One is reminded

Bethune went off in the cart, at the best speed of Aspasia’s pony,
carrying a second telegram, more weighty than that concerning M.
Châtelard’s luggage. This was a summons for a London specialist.

Although unaware that the Frenchman had himself a world-wide reputation
for such cases, English, with his habit of quick judgment, had decided
to trust the proffered skill. But, in the course of their conversation,
he had tentatively touched upon the advantage of a consultation; and the
suggestion was accepted; with so much alacrity, indeed, that a more
livid pallor spread over the husband’s countenance.

M. Châtelard saw the impression he had unwittingly produced. With fat
forefinger thrown out in emphasis, he promptly endeavoured to remove it.

“In cases of obscure diagnosis, two heads are always better than one,”
said he, kindly. “Yet your great Farrar will, I have no doubt—so much
confidence have I in myself, my dear sir—merely confirm my treatment—a
treatment, in parenthesis, purely negative. Paradoxical, yet true, sir,
the slower our fair patient recovers the better.”

To himself, as he sat down to his coffee, the genial physician remarked
complacently, that it would be _du dernier intérét_ to see _ce fameux
Farrar_ at work.

M. Châtelard was entirely satisfied with the situation, as far as it
concerned himself. He kept Harry English at his elbow, and, while
enjoying the excellent fare (_les émotions, ça creuse!_), discoursed
learnedly upon the brain, that terrible and fragile organism which he
had made his own especial study. His insatiable curiosity the while was
anticipating with gusto the moment when it could gratify itself upon the
enigmatic personality of his new-found host.

Fate played into his hand. For, ere he could insinuate the first
leading question, there entered upon them Sir Arthur. M. Châtelard was
forthwith made witness to a scene between the “two husbands” which was
to give him, in the most dramatic manner, all the information he
desired.

There they stood opposite each other—the old and the young. The most
complete contrast, perhaps, that it was possible to imagine. Harry
English, erect, square-shouldered, extraordinarily quiet, with head held
high and pendant arms, in an attitude not unlike that of the soldier in
the orderly-room, the oriental composure of his countenance occasionally
contradicted by a flash of the eye and a twist of the lip. Sir Arthur,
swinging between bluster and authority, both equally futile, painfully
conscious of a hopelessly ungraceful position. It is only the young
that the stress of passion becomes. When a man is past the prime of
life, every emotion that shakes him from the dignified self-control of
his years betrays him on to senility.

“Here, then, do we behold his Excellency as he is,” thought the judicial
looker-on. “Without toilet, without what milady Aspasia so brutally
calls ’grooming’; without the support of a commanding position—here
stands the natural man. And he is an old man, impotently angry—a sorry
spectacle, while the rival—ah, _belle jeunesse_!”

To the elderly Frenchman Harry English, still in the thirties, was to be
reckoned among the youthful. Sir Arthur began the interview by a renewal
of his last night’s threat of the police. Harry English smiled, and the
smile instantly worked havoc upon the Governor’s assumption of confident
authority. Rage broke forth.

“Look at him, Châtelard! There’s a pretty fellow to call himself an
Englishman. Look at the colour of his skin; look at his hair! By God,
man,” he yelled, “look at his teeth! The trick’s been done before, sir.
The wily servant, with his thieving knowledge of family secrets, playing
the part of his dead master. This is a new Tichborne case, and the babu
Muhammed will find what comes of such tricks.”

“Muhammed!” interrupted M. Châtelard, rising from his seat, “Muhammed!
dites-vous? Ma parole!”

His fingers flew up to steady his spectacles; his shrewd eyes fixed
themselves upon English with a gaze in which admiration contended with
amazement.

“Muhammed! … Ah, what the devil—a wonderful disguise! Even now I
hardly recognise, save, indeed, that he has worn a beard recently, as is
revealed by that pallid chin and throat—I protest I do not even
recognise Muhammed now in Captain English. No wonder,” thought the
Frenchman, in a rapid parenthesis, “that we French were as children in
India compared to these English. English he remains,” he chuckled,
playing on the name, “and yet, to suit his purpose, he can assimilate
himself to the black devil.”

