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whispered to him:

"Oh, find him quickly, my dear! Find him quickly, and come back to me!"

Ste. Marie began to tremble, and she stood away from him. Once he looked
up, but the flush was gone from Miss Benham's cheeks and she was pale
again. She stood with her hands tight clasped over her breast. So he
bowed to her very low, and turned and went out of the room and out of
the house.

So quickly did he move at this last that a man who had been, for some
moments, standing just outside the portières of the doorway had barely
time to step aside into the shadows of the dim hall. As it was, Ste.
Marie, in a more normal moment, must have seen that the man was there;
but his eyes were blind, and he saw nothing. He groped for his hat and
stick as if the place were a place of gloom, and, because the footman
who should have been at the door was in regions unknown, he let himself
out, and so went away.

Then the man who stood apart in the shadows crossed the hall to a small
room which was furnished as a library, but not often used. He closed the
door behind him, and went to one of the windows which gave upon the
street. And he stood there for a long time, drawing absurd invisible
pictures upon the glass with one finger and staring thoughtfully out
into the late June afternoon.

* * * * *



When Ste. Marie had gone, Miss Benham sat alone in the drawing-room for
almost an hour. She had been stirred that afternoon more deeply than she
thought she had ever been stirred before, and she needed time to regain
that cool poise, that mental equilibrium, which was normal to her and
necessary for coherent thought.

She was still in a sort of fever of bewilderment and exaltation, still
all aglow with the man's own high fervor; but the second self which so
often sat apart from her, and looked on with critical, mocking eyes,
whispered that to-morrow, the fever past, the fervor cooled, she must
see the thing in its true light - a glorious lunacy born of a moment of
enthusiasm. It was finely romantic of him, this mocking second self
whispered to her - picturesque beyond criticism - but, setting aside the
practical folly of it, could even the mood last?

The girl rose to her feet with an angry exclamation. She found herself
intolerable at such times as this.

"If there's a heaven," she cried out, "and by chance I ever go there, I
suppose I shall walk sneering through the streets and saying to myself:
'Oh yes, it's pretty enough, but how absurd and unpractical!'"

She passed before one of the small, narrow mirrors which were let into
the walls of the room in gilt Louis Seize frames with candles beside
them, and she turned and stared at her very beautiful reflection with a
resentful wonder.

"Shall I always drag along so far behind him?" she said. "Shall I never
rise to him, save in the moods of an hour?"

She began suddenly to realize what the man's going away meant - that she
might not see him again for weeks, months, even a year. For was it at
all likely that he could succeed in what he had undertaken?

"Why did I let him go?" she cried. "Oh, fool, fool, to let him go!" But
even as she said it she knew that she could not have held him back.

She began to be afraid, not for him, but of herself. He had taught her
what it might be to love. For the first time love's premonitory
thrill - promise of unspeakable, uncomprehended mysteries - had wrung her,
and the echo of that thrill stirred in her yet; but what might not
happen in his long absence? She was afraid of that critical and
analyzing power of mind which she had so long trained to attack all that
came to her. What might it not work with the new thing that had come? To
what pitiful shreds might it not be rent while he who only could renew
it was away? She looked ahead at the weeks and months to come, and she
was terribly afraid.

She went out of the room and up to her grandfather's chamber and knocked
there. The admirable Peters, who opened to her, said that his master had
not been very well, and was just then asleep, but as they spoke together
in low tones the old gentleman cried, testily, from within:

"Well? Well? Who's there? Who wants to see me? Who is it?"

Miss Benham went into the dim, shaded room, and when old David saw who
it was he sank back upon his pillows with a pacified growl. He certainly
looked ill, and he had grown thinner and whiter within the past month,
and the lines in his waxlike face seemed to be deeper scored.

The girl went up beside the bed and stood there a moment, after she had
bent over and kissed her grandfather's cheek, stroking with her hand the
absurdly gorgeous mandarin's jacket - an imperial yellow one this time.

"Isn't this new?" she asked. "I seem never to have seen this one before.
It's quite wonderful."

The old gentleman looked down at it with the pride of a little girl over
her first party frock. He came as near simpering as a fierce person of
eighty-six, with a square white beard, can come.

