Justus Miles Forman.

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"Ah, well, we all have our little love-affairs. I dare say this shady
fellow has his." And for some obscure reason Ste. Marie found the speech
peculiarly offensive.

In the drawing-room he had opportunity for no more than a word with Miss
Benham, for Hartley, enraged over his previous ill success, cut in ahead
of him and manoeuvred that young lady into a corner, where he sat before
her, turning a square and determined back to the world. Ste. Marie
listlessly played bridge for a time, but his attention was not upon it,
and he was glad when the others at the table settled their accounts and
departed to look in at a dance somewhere. After that he talked for a
little with Marian de Saulnes, whom he liked and who made no secret of
adoring him. She complained loudly that he was in a vile temper, which
was not true; he was only restless and distrait and wanted to be alone;
and so, at last, he took his leave without waiting for Hartley.

Outside, in the street, he stood for a moment, hesitating, and an
expectant fiacre drew up before the house, the cocher raising an
interrogative whip. In the end Ste. Marie shook his head and turned away
on foot. It was a still, sweet night of soft airs, and a moonless,
starlit sky, and the man was very fond of walking in the dark. From the
Etoile he walked down the Champs-Elysées, but presently turned toward
the river. His eyes were upon the mellow stars, his feet upon the ladder
thereunto. He found himself crossing the Pont des Invalides, and halted
midway to rest and look. He laid his arms upon the bridge's parapet and
turned his face outward. Against it bore a little gentle breeze that
smelled of the purifying water below and of the night and of green
things growing. Beneath him the river ran black as flowing ink, and
across its troubled surface the many-colored lights of the many bridges
glittered very beautifully, swirling arabesques of gold and crimson. The
noises of the city - beat of hoofs upon wooden pavements, horn of train
or motor-car, jingle of bell upon cab-horse - came here faintly and as if
from a great distance. Above the dark trees of the Cours la Reine the
sky glowed, softly golden, reflecting the million lights of Paris.

Ste. Marie closed his eyes, and against darkness he saw the beautiful
head of Helen Benham, the clear-cut, exquisite modelling of feature and
contour, the perfection of form and color. Her eyes met his eyes, and
they were very serene and calm and confident. She smiled at him, and the
new contours into which her face fell with the smile were more perfect
than before. He watched the turn of her head, and the grace of the
movement was the uttermost effortless grace one dreams that a queen
should have. The heart of Ste. Marie quickened in him, and he would have
gone down upon his knees.

He was well aware that with the coming of this girl something
unprecedented, wholly new to his experience, had befallen him - an
awakening to a new life. He had been in love a very great many times. He
was usually in love. And each time his heart had gone through the same
sweet and bitter anguish, the same sleepless nights had come and gone
upon him, the eternal and ever new miracle had wakened spring in his
soul, had passed its summer solstice, had faded through autumnal regrets
to winter's death; but through it all something within him had waited
asleep.

He found himself wondering dully what it was - wherein lay the great
difference? - and he could not answer the question he asked. He knew only
that whereas before he had loved, he now went down upon prayerful knees
to worship. In a sudden poignant thrill the knightly fervor of his
forefathers came upon him, and he saw a sweet and golden lady set far
above him upon a throne. Her clear eyes gazed afar, serene and
untroubled. She sat wrapped in a sort of virginal austerity, unaware of
the base passions of men. The other women whom Ste. Marie had - as he was
pleased to term it - loved had certainly come at least half-way to meet
him, and some of them had come a good deal farther than that. He could
not, by the wildest flight of imagination, conceive this girl doing
anything of that sort. She was to be won by trial and high endeavor, by
prayer and self-purification - not captured by a warm eye-glance, a
whispered word, a laughing kiss. In fancy he looked from the crowding
cohorts of these others to that still, sweet figure set on high, wrapped
in virginal austerity, calm in her serene perfection, and his soul
abased itself before her. He knelt in an awed and worshipful adoration.

So before quest or tournament or battle must those elder Ste.
Maries - Ste. Maries de Mont-les-Roses - -have knelt, each knight at the
feet of his lady, each knightly soul aglow with the chaste ardor of
chivalry.