“Ha, we’ve had a Tichborne case!” repeated Sir Arthur.

The silent man opposite looked at him, still silent, still smiling; but
into his eyes there crept a shade of pity. There was, indeed, something
pitiable in this pomposity so fallen, in this tyranny so powerless—in
Sir Arthur, brandishing his rag of defiance, standing the while in all
the nakedness of his cause.

“You are witness, Châtelard,” he was insisting.

M. Châtelard, pinching the wire of his glasses, lifted his gaze to
inspect the portrait which hung in the panel over the mantelpiece; then
brought it solemnly back to Harry English’s countenance. He turned and
spoke, not without enjoying the consciousness of the weight of his own
adverse verdict.—Expect no bowels of mercy from one whose life-work is
the study of other people’s brains.

“Alas! my excellent Sir Gerardine; I fear there above hangs a witness
with a testimony more emphatic than ever mine could be.”

Sir Arthur rolled his bloodshot eye towards the picture—another of those
infernal daubs! From the first instant he had set eyes on them, all
over the place, he had thought it in bad taste—in confoundedly bad
taste. Last night, in the bedroom, the sight of one of them had put him
off his balance altogether. But he had been, then, in a nervous state.
He knew better now.

“Pooh!” He tried to laugh, but his mouth twitched down at the corners,
with a childish tremble. “If every black-haired man is going to claim to
be my wife’s first husband——”

But everything was against Sir Arthur this morning. Who knows how far he
might have gone in convincing the inconvenient English that he could not
possibly be himself, if that objectionable person, Bethune—it was most
reprehensible of Rosamond to have received the fellow in her husband’s
absence—had not marched in upon them.

The Major of Guides stood a second, with beetling brows, measuring the
situation. Then, without a word, he strode across the room and took up
his post beside his comrade, so close that their shoulders touched. It
was mute testimony, but more convincing than spoken phrase.

M. Châtelard experienced one of those spasms of satisfaction which the
discovery of some fresh trait characteristic of the race under his
microscope never failed to cause him.

Those two silent ones, with what force they imposed themselves! “Voilâ
bien, l’Angleterre—sa morgue, son arrogance! She steps in—her mere
presence is enough. She disdains argument, she stands passive, massive,
she smiles—she remains. As for my poor Sir Gerardine, he represents
here the enemy. Ah, _sapristi_, it is not astonishing if it makes him
enraged.”

Sir Arthur, in truth, turned to an apoplectic purple, stammered wildly,
shook his balled hand—the telling retort failed him. Upon this, at
last, Captain English spoke:

“Sir Arthur,” said he, “believe me, you will, in due time, be furnished
with every proof of my identity that you can desire to see. Meanwhile
you will be wise if you accept the evidence of”—he paused, and there was
a subtle alteration in the clear steady voice—”the evidence of all that
has occurred this night—of my friend here, Major Bethune, and of the old
servant of my house.”

Sir Arthur turned sharply and met the vindictive stare of Bethune’s pale
eyes.

“I have recognised my friend, Captain English,” said Bethune, with harsh
decision.

Sir Arthur’s glance went quickly from one to the other. It was typical
of the man that, for the moment, the secondary irritation of having a
pair of twopenny-halfpenny Indian officers brow-beating him—browbeating
him, egad! the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province—for the moment,
almost outweighed the fact that his own huge personal tragedy was being
irremediably established.

“You are a witness, are you?” he snarled.

Bethune nodded.

“Then,” cried Sir Arthur, springing to his feet and thumping the table
so that all the china rattled, “you are a witness, sir, to as peculiar a
business as I think has ever been heard of in his Majesty’s service.
Captain English, I think—since it is agreed that this man is Captain
English—will find some little difficulty in explaining his proceedings
all these years.”

“You have heard of people being held prisoners,” said English, quietly.

“Yes,” screamed Sir Arthur, “but what about this disguise—this Muhammed
business?”

“I don’t expect you to understand my reasons,” pursued the other, in the
same manner; while, beside him, Bethune kept his taciturn watch. “But
you have, I recognise, the right to be told of them. I had to find out
if my wife was happy.”

