"You're always ready, Pearson," returned Mr. Temple Barholm. "I want to get that train."
Pearson was always ready. Before the last word was quite spoken he had turned and opened the bedroom door.
"I'll order the dog-cart; that's quickest, sir," he said. He was out of the room and in again almost immediately. Then he was at the wardrobe and taking out what Mr. Temple Barholm called his "grip," but what Pearson knew as a Gladstone bag. It was always kept ready packed for unexpected emergencies of travel.
Mr. Temple Barholm sat at the table and drew pen and paper toward him. He looked excited; he looked more troubled than Pearson had seen him look before.
"The wire's from Sir Ormsby Galloway, Pearson," he said.
"It's about Mr. Strangeways. He's done what I used to be always watching out against: he's disappeared."
"Disappeared, sir!" cried Pearson, and almost dropped the Gladstone bag. "I beg pardon, sir. I know there's no time to lose." He steadied the bag and went on with his task without even turning round.
His master was in some difficulty. He began to write, and after dashing off a few words, stopped, and tore them up.
"No," he muttered, "that won't do. There's no time to explain." Then he began again, but tore up his next lines also.
"That says too much and not enough. It'd frighten the life out of her."
He wrote again, and ended by folding the sheet and putting it into an envelop.
"This is a message for Miss Alicia," he said to Pearson. "Give it to her in the morning. I don't want her to worry because I had to go in a hurry. Tell her everything's going to be all right; but you needn't mention that anything's happened to Mr. Strangeways."
"Yes, sir," answered Pearson.
Mr. Temple Barholm was already moving about the room, doing odd things for himself rapidly, and he went on speaking.
"I want you and Rose to know," he said, "that whatever happens, you are both fixed all right—both of you. I've seen to that."
"Thank you, sir," Pearson faltered, made uneasy by something new in his tone. "You said whatever happened, sir—"
"Whatever old thing happens," his master took him up.
"Not to you, sir. Oh, I hope, sir, that nothing—"
Mr. Temple Barholm put a cheerful hand on his shoulder.
"Nothing's going to happen that'll hurt any one. Things may change, that's all. You and Rose are all right, Miss Alicia's all right, I'm all right. Come along. Got to catch that train."'
In this manner he took his departure.
Miss Alicia had from necessity acquired the habit of early rising at Rowcroft vicarage, and as the next morning was bright, she was clipping roses on a terrace before breakfast when Pearson brought her the note.
"Mr. Temple Barholm received a telegram from London last night, ma'am," he explained, "and he was obliged to take the midnight train. He hadn't time to do any more than leave a few lines for you, but he asked me to tell you that nothing disturbing had occurred. He specially mentioned that everything was all right."
"But how very sudden!" exclaimed Miss Alicia, opening her note and beginning to read it. Plainly it had been written hurriedly indeed. It read as though he had been in such haste that he hadn't had time to be clear.
Dear little Miss Alicia:
I've got to light out of here as quick as I can make it. I can't even stop to tell you why. There's just one thing— don't get rattled, Miss Alicia. Whatever any one says or does, just don't let yourself get rattled.
"Pearson," Miss Alicia exclaimed, again looking up, "are you sure everything is all right?"
"That was what he said, ma'am. 'All right,' ma'am."
"Thank you, Pearson. I am glad to hear it."
She walked to and fro in the sunshine, reading the note and rereading it.
"Of course if he said it was all right, it was all right," she murmured. "It is only the phrasing that makes me slightly nervous. Why should he ask me not to get rattled?" The term was by this time as familiar to her as any in Dr. Johnson's dictionary. "Of course he knows I do get rattled much too easily; but why should I be in danger of getting rattled now if nothing has happened?" She gave a very small start as she remembered something. "Could it be that Captain Palliser- - But how could he? Though I do not like Captain Palliser."
Captain Palliser, her distaste for whom at the moment quite agitated her, was this morning an early riser also, and as she turned in her walk she found him coming toward her.
"I find I am obliged to take an early train to London this morning," he said, after their exchange of greetings. "It is quite unexpected. I spoke to Mr. Temple Barholm about it last night."
Perhaps the unexpectedness, perhaps a certain suggestion of coincidence, caused Miss Alicia's side ringlets to appear momentarily tremulous.
"Then perhaps we had better go in to breakfast at once," she said.
"Is Mr. Temple Barholm down?" he inquired as they seated themselves at the breakfast-table.
"He is not here," she answered. "He, too, was called away unexpectedly. He went to London by the midnight train."
She had never been so aware of her unchristian lack of liking for Captain Palliser as she was when he paused a moment before he made any comment. His pause was as marked as a start, and the smile he indulged in was, she felt, most singularly disagreeable. It was a smile of the order which conceals an unpleasant explanation of itself.
"Oh," he remarked, "he has gone first, has he?"
"Yes," she answered, pouring out his coffee for him. "He evidently had business of importance."
They were quite alone, and she was not one of the women one need disturb oneself about. She had been browbeaten into hypersensitive timidity early in life, and did not know how to resent cleverly managed polite bullying. She would always feel herself at fault if she was tempted to criticize any one. She was innocent and nervous enough to betray herself to any extent, because she would feel it rude to refuse to answer questions, howsoever far they exceeded the limits of polite curiosity. He had learned a good deal from her in the past. Why not try what could be startled out of her now? Thus Captain Palliser said:
"I dare say you feel a little anxious at such an extraordinarily sudden departure," he suggested amiably. "Bolting off in the middle of the night was sudden, if he did not explain himself."
"He had no time to explain," she answered.
"That makes it appear all the more sudden. But no doubt he left you a message. I saw you were reading a note when I joined you on the terrace."
Lightly casual as he chose to make the words sound, they were an audacity he would have known better than to allow himself with any one but a timid early-Victorian spinster whose politeness was hypersensitive in its quality.
"He particularly desired that I should not be anxious," she said. "He is always considerate."
"He would, of course, have explained everything if he had not been so hurried?"
"Of course, if it had been necessary," answered Miss Alicia, nervously sipping her tea.
"Naturally," said Captain Palliser. "His note no doubt mentioned that he went away on business connected with his friend Mr. Strangeways?"
There was no question of the fact that she was startled.
"He had not time enough," she said. "He could only write a few lines. Mr. Strangeways?"
"We had a long talk about him last night. He told me a remarkable story," Captain Palliser went on. "I suppose you are quite familiar with all the details of it?"
"I know how he found him in New York, and I know how generous he has been to him."
"Have you been told nothing more?"
"There was nothing more to tell. If there was anything, I am sure he had some good reason for not telling me," said Miss Alicia, loyally. "His reasons are always good."
Palliser's air of losing a shade or so of discretion as a result of astonishment was really well done.
"Do you mean to say that he has not even hinted that ever since he arrived at Temple Barholm he has strongly suspected Strangeways' identity—that he has even known who he is?" he exclaimed.
Miss Alicia's small hands clung to the table-cloth.
"He has not known at all. He has been most anxious to discover. He has used every endeavor," she brought out with some difficulty.
"You say he has been trying to find out?" Palliser interposed.
"He has been more than anxious," she protested. "He has been to London again and again; he has gone to great expense; he has even seen people from Scotland Yard. I have sometimes almost thought he was assuming more responsibility than was just to himself. In the case of a relative or an old friend, but for an entire stranger—Oh, really, I ought not to seem to criticize. I do not presume to criticize his wonderful generosity and determination and goodness. No one should presume to question him."
"If he knows that you feel like this—" Palliser began.
"He knows all that I feel," Miss Alicia took him up with a pretty, rising spirit. "He knows that I am full of unspeakable gratitude to him for his beautiful kindness to me; he knows that I admire and respect and love him in a way I could never express, and that I would do anything in the world he could wish me to do."
"Naturally," said Captain Palliser. "I was only about to express my surprise that since he is aware of all this he has not told you who he has proved Strangeways to be. It is a little odd, you know."
"I think "—Miss Alicia was even gently firm in her reply —"that you are a little mistaken in believing Mr. Temple Barholm has proved Mr. Strangeways to be anybody. When he has proof, he will no doubt think proper to tell me about it. Until then I should prefer—"
Palliser laughed as he finished her sentence.
"Not to know. I was not going to betray him, Miss Alicia. He evidently has one of his excellent reasons for keeping things to himself. I may mention, however, that it is not so much he who has proof as I myself."
"You!" How could she help quite starting in her seat when his gray eyes fixed themselves on her with such a touch of finely amused malice?
"I offered him the proof last night, and it rather upset him," he said. "He thought no one knew but himself, and he was not inclined to tell the world. He was upset because I said I had seen the man and could swear to his identity. That was why he went away so hurriedly. He no doubt went to see Strangeways and talk it over."
"See Mr. Strangeways? But Mr. Strangeways—" Miss Alicia rose and rang the bell.
"Tell Pearson I wish to see him at once," she said to the footman.
Palliser took in her mood without comment. He had no objection to being present when she made inquiries of Pearson.
"I hear the wheels of the dog-cart," he remarked. "You see, I must catch my train."
Pearson stood at the door.
"Is not Mr. Strangeways in his room, Pearson?" Miss Alicia asked.
