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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great Secret - Chapter III. MISS VAN HOYT
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The Great Secret - Chapter III. MISS VAN HOYT Post by :koanwrangler Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :April 2012 Read :2453

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The Great Secret - Chapter III. MISS VAN HOYT

I was awakened at about nine o'clock the next morning by a loud and persistent knocking at the door of my room. I sat up in bed and shouted,

"Come in!"

A waiter entered bearing a note, which he handed to me on a salver. I looked at him, around the room, which was still in some confusion, and down at the note, which was clearly addressed to me, J. Hardross Courage, Esq. Suddenly my eyes fell upon the smashed door, and I remembered at once the events of the previous night. I tore open the note. It was typewritten and brief:--

"The manager presents his compliments to Mr. Hardross Courage, and would be obliged if he will arrange to vacate his room by midday. The manager further regrets that he is unable to offer Mr. Courage any other accommodation."

"Tell the valet to let me have a bath in five minutes," I ordered, springing out of bed, "and bring me some tea. Look sharp!"

I was in a furious temper. The events of the night before, strange though they had been, left me comparatively unmoved. I was filled, however, with a thoroughly British indignation at the nature of this note. My room had been broken into in the middle of the night; I had narrowly escaped being myself the victim of a serious and murderous assault; and now I was calmly told to leave the hotel! I hastened downstairs and into the office.

"I wish to see the manager as soon as possible," I said to one of the reception clerks behind the counter.

"Certainly, sir, what name?" he asked; drawing a slip of paper towards him.

"Courage--" I told him, "Mr. Hardross Courage!"

The man's manner underwent a distinct change.

"I am sorry, sir," he said, "but Mr. Blumentein is engaged. Is there anything I can do?"

"No!" I answered him bluntly. "I want the manager, and no one else will do. If he cannot see me now I will wait. If he does not appear in a reasonable time, I shall go direct to Scotland Yard and lay certain information before the authorities there."

The clerk stared at me, and then smiled in a tolerant manner. He was short and dark, and wore glasses. His manner was pleasant enough, but he had the air of endeavoring to soothe a fractious child--which annoyed me.

"I will send a message down to Mr. Blumentein, sir," he said, "but he is very busy this morning."

He called a boy, but, after a moment's hesitation, he left the office himself. I lit a cigarette, and waited with as much patience as I could command. The people who passed in and out interested me very little. Suddenly, however, I gave a start and looked up quickly.

A woman had entered the reception-room, passing so close to me that her skirts almost brushed my feet. She was tall, quietly and elegantly dressed, and she was followed by a most correct looking maid, who carried a tiny Japanese spaniel. I did not see her face, although I knew by her carriage and figure that she must be young. That she was a person of importance it was easy to see by the attention which was at once paid her. Her interest for me, however, lay in none of these things. I had been conscious, as she had passed, of a whiff of faint, very delicate perfume--and with it, of a sudden, sharp recollection. It was a perfume which I had distinguished but once before in my life, and that only a few hours ago.

She gave her key in at the desk, received some letters, and turning round passed within a few feet of me. Perhaps she realized that I was watching her with more than ordinary attention, and her eyes fell for a moment carelessly upon mine. They were withdrawn at once, and she passed on with the slightest of frowns--just sufficient rebuke to the person who had forgotten himself so far as to stare at a woman in a public place. The maid, too, glanced towards me with a slight flash in her large black eyes, as though she, also, resented my impertinence, and the little Japanese spaniel yawned as he was carried past, and showed me a set of dazzling white teeth. I was in disgrace all round, because I had looked for a second too long into his mistress' deep blue eyes and pale, proud face. Nevertheless, I presumed even further. I changed my position, so that I could see her where she stood in the hall, talking to her maid.

Like a man who looks half unwillingly into the land of hidden things, knowing very well that his own doom or joy is there, if he has the wit to see and the strength to grasp it, so did I deliberately falsify the tenets and obligations of my order, and, standing half in the hall, half in the office, I stared at the lady and the maid and the spaniel. She was younger even than I had thought her, and I felt that there was something foreign in her appearance, although of what nationality she might be I could not determine. Her hair was of a shade between brown and golden, and, as she stood now, with her back to me, I could see that it was so thick and abundant that her maid's art had been barely sufficient to keep it within bounds. In the front it was parted in the middle, and came rather low down over her forehead. Now I could see her profile--the rather long neck, which the lace scarf about her shoulders seemed to leave a little more than usually bare; the soft and yet firm outline of features, delicate enough and yet full of character. Just then her maid said something which seemed to call her attention to me. She half turned her head and looked me full in the face. Her eyes seemed to narrow a little, as though she were short-sighted. Then she very slowly and very deliberately turned her back upon me, and continued talking to her maid. My cheeks were tanned enough, but I felt the color burn as I prepared to move away. At that moment the lift stopped just opposite to her, and Mr. Blumentein stepped out, followed by his dapper little clerk.

Mr. Blumentein was a man of less than medium height, with grey hair and beard, powerfully built and with a sleek, well-groomed appearance. Hat in hand, and with many bows and smiles, he addressed a few remarks to the lady, who answered him courteously, but with obvious condescension. Then he came on to me, and his manner was very different indeed. The dapper little clerk, who had pointed me out, slipped away.

"Mr. Courage?" he inquired; "you wished to speak to me."

I handed him the typewritten communication which I had received.

"I wish for some explanation of this," I said.

He glanced at it, and shrugged his shoulders. "I cannot permit such proceedings as took place last night in this hotel," he said. "I can find no trace of the two persons whom you described as having broken into your room, and I am not at all satisfied with the explanations which have been given."

