"I do not remember that he really expressed doubt," she answered, carefully. "Not exactly that, but—"
"But what?" prompted Palford as she hesitated. "Please try to recall exactly what he said. It is most important."
The fact that his manner was almost eager, and that eagerness was not his habit, made her catch her breath and look more questioning and puzzled than before.
"One day he came to my sitting-room when he seemed rather excited," she explained. "He had been with Mr. Strangeways, who had been worse than usual. Perhaps he wanted to distract himself and forget about it. He asked me questions and talked about poor Jem for about an hour. And at last he said, 'Do you suppose there's any sort of chance that it mightn't be true—that story that came from the Klondike?' He said it so thoughtfully that I was startled and said, 'Do you think there could be such a chance—do you?' And he drew a long breath and answered, 'You want to be sure about things like that; you've got to be sure.' I was a little excited, so he changed the subject very soon afterward, and I never felt quite certain of what he was really thinking. You see what he said was not so much an expression of doubt as a sort of question."
A touch of the lofty condemnatory made Mr. Palford impressive.
"I am compelled to admit that I fear that it was a question of which he had already guessed the answer," he said.
At this point Miss Alicia clasped her hands quite tightly together upon her knees.
"If you please," she exclaimed, "I must ask you to make things a little clear to me. What dreadful thing has happened? I will regard any communication as a most sacred confidence."
"I think we may as well, Palford?" Mr. Grimby suggested to his partner.
"Yes," Palford acquiesced. He felt the difficulty of a blank explanation. "We are involved in a most trying position," he said. "We feel that great discretion must be used until we have reached more definite certainty. An extraordinary—in fact, a startling thing has occurred. We are beginning, as a result of cumulative evidence, to feel that there was reason to believe that the Klondike story was to be doubted—"
"That poor Jem—!" cried Miss Alicia.
"One begins to be gravely uncertain as to whether he has not been in this house for months, whether he was not the mysterious Mr. Strangeways!"
"Jem! Jem!" gasped poor little Miss Temple Barholm, quite white with shock.
"And if he was the mysterious Strangeways," Mr. Grimby assisted to shorten the matter, "the American Temple Barholm apparently knew the fact, brought him here for that reason, and for the same reason kept him secreted and under restraint."
"No! No!" cried Miss Alicia. "Never! Never! I beg you not to say such a thing. Excuse me—I cannot listen! It would be wrong—ungrateful. Excuse me!" She got up from her seat, trembling with actual anger in her sense of outrage. It was a remarkable thing to see the small, elderly creature angry, but this remarkable thing had happened. It was as though she were a mother defending her young.
"I loved poor Jem and I love Temple, and, though I am only a woman who never has been the least clever, I know them both. I know neither of them could lie or do a wicked, cunning thing. Temple is the soul of honor."
It was quite an inspirational outburst. She had never before in her life said so much at one time. Of course tears began to stream down her face, while Mr. Palford and Mr. Grimby gazed at her in great embarrassment.
"If Mr. Strangeways was poor Jem come back alive, Temple did not know- -he never knew. All he did for him was done for kindness' sake. I—I— " It was inevitable that she should stammer before going to this length of violence, and that the words should burst from her: "I would swear it!"
It was really a shock to both Palford and Grimby. That a lady of Miss Temple Barholm's age and training should volunteer to swear to a thing was almost alarming. It was also in rather unpleasing taste.
"Captain Palliser obliged Mr. Temple Temple Barholm to confess that he had known for some time," Mr. Palford said with cold regret. "He also informed him that he should communicate with us without delay."
"Captain Palliser is a bad man." Miss Alicia choked back a gasp to make the protest.
"It was after their interview that Mr. Temple Barholm almost immediately left the house."
"Without any explanation whatever," added Grimby.
"He left a few lines for me," defended Miss Alicia.
"We have not seen them." Mr. Palford was still as well as cold. Poor little Miss Alicia took them out of her pocket with an unsteady hand. They were always with her, and she could not on such a challenge seem afraid to allow them to be read. Mr. Palford took them from her with a slight bow of thanks. He adjusted his glasses and read aloud, with pauses between phrases which seemed somewhat to puzzle him.
"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, don't get rattled.
There was a silence, Mr. Palford passed the paper to his partner, who gave it careful study. Afterward he refolded it and handed it back to Miss Alicia.
"In a court of law," was Mr. Palford's sole remark, "it would not be regarded as evidence for the defendant."
Miss Alicia's tears were still streaming, but she held her ringleted head well up.
"I cannot stay! I beg your pardon, I do indeed!" she said. "But I must leave you. You see," she added, with her fine little touch of dignity, "as yet this house is still Mr. Temple Barholm's home, and I am the grateful recipient of his bounty. Burrill will attend you and make you quite comfortable." With an obeisance which was like a slight curtsey, she turned and fled.
In less than an hour she walked up the neat bricked path, and old Mrs. Hutchinson, looking out, saw her through the tiers of flower-pots in the window. Hutchinson himself was in London, but Ann was reading at the other side of the room.
"Here's poor little owd Miss Temple Barholm aw in a flutter," remarked her grandmother. "Tha's got some work cut out for thee if tha's going to quiet her. Oppen th' door, lass."
Ann opened the door, and stood by it with calm though welcoming dimples.
"Miss Hutchinson "—Miss Alicia began all at once to realize that they did not know each other, and that she had flown to the refuge of her youth without being at all aware of what she was about to say. "Oh! Little Ann!" she broke down with frank tears. "My poor boy! My poor boy!"
Little Ann drew her inside and closed the door.
"There, Miss Temple Barholm," she said. "There now Just come in and sit down. I'll get you a good cup of tea. You need one."
The Duke of Stone had been sufficiently occupied with one of his slighter attacks of rheumatic gout to have been, so to speak, out of the running in the past weeks. His indisposition had not condemned him to the usual dullness, however. He had suffered less pain than was customary, and Mrs. Braddle had been more than usually interesting in conversation on those occasions when, in making him very comfortable in one way or another, she felt that a measure of entertainment would add to his well-being. His epicurean habit of mind tended toward causing him to find a subtle pleasure in the hearing of various versions of any story whatever. His intimacy with T. Tembarom had furnished forth many an agreeable mental repast for him. He had had T. Tembarom's version of himself, the version of the county, the version of the uneducated class, and his own version. All of these had had varying shades of their own. He had found a cynically fine flavor in Palliser's version, which he had gathered through talk and processes of exclusion and inclusion.
"There is a good deal to be said for it," he summed it up. "It's plausible on ordinary sophisticated grounds. T. Tembarom would say, 'It looks sort of that way."'
As Mrs. Braddle had done what she could in the matter of expounding her views of the uncertainties of the village attitude, he had listened with stimulating interest. Mrs. Braddle's version on the passing of T. Tembarom stood out picturesquely against the background of the version which was his own—the one founded on the singular facts he had shared knowledge of with the chief character in the episode. He had not, like Miss Alicia, received a communication from Tembarom. This seemed to him one of the attractive features of the incident. It provided opportunity for speculation. Some wild development had called the youngster away in a rattling hurry. Of what had happened since his departure he knew no more than the villagers knew. What had happened for some months before his going he had watched with the feeling of an intelligently observant spectator at a play. He had been provided with varied emotions by the fantastic drama. He had smiled; he had found himself moved once or twice, and he had felt a good deal of the thrill of curious uncertainty as to what the curtain would rise and fall on. The situation was such that it was impossible to guess. Results could seem only to float in the air. One thing might happen; so might another, so might a dozen more. What he wished really to attain was some degree of certainty as to what was likely to occur in any case to the American Temple Barholm.
He felt, the first time he drove over to call on Miss Alicia, that his indisposition and confinement to his own house had robbed him of something. They had deprived him of the opportunity to observe shades of development and to hear the expressing of views of the situation as it stood. He drove over with views of his own and with anticipations. He had reason to know that he would encounter in the dear lady indications of the feeling that she had reached a crisis. There was a sense of this crisis impending as one mounted the terrace steps and entered the hall. The men-servants endeavored to wipe from their countenances any expression denoting even a vague knowledge of it. He recognized their laudable determination to do so. Burrill was monumental in the unconsciousness of his outward bearing.
Miss Alicia, sitting waiting on Fate in the library, wore precisely the aspect he had known she would wear. She had been lying awake at night and she had of course wept at intervals, since she belonged to the period the popular female view of which had been that only the unfeeling did not so relieve themselves in crises of the affections. Her eyelids were rather pink and her nice little face was tired.
