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El Dorado

21.
Back To Paris
It was an exceptionally dark night, and the rain was falling in torrents. Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, wrapped in a piece of sacking, had taken shelter right underneath the
coal-cart; even then he was getting wet through to the skin.
He had worked hard for two days coal-heaving, and the night before he had
found a cheap, squalid lodging where at any rate he was protected from the
inclemencies of the weather; but to-night he was expecting Blakeney at the
appointed hour and place. He had secured a cart of the ordinary ramshackle
pattern used for carrying coal. Unfortunately there were no covered ones to be
obtained in the neighbourhood, and equally unfortunately the thaw had set in with
a blustering wind and diving rain, which made waiting in the open air for hours at
a stretch and in complete darkness excessively unpleasant.
But for all these discomforts Sir Andrew Ffoulkes cared not one jot. In England, in
his magnificent Suffolk home, he was a confirmed sybarite, in whose service
every description of comfort and luxury had to be enrolled. Here tonight in the
rough and tattered clothes of a coal-heaver, drenched to the skin, and crouching
under the body of a cart that hardly sheltered him from the rain, he was as happy
as a schoolboy out for a holiday.
Happy, but vaguely anxious.
He had no means of ascertaining the time. So many of the church-bells and clock
towers had been silenced recently that not one of those welcome sounds
penetrated to the dreary desolation of this canal wharf, with its abandoned carts
standing ghostlike in a row. Darkness had set in very early in the afternoon, and
the heavers had given up work soon after four o'clock.
For about an hour after that a certain animation had still reigned round the wharf,
men crossing and going, one or two of the barges moving in or out alongside the
quay. But for some time now darkness and silence had been the masters in this
desolate spot, and that time had seemed to Sir Andrew an eternity. He had
hobbled and tethered his horse, and stretched himself out at full length under the
cart. Now and again he had crawled out from under this uncomfortable shelter
and walked up and down in ankle-deep mud, trying to restore circulation in his
stiffened limbs; now and again a kind of torpor had come over him, and he had
fallen into a brief and restless sleep. He would at this moment have given half his
fortune for knowledge of the exact time.
But through all this weary waiting he was never for a moment in doubt. Unlike
Armand St. Just, he had the simplest, most perfect faith in his chief. He had been
Blakeney's constant companion in all these adventures for close upon four years
now; the thought of failure, however vague, never once entered his mind.
He was only anxious for his chief's welfare. He knew that he would succeed, but
he would have liked to have spared him much of the physical fatigue and the
nerve-racking strain of these hours that lay between the daring deed and the
hope of safety. Therefore he was conscious of an acute tingling of his nerves,
which went on even during the brief patches of fitful sleep, and through the
 
 
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