“You had to find out if——” Sir Arthur pouncing upon the new
suggestion, to lay bare its folly, was suddenly arrested midway by a
glimmer of the other’s meaning and its extraordinary bearing upon
himself.

“If you wish, I shall put the matter clearer,” said the first husband,
incisively. “I had to find out if your wife was happy.”

“If my wife was happy!”

A vision rose before Sir Arthur—his wife, the wife of Sir Arthur
Gerardine, the wife of the Lieutenant-Governor, her Excellency, Lady
Gerardine, queen of her world, flashing in the glory of his diamonds and
emeralds, treading palace rooms, herself the centre of a court—his wife
petted, adulated, envied, the object of his chivalrous attention, of his
lavish indulgence, his constant solicitude—not happy! He broke into
boisterous laughter.

“Not happy! For that was your conclusion, I suppose?”

Still laughing, he flung a glance at M. Châtelard—eloquent. “Did you
ever hear such an absurdity in your life?” it said, in all languages.

M. Châtelard unaccountably dropped his eyes before that triumphant
appeal; and a dry cough of unwonted embarrassment escaped him. Sir
Arthur’s mirth changed from its first genuine note of sarcastic fury to
something that rang hollow and forced. Abruptly withdrawing his eyes
from the unresponsive Frenchman, he caught sight of his own countenance
reflected, in all the cruel morning light, by a mirror that hung between
the two windows. He stood staring. For a second he could not recognise
himself—an unkempt old man, with yellow trembling cheeks and vacant
mouth.

In such moments the body works unconsciously. Had Sir Arthur had proper
control over himself, the swift look at his rival, the immediate
comparison, was the last thing his vanity would have condescended to.
But his treacherous eyes had done their work before self-esteem could
intervene. And, for once, Sir Arthur Gerardine saw.

The braced figure of Henry English, with its noble lines of still young
manhood; the romantic head, refined, not aged, by suffering and
endurance, the vital flame in the eye. What a contrast! Sir Arthur
swayed, fell into a chair, and covered his face with his hands. Acrid
tears of self-pity were burning his lids. This is what they have brought
me to!

Of the other three in the room, there was not one who could find a word.
To see the strong suffer may be a painful yet inspiring sight, but there
are tragedies of the weak, before the sordid pity of which the mind
instinctively recoils.

“And you thought it honourable and gentlemanly to come into my house and
eat my bread and—and spy?” said the Lieutenant-Governor, raising his
head at last, turning dull orbs upon his whilom secretary.

The blood raced into Harry English’s face.

“Here,” thought Châtelard, scarcely breathing in his quiet corner of
observation, “here it is the old one scores at last.”

“I could not choose my methods, Sir Arthur.”

The ancient Chippendale clock, with a sigh between its ticks, measured
half a minute of heavy waiting. Then English spoke again, decisively,
vigorously, stepping to the table with the air of one determined to put
an end to an unbearable situation.

“Useless, all this. You shall have full evidence, as I said, in due
time. Meanwhile, here is a house of sorrow, and your presence in it
adds grievously to its burdens.”

A gleam lit the watery depths of Sir Arthur’s eyes.

“Here is a house of sorrow.” He was suddenly reminded of what, in the
absorption of his own misery, he had well-nigh forgotten—that the woman
lay in danger of death.

Were she to die now—who had committed this inconceivable
indiscretion—the situation might yet be saved. If she were to die, the
affair could be hushed up. He jumped to his feet.

“Well, and what do you think of her state, doctor?” cried he.

The greedy glance was a revelation. The whole mind of the man was laid
bare in its odious pettiness. With a dignified gesture the physician
refused answer.

But the soul of Harry English leaped forth in wrath, as the blade leaps
from the scabbard.

“Out of my house!” said he, his arm flung wide, pointing to the door.
Voice, gesture, look, spoke of a passion so intense that for a second
Sir Arthur quailed before it as one may before an unexpected flash of
lightning.

He retreated hurriedly a few steps, then wheeled round, his natural
combativeness reasserting itself.

