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Chapter LIV - A Raid

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Author Topic: Chapter LIV - A Raid  (Read 32 times)
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« on: December 07, 2022, 09:38:10 am »

In a few minutes Count de Cartienne returned: He flashed a sudden keen glance at me. “I wonder if you have any idea as to the contents of that box,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed curiously upon me.

Looking back now, I see clearly that I was guilty of the grossest folly in answering as I did. But I was young, impetuous, conscious of great physical strength, and with all that contempt of danger which such consciousness brings. So, without hesitation, I drew from my pocket the evening paper which I had bought in Northumberland Avenue, and laid my finger upon the column which I had shown my father.

“This may have something to do with it,” I remarked.

His face grew a shade paler as he glanced it through. Then he folded it up and handed it back to me with a polite gesture.

“So that is your idea, is it?” he remarked. “Why didn’t you go to Scotland Yard and tell them of your suspicions?”

I felt that he was watching me keenly and made a great effort to remain composed, although my pulses were beating fast and I felt my colour rising.

“It was no business of mine,” I answered. “Besides, if I had done so I should have lost my chance of finding out anything about Mr. Marx from you.”

“Your reasoning does you infinite credit,” he answered, with a slight sneer. “You are quite a Machiavelli. Come; I want to show you over my—warehouse.”

I followed him reluctantly, for I liked his manner less and less; but I had scarcely an alternative.

We passed along a narrow passage and through several rooms piled up to the ceiling with huge bales; then we descended a winding flight of iron steps, and as we reached the bottom I began to hear a faint hum of voices and strange, muffled sounds.

He unlocked a small, hidden door before us, and we stood on the threshold of a large, dimly-lit cellar. One swift glance around showed me the truth of my vague suspicions, and warned me, too, of my peril. It was a weird sight. At the far end of the place a small furnace was burning, casting a vivid glow upon the white, startled faces of the men who were grouped around it. One held in his hand a great ladlefull of hissing liquid, and another on his knees was holding steady the mould which was to receive it. But though they kept their positions unchanged, they thought no more of their tasks. The attention of one and all was bent upon me in horror-struck amazement.

The man who first recovered himself sufficiently to be able to frame an articulate sentence was the man holding the ladle. “Are you mad, de Cartienne?” he hissed out. “What have you brought that young cub down here for?”

“I have brought him here,” he answered, with a shade of contempt in his tone at the alarm which they were all showing, “because he is safer here than anywhere else—for the present.

“Somehow or other—probably by looking inside that unfortunate box—this young cub, as you call him, knows our secret. To let him go would, of course, be absurd, so I’ve brought him here to be tried for his unpardonable curiosity. What shall we do with him? I propose that we throw him into the river.”

I moved a little farther back towards the door, listening with strained ears and bated breath, for I fancied that I heard a faint sound of voices and footsteps above. Apparently the others had heard it, too, for there was a death-like silence for a few moments. Then spoke the Count.

“That must be Drummond with the box. Will you go and see, Ferrier?”

There was the trampling of many feet outside, and then a sudden swift torrent of blows upon the closed door.
In an instant all was wild confusion. Count de Cartienne was the only one who was not panic-stricken.

“The game is up,” he cried fiercely, “and here is the traitor.”

Like lightning he stooped down and I saw something in his hand flash before my eyes. There was a strange burning pain and then everything faded away before my sight. I heard the door beaten down and the sound of my rescuers streaming in. Then all sound became concentrated in a confused roar, which throbbed for a moment in my ears and then died away. Unconsciousness crept in upon me.

When I opened my eyes again I found myself lying upon a bed in a strange room. By my side was my father, leaning back in a low, easy chair.

“Where am I?” I asked. “How long have I been here! Tell me all about it.”

My father stood up with a little exclamation of relief. “Better, Philip? That is well. You are at the nearest decent hotel we could find last night, or rather this morning.”

“Tell me all about it,” I cried.

“Everyone was taken except de Cartienne. He fought like a tiger and got off. But it is only for a while. He will be caught. His description—”

“His description will be of no use at all,” I interrupted, breathlessly. “Has anything been heard of Mr. Marx?”

My father picked up an open telegram from the table by his side.

“Mr. Marx has gone back to Ravenor. This telegram is from the stationmaster at Mellborough.”

I leapt from the bed and plunged my still aching head into a basin of water.

“What is the matter, Philip? You will be ill again if you excite yourself,” my father said wondering.

“I’m all right,” I answered. “What is the time?”

“Four o’clock.”

“Quick, then, and we shall catch the five o’clock train to Mellborough,” I urged.

“To Mellborough! But how about de Cartienne?”

“De Cartienne! He exists no longer! It is Marx we want.”

Then the truth broke in upon my father, and he sprang to his feet with a low cry. “Philip, why did you not tell me before?”

“I only knew last night for certain. Thank God, I kept it to myself. He thinks himself safe as Mr. Marx—safer than flying the country as the Count de Cartienne—the villain!”

Suddenly my father stopped short on his way to the door. “Philip,” he said hoarsely, “do you remember whom we left at Ravenor waiting for Mr. Marx?”

For the moment I had forgotten it. We looked at one another and there crept into my mind the vision of a gaunt, desperate man, his white face and burning eyes filled with an unutterable fiendish longing. The same thought filled us both. If Mr. Marx made use of his private keys and went straight to the library at the castle, what would come of it?

I laid my hand upon my father’s arm.

“There is justice in the world after all,” I said hoarsely. “That man will kill him.”

Then we went out together without another word.

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