A Face That Haunted Marriot





This is not a love affair, Marriot shouted, apologetically.



He had sat the others out again, but when I saw his intention I escaped

into my bedroom, and now refused to come out.



Look here, he cried, changing his tone, if you don't come out I'll

tell you all about it through the keyhole. It is the most extraordinary

story, and I can't keep it to myself. On my word of honor it isn't a

love affair--at least not exactly.



I let him talk after I had gone to bed.



You must know, he said, dropping cigarette ashes onto my pillow every

minute, that some time ago I fell in with Jack Goring's father, Colonel

Goring. Jack and I had been David and Jonathan at Cambridge, and though

we had not met for years, I looked forward with pleasure to meeting him

again. He was a widower, and his father and he kept joint house. But the

house was dreary now, for the colonel was alone in it. Jack was off on

a scientific expedition to the Pacific; all the girls had been married

for years. After dinner my host and I had rather a dull hour in the

smoking-room. I could not believe that Jack had grown very stout. 'I'll

show you his photograph,' said the colonel. An album was brought down

from a dusty shelf, and then I had to admit that my old friend had

become positively corpulent. But it is not Jack I want to speak about.

I turned listlessly over the pages of the album, stopping suddenly at

the face of a beautiful girl. You are not asleep, are you?



I am not naturally sentimental, as you know, and even now I am not

prepared to admit that I fell in love with this face. It was not, I

think, that kind of attraction. Possibly I should have passed the

photograph by had it not suggested old times to me--old times with a

veil over them, for I could not identify the face. That I had at some

period of my life known the original I felt certain, but I tapped my

memory in vain. The lady was a lovely blonde, with a profusion of fair

hair, and delicate features that were Roman when they were not Greek.

To describe a beautiful woman is altogether beyond me. No doubt this

face had faults. I fancy, for instance, that there was little character

in the chin, and that the eyes were 'melting' rather than expressive.

It was a vignette, the hands being clasped rather fancifully at the back

of the head. My fingers drummed on the album as I sat there pondering;

but when or where I had met the original I could not decide. The colonel

could give me no information. The album was Jack's, he said, and

probably had not been opened for years. The photograph, too, was an

old one; he was sure it had been in the house long before his son's

marriage, so that (and here the hard-hearted old gentleman chuckled) it

could no longer be like the original. As he seemed inclined to become

witty at my expense, I closed the album, and soon afterward I went away.

I say, wake up!






From that evening the face haunted me. I do not mean that it possessed

me to the exclusion of everything else, but at odd moments it would

rise before me, and then I fell into a revery. You must have noticed

my thoughtfulness of late. Often I have laid down my paper at the club

and tried to think back to the original. She was probably better known

to Jack Goring than to myself. All I was sure of was that she had been

known to both of us. Jack and I had first met at Cambridge. I thought

over the ladies I had known there, especially those who had been friends

of Goring's. Jack had never been a 'lady's man' precisely; but, as he

used to say, comparing himself with me, 'he had a heart.' The annals of

our Cambridge days were searched in vain. I tried the country house in

which he and I had spent a good many of our vacations. Suddenly I

remembered the reading-party in Devonshire--but no, she was dark. Once

Jack and I had a romantic adventure in Glencoe in which a lady and her

daughter were concerned. We tried to make the most of it; but in our

hearts we knew, after we had seen her by the morning light, that the

daughter was not beautiful. Then there was the French girl at Algiers.

Jack had kept me hanging on in Algiers a week longer than we meant to

stay. The pose of the head, the hands clasped behind it, a trick so

irritatingly familiar to me--was that the French girl? No, the lady

I was struggling to identify was certainly English. I'm sure you're

asleep.



A month elapsed before I had an opportunity of seeing the photograph

again. An idea had struck me which I meant to carry out. This was to

trace the photograph by means of the photographer. I did not like,

however, to mention the subject to Colonel Goring again, so I contrived

to find the album while he was out of the smoking-room. The number of

the photograph and the address of the photographer were all I wanted;

but just as I had got the photograph out of the album my host returned.

I slipped the thing quickly into my pocket, and he gave me no chance

of replacing it. Thus it was owing to an accident that I carried

the photograph away. My theft rendered me no assistance. True, the

photographer's name and address were there; but when I went to the place

mentioned it had disappeared to make way for 'residential chambers.' I

have a few other Cambridge friends here, and I showed some of these the

photograph. One, I am now aware, is under the impression that I am to be

married soon, but the others were rational. Grierson, of the War Office,

recognized the portrait at once. 'She is playing small parts at the

Criterion,' he said. Finchley, who is a promising man at the bar, also

recognized her. 'Her portraits were in all the illustrated papers five

years ago,' he told me, 'at the time when she got twelve months.' They

contradicted each other about her, however, and I satisfied myself that

she was neither an actress at the Criterion nor the adventuress of 1883.

It was, of course, conceivable that she was an actress, but if so her

face was not known in the fancy stationers' windows. Are you listening?



I saw that the mystery would remain unsolved until Jack's return home;

and when I had a letter from him a week ago, asking me to dine with him

to-night, I accepted eagerly. He was just home, he said, and I would

meet an old Cambridge man. We were to dine at Jack's club, and I took

the photograph with me. I recognized Jack as soon as I entered the

waiting-room of the club. A very short, very fat, smooth-faced man was

sitting beside him, with his hands clasped behind his head. I believe I

gasped. 'Don't you remember Tom Rufus,' Jack asked, 'who used to play

the female part at the Cambridge A.D.C.? Why, you helped me to choose

his wig at Fox's. I have a photograph of him in costume somewhere at

home. You might recall him by his trick of sitting with his hands

clasped behind his head.' I shook Rufus's hand. I went in to dinner,

and probably behaved myself. Now that it is over I cannot help being

thankful that I did not ask Jack for the name of the lady before I saw

Rufus. Good-night. I think I've burned a hole in the pillow.





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