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was pale, and his fine eyes glittered. Richard Hartley would have put
himself promptly in an attitude of defence, but Ste. Marie nodded a
smiling head in appreciation. He was half a Southern Frenchman himself.

"Monsieur!" cried his visitor, in a choked voice, "Monsieur, have a
care! You insult me! Have a care, Monsieur! I am dangerous! My anger,
when roused, is terrible!"

"I am cowed," observed Ste. Marie, lighting a cigarette. "I quail."

"Never," declaimed the gentleman from Marseilles, "have I received an
insult without returning blow for blow! My blood boils!"

"The hundred francs, Monsieur," said Ste. Marie, "will doubtless cool
it. Besides, we stray from our sheep. Reflect, my friend! I have not
insulted you. I have asked you a simple question. To be sure, I have
said that I knew your errand here was not - not altogether sincere, but I
protest, Monsieur, that no blame attaches to yourself. The blame is your
employer's. You have performed your mission with the greatest of
honesty - the most delicate and faithful sense of honor. That is

The gentleman with the beard strode across to one of the windows and
leaned his head upon his hand. His shoulders still heaved with emotion,
but he no longer trembled. The terrible crisis bade fair to pass. Then,
abruptly, in the frank and open Latin way, he burst into tears, and wept
with copious profusion, while Ste. Marie smoked his cigarette and

When at length the Marseillais turned back into the room he was calm
once more, but there remained traces of storm and flood. He made a
gesture of indescribable and pathetic resignation.

"Monsieur," he exclaimed, "you have a heart of gold - of gold, Monsieur!
You understand. Behold us, two men of honor! Monsieur," he said, "I had
no choice. I was poor. I saw myself face to face with the misère. What
would you? I fell. We are all weak flesh. I accepted the commission of
the pig who sent me here to you."

Ste. Marie smoothed the pink-and-blue bank-note in his hands, and the
other man's eye clung to it as though he were starving and the bank-note
was food.

"The name?" prompted Ste. Marie.

The gentleman from Marseilles tossed up his hands.

"Monsieur already knows it. Why should I hesitate? The name is Ducrot."

"What!" cried Ste. Marie, sharply. "What is that? Ducrot?"

"But naturally!" said the other man, with some wonder. "Monsieur said he
knew. Certainly, Ducrot. A little, withered man, bald on the top of the
head, creases down the cheeks, a mustache like this" - he made a
descriptive gesture - "a little chin. A man like an elderly cat. M.

Ste. Marie gave a sigh of relief.

"Yes, yes," said he. "Ducrot is as good a name as another. The gentleman
has more than one, it appears. Monsieur, the hundred-franc note is

The gentleman from Marseilles took it with a slightly trembling hand,
and began to bow himself toward the door as if he feared that his host
would experience a change of heart; but Ste. Marie checked him, saying:

"One moment. I was thinking," said he, "that you would perhaps not care
to present yourself to your - employer, M. Ducrot, immediately - not for a
few days, at least, in view of the fact that certain actions of mine
will show him your mission has - well, miscarried. It would, perhaps, be
well for you not to communicate with M. Ducrot. He might be displeased
with you."

"Monsieur," said the gentleman with the beard, "you speak with acumen
and wisdom. I shall neglect to report myself to M. Ducrot, who, I
repeat, is a pig."

"And," pursued Ste. Marie, "the individual on the bench across the

"It is not necessary that I meet that individual, either!" said the
Marseillais, hastily. "Monsieur, I bid you adieu!" He bowed again, a
profound, a scraping bow, and disappeared through the door.

Ste. Marie crossed to the window and looked down upon the pavement
below. He saw his late visitor emerge from the house and slip rapidly
down the street toward the rue Vavin. He glanced across into the gardens
and the spy still sat there on his bench, but his head lay back and he
slept - the sleep of the unjust. One imagined that he must be snoring,
for an incredibly small urchin in a blue apron stood on the path before
him and watched with the open mouth of astonishment.

