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hands ceased to tremble and clutch at the things before him. The girl
was silent, because again there seemed to her to be nothing that she
could say. She longed very much to plead her brother's cause, but she
was sure that would only excite her grandfather, and he was growing
quieter after his burst of anger. She bent down over him and kissed his
cheek.

"Try to go to sleep," she said. "And don't torture yourself with
thinking about all this. I'm as sure that poor Arthur is not staying
away out of spite as if he were myself. He's foolish and headstrong, but
he's not spiteful, dear. Try to believe that. And now I'm really going.
Good-night." She kissed him again and slipped out of the room. And as
she closed the door she heard her grandfather pull the bell-cord which
hung beside him and summoned the excellent Peters from the room beyond.

* * * * *




V

JASON SETS FORTH UPON THE GREAT ADVENTURE


Miss Benham stood at one of the long drawing-room windows of the house
in the rue de l'Université, and looked out between the curtains upon the
rather grimy little garden, where a few not very prosperous cypresses
and chestnuts stood guard over the rows of lilac shrubs and the
box-bordered flower-beds and the usual moss-stained fountain. She was
thinking of the events of the past month, the month which had elapsed
since the evening of the De Saulnes' dinner-party. They were not at all
startling events; in a practical sense there were no events at all, only
a quiet sequence of affairs which was about as inevitable as the night
upon the day - the day upon the night again. In a word, this girl, who
had considered herself very strong and very much the mistress of her
feelings, found, for the first time in her life, that her strength was
as nothing at all against the potent charm and magnetism of a man who
had almost none of the qualities she chiefly admired in men. During the
month's time she had passed from a phase of angry self-scorn through a
period of bewilderment not unmixed with fear, and from that she had come
into an unknown world, a land very strange to her, where old standards
and judgments seemed to be valueless - a place seemingly ruled altogether
by new emotions, sweet and thrilling, or full of vague terrors as her
mood veered here or there.

That sublimated form of guesswork which is called "woman's intuition"
told her that Ste. Marie would come to her on this afternoon, and that
something in the nature of a crisis would have to be faced. It can be
proved even by poor masculine mathematics that guesswork, like other
gambling ventures, is bound to succeed about half the time, and it
succeeded on this occasion. Even as Miss Benham stood at the window
looking out through the curtains, M. Ste. Marie was announced from the
doorway.

She turned to meet him with a little frown of determination, for in his
absence she was often very strong, indeed, and sometimes she made up and
rehearsed little speeches of great dignity and decision in which she
told him that he was attempting a quite hopeless thing, and, as a
well-wishing friend, advised him to go away and attempt it no longer.
But as Ste. Marie came quickly across the room toward her, the little
frown wavered and at last fled from her face and another look came
there. It was always so. The man's bodily presence exerted an absolute
spell over her.

"I have been sitting with your grandfather for half an hour," Ste. Marie
said. And she said:

"Oh, I'm glad! I'm very glad! You always cheer him up. He hasn't been
too cheerful or too well of late." She unnecessarily twisted a chair
about, and after a moment sat down in it. And she gave a little laugh.
"This friendship which has grown up between my grandfather and you,"
said she - "I don't understand it at all. Of course, he knew your father
and all that; but you two seem such very different types, I shouldn't
think you would amuse each other at all. There's Mr. Hartley, for
example. I should expect my grandfather to like him very much better
than you, but he doesn't - though I fancy he approves of him much more."

She laughed again, but a different laugh; and when he heard it Ste.
Marie's eyes gleamed a little and his hands moved beside him.

"I expect," said she - "I expect, you know, that he just likes you
without stopping to think why - as everybody else does. I fancy it's just
that. What do you think?"

"Oh, I?" said the man. "I - how should I know? I know it's a great
privilege to be allowed to see him - such a man as that. And I know we
get on wonderfully well. He doesn't condescend, as most old men do who
have led important lives. We just talk as two men in a club might talk,
and I tell him stories and make him laugh. Oh yes, we get on wonderfully
well."

"Oh," said she, "I've often wondered what you talk about. What did you
talk about to-day?"

