Justus Miles Forman.

Jason online

. (page 7 of 23)
Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 7 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

disordered nerves. So he took himself in hand, and it would have been
amazing to any one unfamiliar with the abrupt changes of the Latin
temperament to see how suddenly Ste. Marie became quiet and cool and
master of himself.

"It is done," he said, with a little shrug, and if his face was for a
moment bitter it quickly enough became impassive. "It is done, and it
cannot be undone - unless Hartley can undo it. And now, revenons à nos
moutons! Or, at least," said he, looking at his watch - and it was
between one and two - "at least, to our beds!"

So he went to bed, and, so well had he recovered from his fit of
excitement, he fell asleep almost at once. But for all that the jangled
nerves had their revenge. He who commonly slept like the dead, without
the slightest disturbance, dreamed a strange dream. It seemed to him
that he stood spent and weary in a twilight place - a waste place at the
foot of a high hill. At the top of the hill She sat upon a sort of
throne, golden in a beam of light from heaven - serene, very beautiful,
the end and crown of his weary labors. His feet were set to the ascent
of the height whereon she waited, but he was withheld. From the shadows
at the hill's foot a voice called to him in distress, anguish of
spirit - a voice he knew; but he could not say whose voice. It besought
him out of utter need, and he could not turn away from it.

Then from those shadows eyes looked upon him, very great and dark eyes,
and they besought him, too; he did not know what they asked, but they
called to him like the low voice, and he could not turn away.

He looked to the far height, and with all his power he strove to set his
feet toward it - the goal of long labor and desire; but the eyes and the
piteous voice held him motionless - for they needed him.

From this anguish he awoke trembling. And after a long time, when he was
composed, he fell asleep once more, and once more he dreamed the dream.

So morning found him pallid and unrefreshed. But by daylight he knew
whose eyes had besought him, and he wondered and was a little afraid.

* * * * *



It may as well be admitted at the outset that neither Ste. Marie nor
Richard Hartley proved themselves to be geniuses, hitherto undeveloped,
in the detective science. They entered upon their self-appointed task
with a fine fervor, but, as Miss Benham had suggested, with no other
qualifications in particular. Ste. Marie had a theory that, when engaged
in work of this nature, you went into questionable parts of the city,
ate and drank cheek by jowl with questionable people - if possible, got
them drunk while you remained sober (difficult feat), and sooner or
later they said things which put you on the right road to your goal, or
else confessed to you that they themselves had committed the particular
crime in which you were interested. He argued that this was the way it
happened in books, and that surely people didn't write books about
things of which they were ignorant.

Hartley, on the other hand, preferred the newer, or scientific, methods.
You sat at home with a pipe and a whiskey-and-water - if possible, in a
long dressing-gown with a cord round its middle. You reviewed all the
known facts of the case, and you did mathematics about them with Xs and
Ys and many other symbols, and in the end, by a system of elimination,
you proved that a certain thing must infallibly be true. The chief
difficulty for him in this was, he said, that he had been at Oxford
instead of at Cambridge, and so the mathematics were rather beyond him.

In practice, however, they combined the two methods, which was doubtless
as well as if they hadn't, because for some time they accomplished
nothing whatever, and so neither one was able to sneer at the other's

This is not to say that they found nothing in the way of clews. They
found an embarrassment of them, and for some days went about in a fever
of excitement over these; but the fever cooled when clew after clew
turned out to be misleading. Of course, Ste. Marie's first efforts were
directed toward tracing the movements of the Irishman O'Hara, but the
efforts were altogether unavailing. The man seemed to have disappeared
as noiselessly and completely as had young Arthur Benham himself. He was
unable even to settle with any definiteness the time of the man's
departure from Paris. Some of O'Hara's old acquaintances maintained that
they had seen the last of him two months before, but a shifty-eyed
person in rather cheaply smart clothes came up to Ste. Marie one evening
in Maxim's and said he had heard that Ste. Marie was making inquiries
about M. O'Hara. Ste. Marie said he was, and that it was an affair of
money; whereupon the cheaply smart individual declared that M. O'Hara
had left Paris six months before to go to the United States of America,
and that he had had a picture postal-card from him, some weeks since,
from New York. The informant accepted an expensive cigar and a Dubonnet
by way of reward, but presently departed into the night, and Ste. Marie
was left in some discouragement, his theory badly damaged.