"Mr. Temple Barholm took him to London when he last went, ma'am," answered Pearson. "You remember he went at night. The doctor thought it best."
"He did not tell you that, either?" said Palliser, casually.
"The dog-cart is at the door, sir," announced Pearson.
Miss Alicia's hand was unsteady when the departing guest took it.
"Don't be disturbed," he said considerately, "but a most singular thing has happened. When I asked so many questions about Temple Barholm's Man with the Iron Mask I asked them for curious reasons. That must be my apology. You will hear all about it later, probably from Palford & Grimby."
When he had left the room Miss Alicia stood upon the hearth- rug as the dog-cart drove away, and she was pale. Her simple and easily disturbed brain was in a whirl. She could scarcely remember what she had heard, and could not in the least comprehend what it had seemed intended to imply, except that there had been concealed in the suggestions some disparagement of her best beloved.
Singular as it was that Pearson should return without being summoned, when she turned and found that he mysteriously stood inside the threshold again, as if she had called him, she felt a great sense of relief.
"Pearson," she faltered, "I am rather upset by certain things which Captain Palliser has said. I am afraid I do not understand."
She looked at him helplessly, not knowing what more to say. She wished extremely that she could think of something definite.
The masterly finish of Pearson's reply lay in its neatly restrained hint of unobtrusively perceptive sympathy.
"Yes, Miss. I was afraid so. Which is why I took the liberty of stepping into the room again. I myself do not understand, but of course I do not expect to. If I may be so bold as to say it, Miss, whatever we don't understand, we both understand Mr. Temple Barholm. My instructions were to remind you, Miss, that everything would be all right."
Miss Alicia took up her letter from the table where she had laid it down.
"Thank you, Pearson," she said, her forehead beginning to clear itself a little. "Of course, of course. I ought not to— He told me not to— get rattled," she added with plaintive ingenuousness, "and I ought not to, above all things."
"Yes, Miss. It is most important that you should not."
The story of the adventures, experiences, and journeyings of Mr. Joseph Hutchinson, his daughter, and the invention, if related in detail, would prove reading of interest; but as this is merely a study of the manner in which the untrained characteristics and varied limitations of one man adjusted or failed to adjust themselves to incongruous surroundings and totally unprepared-for circumstances, such details, whatsoever their potential picturesqueness, can be touched upon but lightly. No new idea of value to the world of practical requirements is presented to the public at large without the waking of many sleeping dogs, and the stirring of many snapping fish, floating with open ears and eyes in many pools. An uneducated, blustering, obstinate man of one idea, having resentfully borne discouragement and wounded egotism for years, and suddenly confronting immense promise of success, is not unlikely to be prey easily harpooned. Joseph Hutchinson's rebound from despair to high and well- founded hope made of him exactly what such a man is always made by such rebound. The testimony to his genius and judgment which acknowledgment of the value of his work implied was naturally, in his opinion, only a proper tribute which the public had been a bull-headed fool not to lay at his feet years before. So much time lost, and so much money for it, as well as for him, and served 'em all damned well right, he said. If Temple Barholm hadn't come into his money, and hadn't had more sense than the rest of them, where would they all have been? Perhaps they'd never have had the benefit of the thing he'd been telling them about for years. He prided himself immensely on the possession of a business shrewdness which was an absolute defense against any desire on the part of the iniquitous to overreach him. He believed it to be a peculiarly Lancashire characteristic, and kept it in view constantly.
"Lancashire's not easy to do," he would say hilariously, "Them that can do a Lancashire chap has got to look out that they get up early in the morning and don't go to bed till late."
Smooth-mannered and astute men of business who knew how to make a man talk were given diffuse and loud-voiced explanations of his methods and long-acknowledged merits and characteristics. His life, his morals, and his training, or rather lack ot it, were laid before them as examples of what a man might work himself up to if "he had it in him." Education didn't do it. He had never been to naught but a village school, where he'd picked up precious little but the three R's. It had to be born in a man. Look at him! His invention promised to bring him in a fortune like a duke's, if he managed it right and kept his eyes open for sharpers. This company and that company were after him, but Lancashire didn't snap up things without going into 'em, and under 'em, and through 'em, for the matter of that.
The well-mannered gentlemen of business stimulated him greatly by their appreciative attention. He sometimes lost his head a trifle and almost bullied them, but they did not seem to mind it. Their apparently old- time knowledge of and respect for Lancashire business sagacity seemed invariably a marked thing. Men of genius and powerful character combined with practical shrewdness of outlook they intimated, were of enormous value to the business world. They were to be counted upon as important factors. They could see and deal with both sides of a proposal as those of weaker mind could not.
"That they can," Hutchinson would admit, rolling about in his chair and thrusting his hands in his pockets. "They've got some bottom to stand on." And he would feel amenable to reason.
Little Ann found her duties and responsibilities increasing daily. Many persons seemed to think it necessary to come and talk business, and father had so much to think of and reason out, so that he could be sure that he didn't make any mistakes. In a quiet, remote, and darkened corner of her mind, in which were stored all such things as it was well to say little or nothing about, there was discreetly kept for reference the secretly acquired knowledge that father did not know so much about business ways and business people as he thought he did. Mother had learned this somewhat important fact, and had secluded it in her own private mental store-room with much affectionate delicacy.
"Father's a great man and a good man, Ann love," she had confided to her, choosing an occasion when her husband was a hundred miles away, "and he IS right-down Lancashire in his clever way of seeing through people that think themselves sharp; but when a man is a genius and noble-minded he sometimes can't see the right people's faults and wickedness. He thinks they mean as honest as he does. And there's times when he may get taken in if some one, perhaps not half as clever as he is, doesn't look after him. When the invention's taken up, and everybody's running after him to try to cheat him out of his rights, if I'm not there, Ann, you must just keep with him and watch every minute. I've seen these sharp, tricky ones right-down flinch and quail when there was a nice, quiet-behaved woman in the room, and she just fixed her eye steady and clear-like on them and showed she'd took in every word and was like to remember. You know what I mean, Ann; you've got that look in your own eye."
She had. The various persons who interviewed Mr. Hutchinson became familiar with the fact that he had an unusual intimacy with and affection for his daughter. She was present on all occasions. If she had not been such a quiet and entirely unobtrusive little thing, she might have been an obstacle to freedom of expression. But she seemed a childish, unsophisticated creature, who always had a book with her when she waited in an office, and a trifle of sewing to occupy herself with when she was at home. At first she so obliterated herself that she was scarcely noticed; but in course of time it became observed by some that she was curiously pretty. The face usually bent over her book or work was tinted like a flower, and she had quite magnificent red hair. A stout old financier first remarked her eyes. He found one day that she had quietly laid her book on her lap, and that they were resting upon him like unflinching crystals as he talked to her father. Their serenity made him feel annoyed and uncomfortable. It was a sort of recording serenity. He felt as though she would so clearly remember every word he had said that she would be able to write it down when she went home; and he did not care to have it written down. So he began to wander somewhat in his argument, and did not reach his conclusions.
"I was glad, Father, to see how you managed that gentleman this afternoon," Little Ann said that night when Hutchinson had settled himself with his pipe after an excellent dinner.
"Eh?" he exclaimed. "Eh?"
"The one," she exclaimed, "that thought he was so sure he was going to persuade you to sign that paper. I do wonder he could think you'd listen to such a poor offer, and tie up so much. Why, even I could see he was trying to take advantage, and I know nothing in the world about business."
The financier in question had been a brilliant and laudatory conversationalist, and had so soothed and exhilarated Mr. Hutchinson that such perils had beset him as his most lurid imaginings could never have conceived in his darkest moments of believing that the entire universe had ceased all other occupation to engage in that of defrauding him of his rights and dues. He had been so uplifted by the admiration of his genius so properly exhibited, and the fluency with which his future fortunes had been described, that he had been huffed when the arguments seemed to dwindle away. Little Ann startled him, but it was not he who would show signs of dismay at the totally unexpected expression of adverse opinion. He had got into the habit of always listening, though inadvertently, as it were, to Ann as he had inadvertently listened to her mother.
"Rosenthal?" he said. "Are you talking about him?"
"Yes, I am," Little Ann answeered, smiling approvingly over her bit of sewing. "Father, I wish you'd try and teach me some of the things you know about business. I've learned a little by just listening to you talk; but I should so like to feel as if I could follow you when you argue. I do so enjoy hearing you argue. It's just an education."
"Women are not up to much at business," reflected Hutchinson. "If you'd been a boy, I'd have trained you same as I've trained myself. You're a sharp little thing, Ann, but you're a woman. Not but what a woman's the best thing on earth," he added almost severely in his conviction—"the best thing on earth in her place. I don't know what I'd ever have done without you, Ann, in the bad times."
He loved her, blundering old egotist, just as he had loved her mother. Ann always knew it, and her own love for him warmed all the world about them both. She got up and went to him to kiss him, and pat him, and stuff a cushion behind his stout back.
