“Who is this woman?” he said at last. His voice was dry and hoarse.
“That is the woman who Herbert married.”
Clarke looked again at the sketch; it was not Mary after all. There certainly was Mary’s face, but there was something else, something he had not seen on Mary’s features when the white-clad girl entered the laboratory with the doctor, nor at her terrible awakening, nor when she lay grinning on the bed. Whatever it was, the glance that came from those eyes, the smile on the full lips, or the expression of the whole face, Clarke shuddered before it at his inmost soul, and thought, unconsciously, of Dr. Phillip’s words, “the most vivid presentment of evil I have ever seen.” He turned the paper over mechanically in his hand and glanced at the back.
“Good God! Clarke, what is the matter? You are as white as death.”
Villiers had started wildly from his chair, as Clarke fell back with a groan, and let the paper drop from his hands.
“I don’t feel very well, Villiers, I am subject to these attacks. Pour me out a little wine; thanks, that will do. I shall feel better in a few minutes.”
Villiers picked up the fallen sketch and turned it over as Clarke had done.
“You saw that?” he said. “That’s how I identified it as being a portrait of Herbert’s wife, or I should say his widow. How do you feel now?”
“Better, thanks, it was only a passing faintness. I don’t think I quite catch your meaning. What did you say enabled you to identify the picture?”
“This word—’Helen’—was written on the back. Didn’t I tell you her name was Helen? Yes; Helen Vaughan.”
Clarke groaned; there could be no shadow of doubt.
“Now, don’t you agree with me,” said Villiers, “that in the story I have told you to-night, and in the part this woman plays in it, there are some very strange points?”
“Yes, Villiers,” Clarke muttered, “it is a strange story indeed; a strange story indeed. You must give me time to think it over; I may be able to help you or I may not. Must you be going now? Well, good-night, Villiers, good-night. Come and see me in the course of a week.”
THE LETTER OF ADVICE
“Do you know, Austin,” said Villiers, as the two friends were pacing sedately along Piccadilly one pleasant morning in May, “do you know I am convinced that what you told me about Paul Street and the Herberts is a mere episode in an extraordinary history? I may as well confess to you that when I asked you about Herbert a few months ago I had just seen him.”
“You had seen him? Where?”
“He begged of me in the street one night. He was in the most pitiable plight, but I recognized the man, and I got him to tell me his history, or at least the outline of it. In brief, it amounted to this—he had been ruined by his wife.”