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Chapter LIII - Messrs. Higgenson and Co.

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« on: December 07, 2022, 09:27:03 am »

At ten o’clock we reached St. Pancras, travelling by fast train from Torchester, and half an hour later a hansom put us down at the Hotel Metropole. Immediately in front of the entrance Count de Cartienne’s small brougham was waiting, and as we descended from the cab his servant stepped forward and handed me a note. I tore it open and read it under the gas-lamp.

“Come to me at once and you will find Mr. M—. Bring the box with you.—C—.”

I passed the note on to my father and drew him a little on one side. At the sight of the handwriting he started.

“Philip, whose writing is this?” he asked quickly.

“The writing of the man who alone knows where Marx is,” I answered. “It is he who calls for his letters and forwards them.”

“His name? I insist upon knowing his name.”

“De Cartienne.”

My father’s face turned a shade paler and his eyebrows contracted. “You have been keeping this from me, Philip. You shall not go near that man. I forbid it. My God! Marx and de Cartienne friends!”

He stopped short on the pavement and looked at me with a new light in his face. He began to understand.

“Marx and de Cartienne,” he repeated slowly. “Philip, cannot you see what this means? Marx has been de Cartienne’s tool and I have been their victim. Where is de Cartienne? Philip, you shall tell me! Do you hear?”

My father seized my arm and held it fast. I turned and faced him.

“Father, you must leave this to me,” I said, firmly. “I have thought it all over in the train and my plans are made. You will trust me?”

“Tell me what they are,” he said.

“I have in my possession a box belonging to de Cartienne, which contains a secret. Until I yield that box up to him I am safe, since he can only get it from me. You see that he tells me in this note to bring it with me.”

“Yes. Go on.”

“Well, I am going without the box, and if he is really ignorant of who I am and willing to give me the information about Marx, why, then I can easily come back for it, and whatever it contains he must have unopened. If, on the other hand, I fall into any sort of trap and he makes me send for it, then, immediately on receipt of my message, no matter how it is couched, you must force the box open, and if it contains anything in the least suspicious, come straight to my aid with the police. The messenger who comes for the box must be bribed or frightened into bringing you.”

“I do not like it, Philip. It is all too roundabout. If de Cartienne has any idea who you are, you are running a risk.”

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “Until he gets possession of that box he will feel himself, to a certain extent, in my hands and will not be likely to do me an injury.”

“What do you suppose the box contains?”

I hesitated and looked around. De Cartienne’s servant was some distance off and there was no one within hearing.

“Have you read the newspapers just lately?” I asked.

My father shook his head.

“Only the literary newspapers.”

I bought a special edition, which a newsboy was brandishing in our faces, and, turning down the leading article, passed it on to my father. He glanced down at it and then looked up at me in blank amazement.

“Philip, you cannot mean this!” he exclaimed.

“Why not?” I answered. “I do, indeed; but whether there is anything in it or not we shall soon know. I must go now. You understand what to do if I send for the box.”

“I don’t like your expedition at all,” he said, doubtfully. “Have you any idea where you are going?”

I shook my head. “None; but I shall come to no harm. My star is in the ascendant now. If it leads me into danger it will bring me safely out of it. Au revoir!

Then I sprang into the carriage and was driven swiftly away.

Our journey came to a sudden end, and, if I was surprised at the locality into which it had brought me, I was still more so at its termination. The carriage had stopped outside a gloomy-looking warehouse, the back of which, ornamented with several cranes, overlooked the river. The whole of the front appeared to be in darkness, but from a gas-lamp on the other side of the narrow way I could read the brass sign-plate by the side of the door:

Higgenson and Co.
Merchants and Exporters.


The door of the carriage was thrown open and I was evidently expected to descend. I did so after a moment’s hesitation.

“Are you sure that you have brought me to the right place?” I asked the man who held the door open. “This seems to be a warehouse. I think there must be some mistake.”

The man silently closed the carriage door and stepped up to his seat beside the driver.

“There is no mistake,” he said curtly. “You will find the Count de Cartienne—there.”

He pointed to the warehouse door and I saw that it was now open and that a man was standing upon the threshold. I turned towards him doubtfully.

“Will you come this way, Mr. Morton?” he said. “Count de Cartienne is sorry to have to bring you here, but we are busy—very busy, and he had no time to get back to the hotel. The carriage will wait to take you back.”

The man’s manner and tone were certainly not those of a servant, but from the position in which he stood I could see nothing save the bare outline of his figure. I crossed the pavement towards him. We left the room and he conducted me down a passage and into a small chamber. Here my companion paused and lit a lamp which stood on a table in the middle of the room.

“Count de Cartienne will be with you in a moment,” he said, walking to the door. “Kindly excuse me.”

I turned the lamp a little higher and looked around. The room was quite a small one and plainly furnished as a waiting-room. For the first time I began to realise fully what I had done in coming to this place at such an hour. Some wild thoughts of a tardy retreat flashed into my mind, and I tried the handle of the door by which we had entered. It turned, but the door remained closed. I stooped down and examined it. The result was as I had feared—a spring lock had fastened it. I tried the other door, by which my guide had issued. The result was the same. I was a prisoner.

I had scarcely time to realise my position before it became necessary to act. The door was suddenly opened and Count de Cartienne stood before me, his eyes flashing with anger and his tall, lithe frame quivering with rage.
“Why have you not brought that box?” he exclaimed in a low, fierce tone.

I stood up facing him, with my back to the table, striving to keep calm, for the situation was critical. The complete change in his appearance and manner towards me was sufficient warning.

“The box is safe enough,” I answered. “You can have it in an hour’s time. But—”

“But what?” he interrupted, savagely. “Why have you not brought it, as I bade you in my note? Why is it not here? We want it at once!”

“You forget that there is a quid pro quo which I expect from you. It seems to me, Count de Cartienne, that you are making a tool of me, and—”

“What is it you want—to see this man Marx?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he is not here.”

I checked the rejoinder which, had I spoken it, would probably have cost me my life.

“Where is he, then?” I asked.

“I will tell you when you have written for that box,” he said, opening a drawer and placing pen and paper upon the table.

I shook my head. “There is no need for me to write. It is of no use my remaining if Mr. Marx is not here. Send your servant back with me and I will give it him.”

“No, I shall hold you as a hostage for the box. Besides, I have a few words to say to you, boy,” he added grimly. “Write.”

I hesitated, but only for a moment.

“Do I understand that you detain me here against my will?” I said, slowly.

“Understand anything you please, but write.”

I took up the pen without another word. When I had finished the note he took it from me and read it through. Then he glanced at the address and started.

“Mr. Ravenor! Oh, Mr. Ravenor is in London, is he?” he remarked slowly.

“Yes.”

He looked away with the ghost of an evil smile upon his lips.

“Ravenor in London! How strange. He and I are old acquaintances. I must call on him,” he added mockingly.

He stood still for a moment and then left the room abruptly with the note in his hand. I tried to follow him, but the door closed too quickly. If I could have seen any means of escape I should have made use of them, for I had gained the knowledge which I had come to seek, and I knew that I was in danger. There was only that solitary window looking out upon the river and the closed door. If this man meant mischief, I was securely in his power.

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