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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE FOUR-FIFTEEN EXPRESS by AMELIA B. EDWARDS.
"You have been abroad for some months, have you not, Mr. Langford?" he said with the desperation of one who flings himself into the breach. "I heard you had been to Russia. Surely you have something to tell us of the state and temper of the country after the war?"
I was heartily grateful to the gallant Skirmisher for this diversion in my favor. I answered him, I fear, somewhat lamely; but he kept the conversation up, and presently one or two others joined in, and so the difficulty, whatever it might have been, was bridged over. Bridged over, but not repaired. A something, an awkwardness, a visible constraint, remained. The guests hitherto had been simply dull; but now they were evidently uncomfortable and embarrassed.
The dessert had scarcely been placed upon the table when the ladies left the room. I seized the opportunity to select a vacant chair next Captain Prendergast.
"In Heaven's name," I whispered, "what was the matter just now? What had I said?" "You mentioned the name of John Dwerrihouse."
"What of that? I had seen him not two hours before."
"It is a most astounding circumstance that you should have seen him," said Captain Prendergast. "Are you sure it was he?"
"As sure as of my own identity. We were talking all the way between London and Blackwater. But why does that surprise you?"
"_Because,_" replied Captain Prendergast, dropping his voice to the lowest whisper,--"_because John Dwerrihouse absconded three months ago, with seventy-five thousand pounds of the company's money, and has never been heard of since._"
John Dwerrihouse had absconded three months ago,--and I had seen him only a few hours back. John Dwerrihouse had embezzled seventy-five thousand pounds of the company's money, yet told me that he carried that sum upon his person. Were ever facts so strangely incongruous, so difficult to reconcile? How should he have ventured again into the light of day? How dared he show himself along the line? Above all, what had he been doing throughout those mysterious three months of disappearance?
Perplexing questions these. Questions which at once suggested themselves to the minds of all concerned, but which admitted of no easy solution. I could find no reply to them. Captain Prendergast had not even a suggestion to offer. Jonathan Jelf, who seized the first opportunity of drawing me aside and learning all that I had to tell, was more amazed and bewildered than either of us. He came to my room that night, when all the guests were gone, and we talked the thing over from every point of view; without, it must be confessed, arriving at any kind of conclusion.
"I do not ask you," he said, "whether you can have mistaken your man. That is impossible."
"As impossible as that I should mistake some stranger for yourself."
"It is not a question of looks or voice, but of facts. That he should have alluded to the fire in the blue room is proof enough of John Dwerrihouse's identity. How did he look?"
"Older, I thought. Considerably older, paler, and more anxious."
"He has had enough to make him look anxious, anyhow," said my friend, gloomily; "be he innocent or guilty."
"I am inclined to believe that he is innocent," I replied. "He showed no embarrassment when I addressed him, and no uneasiness when the guard came round. His conversation was open to a fault. I might almost say that he talked too freely of the business which he had in hand."
"That again is strange; for I know no one more reticent on such subjects. He actually told you that he had the seventy-five thousand pounds in his pocket?"