Justus Miles Forman.

Jason online

. (page 2 of 23)
Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 2 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

fierce octogenarian rather liked it.

"Oh yes," the girl said, "we're all fairly well. My mother had one of
her headaches to-night and so didn't come here, but she's as well as
usual, and 'the bear' - yes, he's well enough physically, I should think,
but he has not been quite the same since - during the past month. It has
told upon him, you know. He grieves over it much more than he will

"Yes," said Baron de Vries, gravely. "Yes, I know." He turned about
toward the fair young man, but that youth had drifted away and joined
himself to another group. Miss Benham looked after him and gave a little
exclamation of relief.

"That person was rather terrible," she said. "I can't think why he is
here. Marian so seldom has dull people."

"I believe," said the Belgian, "that he is some connection of De
Saulnes'. That explains his presence." He lowered his voice. "You have
heard no - news? They have found no trace?"

"No," said she. "Nothing. Nothing at all. I'm rather in despair. It's
all so hideously mysterious. I am sure, you know, that something has
happened to him. It's - very, very hard. Sometimes I think I can't bear
it. But I go on. We all go on."

Baron de Vries nodded his head strongly.

"That, my dear child, is just what you must do," said he. "You must go
on. That is what needs the real courage, and you have courage. I am not
afraid for you. And sooner or later you will hear of him - from him. It
is impossible nowadays to disappear for very long. You will hear from
him." He smiled at her, his slow, grave smile that was not of mirth but
of kindness and sympathy and cheer.

"And if I may say so," he said, "you are doing very wisely to come out
once more among your friends. You can accomplish no good by brooding at
home. It is better to live one's normal life - even when it is not easy
to do it. I say so who know."

The girl touched Baron de Vries' arm for an instant with her hand - a
little gesture that seemed to express thankfulness and trust and

"If all my friends were like you!" she said to him. And after that she
drew a quick breath as if to have done with these sad matters, and she
turned her eyes once more toward the broad room where the other guests
stood in little groups, all talking at once, very rapidly and in loud

"What extraordinarily cosmopolitan affairs these dinner-parties in new
Paris are!" she said. "They're like diplomatic parties, only we have a
better time and the men don't wear their orders. How many nationalities
should you say there are in this room now?"

"Without stopping to consider," said Baron de Vries, "I say ten." They
counted, and out of fourteen people there were represented nine races.

"I don't see Richard Hartley," Miss Benham said. "I had an idea he was
to be here. Ah!" she broke off, looking toward the doorway. "Here he
comes now!" she said. "He's rather late. Who is the Spanish-looking man
with him, I wonder? He's rather handsome, isn't he?"

Baron de Vries moved a little forward to look, and exclaimed in his
turn. He said:

"Ah, I did not know he was returned to Paris. That is Ste. Marie." Miss
Benham's eyes followed the Spanish-looking young man as he made his way
through the joyous greetings of friends toward his hostess.

"So that is Ste. Marie!" she said, still watching him. "The famous Ste.
Marie!" She gave a little laugh.

"Well, I don't wonder at the reputation he bears for - gallantry and that
sort of thing. He looks the part, doesn't he?"

"Ye-es," admitted her friend. "Yes, he is sufficiently beau garçon.
But - yes - well, that is not all, by any means. You must not get the idea
that Ste. Marie is nothing but a genial and romantic young
squire-of-dames. He is much more than that. He has very fine qualities.
To be sure, he appears to possess no ambition in particular, but I
should be glad if he were my son. He comes of a very old house, and
there is no blot upon the history of that house - nothing but
faithfulness and gallantry and honor. And there is, I think, no blot
upon Ste. Marie himself. He is fine gold."

The girl turned and stared at Baron de Vries with some astonishment.

"You speak very strongly," said she. "I have never heard you speak so
strongly of any one, I think."

The Belgian made a little deprecatory gesture with his two hands, and he

"Oh, well, I like the boy. And I should hate to have you meet him for
the first time under a misconception. Listen, my child! When a young man
is loved equally by both men and women, by both old and young, that
young man is worthy of friendship and trust. Everybody likes Ste. Marie.
In a sense, that is his misfortune. The way is made too easy for him.
His friends stand so thick about him that they shut off his view of the
heights. To waken ambition in his soul he has need of solitude or
misfortune or grief. Or," said the elderly Belgian, laughing gently - "or
perhaps the other thing might do it best - the more obvious thing?"

