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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Yellow Face » CHAPTER XXII. THE PORTRAIT.
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Jack sat there silently enough, waiting for Lord Barmouth to speak. The difficulty and delicacy of the situation were by no means lost upon him. He shuffled about uneasily in his chair, trying to make something definite out of the still figure opposite him.

"I quite appreciate your feelings," Lord Barmouth said, in the deep, thrilling tones that Jack remembered so well. "It is no nice thing for a gentleman to thrust himself into the private sorrows of an unfortunate man like myself. But my wife has told me all that you have been recently saying to her. You seem to be under the impression that you saw me in Montrose Place last night; in fact, that you recognized my face, which I imprudently disclosed whilst I was lighting a cigarette. Mr. Masefield, I am not disposed to deny the accusation."

"I hope you will be perfectly candid with me," Jack said, speaking with some hesitation; "believe me, I am actuated by the highest motives; believe me, I would do anything to rid you of the shadow that darkens your life. Of course, I have my theory on the subject of the strange business; a business which has been literally thrust upon me by stress of circumstances. Up to a short time ago, like most people, I looked upon the Nostalgo poster as a high ingenuity in the way of advertising art. It was a wonderful effort, and most cleverly executed. But I should not have been in the least surprised to find that Nostalgo was an acrobat or a juggler, or even some new and clever way of introducing a fresh kind of soap to the credulous British public."

"Yes," Barmouth said thoughtfully, "I suppose one would have been satisfied in that way."

"But I speak with the discovery that I was mistaken," Jack went on. "The first thing that aroused my suspicions was more a girlish fancy than anything else. Of course you know Mr. Spencer Anstruther very well by name?"

"Ay, I know him by something more than name," Barmouth said, in deep, thrilling tones. "If that scoundrel had never been born I should--but I am interrupting you. Pray proceed."

"Well, to revert to what I was saying," Jack went on, "that Nostalgo poster was hardly fully impressed upon my mind's eye, before I began to notice some grotesque resemblance between it and Spencer Anstruther. Without hurting your feelings, the poster is devilishly hideous; Anstruther, on the other hand, is a singularly handsome man. But, despite all this, despite my common sense, I could not rid myself of the idea that the likeness was somewhere.

"A chance remark of mine served to confirm my impression. It threw Anstruther into a sudden fit of passion. His face was literally convulsed with fury, but only for an instant. Still, that instant sufficed. There was Nostalgo in the flesh before me--the same drawn-up lips, the same hideous squint of the oblique eyes, the same dreadful, hawkish look about the nose. A second later the likeness was gone. I cannot forget, I never shall forget my feelings at that moment. If I fail to interest you----"

"You are interesting me more than words can tell," Barmouth said hoarsely. "Pray proceed."

"There is not much more to tell," Jack said. "Perhaps you have heard of the Nostalgo devil whom I found dead the other night in Panton Square? I mean the man whose body so mysteriously vanished from the Shannon Street station?"

"Yes, I heard of that," Barmouth admitted; "but you will not be in the least astonished to learn that the whole affair was no surprise to me. All the same, I think you will find later on that the supposed victim is not dead at all. And now I am going to speak, and you are going to listen."

Jack intimated that he desired nothing better. He could make out the outline of the figure opposite him, wriggling and twisting in his chair.

"As you are quite aware, a little more than two years ago I went to Mexico. There was no thought of evil in my mind; I went out merely with an eye to sport. I have been fond of adventure all my life, and Mexico seemed to afford a fine field for such amusements as I was looking for. But the shooting was a great disappointment, and I had to turn elsewhere for recreation. A little later on I found myself in Southern Mexico, living with a half-savage tribe, who showed signs that at some long-forgotten period the same tribe had enjoyed a high state of civilization. As a matter of fact, there were two of these tribes living only a few leagues apart, and both exceedingly antagonistic to each other.

"Of course I had to throw my lot in with one section, and take care that I didn't fall into the hands of the other. The reason of this bitterness I discovered arose from the fact that both claimed possession of a belt of land which was supposed to contain gold. Now, I am an exceedingly rich man, as you know. But I got the gold fever as badly as if I had been the neediest adventurer who ever wielded pick and shovel.

"I had been told by my friends that the leader of the other section was an Englishman like myself. He was supposed to have married one of the women of the tribe, and adopted their manners and customs. Of course, I needed no one to tell me that only such a powerful incentive as gold could have persuaded an educated Englishman to remain permanently with a tribe. This other section was far the more powerful of the two, and they gave us fair warning that any of us that were caught in the gold belt would be likely to suffer for it. This was quite good enough for me. Picking out a score of the most daring adventurers, we made up our minds to put in some exploring without delay. I may mention the fact that some of these adventurers were Europeans also. Anyway, we set out one evening, and morning found us lighting our camp-fire right in the heart of the gold belt.

"On that occasion I had been left behind to look after the cooking whilst the others pushed on to a likely spot where indications of the precious metal might be found. My companions had hardly disappeared from sight before a man came riding up to me and demanded my business. It was quite easy to see that he was an Englishman, despite the fact that he was arrayed in the full war paint of the tribe. He was a fine, powerful man, and his face denoted great intellectual gifts. Come, Mr. Masefield, you are a clever man yourself, and therefore will have no difficulty in guessing who the stranger was."