"And now the good times have come," she said, bestowing on him two or three special little pats which were caresses of her own invention, "and people see what you are and always have been, as they ought to have seen long ago, I don't want to feel as if I couldn't keep up with you and understand your plans. Perhaps I've got a little bit of your cleverness, and you might teach me to use it in small ways. I've got a good memory you know, Father love, and I might recollect things people say and make bits of notes of them to save you trouble. And I can calculate. I once got a copy of Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' for a prize at the village school just for sums."
The bald but unacknowledged fact that Mr. Hutchinson had never exhibited gifts likely to entitle him to receive a prize for "sums" caused this suggestion to be one of some practical value. When business men talked to him of per cents., and tenth shares or net receipts, and expected him to comprehend their proportions upon the spot without recourse to pencil and paper, he felt himself grow hot and nervous and red, and was secretly terrified lest the party of the second part should detect that he was tossed upon seas of horrible uncertainty. T. Tembarom in the same situation would probably have said, "This is the place where T. T. sits down a while to take breath and count things up on his fingers. I am not a sharp on arithmetic, and I need time—lots of it."
Mr. Hutchinson's way was to bluster irritatedly.
"Aye, aye, I see that, of course, plain enough. I see that." And feel himself breaking into a cold perspiration. "Eh, this English climate is a damp un," he would add when it became necessary to mop his red forehead somewhat with his big clean handkerchief.
Therefore he found it easy to receive Little Ann's proposition with favor.
"There's summat i' that," he acknowledged graciously, dropping into Lancashire. "That's one of the little things a woman can do if she's sharp at figures. Your mother taught me that much. She always said women ought to look after the bits of things as was too small for a man to bother with."
"Men have the big things to look after. That's enough for anybody," said Little Ann. "And they ought to leave something for women to do. If you'll just let me keep notes for you and remember things and answer your letters, and just make calculations you're too busy to attend to, I should feel right-down happy, Father."
"Eh!" he said relievedly, "tha art like thy mother."
"That would make me happy if there was nothing else to do it," said Ann, smoothing his shoulder.
"You're her girl," he said, warmed and supported.
"Yes, I'm her girl, and I'm yours. Now, isn't there some little thing I could begin with? Would you mind telling me if I was right in what I thought you thought about Mr. Rosenthal's offer?"
"What did you think I thought about it?" He was able to put affectionate condescension into the question.
She went to her work-basket and took out a sheet of paper. She came back and sat cozily on the arm of his chair.
"I had to put it all down when I came home," she said. "I wanted to make sure I hadn't forgotten. I do hope I didn't make mistakes."
She gave it to him to look at, and as he settled himself down to its careful examination, she kept her blue eyes upon him. She herself did not know that it was a wonderful little document in its neatly jotted down notes of the exact detail most important to his interests.
There were figures, there were calculations of profits, there were records of the gist of his replies, there were things Hutchinson himself could not possibly have fished out of the jumbled rag-bag of his uncertain recollections.
"Did I say that?" he exclaimed once.
"Yes, Father love, and I could see it upset him. I was watching his face because it wasn't a face I took to."
Joseph Hutchinson began to chuckle—the chuckle of a relieved and gratified stout man.
"Tha kept thy eyes open, Little Ann," he said. "And the way tha's put it down is a credit to thee. And I'll lay a sovereign that tha made no mistakes in what tha thought I was thinking."
He was a little anxious to hear what it had been. The memorandum had brought him up with a slight shock, because it showed him that he had not remembered certain points, and had passed over others which were of dangerous importance. Ann slipped her warm arm about his neck, as she nearly always did when she sat on the arm of his chair and talked things over with him. She had never thought, in fact she was not even aware, that her soft little instincts made her treat him as the big, good, conceited, blundering child nature had created him.
"What I was seeing all the time was the way you were taking in his trick of putting whole lots of things in that didn't really matter, and leaving out things that did," she explained. "He kept talking about what the invention would make in England, and how it would make it, and adding up figures and per cents. and royalties until my head was buzzing inside. And when he thought he'd got your mind fixed on England so that you'd almost forget there was any other country to think of, he read out the agreement that said 'All rights,' and he was silly enough to think he could get you to sign it without reading it over and over yourself, and showing it to a clever lawyer that would know that as many tricks can be played by things being left out of a paper as by things being put in."
Small beads of moisture broke out on the bald part of Joseph Hutchinson's head. He had been first so flattered and exhilarated by the quoting of large figures, and then so flustrated and embarrassed by his inability to calculate and follow argument, and again so soothed and elated and thrilled by his own importance in the scheme and the honors which his position in certain companies would heap upon him, that an abyss had yawned before him of which he had been wholly unaware. He was not unaware of it now. He was a vainglorious, ignorant man, whose life had been spent in common work done under the supervision of those who knew what he did not know. He had fed himself upon the comforting belief that he had learned all the tricks of any trade. He had been openly boastful of his astuteness and experience, and yet, as Ann's soft little voice went on, and she praised his cleverness in seeing one point after another, he began to quake within himself before the dawning realization that he had seen none of them, that he had been carried along exactly as Rosenthal had intended that he should be, and that if luck had not intervened, he had been on the brink of signing his name to an agreement that would have implied a score of concessions he would have bellowed like a bull at the thought of making if he had known what he was doing.
"Aye, lass," he gulped out when he could speak—"aye, lass, tha wert right enow. I'm glad tha wert there and heard it, and saw what I was thinking. I didn't say much. I let the chap have rope enow to hang himself with. When he comes back I'll give him a bit o' my mind as'll startle him. It was right-down clever of thee to see just what I had i' my head about all that there gab about things as didn't matter, an' the leavin' out them as did—thinking I wouldn't notice. Many's the time I've said, 'It is na so much what's put into a contract as what's left out.' I'll warrant tha'st heard me say it thysen."
"I dare say I have," answered Ann, "and I dare say that was why it came into my mind."
"That was it," he answered. "Thy mother was always tellin' me of things I'd said that I'd clean forgot myself."
He was beginning to recover his balance and self-respect. It would have been so like a Lancashire chap to have seen and dealt shrewdly with a business schemer who tried to outwit him that he was gradually convinced that he had thought all that had been suggested, and had comported himself with triumphant though silent astuteness. He even began to rub his hands.
"I'll show him," he said, "I'll send him off with a flea in his ear."
"If you'll help me, I'll study out the things I've written down on this paper," Ann said, "and then I'll write down for you just the things you make up your mind to say. It will be such a good lesson for me, if you don't mind, Father. It won't be much to write it out the way you'll say it. You know how you always feel that in business the fewer words the better, and that, however much a person deserves it, calling names and showing you're angry is only wasting time. One of the cleverest things you ever thought was that a thief doesn't mind being called one if he's got what he wanted out of you; he'll only laugh to see you in a rage when you can't help yourself. And if he hasn't got what he wanted, it's only waste of strength to work yourself up. It's you being what you are that makes you know that temper isn't business."
"Well," said Hutchinson, drawing a long and deep breath, "I was almost hot enough to have forgot that, and I'm glad you've reminded me. We'll go over that paper now, Ann. I'd like to give you your lesson while we've got a bit o' time to ourselves and what I've said is fresh in your mind. The trick is always to get at things while they're fresh in your mind."
The little daughter with the red hair was present during Rosenthal's next interview with the owner of the invention. The fellow, he told himself, had been thinking matters over, had perhaps consulted a lawyer; and having had time for reflection, he did not present a mass of mere inflated and blundering vanity as a target for adroit aim. He seemed a trifle sulky, but he did not talk about himself diffusely, and lose his head when he was smoothed the right way. He had a set of curiously concise notes to which he referred, and he stuck to his points with a bulldog obstinacy which was not to be shaken. Something had set him on a new tack. The tricks which could be used only with a totally ignorant and readily flattered and influenced business amateur were no longer in order. This was baffling and irritating.
The worst feature of the situation was that the daughter did not read a book, as had seemed her habit at other times. She sat with a tablet and pencil on her knee, and, still as unobtrusively as ever, jotted down notes.
"Put that down, Ann," her father said to her more than once. "There's no objections to having things written down, I suppose?" he put it bluntly to Rosenthal. "I've got to have notes made when I'm doing business. Memory's all well enough, but black and white's better. No one can go back of black and white. Notes save time."
There was but one attitude possible. No man of business could resent the recording of his considered words, but the tablet and pencil and the quietly bent red head were extraordinary obstacles to the fluidity of eloquence. Rosenthal found his arguments less ready and his methods modifying themselves. The outlook narrowed itself. When he returned to his office and talked the situation over with his partner, he sat and bit his nails in restless irritation.
"Ridiculous as it seems, outrageously ridiculous, I've an idea," he said, "I've more than an idea that we have to count with the girl."
"Girl? What girl?"
"Daughter. Well-behaved, quiet bit of a thing, who sits in a corner and listens while she pretends to sew or read. I'm certain of it. She's taken to making notes now, and Hutchinson's turned stubborn. You need not laugh, Lewis. She's in it. We've got to count with that girl, little female mouse as she looks."
This view, which was first taken by Rosenthal and passed on to his partner, was in course of time passed on to others and gradually accepted, sometimes reluctantly and with much private protest, sometimes with amusement. The well-behaved daughter went with Hutchinson wheresoever his affairs called him. She was changeless in the unobtrusiveness of her demeanor, which was always that of a dutiful and obedient young person who attended her parent because he might desire her humble little assistance in small matters.