The girl's raised eyebrows questioned him, and when he did not answer,
she said:

"What thing, then?"

"Why, love," said Baron de Vries. "Love, to be sure. Love is said to
work miracles, and I believe that to be a perfectly true saying. Ah, he
is coming here!"

The Marquise de Saulnes, who was a very pretty little Englishwoman with
a deceptively doll-like look, approached, dragging Ste. Marie in her
wake. She said:

"My dearest dear, I give you of my best. Thank me and cherish him! I
believe he is to lead you to the place where food is, isn't he?" She
beamed over her shoulder and departed, and Miss Benham found herself
confronted by the Spanish-looking man. Her first thought was that he was
not as handsome as he had seemed at a distance, but something much
better. For a young man she thought his face was rather oddly
weather-beaten, as if he might have been very much at sea, and it was
too dark to be entirely pleasing. But she liked his eyes, which were not
brown or black, as she had expected, but a very unusual dark gray - a
sort of slate color. And she liked his mouth, too, while disapproving of
the fierce little upturned mustache which seemed to her a bit operatic.
It was her habit - and it is not an unreliable habit - to judge people by
their eyes and mouths. Ste. Marie's mouth pleased her because the lips
were neither thin nor thick, they were not drawn into an unpleasant line
by unpleasant habits, they did not pout as so many Latin lips do, and
they had at one corner a humorous expression which she found curiously

"You are to cherish me," Ste. Marie said. "Orders from headquarters. How
does one cherish people?" The corner of his very expressive mouth
twitched, and he grinned at her.

Miss Benham did not approve of young men who began an acquaintance in
this very familiar manner. She thought that there was a certain
preliminary and more formal stage which ought to be got through with
first, but Ste, Marie's grin was irresistible. In spite of herself, she
found that she was laughing.

"I don't quite know," she said. "It sounds rather appalling, doesn't it?
Marian has such an extraordinary fashion of hurling people at each
other's heads! She takes my breath away at times."

"Ah, well," said Ste. Marie, "perhaps we can settle upon something when
I've led you to the place where food is. And, by-the-way, what are we
waiting for? Are we not all here? There's an even number." He broke off
with a sudden exclamation of pleasure; and when Miss Benham turned to
look, she found that Baron de Vries, who had been talking to some
friends, had once more come up to where she stood.

She watched the greeting between the two men, and its quiet affection
impressed her very much. She knew Baron de Vries well, and she knew that
it was not his habit to show or to feel a strong liking for young and
idle men. This young man must be very worth while to have won the regard
of that wise old Belgian. Just then Hartley, who had been barricaded
behind a cordon of friends, came up to her in an abominable temper over
his ill luck, and a few moments later the dinner procession was formed
and they went in.

At table Miss Benham found herself between Ste. Marie and the same
strange, fair youth who had afflicted her in the drawing-room. She
looked upon him now with a sort of dismayed terror, but it developed
that there was nothing to fear from the fair youth. He had no attention
to waste upon social amenities. He fell upon his food with a wolfish
passion extraordinary to see and also - alas! - to hear. Miss Benham
turned from him to meet Ste. Marie's delighted eye.

"Tell him for me," begged that gentleman, "that soup should be seen - not

But Miss Benham gave a little shiver of disgust. "I shall tell him
nothing whatever," she said. "He's quite too dreadful, really! People
shouldn't be exposed to that sort of thing. It's not only the noises.
Plenty of very charming and estimable Germans, for example, make strange
noises at table. But he behaves like a famished dog over a bone. I
refuse to have anything to do with him. You must make up the loss to me,
M. Ste. Marie. You must be as amusing as two people." She smiled across
at him in her gravely questioning fashion. "I'm wondering," she said,
"if I dare ask you a very personal question. I hesitate because I don't
like people who presume too much upon a short acquaintance - and our
acquaintance has been very, very short, hasn't it? even though we may
have heard a great deal about each other beforehand. I wonder - "

"Oh, I should ask it if I were you!" said Ste. Marie, at once. "I'm an
extremely good-natured person. And, besides, I quite naturally feel
flattered at your taking interest enough to ask anything about me."

