I had broken off abruptly, for I was alarmed at the effect of my words. The young painter’s face had become ashen pale, and the brush had fallen out of his shaking hand. The next moment a fierce, angry light had come to his eyes.
‘What do you mean? who are you?’ he demanded, in a trembling voice, but even at the moment’s agitation I noticed he spoke with the refined intonation of a gentleman. ’I know nothing of what you say: you must take me for another man. I am Jack Poynter.’
‘Oh, Mr. Hamilton,’ I implored, stretching out my hands across the balcony, ’do not treat me as an enemy. I am a friend, who only means well. For Gladys’s sake listen to me a moment.’
‘I will hear nothing!’ he stammered angrily. ’I will not be hindered in my work any longer. Excuse me if I am rude to a lady, but you take me for another man.’ And before I could say another word he had stepped through the open window.
I could have wrung my hands in despair. He had denied his own identity at the very moment when his paleness and terror had proved it to me without doubt. ‘You take me for another man,’ he had said; and yet I could have sworn in a court of justice that he was Eric Hamilton; not only his face, but his voice; his manner, told me he was Gladys’s brother.
But he should not elude me like this, and I hurried downstairs, determined to find my way into the empty house and confront him again. The fastenings of the hall door gave me a little difficulty. I was afraid Clayton would hear me, but I found myself outside at last, and in another minute I was in the deserted drawing-room.
Alas! Eric was not there: only his paint-pot and brush lay on the balcony outside. Surely he could not have escaped me in these few minutes; he must be in one of the other rooms. At the top of the stairs I encountered a young workman, and began questioning him at once.
‘Well, this is a queer start,’ he observed, in some perplexity. ’I saw Jack only this moment: he wanted his jacket, for he said he had a summons somewhere. I noticed he was palish, and seemed all of a shake, but he did not answer when I called out to him.’
‘Do you mean he has gone?’ I asked, feeling ready to cry with disappointment.
’Yes, he has gone right enough; but he’ll be back presently, by the time the governor comes round. I wonder what’s up with Jack; he looked mighty queer, as though the peelers were after him; in an awful funk, I should say.’
‘Will you do me a favour, my man?’ and as I spoke a shining half-crown changed hands rather quietly. ’I want to speak to your friend Jack Poynter very particularly, but I am quite sure that he wishes to avoid me. If he comes back, will you write a word on a slip of paper and throw it on to the balcony of 64?—Just the words “At work now” will do, or any direction that will find him. I am very much in earnest over this.’
The man looked at me and then at the half-crown. He had a good-humoured, stupid-looking face, but was young enough to like an unusual job.