If Josephine came with great reluctance to lunch with her dearest friend because of her precipitate dislike to Mr. Winwood, she was of course sufficiently a woman of the world to avoid betraying in any way that might cause her friend to feel uncomfortable, her antipathy to him—perhaps antipathy was too strong a word to think, Amber thought; but she felt that if she did Josephine an injustice in letting so strong a word come into her mind in this connection, the mystic manner—the absurd and inexplicable contradictoriness of Josephine was alone accountable for it.

Amber felt a little nervous in observing the attitude of Mr. Winwood in respect of Josephine. If he were to give any sign of returning Josephine’s—well, not antipathy—uncongeniality would be a better word, Amber felt that she should have just cause for annoyance.

The result of her observation of him was to relieve her mind of its burden of doubt. He looked more than pleased when he found himself face to face with Miss West.

And then it was that Amber first came to perceive that Pierce Winwood was a very good-looking man. He had a frank way of standing in front of one that somehow suggested a schoolboy thirsting for information from his betters.

“I thought that London was a place where one never found out the name of one’s next door neighbour and never met the same person twice, but I am glad to discover my mistake,” said he when Josephine had shaken hands with him.

And then Amber breathed freely.

And Josephine treated him with positive cordiality—“How amazingly well a woman can conceal her real feelings,” was Amber’s thought when she noticed how pleasantly her friend smiled looking straight into Mr. Winwood’s face while she said:

“I think our life here quite delightful: we need only meet a second time the people whom we like. In the country one is compelled to take the goats with the sheep: one has no choice in the matter.”

“A second time?” said he. “What about a third time? Is a third time possible?”

“Almost inevitable—if one passes the second time,” said Josephine.

“You are building up my hopes,” he said, turning away from her.

She was petting the Persian cat, Shagpat by name.

And at this moment Sir Creighton entered the room and his daughter noticed the quick scrutiny that he gave to the face of the younger man. She also noticed the return of that nervous awkwardness which the younger man had displayed on meeting her on the Sunday afternoon. It never occurred to her that the man who called himself Pierce Winwood and who said that his father had once known hers might be an impostor.

Sir Creighton shook hands with him and said he was glad that he was able to come.

“There are so many things going on just now, are there not?” he said. “And I suppose you are anxious to attend everything, Mr. Winwood.”

“One must lunch somewhere,” said Amber. “Lunch is a sort of postscript to one’s breakfast in London town,” said Sir Creighton. “I don’t suppose that any one except we working men can get over breakfast before eleven. What time does your father breakfast on the morning after a late sitting of the House, Josephine?”

“He is invariably the first one of the household to be in the breakfast room,” said Josephine.

“I find people in London the earliest to bed and the earliest to rise of any I have ever known,” remarked Winwood. “I was led into Bohemia the other evening. I found it the most orderly and certainly the earliest of communities. The greater number of the revellers drank nothing but Apollinaris and hurried off to catch suburban trains.”

“I heard some one say the other day that the Underground Railway has done more to advance the cause of temperance than all the lecturers in the world,” said Lady Severn.

“I am afraid that even the once potent magic-lantern must take a second place as a reforming agent,” said Sir Creighton.

“I believe that there is still one real Bohemian alive in London to-day,” said Josephine. “He is one of the aborigines and he is as carefully looked after as if he were a Maori or a Pitcairn Islander.”

“He was pointed out to me,” said Winwood. “He is, I hear, the sole survivor of a once dilapidated community. He forms an excellent example to those who may fancy that there was anything fascinating in mediocrity combined with potations.” And all this time Amber perceived that her father was scrutinising the face of Pierce Winwood, but giving no indication that he recalled in the face of the son any of the features of the father, whom her father was supposed to know.

The conversation which was being eked out until the meal should be announced became too attenuated even to serve this purpose, but just at the right moment the relief came; and of course when the little party had settled down at the table topics were not wanting, and also as a matter of course every topic had to be general: there was no possibility of Sir Creighton and Winwood discussing between themselves any matter that they might have to discuss. Amber, who gave herself up to observing everything, came to the conclusion that on the whole her father was favourably impressed by the personality of the Australian; but somehow the latter did not succeed in inducing Josephine to talk as she usually could talk. She was not so silent as to call for remark; but there was at the table none of that “forced draught” conversation which Sir Creighton usually found so stimulating.

When the two men were left together, and had lighted cigars, the younger did not wait for his host to lead up to the question of his identity.

“I have been wondering, with some anxiety, Sir Creighton, if I have yet suggested any person to your memory.”

“I am a scientific man, and therefore not quite so liable as most people to accept fancies on the same basis as real evidence,” said Sir Creighton. “It would be impossible for me to say that your features suggested to me those of any man with whom I was acquainted years ago—how many years ago?”

Winwood shook his head.

“I cannot say how many years ago it was that you were acquainted with my father,” he said. “I thought that perhaps—no one has ever suggested a likeness between my father and myself, still I thought—well, one often sees transmitted some personal trait—some mannerism that recalls an individuality. That is a scientific truth, is it not, Sir Creighton?”

“It is highly scientific,” said Sir Creighton with a laugh. “Yes, on that basis, I admit that—once or twice, perhaps—a recollection seemed to be awakened; but—what is in my mind at this moment, is the imitation of well-known actors to which one is treated in unguarded moments by popular entertainers. I dare say that you have noticed also that it is only when the entertainer has announced the name of the well-known actor whom he imitates that the imitation becomes plausible. Now, although I occasionally boast of being influenced only by scientific methods, still I fancy that if I knew the name of your father I should have less difficulty recalling the man whose personalities—that is some of them—a few—are echoed by you. I knew no one bearing the name Winwood.”