"It is very, very kind of you to come," she said, when they shook hands. "I wonder "—her hesitance was touching in its obvious appeal to him not to take the wrong side,—"I wonder if you know how deeply troubled I have been?"
"You see, I have had a touch of my abominable gout, and my treasure of a Braddle has been nursing me and gossiping," he answered. "So, of course I know a great deal. None of it true, I dare say. I felt I must come and see you, however."
He looked so neat and entirely within the boundaries of finished and well-dressed modernity and every-day occurrence, in his perfectly fitting clothes, beautifully shining boots, and delicate fawn gaiters, that she felt a sort of support in his mere aspect. The mind connected such almost dapper freshness and excellent taste only with unexaggerated incidents and a behavior which almost placed the stamp of absurdity upon the improbable in circumstance. The vision of disorderly and illegal possibilities seemed actually to fade into an unreality.
"If Mr. Palford and Mr. Grimby knew him as I know him —as—as you know him—" she added with a faint hopefulness.
"Yes, if they knew him as we know him that would make a different matter of it," admitted the duke, amiably. But, thought Miss Alicia, he might only have put it that way through consideration for her feelings, and because he was an extremely polished man who could not easily reveal to a lady a disagreeable truth. He did not speak with the note of natural indignation which she thought she must have detected if he had felt as she felt herself. He was of course a man whose manner had always the finish of composure. He did not seem disturbed or even very curious—only kind and most polite.
"If we only knew where he was!" she began again. "If we only knew where Mr. Strangeways was!"
"My impression is that Messrs. Palford & Grimby will probably find them both before long," he consoled her. "They are no doubt exciting themselves unnecessarily."
He was not agitated at all; she felt. it would have been kinder if he had been a little agitated. He was really not the kind of person whose feelings appeared very deep, being given to a light and graceful cynicism of speech which delighted people; so perhaps it was not natural that he should express any particular emotion even in a case affecting a friend—surely he had been Temple's friend. But if he had seemed a little distressed, or doubtful or annoyed, she would have felt that she understood better his attitude. As it was, he might almost have been on the other side—a believer or a disbeliever—or merely a person looking on to see what would happen. When they sat down, his glance seemed to include her with an interest which was sympathetic but rather as if she were a child whom he would like to pacify. This seemed especially so when she felt she must make clear to him the nature of the crisis which was pending, as he had felt when he entered the house.
"You perhaps do not know"—the appeal which had shown itself in her eyes was in her voice—"that the solicitors have decided, after a great deal of serious discussion and private inquiry in London, that the time has come when they must take open steps."
"In the matter of investigation?" he inquired.
"They are coming here this afternoon with Captain Palliser to—to question the servants, and some of the villagers. They will question me," alarmedly.
"They would be sure to do that,"—he really seemed quite to envelop her with kindness—"but I beg of you not to be alarmed. Nothing you could have to say could possibly do harm to Temple Barholm." He knew it was her fear of this contingency which terrified her.
"You do feel sure of that?" she burst forth, relievedly. "You do— because you know him?"
"I do. Let us be calm, dear lady. Let us be calm."
"I will! I will!" she protested. "But Captain Palliser has arranged that a lady should come here—a lady who disliked poor Temple very much. She was most unjust to him."
"Lady Joan Fayre?" he suggested, and then paused with a remote smile as if lending himself for the moment to some humor he alone detected in the situation.
"She will not injure his cause, I think I can assure you."
"She insisted on misunderstanding him. I am so afraid—"
The appearance of Pearson at the door interrupted her and caused her to rise from her seat. The neat young man was pale and spoke in a nervously lowered voice.
"I beg pardon, Miss. I beg your Grace's pardon for intruding, but—"
Miss Alicia moved toward him in such a manner that he himself seemed to feel that he might advance.
"What is it, Pearson? Have you anything special to say?"
"I hope I am not taking too great a liberty, Miss, but I did come in for a purpose, knowing that his Grace was with you and thinking you might both kindly advise me. It is about Mr. Temple Barholm, your Grace—" addressing him as if in involuntary recognition of the fact that he might possibly prove the greater support.
"Our Mr. Temple Barholm, Pearson? We are being told there are two of them." The duke's delicate emphasis on the possessive pronoun was delightful, and it so moved and encouraged sensitive little Pearson that he was emboldened to answer with modest firmness:
"Yes,—ours. Thank you, your Grace."
"You feel him yours too, Pearson?" a shade more delightfully still.
"I—I take the liberty, your Grace, of being deeply attached to him, and more than grateful."
"What did you want to ask advice about?"
"The family solicitors. Captain Palliser and Lady Joan Fayre and Mr. and Miss Hutchinson are to be here shortly, and I have been told I am to be questioned. What I want to know, your Grace, is—" He paused, and looked no longer pale but painfully red as he gathered himself together for his anxious outburst—"Must I speak the truth?"
Miss Alicia started alarmedly.
The duke looked down at the delicate fawn gaiters covering his fine instep. His fleeting smile was not this time an external one.
"Do you not wish to speak the truth, Pearson?"
Pearson's manner could have been described only as one of obstinate frankness.
"No, your Grace. I do not! Your Grace may misunderstand me—but I do not!"
His Grace tapped the gaiters with the slight ebony cane he held in his hand.
"Is this "—he put it with impartial curiosity—"because the truth might be detrimental to our Mr. Temple Barholm?"
"If you please, your Grace," Pearson made a firm step forward, "what is the truth?"
"That is what Messrs. Palford & Grimby seem determined to find out. Probably only our Mr. Temple Barholm can tell them."
"Your Grace, what I'm thinking of is that if I tell the truth it may seem to prove something that's not the truth."
"What kinds of things, Pearson?" still impartially.
"I can be plain with your Grace. Things like this: I was with Mr. Temple Barholm and Mr. Strangeways a great deal. They'll ask me about what I heard. They'll ask me if Mr. Strangeways was willing to go away to the doctor; if he had to be persuaded and argued with. Well, he had and he hadn't, your Grace. At first, just the mention of it would upset him so that Mr. Temple Barholm would have to stop talking about it and quiet him down. But when he improved—and he did improve wonderfully, your Grace—he got into the way of sitting and thinking it over and listening quite quiet. But if I'm asked suddenly—"
"What you are afraid of is that you may be asked point-blank questions without warning?" his Grace put it with the perspicacity of experience.
"That's why I should be grateful for advice. Must I tell the truth, your Grace, when it will make them believe things I'd swear are lies— I'd swear it, your Grace."
"So would I, Pearson." His serene lightness was of the most baffling, but curiously supporting, order. "This being the case, my advice would be not to go into detail. Let us tell white lies—all of us—without a shadow of hesitancy. Miss Temple Barholm, even you must do your best."
"I will try—indeed, I will try!" And the Duke felt her tremulously ardent assent actually delicious.
"There! we'll consider that settled, Pearson," he said.
"Thank you, your Grace. Thank you, Miss," Pearson's relieved gratitude verged on the devout. He turned to go, and as he did so his attention was arrested by an approach he remarked through a window.
"Mr. and Miss Hutchinson are arriving now, Miss," he announced, hastily.
"They are to be brought in here," said Miss Alicia.
The duke quietly left his seat and went to look through the window with frank and unembarrassed interest in the approach. He went, in fact, to look at Little Ann, and as he watched her walk up the avenue, her father lumbering beside her, he evidently found her aspect sufficiently arresting.
"Ah!" he exclaimed softly, and paused. "What a lot of very nice red hair," he said next. And then, "No wonder! No wonder!"
"That, I should say," he remarked as Miss Alicia drew near, "is what I once heard a bad young man call 'a deserving case.'"
He was conscious that she might have been privately a little shocked by such aged flippancy, but she was at the moment perturbed by something else.
"The fact is that I have never spoken to Hutchinson," she fluttered. "These changes are very confusing. I suppose I ought to say Mr. Hutchinson, now that he is such a successful person, and Temple—"
"Without a shadow of a doubt!" The duke seemed struck by the happiness of the idea. "They will make him a peer presently. He may address me as 'Stone' at any moment. One must learn to adjust one's self with agility. 'The old order changeth.' Ah! she is smiling at him and I see the dimples."
Miss Alicia made a clean breast of it.
"I went to her—I could not help it! " she confessed. "I was in such distress and dare not speak to anybody. Temple had told me that she was so wonderful. He said she always understood and knew what to do."
"Did she in this case?" he asked, smiling.
Miss Alicia's manner was that of one who could express the extent of her admiration only in disconnected phrases.
