Justus Miles Forman.

Jason online

. (page 14 of 23)
Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 14 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


In the end she returned and once more brought the breakfast-tray to the
bed. Ste. Marie raised himself to a sitting posture and took the thing
upon his knees, but his hands were shaking.

"If I were not as helpless as a dead man, Mademoiselle," said he, "you
should not have done that. If I could have stopped you, you should not
have done it, Mademoiselle."

A wave of color spread up under the brown skin of the girl's face, but
she did not speak. She stood by for a moment to see if he was supplied
with everything he needed, and when Ste. Marie expressed his gratitude
for her pains she only bowed her head. Then presently she turned away
and left the room.

Outside the door she met some one who was approaching. Ste. Marie heard
her break into rapid and excited speech, and he heard O'Hara's voice in
answer. The voice expressed astonishment and indignation and a sort of
gruff horror, but the man who listened could hear only the tones, not
the words that were spoken.

The Irishman came quickly into the room. He glanced once toward the bed
where Ste. Marie sat eating his breakfast with apparent unconcern - there
may have been a little bravado in this - and then bent over the thing
which lay moving feebly beside a chair. When he rose again his face was
hard and tense and his blue eyes glittered in a fashion that boded
trouble for somebody.

"This looks very bad for us," he said, gruffly. "I should - I should like
to have you believe that neither my daughter nor I had any part in it.
When I fight I fight openly, I don't use poison. Not even with spies."

"Oh, that's all right," said Ste. Marie, taking an ostentatious sip of
coffee. "That's understood. I know well enough who tried to poison me.
If you'll just keep your friend Stewart out of the kitchen I sha'n't
worry about my food."

The Irishman's cheeks reddened with a quick flush and he dropped his
eyes. But in an instant he raised them again and looked full into the
eyes of the man who sat in bed.

"You seem," said he, "to be laboring under a curious misapprehension.
There is no Stewart here, and I don't know any man of that name."

Ste. Marie laughed.

"Oh, don't you?" he said. "That's my mistake then. Well, if you don't
know him, you ought to. You have interests in common."

O'Hara favored his patient with a long and frowning stare. But at the
end he turned without a word and went out of the room.

* * * * *




XVII

THOSE WHO WERE LEFT BEHIND


That meeting with Richard Hartley of which Captain Stewart, in the small
drawing-room at La Lierre, spoke to the Irishman O'Hara, took place at
Stewart's own door in the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, and it must have
been at just about the time when Ste. Marie, concealed among the
branches of his cedar, looked over the wall and saw Arthur Benham
walking with Mlle. Coira O'Hara. Hartley had lunched at Durand's with
his friends, whose name - though it does not at all matter here - was
Reeves-Davis, and after lunch the four of them, Major and Lady
Reeves-Davis, Reeves-Davis' sister, Mrs. Carsten, and Hartley, spent an
hour at a certain picture-dealer's near the Madeleine. After that Lady
Reeves-Davis wanted to go in search of an antiquary's shop which was
somewhere in the rue du Faubourg, and she did not know just where. They
went in from the rue Royale, and amused themselves by looking at the
attractive windows on the way.

During one of their frequent halts, while the two ladies were
passionately absorbed in a display of hats, and Reeves-Davis was making
derisive comments from the rear, Hartley, who was too much bored to pay
attention, saw a figure which seemed to him familiar emerge from an
adjacent doorway and start to cross the pavement to a large touring-car,
with the top up, which stood at the curb. The man wore a dust-coat and a
cap, and he moved as if he were in a hurry, but as he went he cast a
quick look about him and his eye fell upon Richard Hartley. Hartley
nodded, and he thought the elder man gave a violent start; but then he
looked very white and ill and might have started at anything. For an
instant Captain Stewart made as if he would go on his way without taking
notice, but he seemed to change his mind and turned back. He held out
his hand with a rather wan and nervous smile, saying:

"Ah, Hartley! It is you, then! I wasn't sure." He glanced over the
other's shoulder and said, "Is that our friend Ste. Marie with you?"

"No," said Richard Hartley, "some English friends of mine. I haven't
seen Ste. Marie to-day. I'm to meet him this evening. You've seen him
since I have, as a matter of fact. He came to your party last night,
didn't he? Sorry I couldn't come. They must have tired you out, I should
think. You look ill."

