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The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (Algernon Blackwood) online
A SUSPICIOUS GIFT
However, the door opened in response, and the man came in. Blake did not turn round at once, and the other advanced to the centre of the room, but _without speaking_. Then Blake knew it was not his enemy, Perry, and turned round.
He saw a man of about forty standing in the middle of the carpet, but standing sideways so that he did not present a full face. He wore an overcoat buttoned up to the neck, and on the felt hat which he held in front of him fresh rain-drops glistened. In his other hand he carried a small black bag. Blake gave him a good look, and came to the conclusion that he might be a secretary, or a chief clerk, or a confidential man of sorts. He was a shabby-respectable-looking person. This was the sum-total of the first impression, gained the moment his eyes took in that it was _not_ Perry; the second impression was less pleasant, and reported at once that something was wrong.
Though otherwise young and inexperienced, Blake--thanks, or curses, to the police court training--knew more about common criminal blackguardism than most men of fifty, and he recognised that there was somewhere a suggestion of this undesirable world about the man. But there was more than this. There was something singular about him, something far out of the common, though for the life of him Blake could not say wherein it lay. The fellow was out of the ordinary, and in some very undesirable manner.
All this, that takes so long to describe, Blake saw with the first and second glance. The man at once began to speak in a quiet and respectful voice.
"Are you Mr. Blake?" he asked.
"Mr. Arthur Blake?"
"Mr. Arthur _Herbert_ Blake?" persisted the other, with emphasis on the middle name.
"That is my full name," Blake answered simply, adding, as he remembered his manners; "but won't you sit down, first, please?"
The man advanced with a curious sideways motion like a crab and took a seat on the edge of the sofa. He put his hat on the floor at his feet, but still kept the bag in his hand.
"I come to you from a well-wisher," he went on in oily tones, without lifting his eyes. Blake, in his mind, ran quickly over all the people he knew in New York who might possibly have sent such a man, while waiting for him to supply the name. But the man had come to a full stop and was waiting too.
"A well-wisher of _mine_?" repeated Blake, not knowing quite what else to say.
"Just so," replied the other, still with his eyes on the floor. "A well-wisher of yours."
"A man or--" he felt himself blushing, "or a woman?"
"That," said the man shortly, "I cannot tell you."
"You can't tell me!" exclaimed the other, wondering what was coming next, and who in the world this mysterious well-wisher could be who sent so discreet and mysterious a messenger.
"I cannot tell you the name," replied the man firmly. "Those are my instructions. But I bring you something from this person, and I am to give it to you, to take a receipt for it, and then to go away without answering any questions."
Blake stared very hard. The man, however, never raised his eyes above the level of the second china knob on the chest of drawers opposite. The giving of a receipt sounded like money. Could it be that some of his influential friends had heard of his plight? There were possibilities that made his heart beat. At length, however, he found his tongue, for this strange creature was determined apparently to say nothing more until he had heard from him.