"She was like a little rock. Such a quiet, firm way! Such calm certainty! Oh, the comfort she has been to me! I begged her to come here to-day. I did not know her father had returned."
"No doubt he will have testimony to give which will be of the greatest assistance," the duke said most encouragingly. "Perhaps he will be a sort of rock."
"I—I don't in the least know what he will be!" sighed Miss Alicia, evidently uncertain in her views.
But when the father and daughter were announced she felt that his Grace was really enchanting in the happy facility of his manner. He at least adjusted himself with agility. Hutchinson was of course lumbering. Lacking the support of T. Tembarom's presence and incongruity, he himself was the incongruous feature. He would have been obliged to bluster by way of sustaining himself, even if he had only found himself being presented to Miss Alicia; but when it was revealed to him that he was also confronted with the greatest personage of the neighborhood, he became as hot and red as he had become during certain fateful business interviews. More so, indeed.
"Th' other chaps hadn't been dukes;" and to Hutchinson the old order had not yet so changed that a duke was not an awkwardly impressive person to face unexpectedly. The duke's manner of shaking hands with him, however, was even touched with an amiable suggestion of appreciation of the value of a man of genius. He had heard of the invention, in fact knew some quite technical things about it. He realized its importance. He had congratulations for the inventor and the world of inventions so greatly benefited.
"Lancashire must be proud of your success, Mr. Hutchinson." How agreeably and with what ease he said it!
"Aye, it's a success now, your Grace," Hutchinson answered, "but I might have waited a good bit longer if it hadn't been for that lad an' his bold backing of me."
"Mr. Temple Barholm?" said the duke.
"Aye. He's got th' way of making folks see things that they can't see even when they're hitting them in th' eyes. I'd that lost heart I could never have done it myself."
"But now it is done," smiled his Grace. "Delightful!"
"I've got there—same as they say in New York—I've got there," said Hutchinson.
He sat down in response to Miss Alicia's invitation. His unease was wonderfully dispelled. He felt himself a person of sufficient importance to address even a duke as man to man.
"What's all this romancin' talk about th' other Temple Barholm comin' back, an' our lad knowin' an' hidin' him away? An' Palliser an' th' lawyers an' th' police bein' after 'em both?"
"You have heard the whole story?" from the duke.
"I've heard naught else since I come back."
"Grandmother knew a great deal before we came home," said Little Ann.
The duke turned his attention to her with an engaged smile. His look, his bow, his bearing, in the moment of their being presented to each other, had seemed to Miss Alicia the most perfect thing. His fine eye had not obviously wandered while he talked to her father, but it had in fact been taking her in with an inclusiveness not likely to miss agreeable points of detail.
"What is her opinion, may I ask?" he said. "What does she say?"
"Grandmother is very set in her ways, your Grace." The limpidity of her blue eye and a flickering dimple added much to the quaint comprehensiveness of her answer. "She says the world's that full of fools that if they were all killed the Lord would have to begin again with a new Adam and Eve."
"She has entire faith in Mr. Temple Barholm—as you have," put forward his Grace.
"Mine's not faith exactly. I know him," Little Ann answered, her tone as limpid as her eyes.
"There's more than her has faith in him," broke forth Hutchinson. "Danged if I don't like th' way them village chaps are taking it. They're ready to fight over it. Since they've found out what it's come to, an' about th' lawyers comin' down, they're talkin' about gettin' up a kind o' demonstration."
"Delightful!" ejaculated his Grace again. He leaned forward. "Quite what I should have expected. There's a good deal of beer drunk, I suppose."
"Plenty o' beer, but it'll do no harm." Hutchinson began to chuckle. "They're talkin' o' gettin' out th' fife an' drum band an' marchin' round th' village with a calico banner with 'Vote for T. Tembarom' painted on it, to show what they think of him."
The duke chuckled also.
"I wonder how he's managed it?" he laughed. "They wouldn't do it for any of the rest of us, you know, though I've no doubt we're quite as deserving. I am, I know."
Hutchinson stopped laughing and turned on Miss Alicia.
"What's that young woman comin' down here for?" he inquired.
"Lady Joan was engaged to Mr. James Temple Barholm," Miss Alicia answered.
"Eh! Eh!" Hutchinson jerked out. "That'll turn her into a wildcat, I'll warrant. She'll do all th' harm she can. I'm much obliged to you for lettin' us come, ma'am. I want to be where I can stand by him."
"Father," said Little Ann, "what you have got to remember is that you mustn't fly into a passion. You know you've always said it never did any good, and it only sends the blood to your head."
"You are not nervous, Miss Hutchinson?" the duke suggested.
"About Mr. Temple Barholm? I couldn't be, your Grace. If I was to see two policemen bringing him in handcuffed I shouldn't be nervous. I should know the handcuffs didn't belong to him, and the policemen would look right-down silly to me."
Miss Alicia fluttered over to fold her in her arms.
"Do let me kiss you," she said. "Do let me, Little Ann!"
Little Ann had risen at once to meet her embrace. She put a hand on her arm.
"We don't know anything about this really," she said. "We've only heard what people say. We haven't heard what he says. I'm going to wait." They were all looking at her,— the duke with such marked interest that she turned toward him as she ended. "And if I had to wait until I was as old as grandmother I'd wait—and nothing would change my mind."
"And I've been lying awake at night!" softly wailed Miss Alicia.
It was Mr. Hutchinson who, having an eye on the window, first announced an arriving carriage.
"Some of 'em's comin' from the station," he remarked. "There's no young woman with 'em, that I can see from here."
"I thought I heard wheels." Miss Alicia went to look out, agitatedly. "It is the gentlemen. Perhaps Lady Joan—" she turned desperately to the duke. "I don't know what to say to Lady Joan. I don't know what she will say to me. I don't know what she is coming for, Little Ann, do keep near me!"
It was a pretty thing to see Little Ann stroke her hand and soothe her.
"Don't be frightened, Miss Temple Barholm. All you've got to do is to answer questions," she said.
"But I might say things that would be wrong—things that would harm him."
"No, you mightn't, Miss Temple Barholm. He's not done anything that could bring harm on him."
The Duke of Stone, who had seated himself in T. Tembarom's favorite chair, which occupied a point of vantage, seemed to Mr. Palford and Mr. Grimby when they entered the room to wear the aspect of a sort of presidiary audience. The sight of his erect head and clear-cut, ivory- tinted old face, with its alert, while wholly unbiased, expression, somewhat startled them both. They had indeed not expected to see him, and did not know why he had chosen to come. His presence might mean any one of several things, and the fact that he enjoyed a reputation for quite alarming astuteness of a brilliant kind presented elements of probable embarrassment. If he thought that they had allowed themselves to be led upon a wild-goose chase, he would express his opinions with trying readiness of phrase.
His manner of greeting them, however, expressed no more than a lightly agreeable detachment from any view whatsoever. Captain Palliser felt this curiously, though he could not have said what he would have expected from him if he had known it would be his whim to appear.
"How do you do? How d' you do?" His Grace shook hands with the amiable ease which scarcely commits a man even to casual interest, after which he took his seat again.
"How d' do, Miss Hutchinson?" said Palliser. "How d' do, Mr. Hutchinson? Mr. Palford will be glad to find you here."
Mr. Palford shook hands with correct civility.
"I am, indeed," he said. "It was in your room in New York that I first saw Mr. Temple Temple Barholm."
"Aye, it was," responded Hutchinson, dryly.
"I thought Lady Joan was coming," Miss Alicia said to Palliser.
"She will be here presently. She came down in our train, but not with us."
"What—what is she coming for?" faltered Miss Alicia.
"Yes," put in the duke, "what, by the way, is she coming for?"
"I wrote and asked her to come," was Palliser's reply. "I have reason to believe she may be able to recall something of value to the inquiry which is being made."
"That's interesting," said his Grace, but with no air of participating particularly. She doesn't like him, though, does she? Wouldn't do to put her on the jury."
He did not wait for any reply, but turned to Mr. Palford.
"All this is delightfully portentous. Do you know it reminds me of a scene in one of those numerous plays where the wrong man has murdered somebody—or hasn't murdered somebody—and the whole company must be cross-examined because the curtain cannot be brought down until the right man is unmasked. Do let us come into this, Mr. Palford; what we know seems so inadequate."
Mr. Palford and Mr. Grimby each felt that there lurked in this manner a possibility that they were being regarded lightly. All the objections to their situation loomed annoyingly large.
"It is, of course, an extraordinary story," Mr. Palford said, "but if we are not mistaken in our deductions, we may find ourselves involved in a cause celebre which will set all England talking."