Ste. Marie turned back into the room, and began to tramp up and down as
was his way in a perplexity or in any time of serious thought. He wished
very much that Richard Hartley were there to consult with. He considered
Hartley to have a judicial mind - a mind to establish, out of confusion,
something like logical order, and he was very well aware that he himself
had not that sort of mind at all. In action he was sufficiently
confident of himself, but to construct a course of action he was afraid,
and he knew that a misstep now, at this critical point, might be
fatal - turn success into disaster.

He fell to thinking of Captain Stewart (alias M. Ducrot) and he longed
most passionately to leap into a fiacre at the corner below, to drive at
a gallop across the city to the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, to fall upon
that smiling hypocrite in his beautiful treasure-house, to seize him by
the withered throat and say:

"Tell me what you have done with Arthur Benham before I tear your head
from your miserable body!"

Indeed, he was far from sure that this was not what it would come to, in
the end, for he reflected that he had not only a tremendous accumulation
of evidence with which to face Captain Stewart, but also a very terrible
weapon to hold over his head - the threat of exposure to the old man who
lay slowly dying in the rue de l'Université! A few words in old David's
ear, a few proofs of their truth, and the great fortune for which the
son had sold his soul - if he had any left to sell - must pass forever out
of his reach, like gold seen in a dream.

This is what it might well come to, he said to himself. Indeed, it
seemed to him at that moment far the most feasible plan, for to such
accusations, such demands as that, Captain Stewart could offer no
defence. To save himself from a more complete ruin he would have to give
up the boy or tell what he knew of him. But Ste. Marie was unwilling to
risk everything on this throw without seeing Richard Hartley first, and
Hartley was not to be had until evening.

He told himself that, after all, there was no immediate hurry, for he
was quite sure the man would be compelled to keep to his bed for a day
or two. He did not know much about epilepsy, but he knew that its
paroxysms were followed by great exhaustion, and he felt sure that
Stewart was far too weak in body to recuperate quickly from any severe
call upon his strength. He remembered how light that burden had been in
his arms the night before, and then an uncontrollable shiver of disgust
went over him as he remembered the sight of the horribly twisted and
contorted face, felt again the shaking, thumping head as it beat against
his shoulder. He wondered how much Stewart knew, how much he would be
able to remember of the events of the evening before, and he was at a
loss there because of his unfamiliarity with epileptic seizures. Of one
thing, however, he was almost certain, and that was that the man could
scarcely have been conscious of who were beside him when the fit was
over. If he had come at all to his proper senses before the ensuing
slumber of exhaustion, it must have been after Mlle. Nilssen and himself
had gone away.

Upon that he fell to wondering about the spy and the gentleman from
Marseilles - he was a little sorry that Hartley could not have seen the
gentleman from Marseilles - but he reflected that the two were, without
doubt, acting upon old orders, and that the latter had probably been
stalking him for some days before he found him at home.

He looked at his watch and it was half-past twelve. There was nothing to
be done, he considered, but wait - get through the day somehow; and so,
presently, he went out to lunch. He went up the rue Vavin to the
Boulevard Montparnasse and down that broad thoroughfare to Lavenue's, on
the busy Place de Rennes, where the cooking is the best in all this
quarter, and can, indeed, hold up its head without shame in the face of
those other more widely famous restaurants across the river, frequented
by the smart world and by the travelling gourmet.

He went through to the inner room, which is built like a raised loggia
round two sides of a little garden, and which is always cool and fresh
in summer. He ordered a rather elaborate lunch, and thought that he sat
a very long time at it, but when he looked again at his watch only an
hour and a half had gone by. It was a quarter-past two. Ste. Marie was
depressed. There remained almost all of the afternoon to be got through,
and Heaven alone could say how much of the evening, before he could have
his consultation with Richard Hartley. He tried to think of some way of
passing the time, but although he was not usually at a loss he found his
mind empty of ideas. None of his common occupations recommended
themselves to him. He knew that whatever he tried to do he would
interrupt it with pulling out his watch every half-hour or so and
cursing the time because it lagged so slowly. He went out to the terrace
for coffee, very low in his mind.

But half an hour later, as he sat behind his little marble-topped table,
smoking and sipping a liqueur, his eyes fell upon something across the
square which brought him to his feet with a sudden exclamation. One of
the big electric trams that ply between the Place St. Germain des Prés
and Clamart, by way of the Porte de Versailles and Vanves, was dragging
its unwieldy bulk round the turn from the rue de Rennes into the
boulevard. He could see the sign-board along the impériale - "Clamart-St.
Germain des Prés," with "Issy" and "Vanves" in brackets between.

