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Chapter XLV - A Mysterious Commission

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« on: December 07, 2022, 06:26:05 am »

The underground noises continued for about a quarter of an hour, during which time my companion busied himself by removing from the club-room various articles—the false top of a table marked out in a curious fashion, several mahogany boxes, and other contrivances strange to me, but presumably gambling appliances, with all of which he disappeared through the door by which de Cartienne had made his exit, returning again directly.

At last everything was quiet, ominously quiet; then the door from the hall was thrown suddenly open, and the Count entered, followed by four or five other men. They were all apparently gentlemen, and in evening clothes, but terribly soiled and disordered. Some were splashed with mud from head to foot, some had their shirt-fronts blackened and crumpled, and the hands of all of them were black with grease and dirt. All looked more or less pale and nervous—in fact, M. de Cartienne was the only one who thoroughly retained his composure.

There was a lavatory on the other side of the staircase, towards which the whole of the little party trooped, M. de Cartienne being the last. As he disappeared he looked round and beckoned me to follow him. I did so and stood by his side, while he plunged his head into some cold water, and then began to wash his hands.

“I’m sorry this should have happened to-night, Morton,” he said. “Marx was here, but has bolted in a fright.”

“Couldn’t I catch him up?” I asked.

De Cartienne shook his head. “No; he’s in the train by this time. He comes here every night, though. I’ll bring you down to-morrow, perhaps.”

“Are you coming back now?” I asked.

“No; I must see this thing through. You can go and at once, though. My carriage will take you back. I shall return by train. By the by, there’s a small favour I want to ask you.”

“Certainly.”

“I have kept a few private papers here, which I should not care to have examined should the search really take place. I want you to take them back to the hotel for me. The box is a little too heavy for me to carry, so I have told them to put it in the carriage as a footstool for you. You won’t mind that?”

“Not in the least,” I replied. “When shall I see you again?”

“At the hotel some time to-morrow. Come along now,” he added, putting on his coat.

He strolled with me to the front door and, throwing it open, listened intently. There was no sound save the moaning of the wind in the bare trees which stood by the side of the house and the patter of the fast-falling rain. I stepped into the carriage and the Count came to the window to me.

“Don’t forget,” he said, pointing to a long, oblong box secured by a strong lock. “Draw the rug a little more over your knees—so.”

I obeyed him and let it hang down to hide the box, which I began to see was his object.

“And if you should meet anyone and they should be impertinent enough to ask you where you are going, don’t tell them. Give them your card and tell them to go to the devil. If they are very pressing indeed, you must tell a lie. Say that you’ve been to dine with Sir Sedgwick Bromley at Hatherly Hall. Don’t forget the name.”

“Very well. Are you coming back to the Metropole to-night?” I asked.

“I think so. But if you don’t mind I should be glad if you would have the box taken up into your room and keep it for me. I shouldn’t like anything to happen to it.”

I promised, but without much alacrity. We shook hands and the carriage drove off.

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