"I am not mistaken," Palliser presented the comment with a short and dry laugh.
"Tha seems pretty cock-sure!" Hutchinson thrust in.
"I am. No one knew Jem Temple Barbolm better than I did in the past. We were intimate—enemies." And he laughed again.
"Tha says tha'll swear th' chap tha saw through th' window was him?" said Hutchinson.
"I'd swear it," with composure.
The duke was reflecting. He was again tapping with his cane the gaiter covering his slender, shining boot.
"If Mr. Temple Temple Barholm had remained here his actions would have seemed less suspicious?" he suggested.
It was Palliser who replied.
"Or if he hadn't whisked the other man away. He lost his head and played the fool."
"He didn't lose his head, that chap. It's screwed on th' right way— his head is," grunted Hutchinson.
"The curious fellow has a number of friends," the duke remarked to Palford and Grimby, in his impartial tone. "I am hoping you are not thinking of cross-examining me. I have always been convinced that under cross-examination I could be induced to innocently give evidence condemnatory to both sides of any case whatever. But would you mind telling me what the exact evidence is so far? "
Mr. Palford had been opening a budget of papers.
"It is evidence which is cumulative, your Grace," he said. "Mr. Temple Temple Barholm's position would have been a far less suspicious one— as you yourself suggested—if he had remained, or if he hadn't secretly removed Mr.—Mr. Strangeways."
"The last was Captain Palliser's suggestion, I believe," smiled the duke. "Did he remove him secretly? How secretly, for instance?"
"At night," answered Palliser. "Miss Temple Barholm herself did not know when it happened. Did you?" turning to Miss Alicia, who at once flushed and paled.
"He knew that I was rather nervous where Mr. Strangeways was concerned. I am sorry to say he found that out almost at once. He even told me several times that I must not think of him—that I need hear nothing about him." She turned to the duke, her air of appeal plainly representing a feeling that he would understand her confession. "I scarcely like to say it, but wrong as it was I couldn't help feeling that it was like having a—a lunatic in the house. I was afraid he might be more—ill—than Temple realized, and that he might some time become violent. I never admitted so much of course, but I was."
"You see, she was not told," Palliser summed it up succinctly.
"Evidently," the duke admitted. "I see your point." But he seemed to disengage himself from all sense of admitting implications with entire calmness, as he turned again to Mr. Palford and his papers.
"You were saying that the exact evidence was—?"
Mr. Palford referred to a sheet of notes.
"That—whether before or shortly after his arrival here is not at all certain—Mr. Temple Temple Barholm began strongly to suspect the identity of the person then known as Strangeways—"
Palliser again emitted the short and dry laugh, and both the duke and Mr. Palford looked at him inquiringly.
"He had 'got on to' it before he brought him," he answered their glances. "Be sure of that."
"Then why did he bring him?" the duke suggested lightly.
"Oh, well," taking his cue from the duke, and assuming casual lightness also, "he was obliged to come himself, and was jolly well convinced that he had better keep his hand on the man, also his eye. It was a good-enough idea. He couldn't leave a thing like that wandering about the States. He could play benefactor safely in a house of the size of this until he was ready for action."
The duke gave a moment to considering the matter—still detachedly.
"It is, on the whole, not unlikely that something of the sort might suggest itself to the criminal mind," he said. And his glance at Mr. Palford intimated that he might resume his statement.
"We have secured proof that he applied himself to secret investigation. He is known to have employed Scotland Yard to make certain inquiries concerning the man said to have been killed in the Klondike. Having evidently reached more than suspicion he began to endeavor to persuade Mr. Strangeways to let him take him to London. This apparently took some time. The mere suggestion of removal threw the invalid into a state of painful excitement—"
"Did Pearson tell you that? " the duke inquired.
"Captain Palliser himself in passing the door of the room one day heard certain expressions of terrified pleading," was Mr. Palford's explanation.
"I heard enough," Palliser took it up carelessly, "to make it worth while to question Pearson—who must have heard a great deal more. Pearson was ordered to hold his tongue from the first, but he will have to tell the truth when he is asked."
The duke did not appear to resent his view.
"Pearson would be likely to know what went on," he remarked. "He's an intelligent little fellow."
"The fact remains that in spite of his distress and reluctance Mr. Strangeways was removed privately, and there our knowledge ends. He has not been seen since—and a few hours after, Captain Palliser expressed his conviction, that the person he had seen through the West Room window was Mr. James Temple Barholm, Mr. Temple Temple Barholm left the house taking a midnight train, and leaving no clue as to his where-abouts or intentions."
"Disappeared! " said the duke. "Where has he been looked for?"
The countenance of both Mr. Palford and his party expressed a certain degree of hesitance.
"Principally in asylums and so-called sanatoriums," Mr. Grimby admitted with a hint of reluctance.
"Places where the curiosity of outsiders is not encouraged," said Palliser languidly. "And where if a patient dies in a fit of mania there are always respectable witnesses to explain that his case was hopeless from the first."
Mr. Hutchinson had been breathing hard occasionally as he sat and listened, and now he sprang up uttering a sound dangerously near a violent snort.
"Art tha accusin' that lad o' bein' black villain enough to be ready to do bloody murder?" he cried out.
"He was in a very tight place, Hutchinson," Palliser shrugged his shoulders as he said it. "But one makes suggestions at this stage—not accusations."
That Hutchinson had lost his head was apparent to his daughter at least.
"Tha'd be in a tight place, my fine chap, if I had my way," he flung forth irately. "I'd like to get thy head under my arm."
The roll of approaching wheels reached Miss Alicia.
"There's another carriage," was her agitated exclamation. "Oh, dear! It must be Lady Joan!"
Little Ann left her seat to make her father return to his.
"Father, you'd better sit down," she said, gently pushing him in the right direction. "When you can't prove a thing's a lie, it's just as well to keep quiet until you can." And she kept quiet herself, though she turned and stood before Palliser and spoke with clear deliberateness. "What you pretend to believe is not true, Captain Palliser. It's just not true," she gave to him.
They were facing and looking at each other when Burrill announced Lady Joan Fayre. She entered rather quickly and looked round the room with a sweeping glance, taking them all in. She went to the duke first, and they shook hands.
"I am glad you are here! " she said.
"I would not have been out of it, my dear young lady," he answered, "'for a farm' That's a quotation."
"I know," she replied, giving her hand to Miss Alicia, and taking in Palliser and the solicitors with a bow which was little more than a nod. Then she saw Little Ann, and walked over to her to shake hands.
"I am glad you are here. I rather felt you would be," was her greeting. "I am glad to see you."
"Whether tha 'rt glad to see me or not I'm glad I'm here," said Hutchinson bluntly. "I've just been speaking a bit o' my mind."
"Now, Father love!" Little Ann put her hand on his arm.
Lady Joan looked him over. Her hungry eyes were more hungry than ever. She looked like a creature in a fever and worn by it.
"I think I am glad you are here too," she answered.
Palliser sauntered over to her. He had approved the duke's air of being at once detached and inquiring, and he did not intend to wear the aspect of the personage who plays the unpleasant part of the pursuer and avenger. What he said was:
"It was good of you to come, Lady Joan."
"Did you think I would stay away?" was her answer. "But I will tell you that I don't believe it is true."
"You think that it is too good to be true?"
Her hot eyes had records in them it would have been impossible for him to read or understand. She had been so torn; she had passed through such hours since she had been told this wild thing.
"Pardon my not telling you what I think," she said. "Nothing matters, after all, if he is alive!"
"Except that we must find him," said Palliser.
"If he is in the same world with me I shall find him," fiercely. Then she turned again to Ann. "You are the girl T. Tembarom loves?" she put it to her.
"Yes, my lady."
"If he was lost, and you knew he was on the earth with you, don't you know that you would find him?"
"I should know he'd come back to me," Little Ann answered her. "That's what—" her small face looked very fine as in her second of hesitation a spirited flush ran over it, "that's what your man will do," quite firmly.
It was amazing to see how the bitter face changed, as if one word had brought back a passionate softening memory.
"My man!" Her voice mellowed until it was deep and low. "Did you call T. Tembarom that, too? Oh, I understand you! Keep near me while I talk to these people." She made her sit down by her.
"I know every detail of your letters." She addressed Palliser as well as Palford & Grimby, sweeping all details aside. "What is it you want to ask me?"