Ste. Marie turned abruptly away from her and went across to one of the
windows - the window where she had stood earlier, looking out upon the
dingy garden. She saw him stand there, with his back turned, the head a
little bent, the hands twisting together behind him, and a sudden fit of
nervous shivering wrung her. Every woman knows when a certain thing is
going to be said to her, and usually she is prepared for it, though
usually, also, she says she is not. Miss Benham knew what was coming
now, and she was frightened, not of Ste. Marie, but of herself. It meant
so very much to her - more than to most women at such a time. It meant,
if she said yes to him, the surrender of almost all the things she had
cared for and hoped for. It meant the giving up of that career which old
David Stewart had dwelt upon a month ago.

Ste. Marie turned back into the room. He came a little way toward where
the girl sat, and halted, and she could see that he was very pale. A
sort of critical second self noticed that he was pale and was surprised,
because, although men's faces often turn red, they seldom turn
noticeably pale except in very great nervous crises - or in works of
fiction; while women, on the contrary, may turn red and white twenty
times a day, and no harm done. He raised his hands a little way from his
sides in the beginning of a gesture, but they dropped again as if there
was no strength in them.

"I told him," said Ste. Marie, in a flat voice - "I told your grandfather
that I - loved you more than anything in this world or in the next. I
told him that my love for you had made another being of me - a new being.
I told him that I wanted to come to you and to kneel at your feet, and
to ask you if you could give me just a little, little hope - something to
live for, a light to climb toward. That is what we talked about, your
grandfather and I."

"Ste. Marie! Ste. Marie!" said the girl, in a half whisper. "What did my
grandfather say to you?" she asked, after a silence.

Ste. Marie looked away.

"I cannot tell you," he said. "He - was not quite sympathetic."

The girl gave a little cry.

"Tell me what he said!" she demanded. "I must know what he said."

The man's eyes pleaded with her, but she held him with her gaze, and in
the end he gave in.

"He said I was a damned fool," said Ste. Marie.

And the girl, after an instant of staring, broke into a little fit of
nervous, overwrought laughter, and covered her face with her hands.

He threw himself upon his knees before her, and her laughter died away.
An Englishman or an American cannot do that. Richard Hartley, for
example, would have looked like an idiot upon his knees, and he would
have felt it. But it did not seem extravagant with Ste. Marie. It became
him.

"Listen! Listen!" he cried to her, but the girl checked him before he
could go on.

She dropped her hands from her face, and she bent a little forward over
the man as he knelt there. She put out her hands and took his head for a
swift instant between them, looking down into his eyes. At the touch a
sudden wave of tenderness swept her - almost an engulfing wave; it almost
overwhelmed her and bore her away from the land she knew. And so when
she spoke her voice was not quite steady. She said:

"Ah, dear Ste. Marie! I cannot pretend to be cold toward you. You have
laid a spell upon me, Ste. Marie. You enchant us all, somehow, don't
you? I suppose I'm not so different from the others as I thought I was.
And yet," she said, "he was right, you know. My grandfather was right.
No, let me talk, now. I must talk for a little. I must try to tell you
how it is with me - try somehow to find a way. He was right. He meant
that you and I were utterly unsuited to each other, and so, in calm
moments, I know we are. I know that well enough. When you're not with
me, I feel very sure about it. I think of a thousand excellent reasons
why you and I ought to be no more to each other than friends. Do you
know, I think my grandfather is a little uncanny. I think he has
prophetic powers. They say very old people often have. He and I talked
about you when I came home from that dinner-party at the De Saulnes', a
month ago - the dinner-party where you and I first met. I told him that I
had met a man whom I liked very much - a man with great charm; and though
I must have said the same sort of thing to him before about other men,
he was quite oddly disturbed, and talked for a long time about it - about
the sort of man I ought to marry and the sort I ought not to marry. It
was unusual for him. He seldom says anything of that kind. Yes, he is
right. You see, I'm ambitious in a particular way. If I marry at all I
ought to marry a man who is working hard in politics or in something of
that kind. I could help him. We could do a great deal together."

"I could go into politics!" cried Ste. Marie; but she shook her head,
smiling down upon him.

"No, not you, my dear. Politics least of all. You could be a soldier, if
you chose. You could fight as your father and your grandfather and the
others of your house have done. You could lead a forlorn hope in the
field. You could suffer and starve and go on fighting. You could die
splendidly, but - politics, no! That wants a tougher shell than you have.
And a soldier's wife! Of what use to him is she?"

