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that it was of no consequence. It was unfortunate, of course. But the
point is, it did not mean in him any slackening, any stooping, any
letting go. It was a moment's incident. We went to the wretched place by
accident after dinner. Ste. Marie saw those childish lunatics at play,
and for about two minutes he played with them. The lady in the blue hat
made it appear a little more extreme, and that's all."

Miss Benham rose to her feet and moved restlessly back and forth. "Oh,
Richard," she said, "the golden spell is broken - the enchantment he laid
upon me that day. I'm not like him, you know. Oh, I wish I were! I wish
I were! I can't change from hour to hour. I can't rise to the clouds
again after my fall to earth. It has all - become something different.
Don't misunderstand me!" she cried. "I don't mean that I've ceased to
care for him. No, far from that! But I was in such an exalted heaven,
and now I'm not there any more. Perhaps he can lift me to it again. Oh
yes, I'm sure he can, when I see him once more; but I wanted to go on
living there so happily while he was away! Do you understand at all?"

"I think I do," the man said, but he looked at her very curiously and a
little sadly, for it was the first time he had ever seen her swept from
her superb poise by any emotion, and he hardly recognized her. It was
very bitter to him to realize that he could never have stirred her to
this - never, under any conceivable circumstances.

The girl came to him where he stood, and touched his arm with her hand.
"He is waiting to hear how I feel about it all, isn't he?" she said. "He
is waiting to know that I understand. Will you tell him a little lie for
me, Richard? No, you needn't tell a lie. I will tell it. Tell him that I
said I understood perfectly. Tell him that I was shocked for a moment,
but that afterward I understood and thought no more about it. Will you
tell him I said that? It won't be a lie from you, because I did say it.
Oh, I will not grieve him or hamper him now while he is working in my
cause! I'll tell him a lie rather than have him grieve."

"Need it be a lie?" said Richard Hartley. "Can't you truly believe what
you've said?"

She shook her head slowly.

"I'll try," said she, "but - my golden spell is broken and I can't mend
it alone. I'm sorry."

He turned with a little sigh to leave her, but Miss Benham followed him
toward the door of the drawing-room.

"You're a good friend, Richard," she said, when she had come
near - "you're a good friend to him."

"He deserves good friends," said the young man, stoutly. "And besides,"
said he, "we're brothers in arms nowadays. We've enlisted together to
fight for the same cause." The girl fell back with a little cry.

"Do you mean," she said, after a moment - "do you mean that _you_ are
working with him - to find Arthur?"

Hartley nodded.

"But - " said she, stammering. "But, Richard - "

The man checked her.

"Oh, I know what I'm doing," said he. "My eyes are open. I know that I'm
not - well, in the running. I work for no reward except a desire to help
you and Ste. Marie. That's all. It pleases me to be useful."

He went away with that, not waiting for an answer, and the girl stood
where he had left her, staring after him.

* * * * *




X

CAPTAIN STEWART ENTERTAINS


Ste. Marie returned, after three days, from Dinard in a depressed and
somewhat puzzled frame of mind. He had found no trace whatever of Arthur
Benham, either at Dinard or at Deauville, and, what was more, he was
unable to discover that any one even remotely resembling that youth had
been seen at either place. The matter of identification, it seemed to
him, should be a rather simple one. In the first place, the boy's
appearance was not at all French, nor, for that matter, English; it was
very American. Also, he spoke French - so Ste. Marie had been told - very
badly, having for the language that scornful contempt peculiar to
Anglo-Saxons of a certain type. His speech, it seemed, was, like his
appearance, ultra-American - full of strange idioms and oddly pronounced.
In short, such a youth would be rather sure to be remembered by any
hotel management and staff with which he might have come in contact.

At first Ste. Marie pursued his investigations quietly and, as it were,
casually; but after his initial failure he went to the managements of
the various hotels and lodging-houses, and to the cafés and bathing
establishments, and told them, with all frankness, a part of the
truth - that he was searching for a young man whose disappearance had
caused great distress to his family. He was not long in discovering that
no such young man could have been either in Dinard or Deauville.

The thing which puzzled him was that, apart from finding no trace of the
missing boy, he also found no trace of Captain Stewart's agent - the man
who had been first on the ground. No one seemed able to recollect that
such a person had been making inquiries, and Ste. Marie began to suspect
that his friend was being imposed upon. He determined to warn Stewart
that his agents were earning their fees too easily.