“Your story is strange, singularly strange, Captain English,” he
sneered. “I shall consider it my duty to report it in proper quarters
without delay. You will have to produce some better explanations there,
sir, I fancy, than those which seem to satisfy a couple of silly women
and an ignorant foreigner—I mean,” his old habit of courtesy tugging
against the impulsiveness of his irritation—”I mean a foreigner ignorant
of our customs.” (M. Châtelard had an indulgent smile for the
correction.) “I shall report you, sir, and your accomplice there.”

A withering look included the stolid Bethune in this last indictment.

“Raymond, see that he goes,” said English, “that he goes at once—and
quietly.”

“Ah, yes, I beg,” interposed the doctor, with gravity. “Quiet is
imperative, Sir Gerardine.”

English walked over to the window and began to drum on the pane. Dr.
Châtelard removed his spectacles, and put them into his pocket.

“One is reminded of the history of the judgment of Solomon,” he remarked
genially, as he followed Bethune to the door. “Permettez, cher
capitaine? I return to your wife.”

“They’re going!” said Bethune, triumphantly. “Their fellow has patched
up the motor; it will take them as far as the station at least.”

Harry English, pacing the little study much after the manner of Muhammed
the night before, halted abruptly.

“They ought to have gone an hour ago,” he answered. And, when he looked
like that, for a certainty Captain English wore no pleasant countenance.
“What has he been doing?”

The relaxation of the muscles, which was Bethune’s usual substitute for
a smile, came over his face.

“First, he’s been trying to persuade Aspasia to go away with him. And
secondly, he’s been reproaching her for her unfilial behaviour in
refusing to leave us; and thirdly, he has been bestowing his avuncular
curse upon her and repudiating her for ever and ever. All this
naturally took some time.”

A flash of pleasure swept across the other’s gloom.

“So the girl sticks to us. That is right,” he said. Then the frown came
back. “You’ve warned them to be quiet, I hope, with their infernal
car?”

“I’ve told the chauffeur if he makes a sound more than he can help,
he’ll have me to deal with. I made the fellow swear to wait for them
halfway down the avenue. Lady Aspasia’s a good sort too, take her all
in all—has her head screwed on the right way. She’ll keep the old man
in order.”

English took a couple of turns again, and halted, his head bent. There
were voices passing in the hall without: Sir Arthur’s querulous tones,
Lady Aspasia’s unmistakable accents, strident even under her breath.
Bethune went to the window.

“There they go,” said he, presently. “She’s giving him her arm. By
George,” he went on, “she, for one, won’t be anxious to dispute your
identity, Harry!”

The other had sat down by the fire and was gazing into the flames after
his old attitude. Bethune, at the window, remained gazing upon the
departure of the undesired guests. In a second or two he broke forth
again:

“The motor’s jibbing! Good Lord, they’ll have it into the gate—now into
the apple-tree!” He gave a single note of mirth. “Lady Aspasia is
holding down Sir Arthur by main force. Of course he wants to teach the
chauffeur how to do it. But she knows better. By George,” ejaculated
Bethune, in a prophetic burst, “she’s the very woman for him! Ah, here
comes Miss Aspasia, hatless, to offer her opinion. I’d give something
to hear her; she does not want them back upon us—I warrant.” There was
a pause. “They’re off! Thank God, they’re off!” Still the man lingered
by the window.

Aspasia was waving her handkerchief ironically after the departing
company, as the car proceeded down the avenue, fitfully, at a speed
which (as she subsequently remarked) “would have made any
self-respecting cart-horse smile.”

When she turned to re-enter the house, Bethune had the vision of her
rosy face, all brightening with smiles. The interchange of mute
greetings, the swift impression of her fair light youth as she flashed
by, left him lost in a muse.

Harry English stirred in his chair and, on the moment, his friend was at
his side.

“They’re gone,” repeated he, rubbing his hands.

The other made no direct reply; but, stooping forward, picked up one of
the fragments of paper that had escaped Bethune’s hand in the morning’s
work of destruction.

He looked at it for a few seconds, abstractedly, and then laughed.

“So you were writing a life of me, old man?” said he.

Bethune stood, looking as if he had been convicted of the most abject
folly. And English lightly flicked the scrap into the blaze:

“The life that counts is the life that no other soul can know,” said he.