Ste. Marie's face was very grave. He looked up to her, smiling.

"Do you set ambition before love, my Queen?" he asked, and she did not
answer him at once.

She looked into his eyes, and she was as grave as he.

"Is love all?" she said, at last. "Is love all? Ought one to think of
nothing but love when one is settling one's life forever? I wonder? I
look about me, Ste. Marie," she said, "and in the lives of my
friends - the people who seem to me to be most worth while, the people
who are making the world's history for good or ill - and it seems to me
that in their lives love has the second place - or the third. I wonder if
one has the right to set it first. There is, of course," she said, "the
merely domestic type of woman - the woman who has no thought and no
interest beyond her home. I am not that type of woman. Perhaps I wish I
were. Certainly they are the happiest. But I was brought up among - well,
among important people - men of my grandfather's kind. All my training
has been toward that life. Have I the right, I wonder, to give it all
up?"

The man stirred at her feet, and she put out her hands to him quickly.

"Do I seem brutal?" she cried. "Oh, I don't want to be! Do I seem very
ungenerous and wrapped up in my own side of the thing? I don't mean to
be that, but - I'm not sure. I expect it's that. I'm not sure, and I
think I'm a little frightened." She gave him a brief, anxious smile that
was not without its tenderness. "I'm so sure," she said, "when I'm away
from you. But when you're here - oh, I forget all I've thought of. You
lay your spell upon me."

Ste. Marie gave a little wordless cry of joy. He caught her two hands in
his and held them against his lips. Again that great wave of tenderness
swept her, almost engulfing. But when it had ebbed she sank back once
more in her chair, and she withdrew her hands from his clasp.

"You make me forget too much," she said. "I think you make me forget
everything that I ought to remember. Oh, Ste. Marie, have I any right to
think of love and happiness while this terrible mystery is upon
us - while we don't know whether poor Arthur is alive or dead? You've
seen what it has brought my grandfather to! It is killing him. He has
been much worse in the past fortnight. And my mother is hardly a ghost
of herself in these days. Ah, it is brutal of me to think of my own
affairs - to dream of happiness at such a time." She smiled across at him
very sadly. "You see what you have brought me to!" she said.

Ste. Marie rose to his feet. If Miss Benham, absorbed in that warfare
which raged within her, had momentarily forgotten the cloud of sorrow
under which her household lay, so much the more had he, to whom the
sorrow was less intimate, forgotten it. But he was ever swift to
sympathy, Ste. Marie - as quick as a woman, and as tender. He could not
thrust his love upon the girl at such a time as this. He turned a little
away from her, and so remained for a moment. When he faced about again
the flush had gone from his cheeks and the fire from his eyes. Only
tenderness was left there.

"There has been no news at all this week?" he asked, and the girl shook
her head.

"None! None! Shall we ever have news of him, I wonder? Must we go on
always and never know? It seems to me almost incredible that any one
could disappear so completely. And yet, I dare say, many people have
done it before and have been as carefully sought for. If only I could
believe that he is alive! If only I could believe that!"

"I believe it," said Ste. Marie.

"Ah," she said, "you say that to cheer me. You have no reason to offer."

"Dead bodies very seldom disappear completely," said he. "If your
brother died anywhere there would be a record of the death. If he were
accidentally killed there would be a record of that, too; and, of
course, you are having all such records constantly searched?"

"Oh yes," she said. "Yes, of course - at least, I suppose so. My uncle
has been directing the search. Of course, he would take an obvious
precaution like that."

"Naturally," said Ste. Marie. "Your uncle, I should say, is an unusually
careful man." He paused a moment to smile. "He makes his little
mistakes, though. I told you about that man O'Hara, and about how sure
Captain Stewart was that the name was Powers. Do you know" - Ste. Marie
had been walking up and down the room, but he halted to face her - "do
you know, I have a very strong feeling that if one could find this man
O'Hara, one would learn something about what became of your brother? I
have no reason for thinking that, but I feel it."

"Oh," said the girl, doubtfully, "I hardly think that could be so. What
motive could the man have for harming my brother?"