He spoke of this encounter to Richard Hartley, who came on later to join
him, and Hartley, after an interval of silence and smoke, said: "That
was a lie! The man lied!"

"Name of a dog, why?" demanded Ste. Marie; but the Englishman shrugged
his shoulders.

"I don't know," he said. "But I believe it was a lie. The man came to
you - sought you out to tell his story, didn't he? And all the others
have given a different date? Well, there you are! For some reason, this
man or some one behind him - O'Hara himself, probably - wants you to
believe that O'Hara is in America. I dare say he's in Paris all the

"I hope you're right," said the other. "And I mean to make sure, too. It
certainly was odd, this strange being hunting me out to tell me that. I
wonder, by-the-way, how he knew I'd been making inquiries about O'Hara.
I've questioned only two or three people, and then in the most casual
way. Yes, it's odd."

It was about a week after this - a fruitless week, full of the alternate
brightness of hope and the gloom of disappointment - that he met Captain
Stewart, to whom he had been, more than once, on the point of appealing.
He happened upon him quite by chance one morning in the rue Royale.
Captain Stewart was coming out of a shop, a very smart-looking shop,
devoted, as Ste. Marie, with some surprise and much amusement, observed,
to ladies' hats, and the price of hats must have depressed him, for he
looked in an ill humor, and older and more yellow than usual. But his
face altered suddenly when he saw the younger man, and he stopped and
shook Ste. Marie's hand with every evidence of pleasure.

"Well met! Well met!" he exclaimed. "If you are not in a hurry, come and
sit down somewhere and tell me about yourself."

They picked their way across the street to the terrace of the Taverne
Royale, which was almost deserted at that hour, and sat down at one of
the little tables, well back from the pavement, in a corner.

"Is it fair," queried Captain Stewart - "is it fair, as a rival
investigator, to ask you what success you have had?"

Ste. Marie laughed rather ruefully, and confessed that he had as yet no
success at all.

"I've just come," said he, "from pricking one bubble that promised well,
and Hartley is up in Montmartre destroying another, I fancy. Oh, well,
we didn't expect it to be child's play."

Captain Stewart raised his little glass of dry vermouth in an
old-fashioned salute and drank it.

"You," said he - "you were - ah, full of some idea of connecting this man,
this Irishman O'Hara, with poor Arthur's disappearance. You've found
that not so promising as you went on, I take it."

"Well, I've been unable to trace O'Hara," said Ste. Marie. "He seems to
have disappeared as completely as your nephew. I suppose you have no
clews to spare? I confess I'm out of them at the moment."

"Oh, I have plenty," said the elder man. "A hundred. More than I can
possibly look after." He gave a little chuckling laugh. "I've been
waiting for you to come to me," he said. "It was a little ungenerous,
perhaps, but we all love to say, 'I told you so.' Yes, I have a great
quantity of clews, and of course they all seem to be of the greatest and
most exciting importance. That's a way clews have."

He took an envelope from an inner pocket of his coat, and sorted several
folded papers which were in it.

"I have here," said he, "memoranda of two - chances, shall I call
them? - which seem to me very good, though, as I have already said, every
clew seems good. That is the maddening, the heart-breaking, part of such
an investigation. I have made these brief notes from letters received,
one yesterday, one the day before, from an agent of mine who has been
searching the bains de mer of the north coast. This agent writes that
some one very much resembling poor Arthur has been seen at Dinard and
also at Deauville, and he urges me to come there or to send a man there
at once to look into the matter. You will ask, of course, why this agent
himself does not pursue the clew he has found. Unfortunately, he has
been called to London upon some pressing family matter of his own; he is
an Englishman."

"Why haven't you gone yourself?" asked Ste. Marie.

But the elder man shrugged his shoulders and smiled a tired, deprecatory

"Oh, my friend," said he, "if I should attempt personally to investigate
one-half of these things, I should be compelled to divide myself into
twenty parts. No, I must stay here. There must be, alas! the spider at
the centre of the web. I cannot go; but if you think it worth while, I
will gladly turn over the memoranda of these last clews to you. They may
be the true clews, they may not. At any rate, some one must look into
them. Why not you and your partner - or shall I say assistant?"