"Yes," said the other man, absently. "Yes, I had an attack of - an old
malady last night. I am rather stale to-day. You say you haven't seen
Ste. Marie? No, to be sure. If you see him later on you might say that I
mean to drop in on him to-morrow to make my apologies. He'll understand.
Good-day."

So he turned away to the motor which was waiting for him, and Hartley
went back to his friends, wondering a little what it was that Stewart
had to apologize for.

As for Captain Stewart, he must have gone at once out to La Lierre. What
he found there has already been set forth.

It was about ten that evening when Hartley, who had left his people,
after dinner was over, at the Marigny, reached the rue d'Assas. The
street door was already closed for the night, and so he had to ring for
the cordon. When the door clicked open and he had closed it behind him
he called out his name before crossing the court to Ste. Marie's stair;
but as he went on his way the voice of the concierge reached him from
the little loge.

"M. Ste. Marie n'est pas là,"

Now, the Parisian concierge, as every one knows who has lived under his
iron sway, is a being set apart from the rest of mankind. He has, in
general, no human attributes, and certainly no human sympathy. His hand
is against all the world, and the hand of all the world is against him.
Still, here and there among this peculiar race are to be found a very
few beings who are of softer substance - men and women instead of spies
and harpies. The concierge who had charge of the house wherein Ste.
Marie dwelt was an old woman, undeniably severe upon occasion, but for
the most part a kindly and even jovial soul. She must have become a
concierge through some unfortunate mistake.

She snapped open her little square window and stuck out into the moonlit
court a dishevelled gray head.

"Il n'est pas là." she said again, beaming upon Richard Hartley, whom
she liked, and, when he protested that he had a definite and important
appointment with her lodger, went on to explain that Ste. Marie had gone
out, doubtless to lunch, before one o'clock and had never returned.

"He may have left word for me up-stairs," Hartley said; "I'll go up and
wait, if I may." So the woman got him her extra key, and he went up, let
himself into the flat, and made lights there.

Naturally he found no word, but his own note of that morning lay spread
out upon a table where Ste. Marie had left it, and so he knew that his
friend was in possession of the two facts he had learned about Stewart.
He made himself comfortable with a book and some cigarettes, and settled
down to wait.

Ste. Marie out at La Lierre, with a bullet-hole in his leg, was deep in
a drugged sleep just then, but Hartley waited for him, looking up now
and then from his book with a scowl of impatience, until the little
clock on the mantel said that it was one o'clock. Then he went home in a
very bad temper, after writing another note and leaving it on the table,
to say that he would return early in the morning.

But in the morning he began to be alarmed. He questioned the concierge
very closely as to Ste. Marie's movements on the day previous, but she
could tell him little, save to mention the brief visit of a man with an
accent of Toulouse or Marseilles, and there seemed to be no one else to
whom he could go. He spent the entire morning in the flat, and returned
there after a hasty lunch. But at mid-afternoon he took a fiacre at the
corner of the Gardens and drove to the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré.

Captain Stewart was at home. He was in a dressing-gown, and still looked
fagged and unwell. He certainly betrayed some surprise at sight of his
visitor, but he made Hartley welcome at once and insisted upon having
cigars and things to drink brought out for him. On the whole he
presented an astonishingly normal exterior, for within him he must have
been cold with fear, and in his ears a question must have rung and
shouted and rung again unceasingly - "What does this fellow know? What
does he know?"

Hartley's very presence there had a perilous look.

The younger man shook his head at the servant who asked him what he
wished to drink.

"Thanks, you're very good," he said to Captain Stewart, and that
gentleman eyed him silently. "I can't stay but a moment. I just dropped
in to ask if you'd any idea what can have become of Ste. Marie."

"Ste. Marie?" said Captain Stewart. "What do you mean - 'become of him'?"
He moistened his lips to speak, but he said the words without a tremor.

"Well, what I meant was," said Hartley, "that you'd seen him last. He
was here Thursday evening. Did he say anything to you about going
anywhere in particular the next day - yesterday? He left his rooms about
noon and hasn't turned up since."

Captain Stewart drew a short breath and sat down, abruptly, in a near-by
chair, for all at once his knees had begun to tremble under him. He was
conscious of a great and blissful wave of relief and well-being, and he
wanted to laugh. He wanted so much to laugh that it became a torture to
keep his face in repose.