"Well," said she, "it's this: Why does everybody call you just 'Ste.
Marie'? Most people are spoken of as Monsieur this or that - if there
isn't a more august title; but they all call you Ste. Marie without any
Monsieur. It seems rather odd."

Ste. Marie looked puzzled. "Why," he said, "I don't believe I know,
just. I'd never thought of that. It's quite true, of course. They never
do use a Monsieur or anything, do they? How cheeky of them! I wonder why
it is? I'll ask Hartley."

He did ask Hartley later on, and Hartley didn't know, either. Miss
Benham asked some other people, who were vague about it, and in the end
she became convinced that it was an odd and quite inexplicable form of
something like endearment. But nobody seemed to have formulated it to

"The name is really 'De Ste. Marie,'" he went on, "and there's a title
that I don't use, and a string of Christian names that one never
employs. My people were Béarnais, and there's a heap of ruins on top of
a hill in the Pyrenees where they lived. It used to be Ste. Marie de
Mont-les-Roses, but afterward, after the Revolution, they called it Ste.
Marie de Mont Perdu. My great-grandfather was killed there, but some old
servants smuggled his little son away and saved him."

He seemed to Miss Benham to say that in exactly the right manner, not in
the cheap and scoffing fashion which some young men affect in speaking
of ancestral fortunes or misfortunes, nor with too much solemnity. And
when she allowed a little silence to occur at the end, he did not go on
with his family history, but turned at once to another subject. It
pleased her curiously.

The fair youth at her other side continued to crouch over his food,
making fierce and animal-like noises. He never spoke or seemed to wish
to be spoken to, and Miss Benham found it easy to ignore him altogether.
It occurred to her once or twice that Ste. Marie's other neighbor might
desire an occasional word from him, but, after all, she said to herself
that was his affair and beyond her control. So these two talked together
through the entire dinner period, and the girl was aware that she was
being much more deeply affected by the simple, magnetic charm of a man
than ever before in her life. It made her a little angry, because she
was unfamiliar with this sort of thing and distrusted it. She was rather
a perfect type of that phenomenon before which the British and
Continental world stands in mingled delight and exasperation - the
American unmarried young woman, the creature of extraordinary beauty and
still more extraordinary poise, the virgin with the bearing and
savoir-faire of a woman of the world, the fresh-cheeked girl with the
calm mind of a savante and the cool judgment, in regard to men and
things, of an ambassador. The European world says she is cold, and that
may be true; but it is well enough known that she can love very deeply.
It says that, like most queens, and for precisely the same set of
reasons, she later on makes a bad mother; but it is easy to point to
queens who are the best of mothers. In short, she remains an enigma,
and, like all other enigmas, forever fascinating.

Miss Benham reflected that she knew almost nothing about Ste. Marie save
for his reputation as a carpet knight, and Baron de Vries' good opinion,
which could not be despised. And that made her the more displeased when
she realized how promptly she was surrendering to his charm. In a moment
of silence she gave a sudden little laugh which seemed to express a
half-angry astonishment.

"What was that for?" Ste. Marie demanded.

The girl looked at him for an instant and shook her head.

"I can't tell you," said she. "That's rude, isn't it? I'm sorry. Perhaps
I will tell you one day, when we know each other better."

But inwardly she was saying: "Why, I suppose this is how they all
begin - all these regiments of women who make fools of themselves about
him! I suppose this is exactly what he does to them all!"

It made her angry, and she tried quite unfairly to shift the anger, as
it were, to Ste. Marie - to put him somehow in the wrong. But she was by
nature very just, and she could not quite do that, particularly as it
was evident that the man was using no cheap tricks. He did not try to
flirt with her, and he did not attempt to pay her veiled compliments,
though she was often aware that when her attention was diverted for a
few moments his eyes were always upon her, and that is a compliment that
few women can find it in their hearts to resent.

"You say," said Ste. Marie, "'when we know each other better.' May one
twist that into a permission to come and see you - I mean, really see
you - not just leave a card at your door to-morrow by way of observing
the formalities?"

"Yes," she said. "Oh yes, one may twist it into something like that
without straining it unduly, I think. My mother and I shall be very glad
to see you. I'm sorry she is not here to-night to say it herself."