But he had no sooner said the words than he corrected himself, and his
voice took that altered note which marked any reference to his wife.

“At least,” he said, “no other soul but one.”

Those friends, who were so much to each other, in speech communicated
less than the most ordinary acquaintances. Bethune stood, in his wooden
way, looking down at the armchair. Just now he had something to say,
and it was difficult to him. At last, pointing to the hearth, as if he
still beheld the fruit of his labour of friendship being consumed in it,
he spoke, awkwardly:

“It did its work, though.”

English flashed an upward look, half humorous, half searching.

“What did its work?”

“The—my—oh, the damned Life!”

The other man pondered over the words a little while. Then, with a
smile that had something almost tender in it, he looked up at his friend
again:

“I am afraid you will have to explain a little more, Ray.”

Bethune shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The colour
mounted to his face. He stared down at English, wistfully.

“It’s a bit hard to explain,” he said, “yet I’d like you to know—that
diary, those letters of yours, I had to have them, extracts of them, for
the work, you see…. Well——”

Here came a pause of such length that English was fain to repeat:

“Well?”

Then Bethune blurted it out:

“She had never read them——”

“Ah!”

“She never wanted to read them. Oh!”—quickly, “it’s not that she didn’t
care.”

“You need not explain that.”

English’s head was bent. His voice was very quiet, but Bethune’s whole
being thrilled to the tumult he inarticularly felt in the other’s soul.
He half put out his hand to touch him, then drew it back.

“Go on with your story—with your own part of the story,” said Harry.

“She did not want to read them,” said Bethune. “I made her.”

The husband offered no comment; and, drawing a long breath like a child,
his friend went on:

“And when she read at last—oh! even I could see it—it was as if her
heart broke.”

Still the bent head, the hands clasped over the knees, the silence.
Bethune could bear it no longer, and took courage to lay that touch of
timid eager sympathy upon English’s shoulder.

“Harry, I’m such a fool, I can’t explain things.”

“Oh, I understand,” answered English then, in a deep vibrating voice.
He rose suddenly and squared himself, drawing in the air in a long sigh.
“Do you think I could misunderstand—her?”

Their looks met. There was a wonderful mixture of sweetness and sorrow
on the face of him whom life and death had equally betrayed.

Suddenly they clasped hands, for the first time since their parting in
the Baroghil passes. Then they stood awhile without speaking. Harry
English once more fixing visions in the fire, and Bethune looking at his
comrade.

For most of his years he had known no deeper affection than his
friendship for this man. He had mourned him with a grief which, now to
think on, seemed like a single furrow across the plain field of his
life; and there he stood!

“Captain, my Captain…” said Raymond. His rough voice trembled, and
he laughed loud to conceal it.

The other flashed round upon him with his rarely beautiful smile.

“Ah,” said he, “it’s like old times at last to hear you at your rags and
tags of quotation again!”

There fell again between them the pause that to both was so eloquent.

Then, from the far distance, into their silence penetrated a faint
uncouth sound: from the moorland road, the motor, carrying for ever out
of their lives him who had had so much power upon them, and was now so
futile a figure, seemed to raise a last impotent hoot.

Sir Arthur Gerardine was gone. Raymond rubbed his hands and smiled as
since boyhood he had scarcely smiled.

“It is good,” cried Harry, then, boyishly in his turn, “to see your
nut-cracker grin once more, Ray. As Muhammed, I’ve looked for it many a
time in vain—I thought I had lost my old sub.”

* * * * *

“But there’s one thing we must remember,” said Bethune, suddenly earnest
again, in the midst of the welcome relaxation. “We must remember the
old fellow’s threat. You will have a bit of a job to keep out of
trouble with the powers that be, won’t you, after Sir Arthur’s
meddling?”

The anxiety on his countenance was not reflected upon English’s face.

“I shall have my own story to tell,” he said, “and I think that I have
knowledge of sufficient value to make me a _persona grata_ in high
quarters just now. They will be rather more anxious, I take it, to
retain my services rather than dispense with them—in spite of Sir
Arthur.”

He broke off, his brow clouded again. He sighed heavily.

“But what does that matter?” he cried; “just now there is only one thing
that matters in the whole world.”