"She's my secretary," Hutchinson began to explain, with a touch of swagger. "I've got to have a secretary, and I'd rather trust my private business to my own daughter than to any one else. It's safe with her."
It was so safe with her steady demureness that Hutchinson found himself becoming steady himself. The "lessons" he gave to Little Ann, and the notes made as a result, always ostensibly for her own security and instruction, began to form a singularly firm foundation for statement and argument. He began to tell himself that his memory was improving. Facts were no longer jumbled together in his mind. He could better follow a line of logical reasoning. He less often grew red and hot and flustered.
"That's the thing I've said so often—that temper's got naught to do wi' business, and only upsets a man when he wants all his wits about him. It's the truest thing I ever worked out," he not infrequently congratulated himself. "If a chap can keep his temper, he'll be like to keep his head and drive his bargain. I see it plainer every day o' my life."
It was in the course of the "lessons" that he realized that he had always argued that the best way to do business was to do it face to face with people. To stay in England, and let another chap make your bargains for you in France or Germany or some other outlandish place, where frog-eating foreigners ran loose, was a fool's trick. He'd said it often enough. "Get your eye on 'em, and let them know you've got it on them, and they'd soon find out they were dealing with Lancashire, and not with foreign knaves and nincompoops." So, when it became necessary to deal with France, Little Ann packed him up neatly, so to speak, and in the role of obedient secretarial companion took him to that country, having for weeks beforehand mentally confronted the endless complications attending the step. She knew, in the first place, what the effect of the French language would be upon his temper: that it would present itself to him as a wall deliberately built by the entire nation as a means of concealing a deep duplicity the sole object of which was the baffling, thwarting, and undoing of Englishmen, from whom it wished to wrest their honest rights. Apoplexy becoming imminent, as a result of his impotent rage during their first few days in Paris, she paid a private visit to a traveler's agency, and after careful inquiry discovered that it was not impossible to secure the attendance and service of a well-mannered young man who spoke most of the languages employed by most of the inhabitants of the globe. She even found that she might choose from a number of such persons, and she therefore selected with great care.
"One that's got a good temper, and isn't easy irritated," she said to herself, in summing up the aspirants, "but not one that's easy- tempered because he's silly. He must have plenty of common sense as well as be willing to do what he's told."
When her father discovered that he himself had been considering the desirability of engaging the services of such a person, and had, indeed already, in a way, expressed his intention of sending her to "the agency chap" to look him up, she was greatly relieved.
"I can try to teach him what you've taught me, Father," she said, "and of course he'll learn just by being with you."
The assistant engaged was a hungry young student who had for weeks, through ill luck, been endeavoring to return with some courage the gaze of starvation, which had been staring him in the face.
His name was Dudevant, and with desperate struggles he had educated himself highly, having cherished literary ambitions from his infancy. At this juncture it had become imperative that he should, for a few months at least, obtain food. Ann had chosen well by instinct. His speech had told her that he was intelligent, his eyes had told her that he would do anything on earth to earn his living.
From the time of his advent, Joseph Hutchinson had become calmer and had ceased to be in peril of apoplectic seizure. Foreign nations became less iniquitous and dangerous, foreign languages were less of a barrier, easier to understand. A pleasing impression that through great facility he had gained a fair practical knowledge of French, German, and Italian, supported and exhilarated him immensely.
"It's right-down wonderful how a chap gets to understand these fellows' lingo after he's listened to it a bit," he announced to Ann. "I wouldn't have believed it of myself that I could see into it as quick as I have. I couldn't say as I understand everything they say just when they're saying it; but I understand it right enough when I've had time to translate like. If foreigners didn't talk so fast and run their words one into another, and jabber as if their mouths was full of puddin', it'd be easier for them as is English. Now, there's 'wee' and 'nong.' I know 'em whenever I hear 'em, and that's a good bit of help."
"Yes," answered Ann, "of course that's the chief thing you want to know in business, whether a person is going to say 'yes' or 'no.'"
He began to say "wee" and "nong" at meals, and once broke forth "Passy mor le burr" in a tone so casually Parisian that Ann was frightened, because she did not understand immediately, and also because she saw looming up before her a future made perilous by the sudden interjection of unexpected foreign phrases it would be incumbent upon her and Dudevant to comprehend instantaneously without invidious hesitation.
"Don't you understand? Pass the butter. Don't you understand a bit o' French like that?" he exclaimed irritatedly. "Buy yourself one o' these books full of easy sentences and learn some of 'em, lass. You oughtn't to be travelin' about with your father in foreign countries and learnin' nothin'. It's not every lass that's gettin' your advantages."
Ann had not mentioned the fact that she spent most of her rare leisure moments in profound study of phrase-books and grammars, which she kept in her trunk and gave her attention to before she got up in the morning, after she went to her room at night, and usually while she was dressing. You can keep a book open before you when you are brushing your hair. Dudevant gave her a lesson or so whenever time allowed. She was as quick to learn as her father thought he was, and she was desperately determined. It was really not long before she understood much more than "wee and nong" when she was present at a business interview.
"You are a wonderful young lady," Dudevant said, with that well-known yearning in his eyes. "You are most wonderful."
"She's just a wonder," Mrs. Bowse and her boarders had said. And the respectful yearning in the young Frenchman's eyes and voice were well known to her because she had seen it often before, and remembered it, in Jem Bowles and Julius Steinberger. That this young man had without an hour of delay fallen abjectly in love with her was a circumstance with which she dealt after her own inimitably kind and undeleterious method, which in itself was an education to any amorous youth.
"I can understand all you tell me," she said when he reached the point of confiding his hard past to her. "I can understand it because I knew some one who had to fight for himself just that way, only perhaps it was harder because he wasn't educated as you are."
"Did he—confide in you?" Dudevant ventured, with delicate hesitation. "You are so kind I am sure he did, Mademoiselle."
"He told me about it because he knew I wanted to hear," she answered. "I was very fond of him," she added, and her kind gravity was quite unshaded by any embarrassment. "I was right-down fond of him."
His emotion rendered him for a moment indiscreet, to her immediate realization and regret, as was evident by his breaking off in the midst of his question.
"And now—are you?"
"Yes, I always shall be, Mr. Dudevant."
His adoration naturally only deepened itself as all hope at once receded, as it could not but recede before the absolute pellucid truth of her.
"However much he likes me, he will get over it in time. People do, when they know how things stand," she was thinking, with maternal sympathy.
It did him no bitter harm to help her with her efforts at learning what she most needed, and he found her intelligence and modest power of concentration remarkable. A singularly clear knowledge of her own specialized requirements was a practical background to them both. She had no desire to shine; she was merely steadily bent on acquiring as immediately as possible a comprehension of nouns, verbs, and phrases that would be useful to her father. The manner in which she applied herself, and assimilated what it was her quietly fixed intention to assimilate, bespoke her possession of a brain the powers of which being concentrated on large affairs might have accomplished almost startling results. There was, however, nothing startling in her intentions, and ambition did not touch her. Yet, as she went with Hutchinson from one country to another, more than one man of affairs had it borne in upon him that her young slimness and her silence represented an unanticipated knowledge of points under discussion which might wisely be considered as a factor in all decisions for or against. To realize that a soft-cheeked, child-eyed girl was an element to regard privately in discussions connected with the sale of, or the royalties paid on, a valuable patent appeared in some minds to be a situation not without flavor. She was the kind of little person a man naturally made love to, and a girl who was made love to in a clever manner frequently became amenable to reason, and might be persuaded to use her influence in the direction most desired. But such male financiers as began with this idea discovered that they had been led into errors of judgment through lack of familiarity with the variations of type. One personable young man of title, who had just been disappointed in a desirable marriage with a fortune, being made aware that the invention was likely to arrive at amazing results, was sufficiently rash to approach Mr. Hutchinson with formal proposals. Having a truly British respect for the lofty in place, and not being sufficiently familiar with titled personages to discriminate swiftly between the large and the small, Joseph Hutchinson was somewhat unduly elated.
"The chap's a count, lass," he said. "Tha'u'd go back to Manchester a countess."
"I've heard they're nearly all counts in these countries," commented Ann. "And there's countesses that have to do their own washing, in a manner of speaking. You send him to me, Father."
When the young man came, and compared the fine little nose of Miss Hutchinson with the large and bony structure dominating the countenance of the German heiress he had lost, also when he gazed into the clearness of the infantile blue eyes, his spirits rose. He felt himself en veine; he was equal to attacking the situation. He felt that he approached it with alluring and chivalric delicacy. He almost believed all that he said.
But the pellucid blueness of the gaze that met his was confusingly unstirred by any shade of suitable timidity or emotion. There was something in the lovely, sedate little creature, something so undisturbed and matter of fact, that it frightened him, because he suddenly felt like a fool whose folly had been found out.
"That's downright silly," remarked Little Ann, not allowing him to escape from her glance, which unhesitatingly summed up him and his situation. "And you know it is. You don't know anything about me, and you wouldn't like me if you did. And I shouldn't like you. We're too different. Please go away, and don't say anything more about it. I shouldn't have patience to talk it over."
