WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS
Arrived in my room, I changed my dress-coat for a smoking-jacket, and my patent shoes for loose slippers. Then I suddenly discovered that I had no cigarettes. I glanced at the clock. It was only half-past ten. I had still half an hour to spare.
I locked up my room and descended by the lift to the entrance hall. My friend the hall-porter was standing behind his counter, doing nothing.
“I wish you would send a boy into the cafe,” I said, “and ask Louis to send me a box of my cigarettes.”
“With pleasure, sir,” the man answered. “By the bye,” he added, “Louis is not there himself, but I suppose any of the others would know the sort you smoke, sir?”
“Not there?” I answered, glancing at the clock. “Ah! I suppose it is a little early for him.”
“He will not be there at all this evening,” the porter answered. “The second maitre d’hotel was here a few minutes ago, and told me so himself.”
“Not there at all!” I repeated. “Do you mean to say that Louis has a night off?”
“Certainly, sir,” the man answered. “He has just gone out in his morning clothes.”
For a moment I was so surprised that I said nothing. Only a few minutes ago Louis had gone out of his way to tell me that he would be on duty that night in the cafe. All the time it was obviously a lie! He would not have deceived me without a reason. What was it? I walked to the door and back again. The hall-porter watched me a little curiously.
“Did you wish for Monsieur Louis particularly,” he said, “or shall I send to Antoine for the cigarettes?”
I pulled myself together.
“Send to Antoine, by all means,” I answered. “He knows what I want.”
I took up an evening paper and glanced at the news. Somehow or other I was conscious, although I had had no exercise, of feeling unusually sleepy. When the boy returned with the cigarettes I thrust the box into my pocket, unopened. Then I went to the smoking-room on my way upstairs and drank a stiff brandy and soda. Of one of the junior waiters whom I met I asked a question.
“Do you know if Monsieur Louis will be here to-night?” I asked.
“No, sir!” he answered. “He has just left.”
“Very well,” I answered. “You need not mention my inquiry.”
I gave the boy half-a-crown, and ascended once more to my room. I was feeling a little more awake, but, incomprehensible though it might seem, I began to have a curious idea concerning the coffee with which Louis had served me. I even remembered—or thought that I remembered—some curious taste about it. Yet what object could Louis have in drugging me just as I was on the point of entering into an enterprise on his behalf?