The Four Faces: A MysteryWilliam Le Queux
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charlie Kirschner and PGDistributed Proofreaders
THE FOUR FACES
WILLIAM LE QUEUX
AUTHOR OF "THE DEATH DOCTOR," "FATAL THIRTEEN" "LYING LIPS," ETC. ETC.
CHAPTERI. CURIOSITY IS AROUSEDII. THE ANGEL FACESIII. A HAMPSTEAD MYSTERYIV. IN FULL CRYV. HUGESSON GASTRELL AT HOMEVI. THE HOUSE IN GRAFTON STREETVII. OSBORNE'S STORYVIII. MORE SUSPICIONSIX. THE SNAREX. NARRATES A CONFESSIONXI. CONCERNS MRS. STAPLETONXII. THE BROAD HIGHWAYXIII. THE BARONXIV. IN THE MISTSXV. THE MODERN VICEXVI. SECRETS OF DUSKY FOWLXVII. IS SUSPICIOUSXVIII. CONTAINS ANOTHER SURPRISEXIX. "IN THE PAPERS"XX. PRESTON AGAINXXI. A CHANNEL MYSTERYXXII. THE THIN-FACED STRANGERXXIII. RELATES A QUEER ADVENTUREXXIV. IN STRANGE COMPANYXXV. THE GLITTERING UNDERWORLDXXVI. "THAT WOMAN!"XXVII. THE FOUR FACESXXVIII. THE FACES UNMASKED CONCLUSION
THE FOUR FACES
CURIOSITY IS AROUSED
"I confess I'd like to know somethin' more about him."
"Where did you run across him first?"
"I didn't run across him; he ran across me, and in rather a curious way.We live in Linden Gardens now, you know. Several of the houses there arealmost exactly alike, and about a month ago, at a dinner party we weregivin', a young man was shown in. His name was unknown to me, so Isupposed that he must be some friend of my wife's. Then I saw that hewas a stranger to her too, and then all at once he became very confused,inquired if he were in Sir Harry Dawson's house--Sir Harry lives in thehouse next to ours--and, findin' he was not, apologized profusely forhis mistake, and left hurriedly."
"Anyone might make a mistake of that kind in some London houses," thesecond speaker said. "What is he like? Is he a gentleman?"
"And for how long have you leased him your house in Cumberland Place?"
"Seven years, with option of renewal."
"And you mean to say you know nothing about him?"
"I won't say 'nothin',' but I know comparatively little about him.Houston and Prince, the house agents, assure me they've made inquiries,and that he is a rich young man whose uncle amassed a large fortune inTasmania--I didn't know fortunes were to be made in Tasmania, did you?The uncle died six months ago, Houston and Prince tell me, and HugessonGastrell has inherited everything he left. They say that they haveascertained that Gastrell's parents died when he was quite a child, andthat this uncle who has died has been his guardian ever since."
"That sounds right enough. What more do you want to know?"
"It somehow seems to me very strange that I should have come to knowthis man, Gastrell, without introduction of any kind--even have becomeintimate with him. On the day after he had come to my house by accident,he called to fetch a pair of gloves which, in his confusion on theprevious evenin', he had left in the hall. He asked if he might see me,and then he again apologized for the mistake he had made the nightbefore. We stayed talkin' for, I suppose, fully half an hour--he's anexcellent talker, and exceedingly well-informed--and incidentally hementioned that he was lookin' for a house. From his description of whathe wanted it at once struck me that my Cumberland Place house would bethe very thing for him--I simply can't afford to live there now, as youknow, and for months I have been tryin' to let it. I told him about it,and he asked if he might see it, and--well, the thing's done; he has itnow, as I say, on a seven years' lease."
"Then why worry?"
"I am not worryin'--I never worry--the most foolish thing any man can dois to worry. All I say is--I should like to know somethin' more aboutthe feller. He may be quite all right--I have not the least reason forsupposin' he isn't--but my wife has taken a strong dislike to him. Shesays she mistrusts him. She has said so from the beginnin'. After he hadasked to see me that mornin', the mornin' he called for his gloves, andwe had talked about the house, I invited him to lunch and introduced himto my wife. Since then he has dined with us several times, and--well, mywife is most insistent about it--she declares she is sure he isn't whathe seems to be, and she wanted me not to let him the house."
"Women have wonderful intuition in reading characters."
"I know they have, and that's why I feel--well, why I feel just theleast bit uneasy. What has made me feel so to-day is that I have justheard from Sir Harry Dawson, who is on the Riviera, and he says that hedoesn't know Hugesson Gastrell, has never heard of him. There, readhis letter."
