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- T. Tembarom - 80/104 -
him, in a remote way, of Little Ann coming down Mrs. Bowse's staircase bearing with her the tartan comforter.
How could any one--how could any one want to do him an injury? she began to protest pathetically. But he would not let her go on. He would not talk any more of Captain Palliser or allow her to talk of him. Indeed, her secret fear was that he really knew something he did not wish her to be troubled by, and perhaps thought he had said too much. He began to make jokes and led her to other subjects. He asked her to go to the Hibblethwaites' cottage and pay a visit to Tummas. He had learned to understand his accepted privileges in making of cottage visits by this time; and when he clicked any wicket-gate the door was open before he had time to pass up the wicket-path. They called at several cottages, and he nodded at the windows of others where faces appeared as he passed by.
They had a happy morning together, and he took her back to Temple Barholm beaming, and forgetting Captain Palliser's existence, for the time, at least. In the afternoon they drove out together, and after dining they read the last copy of the Sunday Earth, which had arrived that day. He found quite an interesting paragraph about Mr. Hutchinson and the invention. Little Miss Hutchinson was referred to most flatteringly by the writer, who almost inferred that she was responsible not only for the inventor but for the invention itself. Miss Alicia felt quite proud of knowing so prominent a character, and wondered what it could be like to read about oneself in a newspaper.
About nine o'clock he laid his sheet of the Earth down and spoke to her.
"I'm going to ask you to do me a favor," he said. "I couldn't ask it if we weren't alone like this. I know you won't mind."
Of course she wouldn't mind. She was made happier by the mere idea of doing something for him.
"I'm going to ask you to go to your room rather early," he explained. "I want to try a sort of stunt on Strangeways. I'm going to bring him downstairs if he'll come. I'm not sure I can get him to do it; but he's been a heap better lately, and perhaps I can."
"Is he so much better as that?" she said. "Will it be safe?"
He looked as serious as she had ever seen him look--even a trifle more serious.
"I don't know how much better he is," was his answer. "Sometimes you'd think he was almost all right. And then--! The doctor says that if he could get over being afraid of leaving his room it would be a big thing for him. He wants him to go to his place in London so that he can watch him."
"Do you think you could persuade him to go?"
"I've tried my level best, but so far--nothing doing."
He got up and stood before the mantel, his back against it, his hands in his pockets.
"I've found out one thing," he said. "He's used to houses like this. Every now and again he lets something out quite natural. He knew that the furniture in his room was Jacobean - that's what he called it - and he knew it was fine stuff. He wouldn't have known that if he'd been a piker. I'm going to try if he won't let out something else when he sees things here - if he'll come."
"You have such a wonderfully reasoning mind, dear," said Miss Alicia, as she rose. "You would have made a great detective, I'm sure."
"If Ann had been with him," he said, rather gloomily, "she'd have caught on to a lot more than I have. I don't feel very chesty about the way I've managed it."
Miss Alicia went up-stairs shortly afterward, and half an hour later Tembarom told the footmen in the hall that they might go to bed. The experiment he was going to make demanded that the place should be cleared of any disturbing presence. He had been thinking it over for sometime past. He had sat in the private room of the great nerve specialist in London and had talked it over with him. He had talked of it with the duke on the lawn at Stone Hover. There had been a flush of color in the older man's cheek-bones, and his eyes had been alight as he took his part in the discussion. He had added the touch of his own personality to it, as always happened.
"We are having some fine moments, my good fellow," he had said, rubbing his hands. "This is extremely like the fourth act. I'd like to be sure what comes next."
"I'd like to be sure myself," Tembarom answered. "It's as if a flash of lightning came sometimes, and then things clouded up. And sometimes when I am trying something out he'll get so excited that I daren't go on until I've talked to the doctor."
It was the excitement he was dubious about to-night. It was not possible to be quite certain as to the entire safety of the plan; but there might be a chance - even a big chance - of wakening some cell from its deadened sleep. Sir Ormsby way had talked to him a good deal about brain cells, and he had listened faithfully and learned more than he could put into scientific English. Gradually, during the past months, he had been coming upon strangely exciting hints of curious possibilities. They had been mere hints at first, and had seemed almost absurd in their unbelievableness. But each one had linked itself with another, and led him on to further wondering and exploration. When Miss Alicia and Palliser had seen that he looked absorbed and baffled, it had been because he had frequently found himself, to use his own figures of speech, "mixed up to beat the band." He had not known which way to turn; but he had gone on turning because he could not escape from his own excited interest, and the inevitable emotion roused by being caught in the whirl of a melodrama. That was what he'd dropped into--a whacking big play. It had begun for him when Palford butted in that night and told him he was a lost heir, with a fortune and an estate in England; and the curtain had been jerking up and down ever since. But there had been thrills in it, queer as it was. Something doing all the time, by gee!