"This is our position, your ladyship," Mr. Palford fumbled a little with his papers in speaking. "Mr. Temple Temple Barholm and the person known as Mr. Strangeways have been searched for so far without result. In the meantime we realize that the more evidence we obtain that Mr. Temple Temple Barholm identified Strangeways and acted from motive, the more solid the foundation upon which Captain Palliser's conviction rests. Up to this point we have only his statement which he is prepared to make on oath. Fortunately, however, he on one occasion overheard something said to you which he believes will be corroborative evidence."
"What did you overhear?" she inquired of Palliser.
Her tone was not pacific considering that, logically, she must be on the side of the investigators. But it was her habit, as Captain Palliser remembered, to seem to put most people on the defensive. He meant to look as uninvolved as the duke, but it was not quite within his power. His manner was sufficiently deliberate.
"One evening, before you left for London, I was returning from the billiard-room, and heard you engaged in animated conversation with— our host. My attention was arrested, first because—" a sketch of a smile ill-concealed itself, "you usually scarcely deigned to speak to him, and secondly because I heard Jem Temple Barholm's name."
"And you—?" neither eyes nor manner omitted the word listened.
But the slight lift of his shoulders was indifferent enough.
"I listened deliberately. I was convinced that the fellow was a criminal impostor, and I wanted evidence."
"Ah! come now," remarked the duke amiably. "Now we are getting on. Did you gain any?"
"I thought so. Merely of the cumulative order, of course," Palliser answered with moderation. "Those were early days. He asked you," turning to Lady Joan again, "if you knew any one—any one—who had any sort of a photograph of Jem. You had one and you showed it to him!"
She was quite silent for a moment. The hour came back to her—the extraordinary hour when he had stood in his lounging fashion before her, and through some odd, uncivilized but absolutely human force of his own had made her listen to him —and had gone on talking in his nasal voice until with one common, crude, grotesque phrase he had turned her hideous world upside down—changed the whole face of it— sent the stone wall rising before her crumbling into dust, and seemed somehow to set her free. For the moment he had lifted a load from her the nature of which she did not think he could understand—a load of hatred and silence. She had clutched his hand, she had passionately wept on it, she could have kissed it. He had told her she could come back and not be afraid. As the strange episode rose before her detail by detail, she literally stared at Palliser.
"You did, didn't you?" he inquired.
"Yes," she answered.
Her mind was in a riot, because in the midst of things which must be true, something was false. But with the memory of a myriad subtle duplicities in her brain, she had never seen anything which could have approached a thing like that. He had made her feel more human than any one in the world had ever made her feel—but Jem. He had been able to do it because he was human himself—human. "I'm friendly," he had said with his boy's laugh—"just friendly."
"I saw him start, though you did not," Palliser continued. "He stood and studied the locket intently."
She remembered perfectly. He had examined it so closely that he had unconsciously knit his brows.
"He said something in a rather low voice," Palliser took it up. "I could not quite catch it all. It was something about 'knowing the face again.' I can see you remember, Lady Joan. Can you repeat the exact words?"
He did not understand the struggle he saw in her face. It would have been impossible for him to understand it. What she felt was that if she lost hold on her strange belief in the honesty of this one decent thing she had seen and felt so close to her that it cleared the air she breathed, it would be as if she had fallen into a bottomless abyss. Without knowing why she did it, she got up from her chair as if she were a witness in a court.
"Yes, I can," she said. "Yes, I can; but I wish to make a statement for myself. Whether Jem Temple Barholm is alive or dead, Captain Palliser, T. Tembarom has done him no harm."
The duke sat up delicately alert. He had evidently found her worth looking at and listening to from the outset.
"Hear! Hear!" he said pleasantly.
"What were the exact words?" suggested Palliser.
Miss Alicia who had been weeping on Little Ann's shoulder —almost on her lap—lifted her head to listen. Hutchinson set his jaw and grunted, and Mr. Palford cleared his throat mechanically.
"He said," and no one better than herself realized how ominously "cumulative" the words sounded, "that a man would know a face like that again—wherever he saw it."
"Wherever he saw it!" ejaculated Mr. Grimby.
There ensued a moment of entire pause. It was inevitable. Having reached this point a taking of breath was necessary. Even the duke ceased to appear entirely detached. As Mr. Palford turned to his papers again there was perhaps a slight feeling of awkwardness in the air. Miss Alicia had dropped, terror smitten, into new tears.
The slight awkwardness was, on the whole, rather added to by T. Tembarom—as if serenely introduced by the hand of drama itself— opening the door and walking into the room. He came in with a matter- of-fact, but rather obstinate, air, and stopped in their midst, looking round at them as if collectedly taking them all in.
Hutchinson sprang to his feet with a kind of roar, his big hands plunging deep into his trousers pockets.
"Here he is! Danged if he isn't!" he bellowed. "Now, lad, tha let 'em have it!"
What he was to let them have did not ensue, because his attitude was not one of assault.
"Say, you are all here, ain't you!" he remarked obviously. "Good business!"
Miss Alicia got up from the sofa and came trembling toward him as one approaches one risen from the dead, and he made a big stride toward her and took her in his arms, patting her shoulder in reproachful consolation.
"Say, you haven't done what I told you—have you?" he soothed. "You've let yourself get rattled."
"But I knew it wasn't true," she sobbed. "I knew it wasn't."
"Of course you did, but you got rattled all the same." And he patted her again.
The duke came forward with a delightfully easy and—could it be almost jocose?—air of bearing himself. Palford and Grimby remarked it with pained dismay. He was so unswerving in his readiness as he shook hands.
"How well done of you!" he said. "How well arranged! But I'm afraid you didn't arrange it at all. It has merely happened. Where did you come from?"
"From America; got back yesterday." T. Tembarom's hand-shake was a robust hearty greeting. "It's all right."
"From America!" The united voices of the solicitors exclaimed it.
Joseph Hutchinson broke into a huge guffaw, and he stamped in exultation.
"I'm danged if be has na' been to America!" he cried out. "To America!"
"Oh!" Miss Alicia gasped hysterically, "they go backward and forward to America like—like lightning!"
Little Ann had not risen at his entrance, but sat still with her hands clasped tightly on her lap. Her face had somehow the effect of a flower gradually breaking into extraordinary bloom. Their eyes had once met and then she remained, her soul in hers which were upon him, as she drank in every word he uttered. Her time had not yet come.
Lady Joan had remained standing by the chair, which a few moments before her manner had seemed to transform into something like a witness stand in a court of justice. Her hungry eyes had grown hungrier each second, and her breath came and went quickly. The very face she had looked up at on her last talk with T. Tembarom—the oddly human face—turned on her as he came to her. It was just as it had been that night —just as commonly uncommon and believable.
"Say, Lady Joan! You didn't believe all that guff, did you—You didn't?" he said.
"No—no—no! I couldn't!" she cried fiercely.
He saw she was shaking with suspense, and he pushed her gently into a chair.
"You'd better sit down a minute. You're about all in," he said.
She might have been a woman with an ague as she caught his arm, shaking it because her hands themselves so shook.
"Is it true?" was her low cry. "Is he alive—is he alive?"
"Yes, he's alive." And as he answered he drew close and so placed himself before her that he shielded her from the others in the room. He seemed to manage to shut them out, so that when she dropped her face on her arms against the chair-back her shuddering, silent sobbing was hidden decently. It was not only his body which did it, but some protecting power which was almost physically visible. She felt it spread before her.
"Yes, he's alive," he said, "and he's all right—though it's been a long time coming, by gee!"
"He's alive." They all heard it. For a man of Palliser's make to stand silent in the midst of mysterious slowly accumulating convictions that some one—perilously of his own rarely inept type—was on the verge of feeling appallingly like a fool—was momentarily unendurable. And nothing had been explained, after all.
"Is this what you call 'bluff' in New York?" he demanded. "You've got a lot to explain. You admit that Jem Temple Barholm is alive?" and realized his asinine error before the words were fully spoken.
The realization was the result of the square-shouldered swing with which T. Tembarom turned round, and the expression of his eyes as they ran over him.
"Admit!" he said. "Admit hell! He's up-stairs," with a slight jerk of his head in the direction of the ceiling.
The duke alone did not gasp. He laughed slightly.
"We've just got here. He came down from London with me, and Sir Ormsby Galloway." And he said it not to Palliser but to Palford and Grimby.
"The Sir Ormsby Galloway?" It was an ejaculation from Mr. Palford himself.
T. Tembarom stood square and gave his explanation to the lot of them, so to speak, without distinction.
"He's the big nerve specialist. I've had him looking after the case from the first—before I began to suspect anything. I took orders, and orders were to keep him quiet and not let any fool butt in and excite him. That's what I've been giving my mind to. The great stunt was to get him to go and stay at Sir Ormsby's place." He stopped a moment and suddenly flared forth as if he had had about enough of it. He almost shouted at them in exasperation. "All I'm going to tell you is that for about six months I've been trying to prove that Jem Temple Barholm was Jem Temple Barholm, and the hardest thing I had to do was to get him so that he could prove it himself." He strode over to the hearth and rang a bell. "It's not my place to give orders here now," he said, "but Jem commissioned me to see this thing through. Sir Ormsby'll tell you all you want to hear."
He turned and spoke solely to the duke.
"This is what happened," he said. "I dare say you'll laugh when you hear it. I almost laughed myself. What does Jem do, when he thinks things over, but get some fool notion in his head about not coming back here and pushing me out. And he lights out and leaves the country—leaves it—to get time to think it over some more."
The duke did not laugh. He merely smiled—a smile which had a shade of curious self-questioning in it.
"Romantic and emotional—and quite ridiculous," he commented slowly. "He'd have awakened to that when he had thought it out 'some more.' The thing couldn't be done."
Burrill had presented himself in answer to the bell, and awaited orders. His Grace called Tembarom's attention to him, and Tembarom included Palliser with Palford and Grimby when he gave his gesture of instruction.
"Take these gentlemen to Sir Ormsby Galloway, and then ask Mr. Temple Barholm if he'll come down-stairs," he said.
It is possible that Captain Palliser felt himself more irritatingly infolded in the swathing realization that some one was in a ridiculous position, and it is certain that Mr. Palford felt it necessary to preserve an outwardly flawless dignity as the duke surprisingly left his chair and joined them.
"Let me go, too," he suggested; "I may be able to assist in throwing light." His including movement in Miss Alicia's direction was delightfully gracious and friendly. It was inclusive of Mr. Hutchinson also.
"Will you come with us, Miss Temple Barholm?" he said. "And you too, Mr. Hutchinson. We shall go over it all in its most interesting detail, and you must be eager about it. I am myself."
His happy and entirely correct idea was that the impending entrance of Mr. James Temple Barholm would "come off" better in the absence of audience.
Hutchinson almost bounced from his chair in his readiness. Miss Alicia looked at Tembarom.
"Yes, Miss Alicia," he answered her inquiring glance. "You go, too. You'll get it all over quicker."
Rigid propriety forbade that Mr. Palford should express annoyance, but the effort to restrain the expression of it was in his countenance. Was it possible that the American habit of being jocular had actually held its own in a matter as serious as this? And could even the most cynical and light-minded of ducal personages have been involved in its unworthy frivolities? But no one looked jocular—Tembarom's jaw was set in its hard line, and the duke, taking up the broad ribbon of his rimless monocle to fix the glass in his eye, wore the expression of a man whose sense of humor was temporarily in abeyance.
"Are we to understand that your Grace—?"
"Yes," said his Grace a trifle curtly, "I have known about it for some time."
"But why was nobody told?" put in Palliser.
"Why should people be told? There was nothing sufficiently definite to tell. It was a waiting game." His Grace wasted no words. "I was told. Mr. Temple Barholm did not know England or English methods. His idea— perhaps a mistaken one—was that an English duke ought to be able to advise him. He came to me and made a clean breast of it. He goes straight at things, that young fellow. Makes what he calls a 'bee line.' Oh! I've been in it—I 've been in it, I assure you."
It was as they crossed the hall that his Grace slightly laughed.
"It struck me as a sort of wild-goose chase at first. He had only a ghost of a clue—a mere resemblance to a portrait. But he believed in it, and he had an instinct." He laughed again. "The dullest and most unmelodramatic neighborhood in England has been taking part in a melodrama—but there has been no villain in it—only a matter-of-fact young man, working out a queer thing in his own queer, matter-of-fact way."
When the door closed behind them, Tembarom went to Lady Joan. She had risen and was standing before the window, her back to the room. She looked tall and straight and tensely braced when she turned round, but there was endurance, not fierceness in her eyes.
"Did he leave the country knowing I was here—waiting?" she asked. Her voice was low and fatigued. She had remembered that years had passed, and that it was perhaps after all only human that long anguish should blot things out, and dull a hopeless man's memory.
"No," answered Tembarom sharply. "He didn't. You weren't in it then. He believed you'd married that Duke of Merthshire fellow. This is the way it was: Let me tell it to you quick. A letter that had been wandering round came to him the night before the cave-in, when they thought he was killed. It told him old Temple Barholm was dead. He started out before daylight, and you can bet he was strung up till he was near crazy with excitement. He believed that if he was in England with plenty of money he could track down that cardsharp lie. He believed you'd help him. Somewhere, while he was traveling he came across an old paper with a lot of dope about your being engaged."
Joan remembered well how her mother had worked to set the story afloat—how they had gone through the most awful of their scenes— almost raving at each other, shut up together in the boudoir in Hill Street.
"That's all he remembers, except that he thought some one had hit him a crack on the head. Nothing had hit him. He'd had too much to stand up under and something gave way in his brain. He doesn't know what happened after that. He'd wake up sometimes just enough to know he was wandering about trying to get home. It's been the limit to try to track him. If he'd not come to himself we could never have been quite sure. That's why I stuck at it. But he DID come to himself. All of a sudden. Sir Ormsby will tell you that's what nearly always happens. They wake up all of a sudden. It's all right; it's all right. I used to promise him it would be—when I wasn't sure that I wasn't lying." And for the first time he broke into the friendly grin—but it was more valiant than spontaneous. He wanted her to know that it was "all right."
"Oh!" she cried, "oh! you—"
She stopped because the door was opening.
"It's Jem," he said sharply. "Ann, let's go." And that instant Little Ann was near him.
"No! no! don't go," cried Lady Joan.
Jem Temple Barholm came in through the doorway. Life and sound and breath stopped for a second, and then the two whirled into each other's arms as if a storm had swept them there.
"Jem!" she wailed. "Oh, Jem! My man! Where have you been?"
"I've been in hell, Joan—in hell!" he answered, choking, —"and this wonderful fellow has dragged me out of it."
But Tembarom would have none of it. He could not stand it. This sort of thing filled up his throat and put him at an overwhelming disadvantage. He just laid a hand on Jem Temple Barholm's shoulder and gave him an awkwardly friendly push.
"Say, cut me out of it!" he said. "You get busy," his voice rather breaking. "You've got a lot to say to her. It was up to me before;— now, it's up to you."
Little Ann went with him into the next room.
The room they went into was a smaller one, quiet, and its oriel windows much overshadowed by trees. By the time they stood together in the center of it Tembarom had swallowed something twice or thrice, and had recovered himself. Even his old smile had come back as he took one of her hands in each of his, and holding them wide apart stood and looked down at her.
"God bless you, Little Ann," he said. "I just knew I should find you here. I'd have bet my last dollar on it."
The hands he held were trembling just a little, and the dimples quivered in and out. But her eyes were steady, and a lovely increasing intensity glowed in them.
"You went after him and brought him back. He was all wrought up, and he needed some one with good common sense to stop him in time to make him think straight before he did anything silly," she said.
"I says to him," T. Tembarom made the matter clear; "'Say, you've left something behind that belongs to you! Comeback and get it.' I meant Lady Joan. And I says, 'Good Lord, man, you're acting like a fellow in a play. That place doesn't belong to me. It belongs to you. If it was mine, fair and square, Little Willie'd hang on to it. There'd be no noble sacrifice in his. You get a brace on.'"
"When they were talking in that silly way about you, and saying you'd run away," said Little Ann, her face uplifted adoringly as she talked, "I said to father, 'If he's gone, he's gone to get something. And he'll be likely to bring it back.'"
He almost dropped her hands and caught her to him then. But he saved himself in time.
"Now this great change has come," he said, "everything will be different. The men you'll know will look like the pictures in the advertisements at the backs of magazines—those fellows with chins and smooth hair. I shall look like a chauffeur among them."
But she did not blench in the least, though she remembered whose words he was quoting. The intense and lovely femininity in her eyes only increased. She came closer to him, and so because of his height had to look up more.
"You will always make jokes—but I don't care. I don't care for anything but you," she said. "I love your jokes; I love everything about you: I love your eyes—and your voice —and your laugh. I love your very clothes." Her voice quivered as her dimples did. "These last months I've sometimes felt as if I should die of loving you."
It was a wonderful thing—wonderful. His eyes—his whole young being had kindled as he looked down drinking in every word.
"Is that the kind of quiet little thing you are?" he said.
"Yes, it is," she answered firmly.