Seated in my club on a dull December afternoon, that was part of aconversation I overheard, which greatly interested me. It interested mebecause only a short time before I had, while staying in Geneva, becomeacquainted at the hotel with a man named Gastrell, and I wondered if hecould be the same. From the remarks I had just heard I suspected that hemust be, for the young man in Geneva had also been an individual ofconsiderable personality, and a good conversationalist.
If I had been personally acquainted with either of the two speakers, whostill stood with their backs to the fire and their hands under theircoat-tails, talking now about some wonderful run with the Pytchley, Ishould have told him I believed I had met the individual they had justbeen discussing; but at Brooks's it is not usual for members to talk toother members unintroduced. Therefore I remained sprawling in the bigarm-chair, where I had been pretending to read a newspaper, hoping thatsomething more would be said about Gastrell. Presently my patiencewas rewarded.
"By the way, this feller Gastrell who's taken my house tells me he'sfond of huntin'," the first speaker--whom I knew to be Lord Easterton, aman said to have spent three small fortunes in trying to make a bigone--remarked. "Said somethin' about huntin' with the Belvoir or theQuorn. Shouldn't be surprised if he got put up for this club later."
"Should you propose him if he asked you?"
"Certainly, provided I found out all about him. He's a gentlemanalthough he is an Australian--he told Houston and Prince he was born andeducated in Melbourne, and went to his uncle in Tasmania immediately heleft school; but he hasn't a scrap of that ugly Australian accent; infact, he talks just like you or me or anybody else, and would pass foran Englishman anywhere."
Without a doubt that must be the man I had met, I reflected as the twospeakers presently sauntered out of the room, talking again of hunting,one of the principal topics of conversation in Brooks's. I, MichaelBerrington, am a man of leisure, an idler I am ashamed to say, myparents having brought me up to be what is commonly and often soerroneously termed "a gentleman," and left me, when they died, heir to acosy little property in Northamptonshire, and with some L80,000 safelyinvested. As a result I spend many months of the year in travel, for Iam a bachelor with no ties of any kind, and the more I travel and themore my mind expands, the more cosmopolitan I become and the moreinclined I feel to kick against silly conventions such as this one atBrooks's which prevented my addressing Lord Easterton or his friend--menI see in the club every day I am there, and who know me quite well bysight, though we only stare stonily at each other--and asking moreabout Gastrell.
So Lady Easterton had taken an instinctive dislike to this young man,Hugesson Gastrell, and openly told her husband that she mistrusted him.Now, that was curious, I reflected, for I had spoken to him severaltimes while in Geneva, and though his personality had appealed tome, yet--
Well, there was something about him that puzzled me, something--I cannotdefine what it was, for it was more like a feeling or sensation whichcame over me while I was with him--a feeling that he was not wh
at heappeared to be, and that I saw, so to speak, only his outer surface.
The greeting cut my train of thought, and, screwing myself round in thebig arm-chair, I looked up.
"Why, Jack!" I exclaimed, "I had no idea you were in England. I thoughtyou were bagging rhinoceroses and things in Nigeria or somewhere."
"So I have been. Got back yesterday. Sorry I am back, to tell you thetruth," and he glanced significantly towards the window. A fine, wettingdrizzle was falling; dozens of umbrellas passed to and fro outside; thestreet lamps were lit, though it was barely three o'clock, and in theroom that we were in the electric lights were switched on. The sky wasthe colour of street mud, through which the sun, a huge, blood-red disc,strove to pierce the depressing murk of London's winter atmosphere,thereby creating a lurid and dismal effect.
Jack Osborne is a man I rather like, in spite of the fact that his soleaim in life is to kill things. When he isn't shooting "hippos" and"rhinos" and bears and lions in out-of-the-way parts of the world, he isusually plastering pheasants in the home covers, or tramping the fieldsand moors where partridges and grouse abound.
"Had a good time?" I asked some moments later.
"Ripping," he answered, "quite ripping," and he went on to tell me thenumber of beasts he had slain, particulars about them and the way he hadoutwitted them. I managed to listen for ten minutes or so withoutyawning, and then suddenly he remarked:
"I met a man on board ship, on the way home, who said he knewyou--feller named Gastrell. Said he met you in Geneva, and liked youlike anything. Struck me as rather a rum sort--what? Couldn't quite makehim out. Who is he and what is he? What's he do?"
"I know as little about him as you do," I answered. "I know him onlyslightly--we were staying at the same hotel in Geneva. I heard LordEasterton, who was in here half an hour ago, saying he had let his housein Cumberland Place to a man named Gastrell--Hugesson Gastrell. I wonderif it is the man I met in Geneva and that you say you met on board ship.When did you land?"
"Yesterday, at Southampton. Came by the _Masonic_ from Capetown."
"And where did Gastrell come from?"
"Capetown too. I didn't notice him until we were near the end of thevoyage. He must have remained below a good deal, I think."