"Father," she said that night, "if ever I get married at all, there's only one person I'm going to marry. You know that." And she would say no more.
By the time they returned to England, the placing of the invention in divers countries had been arranged in a manner which gave assurance of a fortune for its owners on a foundation not likely to have established itself in more adverse circumstances. Mr. Hutchinson had really driven some admirable bargains, and had secured advantages which to his last hour he would believe could have been achieved only by Lancashire shrewdness and Lancashire ability to "see as far through a mile-stone as most chaps, an' a bit farther." The way in which he had never allowed himself to be "done" caused him at times to chuckle himself almost purple with self-congratulation.
"They got to know what they was dealing with, them chaps. They was sharp, but Joe was a bit sharper," he would say.
They found letters waiting for them when they reached London.
"There's one fro' thy grandmother," Hutchinson said, in dealing out the package. "She's written to thee pretty steady for an old un."
This was true. Letters from her had followed them from one place to another. This was a thick one in an envelop of good size.
"Aren't tha going to read it? " he asked.
"Not till you've had your dinner, Father. You've had a long day of it with that channel at the end. I want to see you comfortable with your pipe."
The hotel was a good one, and the dinner was good. Joseph Hutchinson enjoyed it with the appetite of a robust man who has had time to get over a not too pleasant crossing. When he had settled down into a stout easy-chair with the pipe, he drew a long and comfortable breath as he looked about the room.
"Eh, Ann, lass," he said, "thy mother 'd be fine an' set up if she could see aw this. Us having the best that's to be had, an' knowin' we can have it to the end of our lives, that's what it's come to, tha knows. No more third-class railway-carriages for you and me. No more 'commercial' an' 'temperance' hotels. Th' first cut's what we can have—th' upper cut. Eh, eh, but it's a good day for a man when he's begun to be appreciated as he should be."
"It's a good day for those that love him," said Little Ann. "And I dare say mother knows every bit about it."
"I dare say she does," admitted Hutchinson, with tender lenience. "She was one o' them as believed that way. And I never knowed her to be wrong in aught else, so I'm ready to give in as she was reet about that. Good lass she was, good lass."
He had fallen into a contented and utterly comfortable doze in his chair when Ann sat down to read her grandmother's letter. The old woman always wrote at length, giving many details and recording village events with shrewd realistic touches. Throughout their journeyings, Ann had been followed by a record of the estate and neighborhood of Temple Barholm which had lacked nothing of atmosphere. She had known what the new lord of the manor did, what people said, what the attitude of the gentry had become; that the visit of the Countess of Mallowe and her daughter had extended itself until curiosity and amusement had ceased to comment, and passively awaited results. She had heard of Miss Alicia and her reincarnation, and knew much of the story of the Duke of Stone, whose reputation as a "dommed clever owd chap" had earned for him a sort of awed popularity. There had been many "ladies." The new Temple Barholm had boldly sought them out and faced them in their strongholds with the manner of one who would confront the worst and who revealed no tendency to flinch. The one at Stone Hover with the "pretty color" and the one with the dimples had appeared frequently upon the scene. Then there had been Lady Joan Fayre, who had lived at his elbow, sitting at his table, driving in his carriages with the air of cold aloofness which the cottagers "could na abide an' had no patience wi'." She had sometimes sat and wondered and wondered about things, and sometimes had flushed daisy-red instead of daisy-pink; and sometimes she had turned rather pale and closed her soft mouth firmly. But, though she had written twice a week to her grandmother, she had recorded principally the successes and complexities of the invention, and had asked very few questions. Old Mrs. Hutchinson would tell her all she must know, and her choice of revelation would be made with a far-sightedness which needed no stimulus of questioning. The letter she had found awaiting her had been long on its way, having missed her at point after point and followed her at last to London. It looked and felt thick and solid in its envelop. Little Ann opened it, stirred by the suggestion of quickened pulse-beats with which she had become familiar. As she bent over it she looked sweetly flushed and warmed.
Joseph Hutchinson's doze had almost deepened into sleep when he was awakened by the touch of her hand on his shoulder. She was standing by him, holding some sheets of her grandmother's letter, and several other sheets were lying on the table. Something had occurred which had changed her quiet look.
"Has aught happened to your grandmother?" he asked.
"No, Father, but this letter that's been following me from one place to another has got some queer news in it."
"What's up, lass? Tha looks as if summat was up."
"The thing that's happened has given me a great deal to think of," was her answer. "It's about Mr. Temple Barholm and Mr. Strangeways."
He became wide-awake at once, sitting up and turning in his chair in testy anxiety.
"Now, now," he exclaimed, "I hope that cracked chap's not gone out an' out mad an' done some mischief. I towd Temple Barholm it was a foolish thing to do, taking all that trouble about him. Has he set fire to th' house or has he knocked th' poor lad on th' head?"
"No, he hasn't, Father. He's disappeared, and Mr. Temple Barholm's disappeared, too."
"Disappeared?" Hutchinson almost shouted. "What for, i' the Lord's name?"
"Nobody knows for certain, and people are talking wild. The village is all upset, and all sorts of silly things are being said."
"What sort o' things?"
"You know what servants at big houses are—how they hear bits of talk and make much of it," she explained. "They've been curious and chattering among themselves about Mr. Strangeways from the first. It was Burrill that said he believed he was some relation that was being hid away for some good reason. One night Mr. Temple Barholm and Captain Palliser were having a long talk together, and Burrill was about—"
"Aye, he'd be about if he thought there was a chance of him hearing summat as was none of his business," jerked out Hutchinson, irately.
"They were talking about Mr. Strangeways, and Burrill heard Captain Palliser getting angry; and as he stepped near the door he heard him say out loud that he could swear in any court of justice that the man he had seen at the west room window—it's a startling thing, Father— was Mr. James Temple Barholm." For the moment her face was pale.
Hereupon Hutchinson sprang up.
"What!" His second shout was louder than his first. "Th' liar! Th' chap's dead, an' he knows it. Th' dommed mischief-makin' liar!"
Her eyes were clear and speculatively thoughtful, notwithstanding her lack of color.
"There have been people that have been thought dead that have come back to their friends alive. It's happened many a time," she said. "It wouldn't be so strange for a man that had no friends to be lost in a wild, far-off place where there was neither law nor order, and where every man was fighting for his own life and the gold he was mad after. Particularly a man that was shamed and desperate and wanted to hide himself. And, most of all, it would be easy, if he was like Mr. Strangeways, and couldn't remember, and had lost himself."
As her father listened, the angry redness of his countenance moderated its hue. His eyes gradually began to question and his under jaw fell slightly.
"Si' thee, lass," he broke out huskily, "does that mean to say tha believes it?"
"It's not often you can believe what you don't know," she answered. "I don't know anything about it. There's just one thing I believe, because I know it. I believe what grandmother does. Read that."
She handed him the final sheet of old Mrs. Hutchinson's letter. It was written with very black ink and in an astonishingly bold and clear hand. It was easy to read the sentences with which she ended.
There's a lot said. There's always more saying than doing. But it's right-down funny to see how the lad has made hard and fast friends just going about in his queer way, and no one knowing how he did it. I like him myself. He's one of those you needn't ask questions about. If there's anything said that isn't to his credit, it's not true. There's no ifs, buts, or ands about that, Ann.
Little Ann herself read the words as her father read them.
"That's the thing I believe, because I know it," was all she said.
"It's the thing I'd swear to mysel'," her father answered bluffly. "But, by Judd—"
She gave him a little push and spoke to him in homely Lancashire phrasing, and with some soft unsteadiness of voice.
"Sit thee down, Father love," she said, "and let me sit on thy knee."
He sat down with emotional readiness, and she sat on his stout knee like a child. It was a thing she did in tender or troubled moments as much in these days as she had done when she was six or seven. Her little lightness and soft young ways made it the most natural thing in the world, as well as the prettiest. She had always sat on his knee in the hours when he had been most discouraged over the invention. She had known it made him feel as though he were taking care of her, and as though she depended utterly on him to steady the foundations of her world. What could such a little bit of a lass do without "a father"?
"It's upset thee, lass," he said. "It's upset thee."
He saw her slim hands curl themselves into small, firm fists as they rested on her lap.
"I can't bear to think that ill can be said of him, even by a wastrel like Captain Palliser," she said. "He's MINE."
It made him fumble caressingly at her big knot of soft red hair.
"Thine, is he?" he said. "Thine! Eh, but tha did say that just like thy mother would ha' said it; tha brings the heart i' my throat now and again. That chap's i' luck, I can tell him—same as I was once."
"He's mine now, whatever happens," she went on, with a firmness which no skeptic would have squandered time in the folly of hoping to shake. "He's done what I told him to do, and it's ME he wants. He's found out for himself, and so have I. He can have me the minute he wants me—the very minute."
"He can?" said Hutchinson. "That settles it. I believe tha'd rather take him when he was i' trouble than when he was out of it. Same as tha'd rather take him i' a flat in Harlem on fifteen dollar a week than on fifteen hundred."
"Yes, Father, I would. It'd give me more to do for him."
