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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Yellow Face » CHAPTER XXIII. FACE TO FACE.
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It was perhaps fortunate for Jack that Lord Barmouth appeared to be engrossed in his own painful thoughts. At any rate he did not seem to notice that his youthful visitor's gaze was fixed so intently upon the photograph. So far as Jack could see, the picture had been taken some years before, and had not that wild, defiant, yet half-sad expression which marked Serena to-day. There was not much time to think, but Jack rapidly made up his mind. He would say nothing to Barmouth of his discovery, but would open up the matter as delicately as possible with Lady Barmouth. It was not a nice thing for a comparative stranger to intrude upon sacred griefs like this, but the discovery was so likely to lead to important results that it would have been folly to hesitate. It was some considerable time later before Jack left Lord Barmouth, who shook him warmly by the hand, and implored him to come again.

"You can imagine what a lonely life mine is," Barmouth murmured; "my wife is devotion itself, but one longs for the company of a man sometimes."

Jack promised sincerely enough that he would come again and often. He had taken a great liking to the lonely man who bore his cruel misfortunes so well. He had not intended at present to worry Lady Barmouth with the recent discovery, but she happened to be crossing the hall, and looked upon Jack eagerly and curiously.

Jack was about to say something to Lady Barmouth, when some one called her, and she turned away. Evidently she had no intention to allow Masefield to leave the house without satisfying herself as to the result of his interview with Lord Barmouth. With this feeling upon him, Jack lingered in the hall. He suddenly recollected that he had left his gloves behind him, and returned for them. He found Barmouth standing before the fireplace, apparently lost in thought. Jack had to speak twice before his host realized the fact that he was no longer alone.

"I came back for my gloves," Jack explained. "I left them on the little table behind there. I am sorry to intrude upon you again, but since you have been so kind to me----"

"On the contrary, it is you who have been so kind to me," Barmouth said. "I am not sorry you came back, because I have been thinking over the interview which we have just concluded. I might have told you a great deal more than I did; indeed, I was perhaps unwise to be so reticent. If you will come and see me again----"

"I will come and see you as often as I can get an opportunity," Jack said warmly. "Apart from the gratification of my vulgar curiosity, I have been wonderfully entertained by your experiences. I saw Lady Barmouth in the hall just now, and I know that she is anxious to learn how we got on together."

Jack went out again, with a feeling that he was more and more drawn towards his unfortunate host. He lingered in the hall for a moment gazing at the fine pictures and the artistic arranging of the flowers, hoping that Lady Barmouth would return. He had not long to wait, for presently she came floating down the stairs again. There was a pleased smile on her face.

"Oh, I am so glad you stayed so long," she said . "My poor George must have enjoyed your society or he would not have detained you. I am sure you got on very well together."

"We got on very well indeed together," Jack explained. "I have now a pretty shrewd idea of this Nostalgo business. During my interview with your husband I made a still more stupendous discovery."

"Something that affects my husband's case?" Lady Barmouth asked eagerly.

"I think it touches it very deeply indeed," Jack said gravely. "May I intrude upon you for another five minutes? Mind you, I have said nothing of this to Lord Barmouth, because it seems to me to concern you alone."

Lady Barmouth led the way back to the small drawing-room again. Her eyes were fairly dancing with curiosity. "It is about your sister," Jack said--"the sister whose photograph stands on the mantelpiece in your husband's room."

"Oh, must we really go into that?" Lady Barmouth asked, with a shade of coldness in her voice. "There are matters so sacred that even the most sincere friend----"

"Believe me, I am speaking under the strongest sense of duty," Jack urged. "Nothing else would induce me to speak. Lord Barmouth told me it was a very painful subject, but we must go into it."

"It is a painful subject," Lady Barmouth murmured. "She was my youngest sister, and very dear to us all. I do not say she had no faults; indeed, she had far too many. But she was very lovable in spite of her headstrong ways and her quick fits of passion. She never got on particularly well with my father, who all the same cared for her very much indeed. She was sent at the age of seventeen from Southern Mexico, where we lived at that time, to finish her education in London. I don't know why, but it seemed to be assumed that she was the daughter of very rich parents, and that in the course of time she would inherit a great deal of money. Be that as it may, she contrived to fall head over heels in love with her music-master, and they ran away together and got married. We never quite knew the name of the man; however, it was something quite foreign, and, judging from what happened afterwards, probably was no more than an alias. My sister's letter to her father announcing her marriage was returned to her unread, and she was given to understand that she could no longer consider herself one of the family. That sorry scoundrel who had brought so much unhappiness on the poor girl's head basely deserted her, and from that day to this I have seen nothing of the poor child.

"She did not write to you, she did not communicate with you in any way?" Jack asked.

"I have just told you that I have never heard of or seen the poor girl since. She was as proud as she was high-spirited, and after what had happened would have died rather than have appealed to any of us for assistance. But why do you ask?"

"Because I recognized in the portrait in question the features of one who I see nearly every day of my life. There can be no question about the matter at all, Lady Barmouth--your sister has been for a long time Spencer Anstruther's housekeeper."

"You astonish me; you move me more than words can tell. My sister in the house of that man? Do you mean to suggest for a moment----"

"I am not suggesting anything whatever that is wrong," Jack said earnestly. "For some time past I have been trying to make a study of the poor woman who calls herself Serena----"

"That is my sister's second name," Lady Barmouth interposed.

"Yes! But I have not made much progress. It is quite evident to me that your poor sister has had a terribly stormy past. Not that her spirits are broken, for there comes ever and again in her face the look of one who is prepared to fight to the bitter end. All the same, she is absolutely under the domination of Spencer Anstruther; she watches his every movement; indeed, it is almost as if he had hypnotized her. But that there is anything wrong--oh, no, Anstruther simply regards your sister as one of his creatures."