I paused, thinking.
"In that case," I said, "the Gastrell who has leased Easterton's housecan't be the man you and I have met, because, from what Easterton said,he saw his man quite recently. Ah, here is Lord Easterton," I added, asthe door opened and he re-entered. "You know him, don't you?"
"Quite well," Jack Osborne answered, "Don't you? Come, I'll introduceyou, and then we'll clear this thing up."
It was not until Osborne and Lord Easterton had talked for some timeabout shooting in general, and about "hippo" and "rhino" and "'gator"killing in particular, and I had been forced to listen to a repetitionof incidents to do with the sport that Jack Osborne had obtained inNigeria and elsewhere, that Jack presently said:
"Berrington tells me, Easterton, he heard you say that you have let yourhouse to a man named Gastrell, and we were wondering if he is theGastrell we both know--a tall man of twenty-eight or so, with dark hairand very good-looking, queer kind of eyes--what?"
"Oh, so you know him?" Easterton exclaimed. "That's good. I want to findout who he is, where he comes from, in fact all about him. I have areason for wanting to know."
"He came from Capetown with me--landed at Southampton yesterday,"Osborne said quickly.
"Capetown? Arrived yesterday? Oh, then yours must be a different man.Tell me what he is like."
Osborne gave a detailed description.
"And at the side of his chin," he ended, "he's got a little scar, sortof scar you see on German students' faces, only quite small--doesn'tdisfigure him a bit."
"But this is extraordinary," Lord Easterton exclaimed. "You havedescribed my man to the letter--even to the scar. Can they be twins?Even twins, though, wouldn't have the same scar, the result probably ofsome accident. You say your man landed only yesterday?"
"Yes, we came off the ship together."
"Then he was on board on--let me think--ten days or so ago?"
"It's most singular, this apparent likeness between the two men."
"It is--if they really are alike. When shall you see your man again?"Osborne inquired.
"I have this moment had a letter from him," Easterton answered. "He asksme to lunch with him at the Cafe Royal to-morrow. Look here, I'll tellyou what I'll do--I'll say I'm engaged or somethin', and ask him to dinehere one evenin'. Then if you will both give me the pleasure of yourcompany, we shall at once find out if your Gastrell and mine are thesame--they can't be the same, of course, as your man was in the middleof the ocean on the day mine was here in London; I mean we'll find outif he has a twin brother."
"Have you met his wife?" Jack Osborne inquired carelessly, as he lit along cigar.
"Phew! Yes. I should say so. One of the most gloriously beautiful womenI have ever seen in my life. She was on board with him, and I believeeverybody on the ship was head over ears in love with her. I knowI was."
"Ah, that settles it," Easterton said. "My man is a bachelor."
Osborne smiled in a curious way, and blew a cloud of smoke towards theceiling without saying anything.
"Why, what is it?" Easterton asked, noticing the smile.
"Oh, nothing. A little thought that crept into my brain, that's all."
"Tell us what your Gastrell's wife is like," Easterton pursued.
"Like? What is she not like! Think of all the most lovely girls andwomen you have ever set eyes on, and roll them into one, and still youwon't get the equal of Jasmine Gastrell. What is she like? By heaven,you might as well ask me to describe the taste of nectar!"
"Dark or fair?"
"It isn't nonsense, Easterton. She has the strangest eyes--they arereally green, I suppose, but they look quite blue in some lights, and inother lights deep purple. They are the most extraordinary eyes I haveever seen; a woman with eyes like that must have tremendous intelligenceand quite exceptional personality. It's useless for me to try todescribe the rest of her face; it's too lovely for anything."
"And her hair?" Easterton asked. "Has she dark hair or fair?"
"Ah, Jack, stop rottin'," Easterton exclaimed, laughing. "What is thecolour of the hair of this woman who has so set your heart on end?"
"It may be auburn; it may be chestnut-brown; it may be red for all Iknow, but I am hanged if I can say for certain which it is, or if it'sonly one colour or all three shades. But whatever it is it's perfectlylovely hair, and she has any amount of it. I wouldn't mind betting thatwhen she lets it down it falls quite to her feet and hangs all round herlike a cloak."
"I should like to meet this goddess, Jack," Easterton said, hiscuriosity aroused. "Though you are so wedded to hippos, and rhinos, and'gators and things, you don't seem entirely to have lost your sense ofappreciation of 'woman beautiful.' Where are she and herhusband staying?"
"I've not the least idea."
"Didn't they tell you their plans?"
"They said nothing whatever about themselves, though I tried once ortwice to draw them out. In that respect they were extraordinarilyreserved. In every other way they were delightful--especially Mrs.Gastrell, though I was greatly attracted by Gastrell too, when I came toknow him towards the end of the voyage."