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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great Secret - Chapter II. A MIDNIGHT RAID
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The Great Secret - Chapter II. A MIDNIGHT RAID Post by :TheVCF Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :April 2012 Read :1432

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The Great Secret - Chapter II. A MIDNIGHT RAID

I could see at once that neither of the two men who confronted me had really believed that the room into which their victim had escaped was already occupied by any other person than the one of whom they were in pursuit. Their expression of surprise was altogether genuine. I myself was, perhaps, equally taken aback. Nothing in their appearance suggested in the least the midnight assassin! I turned towards the one who had leaned the door up against the wall, and addressed him.

"May I ask to what I am indebted for the pleasure of this unexpected visit?" I inquired.

The man took out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead. He was short and stout, with a bushy brown beard, and eyes which blinked at me in amazement from behind his gold-rimmed spectacles. He wore a grey tweed travelling suit, and brown boots. He had exactly the air of a prosperous middle-class tradesman from the provinces.

"I am afraid, sir," he said, "that we have made a mistake--in which case we shall owe you a thousand apologies. We are in search of a friend whom we certainly believed that we had seen enter your room."

Now all the time he was talking his eyes were never still. Every inch of my room that was visible they ransacked. His companion, too, was engaged in the same task. There were no traces of my visitor to be seen.

"You can make your apologies and explanations to the management in the morning," I answered grimly "Pardon me!"

I held out my arm across the threshold, and for the first time looked at the other man who had been on the point of entering. He was slight and somewhat sallow, with very high forehead and small deep-set eyes. He was dressed in ordinary evening clothes, the details of which, however, betrayed his status. He wore a heavy gold chain, a dinner coat, and a made-up white tie, with the ends tucked in under a roll collar. He appeared to be objectionable, but far from dangerous.

"You are still a trifle over-anxious respecting the interior of my room!" I remarked, pushing him gently back.

He spoke to me for the first time. He spoke slowly and formally, and his accent struck me as being a little foreign.

"Sir," he said, "you may not be aware that the person of whom we are in search is a dangerous, an exceedingly dangerous character. If he should be concealed in your room the consequences to yourself might be most serious."

"Thank you," I said, "I am quite capable of taking care of myself."

Both men were standing as close to me as I was disposed to permit. I fancied that they were looking me over, as though to make an estimate of the possible amount of resistance I might be able to offer should they be disposed to make a rush. The odds, if any, must have seemed to them somewhat in my favor, for I was taller by head and shoulders than either of them, and a life-long devotion to athletics had broadened my shoulders, and given me strength beyond the average. Besides, there was the revolver in my right hand, which I took occasion now to display. The shorter of the two men again addressed me.

"My dear sir," he said softly, "it is necessary that you should not misapprehend the situation. The person of whom we are in search is one whom we are pledged to find. We have no quarrel with you! Why embroil yourself in an affair with which you have no concern?"

"I am not seeking to do so," I answered. "It is you and your friend who are the aggressors. You have forced an entrance into my room in a most unwarrantable fashion. Your missing friend is nothing to me. I desire to be left in peace."

Even as I spoke the words, I knew that there was to be no peace for me that night, for, stealthy though their movements were, I saw something glisten in the right hands of both of them. The odds now assumed a somewhat different appearance. I drew back a pace, and stood prepared for what might happen. My _vis-a-vis in the gold-rimmed spectacles addressed me again.

"Sir," he said, "we will not bandy words any longer. It is better that we understand one another. There is a man hidden in your room whom we mean to have. You will understand that we are serious, when I tell you that we have engaged every room in this corridor, and the wires of your telephone are cut. If you will permit us to come in and find him, I promise that nothing shall happen in your room, that you shall not be compromised in any way. If you refuse, I must warn you that you will become involved in a matter more serious than you have any idea of."

For answer, I discharged my revolver twice at the ceiling, hoping to arouse some one, either guests or servants, and fired again at the shoulder of the man whose leap towards me was like the spring of a wild-cat. Both rooms were suddenly plunged into darkness, the elder of the two men, stepping back for a moment, had turned out the electric lights. For a short space of time everything was chaos. My immediate assailant I flung away from me with ease; his companion, who tried to rush past me in the darkness, I struck with a random blow on the side of the head, so that he staggered back with a groan. I knew very well that neither of them had passed me, and yet I fancied, as I paused to take breath for a moment, that I heard stealthy footsteps behind, in the room which I had been defending. I called again for help, and groped about on the wall for the electric light switches. The footsteps ceased, a sudden cry rang out from somewhere behind the bed-curtains, a cry so full of horror, that I felt the blood run cold in my veins, and the sweat break out upon my forehead. I sought desperately for the little brass knobs of the switches, listening all the while for those footsteps. I heard nothing save a low, sickening groan, which followed upon the cry, but I felt, a moment later, the hot breath of a human being upon my neck. I sprang aside, barely in time to escape a blow obviously aimed at me with some weapon or other, which cut through the air with the soft, nervous swish of an elastic life-preserver. I knew that some one who sought my life was within a few feet of me, striving to make sure before the second blow was aimed. In my stockinged feet I crept along by the wall. I could hear no sound of movement anywhere near me, and yet I knew quite well that my hidden assailant was close at hand. Just then, I heard at last what I had been listening for so long and so eagerly, footsteps and a voice in the corridor outside. Somebody sprang past me in the darkness, and, for a second, amazement kept me motionless. The thing was impossible, or I could have sworn that my feet were brushed by the skirts of a woman's gown, and that a whiff of perfume--it was like the scent of dying violets--floated past me. Then the door of my room, from which I had withdrawn the bolt, was flung suddenly open, and almost simultaneously my fingers touched the knob of the electric light fittings. The whole place was flooded with light. I looked around, half dazed, but eager to see what had become of my assailants. Both rooms were empty, or apparently so. There was no sign or evidence of any other person there save myself. On the threshold of my own apartment was standing the night porter.

"Have you let them go by?" I called out. "Did you see them in the corridor?"

"Who, sir?" the porter asked stolidly.

"Two men who forced their way into my room--look at the door. One was short and stout and wore glasses, the other was taller and thin. They were here a few seconds ago. Unless they passed you, they are in one of the rooms now."

The man came inside, and looked around him.

"I can't see any one, sir! There wasn't a soul about outside."

"Then we had better look for them!" I exclaimed. "Be careful, for they are armed."

There was no one in the adjoining room. We had searched it thoroughly before I suddenly remembered the visitor who had been the innocent cause of these exciting moments.

"By Jove!" I exclaimed, "there's a wounded man by the side of my bed! I quite forgot him, I was so anxious to catch these blackguards."

The porter looked at me with distinct suspicion.

"A wounded man, sir?" he remarked. "Where?"

"On the other side of the bed," I answered. "It's the man all this row was about."

I hurried round to where I had left my terrified visitor hiding behind the bed-curtain. There was no one there. We looked under the bed, even in the wardrobes. It was obvious, when we had finished our search, that not a soul was in either of the rooms except our two selves. The porter looked at me, and I looked at the porter.

"It's a marvellous thing!" I declared.

"It is," the porter agreed.

"You can see for yourself that that door has been battered in," I remarked, pointing to it.

The fellow smiled in such a manner, that I should have liked to have kicked him.

"I can see that it has been battered in," he said. "Oh! yes! I can see that!"

"You perhaps don't believe my story?" I asked calmly.

"It isn't my place to believe or disbelieve it," he answered. "I certainly didn't meet any one outside--much less three people. I shall make my report to the manager in the morning, sir! Good night."

So I was left alone, and, extraordinary as it may seem, I was asleep in less than half an hour.

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