Baffled in this, has he stayed himself, or has he planted Dawson here by way of sentinel?'
'Himself, beyond a doubt,' said I. 'And yet to what end? He cannot think to pass the night there!'
'If it were only possible to pay no heed!' said Mr. Romaine. 'But this is the accursed drawback of your position. We can do nothing openly. I must smuggle you out of this room and out of this house like seizable goods; and how am I to set about it with a sentinel planted at your very door?'
'There is no good in being agitated,' said I.
'None at all,' he acquiesced. 'And, come to think of it, it is droll enough that I should have been that very moment commenting on your personal appearance, when your cousin came upon this mission. I was saying, if you remember, that your face was as good or better than a letter of recommendation. I wonder if M. Alain would be like the rest of us--I wonder what he would think of it?'
Mr. Romaine was sitting in a chair by the fire with his back to the windows, and I was myself kneeling on the hearthrug and beginning mechanically to pick up the scattered bills, when a honeyed voice joined suddenly in our conversation.
'He thinks well of it, Mr. Romaine. He begs to join himself to that circle of admirers which you indicate to exist already.'
CHAPTER XIX--THE DEVIL AND ALL AT AMERSHAM PLACE
Never did two human creatures get to their feet with more alacrity than the lawyer and myself. We had locked and barred the main gates of the citadel; but unhappily we had left open the bath-room sally-port; and here we found the voice of the hostile trumpets sounding from within, and all our defences taken in reverse. I took but the time to whisper Mr. Romaine in the ear: 'Here is another tableau for you!' at which he looked at me a moment with a kind of pathos, as who should say, 'Don't hit a man when he's down.' Then I transferred my eyes to my enemy.
He had his hat on, a little on one side: it was a very tall hat, raked extremely, and had a narrow curling brim. His hair was all curled out in masses like an Italian mountebank--a most unpardonable fashion. He sported a huge tippeted overcoat of frieze, such as watchmen wear, only the inside was lined with costly furs, and he kept it half open to display the exquisite linen, the many-coloured waistcoat, and the profuse jewellery of watch-chains and brooches underneath. The leg and the ankle were turned to a miracle. It is out of the question that I should deny the resemblance altogether, since it has been remarked by so many different persons whom I cannot reasonably accuse of a conspiracy. As a matter of fact, I saw little of it and confessed to nothing. Certainly he was what some might call handsome, of a pictorial, exuberant style of beauty, all attitude, profile, and impudence: a man whom I could see in fancy parade on the grand stand at a race- meeting or swagger in Piccadilly, staring down the women, and stared at himself with admiration by the coal-porters. Of his frame of mind at that moment his face offered a lively if an unconscious picture. He was lividly pale, and his lip was caught up in a smile that could almost be called a snarl, of a sheer, arid malignity that appalled me and yet put me on my mettle for the encounter. He looked me up and down, then bowed and took off his hat to me.
'My cousin, I presume?' he said.
'I understand I have that honour,' I replied.
'The honour is mine,' said he, and his voice shook as he said it.
'I should make you welcome, I believe,' said I.
'Why?' he inquired. 'This poor house has been my home for longer than I care to claim. That you should already take upon yourself the duties of host here is to be at unnecessary pains. Believe me, that part would be more becomingly mine. And, by the way, I must not fail to offer you my little compliment. It is a gratifying surprise to meet you in the dress of a gentleman, and to see'--with a circular look upon the scattered bills--'that your necessities have already been so liberally relieved.'
I bowed with a smile that was perhaps no less hateful than his own.