Ste. Marie clinked a franc upon the table and made off across the Place
at a run. Omnibuses from Batignolles and Menilmontant got in his way,
fiacres tried to run him down, and a motor-car in a hurry pulled up just
in time to save his life, but Ste. Marie ran on and caught the tram
before it had completed the negotiation of the long curve and gathered
speed for its dash down the boulevard. He sprang upon the step, and the
conductor reluctantly unfastened the chain to admit him. So he climbed
up to the top and seated himself, panting. The dial high on the façade
of the Gare Montparnasse said ten minutes to three.

He had no definite plan of action. He had started off in this headlong
fashion upon the spur of a moment's impulse, and because he knew where
the tram was going. Now, embarked, he began to wonder if he was not a
fool. He knew every foot of the way to Clamart, for it was a favorite
half-day's excursion with him to ride there in this fashion, walk thence
through the beautiful Meudon wood across to the river, and from Bellevue
or Bas-Meudon take a Suresnes boat back into the city. He knew, or
thought he knew, just where lay the house, surrounded by garden and
half-wild park, of which Olga Nilssen had told him; he had often
wondered whose place it was as the tram rolled along the length of its
high wall. But he knew, also, that he could do nothing there,
single-handed and without excuse or preparation. He could not boldly
ring the bell, demand speech with Mile. Coira O'Hara, and ask her if she
knew anything of the whereabouts of young Arthur Benham, whom a
photographer had suspected of being in love with her. He certainly could
not do that. And there seemed to be nothing else that - Ste. Marie broke
off this somewhat despondent course of reasoning with a sudden little
voiceless cry. For the first time it occurred to him to connect the
house on the Clamart road and Mlle. Coira O'Hara and young Arthur Benham
(it will be remembered that the man had not yet had time to arrange his
suddenly acquired mass of evidence in logical order and to make
deductions from it), for the first time he began to put two and two
together. Stewart had hidden away his nephew; this nephew was known to
have been much enamoured of the girl Coira O'Hara; Coira O'Hara was said
to be living - with her father, probably - in the house on the outskirts
of Paris, where she was visited by Captain Stewart. Was not the
inference plain enough - sufficiently reasonable? It left, without doubt,
many puzzling things to be explained - perhaps too many; but Ste. Marie
sat forward in his seat, his eyes gleaming, his face tense with

"Is young Arthur Benham in the house on the Clamart road?"

He said the words almost aloud, and he became aware that the fat woman
with a live fowl at her feet and the butcher's boy on his other side
were looking at him curiously. He realized that he was behaving in an
excited manner, and so sat back and lowered his eyes. But over and over
within him the words said themselves - over and over, until they made a
sort of mad, foolish refrain.

"Is Arthur Benham in the house on the Clamart road? Is Arthur Benham in
the house on the Clamart road?" He was afraid that he would say it aloud
once more, and, he tried to keep a firm hold upon himself.

The tram swung into the rue de Sevres, and rolled smoothly out the long,
uninteresting stretch of the rue Lecourbe, far out to where the houses,
became scattered, where mounds and pyramids of red tiles stood alongside
the factory where they had been made, where an acre of little glass
hemispheres in long, straight rows winked and glistened in the afternoon
sun - the forcing-beds of some market gardener; out to the Porte de
Versailles at the city wall, where a group of customs officers sprawled
at ease before their little sentry-box or loafed over to inspect an
incoming tram.

A bugle sounded and a drum beat from the great fosse under the wall, and
a company of piou-pious, red-capped, red-trousered, shambled through
their evolutions in a manner to break the heart of a British or a German
drill-sergeant. Then out past level fields to little Vanves, with its
steep streets and its old gray church, and past the splendid grounds of
the Lycée beyond. The fat woman got down, her live fowl shrieking
protest to the movement, and the butcher's boy got down, too, so that
Ste. Marie was left alone upon the impériale save for a snuffy old
gentleman in a pot-hat who sat in a corner buried behind the day's
_Droits de l'Homme_.