"Why, thank you!" cried Ste. Marie. "A thousand thanks! Of course, I
shall be - we shall be glad to try this chance. On the face of it, it
sounds very reasonable. Your nephew, from what I remember of him, is
much more apt to be in some place that is amusing, some place of gayety,
than hiding away where it is merely dull, if he has his choice in the
matter - that is, if he is free. And yet - " He turned and frowned
thoughtfully at the elder man. "What I want to know," said he, "is how
the boy is supporting himself all this time? You say he had no money, or
very little, when he went away. How is he managing to live if your
theory is correct - that he is staying away of his own accord? It costs a
lot of money to live as he likes to live."

Captain Stewart nodded.

"Oh, that," said he - "that is a question I have often proposed to
myself. Frankly, it's beyond me. I can only surmise that poor Arthur,
who had scattered a small fortune about in foolish loans, managed,
before he actually disappeared (mind you, we didn't begin to look for
him until a week had gone by) - managed to collect some of this money,
and so went away with something in pocket. That, of course, is only a

"It is possible," said Ste. Marie, doubtfully, "but - I don't know. It is
not very easy to raise money from the sort of people I imagine your
nephew to have lent it to. They borrow, but they don't repay." He
glanced up with a half-laughing, half-defiant air. "I can't," said he,
"rid myself of a belief that the boy is here in Paris, and that he is
not free to come or go. It's only a feeling, but it is very strong in
me. Of course, I shall follow out these clews you've been so kind as to
give me. I shall go to Dinard and Deauville, and Hartley, I imagine,
will go with me, but I haven't great confidence in them."

Captain Stewart regarded him reflectively for a time, and in the end he

"If you will pardon my saying it," he said, "your attitude is just a
little womanlike. You put away reason for something vaguely intuitive. I
always distrust intuition myself."

Ste. Marie frowned a little and looked uncomfortable. He did not relish
being called womanlike - few men do; but he was bound to admit that the
elder man's criticism was more or less just.

"Moreover," pursued Captain Stewart, "you altogether ignore the point of
motive - as I may have suggested to you before. There could be no
possible motive, so far as I am aware, for kidnapping or detaining, or
in any way harming, my nephew except the desire for money; but, as you
know, he had no large sum of money with him, and no demand has been made
upon us since his disappearance. I'm afraid you can't get round that."

"No," said Ste. Marie, "I'm afraid I can't. Indeed, leaving that
aside - and it can't be left aside - I still have almost nothing with
which to prop up my theory. I told you it was only a feeling."

He took up the memoranda which Captain Stewart had laid upon the
marble-topped table between them, and read the notes through.

"Please," said he, "don't think I am ungrateful for this chance. I am
not. I shall do my best with it, and I hope it may turn out to be
important." He gave a little wry smile. "I have all sorts of reasons,"
he said, "for wishing to succeed as soon as possible. You may be sure
that there won't be any delays on my part. And now I must be going on. I
am to meet Hartley for lunch on the other side of the river, and, if we
can manage it, I should like to start north this afternoon or evening."

"Good!" said Captain Stewart, smiling. "Good! That is what I call true
promptness. You lose no time at all. Go to Dinard and Deauville, by all
means, and look into this thing thoroughly. Don't be discouraged if you
meet with ill success at first. Take Mr. Hartley with you, and do your

He paid for the two glasses of apéritif, and Ste. Marie could not help
observing that he left on the table a very small tip. The waiter cursed
him audibly as the two walked away.

"If you have returned by a week from to-morrow," he said, as they shook
hands, "I should like to have you keep that evening - Thursday - for me. I
am having a very informal little party in my rooms. There will be two or
three of the opera people there, and they will sing for us, and the
others will be amusing enough. All young - all young. I like young people
about me." He gave his odd little mewing chuckle. "And the ladies must
be beautiful as well as young. Come if you are here! I'll drop a line to
Mr. Hartley also."

He shook Ste. Marie's hand, and went away down the street toward the rue
du Faubourg St. Honoré where he lived.

Ste. Marie met Hartley as he expected to do, at lunch, and they talked
over the possibilities of the Dinard and Deauville expedition. In the
end they decided that Ste. Marie should go alone, but that he was to
telegraph, later on, if the clew looked promising. Hartley had two or
three investigations on foot in Paris, and stayed on to complete these.
Also he wished, as soon as possible, to see Helen Benham and explain
Ste. Marie's ride on the galloping pigs. Ten days had elapsed since that
evening, but Miss Benham had gone into the country the next day to make
a visit at the De Saulnes' château on the Oise.