"Rather good - what? What?" said he. "Yes, it's new. De Vries sent it me.
It is my best one. Imperial yellow. Did you notice the little Show
medallions with the swastika? Young Ste. Marie was here this afternoon."
He introduced the name with no pause or change of expression, as if Ste.
Marie were a part of the decoration of the mandarin's jacket. "I told
him he was a damned fool."

"Yes," said Miss Benham, "I know. He said you did. I suppose," she said,
"that in a sort of very informal fashion I am engaged to him. Well, no,
perhaps not quite that; but he seems to consider himself engaged to me,
and when he has finished something very important that he has undertaken
to do he is coming to ask me definitely to marry him. No, I suppose we
aren't engaged yet; at least, I'm not. But it's almost the same, because
I suppose I shall accept him whether he fails or succeeds in what he is

"If he fails in it, whatever it may be," said old David, "he won't give
you a chance to accept him; he won't come back. I know him well enough
for that. He's a romantic fool, but he's a thoroughgoing fool. He plays
the game." The old man looked up to his granddaughter, scowling a
little. "You two are absurdly unsuited to each other," said he, "and I
told Ste. Marie so. I suppose you think you're in love with him."

"Yes," said the girl, "I suppose I do."

"Idleness and all? You were rather severe on idleness at one time."

"He isn't idle any more," said she. "He has undertaken - of his own
accord - to find Arthur. He has some theory about it; and he is not going
to see me again until he has succeeded - or until a year is past. If he
fails, I fancy he won't come back."

Old David gave a sudden hoarse exclamation, and his withered hands shook
and stirred before him. Afterward he fell to half-inarticulate

"The young romantic fool! - Don Quixote - like all the rest of them - those
Ste. Maries. The fool and the angels. The angels and the fool."

The girl distinguished words from time to time. For the most part, he
mumbled under his breath. But when he had been silent a long time, he
said, suddenly:

"It would be ridiculously like him to succeed."

The girl gave a little sigh.

"I wish I dared hope for it," said she. "I wish I dared hope for it."

She had left a book that she wanted in the drawing-room, and, when
presently her grandfather fell asleep in his fitful manner, she went
down after it. In crossing the hall she came upon Captain Stewart, who
was dressed for the street and had his hat and stick in his hands. He
did not live in his father's house, for he had a little flat in the rue
du Faubourg St. Honoré, but he was in and out a good deal. He paused
when he saw his niece, and smiled upon her a benignant smile which she
rather disliked, because she disliked benignant people. The two really
saw very little of each other, though Captain Stewart often sat for
hours together with his sister, up in a little boudoir which she had
furnished in the execrable taste which to her meant comfort, while that
timid and colorless lady embroidered strange tea cloths with stranger
flora, and prattled about the heathen, in whom she had an academic

He said: "Ah, my dear! It's you?"

Indisputably it was, and there seemed to be no use of denying it, so
Miss Benham said nothing, but waited for the man to go on if he had more
to say.

"I dropped in," he continued, "to see my father, but they told me he was
asleep, and so I didn't disturb him. I talked a little while with your
mother instead."

"I have just come from him," said Miss Benham. "He dozed off again as I
left. Still, if you had anything in particular to tell him, he'd be glad
to be wakened, I fancy. There's no news?"

"No," said Captain Stewart, sadly - "no, nothing. I do not give up hope,
but I am, I confess, a little discouraged."

"We are all that, I should think," said Miss Benham, briefly.

She gave him a little nod and turned away into the drawing-room. Her
uncle's peculiar dry manner irritated her at times beyond bearing, and
she felt that this was one of the times. She had never had any reason
for doubting that he Was a good and kindly soul, but she disliked him
because he bored her. Her mother bored her, too - the poor woman bored
everybody - but the sense of filial obligation was strong enough in the
girl to prevent her from acknowledging this even to herself. In regard
to her uncle she had no sense of obligation whatever, except to be as
civil to him as possible, and so she kept out of his way. She heard the
heavy front door close, and gave a little sigh of relief.

"If he had come in here and tried to talk to me," she said, "I should
have screamed."

* * * * *

Meanwhile Ste. Marie, a man moving in a dream, uplifted,
cloud-enwrapped, made his way homeward. He walked all the long
distance - that is, looking backward upon it, later, he thought he must
have walked, but the half-hour was a blank to him, an indeterminate, a
chaotic whirl of things and emotions.