"Eh, eh," he grunted tenderly, "thy mother again. I used to tell her as the only thing she had agen me was that I never got i' jail so she could get me out an' stand up for me after it. There's only one thing worrits me a bit: I wish the lad hadn't gone away."
"I've thought that out, though I've not had much time to reason about things," said Little Ann. "If he's gone away, he's gone to get something; and whatever it happens to be, he'll be likely to bring it back with him, Father."
Old Mrs. Hutchinson's letter had supplied much detail, but when her son and grand-daughter arrived in the village of Temple Barholm they heard much more, the greater part of it not in the least to be relied upon.
"The most of it's lies, as folks enjoys theirsels pretendin' to believe," the grand- mother commented. "It's servants'-hall talk and cottage gossip, and plenty made itself up out o' beer drunk in th' tap-room at th' Wool Park. In a place where naught much happens, people get into th' way 'o springin' on a bit o' news, and shakin' and worryin' it like a terrier does a rat. It's nature. That lad's given 'em lots to talk about ever since he coom. He's been a blessin' to 'em. If he'd been gentry, he'd not ha' been nigh as lively. Th' village lads tries to talk through their noses like him. Little Tummas Hibblethwaite does it i' broad Lancashire."
The only facts fairly authenticated were that the mysterious stranger had been taken away very late one night, some time before the interview between Mr. Temple Barholm and Captain Palliser, of which Burrill knew so much because he had "happened to be about." When a domestic magnate of Burrill's type "happens to be about" at a crisis, he is not unlikely to hear a great deal. Burrill, it was believed, knew much more than he deigned to make public. The entire truth was that Captain Palliser himself, in one of his hasty appearances in the neighborhood of Temple Barholm, had bestowed a few words of cold caution on him.
"Don't talk too much," he had said. "Proof is required before talk is safe. The American was sharp enough to say that to me himself. He was sharp enough, too, to keep his man hidden. I was the only person that saw him who could have recognized him, and I saw him by chance. Palford & Grimby require proof. We are in search of it. Servants will talk; but if you don't want to run the risk of getting yourself into trouble, don't make absolute statements."
This had been a disappointment to Burrill, who had seen himself developing in magnitude; but he was a timid man, and therefore felt it wise to convey his knowledge merely through the conviction carried by a dignified silence after his first indiscreet revelation of having "happened to be about" had been made. It would have been some solace to him to intimate to Miss Alicia by his bearing and the manner of his services that she had been discovered, so to speak, in the character of a sort of accomplice; that her position was a perilously uncertain one, which would probably end in utter downfall, leaving her in her old and proper place as an elderly, insignificant, and unattractive poor relation, without a feature to recommend her. But being, as before remarked, a timid man, and recalling the interview between himself and his employer held outside the dining-room door, and having also a disturbing memory of the sharp, cool, boyish eye and the tone of the casual remark that he had "a head on his shoulders" and that it was "up to him to make the others understand," it seemed as well to restrain his inclinations until the proof Palford & Grimby required was forthcoming.
It was perhaps the moderate and precautionary attitude of Palford & Grimby, during their first somewhat startled though reserved interview with Captain Palliser, which had prevented the vaguely wild rumors from being regarded as more than villagers' exaggerated talk among themselves. The "gentry," indeed, knew much less of the cottagers than the cottagers knew of the gentry; consequently events furnishing much excitement among the village people not infrequently remained unheard- of by those in the class above them. A story less incredible might have been more considered; but the highly colored reasons given for the absence of the owner of Temple Barholm would, if heard of, have been more than likely to be received and passed over with a smile.
The manner of Mr. Palford and also of Mr. Grimby during the deliberately unmelodramatic and carefully connected relation of Captain Palliser's singular story, was that of professional gentlemen who for reasons of good breeding were engaged in restraining outward expression of conviction that they were listening to utter nonsense. Palliser himself was aware of this, and upon the whole did not wonder at it in entirely unimaginative persons of extremely sober lives. In fact, he had begun by giving them some warning as to what they might expect in the way of unusualness.
"You will, no doubt, think what I am about to tell you absurd and incredible," he had prefaced his statements. "I thought the same myself when my first suspicions were aroused. I was, in fact, inclined to laugh at my own idea until one link connected itself with another."
Neither Mr. Grimby nor Mr. Palford was inclined to laugh. On the contrary, they were extremely grave, and continued to find it necessary to restrain their united tendency to indicate facially that the thing must be nonsense. It transcended all bounds, as it were. The delicacy with which they managed to convey this did them much credit. This delicacy was equaled by the moderation with which Captain Palliser drew their attention to the fact that it was not the thing likely-to-happen on which were founded the celebrated criminal cases of legal history; it was the incredible and almost impossible events, the ordinarily unbelievable duplicities, moral obliquities and coincidences, which made them what they were and attracted the attention of the world. This, Mr. Palford and his partner were obviously obliged to admit. What they did not admit was that such things never having occurred in one's own world, they had been mentally relegated to the world of newspaper and criminal record as things that could not happen to oneself. Mr. Palford cleared his throat in a seriously cautionary way.
"This is, of course, a matter suggesting too serious an accusation not to be approached in the most conservative manner," he remarked.
"Most serious consequences have resulted in cases implying libelous assertions which have been made rashly," added Mr. Grimby. "As Mr. Temple Barholm intimated to you, a man of almost unlimited means has command of resources which it might not be easy to contend with if he had reason to feel himself injured."
The fact that Captain Palliser had in a bitterly frustrated moment allowed himself to be goaded into losing his temper, and "giving away" to Tembarom the discovery on which he had felt that he could rely as a lever, did not argue that a like weakness would lead him into more dangerous indiscretion. He had always regarded himself as a careful man whose defenses were well built about him at such crises in his career as rendered entrenchment necessary. There would, of course, be some pleasure in following the matter up and getting more than even with a man who had been insolent to him; but a more practical feature of the case was that if, through his alert observation and shrewd aid, Jem Temple Barholm was restored to his much-to-be-envied place in the world, a far from unnatural result would be that he might feel suitable gratitude and indebted-ness to the man who, not from actual personal liking but from a mere sense of justice, had rescued him. As for the fears of Messrs. Palford & Grimby, he had put himself on record with Burrill by commanding him to hold his tongue and stating clearly that proof was both necessary and lacking. No man could be regarded as taking risks whose attitude was so wholly conservative and non-accusing. Servants will gossip. A superior who reproves such gossip holds an unattackable position. In the private room of Palford & Grimby, however, he could confidently express his opinions without risk.
"The recognition of a man lost sight of for years, and seen only for a moment through a window, is not substantial evidence," Mr. Grimby had proceeded. "The incident was startling, but not greatly to be relied upon."
"I knew him." Palliser was slightly grim in his air of finality. "He was a man most men either liked or hated. I didn't like him. I detested a trick he had of staring at you under his drooping lids. By the way, do you remember the portrait of Miles Hugo which was so like him?"
Mr. Palford remembered having heard that there was a certain portrait in the gallery which Mr. James Temple Barholm had been said to resemble. He had no distinct recollection of the ancestor it represented.
"It was a certain youngster who was a page in the court of Charles the Second and who died young. Miles Hugo Charles James was his name. He is my strongest clue. The American seemed rather keen the first time we talked together. He was equally keen about Jem Temple Barholm. He wanted to know what he looked like, and whether it was true that he was like the portrait."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Palford and Grimby, simultaneously.
"It struck me that there was something more than mere curiosity in his manner," Palliser enlarged. "I couldn't make him out then. Later, I began to see that he was remarkably anxious to keep every one from Strangeways. It was a sort of Man in the Iron Mask affair. Strangeways was apparently not only too excitable to be looked at or spoken to, but too excitable to be spoken of. He wouldn't talk about him."
"That is exceedingly curious," remarked Mr. Palford, but it was not in response to Palliser. A few moments before he had suddenly looked thoughtful. He wore now the aspect of a man trying to recall something as Palliser continued.
"One day, after I had been to look at a sunset through a particular window in the wing where Strangeways was kept, I passed the door of his sitting-room, and heard the American arguing with him. He was evidently telling him he was to be taken elsewhere, and the poor devil was terrified. I heard him beg him for God's sake not to send him away. There was panic in his voice. In connection with the fact that he has got him away secretly—at midnight-it's an ugly thing to recall."
"It would seem to have significance." Grimby said it uneasily.
"It set me thinking and looking into things," Palliser went on. "Pearson was secretive, but the head man, Burrill, made casual enlightening remarks. I gathered some curious details, which might or might not have meant a good deal. When Strangeways suddenly appeared at his window one evening a number of things fitted themselves together. My theory is that the American—Tembarom, as he used to call himself —may not have been certain of the identity at first, but he wouldn't have brought Strangeways with him if he had not had some reason to suspect who he was. He daren't lose sight of him, and he wanted time to make sure and to lay his plans. The portrait of Miles Hugo was a clue which alarmed him, and no doubt he has been following it. If he found it led to nothing, he could easily turn Strangeways over to the public charge and let him be put into a lunatic asylum. If he found it led to a revelation which would make him a pauper again, it would be easy to dispose of him."