So Ste. Marie packed a portmanteau with clothes and things, and departed
by a mid-afternoon train to Dinard, and toward five Richard Hartley
walked down to the rue de I'Université. He thought it just possible that
Miss Benham might by now have returned to town, but if not he meant to
have half an hour's chat with old David Stewart, whom he had not seen
for some weeks.

At the door he learned that mademoiselle was that very day returned and
was at home. So he went in to the drawing-room, reserving his visit to
old David until later. He found the room divided into two camps. At one
side Mrs. Benham conversed in melancholic monotones with two elderly
French ladies who were clad in depressing black of a dowdiness surpassed
only in English provincial towns. It was as if the three mourned
together over the remains of some dear one who lay dead among them.
Hartley bowed low, with an uncontrollable shiver, and turned to the
tea-table, where Miss Benham sat in the seat of authority, flanked by a
young American lady whom he had met before, and by Baron de Vries, whom
he had not seen since the evening of the De Saulnes' dinner-party.

Miss Benham greeted him with evident pleasure, and to his great delight
remembered just how he liked his tea - three pieces of sugar and no milk.
It always flatters a man when his little tastes of this sort are
remembered. The four fell at once into conversation together, and the
young American lady asked Hartley why Ste. Marie was not with him.

"I thought you two always went about together," she said - "were never
seen apart and all that - a sort of modern Damon and Phidias."

Hartley caught Baron de Vries' eye, and looked away again hastily.

"My - ah, Phidias," said he, resisting an irritable desire to correct the
lady, "got mislaid to-day. It sha'n't happen again, I promise you. He's
a very busy person just now, though. He hasn't time for social
dissipation. I'm the butterfly of the pair."

The lady gave a sudden laugh.

"He was busy enough the last time I saw him," she said, crinkling her
eyelids. She turned to Miss Benham. "Do you remember that evening we
were going home from the Madrid and motored round by Montmartre to see
the fête?"

"Yes," said Miss Benham, unsmiling, "I remember."

"Your friend Ste. Marie," said the American lady to Hartley, "was
distinctly the lion of the fête - at the moment we arrived, anyhow. He
was riding a galloping pig and throwing those paper streamer
things - what do you call them? - with both hands, and a genial lady in a
blue hat was riding the same pig and helping him out. It was just like
the _Vie de Bohème_ and the other books. I found it charming."

Baron de Vries emitted an amused chuckle.

"That was very like Ste. Marie," he said. "Ste. Marie is a very
exceptional young man. He can be an angel one moment, a child playing
with toys the next, and - well, a rather commonplace social favorite the
third. It all comes of being romantic - imaginative. Ste. Marie - I know
nothing about this evening of which you speak, but Ste. Marie is quite
capable of stopping on his way to a funeral to ride a galloping pig - or
on his way to his own wedding. And the pleasant part of it is," said
Baron de Vries, "that the lad would turn up at either of these two
ceremonies not a bit the worse, outside or in, for his ride."

"Ah, now, that's an oddly close shot," said Hartley. He paused a moment,
looking toward Miss Benham, and said: "I beg pardon! Were you going to

"No," said Miss Benham, moving the things about on the tea-table before
her, and looking down at them. "No, not at all!"

"You came oddly close to the truth," the man went on, turning back to
Baron de Vries.

He was speaking for Helen Benham's ears, and he knew she would
understand that, but he did not wish to seem to be watching her.

"I was with Ste. Marie on that evening," he said. "No, I wasn't riding a
pig, but I was standing down in the crowd throwing serpentines at the
people who were. And I happen to know that he - that Ste. Marie was on
that day, that evening, more deeply concerned about something, more
absolutely wrapped up in it, devoted to it, than I have ever known him
to be about anything since I first knew him. The galloping pig was an
incident that made, except for the moment, no impression whatever upon
him." Hartley nodded his head. "Yes," said he, "Ste. Marie can be an
angel one moment and a child playing with toys the next. When he sees
toys he always plays with them, and he plays hard, but when he drops
them they go completely out of his mind."