The man's hands tightened upon the parapet of the bridge, he lifted his
face again to the shining stars where-among, as his fancy had it, she
sat enthroned. Exultingly he felt under his feet the rungs of the
ladder, and in the darkness he swore a great oath to have done forever
with blindness and grovelling, to climb and climb, forever to climb,
until at last he should stand where she was - cleansed and made worthy by
long endeavor - at last meet her eyes and touch her hand.

It was a fine and chivalric frenzy, and Ste. Marie was passionately in
earnest about it, but his guardian angel - indeed, Fate herself - must
have laughed a little in the dark, knowing what manner of man he was in
less exalted hours.

It was an odd freak of memory that at last recalled him to earth. Every
man knows that when a strong and, for the moment, unavailing effort has
been made to recall something lost to mind, the memory, in some
mysterious fashion, goes on working long after the attention has been
elsewhere diverted, and sometimes hours afterward, or even days,
produces quite suddenly and inappropriately the lost article. Ste. Marie
had turned, with a little sigh, to take up, once more, his walk across
the Pont des Invalides, when seemingly from nowhere, and certainly by no
conscious effort, a name flashed into his mind. He said it aloud:

"O'Hara! O'Hara! That tall, thin chap's name was O'Hara, by Jove! It
wasn't Powers at all!" He laughed a little as he remembered how very
positive Captain Stewart had been. And then he frowned, thinking that
the mistake was an odd one, since Stewart had evidently known a good
deal about this adventurer. Captain Stewart, though, Ste. Marie
reflected, was exactly the sort to be very sure he was right about
things. He had just the neat and precise and semi-scholarly personality
of the man who always knows. So Ste. Marie dismissed the matter with
another brief laugh, but a cognate matter was less easy to dismiss. The
name brought with it a face - a dark and splendid face with tragic eyes
that called. He walked a long way thinking about them and wondering. The
eyes haunted him. It will have been reasonably evident that Ste. Marie
was a fanciful and imaginative soul. He needed but a chance word, the
sight of a face in a crowd, the glance of an eye, to begin
story-building, and he would go on for hours about it and work himself
up to quite a passion with his imaginings. He should have been a writer
of fiction.

He began forthwith to construct romances about this lady of the
motor-car. He wondered why she should have been with the shady
Irishman - if Irishman he was - O'Hara, and with some anxiety he wondered
what the two were to each other. Captain Stewart's little cynical jest
came to his mind, and he was conscious of a sudden desire to kick Miss
Benham's middle-aged uncle.

The eyes haunted him. What was it they suffered? Out of what misery did
they call - and for what? He walked all the long way home to his little
flat overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens, haunted by those eyes. As he
climbed his stair it suddenly occurred to him that they had quite driven
out of his mind the image of his beautiful lady who sat among the stars,
and the realization came to him with a shock.

* * * * *




IV

OLD DAVID STEWART


It was Miss Benham's custom, upon returning home at night from
dinner-parties or other entertainments, to look in for a few minutes on
her grandfather before going to bed. The old gentleman, like most
elderly people, slept lightly, and often sat up in bed very late into
the night, reading or playing piquet with his valet. He suffered
hideously at times from the malady which was killing him by degrees, but
when he was free from pain the enormous recuperative power, which he had
preserved to his eighty-sixth year, left him almost as vigorous and
clear-minded as if he had never been ill at all. Hartley's description
of him had not been altogether a bad one: "a quaint old beggar... a
great quantity of white hair and an enormous square white beard and the
fiercest eyes I ever saw..." He was a rather "quaint old beggar,"
indeed! He had let his thick, white hair grow long, and it hung down
over his brows in unparted locks as the ancient Greeks wore their hair.
He had very shaggy eyebrows, and the deep-set eyes under them gleamed
from the shadow with a fierceness which was rather deceptive but none
the less intimidating. He had a great beak of a nose, but the mouth
below could not be seen. It was hidden by the mustache and the enormous
square beard. His face was colorless, almost as white as hair and beard;
there seemed to be no shadow or tint anywhere except the cavernous
recesses from which the man's eyes gleamed and sparkled. Altogether he
was certainly "a quaint old beggar."

He had, during the day and evening, a good many visitors, for the old
gentleman's mind was as alert as it ever had been, and important men
thought him worth consulting. The names which the admirable valet Peters
announced from time to time were names which meant a great deal in the
official and diplomatic world of the day. But if old David felt
flattered over the unusual fashion in which the great of the earth
continued to come to him, he never betrayed it. Indeed, it is quite
probable that this view of the situation never once occurred to him. He
had been thrown with the great of the earth for more than half a
century, and he had learned to take it as a matter of course.