"Come! Come! Captain Palliser! We mustn't go too far!" ejaculated Mr. Grimby, alarmedly. It shocked him to think of the firm being dragged into a case dealing with capital crime and possible hangmen! That was not its line of the profession.
Captain Palliser's slight laugh contained no hint of being shocked by any possibilities whatever.
"There are extremely private asylums and so-called sanatoriums where the discipline is strict, and no questions are asked. One sometimes reads in the papers of cases in which mild-mannered keepers in defending themselves against the attacks of violent patients are obliged to use force—with disastrous results. It is in such places that our investigations should begin."
"Dear me! Dear me!" Mr. Grimby broke out. "Isn't that going rather far? You surely don't think—"
"Mr. Tembarom's chief characteristic was that he was a practical and direct person. He would do what he had to do in exactly that businesslike manner. The inquiries I have been making have been as to the whereabouts of places in which a superfluous relative might be placed without attracting attention."
"That is really astute, but—but—what do you think, Palford?" Mr. Grimby turned to his partner, still wearing the shocked and disturbed expression.
"I have been recalling to mind a circumstance which probably bears upon the case," said Mr. Palford. "Captain Palliser's mention of the portrait reminded me of it. I remember now that on Mr. Temple Barholm's first visit to the picture-gallery he seemed much attracted by the portrait of Miles Hugo. He stopped and examined it curiously. He said he felt as if he had seen it before. He turned to it once or twice; and finally remarked that he might have seen some one like it at a great fancy-dress ball which had taken place in New York."
"Had he been invited to the ball?" laughed Palliser.
"I did not gather that," replied Mr. Palford gravely. "He had apparently watched the arriving guests from some railings near by—or perhaps it was a lamp-post—with other news-boys."
"He recognized the likeness to Strangeways, no doubt, and it gave him what he calls a 'jolt,'" said Captain Palliser. "He must have experienced a number of jolts during the last few months."
Palford & Grimby's view of the matter continued to be marked by extreme distaste for the whole situation and its disturbing and irritating possibilities. The coming of the American heir to the estate of Temple Barholm had been trying to the verge of extreme painfulness; but, sufficient time having lapsed and their client having troubled them but little, they had outlived the shock of his first appearance and settled once more into the calm of their accustomed atmosphere and routine. That he should suddenly reappear upon their dignified horizon as a probable melodramatic criminal was a fault of taste and a lack of consideration beyond expression. To be dragged-into vulgar detective work, to be referred to in news-papers in a connection which would lead to confusing the firm with the representatives of such branches of the profession as dealt with persons who had committed acts for which in vulgar parlance they might possibly "swing," if their legal defenders did not "get them off," to a firm whose sole affairs had been the dealing with noble and ancient estates, with advising and supporting personages of stately name, and with private and weighty family confidences. If the worst came to the worst, the affair would surely end in the most glaring and odious notoriety: in head-lines and daily reports even in London, in appalling pictures of every one concerned in every New York newspaper, even in baffled struggles to keep abominable woodcuts of themselves— Mr. Edward James Palford and Mr. James Matthew Grimby—from being published in sensational journalistic sheets! Professional duty demanded that the situation should be dealt with, that investigation should be entered into, that the most serious even if conservative steps should be taken at once. With regard to the accepted report of Mr. James Temple Barholm's tragic death, it could not be denied that Captain Palliser's view of the naturalness of the origin of the mistake that had been made had a logical air.
"In a region full of rioting derelicts crazed with the lawless excitement of their dash after gold," he had said, "identities and names are easily lost. Temple Barholm himself was a derelict and in a desperate state. He was in no mood to speak of himself or try to make friends. He no doubt came and went to such work as he did scarcely speaking to any one. A mass of earth and debris of all sorts suddenly gives way, burying half-a-dozen men. Two or three are dug out dead, the others not reached. There was no time to spare to dig for dead men. Some one had seen Temple Barholm near the place; he was seen no more. Ergo, he was buried with the rest. At that time, those who knew him in England felt it was the best thing that could have happened to him. It would have been if his valet had not confessed his trick, and old Temple Barholm had not died. My theory is that he may have left the place days before the accident without being missed. His mental torment caused some mental illness, it does not matter what. He lost his memory and wandered about—the Lord knows how or where he lived; he probably never knew himself. The American picked him up and found that he had money. For reasons of his own, he professed to take care of him. He must have come on some clue just when he heard of his new fortune. He was naturally panic-stricken; it must have been a big blow at that particular moment. He was sharp enough to see what it might mean, and held on to the poor chap like grim death, and has been holding on ever since."
"We must begin to take steps," decided Palford & Grimby. "We must of course take steps at once, but we must begin with discretion."
After grave private discussion, they began to take the steps in question and with the caution that it seemed necessary to observe until they felt solid ground under their feet. Captain Palliser was willing to assist them. He had been going into the matter himself. He went down to the neighborhood of Temple Barholm and quietly looked up data which might prove illuminating when regarded from one point or another. It was on the first of these occasions that he saw and warned Burrill. It was from Burrill he heard of Tummas Hibblethwaite.
"There's an impident little vagabond in the village, sir," he said, "that Mr. Temple Barholm used to go and see and take New York newspapers to. A cripple the lad is, and he's got a kind of craze for talking about Mr. James Temple Barholm. He had a map of the place where he was said to be killed. If I may presume to mention it, sir," he added with great dignity, "it is my opinion that the two had a good deal of talk together on the subject."
"I dare say," Captain Palliser admitted indifferently, and made no further inquiry or remark.
He sauntered into the Hibblethwaite cottage, however, late the next afternoon.
Tummas was in a bad temper, for reasons quite sufficient for himself, and he regarded him sourly.
"What has tha coom for?" he demanded. "I did na ask thee."
"Don't be cheeky!" said Captain Palliser. "I will give you a sovereign if you'll let me see the map you and Mr. Temple Barholm used to look at and talk so much about."
He laid the sovereign down on the small table by Tummas's sofa, but Tummas did not pick it up.
"I know who tha art. Tha'rt Palliser, an' tha wast th' one as said as him as was killed in th' Klondike had coom back alive."
"You've been listening to that servants' story, have you?" remarked Palliser. "You had better be careful as to what you say. I suppose you never heard of libel suits. Where would you find yourself if you were called upon to pay Mr. Temple Barholm ten thousand pounds' damages? You'd be obliged to sell your atlas."
"Burrill towd as he heard thee say tha'd swear in court as it was th' one as was killed as tha'd seen."
"That's Burrill's story, not mine. And Burrill had better keep his mouth shut," said Palliser. "If it were true, how would you like it? I've heard you were interested in 'th' one as was killed.'"
Tummas's eyes burned troublously.
"I've got reet down taken wi' th' other un," he answered. "He's noan gentry, but he's th' reet mak'. I—I dunnot believe as him as was killed has coom back."
"Neither do I," Palliser answered, with amiable tolerance. "The American gentleman had better come back himself and disprove it. When you used to talk about the Klondike, he never said anything to make you feel as if he doubted that the other man was dead?"
"Not him," answered Tummas.
"Eh! Tummas, what art tha talkin' about?" exclaimed Mrs. Hibblethwaite, who was mending at the other end of the room. "I heerd him say mysel, 'Suppose th' story hadn't been true an' he was alive somewhere now, it'd make a big change, would na' it?' An' he laughed."
"I never heerd him," said Tummas, in stout denial.
"Tha's losin' tha moind," commented his mother. "As soon as I heerd th' talk about him runnin' away an' takin' th' mad gentleman wi' him I remembered it. An' I remembered as he sat still after it and said nowt for a minute or so, same as if he was thinkin' things over. Theer was summat a bit queer about it."
"I never heerd him," Tummas asserted, obstinately, and shut his mouth.
"He were as ready to talk about th' poor gentleman as met with th' accident as tha wert thysel', Tummas," Mrs. Hibblethwaite proceeded, moved by the opportunity offered for presenting her views on the exciting topic. "He'd ax thee aw sorts o' questions about what tha'd found out wi' pumpin' foak. He'd ax me questions now an' agen about what he was loike to look at, an' how tall he wur. Onct he axed me if I remembered what soart o' chin he had an' how he spoke."
"It wur to set thee goin' an' please me," volunteered Tummas, grudgingly. "He did it same as he'd look at th' map to please me an' tell me tales about th' news-lads i' New York."
It had not seemed improbable that a village cripple tied to a sofa would be ready enough to relate all he knew, and perhaps so much more that it would be necessary to use discretion in selecting statements of value. To drop in and give him a sovereign and let him talk had appeared simple. Lads of his class liked to be listened to, enjoyed enlarging upon and rendering dramatic such material as had fallen into their hands. But Tummas was an eccentric, and instinct led him to close like an oyster before a remote sense of subtly approaching attack. It was his mother, not he, who had provided information; but it was not sufficiently specialized to be worth much.
"What did tha say he'd run away fur?" Tummas said to his parent later. "He's not one o' th' runnin' away soart."