“You ask me the question which I was in hopes you could answer, Sir Creighton,” said Winwood. “I had no idea that the name by which my father was known during the forty years or so that he lived in the colony was an assumed one. I never found out what was his real one. To say the truth, it is only recently that my curiosity on this point has been aroused. In a young colony there is a good deal of uncertainty with regard to names.”

“I dare say. You told my daughter a curious and an almost incredible story, however, and she repeated it to me,” said Sir Creighton.

“You will not tell me that you never heard that story before,” cried the younger man, half rising from his seat. “If you tell me so, I shall feel uncommonly like an impostor.”

“Oh, no; I heard all the details of that story long ago,” replied Sir Creighton. “Only, as it was told to me I fail to see what bearing it has upon your identity.”

“The man who suffered in the place of his friend was my father, Sir Creighton,” said Winwood. “Now you know the name of the original actor of whose personality I have been giving you imitations—faint imitations, I dare say.”

“Yes, now I know; and I admit that I see the original much more clearly,” said Sir Creighton laughing. But his listener was not laughing. He was leaning his head on his hand, his elbow being on the table, and seemed to be lost in thought. There was no elation in his expression at Sir Creighton’s admission.

Sir Creighton became equally grave in a moment.

“It was the cruellest thing and the most heroic thing ever done in the world,” said he in a low voice. “It was to me your father told the truth about that confession of his, and he did so only on my promising in the most solemn way that I would keep the matter a secret. I often wonder if I was justified in adhering to my promise.”

“When he told me the story he rather prided himself on his judgment in selecting you as his confidant,” said Winwood. “Yes; he said that he knew he could trust you to keep his secret.”

“I don’t think that I would have kept it if he had entrusted it to me before he had suffered his imprisonment,” said Sir Creighton. “He did not do so, however, until his release and when he was on the point of sailing for South America—it was for South America he sailed, not Australia.”

“He remained for nearly five years in Rio Janeiro,” said Winwood. “The training which we received at the engineering works he was able to turn to good account at Rio, and so far as I could gather he made enough money to give him a start in Australia. He succeeded and I think he was happy. It was not until he had reached his last year that he told me the story.”

“He did so without any bitterness in regard to the other man, I am sure,” said Sir Creighton.

“Without a single word of reproach,” said Win-wood. “He really felt glad that the other man had prospered—he told me that he had prospered and that he had reached a high position in the world.”

“You see your father rightly thought of himself as having saved the man from destruction; not merely from the disgrace which would have been the direct result of his forgery being discovered, but from the contemptible life which he was leading. I don’t know if your father told you that one of the conditions of the strange compact between them was that he would change his life; and for once the man fulfilled that part of his compact. Your father saved him.”

Winwood nodded in assent, while he still allowed his head to rest on his hand, as if he were lost in thought.

Suddenly he turned his eyes upon Sir Creighton, then drew his chair closer to him, and leaning forward, said:

“Sir Creighton, will you tell me what is the name of that man?”

Sir Creighton was awaiting this question. He had been considering for the previous two days what answer he should return to this question, and yet he felt taken somewhat unawares for he did not expect that his conversation with Winwood would lead to a view of his father’s act from the standpoint from which it now seemed that he regarded it.

“It appears to me that your father had his own reasons—very excellent reasons too—for refraining from telling you either his own name or the name of the man whom he saved from destruction,” he said. “I wonder if I have any right to make you acquainted with what he withheld. What is your opinion on this matter?”

“I asked you to tell me the man’s name, Sir Creighton,” replied Winwood.

“I have no doubt that you are intensely interested in the search for his name,” said Sir Creighton. “But do you really think that I should be justified in telling you what your father clearly meant to remain a secret? Just at present I feel very strongly that I have no right to do this. If any one would be happier for my telling you the man’s name I dare say that I might, at least, be tempted to do so; but no one would be the happier for it. On the contrary, you yourself would, I know, be sorry that I told you the name of the man, and as for the man—as I am acquainted with him to-day and have some respect for him——”

“Some respect?”

“Some respect—in fact, in spite of my knowing all that I do, a good deal of respect—as, I repeat, I have no desire to make him unhappy, I shall not tell you what is his name—I shall not tell him that the son of the man whom he allowed to suffer for his crime, is alive and anxious to know all about him.”

“You mean that you will not tell me—-just yet.”

“That is exactly what is in my mind at this moment. I should have added those words of yours ‘just yet,’ to what I said regarding both you—and the man. I may think it due to you to tell you some day; and I may also think it due to—the man to tell him. Meantime—not just yet—I hope you are not unsatisfied, my boy?”

Sir Creighton put out his hand with more than cordiality—absolute tenderness, and the younger man took it, and was deeply affected.

“I am satisfied—more than satisfied,” he said in a low voice. “I shall try to be worthy of such a father as I had.”

“You are worthy, my boy—I know it now,” said Sir Creighton. “You do not shrink from self-sacrifice. I hoped to find that my old friend had such a son as you. I may be able to do something for you—to help you in a way that—that—oh, we need not lay plans for the future; it is only such plans that are never realised. Now I think we can face the drawing-room.”

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook