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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Yellow Face » CHAPTER XVII. WHICH MAN WAS IT?
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Rigby's astonishment was frank and undisguised. It was quite evident that he had noticed nothing suspicious about the look or attitude of Lord Barmouth; indeed, he had been on the far side of the table when the master of the house had entered the room. But he was not altogether prepared to accept Jack's statement unless he could verify it by something more than a mere expression of opinion.

"Are you quite sure of that?" he asked. "Mind you, this is an exceedingly important matter, and if what you say is true, we have opened up a quite fresh development of the mystery."

"I am absolutely certain of it," Jack declared. "I had not the least idea of anything of the kind till we were both on our feet ready to go. It was at this point, you will remember, that Lord Barmouth displayed some feeling and accidentally touched the logs of wood on the fire with his foot. In the spurt of flame which followed, I had a perfect view of his face."

"Would you mind describing what you saw?" Rigby asked.

"You have only to look at the nearest poster displaying the features of Nostalgo, and your question is answered. It was only a flash, but the face was impressed upon my mind in the most vivid fashion. There was the same sinister expression of face, the same repulsive twist of the mouth, the same inexpressible gleam of the eyes. You know what I mean: the whole thing was exactly as we see it, on half the hoardings in London. Of course it is the face of a leering Mephistopheles. And yet I don't know; it occurred to me that there was something very pathetic and at the same time kindly about Barmouth's aspect. You know what I mean: imagine a kind-hearted, good-natured actor made up as repulsively as possible, and yet with the suggestion of his natural disposition behind him."

"Yes, I fancy I understand what you mean," Rigby replied thoughtfully. "But you don't suggest that the man really was made up, do you?"

Jack replied that he did and he didn't. There was something unreal about Barmouth, and yet it was impossible to believe that that sinister face was anything except just as nature made it. The friends walked along side by side in silence before another idea occurred to Rigby.

"It seems to me," he said, "that we must believe in the existence of two Nostalgos. The one you found near Panton Square was dead; in fact, the police sergeant testified to the fact. How or by what means that man's body was so mysteriously spirited away we are not very likely to find out. At any rate it is quite fair to assume that his friends had some desperate reason for spiriting the body away. Therefore, we may logically infer that Lord Barmouth cannot possibly be the same man you saw in Panton Square."

"That is a very fair assumption," Jack admitted. "But to carry your argument a bit further, we are bound to assume that there are no less than three Nostalgos. The suggestion is almost farcical, but there it is."

"What do you mean by three?" Rigby asked.

"Well, don't forget the man we saw in the forecourt of the house in Montrose Place. No mistake about his being a Nostalgo."

"Quite so," Rigby admitted. "I am with you there. But how do we know for certain that Nostalgo No. 2, so to speak, and Lord Barmouth are not the same man? Did you notice anything strange about the appearance of Barmouth as he came into the room to-night--that he was humpbacked or misshapen in any way?"

Jack was bound to admit that he had not noticed anything of the kind.

"I don't think we shall ever do much good unless we go direct to the fountain head," Jack said thoughtfully.

"Mexico," Rigby cried. "I see exactly what you mean."

"Mexico it is. We know perfectly well that when Barmouth went off to Mexico two years ago on a sporting expedition he was a normal man like you and me. If he had been so terribly disfigured by birth or accident as he appeared to-night we should have known it. A man in his position with an infirmity like that cannot hide it from the light of day. To carry the thing to a logical conclusion, if Barmouth had been like that when he went away, why should he be so dreadfully troubled about it now?"

Rigby applauded this sound reasoning. He could see that Jack had something on his mind, and urged him to proceed.

"I don't quite know what to make of it," Jack said. "As I observed just now, we seem to be face to face with the fact that there are two or three Nostalgos, and for all we know to the contrary, there may be a score more knocking about London. It has occurred to me more than once that these men must belong to some secret society."

Rigby was inclined to laugh at the idea. On being asked by Jack to explain what he saw that was fatal to the theory, he replied logically enough that such a thing was out of the question.

"My dear fellow, just think what you are saying," he exclaimed. "So far as my reading teaches me, the great object of a secret society is to be secret. Besides, you don't suggest for a moment that these men belong to any particular tribe, especially as we know perfectly well that Lord Barmouth, who is an Englishman, belongs to them. Nor would you want me to believe that these men are in the habit of having their faces operated upon by some ingenious doctor, so that they are in the position to recognize one another when they meet."

Jack was bound to admit that Rigby had the facts entirely upon his side. It seemed absolutely childish to believe that sane men would do this kind of thing, especially when it was very evident that these various Nostalgos were only too anxious to hide themselves from the light of day. Rigby did not pursue his advantage; he was quite content to judge that his argument had prevailed from the expression of Jack's face.

"But we need not carry that argument any further," he said. "I judge from your expression that you have another theory."

"I was just coming to that," Jack said. "We will assume for the sake of argument that when Barmouth went to Mexico he was without blemish of mind or body. That being so, he must have met with some terrible adventure which has resulted in this terrible disfigurement. Mind you, it is a disfigurement; it certainly is not natural; for instance, no three men could possibly have faces like that as the result of a freak of Nature. What I am trying to think is this: Barmouth got mixed up in some hideous secret society, and that he either carries on his face the badge of the tribe, or he has been purposely disfigured out of revenge for some dereliction of duty. However, this is only speculation after all, and we can do nothing till we have some fresh facts before us."