On her return from the Marquise de Saulnes' dinner-party, Miss Benham
went at once to her grandfather's wing of the house, which had its own
street entrance, and knocked lightly at his door. She asked the
admirable Peters, who opened to her, "Is he awake?" and being assured
that he was, went into the vast chamber, dropping her cloak on a chair
as she entered.

David Stewart was sitting up in his monumental bed behind a sort of
invalid's table which stretched across his knees without touching them.
He wore over his night-clothes a Chinese mandarin's jacket of old red
satin, wadded with down, and very gorgeously embroidered with the cloud
and bat designs, and with large round panels of the imperial five-clawed
dragon in gold. He had a number of these jackets - they seemed to be his
one vanity in things external - and they were so made that they could be
slipped about him without disturbing him in his bed, since they hung
down only to the waist or thereabouts. They kept the upper part of his
body, which was not covered by the bedclothes, warm, and they certainly
made him a very impressive figure.

He said: "Ah, Helen! Come in! Come in! Sit down on the bed there and
tell me what you have been doing!" He pushed aside the pack of cards
which was spread out on the invalid's table before him, and with great
care counted a sum of money in francs and half-francs and nickel
twenty-five centime pieces. "I've won seven francs fifty from Peters
to-night," he said, chuckling gently. "That is a very good evening,
indeed. Very good! Where have you been, and who were there?"

"A dinner-party at the De Saulnes'," said Miss Benham, making herself
comfortable on the side of the great bed. "It's a very pleasant place.
Marian is, of course, a dear, and they're quite English and
unceremonious. You can talk to your neighbor at dinner instead of
addressing the house from a platform, as it were. French dinner-parties
make me nervous."

Old David gave a little growling laugh.

"French dinner-parties at least keep people up to the mark in the art of
conversation," said he. "But that is a lost art, anyhow, nowadays, so I
suppose one might as well be quite informal and have done with it. Who
were there?"

"Oh, well" - she considered, "no one, I should think, who would interest
you. Rather an indifferent set. Pleasant people, but not inspiring. The
Marquis had some young relative or connection who was quite odious and
made the most surprising noises over his food. I met a new man whom I
think I am going to like very much, indeed. He wouldn't interest you,
because he doesn't mean anything in particular, and of course he
oughtn't to interest me for the same reason. He's just an idle, pleasant
young man, but - he has great charm - very great charm. His name is Ste.
Marie. Baron de Vries seems very fond of him, which surprised me,
rather."

"Ste. Marie!" exclaimed the old gentleman, in obvious astonishment.
"Ste. Marie de Mont Perdu?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes, that is the name, I believe. You know him, then?
I wonder he didn't mention it."

"I knew his father," said old David. "And his grandfather, for that
matter. They're Gascon, I think, or Béarnais; but this boy's mother will
have been Irish, unless his father married again.

"So you've been meeting a Ste. Marie, have you? - and finding that he has
great charm?" The old gentleman broke into one of his growling laughs,
and reached for a long black cigar, which he lighted, eying his
granddaughter the while over the flaring match. "Well," he said, when
the cigar was drawing, "they all have had charm. I should think there
has never been a Ste. Marie without it. They're a sort of embodiment of
romance, that family. This boy's great-grandfather lost his life
defending a castle against a horde of peasants in 1799; his grandfather
was killed in the French campaign in Mexico in '39 - at Vera Cruz it was,
I think; and his father died in a filibustering expedition ten years
ago. I wonder what will become of the last Ste. Marie?" Old David's eyes
suddenly sharpened. "You're not going to fall in love with Ste. Marie
and marry him, are you?" he demanded.

Miss Benham gave a little angry laugh, but her grandfather saw the color
rise in her cheeks for all that.

"Certainly not," she said, with great decision, "What an absurd idea!
Because I meet a man at a dinner-party and say I like him, must I marry
him to-morrow? I meet a great many men at dinners and things, and a few
of them I like. Heavens!"

"'Methinks the lady doth protest too much,'" muttered old David into his
huge beard.

"I beg your pardon?" asked Miss Benham, politely.