Then the hostess began to gather together her flock, and so the two had
no more speech. But when the women had gone and the men were left about
the dismantled table, Hartley moved up beside Ste. Marie and shook a sad
head at him. He said:

"You're a very lucky being. I was quietly hoping, on the way here, that
I should be the fortunate man, but you always have all the luck. I hope
you're decently grateful."

"Mon vieux," said Ste. Marie, "my feet are upon the stars. No!" He shook
his head as if the figure displeased him. "No, my feet are upon the
ladder to the stars. Grateful? What does a foolish word like grateful
mean? Don't talk to me. You are not worthy to trample among my
magnificent thoughts. I am a god upon Olympus."

"You said just now," objected the other man, practically, "that your
feet were on a ladder. There are no ladders from Olympus to the stars."

"Ho!" said Ste. Marie. "Ho! Aren't there, though? There shall be ladders
all over Olympus, if I like. What do you know about gods and stars? I
shall be a god climbing to the heavens, and I shall be an angel of
light, and I shall be a miserable worm grovelling in the night here
below, and I shall be a poet, and I shall be anything else I happen to
think of - all of them at once, if I choose. And you shall be the
tongue-tied son of perfidious Albion that you are, gaping at my
splendors from a fog-bank - a November fog-bank in May. Who is the
desiccated gentleman bearing down upon us?"

* * * * *



Hartley looked over his shoulder and gave a little exclamation of

"It's Captain Stewart, Miss Benham's uncle," he said, lowering his
voice. "I'm off. I shall abandon you to him. He's a good old soul, but
he bores me." Hartley nodded to the man who was approaching, and then
made his way to the end of the table, where their host sat discussing
aero-club matters with a group of the other men.

Captain Stewart dropped into the vacant chair, saying: "May I recall
myself to you, M. Ste. Marie? We met, I believe, once or twice, a couple
of years ago. My name's Stewart."

Captain Stewart - the title was vaguely believed to have been borne some
years before in the American service, but no one appeared to know much
about it - was not an old man. He could not have been, at this time, much
more than fifty, but English-speaking acquaintances often called him
"old Stewart," and others "ce vieux Stewart." Indeed, at a first glance
he might have passed for anything up to sixty, for his face was a good
deal more lined and wrinkled than it should have been at his age. Ste.
Marie's adjective had been rather apt. The man had a desiccated
appearance. Upon examination, however, one saw that the blood was still
red in his cheeks and lips, and, although his neck was thin and withered
like an old man's, his brown eyes still held their fire. The hair was
almost gone from the top of his large, round head, but it remained at
the sides - stiff, colorless hair, with a hint of red in it. And there
were red streaks in his gray mustache, which was trained outward in two
loose tufts, like shaving-brushes. The mustache and the shallow chin
under it gave him an odd, catlike appearance. Hartley, who rather
disliked the man, used to insist that he had heard him mew.

Ste. Marie said something politely non-committal, though he did not at
all remember the alleged meeting two years before, and he looked at
Captain Stewart with a real curiosity and interest in his character as
Miss Benham's uncle. He thought it very civil of the elder man to make
these friendly advances when it was in no way incumbent upon him to do

"I noticed," said Captain Stewart, "that you were placed next my niece,
Helen Benham, at dinner. This must be the first time you two have met,
is it not? I remember speaking of you to her some months ago, and I am
quite sure she said that she had not met you. Ah, yes, of course, you
have been away from Paris a great deal since she and her mother - her
mother is my sister: that is to say, my half-sister - have come here to
live with my father." He gave a little gentle laugh. "I take an elderly
uncle's privilege," he said, "of being rather proud of Helen. She is
called very pretty, and she certainly has great poise."

Ste. Marie drew a quick breath, and his eyes began to flash as they had
done a few moments before when he told Hartley that his feet were upon
the ladder to the stars.

"Miss Benham!" he cried. "Miss Benham is - " He hung poised so for a
moment, searching, as it were, for words of sufficient splendor, but in
the end he shook his head and the gleam faded from his eyes. He sank
back in his chair, sighing. "Miss Benham," said he, "is extremely

And again her uncle emitted his little gentle laugh, which may have
deceived Hartley into believing that he had heard the man mew. The sound
was as much like mewing as it was like anything else.