In the little flat in the rue d'Assas he came upon Richard Hartley, who,
having found the door unlocked and the master of the place absent, had
sat comfortably down, with a pipe and a stack of _Couriers Français_, to
wait. Ste. Marie burst into the doorway of the room where his friend sat
at ease. Hat, gloves, and stick fell away from him in a sort of shower.
He extended his arms high in the air. His face was, as it were,
luminous. The Englishman regarded him morosely. He said:

"You look as if somebody had died and left you money. What the devil you
looking like that for?"

"Hé!" cried Ste. Marie, in a great voice. "Hé, the world is mine!
Embrace me, my infant! Sacred name of a pig, why do you sit there?
Embrace me!"

He began to stride about the room, his head between his hands. Speech
lofty and ridiculous burst from him in a sort of splutter of fireworks,
but the Englishman sat still in his chair, and a gray, bleak look came
upon him, for he began to understand. He was more or less used to these
outbursts, and he bore them as patiently as he could, but though seven
times out of the ten they were no more than spasms of pure joy of
living, and meant, "It's a fine spring day," or "I've just seen two
beautiful princesses of milliners in the street," an inner voice told
him that this time it meant another thing. Quite suddenly he realized
that he had been waiting for this - bracing himself against its
onslaught. He had not been altogether blind through the past month. Ste.
Marie seized him and dragged him from his chair.

"Dance, lump of flesh! Dance, sacred English rosbif that you are! Sing,
gros polisson! Sing!" Abruptly, as usual, the mania departed from him,
but not the glory; his eyes shone bright and triumphant. "Ah, my old,"
said he, "I am near the stars at last. My feet are on the top rungs of
the ladder. Tell me that you are glad!"

The Englishman drew a long breath.

"I take it," said he, "that means that you're - that she has accepted
you, eh?" He held out his hand. He was a brave and honest man. Even in
pain he was incapable of jealousy. He said: "I ought to want to murder
you, but I don't. I congratulate you. You're an undeserving beggar, but
so were the rest of us. It was an open field, and you've won quite
honestly. My best wishes!"

Then at last Ste. Marie understood, and in a flash the glory went out of
his face. He cried: "Ah, mon cher ami! Pig that I am to forget. Pig!
Pig! Animal!"

The other man saw that tears had sprung to his eyes, and was horribly
embarrassed to the very bottom of his good British soul.

"Yes! Yes!" he said, gruffly. "Quite so, quite so! No consequence!" He
dragged his hands away from Ste. Marie's grasp, stuck them in his
pockets, and turned to the window beside which he had been sitting. It
looked out over the sweet green peace of the Luxembourg Gardens, with
their winding paths and their clumps of trees and shrubbery, their
flaming flower-beds, their groups of weather-stained sculpture. A youth
in laborer's corduroys and an unclean beret strolled along under the
high palings; one arm was about the ample waist of a woman somewhat the
youth's senior, but, as ever, love was blind. The youth carolled in a
high, clear voice, "Vous êtes si jolie," a song of abundant sentiment,
and the woman put up one hand and patted his cheek. So they strolled on
and turned up into the rue Vavin.

Ste. Marie, across the room, looked at his friend's square back, and
knew that in his silent way the man was suffering. A great sadness, the
recoil from his trembling heights of bliss, came upon him and enveloped
him. Was it true that one man's joy must inevitably be another's pain?
He tried to imagine himself in Hartley's place, Hartley in his, and he
gave a little shiver. He knew that if that bouleversement were actually
to take place he would be as glad for his friend's sake as poor Hartley
was now for his, but he knew also that the smile of congratulation would
be a grimace of almost intolerable pain, and so he knew what Hartley's
black hour must be like.

"You must forgive me," he said. "I had forgotten. I don't know why.
Well, yes, happiness is a very selfish state of mind, I suppose. One
thinks of nothing but one's self - and one other. I - during this past
month I've been in the clouds. You must forgive me."

The Englishman turned back into the room. Ste. Marie saw that his face
was as completely devoid of expression as it usually was, that his
hands, when he chose and lighted a cigarette, were quite steady, and he
marvelled. That would have been impossible for him under such

"She has accepted you, I take it?" said Hartley again.