"And you're satisfied—you know, who it is I want?— You're ready to do what you said you would that last night at Mrs. Bowse's?"
"What do you think?" she said in her clear little voice.
He caught her then in a strong, hearty, young, joyous clutch.
"You come to me, Little Ann. You come right to me," he said.
Many an honest penny was turned, with the assistance of the romantic Temple Barholm case, by writers of paragraphs for newspapers published in the United States. It was not merely a romance which belonged to England but was excitingly linked to America by the fact that its hero regarded himself as an American, and had passed through all the picturesque episodes of a most desirably struggling youth in the very streets of New York itself, and had "worked his way up" to the proud position of society reporter "on" a huge Sunday paper. It was generally considered to redound largely to his credit that refusing "in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations," he had been born in Brooklyn, that he had worn ragged clothes and shoes with holes in them, that he had blacked other people's shoes, run errands, and sold newspapers there. If he had been a mere English young man, one recounting of his romance would have disposed of him; but as he was presented to the newspaper public every characteristic lent itself to elaboration. He was, in fact, flaringly anecdotal. As a newly elected President who has made boots or driven a canal-boat in his unconsidered youth endears himself indescribably to both paragraph reader and paragraph purveyor, so did T. Tembarom endear himself. For weeks, he was a perennial fount. What quite credible story cannot be related of a hungry lad who is wildly flung by chance into immense fortune and the laps of dukes, so to speak? The feeblest imagination must be stirred by the high color of such an episode, and stimulated to superb effort. Until the public had become sated with reading anecdotes depicting the extent of his early privations, and dwelling on illustrations which presented lumber-yards in which he had slept, and the facades of tumble-down tenements in which he had first beheld the light of day, he was a modest source of income. Any lumber-yard or any tenement sufficiently dilapidated would serve as a model; and the fact that in the shifting architectural life of New York the actual original scenes of the incidents had been demolished and built upon by new apartment-houses, or new railroad stations, or new factories seventy-five stories high, was an unobstructing triviality. Accounts of his manner of conducting himself in European courts to which he had supposedly been bidden, of his immense popularity in glittering circles, of his finely democratic bearing when confronted by emperors surrounded by their guilty splendors, were the joy of remote villages and towns. A thrifty and young minor novelist hastily incorporated him in a serial, and syndicated it upon the spot under the title of "Living or Dead." Among its especial public it was a success of such a nature as betrayed its author into as hastily writing a second romance, which not being rendered stimulating by a foundation of fact failed to repeat his triumph.
T. Tembarom, reading in the library at Temple Barholm the first newspapers sent from New York, smiled widely.
"You see they've got to say something, Jem," he explained. "It's too big a scoop to be passed over. Something's got to be turned in. And it means money to the fellows, too. It's good copy."
"Suppose," suggested Jem, watching him with interest, "you were to write the facts yourself and pass them on to some decent chap who'd be glad to get them."
"Glad!" Tembarom flushed with delight. "Any chap would be'way up in the air at the chance. It's the best kind of stuff. Wouldn't you mind? Are you sure you wouldn't?" He was the warhorse snuffing battle from afar.
Jem Temple Barholm laughed outright at the gleam in his eyes.
"No, I shouldn't care a hang, dear fellow. And the fact that I objected would not stop the story."
"No, it wouldn't, by gee! Say, I'll get Ann to help me, and we'll send it to the man who took my place on the Earth. It'll mean board and boots to him for a month if he works it right. And it'll be doing a good turn to Galton, too. I shall be glad to see old Galton when I go back."
"You are quite sure you want to go back?" inquired Jem. A certain glow of feeling was always in his eyes when he turned them on T. Tembarom.
"Go back! I should smile! Of course I shall go back. I've got to get busy for Hutchinson and I've got to get busy for myself. I guess there'll be work to do that'll take me half over the world; but I'm going back first. Ann's going with me."
But there was no reference to a return to New York when the Sunday Earth and other widely circulated weekly sheets gave prominence to the marriage of Mr. Temple Temple Barholm and Miss Hutchinson, only child and heiress of Mr. Joseph Hutchinson, the celebrated inventor. From a newspaper point of view, the wedding had been rather unfairly quiet, and it was necessary to fill space with a revival of the renowned story, with pictures of bride and bridegroom, and of Temple Barholm surrounded by ancestral oaks. A thriving business would have been done by the reporters if an ocean greyhound had landed the pair at the dock some morning, and snap-shots could have been taken as they crossed the gangway, and wearing apparel described. But hope of such fortune was swept away by the closing paragraph, which stated that Mr. and Mrs. Temple Barholm would "spend the next two months in motoring through Italy and Spain in their 90 h. p. Panhard."
It was T. Tembarom who sent this last item privately to Galton.
"It's not true," his letter added, "but what I'm going to do is nobody's business but mine and my wife's, and this will suit people just as well." And then he confided to Galton the thing which was the truth.
The St. Francesca apartment-house was a very new one, situated on a corner of an as yet sparsely built but rapidly spreading avenue above the "100th Streets"—many numbers above them. There was a frankly unfinished air about the neighborhood, but here and there a "store" had broken forth and valiantly displayed necessities, and even articles verging upon the economically ornamental. It was plainly imperative that the idea should be suggested that there were on the spot sources of supply not requiring the immediate employment of the services of the elevated railroad in the achievement of purchase, and also that enterprise rightly encouraged might develop into being equal to all demands. Here and there an exceedingly fresh and clean "market store," brilliant with the highly colored labels adorning tinned soups and meats and edibles in glass jars, alluringly presented itself to the passer-by. The elevated railroad perched upon iron supports, and with iron stairways so tall that they looked almost perilous, was a prominent feature of the landscape. There were stretches of waste ground, and high backgrounds of bits of country and woodland to be seen. The rush of New York traffic had not yet reached the streets, and the avenue was of an agreeable suburban cleanliness and calm. People who lived in upper stories could pride themselves on having "views of the river." These they laid stress upon when it was hinted that they "lived a long way uptown."
The St. Francesca was built of light-brown stone and decorated with much ornate molding. It was fourteen stories high, and was supplied with ornamental fire-escapes. It was "no slouch of a building." Everything decorative which could be done for it had been done. The entrance was almost imposing, and a generous lavishness in the way of cement mosaic flooring and new and thick red carpet struck the eye at once. The grill-work of the elevator was of fresh, bright blackness, picked out with gold, and the colored elevator-boy wore a blue livery with brass buttons. Persons of limited means who were willing to discard the excitements of "downtown" got a good deal for their money, and frequently found themselves secretly surprised and uplifted by the atmosphere of luxury which greeted them when they entered their red- carpeted hall. It was wonderful, they said, congratulating one another privately, how much comfort and style you got in a New York apartment- house after you passed the "150ths."
On a certain afternoon T. Tembarom, with his hat on the back of his head and his arms full of parcels, having leaped off the "L" when it stopped at the nearest station, darted up and down the iron stairways until he reached the ground, and then hurried across the avenue to the St. Francesca. He made long strides, and two or three times grinned as if thinking of something highly amusing; and once or twice he began to whistle and checked himself. He looked approvingly at the tall building and its solidly balustraded entrance-steps as he approached it, and when he entered the red-carpeted hall he gave greeting to a small mulatto boy in livery.
"Hello, Tom! How's everything?" he inquired, hilariously. "You taking good care of this building? Let any more eight-room apartments? You've got to keep right on the job, you know. Can't have you loafing because you've got those brass buttons."
The small page showed his teeth in gleeful appreciation of their friendly intimacy.
"Yassir. That's so," he answered. "Mis' Barom she's waitin' for you. Them carpets is come, sir. Tracy's wagon brought 'em 'bout an hour ago. I told her I'd help her lay 'em if she wanted me to, but she said you was comin' with the hammer an' tacks. 'Twarn't that she thought I was too little. It was jest that there wasn't no tacks. I tol' her jest call me in any time to do anythin' she want done, an' she said she would."
"She'll do it," said T. Tembarom. "You just keep on tap. I'm just counting on you and Light here," taking in the elevator-boy as he stepped into the elevator, "to look after her when I'm out."
The elevator-boy grinned also, and the elevator shot up the shaft, the numbers of the floors passing almost too rapidly to be distinguished. The elevator was new and so was the boy, and it was the pride of his soul to land each passenger at his own particular floor, as if he had been propelled upward from a catapult. But he did not go too rapidly for this passenger, at least, though a paper parcel or so was dropped in the transit and had to be picked up when he stopped at floor fourteen.
The red carpets were on the corridor there also, and fresh paint and paper were on the walls. A few yards from the elevator he stopped at a door and opened it with a latch-key, beaming with inordinate delight.