So Ste. Marie had left no word behind him, and the danger was past!

With a great effort he looked up from where he sat to Richard Hartley,
who stood anxious and frowning before him.

"Forgive me for sitting down," he said, "and sit down yourself, I beg.
I'm still very shaky from my attack of illness. Ste. Marie - Ste. Marie
has disappeared? How very extraordinary! It's like poor Arthur. Still - a
single day! He might be anywhere for a single day, might he not? For all
that, though, it's very odd. Why, no. No, I don't think he said anything
about going away. At least I remember nothing about it." The relief and
triumph within him burst out in a sudden little chuckle of malicious
fun. "I can think of only one thing," said he, "that might be of use to
you. Ste. Marie seemed to take a very great fancy to one of the ladies
here the other evening. And, I must confess, the lady seemed to return
it. It had all the look of a desperate flirtation - a most desperate
flirtation. They spent the evening in a corner together. You don't
suppose," he said, still chuckling gently, "that Ste. Marie is taking a
little holiday, do you? You don't suppose that the lady could account
for him?"

"No," said Richard Hartley, "I don't. And if you knew Ste. Marie a
little better you wouldn't suppose it, either." But after a pause he
said: "Could you give me the - lady's name, by any chance? Of course, I
don't want to leave any stone unturned."

And once more the other man emitted his pleased little chuckle that was
so like a cat's mew.

"I can give you her name," said he. "The name is Mlle. - - Bertrand.
Elise Bertrand. But I regret to say I haven't the address by me. She
came with some friends. I will try and get it and send it you. Will that
be all right?"

"Yes, thanks!" said Richard Hartley. "You're very good. And now I must
be going on. I'm rather in a hurry."

Captain Stewart protested against this great haste, and pressed the
younger man to sit down and tell him more about his friend's
disappearance, but Hartley excused himself, repeating that he was in a
great hurry, and went off.

When he had gone Captain Stewart lay back in his chair and laughed until
he was weak and ached from it, the furious, helpless laughter which
comes after the sudden release from a terrible strain. He was not, as a
rule, a demonstrative man, but he became aware that he would like to
dance and sing, and probably he would have done both if it had not been
for the servant in the next room.

So there was no danger to be feared, and his terrors of the night
past - he shivered a little to think of them - had been, after all,
useless terrors! As for the prisoner out at La Lierre, nothing was to be
feared from him so long as a careful watch was kept. Later on he might
have to be disposed of, since both bullet and poison had failed - he
scowled over that, remembering a bad quarter of an hour with O'Hara
early this morning - but that matter could wait. Some way would present
itself. He thought of the wholly gratuitous lie he had told Hartley, a
thing born of a moment's malice, and he laughed again. It struck him
that it would be very humorous if Hartley should come to suspect his
friend of turning aside from his great endeavors to enter upon an affair
with a lady. He dimly remembered that Ste. Marie's name had, from time
to time, been a good deal involved in romantic histories, and he said to
himself that his lie had been very well chosen, indeed, and might be
expected to cause Richard Hartley much anguish of spirit.

After that he lighted a very large cigarette, half as big as a cigar,
and he lay back in his low, comfortable chair and began to think of the
outcome of all this plotting and planning. As is very apt to be the case
when a great danger has been escaped, he was in a mood of extreme
hopefulness and confidence. Vaguely he felt as if the recent happenings
had set him ahead a pace toward his goal, though of course they had done
nothing of the kind. The danger that would exist so long as Ste. Marie,
who knew everything, was alive, seemed in some miraculous fashion to
have dwindled to insignificance; in this rebound from fear and despair
difficulties were swept away and the path was clear. The man's mind
leaped to his goal, and a little shiver of prospective joy ran over him.
Once that goal gained he could defy the world. Let eyes look askance,
let tongues wag, he would be safe then - safe for all the rest of his
life, and rich, rich, rich!