"I am very glad," Captain Stewart said, "to see her come out once more
into the world. She needs distraction. We - You may possibly have heard
that the family is in great distress of mind over the disappearance of
my young nephew. Helen has suffered particularly, because she is
convinced that the boy has met with foul play. I myself think it very
unlikely - very unlikely indeed. The lack of motive, for one thing, and
for another - Ah, well, a score of reasons! But Helen refuses to be
comforted. It seems to me much more like a boy's prank - his idea of
revenge for what he considered unjust treatment at his grandfather's
hands. He was always a headstrong youngster, and he has been a bit
spoiled. Still, of course, the uncertainty is very trying for us
all - very wearing."

"Of course," said Ste. Marie, gravely. "It is most unfortunate. Ah,
by-the-way!" He looked up with a sudden interest. "A rather odd thing
happened," he said, "as Hartley and I were coming here this evening. We
walked up the Champs-Elysées from the Concorde, and on the way Hartley
had been telling me of your nephew's disappearance. Near the Rond Point
we came upon a motor-car which was drawn up at the side of the
street - there had been an accident of no consequence, a boy tumbled over
but not hurt. Well, one of the two occupants of the motor-car was a man
whom I used to see about Maxim's and the Café de Paris and the
Montmartre places, too, some time ago - a rather shady character whose
name I've forgotten. The odd part of it all was that on the last
occasion or two on which I saw your nephew he was with this man. I think
it was in Henry's Bar. Of course, it means nothing at all. Your nephew
doubtless knew scores of people, and this man is no more likely to have
information about his present whereabouts than any of the others. Still,
I should have liked to ask him. I didn't remember who he was till he had

Captain Stewart shook his head sadly, frowning down upon the cigarette
from which he had knocked the ash.

"I am afraid poor Arthur did not always choose his friends with the best
of judgment," said he. "I am not squeamish, and I would not have boys
kept in a glass case, but - yes, I'm afraid Arthur was not always too
careful." He replaced the cigarette neatly between his lips. "This man,
now - this man whom you saw to-night - what sort of looking man will he
have been?"

"Oh, a tall, lean man," said Ste. Marie. "A tall man with blue eyes and
a heavy, old-fashioned mustache. I just can't remember the name."

The smoke stood still for an instant over Captain Stewart's cigarette,
and it seemed to Ste. Marie that a little contortion of anger fled
across the man's face and was gone again. He stirred slightly in his
chair. After a moment he said:

"I fancy, from your description - I fancy I know who the man was. If it
is the man I am thinking of, the name is - Powers. He is, as you have
said, a rather shady character, and I more than once warned my nephew
against him. Such people are not good companions for a boy. Yes, I
warned him."

"Powers," said Ste. Marie, "doesn't sound right to me, you know. I can't
say the fellow's name myself, but I'm sure - that is, I think - it's not

"Oh yes," said Captain Stewart, with an elderly man's half-querulous
certainty. "Yes, the name is Powers. I remember it well. And I
remember - Yes, it was odd, was it not, your meeting him like that, just
as you were talking of Arthur? You - oh, you didn't speak to him, you
say? No, no, to be sure! You didn't recognize him at once. Yes, it was
odd. Of course, the man could have had nothing to do with poor Arthur's
disappearance. His only interest in the boy at any time would have been
for what money Arthur might have, and he carried none, or almost none,
away with him when he vanished. Eh, poor lad! Where can he be to-night,
I wonder? It's a sad business, M. Ste. Marie - a sad business."

Captain Stewart fell into a sort of brooding silence, frowning down at
the table before him, and twisting with his thin ringers the little
liqueur glass and the coffee-cup which were there. Once or twice, Ste.
Marie thought, the frown deepened and twisted into a sort of scowl, and
the man's fingers twitched on the cloth of the table; but when at last
the group at the other end of the board rose and began to move towards
the door, Captain Stewart rose also and followed them. At the door he
seemed to think of something, and touched Ste. Marie upon the arm.

"This - ah, Powers," he said, in a low tone - "this man whom you saw
to-night! You said he was one of two occupants of a motor-car. Yes? Did
you by any chance recognize the other?"

"Oh, the other was a young woman," said Ste. Marie. "No, I never saw her
before. She was very handsome."

Captain Stewart said something under his breath and turned abruptly
away. But an instant later he faced about once more, smiling. He said,
in a man-of-the-world manner, which sat rather oddly upon him:

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 2 of 23)