The door opened into a narrow corridor leading into a small apartment, the furniture of which was not yet set in order. A roll of carpet and some mats stood in a corner, chairs and tables with burlaps round their legs waited here and there, a cot with a mattress on it, evidently to be transformed into a "couch," held packages of bafflingly irregular shapes and sizes. In the tiny kitchen new pots and pans and kettles, some still wrapped in paper, tilted themselves at various angles on the gleaming new range or on the closed lids of the doll-sized stationary wash-tubs.
Little Ann had been very busy, and some of the things were unpacked. She had been sweeping and mopping floors and polishing up remote corners, and she had on a big white pinafore-apron with long sleeves, which transformed her into a sort of small female chorister. She came into the narrow corridor with a broom in her hand, her periwinkle-blue gaze as thrilled as an excited child's when it attacks the arrangement of its first doll's house. Her hair was a little ruffled where it showed below the white kerchief she had tied over her head. The warm, daisy pinkness of her cheeks was amazing.
"Hello!" called out Tembarom at sight of her. "Are you there yet? I don't believe it."
"Yes, I'm here," she answered, dimpling at him.
"Not you!" he said. "You couldn't be! You've melted away. Let's see." And he slid his parcels down on the cot and lifted her up in the air as if she had been a baby. "How can I tell, anyhow?" he laughed out. "You don't weigh anything, and when a fellow squeezes you he's got to look out what he's doing."
He did not seem to "look out" particularly when he caught her to him in a hug into which she appeared charmingly to melt. She made herself part of it, with soft arms which went at once round his neck and held him.
"Say!" he broke forth when he set her down. "Do you think I'm not glad to get back?"
"No, I don't, Tem," she answered, "I know how glad you are by the way I'm glad myself."
"You know just everything!" he ejaculated, looking her over, "just every darned thing—God bless you! But don't you melt away, will you? That's what I'm afraid of. I'll do any old thing on earth if you'll just stay."
That was his great joke,—though she knew it was not so great a joke as it seemed,—that he would not believe that she was real, and believed that she might disappear at any moment. They had been married three weeks, and she still knew when she saw him pause to look at her that he would suddenly seize and hold her fast, trying to laugh, sometimes not with entire success.
"Do you know how long it was? Do you know how far away that big place was from everything in the world?" he had said once. "And me holding on and gritting my teeth? And not a soul to open my mouth to! The old duke was the only one who understood, anyhow. He'd been there."
"I'll stay," she answered now, standing before him as he sat down on the end of the "couch." She put a firm, warm-palmed little hand on each side of his face, and held it between them as she looked deep into his eyes. "You look at me, Tem—and see."
"I believe it now," he said, "but I shan't in fifteen minutes."
"We're both right-down silly," she said, her soft, cosy laugh breaking out. "Look round this room and see what we've got to do. Let's begin this minute. Did you get the groceries?"
He sprang up and began to go over his packages triumphantly.
"Tea, coffee, sugar, pepper, salt, beefsteak," he called out.
"We can't have beefsteak often," she said, soberly, "if we're going to do it on fifteen a week."
"Good Lord, no!" he gave back to her, hilariously. "But this is a Fifth Avenue feed."
"Let's take them into the kitchen and put them into the cupboard, and untie the pots and pans." She was suddenly quite absorbed and businesslike. "We must make the room tidy and tack down the carpet, and then cook the dinner."
He followed her and obeyed her like an enraptured boy. The wonder of her was that, despite its unarranged air, the tiny place was already cleared and set for action. She had done it all before she had swept out the undiscovered corners. Everything was near the spot to which it belonged. There was nothing to move or drag out of the way.
"I got it all ready to put straight," she said, "but I wanted you to finish it with me. It wouldn't have seemed right if I'd done it without you. It wouldn't have been as much OURS."
Then came active service. She was like a small general commanding an army of one. They put things on shelves; they hung things on hooks; they found places in which things belonged; they set chairs and tables straight; and then, after dusting and polishing them, set them at a more imposing angle; they unrolled the little green carpet and tacked down its corners; and transformed the cot into a "couch" by covering it with what Tracy's knew as a "throw" and adorning one end of it with cotton-stuffed cushions. They hung little photogravures on the walls and strung up some curtains before the good-sized window, which looked down from an enormous height at the top of four-storied houses, and took in beyond them the river and the shore beyond. Because there was no fireplace Tembarom knocked up a shelf, and, covering it with a scarf (from Tracy's), set up some inoffensive ornaments on it and flanked them with photographs of Jem Temple Barholm, Lady Joan in court dress, Miss Alicia in her prettiest cap, and the great house with its huge terrace and the griffins.
"Ain't she a looker?" Tembarom said of Lady Joan. "And ain't Jem a looker, too? Gee! they're a pair. Jem thinks this honeymoon stunt of ours is the best thing he ever heard of— us fixing ourselves up here just like we would have done if nothing had ever happened, and we'd HAD to do it on fifteen per. Say," throwing an arm about her, "are you getting as much fun out of it as if we HAD to, as if I might lose my job any minute, and we might get fired out of here because we couldn't pay the rent? I believe you'd rather like to think I might ring you into some sort of trouble, so that you could help me to get you out of it."
That's nonsense," she answered, with a sweet, untruthful little face. "I shouldn't be very sensible if I wasn't glad you COULDN'T lose your job. Father and I are your job now."
He laughed aloud. This was the innocent, fantastic truth of it. They had chosen to do this thing—to spend their honey-moon in this particular way, and there was no reason why they should not. The little dream which had been of such unattainable proportions in the days of Mrs. Bowse's boarding-house could be realized to its fullest. No one in the St. Francesca apartments knew that the young honey- mooners in the five-roomed apartment were other than Mr. and Mrs. T. Barholm, as recorded on the tablet of names in the entrance. Hutchinson knew, and Miss Alicia knew, and Jem Temple Barholm, and Lady Joan. The Duke of Stone knew, and thought the old-fashionedness of the idea quite the last touch of modernity.
"Did you see any one who knew you when you were out?" Little Ann asked.
"No, and if I had they wouldn't have believed they'd seen me, because the papers told them that Mr. and Mrs. Temple Barholm are spending their honeymoon motoring through Spain in their ninety-horse-power Panhard."
"Let's go and get dinner," said Little Ann.
They went into the doll's-house kitchen and cooked the dinner. Little Ann broiled steak and fried potato chips, and T. Tembarom produced a wonderful custard pie he had bought at a confectioner's. He set the table, and put a bunch of yellow daisies in the middle of it.
"We couldn't do it every day on fifteen per week," he said. "If we wanted flowers we should have to grow them in old tomato-cans."
Little Ann took off her chorister's-gown apron and her kerchief, and patted and touched up her hair. She was pink to her ears, and had several new dimples; and when she sat down opposite him, as she had sat that first night at Mrs. Bowse's boarding-house supper, Tembarom stared at her and caught his breath.
"You ARE there?" he said, "ain't you?"
"Yes, I am," she answered.
When they had cleared the table and washed the dishes, and had left the toy kitchen spick and span, the ten million lights in New York were lighted and casting their glow above the city. Tembarom sat down on the Adams chair before the window and took Little Ann on his knee. She was of the build which settles comfortably and with ease into soft curves whose nearness is a caress. Looked down at from the fourteenth story of the St. Francesca apartments, the lights strung themselves along lines of streets, crossing and recrossing one another; they glowed and blazed against masses of buildings, and they hung at enormous heights in mid-air here and there, apparently without any support. Everywhere was the glow and dazzle of their brilliancy of light, with the distant bee hum of a nearing elevated train, at intervals gradually deepening into a roar. The river looked miles below them, and craft with sparks or blaze of light went slowly or swiftly to and fro.
"It's like a dream," said Little Ann, after a long silence. "And we are up here like birds in a nest."
He gave her a closer grip.
"Miss Alicia once said that when I was almost down and out," he said. "It gave me a jolt. She said a place like this would be like a nest. Wherever we go,—and we'll have to go to lots of places and live in lots of different ways,—we'll keep this place, and some time we'll bring her here and let her try it. I've just got to show her New York."
"Yes, let us keep it," said Little Ann, drowsily, "just for a nest."
There was another silence, and the lights on the river far below still twinkled or blazed as they drifted to and fro.
"You are there, ain't you?" said Tembarom in a half-whisper.
"Yes—I am," murmured Little Ann.
But she had had a busy day, and when he looked down at her, she hung softly against his shoulder, fast asleep.