"Anstruther for a hundred," Masefield cried.

"You have guessed it exactly, as I thought you would," Lord Barmouth went on gravely. "It was Anstruther, and no other. He wasted no time in demanding to know what I was doing there. He warned me of the dreadful pains and penalties likely to occur if I remained where I was, but I laughed him to scorn. By way of reply he gave a shrill whistle, and there emerged from the scrubby brush a small misshapen man with the most hideous face that it has ever been my lot to look upon. Need I describe that face, Mr. Masefield?"

"No," Jack said, in an awed voice. "It was another Nostalgo."

"Once more you have guessed it," Barmouth went on in the same grave way. "Anstruther pointed to the shrinking figure by his side, and told me that I must either go back at once, or that I must suffer the same fate as the man by his side. My blood was hot then; I cared for no man. I do not exactly know how it commenced, but presently we were exchanging revolver shots, each determined to do for the other. I suppose somebody crept up behind me, for I was just conscious of a terrible blow on the back of the head, and then I remembered no more.

"When I came to myself I was lying in a deserted hut, absolutely alone, and with a feeling upon me that I had just recovered from a long and painful illness. There was food beside me, a little native spirit in a bottle; my clothes were neatly laid at the foot of my bed. When I reached the open I recognized the fact that I was in a spot some fifty miles on the far side of the gold belt. From the length of my beard I calculated that I must have been lying there for some three weeks. My horse I found outside, and, feeling strong enough to proceed on my journey, I rode off in the direction of the tribe to which I was attached. I was feeling fairly well, and conscious only of a strange tightening sensation in the muscles of the face.

"At that moment I had no conception of the awful misfortune which had overtaken me. I was glad enough at length to come in contact with one or two members of my tribe. Judge of my astonishment when they fled as if in terror at my approach. It was the same in the village. I might have been afflicted with some loathsome disease, seeing how everybody ran at my approach. I reached my hut at length, tired, and hot, and angry, my first idea being to shave and make myself respectable. A glance at my looking-glass revealed the whole hideous truth. I was as I am at this moment: a ghastly caricature of a man, who dared not look his fellow creatures in the face."

It was some time before Lord Barmouth spoke again. It was not for Jack to interrupt the tenor of his painful thoughts. But the silence was so long that he felt bound to speak at length.

"But how does this give Anstruther such a hold on you?" he asked.

"That is another matter entirely," Barmouth explained, "though, of course, it touches on the main issue. You see, that though Anstruther knows me as the James Smith I used to be called in Mexico, he has not the remotest idea that I am Lord Barmouth. In fact, that man blackmails me."

"I don't quite follow," Jack said.

"I admit it sounds a little complicated," Barmouth went on. "As my real self Anstruther does not know me. Why should he interest himself in an apparently broken-down hypochondriac? The man he cares about is 'James Smith,' the Nostalgo whom he regards as a relative of my wife, and who lives here in some secluded part of the house. Heaven only knows if he is really aware of the truth, for he is so clever a scoundrel that he is quite capable of deceiving me on that point till the time is ripe to expose me and degrade me despite the sums of money I have paid him. I do not know, I dare not ask. Call me a coward if you like, but if you had gone through what I have----"

Barmouth paused, and wiped the moisture from his forehead.

"If I were not Lord Barmouth," he continued, "I would care little or nothing for what he says; but for the sake of my wife I have to submit to his persecutions. Therefore it is that at certain seasons of the year I meet Anstruther in Montrose Place and hand him over a thousand pounds. But there is one drawback to Anstruther's mastery of the situation. There are other men who were as vilely treated as myself, and some day Anstruther will fall by the hand of one of them.

"If you ask me why those hideous posters have been lately dotted about London, I can't tell you; I feel quite sure that they are some ingenious design of Anstruther's. I feel quite sure also that that Nostalgo you picked up the other night was here after Anstruther's blood, and that he died at Anstruther's instigation. My only consolation is the fact that my wife absolutely refused to break off her engagement on the strength of my terrible disfigurement. It was a long time before I yielded, but yield I did at length. And now that you know so much, perhaps you will be so good as to draw up the blinds, and let us talk face to face; that is, of course, if you do not object to----"

Jack hastily disclaimed any objection. He drew the blinds aside, and a flood of light poured into the room. It was a little difficult to repress a shudder at first, but he found himself presently talking to Barmouth as if his face had been like those of other men.

"You will find some cigarettes; this is my own room," Barmouth explained. "I furnished it more with an eye to comfort than anything else."

But Jack was not listening. He took up a cigarette mechanically, and was gazing intently at a photograph in a large silver frame standing on the mantelpiece. It was the face of a woman; a dark melancholy face, with mournful eyes.

"Would you mind telling me who that is?" Jack asked.

"A sister of my wife's," Barmouth explained. "It is rather a sad story."

Jack said nothing. But the face looking into his own was the face of Anstruther's servant, Serena.


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