Ste. Marie moved forward once more and laid his arms upon the iron rail
before him. They were coming near. They ran past plum and apple orchards
and past humble little detached villas, each with a bit of garden in
front and an acacia or two at the gate-posts. But presently, on the
right, the way began to be bordered by a high stone wall, very long,
behind which showed the trees of a park, and among them, far back from
the wall beyond a little rise of ground, the gables and chimneys of a
house could be made out. The wall went on for perhaps a quarter of a
mile in a straight sweep, but half-way the road swung apart from it to
the left, dipped under a stone railway bridge, and so presently ended at
the village of Clamart.

As the tram approached the beginning of that long stone wall it began to
slacken speed, there was a grating noise from underneath, and presently
it came to an abrupt halt. Ste. Marie looked over the guard-rail and saw
that the driver had left his place and was kneeling in the dust beside
the car peering at its underworks. The conductor strolled round to him
after a moment and stood indifferently by, remarking upon the strange
vicissitudes to which electrical propulsion is subject. The driver,
without looking up, called his colleague a number of the most surprising
and, it is to be hoped, unwarranted names, and suddenly began to burrow
under the tram, wriggling his way after the manner of a serpent until
nothing could be seen of him but two unrestful feet. His voice, though
muffled, was still tolerably distinct. It cursed, in an unceasing
staccato and with admirable ingenuity, the tram, the conductor, the
sacred dog of an impediment which had got itself wedged into one of the
trucks, and the world in general.

Ste. Marie, sitting aloft, laughed for a moment, and then turned his
eager eyes upon what lay across the road. The halt had taken place
almost exactly at the beginning of that long stretch of park wall which
ran beside the road and the tramway. From where he sat he could see the
other wing which led inward from the road at something like a right
angle, but was presently lost to sight because of a sparse and unkempt
patch of young trees and shrubs, well-nigh choked with undergrowth,
which extended for some distance from the park wall backward along the
road-side toward Vanves. Whoever owned that stretch of land had
seemingly not thought it worth while to cultivate it or to build upon it
or even to clear it off.

Ste. Marie's first thought, as his eye scanned the two long stretches of
wall and looked over their tops to the trees of the park and the far-off
gables and chimneys of the house, was to wonder where the entrance to
the place could be, and he decided that it must be on the side opposite
to the Clamart tram-line. He did not know the smaller roads hereabouts,
but he guessed that there must be one somewhere beyond, between the
route de Clamart and Fort d'Issy, and he was right. There is a little
road between the two; it sweeps round in a long curve and ends near the
tiny public garden in Issy, and it is called the rue Barbés.

His second thought was that this unkempt patch of tree and brush offered
excellent cover for any one who might wish to pass an observant hour
alongside that high stone wall; for any one who might desire to cast a
glance over the lie of the land, to see at closer range that house of
which so little could be seen from the route de Clamart, to look over
the wall's coping into park and garden.

The thought brought him to his feet with a leaping heart, and before he
realized that he had moved he found himself in the road beside the
halted tram. The conductor brushed past him, mounting to his place, and
from the platform beckoned, crying out:

"En voiture, Monsieur! En voiture!"

Again something within Ste. Marie that was not his conscious direction
acted for him, and he shook his head. The conductor gave two little
blasts upon his horn, the tram wheezed and moved forward. In a moment it
was on its way, swinging along at full speed toward the curve in the
line that bore to the left and dipped under the railway bridge. Ste.
Marie stood in the middle of that empty road, staring after it until it
had disappeared from view.

* * * * *



Ste. Marie had acted upon an impulse of which he was scarcely conscious
at all, and when he found himself standing alone in the road and
watching the Clamart tram disappear under the railway bridge he called
himself hard names and wondered what he was to do next. He looked before
and behind him, and there was no living soul in sight. He bent his eyes
again upon that unkempt patch of young trees and undergrowth, and once
more the thought forced itself to his brain that it would make excellent
cover for one who wished to observe a little - to reconnoitre.

