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Chapter LII - Where is Mr. Marx?

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« on: December 07, 2022, 09:06:48 am »

Not until we had reached the Castle and were in the library did my father speak to me. Then his words were grave enough. “We have done Mr. Marx an injury, Philip,” he said slowly.

“How?” I asked.

“Listen, and you will know.”

He went to the telephone and signalled. The answer came at once.

“Someone has been asking for me at the gate,” he said. “Who is it?”

“A stranger, sir, to see you.”

“What name?”

“Hart, sir.”

“Is he waiting?”

“Yes, sir. I told him that it would be useless, but he refuses to go away.”

“You can pass him. Send him here at once.”

My father turned away and looked at me with all the old weariness in his face, but with little agitation. Of the two, I was the more nervous. I crossed the room and laid my hand gently upon his shoulder. “Thank God that I am here with you! What shall you say to him, father? What does he want, think you? Money?”

My father shook his head sadly. “He would send if that were all. He has what he wants and that is not much. I fear that he wants something else.”

“What?”

“His good name cleared.”

“He took the guilt willingly,” I cried. “He must bear it now. He cannot escape from it.”

“He can,” my father answered. “He can tell the truth.”

“No one would believe him. It would be his word against yours. What chance would he have?”

My father turned a stern, dark face upon me. “So you think that I would swear to a lie, Philip? No! There was always this risk. I have felt that if ever he should demand to be set right with the world, it must be done.”

“It shall be done.”

We started, for the words came from the other side of the room. Standing in the deep shadows just inside the door was a tall, gaunt man, with long dishevelled beard and pale, ghastly face. His clothes were ragged and weather-stained and his boots were thick with mud. I looked towards him fascinated. It was the face of the lunatic who had twice attempted Mr. Marx’s life. It was Hart, alias Francis, the man who held in his hands a life dearer to me than my own.

“Is it really you, Francis?” my father asked, in a shocked tone. “You are altered. You have been ill. Sit down.”

He took no notice. Whilst my father had been speaking his eyes had been wandering restlessly round the room.

“Where is—he?” he asked hoarsely.

“Do you mean Mr. Marx?” I said.

“Yes.”

“He is in London.”

“Ah!”

There was an expression in his face partly of disappointment, partly of relief. He drew a long breath and remained silent, as though waiting to be questioned.

“Do you want money?” my father asked.

“No.”

“Do you want to give up your secret, to let the world know the truth?”

“Yes.”

A cry burst from my lips, but my father checked me. “It is well,” he said. “Sit down. You need not fear; I will confess.”

“You have nothing to confess. It is I who must do that.”

“What do you mean?” my father asked, peering forward into the darkness, for there was no lamp lit in the room. “Come nearer; I cannot see your face.”

With trembling fingers I drew up the blind from the high window. The moon, which had just emerged from a bank of black, flying clouds, cast a long stream of light across the room.

Francis moved forward with slow, reluctant steps. Then, with a sudden, wild cry, he threw himself upon his knees before my father.

“As God in Heaven forgives, swear that you will forgive me!” he cried passionately.

“Forgive! I have nothing to forgive,” my father answered gently. “You wish to lay down your burden. Good! I am ready to take it up.” He stooped forward in his chair and stretched out his hand to the man to help him rise. In his altered position the moonlight seemed to cast a sort of halo round his face, and it seemed to me like the face of an angel.

“Don’t touch me,” cried the man; “don’t. I can’t bear it! Let me tell you the truth, or I shall die. You think that you killed Farmer Morton. It’s false! Mr. Marx killed him.”

“What!”

My father had sprung to his feet. Somehow, I found myself by his side. Francis still grovelled on the floor.

“Up, man, and tell me all the truth,” my father cried out in a voice of thunder; “up on your feet and speak like a man.”

He obeyed at once, trembling in every limb. Then he faltered out his story:

“I was in the wood that night. It was dark; I lost my way. Suddenly I heard voices—yours and Morton’s. You were struggling within a few feet of me. Before I could interfere you had thrown him down and rushed away. I heard him breathing hard, and I saw Mr. Marx steal out from behind a tree and creep up to him. Morton heard, too, and sprang up. They struggled together; perhaps in the darkness, Morton mistook him for you. I remembered the quarry and rushed out. I was too late.

“There was a fearful flash of lightning and I saw Marx put forth all his strength and throw the other into the slate-pit. He turned round and saw me.

“He would have hurled me over, too, if he had dared, but I was strong and he was exhausted. So he offered me money to go away. I accepted, never thinking that they would fix the crime upon me. Marx had thought it all out with a devilish cunning. He provided me with disguises and told me where to go to and how to get there. When I was safe away and read the papers, I saw at once how I had been trapped. I had pleaded guilty to the murder.

“Time went on and I grew more miserable every day. Marx sent me plenty of money—too much. I began to drink. I was ill. When I recovered I wrote to tell him that I could bear it no longer and that I was coming to see him. I told him that I meant to go to a magistrate after I had given him time to get out of the country. He dared me to come to the Castle. Still, I came. It was dusk when I got here. He met me in the avenue. He offered me large sums of money to go away, but I was determined and refused everything. It was then from something he let fall in his anger that I knew how he had been deceiving you. Then I would not listen to him any more and bade him stand out of the way. He let me pass him and then struck me on the back of the head with some heavy weapon.”

“My God!” I cried. “I was close to you. I heard you cry and I met Mr. Marx directly afterwards. He must have thrown you down the gravel-pit.”

“It was there I found myself when I came to my senses,” Francis continued. “Directly I sat up and tried to think over what had happened I began to feel my head swim. After that everything is blurred and dim in my mind. I fled. The second time, you, Mr. Morton, saved his life from me, as my fingers were closing upon his throat.

“They put me in an asylum. Afterwards Mr. Marx passed himself off as my brother and had me moved into a private one. The commissioners came and I appeared before them. I was sane. They let me go. Where is Mr. Marx? Where is Mr. Marx?”

There was a deep silence. Then I held out my hand to my father and he clasped it.

“Thank God!” I cried, my voice quivering with a great sob—“thank God!”

“Amen,” my father repeated softly.

Again that question, in the same dry, hard tone.

“Where is Mr. Marx?”

We looked at him—at his nervously twitching hands and burning eyes. The madness was upon him again. We must not let him go. My father drew me on one side.

“I shall go to London with you to-night,” he said. “What shall we do with this man?”

“He must stay here,” I answered. “Leave it to me.”

I went up to him and laid my hand upon his shoulder.

“Listen, Francis,” I said. “There are two places where Mr. Marx is likely to be this week. One is in London, the other here. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he answered; “I understand.”

“Now, Mr. Ravenor and I know best where to find him in London, but we can’t leave unless we know that there is someone on the look-out here as well. If we go to London, will you remain here and watch for him?”

The man’s eyes sparkled.

“Yes,” he answered quickly. “This is the room where he writes, isn’t it? He will come here. Yes, I will wait; I will watch here in this room.”

My father rang a bell and ordered a carriage to take us to the station. Then he gave special orders about Francis. He was to be allowed to remain in the library, to use Mr. Ravenor’s own sleeping apartment, and to have meals brought to him regularly.

An hour later we left the castle for Torchester. As we drove across the courtyard we could see a pale, gaunt figure standing at the library window, silent and rigid. It was Francis, waiting.

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