“Before we answer your questions, Mrs. Ralston,” he said, “there’s one I’ll take leave to ask you. When Sir Gilbert came back at your father’s death, did you recognize him?”
Mrs. Ralston tossed her head with obvious impatience.
“Now, what ridiculous nonsense, Mr. Lindsey!” she exclaimed. “How on earth do you suppose that I could recognize a man whom I hadn’t seen since I was a child of seven—and certainly not for at least thirty years? Of course I didn’t!—impossible!”
THE BANK BALANCE
It was now Mr. Portlethorpe and I who looked at each other—with a mutual questioning. What was Mr. Lindsey hinting, suggesting? And Mr. Portlethorpe suddenly turned on him with a direct inquiry.
“What is it you are after, Lindsey?” he asked. “There’s something in your mind.”
“A lot,” answered Mr. Lindsey. “And before I let it out, I think we’d better fully inform Mrs. Ralston of everything that’s happened, and of how things stand, up to and including this moment. This is the position, Mrs. Ralston, and the facts”—and he went on to give his caller a brief but complete summary of all that he and Mr. Portlethorpe had just talked over. “You now see how matters are,” he concluded, at the end of his epitome, during his delivery of which the lady had gradually grown more and more portentous of countenance. “Now,—what do you say?”
Mrs. Ralston spoke sharply and decisively.
“Precisely what I have felt inclined to say more than once of late!” she answered. “I’m beginning to suspect that the man who calls himself Sir Gilbert Carstairs is not Sir Gilbert Carstairs at all! He’s an impostor!”
In spite of my subordinate position as a privileged but inferior member of the conference, I could not help letting out a hasty exclamation of astonishment at that. I was thoroughly and genuinely astounded—such a notion as that had never once occurred to me. An impostor!—not the real man? The idea was amazing—and Mr. Portlethorpe found it amazing, too, and he seconded my exclamation with another, and emphasized it with an incredulous laugh.
“My dear madam!” he said deprecatingly. “Really! That’s impossible!”
But Mr. Lindsey, calmer than ever, nodded his head confidently.
“I’m absolutely of Mrs. Ralston’s opinion,” he declared. “What she suggests I believe to be true. An impostor!”
Mr. Portlethorpe flushed and began to look very uneasy.
“Really!” he repeated. “Really, Lindsey!—you forget that I examined into the whole thing! I saw all the papers—letters, documents—Oh, the suggestion is—you’ll pardon me, Mrs. Ralston—ridiculous! No man could have been in possession of those documents unless he’d been the real man—the absolute Simon Pure! Why, my dear lady, he produced letters written by yourself, when you were a little girl—and—and all sorts of little private matters. It’s impossible that there has been any imposture—a—a reflection on me!”