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- T. Tembarom - 100/104 -
"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
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