"None," said Ste. Marie; "but he might have an excellent motive for
hiding him away - kidnapping him. Is that the word? Yes, I know, you're
going to say that no demand has been made for money, and that is where
my argument - if I can call it an argument - is weak. But the fellow may
be biding his time. Anyhow, I should like to have five minutes alone
with him. I'll tell you another thing. It's a trifle, and it may be of
no consequence, but I add it to my vague and - if you like - foolish
feeling, and make something out of it. I happened, some days ago, to
meet at the Café de Paris a man who I knew used to know this O'Hara. He
was not, I think, a friend of his at all, but an acquaintance. I asked
him what had become of O'Hara, saying that I hadn't seen him in some
weeks. Well, this man said O'Hara had gone away somewhere a couple of
months ago. He didn't seem at all surprised, for it appears the
Irishman - if he is an Irishman - is decidedly a haphazard sort of person,
here to-day, gone to-morrow. No, the man wasn't surprised, but he was
rather angry, because he said O'Hara owed him some money. I said I
thought he must be mistaken about the fellow's absence, because I'd seen
him in the street within the month - on the evening of our dinner-party,
you remember - but this man was very sure that I had made a mistake. He
said that if O'Hara had been in town he was sure to have known it. Well,
the point is here. Your brother disappears at a certain time. At the
same time this Irish adventurer disappears, too, _and_ your brother was
known to have frequented the Irishman's company. It may be only a
coincidence, but I can't help feeling that there's something in it."

Miss Benham was sitting up straight in her chair with a little alert
frown.

"Have you spoken of this to my uncle?" she demanded.

"Well - no," said Ste. Marie. "Not the latter part of it - that is, not my
having heard of O'Hara's disappearance. In the first place, I learned of
that only three days ago, and I have not seen Captain Stewart since - I
rather expected to find him here to-day; and, in the second place, I was
quite sure that he would only laugh. He has laughed at me two or three
times for suggesting that this Irishman might know something. Captain
Stewart is - not easy to convince, you know."

"I know," she said, looking away. "He's always very certain that he's
right. Well, perhaps he is right. Who knows?" She gave a little sob.
"Oh!" she cried, "shall we ever have my brother back? Shall we ever see
him again? It is breaking my heart, Ste. Marie, and it is killing my
grandfather and, I think, my mother, too! Oh, can nothing be done?"

Ste. Marie was walking up and down the floor before her, his hands
clasped behind his back. When she had finished speaking the girl saw him
halt beside one of the windows, and after a moment she saw his head go
up sharply and she heard him give a sudden cry. She thought he had seen
something from the window which had wrung that exclamation from him, and
she asked:

"What is it?"

But abruptly the man turned back into the room and came across to where
she sat. It seemed to her that his face had a new look - a very strange
exaltation which she had never before seen there. He said:

"Listen! I do not know if anything can be done that has not been done
already, but if there is anything I shall do it, you may be sure."

"_You_, Ste. Marie?" she cried, in a sharp voice. "_You?_"

"And why not I?" he demanded.

"Oh, my friend," said she, "you could do nothing! You wouldn't know
where to turn, how to set to work. Remember that a score of men who are
skilled in this kind of thing have been searching for two months. What
could you do that they haven't done?"

"I do not know, my Queen," said Ste. Marie, "but I shall do what I can.
Who knows? Sometimes the fool who rushes in where angels have feared to
tread succeeds where they have failed. Oh, let me do this!" he cried
out. "Let me do it for both our sakes - for yours and for mine! It is for
your sake most. I swear that! It is to set you at peace again, bring
back the happiness you have lost. But it is for my sake, too, a little.
It will be a test of me, a trial. If I can succeed here where so many
have failed, if I bring back your brother to you - or, at least, discover
what has become of him - I shall be able to come to you with less shame
for my - unworthiness."

He looked down upon her with eager, burning eyes, and, after a little,
the girl rose to face him. She was very white, and she stared at him
silently.