But he shook his head, still growling inarticulately, and began to draw
enormous clouds of smoke from the long black cigar. After a time he took
the cigar once more from his lips and looked thoughtfully at his
granddaughter, where she sat on the edge of the vast bed, upright and
beautiful, perfect in the most meticulous detail. Most women when they
return from a long evening out look more or less the worse for
it - deadened eyes, pale cheeks, loosened coiffure tell their inevitable
tale. Miss Benham looked as if she had just come from the hands of a
very excellent maid. She looked as freshly soignée as she might have
looked at eight that evening instead of at one. Not a wave of her
perfectly undulated hair was loosened or displaced, not a fold of the
lace at her breast had departed from its perfect arrangement.

"It is odd," said old David Stewart, "your taking a fancy to young Ste.
Marie. Of course, it's natural, too, in a way, because you are complete
opposites, I should think - that is, if this lad is like the rest of his
race. What I mean is that merely attractive young men don't, as a rule,
attract you."

"Well, no," she admitted, "they don't usually. Men with brains attract
me most, I think - men who are making civilization, men who are ruling
the world, or at least doing important things for it. That's your fault,
you know. You taught me that."

The old gentleman laughed.

"Possibly," said he. "Possibly. Anyhow, that is the sort of men you
like, and they like you. You're by no means a fool, Helen; in fact,
you're a woman with brains. You could wield great influence married to
the proper sort of man."

"But not to M. Ste. Marie," she suggested, smiling across at him.

"Well, no," he said. "No, not to Ste. Marie. It would be a mistake to
marry Ste. Marie - if he is what the rest of his house have been. The
Ste. Maries live a life compounded of romance and imagination and
emotion. You're not emotional."

"No," said Miss Benham, slowly and thoughtfully. It was as if the idea
were new to her. "No, I'm not, I suppose. No. Certainly not."

"As a matter of fact," said old David, "you're by nature rather cold.
I'm not sure it isn't a good thing. Emotional people, I observe, are
usually in hot water of some sort. When you marry you're very likely to
choose with a great deal of care and some wisdom. And you're also likely
to have what is called a career. I repeat that you could wield great
influence in the proper environment."

The girl frowned across at her grandfather reflectively.

"Do you mean by that," she asked, after a little silence - "do you mean
that you think I am likely to be moved by sheer ambition and nothing
else in arranging my life? I've never thought of myself as a very
ambitious person."

"Let us substitute for ambition common-sense," said old David. "I think
you have a great deal of common-sense for a woman - and so young a woman.
How old are you by-the-way? Twenty-two? Yes, to be sure. I think you
have great common-sense and appreciation of values. And I think you're
singularly free of the emotionalism that so often plays hob with them
all. People with common-sense fall in love in the right places."

"I don't quite like the sound of it," said Miss Benham. "Perhaps I am
rather ambitious - I don't know. Yes, perhaps. I should like to play some
part in the world, I don't deny that. But - am I as cold as you say? I
doubt it very much. I doubt that."

"You're twenty-two," said her grandfather, "and you have seen a good
deal of society in several capitals. Have you ever fallen in love?"

Oddly, the face of Ste. Marie came before Miss Benham's eyes as if she
had summoned it there. But she frowned a little and shook her head,
saying:

"No, I can't say that I have. But that means nothing. There's plenty of
time for that. And you know," she said, after a pause - "you know I'm
rather sure I could fall in love - pretty hard. I'm sure of that. Perhaps
I have been waiting. Who knows?"

"Aye, who knows?" said David. He seemed all at once to lose interest in
the subject, as old people often do without apparent reason, for he
remained silent for a long time, puffing at the long black cigar or
rolling it absently between his fingers. After awhile he laid it down in
a metal dish which stood at his elbow, and folded his lean hands before
him over the invalid's table. He was still so long that at last his
granddaughter thought he had fallen asleep, and she began to rise from
her seat, taking care to make no noise; but at that the old man stirred
and put out his hand once more for the cigar. "Was young Richard Hartley
at your dinner-party?" he asked, and she said:

"Yes. Oh yes, he was there. He and M. Ste. Marie came together, I
believe. They are very close friends."

"Another idler," growled old David. "The fellow's a man of parts - and a
man of family. What's he idling about here for? Why isn't he in
Parliament, where he belongs?"

