoon, and they told me that you were forwarding his letters. Could you give me his address?”

M. de Cartienne removed his cigarette from his teeth, and looked dubious.

“Yes, I know Marx; know him well,” he admitted; “but your request puts me in rather an awkward position. You see, this is how the matter lies,” he added, leaning forward confidentially. “Marx and I are old friends, and he’s been of great service to me more than once, and never asked for any return. Well, I met him—I won’t say when, but it wasn’t long ago—in Pall Mall, and he hailed me as the very man he was most anxious to meet. We lunched together, and then he told me what he wanted. He was in London for a short while, he said, and wished to remain perfectly incognito. There would be letters for him, he said, at the Metropole. Would I fetch them, and forward them to him at an address which he would give me, on condition that I gave him my word of honour to keep it secret? I asked, naturally, what reason he had for going into hiding; for virtually that is what it seemed to me to be; but he would give me no definite answer. Would I do him this favour or not? he asked. And, remembering the many services which he had rendered me, I found it quite impossible to refuse. That is my position. I’m really extremely sorry not to be able to help you, but you see for yourself that I cannot.”

His tone was perfectly serious and his manner earnest. I had not the faintest shadow of doubt as to his sincerity.

“You can’t help me at all then?” I said, no doubt with some of the disappointment which I felt in my tone.

He looked doubtful.

“Well, I don’t quite know about that,” he said slowly, as though weighing something over in his mind. “Look here, Mr. Morton,” he added, frankly enough, “what do you want with the man? Is it anything unpleasant?”

“Not at all,” I answered. “I do not wish any harm to Mr. Marx unless he deserves it. I want to ask him a few questions, that’s all. Unless the man’s a perfect scoundrel he will be able to answer them satisfactorily, and my having discovered his whereabouts will not harm him. If, on the other hand, he cannot answer those questions, why, then, you may take my word for it, M. de Cartienne, that he’s an unmitigated blackguard, perfectly unworthy of your friendship, and undeserving of the slightest consideration from you.”

M. de Cartienne nodded and leaned forward, with his arm across the divan.

“You put the matter very plainly,” he said, “and what you say is fair enough. I’ll tell you how far I am prepared to help you. I won’t tell you Mr. Marx’s address, because I have pledged my word not to divulge it; but, if you like, I’ll take you where there will be a very fair chance of your seeing him.”

“He is in London, then?”

The Count shrugged his shoulders and smiled slightly.

“Permit me to keep my word in the letter, if not in the spirit,” he answered. “I am going to spend my evening in this way; I am going, first of all, to a theatre for an hour or so; then I am going to call at a couple of clubs, and afterwards I am going to a club of a somewhat different sort. If you like to be my companion for the evening I shall be charmed; and if it should happen that we run up against any friend of yours—well, the world is not so very large, after all.”

“Thanks. I’ll come with you with pleasure!” I answered without hesitation.

He stood up underneath the soft glare of the electric light, and as I turned towards him something in his face puzzled me. It was gone directly my eyes met his—gone, but not before it had left a curious impression. It seemed almost as though a triumphant light had flashed for an instant in his bright, steel-coloured eyes.

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