"When I came to you to-day," he went on, "I knew that I had nothing to
offer you but my faithful love and my life, which has been a life
without value. In exchange for that I asked too much. I knew it, and you
knew it, too. I know well enough what sort of man you ought to marry,
and what a brilliant career you could make for yourself in the proper
place - what great influence you could wield. But I asked you to give
that all up, and I hadn't anything to offer in its place - nothing but
love. My Queen, give me a chance now to offer you more! If I can bring
back your brother or news of him, I can come to you without shame and
ask you to marry me, because if I can succeed in that you will know that
I can succeed in other things. You will be able to trust me. You'll know
that I can climb. It shall be a sort of symbol. Let me go!"

The girl broke into a sort of sobbing laughter.

"Oh, divine madman!" she cried. "Are you all mad, you Ste. Maries, that
you must be forever leading forlorn hopes? Oh, how you are, after all, a
Ste. Marie! Now, at last, I know why one cannot but love you. You're the
knight of old. You're chivalry come down to us. You're a ghost out of
the past when men rode in armor with pure hearts seeking the Great
Adventure. Oh, my friend," she said, "be wise. Give this up in time. It
is a beautiful thought, and I love you for it, but it is madness - yes,
yes, a sweet madness, but mad, nevertheless! What possible chance would
you have of success? And think - think how failure would hurt you - and
me! You must not do it, Ste. Marie."

"Failure will never hurt me, my Queen," said he, "because there are no
hurts in the grave, and I shall never give over searching until I
succeed or until I am dead." His face was uplifted, and there was a sort
of splendid fervor upon it. It was as if it shone.

The girl stared at him dumbly. She began to realize that the knightly
spirit of those gallant, long dead gentlemen was indeed descended upon
the last of their house, that he burnt with the same pure fire which had
long ago lighted them through quest and adventure, and she was a little
afraid with an almost superstitious fear. She put out her hands upon the
man's shoulders, and she moved a little closer to him, holding him.

"Oh, madness, madness!" she said, watching his face.

"Let me do it!" said Ste. Marie.

And after a silence that seemed to endure for a long time, she sighed,
shaking her head, and said she:

"Oh, my friend, there is no strength in me to stop you. I think we are
both a little mad, and I know that you are very mad, but I cannot say
no. You seem to have come out of another century to take up this quest.
How can I prevent you? But listen to one thing. If I accept this
sacrifice, if I let you give your time and your strength to this almost
hopeless attempt, it must be understood that it is to be within certain
limits. I will not accept any indefinite thing. You may give your
efforts to trying to find trace of my brother for a month if you like,
or for three months, or six, or even a year, but not for more than that.
If he is not found in a year's time we shall know that - we shall know
that he is dead, and that - further search is useless. I cannot say how
I - Oh, Ste. Marie, Ste. Marie, this is a proof of you, indeed! And I
have called you idle. I have said hard things of you. It is very bitter
to me to think that I have said those things."

"They were true, my Queen," said he, smiling. "They were quite, quite
true. It is for me to prove now that they shall be true no longer." He
took the girl's hand in his rather ceremoniously, and bent his head and
kissed it. As he did so he was aware that she stirred, all at once,
uneasily, and when he had raised his head he looked at her in question.

"I thought some one was coming into the room," she explained, looking
beyond him. "I thought some one started to come in between the portières
yonder. It must have been a servant."

"Then it is understood," said Ste. Marie. "To bring you back your
happiness, and to prove myself in some way worthy of your love, I am to
devote myself with all my effort and all my strength to finding your
brother or some trace of him, and until I succeed I will not see your
face again, my Queen."

"Oh, that!" she cried - "that, too?"

"I will not see you," said he, "until I bring you news of him, or until
my year is passed and I have failed utterly. I know what risk I run. If
I fail, I lose you. That is understood, too. But if I succeed - "

"Then?" she said, breathing quickly. "Then?"

"Then," said he, "I shall come to you, and I shall feel no shame in
asking you to marry me, because then you will know that there is in me
some little worthiness, and that in our lives together you need not be
buried in obscurity - lost to the world."

"I cannot find any words to say," said she. "I am feeling just now very
humble and very ashamed. It seems that I haven't known you at all. Oh
yes, I am ashamed."

The girl's face, habitually so cool and composed, was flushed with a
beautiful flush, and it had softened, and it seemed to quiver between a
smile and a tear. With a swift movement she leaned close to him, holding
by his shoulder, and for an instant her cheek was against his. She


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