Reply Paid

Reply Paid by H. F. Heard Read Free Book Online

Book: Reply Paid by H. F. Heard Read Free Book Online
Authors: H. F. Heard
dispatched. At the same time I discovered, to my relief on your behalf, that the only man who could demonstrate the finest instruments they stocked attended only for a couple of hours every morning. They pay him to be on duty for a few ‘advanced’ customers who will want this advanced stuff. His own principal job is in a natural history museum.
    â€œI was therefore as certain as I needed to be that Intil would go to that shop at that hour. He did; he took delivery of the instrument and had it demonstrated to him the day we saw him. Further, I trailed him to the railway depot, saw him take ticket and where to, and that he did get on the train. Then I went back to the instrument store and had a friendly word with the manager, who asked me to call in three days’ time, for he hoped to have another example of the ‘balance’ in stock by then. It was kind of him to wish to show me the instrument, but I had to say that I’d have to come in later. For in three days’ time you and I, Mr. Silchester, should leave the city behind. With your leave, we are bound for the wilderness—the trackless desert.”
    â€œTo find a man when you only know the station he’s getting off at, or, maybe, only changing trains?” I protested.
    â€œNo, no, I have my clues and have made some plans. Will you come?”
    I felt none too sure, but I did say yes and we parted.

Chapter III
    â€œThe train doesn’t go till two P.M. ,” said Mr. Mycroft as he came into my office when I was cleaning up things preparatory, as he warned me, to perhaps a fortnight’s absence. “But we have some shopping to do. And do you mind if I still behave with a certain secrecy? Do you mind putting yourself in my hands to that degree—so as not to ask questions?”
    A slight cloud of irritation, I know, crossed my mind. Was the old man just putting it on, putting me in my place, or was it really necessary? Well, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. He handed me a list of things he wanted bought—the usual stuff for a hiking trip—sleeping sacks, camp-cooking kit, some food purchases, etc.
    â€œMeet me,” he said, “in the railway waiting hall at one forty-five,” and I trotted off obediently enough.
    His bundle, when we met, was smaller than mine. I felt I had done the major labor. When we were in the train, which was largely empty, he unpacked and rearranged part of it. I remember that I caught sight of very heavy waterproof gloves.
    â€œI thought,” I said, “we were going to the desert? It’s cold often at night, but this isn’t the season when we’ll have even a shower, or find a hole with any water in it.”
    He looked up. “A shower?” he said. “A gusher, then, maybe?”
    I felt the remark might be aimed at my talkativeness. It hurt me and I resolved I would ask the old man no questions, not even when we should arrive, wherever it might be.
    We rumbled on. I read. Night came. We slept. He read too. Well, I could keep up silence quite as well as he. The next day also began to wear. I was then idly looking out over a landscape which now had become nothing but a huge-scale chart of geology. The train had paused—it was a pausing train, falling into meditations in places which seemed made for that and nothing else. This pause place was precisely like the last half-dozen. But Mr. Mycroft got up.
    â€œWe are getting out here,” he said.
    True to my resolve not to ask questions, if he wished to be noncommittal, I looked out and down from the carriage window. A small shack was standing quite close to the line. Already my packages were being unloaded. Outside we stepped into a heat which made me for a moment cease to look and only feel. The huge landscape, with its unsealed perspectives, seemed much more like a close, suffocating room, than the air-conditioned train we had just left. This large black cylinder of civilization,

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