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Chapter LI - Dawn

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« on: December 07, 2022, 07:37:36 am »

On the morrow as we walked out together, my father and I, making our way as though by common consent up towards the bare brown hills, I remembered that there were many things which I wished to say to him.

“I want to ask you about Mr. Marx, father,” I began. “Everything concerning him is so utterly mysterious, especially his going away so suddenly. Apart from the fear of his having used some sort of foul play towards Hart—or Francis—I can’t help thinking that there is something else wrong with him. You trust him thoroughly, I suppose?” I added hesitatingly.

“I have always done so,” my father answered quietly.

“Do you like the man himself?” I asked.

My father shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “I cannot say that he has ever aroused my feelings in any way,” he answered. “He has had work to do for me and has done it well and silently. I have looked upon him somewhat as an automaton, although a valuable one. And yet—” he added musingly.

“Yet what?” I interrupted.

“Well, sometimes I have half fancied that he was playing a part, that his interest in our work was a little strained. He gave me the idea of a man working steadily forward towards a set purpose, and I have never seemed able to reconcile that purpose with the completion of our task. His sudden absences, too—for this is not the first of them,—are strange.”

“I should think so,” I assented. “Has he taken anything away with him this time?” I asked bluntly.

A very grave look came into my father’s face and he did not answer me at once. When he did so his tone was low and anxious.

“Yes, he has. About a fortnight ago we came to the end, virtually, of our long task. There was only a little revision wanted, which he was to have left for me. The night that he disappeared the manuscript disappeared also. Evidently he took it away with him.”

“Perhaps he has taken it to the publishers,” I suggested. My father shook his head doubtfully.

“Only this morning I have heard from them, begging me to forward it without delay,” he said.

I was silent. Even if he had taken the manuscript, what use could he make of it? How could it profit him?

Suddenly I stood still in the path. My heart gave a great leap and a cry broke from my lips. For the first time an idea, the vague phantom of an idea, swept in upon me, carrying all before it, and casting a brilliant, lurid light upon all that seemed so dark and mysterious.

“This man, Marx,” I cried, seizing my father’s arm. “Tell me quickly. Has he ever reminded you of anyone?”

My father looked at me wonderingly.

“It is strange that you should ask that,” he said. “Sometimes, especially when I have come upon him alone, or have seen him excited, his tone and little mannerisms have seemed somehow vaguely familiar. And yet,” he added thoughtfully, “I have never been able to recall of whom they have reminded me.”

I opened my trembling lips to speak, but a wave of cold doubt swept in upon me. Surely this thing could not be! I must be mad to let the idea linger for a moment in my mind. And yet—

At that moment of my hesitation, my father’s hand fell heavily upon my arm. He pointed forward along the dark avenue with a shaking finger. In the dim twilight we could see the tall gaunt figure of a man in ragged clothes, making his way up to the castle.

“That is not one of my men, Philip,” he said hoarsely. “Who is it?”

I shook my head. “It is a stranger.”

My father turned abruptly from the avenue into a side-walk.

“Follow me,” he said; “we will go in by the private way.”

We walked across the turf, through a little iron gate, which my father unlocked, and entered the shrubbery walk.

Once I looked round through an opening in the laurel leaves. The stranger was leaning wearily against the railings round the lodge, waiting for admittance.
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