"Not quite that," said he. "Sit down and I'll tell you about it." So he
told him about his hour with Miss Benham, and about what had been agreed
upon between them, and about what he had undertaken to do. "Apart from
wishing to do everything in this world that I can do to make her happy,"
he said - "and she will never be at peace again until she knows the truth
about her brother - apart from that, I'm purely selfish in the thing.
I've got to win her respect, as well as - the rest. I want her to respect
me, and she has never quite done that. I'm an idler. So are you, but you
have a perfectly good excuse. I have not. I've been an idler because it
suited me, because nothing turned up, and because I have enough to eat
without working for my living. I know how she has felt about all that.
Well, she shall feel it no longer."

"You're taking on a big order," said the other man.

"The bigger the better," said Ste. Marie. "And I shall succeed in it or
never see her again. I've sworn that."

The odd look of exaltation that Miss Benham had seen in his face, the
look of knightly fervor, came there again, and Hartley saw it, and knew
that the man was stirred by no transient whim. Oddly enough he thought,
as had the girl earlier in the day, of those elder Ste. Maries, who had
taken sword and lance and gone out into a strange world - a place of
unknown terrors - afire for the Great Adventure. And this was one of
their blood.

"I'm afraid you don't realize," he went on, "the difficulties you've got
to face. Better men than you have failed over this thing, you know."

"A worse might nevertheless succeed," said Ste. Marie. And the other

"Yes. Oh yes. And there's always luck to be considered, of course. You
might stumble on some trace." He threw away his cigarette and lighted
another, and he smoked it down almost to the end before he spoke. At
last he said: "I want to tell you something. The reason why I want to
tell it comes a little later. A few weeks before you returned to Paris I
asked Miss Benham to marry me."

Ste. Marie looked up with a quick sympathy. "Ah," said he. "I have
sometimes thought - wondered. I have wondered if it went as far as that.
Of course, I could see that you had known her well, though you seldom go
there nowadays."

"Yes," said Hartley, "it went as far as that, but no farther. She - well,
she didn't care for me - not in that way. So I stiffened my back and shut
my mouth, and got used to the fact that what I'd hoped for was
impossible. And now comes the reason for telling you what I've told. I
want you to let me help you in what you're going to do - if you think you
can, that is. Remember, I - cared for her, too. I'd like to do something
for her. It would never have occurred to me to do this until you thought
of it, but I should like very much to lend a hand - do some of the work.
D'you think you could let me in?"

Ste. Marie stared at him in open astonishment, and, for an instant,
something like dismay.

"Yes, yes! I know what you're thinking," said the Englishman. "You'd
hoped to do it all yourself. It's _your_ game. I know. Well, it's your
game even if you let me come in. I'm just a helper. Some one to run
errands. Some one, perhaps, to take counsel with now and then. Look at
it on the practical side. Two heads are certainly better than one.
Certainly I could be of use to you. And besides - well, I want to do
something for her. I - cared, too, you see. D'you think you could take me

It was the man's love that made his appeal irresistible. No one could
appeal to Ste. Marie on that score in vain. It was true that he had
hoped to work alone - to win or lose alone; to stand, in this matter,
quite on his own feet; but he could not deny the man who had loved her
and lost her. Ste. Marie thrust out his hand.

"You love her, too!" he said. "That is enough. We work together. I have
a possibly foolish idea that if we can find a certain man we will learn
something about Arthur Benham. I'll tell you about it."

But before he could begin the door-bell jangled.

* * * * *



Ste. Marie scowled.

"A caller would come singularly malapropos just now," said he. "I've
half a mind not to go to the door. I want to talk this thing over with

"Whoever it is," objected Hartley, "has been told by the concierge that
you're at home. It may not be a caller, anyhow. It may be a parcel or
something. You'd best go."

So Ste. Marie went out into the little passage, blaspheming fluently the
while. The Englishman heard him open the outer door of the flat. He
heard him exclaim, in great surprise:

"Ah, Captain Stewart! A great pleasure! Come in! Come in!"

And he permitted himself a little blaspheming on his own account, for
the visitor, as Ste. Marie had said, came most malapropos, and, besides,
he disliked Miss Benham's uncle. He heard the American say:

"I have been hoping for some weeks to give myself the pleasure of
calling here, and to-day such an excellent pretext presented itself that
I came straightaway."