The American lady laughed.

"Gracious me!" she cried. "You two are emphatic enough about him, aren't

"We know him," said Baron de Vries.

Hartley rose to replace his empty cup on the tea-table. Miss Benham did
not meet his eyes, and as he moved away again she spoke to her friend
about something they were going to do on the next day, so Hartley went
across to where Baron de Vries sat at a little distance, and took a
place beside him on the chaise lounge. The Belgian greeted him with
raised eyebrows and the little, half-sad, half-humorous smile which was
characteristic of him in his gentler moments.

"You were defending our friend with a purpose," he said, in a low voice.
"Good! I am afraid he needs it - here."

The younger man hesitated a moment. Then he said:

"I came on purpose to do that. Ste. Marie knows that she saw him on that
confounded pig. He was half wild with distress over it, because - well,
the meeting was singularly unfortunate just then. I can't explain - "

"You needn't explain," said the Belgian, gravely. "I know. Helen told me
some days ago, though she did not mention this encounter. Yes, defend
him with all your power, if you will. Stay after we others have gone
and - have it out with her. The Phidias lady (I must remember that mot,
by-the-way) is preparing to take her leave now, and I will follow her at
once. She shall believe that I am enamoured, that I sigh for her. Eh!"
said he, shaking his head - and the lines in the kindly old face seemed
to deepen, but in a sort of grave tenderness - "eh, so love has come to
the dear lad at last! Ah, of course, the hundred other affairs! Yes,
yes. But they were light. No seriousness in them. The ladies may have
loved. He didn't - very much. This time, I'm afraid - "

Baron de Vries paused as if he did not mean to finish his sentence, and
Hartley said:

"You say 'afraid'! Why afraid?"

The Belgian looked up at him reflectively.

"Did I say 'afraid'?" he asked. "Well, perhaps it was the word I wanted.
I wonder if these two are fitted for each other. I am fond of them both.
I think you know that, but - she's not very flexible, this child. And she
hasn't much humor. I love her, but I know those things are true. I
wonder if one ought to marry Ste. Marie without flexibility and without

"If they love each other," said Richard Hartley, "I expect the other
things don't count. Do they?"

Baron de Vries rose to his feet, for he saw that the Phidias lady was

"Perhaps not," said he; "I hope not. In any case, do your best for him
with Helen. Make her comprehend if you can. I am afraid she is unhappy
over the affair."

He made his adieus, and went away with the American lady, to that young
person's obvious excitement. And after a moment the three ladies across
the room departed also, Mrs. Benham explaining that she was taking her
two friends up to her own sitting-room, to show them something vaguely
related to the heathen. So Hartley was left alone with Helen Benham.

It was not his way to beat about the bush, and he gave battle at once.
He said, standing, to say it more easily:

"You know why I came here to-day? It was the first chance I've had since
that - unfortunate evening. I came on Ste. Marie's account."

Miss Benham said a weak "Oh!" And because she was nervous and
overwrought, and because the thing meant so much to her, she said,
cheaply: "He owes me no apologies. He has a perfect right to act as he
pleases, you know."

The Englishman frowned across at her. "I didn't come to make apologies,"
said he. "I came to explain. Well, I have explained - Baron de Vries and
I together. That's just how it happened. And that's just how Ste. Marie
takes things. The point is that you've got to understand it. I've got to
make you."

The girl smiled up at him dolefully. "You look," she said, "as if you
were going to beat me if necessary. You look very warlike."

"I feel warlike," the man said, nodding. He said: "I'm fighting for a
friend to whom you are doing, in your mind, an injustice. I know him
better than you do, and I tell you you're doing him a grave injustice.
You're failing altogether to understand him."

"I wonder," the girl said, looking very thoughtfully down at the table
before her.

"I know," said he.

Quite suddenly she gave a little overwrought cry, and she put up her
hands over her face. "Oh, Richard!" she said, "that day when he was
here! He left me - oh, I cannot tell you at what a height he left me! It
was something new and beautiful. He swept me to the clouds with him. And
I might - perhaps I might have lived on there. Who knows? But then that
hideous evening! Ah, it was too sickening: the fall back to common earth

"I know," said the man, gently - "I know. And _he_ knew, too. Directly
he'd seen you he knew how you would feel about it. I'm not pretending

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 7 of 23)