So he returned to Paris more than a little dejected, and sore over this
waste of time and effort. He arrived by a noon train, and drove across
the city in a fiacre to the rue d'Assas. But as he was in the midst of
unpacking his portmanteau - for he kept no servant; a woman came in once
a day to "do" the rooms - the door-bell rang. It was Baron de Vries, and
Ste. Marie admitted him with an exclamation of surprise and pleasure.

"You passed me in the street just now," explained the Belgian, "and as I
was a few minutes early for a lunch engagement I followed you up." He
pointed with his stick at the open bag. "Ah, you have been on a journey!
Detective work?"

Ste. Marie pushed his guest into a chair, gave him cigarettes, and told
him about the fruitless expedition to Dinard. He spoke, also, of his
belief that Captain Stewart's agent had never really found a clew at
all; and at that Baron de Vries nodded his gray head and said, "Ah!" in
a tone of some significance. Afterward he smoked a little while in
silence, but presently he said, as if with some hesitation: "May I be
permitted to offer a word of advice?"

"But surely!" cried Ste. Marie, kicking away the half-empty portmanteau.
"Why not?"

"Do whatever you are going to do in this matter according to your own
judgment," said the elder man, "or according to Mr. Hartley's and your
combined judgments. Make your investigations without reference to our
friend Captain Stewart." He halted there as if that were all he had
meant to say, but when he saw Ste. Marie's raised eyebrows he frowned
and went on, slowly, as if picking his words with some care. "I should
be sorry," he said, "to have Captain Stewart at the head of any
investigation of this nature in which I was deeply interested - just now,
at any rate. I am afraid - it is difficult to say; I do not wish to say
too much - I am afraid he is not quite the man for the position."

Ste. Marie nodded his head with great emphasis. "Ah," he cried, "that's
just what I have felt, you know, all along! And it's what Hartley felt,
too, I'm sure. No, Stewart is not the sort for a detective. He's too
cocksure. He won't admit that he might possibly be wrong now and then.
He's too - "

"He is too much occupied with other matters," said Baron de Vries.

Ste. Marie sat down on the edge of a chair. "Other matters?" he
demanded. "That sounds mysterious. What other matters?"

"Oh, there is nothing very mysterious about it," said the elder man. He
frowned down at his cigarette, and brushed some fallen ash neatly from
his knees. "Captain Stewart," said he, "is badly worried, and has been
for the past year or so - badly worried over money matters and other
things. He has lost enormous sums at play, as I happen to know, and he
has lost still more enormous sums at Auteuil and at Longchamps. Also,
the ladies are not without their demands."

Ste. Marie gave a shout of laughter. "Comment donc!" he cried. "Ce
vieillard?"

"Ah, well," deprecated the other man. "Vieillard is putting it rather
high. He can't be more than fifty, I should think. To be sure, he looks
older; but then, in his day, he lived a great deal in a short time. Do
you happen to remember Olga Nilssen?"

"I do," said Ste. Marie. "I remember her very well, indeed. I was a sort
of go-between in settling up that affair with Morrison. Morrison's
people asked me to do what I could. Yes, I remember her well, and with
some pleasure. I felt sorry for her, you know. People didn't quite know
the truth of that affair. Morrison behaved very badly to her."

"Yes," said Baron de Vries, "and Captain Stewart has behaved very badly
to her also. She is furious with rage or jealousy - or both. She goes
about, I am told, threatening to kill him, and it would be rather like
her to do it one day. Well, I have dragged in all this scandal by way of
showing you that Stewart has his hands full of his own affairs just now,
and so cannot give the attention he ought to give to hunting out his
nephew. As you suggest, his agents may be deceiving him. I don't know. I
suppose they could do it easily enough. If I were you I should set to
work quite independently of him."

"Yes," said Ste. Marie, in an absent tone. "Oh yes, I shall do that, you
may be sure." He gave a sudden smile. "He's a queer type, this Captain
Stewart. He begins to interest me very much. I had never suspected this
side of him, though I remember now that I once saw him coming out of a
milliner's shop. He looks rather an ascetic - rather donnish, don't you
think? I remember that he talked to me one day quite pathetically about
feeling his age and about liking young people round him. He's an odd
character. Fancy him mixed up in an affair with Olga Nilssen! Or,
rather, fancy her involved in an affair with him! What can she have seen
in him? She's not mercenary, you know - at least, she used not to be."

"Ah! there," said Baron de Vries, "you enter upon a terra incognita. No
one can say what a woman sees in this man or in that. It's beyond our
ken."

He rose to take his leave, and Ste. Marie went with him to the door.

"I've been asked to a sort of party at Stewart's rooms this week," Ste.
Marie said. "I don't know whether I shall go or not. Probably not. I
suppose I shouldn't find Olga Nilssen there?"