"Indeed," I answered. "I can assure you that I find the situation equally unsatisfactory. I come here in the ordinary way as a casual guest. My room is broken into in the middle of the night. I myself am assaulted, and another man, a stranger to me, is nearly murdered. If any explanations or apologies are due at all, I consider that they are due to me."

Mr. Blumentein edged a little away.

"You should consider yourself exceedingly fortunate," he declared, "to be spared the inconvenience of a police inquiry. My directors dislike very much any publicity given to brawls of this sort in the hotel, or you might find yourself in a somewhat awkward position. I have nothing more to say about it."

He would have moved away, but I stood directly in front of him.

"It happens that I have," I said. "I am not a thief or an adventurer, and my bona-fides are easily established. I am a magistrate in two counties; Sir Gilbert Hardross, who is a patron of your restaurant, is my cousin, and I expect him here to call for me within half an hour. I am up in town to play for my County against the M.C.C. at Lord's; I am a person who is perfectly well known, and my word as to what happened last night will be readily accepted. If you do not alter your tone at once, I shall take a cab to Scotland Yard, and insist upon a complete investigation into the affairs of last night."

There was no doubt as to the effect of my words upon Mr. Blumentein. He was seriously perturbed, and wholly unable to conceal it.

"You can prove what you say, Mr. Courage, I suppose?" he remarked hesitatingly.

"Absolutely!" I answered; "look in this week's _Graphic_. You will see a photograph of me in the Medchestershire Cricket Team. Come into my room, and I will show you as many letters and papers as you please. Do you know that gentleman?"

"Certainly!" Mr. Blumentein answered, bowing low. "Good morning, Sir Charles!"

A young man in a flannel suit and straw hat sauntered up to us. He nodded condescendingly to the hotel manager, and shook hands with me.

"How are you, Courage?" he said. "I'm coming down to Lord's this afternoon to see the match."

He passed on. Mr. Blumentein was distinctly nervous.

"Will you do me the favor to come down to my room for a moment, Mr. Courage?" he begged. "I should like to speak to you in private."

I followed him down into his office. He closed the door, and set his hat down upon the desk.

"I have caused the strictest inquiries to be made, and I have been unable to obtain the slightest trace either of the man whom you say took shelter in your room, or the two others you spoke of. Under those circumstances, you will understand that your story did not sound very probable."

"Perhaps not," I admitted; "but I don't know what your night-porter could have been about, if he really saw nothing of them. I can give you a detailed description of all three if you like."

"One moment," Mr. Blumentein said, taking up pen and paper. "Now, if you please!"

I described the three men to the best of my ability, and Mr. Blumentein took down carefully all that I said.

"I will have the fullest inquiries made," he promised, "and let you know the result. In the meantime, I trust that you will consider the letter I wrote you this morning unwritten. You will doubtless prefer to leave the hotel after what has happened, but another time, I trust that we may be honored by your patronage."

I hesitated for a moment. It was clear that the man wanted to get rid of me. For the first time, the idea of remaining in the hotel occurred to me.

"I will consider the matter," I answered. "In the meantime, I hope you will have inquiries made at once. The man who took refuge in my room was in a terrible state of fright, and from what I saw of the other two, I am afraid you may find this a more serious affair than you have any idea of. By the bye, one of the two told me that they had engaged every room in that corridor. You may be able to trace him by that."

Mr. Blumentein shrugged his shoulders.

"That statement, at any rate, was a false one," he said. "All the rooms in the vicinity of yours were occupied by regular customers."

Now, in all probability, if Mr. Blumentein had looked me in the face when he made this last statement, I should have left the hotel within half an hour or so for good, and the whole episode, so far as I was concerned, would have been ended. But I could not help noticing a somewhat unaccountable nervousness in the man's manner, and it flashed into my mind suddenly that he knew a good deal more than he meant to tell me. He was keeping something back. The more I watched him, the more I felt certain of it. I determined not to leave the hotel.

"Well," I said, "we will look upon the whole affair last night as a misunderstanding. I will keep on my room for to-night, at any rate. I shall be having some friends to dine in the restaurant."

The man's face expressed anything but pleasure.

"Just as you like, Mr. Courage," he said. "Of course, if, under the circumstances, you preferred to leave us, we should quite understand it!"

"I shall stay for to-night, at any rate," I answered. "I am only up for a day or two."

He walked with me to the door. I hesitated for a moment, and then asked him the question which had been in my mind for some time.

"By the bye, Mr. Blumentein," I said, "if it is a permissible question, may I ask the name of the young lady with whom you were talking in the hall just now--a young lady with a French maid and a Japanese spaniel?"

Mr. Blumentein was perceptibly paler. His eyes were full of suspicion, almost fear.

"Why do you ask me that?" he inquired sharply.

"Out of curiosity, I am afraid," I answered readily. "I am sorry if I have been indiscreet!"

The man made an effort to recover his composure. I could see, though, that, for some reason, my question had disquieted him.

"The lady's name is Miss Van Hoyt," he said slowly. "I believe that she is of a very well-known American family. She came here with excellent recommendations; but, beyond her name, I really know very little about her. Nothing more I can do for you, Mr. Courage?"

"Nothing at all, thank you," I answered, moving towards the door.

"They have just telephoned down to say that a gentleman has called for you--Sir Gilbert Hardross, I believe."

I nodded and glanced at the clock.

"Thanks!" I said, "I must hurry."

"I will reserve a table for you in the restaurant to-night, sir," Mr. Blumentein said, bowing me out.

"For three, at eight o'clock," I answered.

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