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A Strange Disappearance

11. Luttra
"Gentlemen," said he as he ushered us once more into his studio, "you have
presumed, and not without reason I should say, to infer that the original of this
portrait and the woman who has so long occupied the position of sewing-woman
in my house, are one and the same. You will no longer retain that opinion when I
inform you that this picture, strange as it may appear to you, is the likeness of my
wife."
"Wife!" We both were astonished as I take it, but it was my voice which spoke.
"We were ignorant you ever had a wife."
"No doubt," continued our host smiling bitterly, "that at least has evaded the
knowledge even of the detectives." Then with a return to his naturally courteous
manner, "She was never acknowledged by me as my wife, nor have we ever
lived together, but if priestly benediction can make a man and woman one, that
woman as you see her there is my lawful wife."
Rising, he softly turned the lovely, potent face back to the wall, leaving us once
more confronted by the dark and glowing countenance of his cousin.
"I am not called upon," said he, "to go any further with you than this. I have told
you what no man till this hour has ever heard from my lips, and it should serve to
exonerate me from any unjust suspicions you may have entertained. But to one
of my temperament, secret scandal and the gossip it engenders is only less
painful than open notoriety. If I leave the subject here, a thousand conjectures
will at once seize upon you, and my name if not hers will become, before I know
it, the football of gossip if not of worse and deeper suspicion than has yet
assailed me. Gentleman I take you to be honest men; husbands, perhaps, and
fathers; proud, too, in your way and jealous of your own reputation and that of
those with whom you are connected. If I succeed in convincing you that my
movements of late have been totally disconnected with the girl whose cause you
profess solely to be interested in, may I count upon your silence as regards those
actions and the real motive that led to them?"
"You may count upon my discretion as regards all matters that do not come
under the scope of police duty," returned Mr. Gryce. "I haven't much time for
gossip."
"And your man here?"
"O, he's safe where it profits him to be."
"Very well, then, I shall count upon you."
And with the knitted brows and clinched hands of a proudly reticent man who,
perhaps for the first time in his life finds himself forced to reveal his inner nature
to the world, he began his story in these words:
"Difficult as it is for me to introduce into a relation like this the name of my father,
I shall be obliged to do so in order to make my conduct at a momentous crisis of
my life intelligible to you. My father, then, was a man of strong will and a few but
determined prejudices. Resolved that I should sustain the reputation of the family
for wealth and respectability, he gave me to understand from my earliest years,
 
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