He sat and smoked his pipe and wished Ann were with him because he knew he was not as cool as he had meant to be. He felt a certain tingling of excitement in his body; and this was not the time to be excited. He waited for some minutes before he went up-stairs. It was true that Strangeways had been much better lately. He had seemed to find it easier to follow conversation. During the past few days, Tembarom had talked to him in a matter-of-fact way about the house and its various belongings. He had at last seemed to waken to an interest in the picture-gallery. Evidently he knew something of picture- galleries and portraits, and found himself relieved by his own clearness of thought when he talked of them.
"I feel better," he said, two or three times. "Things seem clearer-- nearer."
"Good business!" exclaimed Tembarom. "I told you it'd be that way. Let's hold on to pictures. It won't be any time before you'll be remembering where you've seen some."
He had been secretly rather strung up; but he had been very gradual in approaching his final suggestion that some night, when everything was quiet, they might go and look at the gallery together.
"What you need is to get out of the way of wanting to stay in one place," he argued. "The doctor says you've got to have a change, and even going from one room to another is a fine thing."
Strangeways had looked at him anxiously for a few moments, even suspiciously, but his face had cleared after the look. He drew himself up and passed his hand over his forehead.
"I believe - perhaps he is right," he murmured.
"Sure he's right!" said Tembarom. "He's the sort of chap who ought to know. He's been made into a baronet for knowing. Sir Ormsby Galloway, by jings! That's no slouch of a name Oh, he knows, you bet your life!"
This morning when he had seen him he had spoken of the plan again. The visitors had gone away; the servants could be sent out of sight and hearing; they could go into the library and smoke and he could look at the books. And then they could take a look at the picture-gallery if he wasn't too tired. It would be a change anyhow.
To-night, as he went up the huge staircase, Tembarom's calmness of being had not increased. He was aware of a quickened pulse and of a slight dampness on his forehead. The dead silence of the house added to the unusualness of things. He could not remember ever having been so anxious before, except on the occasion when he had taken his first day's "stuff" to Galton, and had stood watching him as he read it. His forehead had grown damp then. But he showed no outward signs of excitement when he entered the room and found Strangeways standing, perfectly attired in evening dress.
Pearson, setting things in order at the other side of the room, was taking note of him furtively over his shoulder. Quite in the casual manner of the ordinary man, he had expressed his intention of dressing for the evening, and Pearson had thanked his stars for the fact that the necessary garments were at hand. From the first, he had not infrequently asked for articles such as only the resources of a complete masculine wardrobe could supply; and on one occasion he had suddenly wished to dress for dinner, and the lame excuses it had been necessary to make had disturbed him horribly instead of pacifying him. To explain that his condition precluded the necessity of the usual appurtenances would have been out of the question. He had been angry. What did Pearson mean? What was the matter? He had said it over and over again, and then had sunk into a hopelessly bewildered mood, and had sat huddled in his dressing-gown staring at the fire. Pearson had been so harrowed by the situation that it had been his own idea to suggest to his master that all possible requirements should be provided. There were occasions when it appeared that the cloud over him lifted for a passing moment, and a gleam of light recalled to him some familiar usage of his past. When he had finished dressing, Pearson had been almost startled by the amount of effect produced by the straight, correctly cut lines of black and white. The mere change of clothes had suddenly changed the man himself--had "done something to him," Pearson put it. After his first glance at the mirror he had straightened himself, as if recognizing the fault of his own carriage. When he crossed the room it was with the action of a man who has been trained to move well. The good looks, which had been almost hidden behind a veil of uncertainty of expression and strained fearfulness, became obvious. He was tall, and his lean limbs were splendidly hung together. His head was perfectly set, and the bearing of his square shoulders was a soldierly thing. It was an extraordinarily handsome man Tembarom and Pearson found themselves gazing at. Each glanced involuntarily at the other.
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