For he was playing against a feeble old man's life. Day by day he
watched the low flame sink lower as the flame of an exhausted lamp sinks
and flickers. It was slow, for the old man had still a little strength
left, but the will to live - which was the oil in the lamp - was almost
gone, and the waiting could not be long now. One day, quite suddenly,
the flame would sink down to almost nothing, as at last it does in the
spent lamp. It would flicker up and down rapidly for a few moments, and
all at once there would be no flame there. Old David would be dead, and
a servant would be sent across the river in haste to the rue du Faubourg
St. Honoré. Stewart lay back in his chair and tried to imagine that it
was true, that it had already happened, as happen it must before long,
and once more the little shiver, which was like a shiver of voluptuous
delight, ran up and down his limbs, and his breath began to come fast
and hard.

* * * * *

But Richard Hartley drove at once back to the rue d'Assas. He was not
very much disappointed in having learned nothing from Stewart, though he
was thoroughly angry at that gentleman's hint about Ste. Marie and the
unknown lady. He had gone to the rue du Faubourg because, as he had
said, he wished to leave no stone unturned, and, after all, he had
thought it quite possible that Stewart could give him some information
which would be of value. Hartley firmly believed the elder man to be a
rascal, but of course he knew nothing definite save the two facts which
he had accidentally learned from Helen Benham, and it had occurred to
him that Captain Stewart might have sent Ste. Marie off upon another
wild-goose chase such as the expedition to Dinard had been. He would
have been sure that the elder man had had something to do with Ste.
Marie's disappearance if the latter had not been seen since Stewart's
party, but instead of that Ste. Marie had come home, slept, gone out the
next morning, returned again, received a visitor, and gone out to lunch.
It was all very puzzling and mysterious.

His mind went back to the brief interview with Stewart and dwelt upon
it. Little things which had at the time made no impression upon him
began to recur and to take on significance. He remembered the elder
man's odd and strained manner at the beginning, his sudden and causeless
change to ease and to something that was almost like a triumphant
excitement, and then his absurd story about Ste. Marie's flirtation with
a lady. Hartley thought of these things; he thought also of the fact
that Ste. Marie had disappeared immediately after hearing grave
accusations against Stewart. Could he have lost his head, rushed across
the city at once to confront the middle-aged villain, and
then - disappeared from human ken? It would have been very like him to do
something rashly impulsive upon reading that note.

Hartley broke into a sudden laugh of sheer amusement when he realized to
what a wild and improbable flight his fancy was soaring. He could not
quite rid himself of a feeling that Stewart was, in some mysterious
fashion, responsible for his friend's vanishing, but he was unlike Ste.
Marie: he did not trust his feelings, either good or bad, unless they
were backed by excellent evidence, and he had to admit that there was
not a single scrap of evidence in this instance against Miss Benham's
uncle.

The girl's name recalled him to another duty. He must tell her about
Ste. Marie. He was by this time half-way up the Boulevard St. Germain,
but he gave a new order, and the fiacre turned back to the rue de
l'Université. The footman at the door said that Mademoiselle was not in
the drawing-room, as it was only four o'clock, but that he thought she
was in the house. So Hartley sent up his name and went in to wait.

Miss Benham came down looking a little pale and anxious.

"I've been with grandfather," she explained. "He had some sort of
sinking-spell last night and we were very much frightened. He's much
better, but - well, he couldn't have many such spells and live. I'm
afraid he grows a good deal weaker day by day now. He sees hardly any
one outside the family, except Baron de Vries." She sat down with a
little sigh of fatigue and smiled up at her visitor. "I'm glad you've
come," said she. "You'll cheer me up, and I rather need it. What are you
looking so solemn about, though? You won't cheer me up if you look like
that."

"Well, you see," said Hartley, "I came at this impossible hour to bring
you some bad news. I'm sorry. Perhaps," he modified, "bad news is
putting it with too much seriousness. Strange news is better. To be
brief, Ste. Marie has disappeared - vanished into thin air. I thought you
ought to know."

"Ste. Marie!" cried the girl. "How? What do you mean - vanished? When did
he vanish?"

She gave a sudden exclamation of relief.

"Oh, he has come upon some clew or other and has rushed off to follow
it. That's all. How dare you frighten me so?"

"He went without luggage," said the man, shaking his head, "and he left
no word of any kind behind him. He went out to lunch yesterday about
noon, and, as I said, simply vanished, leaving no trace whatever behind
him. I've just been to see your uncle, thinking that he might know
something, but he doesn't."

The girl looked up quickly.

"My uncle?" she said. "Why my uncle?"