He knew that it was the part of wisdom to turn his back upon this place,
to walk on to Clamart or return to Vanves and mount upon a
homeward-bound tram. He knew that it was the part of folly, of madness
even, to expose himself to possible discovery by some one within the
walled enclosure. What though no one there were able to recognize him,
still the sight of a man prowling about the walls, seeking to spy over
them, might excite an alarm that would lead to all sorts of undesirable
complications. Dimly Ste. Marie realized all this, and he tried to turn
his back and walk away, but the patch of little trees and shrubbery drew
him with an irresistible fascination. "Just a little look along that
unknown wall," he said to himself, "just the briefest of all brief
reconnaissances, the merest glance beyond the masking screen of wood
growth, so that in case of sudden future need he might have the lie of
the place clear in his mind;" for without any sound reason for it he was
somehow confident that this walled house and garden were to play an
important part in the rescue of Arthur Benham. It was once more a matter
of feeling. The rather womanlike intuition which had warned him that
O'Hara was concerned in young Benham's disappearance, and that the two
were not far from Paris, was again at work in him, and he trusted it as
he had done before.

He gave a little nod of determination, as one who, for good or ill,
casts a die, and he crossed the road. There was a deep ditch, and he had
to climb down into it and up its farther side, for it was too broad to
be jumped. So he came into the shelter of the young poplars and elms and
oaks. The underbrush caught at his clothes, and the dead leaves of past
seasons crackled underfoot; but after a little space he came to somewhat
clearer ground, though the saplings still stood thick about him and hid
him securely.

He made his way inward along the wall, keeping a short distance back
from it, and he saw that after twenty or thirty yards it turned again at
a very obtuse angle away from him and once more ran on in a long
straight line. Just beyond this angle he came upon a little wooden door
thickly studded with nails. It was made to open inward, and on the
outside there was no knob or handle of any kind, only a large key-hole
of the simple, old-fashioned sort. Slipping up near to look, Ste. Marie
observed that the edges of the key-hole were rusty, but scratched a
little through the rust with recent marks; so the door, it seemed, was
sometimes used. He observed another thing. The ground near by was less
encumbered with trees than at any other point, and the turf was
depressed with many wheel marks - broad marks, such as are made only by
the wheels of a motor-car. He followed these tracks for a little
distance, and they wound in and out among the trees, and beyond the thin
fringe of wood swept away in a curve toward Issy, doubtless to join the
road which he had already imagined to lie somewhere beyond the

Beyond the more open space about this little door the young trees stood
thick together again, and Ste. Marie pressed cautiously on. He stopped
now and then to listen, and once he thought that he heard from within
the sound of a woman's laugh, but he could not be sure. The slight
change of direction had confused him a little, and he was uncertain as
to where the house lay. The wall was twelve or fifteen feet high, and
from the level of the ground he could, of course, see nothing over it
but tree tops. He went on for what may have been a hundred yards, but it
seemed to him very much more than that, and he came to a tall gnarled
cedar-tree which stood almost against the high wall. It was half dead,
but its twisted limbs were thick and strong, and by force of the tree's
cramped position they had grown in strange and grotesque forms. One of
them stretched across the very top of the stone wall, and with the
wind's action it had scraped away the coping of tiles and bottle-glass
and had made a little depression there to rest in.

Ste. Marie looked up along this natural ladder, and temptation smote him
sorely. It was so easy and so safe! There was enough foliage left upon
the half-dead tree to screen him well, but whether or no it is probable
that he would have yielded to the proffered lure. There seems to have
been more than chance in Ste. Marie's movements upon this day; there
seems to have been something like the hand of Fate in them - as doubtless
there is in most things, if one but knew.

He left his hat and stick behind him, under a shrub, and he began to
make his way up the half-bare branches of the gnarled cedar. They bore
him well, without crack or rustle, and the way was very easy. No ladder
made by man could have offered a much simpler ascent. So, mounting
slowly and with care, his head came level with the top of the wall. He
climbed to the next branch, a foot higher, and rested there. The
drooping foliage from the upper part of the cedar-tree, which was still
alive, hung down over him and cloaked him from view, but through its
aromatic screen he could see as freely as through the window curtain in
the rue d'Assas.

The house lay before him, a little to the left and perhaps a hundred
yards away. It was a disappointing house to find in that great
enclosure, for though it was certainly neither small nor trivial, it was

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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 11 of 23)