Hartley heard him emit his mewing little laugh, and heard him say, with
the elephantine archness affected by certain dry and middle-aged

"I come with congratulations. My niece has told me all about it. Lucky
young man! Ah - "

He reached the door of the inner room and saw Richard Hartley standing
by the window, and he began to apologize profusely, saying that he had
had no idea that Ste. Marie was not alone. But Ste. Marie said:

"It doesn't in the least matter. I have no secrets from Hartley. Indeed,
I have just been talking with him about this very thing."

But for all that he looked curiously at the elder man, and it struck him
as very odd that Miss Benham should have gone straight to her uncle and
told him all this. It did not seem in the least like her, especially as
he knew the two were on no terms of intimacy. He decided that she must
have gone up to her grandfather's room to discuss it with that old
gentleman - a reasonable enough hypothesis - and that Captain Stewart must
have come in during the discussion. Quite evidently he had wasted no
time in setting out upon his errand of congratulation.

"Then," said Captain Stewart, "if I am to be good-naturedly forgiven for
my stupidity, let me go on and say, in my capacity as a member of the
family, that the news pleased me very much. I was glad to hear it."

He shook Ste. Marie's hand, looking very benignant indeed, and Ste.
Marie was quite overcome with pleasure and gratitude; it seemed to him
such a very kindly act in the elder man. He produced things to smoke and
drink, and Captain Stewart accepted a cigarette and mixed himself a
rather stiff glass of absinthe - it was between five and six o'clock.

"And now," said he, when he was at ease in the most comfortable of the
low cane chairs, and the glass of opalescent liquor was properly curdled
and set at hand - "now, having congratulated you and - ah, welcomed you,
if I may put it so, as a probable future member of the family - I turn to
the other feature of the affair."

He had an odd trick of lowering his head and gazing benevolently upon an
auditor as if over the top of spectacles. It was one of his elderly
ways. He beamed now upon Ste. Marie in this manner, and, after a moment,
turned and beamed upon Richard Hartley, who gazed stolidly back at him
without expression.

"You have determined, I hear," said he, "to join us in our search for
poor Arthur. Good! Good! I welcome you there, also."

Ste. Marie stirred uneasily in his chair.

"Well," said he, "in a sense, yes. That is, I've determined to devote
myself to the search, and Hartley is good enough to offer to go in with
me; but I think, if you don't mind - of course, I know it's very
presumptuous and doubtless idiotic of us - but, if you don't mind, I
think we'll work independently. You see - well, I can't quite put it into
words, but it's our idea to succeed or fail quite by our own efforts. I
dare say we shall fail, but it won't be for lack of trying."

Captain Stewart looked disappointed.

"Oh, I think - " said he. "Pardon me for saying it, but I think you're
rather foolish to do that." He waved an apologetic hand. "Of course, I
comprehend your excellent motive. Yes, as you say, you want to succeed
quite on your own. But look at the practical side! You'll have to go
over all the weary weeks of useless labor we have gone over. We could
save you that. We have examined and followed up, and at last given over,
a hundred clews that on the surface looked quite possible of success.
You'll be doing that all over again. In short, my dear friend, you will
merely be following along a couple of months behind us. It seems to me a
pity. I sha'n't like to see you wasting your time and efforts."

He dropped his eyes to the glass of Pernod which stood beside him, and
he took it in his hand and turned it slowly and watched the light gleam
in strange pearl colors upon it. He glanced up again with a little smile
which the two younger men found oddly pathetic.

"I should like to see you succeed," said Captain Stewart. "I like to see
youth and courage and high hope succeed." He said: "I am past the age of
romance, though I am not so very old in years. Romance has passed me by,
but - I love it still. It still stirs me surprisingly when I see it in
other people - young people who are simple and earnest, and who - and who
are in love." He laughed gently, still turning the glass in his hand. "I
am afraid you will call me a sentimentalist," he said, "and an elderly
sentimentalist is, as a rule, a ridiculous person. Ridiculous or not,
though, I have rather set my heart on your success in this undertaking.
Who knows? You may succeed where we others have failed. Youth has such a
way of charging in and carrying all before it by assault - such a way of

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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 5 of 23)