"Well," said the girl, "I should think it is because he is too much a
man of family - as you put it. You see, he'll succeed his cousin, Lord
Risdale, before very long, and then all his work would have been for
nothing, because he'll have to take his seat in the Lords. Lord Risdale
is unmarried, you know, and a hopeless invalid. He may die any day. I
think I sympathize with poor Mr. Hartley. It would be a pity to build up
a career for one's self in the lower House, and then suddenly, in the
midst of it, have to give it all up. The situation is rather paralyzing
to endeavor, isn't it?"

"Yes, I dare say," said old David, absently. He looked up sharply.
"Young Hartley doesn't come here as much as he used to do."

"No," said Miss Benham, "he doesn't." She gave a little laugh. "To avoid
cross-examination," she said, "I may as well admit that he asked me to
marry him and I had to refuse. I'm sorry, because I like him very much,
indeed."

Old David made an inarticulate sound which may have been meant to
express surprise - or almost anything else. He had not a great range of
expression.

"I don't want," said he, "to seem to have gone daft on the subject of
marriage, and I see no reason why you should be in any haste about it.
Certainly I should hate to lose you, my child, but - Hartley as the next
Lord Risdale is undoubtedly a good match. And you say you like him."

The girl looked up with a sort of defiance, and her face was a little
flushed.

"I don't love him," she said. "I like him immensely, but I don't love
him, and, after all - well, you say I'm cold, and I admit I'm more or
less ambitious, but, after all - well, I just don't quite love him. I
want to love the man I marry."

Old David Stewart held up his black cigar and gazed thoughtfully at the
smoke which streamed thin and blue and veil-like from its lighted end.

"Love!" he said, in a reflective tone. "Love!" He repeated the word two
or three times slowly, and he stirred a little in his bed. "I have
forgotten what it is," said he. "I expect I must be very old. I have
forgotten what love - that sort of love - is like. It seems very far away
to me and rather unimportant. But I remember that I thought it important
enough once, a century or two ago. Do you know, it strikes me as rather
odd that I have forgotten what love is like. It strikes me as rather
pathetic." He gave a sort of uncouth grimace and stuck the black cigar
once more into his mouth. "Egad!" said he, mumbling indistinctly over
the cigar, "how foolish love seems when you look back at it across fifty
or sixty years!"

Miss Benham rose to her feet smiling, and she came and stood near where
the old man lay propped up against his pillows. She touched his cheek
with her cool hand, and old David put up one of his own hands and patted
it.

"I'm going to bed now," said she. "I've sat here talking too long. You
ought to be asleep, and so ought I."

"Perhaps! Perhaps!" the old man said. "I don't feel sleepy, though. I
dare say I shall read a little." He held her hand in his and looked up
at her.

"I've been talking a great deal of nonsense about marriage," said he.
"Put it out of your head! It's all nonsense. I don't want you to marry
for a long time. I don't want to lose you." His face twisted a little,
quite suddenly. "You're precious near all I have left, now," he said.

The girl did not answer at once, for it seemed to her that there was
nothing to say. She knew that her grandfather was thinking of the lost
boy, and she knew what a bitter blow the thing had been to him. She
often thought that it would kill him before his old malady could run its
course.

But after a moment she said, very gently: "We won't give up hope. We'll
never give up hope. Think! he might come home to-morrow! Who knows?"

"If he has stayed away of his own accord," cried out old David Stewart,
in a loud voice, "I'll never forgive him - not if he comes to me
to-morrow on his knees! Not even if he comes to me on his knees!"

The girl bent over her grandfather, saying: "Hush! hush! You mustn't
excite yourself." But old David's gray face was working, and his eyes
gleamed from their cavernous shadows with a savage fire.

"If the boy is staying away out of spite," he repeated, "he need never
come back to me. I won't forgive him." He beat his unemployed hand upon
the table before him, and the things which lay there jumped and danced.
"And if he waits until I'm dead and then comes back," said he, "he'll
find he has made a mistake - a great mistake. He'll find a surprise in
store for him, I can tell you that. I won't tell you what I have done,
but it will be a disagreeable surprise for Master Arthur, you may be
sure."

The old gentleman fell to frowning and muttering in his choleric
fashion, but the fierce glitter began to go out of his eyes and his


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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 3 of 23)