"I am quite unnerved by all you have to tell me," Lady Barmouth cried. "It has always been my prayer that my poor sister and myself should meet again, because I, for one, have never blamed her for that which, after all, is more her misfortune than her fault. She was very young at the time that she gave her heart into the keeping of that scoundrel, very young and very romantic. And goodness knows she paid enough for her folly. I must see her at once. I will go with you----"

"Not to Anstruther's house," Jack protested. "Think of the danger of it."

"But Mr. Anstruther merely knows me as Lady Barmouth. He knows nothing of Lord Barmouth as Lord Barmouth. We can easily assume that I came to ask the character of a servant. Oh, do not let us wait! If you only knew how anxious I am to see Serena again!"

Jack shrugged his shoulders and allowed the point to pass. At any rate he suggested that Lady Barmouth should possess her soul in patience a little longer. Usually the hours between five and seven were spent by Anstruther at his club, where he often indulged in a rubber of whist; indeed, he was very regular in this respect. Jack expounded all this to Lady Barmouth, who listened to him with more or less impatience.

"Let it be as you please," she said . "I am afraid you do not quite understand my feelings; still, you have been so good and kind and patient all through this miserable business that I am loth to do anything to mar your chances of success. Come and have a cup of tea with me, and then it will be time to start."

It was a little after six before Jack and Lady Barmouth set out in the direction of Panton Square. They came to the house at length, and Jack rang the bell. Some little time elapsed before there was any response, and Jack rang again. He was getting slightly uneasy by this time; so many things had happened lately that therefore it was possible that something equally strange might have recently been enacted in Panton Square. He pulled the bell again, this time furiously.

"It looks as if everybody was out," Lady Barmouth suggested.

"And yet I fancy I can hear somebody," Jack said, with his eye on the keyhole. "I am sure that I saw somebody flit across the hall. Let us try again."

Another furious peal at the bell brought a halting footstep, as if dragged unwillingly in the direction of the door, and then a voice inside faintly demanded to know who was there.

"Who are you?" Jack asked--his fears had rendered him a little impatient, "and what have you to be afraid of? Please open the door. I tell you that----"

"Is that really you, Jack?" the voice inside said in tones of deep relief. It was easy to detect that Claire was the speaker now. "I will open the door for you at once."

There was a fumbling at the bolts and latch, and then the heavy portal swung back. Claire's face was very pale, her hands were trembling, and there was something like terror in her eyes.

"I hope nothing wrong has happened?" Jack said anxiously.

"Well, no," Claire explained, "nothing what you might call really wrong." All the same, she was holding her hand to her heart like one who has run fast and far. "It was not on my account that I feared; it was for Serena's sake."

"Are you and Serena alone in the house?" Jack asked.

"Absolutely. The other two maids have gone out for the day, and, as my uncle is dining at his club, I did not bother about a set dinner, and was going to have a small dish sent up for myself. A few minutes ago Serena came to me in a state of terrible agitation, saying that somebody had called to see my guardian. Though he was assured that Mr. Anstruther was out, and was not likely to return before it was time to dress for dinner, the man persisted in refusing to believe the statement. He pushed his way into the hall, and locked the door behind him, saying that it was his intention to search the house. He was so rude and overbearing that Serena was naturally frightened, and came to me. I hope you won't blame me unduly, but I was as frightened as Serena herself. I summoned up courage at length to face this man, but when I reached the hall I found that he had unlocked the door again, and had vanished. But not before he had been all over the house."

"Was he rude, or did he use anything like violence?" Jack asked heatedly. "Oh, this sort of thing is abominable. Ask Serena to come here, and give me a description of the fellow. Then I will go off at once, and place the matter in the hands of the police."

So agitated and upset was Claire that she had entirely overlooked the presence of Lady Barmouth, who stood in the dim shadow of the hall listening to this amazing story. She went off now in the direction of the kitchen, where she seemed to be engaged in persuading the terrified Serena to come forward. The latter came presently, with a trembling, halting footstep, and Lady Barmouth shrank closer against the wall. The electric light had not been switched on yet, so that it was almost too dark to recognize the features of Anstruther's housekeeper. Jack rather wondered to see Serena so terribly upset. Broken as she was by misfortune, and dominated as she was by Anstruther's strong personality, she did not lack pluck and spirit, as Jack had seen on more than one occasion.

"You seem to have been subjected to a rather unpleasant experience," he said. "What class of man was the fellow who insisted on pushing his way into the house like this? A half-intoxicated workman, or some loafing rascal."

"Oh, nothing of the kind," Serena replied. She was getting her voice well under control now. "The man was dressed as well as yourself, Mr. Masefield. It was not his appearance that frightened me in the least, at least not his outward appearance. Nor was he in the least abusive or violent."

"But tell us what he looked like," Jack said impatiently. "I want a description for the benefit of the police."

Serena seemed to hesitate for a moment, and a curious expression passed like a shadow over her worn, sad face.

"Oh, you will not laugh at me, you will not make fun of what I am going to say? It was not quite dark; in fact, there was plenty of light when I opened the door for that man. His hat was turned down, and his coat collar was turned up. As the door was thrown open, he lifted his hat to me with a natural courtesy that belongs to every well-bred man. And then I saw his face. It was exactly the same face as that."

Serena broke off suddenly, as if her emotions were too strong for her. The front door had not yet been closed; the strong flare of a great arc light lit up the hoarding on the far side of the street. With a trembling hand Serena pointed to the central poster on the hoarding. Jack started as he followed the direction of her shaking finger.

"What!" he cried; "Nostalgo! Another Nostalgo! Do you mean to say that he has been here to-night?"

"Yes," Serena said simply, "it is just as I have told you."


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