"Well," said Hartley, "you see, Ste. Marie went to a little party at
your uncle's flat on the night before he disappeared, and I thought your
uncle might have heard him say something that would throw light on his
movements the next day."

Hartley remembered the unfortunate incident of the galloping pigs, and
hurried on:

"He went to the party more for the purpose of having a talk with your
uncle than for any other reason, I think. I was to have gone myself, but
gave it up at the eleventh hour for the Cains' dinner at Armenonville.
Well, the next morning after Captain Stewart's party he went out early.
I called at his rooms to see him about something important that I
thought he ought to know. I missed him, and so left a note for him which
he got on his return and read. I found it open on his table later on. At
noon he went out again, and that's all. Frankly, I'm worried about him."

Miss Benham watched the man with thoughtful eyes, and when he had
finished she asked:

"Could you tell me what was in this note that you left for Ste. Marie?"

Hartley was by nature a very open and frank young man, and in
consequence an unusually bad liar. He hesitated and looked away, and he
began to turn red.

"Well - no," he said, after a moment - "no, I'm afraid I can't. It was
something you wouldn't understand - wouldn't know about."

And the girl said, "Oh!" and remained for a little while silent. But at
the end she looked up and met his eyes, and the man saw that she was
very grave. She said:

"Richard, there is something that you and I have been avoiding and
pretending not to see. It has gone too far now, and we've got to face it
with perfect frankness. I know what was in your note to Ste. Marie. It
was what you found out the other evening about - my uncle - the matter of
the will and the other matter. He knew about the will, but he told you
and Ste. Marie that he didn't. He said to you, also, that I had told him
about my engagement and Ste. Marie's determination to search for Arthur,
and that was - a lie. I didn't tell him, and grandfather didn't tell him.
He listened in the door yonder and heard it himself. I have a good
reason for knowing that. And then," she said, "he tried very hard to
persuade you and Ste. Marie to take up your search under his direction,
and he partly succeeded. He sent Ste. Marie upon a foolish expedition to
Dinard, and he gave him and gave you other clews just as foolish as that
one. Richard, do you believe that my uncle has hidden poor Arthur away
somewhere or - worse than that? Do you? Tell me the truth!"

"There is not," said Hartley, "one particle of real evidence against him
that I'm aware of. There's plenty of motive, if you like, but motive is
not evidence."

"I asked you a question," the girl said. "Do you believe my uncle has
been responsible for Arthur's disappearance?"

"Yes," said Richard Hartley, "I'm afraid I do."

"Then," she said, "he has been responsible for Ste. Marie's
disappearance also. Ste. Marie became dangerous to him, and so vanished.
What can we do, Richard? What can we do?"

* * * * *




XVIII

A CONVERSATION OVERHEARD


In the upper chamber at La Lierre the days dragged very slowly by, and
the man who lay in bed there counted interminable hours and prayed for
the coming of night with its merciful oblivion of sleep. His inaction
was made bitterer by the fact that the days were days of green and gold,
of breeze-stirred tree-tops without his windows, of vagrant sweet airs
that stole in upon his solitude, bringing him all the warm fragrance of
summer and of green things growing.

He suffered little pain. There was, for the first three or four days, a
dull and feverish ache in his wounded leg, but presently even that
passed, and the leg hurt him only when he moved it. He thought sometimes
that he would be grateful for a bit of physical anguish to make the
hours pass more quickly.

The other inmates of the house held aloof from him. Once a day O'Hara
came in to see to the wound, but he maintained a well-nigh complete
silence over his work, and answered questions only with a brief yes or
no. Sometimes he did not answer them at all. The old Michel came twice
daily, but this strange being had quite plainly been frightened into
dumbness, and there was nothing to be got out of him. He shambled
hastily about the place, his one scared eye upon the man in bed, and as
soon as possible fled away, closing the door behind him. Sometimes
Michel brought in the meals, sometimes his wife, a creature so like him
that the two might well have passed for twin survivors of some unknown
race; sometimes - thrice altogether in that first week - Coira O'Hara
brought the tray, and she was as silent as the others.

So Ste. Marie was left alone to get through the interminable days as
best he might, and ever afterward the week remained in his memory as a
sort of nightmare. Lying idle in his bed, he evolved many surprising and


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 14 of 23)