"I am inclined to think very highly of your theory all the same," Rigby said. "There is no questioning the fact that we have to look towards Mexico for an elucidation of the mystery. By Jove, I have nearly forgotten something. Wouldn't it be a good thing to find out if Anstruther had ever been to Mexico?"

"Of course it would," Jack exclaimed. "I'll see to that. I will go to Anstruther's to-morrow night and learn there. It will be hard indeed if I am unable to answer your question next time we meet."

It was fairly late the following afternoon before Jack found himself in Pan ton Square again. He had practically promised Lady Barmouth to tell Claire everything, but a natural reflection had shown him that this was not quite prudent. Not that he objected to take Claire into his confidence, but what he greatly feared was the girl's inability to control her feelings in the presence of Anstruther after she had learned everything. But, as Jack looked into the face of his betrothed, his doubts gradually vanished. It was a courageous as well as a beautiful face, and it occurred to Jack that Lady Barmouth had not done badly when she had selected Claire to be her confidante in this painful matter. Claire's dark eyes were turned interrogatively upon her lover. Perhaps he was looking a little more serious than usual; at any rate his grave face told her that he came with news of importance.

"My dear boy, what is the matter?" Claire asked. She twined her hands about his arm, and laid her head caressingly on his shoulder. It was impossible to resist that pleading upward glance. "I am sure you have something important to say to me."

"Against my better judgment," Jack laughed. "Yes, I am going to tell you something about your guardian."

Claire listened with the deepest attention as Jack proceeded to speak freely of the adventures of the last two days. He watched the change of her face, the flush and the pallor, and the dawning resolution which gave her mouth strength and firmness.

"I do not think you need be afraid for me," Claire said. "I will be brave and resolute; I will do my best to hide my feelings from Mr. Anstruther. This is a dreadful business altogether; but, dreadful as it is, we cannot draw back now. You have told me some strange things, but some of your facts are not facts at all."

"In what way have I been mistaken?" Jack asked.

"Well, as to Mr. Anstruther, for instance. You say that you saw him at Montrose Place last night for the best part of an hour."

"Well, so I did," Jack declared. "If you want anybody to prove that, ask Rigby. Anstruther was there somewhere about half-past ten, and when he left he had not the slightest intention of going home."

"Most extraordinary," Claire murmured. "Listen to what I have to say, what I should have to swear to if this thing ever went into a court of justice. Shortly after dinner last night Spencer Anstruther went directly to his study; he had not been there very long before he was playing his violin, and this he continued to do till one o'clock this morning. Now what do you make of that?"

"It seems almost incredible," Jack said. "Was there a break at all in the performance?"

Claire replied that there was a break of perhaps twenty-five minutes to half-an-hour, so far as she could judge, somewhere about eleven o'clock. Jack smiled with the air of a man who makes a discovery. This was just the period when Padini had turned up in Montrose Place. There was no time to go into theories now, but Jack felt that he would have a surprise for his friends later on.

"Tell me, tell me," he said, "do you think you can recollect the names of all the pieces that Anstruther played last night? I want you to try and repeat them to me exactly in the order that they occurred. This is more important than you would imagine."

It was a somewhat difficult task, but Claire managed it successfully at length. For a long time the girl bent thoughtfully over her writing table, and presently produced a neat list on which were inscribed the names of some ten or fifteen classical compositions.

"I think you will find that practically correct," she said . "I may not have recollected the exact order, but I think that is good enough for your purpose."

Masefield was quite sure of the fact. He folded the list, and carefully placed it in his pocket.

"Now there is one more thing I should like," he said. "Now, as you are perfectly well aware, Padini was giving a recital last night at the small Queen's Hall. You will remember this, more especially as your music agent sent you a programme, a thing he always does when there is anything of importance going on. Now, do you think you could find that programme for me? Not that it very much matters, because I can step 'round to Smithson's and get one for myself; still, if you happen to have it in the house----"

But Claire was quite certain that she had the programme somewhere. She produced it presently from a mass of papers on the piano.

"Now we shall get at it," Jack said. "I see by this programme that Padini is down for no less than six items. He had a most enthusiastic audience, as I happen to know, which really means that he played about twelve pieces altogether. Now I will read to you the first four of these compositions. They are respectively Etude 25, Chopin; Wiegenlied, Brahms; Moszkowski's Five Waltzes; Liszt's 'Die Lorelei.' Now, unless I am greatly mistaken, you will find that those pieces were played in the same order by Anstruther in his study last night. Is not that so?"

"Amazing!" Claire cried. "Absolutely it is exactly as you say. What does it mean?"

"We will take the list right through till the end if you like," Jack replied. "The same thing will apply to both lists. Now is it not an extraordinary thing that those two men should have gone through exactly the same programme, item by item, without the slightest variation? And all the time they were some two miles apart?"

"It seems absolutely incapable of explanation," Claire cried. "Oh! the explanation will be simple enough when the time comes," Jack laughed; "but you will see for yourself that the thing is not quite finished. It is obvious enough that Padini's recital finished at about eleven, whereas you say that Anstruther went on till about one o'clock in the morning. The next business is to find out where Padini was playing so late--possibly at a smoking concert or something of that kind. At any rate I am going to find out, and then I shall discover that the supplementary programme will be exactly the same as your list."

"Is it some new science?" Claire asked, "some wonderful new discovery that Mr. Anstruther is perfecting before he submits it to the world?"

"Not a bit of it," Jack said practically. "There is nothing occult here. And now I must go. I will see you at dinner."


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