"He has probably been called away by business," remarked Captain Palliser, as he rose to go after a few minutes' casual talk with Mrs. Hibblethwaite. "It was a mistake not to leave an address behind him. Your mother is mistaken in saying that he took the mad gentleman with him. He had him removed late at night some time before he went himself."
"Tak tha sov'rin'," said Tummas, as Palliser moved away. "I did na show thee th' atlas. Tha did na want to see it."
"I will leave the sovereign for your mother," said Palliser. "I'm sorry you are not in a better humor."
His interest in the atlas had indeed been limited to his idea that it would lead to subjects of talk which might cast illuminating side- lights and possibly open up avenues and vistas. Tummas, however, having instinctively found him displeasing, he had gained but little.
Avenues and vistas were necessary —avenues through which the steps of Palford and Grimby might wander, vistas which they might explore with hesitating, investigating glances. So far, the scene remained unpromisingly blank. The American Temple Barholm had simply disappeared, as had his mysterious charge. Steps likely to lead to definite results can scarcely be taken hopefully in the case of a person who has seemed temporarily to cease to exist. You cannot interrogate him, you cannot demand information, whatsoever the foundations upon which rest your accusations, if such accusation can be launched only into thin air and the fact that there is nobody to reply to —to acknowledge or indignantly refute them—is in itself a serious barrier to accomplishment. It was also true that only a few weeks had elapsed since the accused had, so to speak, dematerialized. It was also impossible to calculate upon what an American of his class and peculiarities would be likely to do in any circumstances whatever.
In private conference, Palford and Grimby frankly admitted to each other that they would almost have preferred that Captain Palliser should have kept his remarkable suspicions to himself, for the time being at least. Yet when they had admitted this they were confronted by the disturbing possibility—suggested by Palliser—that actual crime had been or might be committed. They had heard unpleasant stories of private lunatic asylums and their like. Things to shudder at might be going on at the very moment they spoke to each other. Under this possibility, no supineness would be excusable. Efforts to trace the missing man must at least be made. Efforts were made, but with no result. Painful as it was to reflect on the subject of the asylums, careful private inquiry was made, information was quietly collected, there were even visits to gruesomely quiet places on various polite pretexts.
"If a longer period of time had elapsed," Mr. Palford remarked several times, with some stiffness of manner, "we should feel that we had more solid foundation for our premises."
"Perfectly right," Captain Palliser agreed with him, "but it is lapse of time which may mean life or death to Jem Temple Barholm; so it's perhaps as well to be on the safe side and go on quietly following small clues. I dare say you would feel more comfortable yourselves."
Both Mr. Palford and Mr. Grimby, having made an appointment with Miss Alicia, arrived one afternoon at Temple Barholm to talk to her privately, thereby casting her into a state of agonized anxiety which reduced her to pallor.
"Our visit is merely one of inquiry, Miss Temple Barholm," Mr. Palford began. "There is perhaps nothing alarming in our client's absence."
"In the note which he left me he asked me to—feel no anxiety," Miss Alicia said.
"He left you a note of explanation? I wish we had known this earlier!" Mr. Palford's tone had the note of relieved exclamation. Perhaps there was an entirely simple solution of the painful difficulty.
But his hope had been too sanguine.
"It was not a note of explanation, exactly. He went away too suddenly to have time to explain."
The two men looked at each other disturbedly.
"He had not mentioned to you his intention of going?" asked Mr. Grimby.
"I feel sure he did not know he was going when he said good-night. He remained with Captain Palliser talking for some time." Miss Alicia's eyes held wavering and anxious question as she looked from one to the other. She wondered how much more than herself her visitors knew. "He found a telegram when he went to his room. It contained most disquieting news about Mr. Strangeways. He—he had got away from the place where—"
"Got away!" Mr. Palford was again exclamatory. "Was he in some institution where he was kept under restraint?"
Miss Alicia was wholly unable to explain to herself why some quality in his manner filled her with sudden distress.
"Oh, I think not! Surely not! Surely nothing of that sort was necessary. He was very quiet always, and he was getting better every day. But it was important that he should be watched over. He was no doubt under the care of a physician in some quiet sanatorium."
"Some quiet sanatorium!" Mr. Palford's disturbance of mind was manifest. "But you did not know where?"
"No. Indeed, Mr. Temple Barholm talked very little of Mr. Strangeways. I believe he knew that it distressed me to feel that I could be of no real assistance as—as the case was so peculiar."
Each perturbed solicitor looked again with rapid question at the other. Miss Alicia saw the exchange of glances and, so to speak, broke down under the pressure of their unconcealed anxiety. The last few weeks with their suggestion of accusation too vague to be met had been too much for her.
"I am afraid—I feel sure you know something I do not," she began. "I am most anxious and unhappy. I have not liked to ask questions, because that would have seemed to imply a doubt of Mr. Temple Barholm. I have even remained at home because I did not wish to hear things I could not understand. I do not know what has been said. Pearson, in whom I have the greatest confidence, felt that Mr. Temple Barholm would prefer that I should wait until he returned."
"Do you think he will return?" said Mr. Grimby, amazedly.
"Oh!" the gentle creature ejaculated. "Can you possibly think he will not? Why? Why?"
Mr. Palford had shared his partner's amazement. It was obvious that she was as ignorant as a babe of the details of Palliser's extraordinary story. In her affectionate consideration for Temple Barholm she had actually shut herself up lest she should hear anything said against him which she could not refute. She stood innocently obedient to his wishes, like the boy upon the burning deck, awaiting his return and his version of whatsoever he had been accused of. There was something delicately heroic in the little, slender old thing, with her troubled eyes and her cap and her quivering sideringlets.
"You," she appealed, "are his legal advisers, and will be able to tell me if there is anything he would wish me to know. I could not allow myself to listen to villagers or servants; but I may ask you."
"We are far from knowing as much as we desire to know," Mr. Palford replied.
"We came here, in fact," added Grimby, "to ask questions of you, Miss Temple Barholm."
"The fact that Miss Temple Barholm has not allowed herself to be prejudiced by village gossip, which is invariably largely unreliable, will make her an excellent witness," Mr. Palford said to his partner, with a deliberation which held suggestive significance. Each man, in fact, had suddenly realized that her ignorance would leave her absolutely unbiased in her answers to any questions they might put, and that it was much better in cross-examining an emotional elderly lady that such should be the case.
"Witness!" Miss Alicia found the word alarming. Mr. Palford's bow was apologetically palliative.
"A mere figure of speech, madam," he said.
"I really know so little every one else doesn't know." Miss Alicia's protest had a touch of bewilderment in it. What could they wish to ask her?
"But, as we understand it, your relations with Mr. Temple Barholm were most affectionate and confidential."
"We were very fond of each other," she answered.
"For that reason he no doubt talked to you more freely than to other people," Mr. Grimby put it. "Perhaps, Palford, it would be as well to explain to Miss Temple Barholm that a curious feature of this matter is that it—in a way—involves certain points concerning the late Mr. Temple Barholm."
Miss Alicia uttered a pathetic exclamation.
"Poor Jem—who died so cruelly!"
Mr. Palford bent his head in acquiescence.
"Perhaps you can tell me what the present Mr. Temple Barholm knew of him—how much he knew?"
"I told him the whole story the first time we took tea together," Miss Alicia replied; and, between her recollection of that strangely happy afternoon and her wonder at its connection with the present moment, she began to feel timid and uncertain.
"How did it seem to impress him?"
She remembered it all so well—his queer, dear New York way of expressing his warm-hearted indignation at the cruelty of what had happened.
"Oh, he was very much excited. He was so sorry for him. He wanted to know everything about him. He asked me what he looked like."
"Oh!" said Palford. "He wanted to know that?"
"He was so full of sympathy," she replied, her explanation gaining warmth. "When I told him that the picture of Miles Hugo in the gallery was said to look like Jem as a boy, he wanted very much to see it. Afterward we went and saw it together. I shall always remember how he stood and looked at it. Most young men would not have cared. But he always had such a touching interest in poor Jem."
"You mean that he asked questions about him—about his death, and so forth?" was Mr. Palford's inquiry.
"About all that concerned him. He was interested especially in his looks and manner of speaking and personality, so to speak. And in the awful accident which ended his life, though he would not let me talk about that after he had asked his first questions."
"What kind of questions?" suggested Grimby.
"Only about what was known of the time and place, and how the sad story reached England. It used to touch me to think that the only person who seemed to care was the one who —might have been expected to be almost glad the tragic thing had happened. But he was not."
Mr. Palford watched Mr. Grimby, and Mr. Grimby gave more than one dubious and distressed glance at Palford.
"His interest was evident," remarked Palford, thoughtfully. "And unusual under the circumstances."
For a moment he hesitated, then put another question: "Did he ever seem—I should say, do you remember any occasion when he appeared to think that—there might be any reason to doubt that Mr. James Temple Barholm was one of the men who died in the Klondike?"
He felt that through this wild questioning they had at least reached a certain testimony supporting Captain Palliser's views; and his interest reluctantly increased. It was reluctant because there could be no shadow of a question that this innocent spinster lady told the absolute truth; and, this being the case, one seemed to be dragged to the verge of depths which must inevitably be explored. Miss Alicia's expression was that of one who conscientiously searched memory.