"Well, no," said the Belgian, laughing. "No, I hardly think so.
Good-bye! Think over what I've told you. Good-bye!"

He went away down the stair, and Ste. Marie returned to his unpacking.

Nothing more of consequence occurred in the next few days. Hartley had
unearthed a somewhat shabby adventurer who swore to having seen the
Irishman O'Hara in Paris within a month, but it was by no means certain
that this being did not merely affirm what he believed to be desired of
him, and in any case the information was of no especial value, since it
was O'Hara's present whereabouts that was the point at issue. So it came
to Thursday evening. Ste. Marie received a note from Captain Stewart
during the day, reminding him that he was to come to the rue du Faubourg
St. Honoré that evening, and asking him to come early, at ten or
thereabouts, so that the two could have a comfortable chat before any
one else turned up. Ste. Marie had about decided not to go at all, but
the courtesy of this special invitation from Miss Benham's uncle made it
rather impossible for him to stay away. He tried to persuade Hartley to
follow him on later in the evening, but that gentleman flatly refused
and went away to dine with some English friends at Armenonville.

So Ste. Marie, in a vile temper, dined quite alone at Lavenue's, beside
the Gare Montparnasse, and toward ten o'clock drove across the river to
the rue du Faubourg. Captain Stewart's flat was up five stories, at the
top of the building in which it was located, and so, well above the
noises of the street. Ste. Marie went up in the automatic lift, and at
the door above his host met him in person, saying that the one servant
he kept was busy making preparations in the kitchen beyond. They entered
a large room, long but comparatively shallow, in shape not unlike the
sitting-room in the rue d'Assas, but very much bigger, and Ste. Marie
uttered an exclamation of surprise and pleasure, for he had never before
seen an interior anything like this. The room was decorated and
furnished entirely in Chinese and Japanese articles of great age and
remarkable beauty. Ste. Marie knew little of the hieratic art of these
two countries, but he fancied that the place must be an endless delight
to the expert.

The general tone of the room was gold, dulled and softened by great age
until it had ceased to glitter, and relieved by the dusty Chinese blue
and by old red faded to rose and by warm ivory tints. The great expanse
of the walls was covered by a brownish-yellow cloth, coarse like burlap,
and against it, round the room, hung sixteen large panels representing
the sixteen Rakan. They were early copies - fifteenth century, Captain
Stewart said - of those famous originals by the Chinese Sung master
Ririomin, which have been for six hundred years or more the treasures of
Japan. They were mounted upon Japanese brocade of blue and dull gold,
framed in keyaki wood, and out of their brown, time-stained shadows the
great Rakan scowled or grinned or placidly gazed, grotesquely graceful
masterpieces of a perished art.

At the far end of the room, under a gilded canopy of intricate
wood-carving, stood upon his pedestal of many-petalled lotus a great
statue of Amida Buddha in the yogi attitude of contemplation, and at
intervals against the other walls other smaller images stood or sat:
Buddha, in many incarnations; Kwannon, goddess of mercy; Jizo Bosatzu
Hotei, pot-bellied, god of contentment; Jingo-Kano, god of war. In the
centre of the place was a Buddhist temple table, and priests' chairs,
lacquered and inlaid, stood about the room. The floor was covered with
Chinese rugs, dull yellow with blue flowers, and over a doorway which
led into another room was fixed a huge rama of Chinese pierced carving,
gilded, in which there were trees and rocks and little grouped figures
of the hundred immortals.

It, was, indeed an extraordinary room. Ste. Marie looked about its
mellow glow with a half-comprehending wonder, and he looked at the man
beside him curiously, for here was another side to this many-sided
character. Captain Stewart smiled.

"You like my museum?" he asked. "Few people care much for it except, of
course, those who go in for the Oriental arts. Most of my friends think
it bizarre - too grotesque and unusual. I have tried to satisfy them by
including those comfortable low divan-couches (they refuse altogether to
sit in the priests' chairs), but still they are unhappy."

He called his servant, who came to take Ste. Marie's hat and coat and
returned with smoking things.

"It seems entirely wonderful to me," said the younger man. "I'm not an
expert at all - I don't know who the gentlemen in those sixteen panels
are, for example - but it is very beautiful. I have never seen anything
like it at all." He gave a little laugh. "Will it sound very impertinent
in me, I wonder, if I express surprise - not surprise at finding this
magnificent room, but at discovering that this sort of thing is a taste
and, very evidently, a serious study of yours? You - I remember your
saying once with some feeling that it was youth and beauty and - well,
freshness that you liked best to be surrounded by. This," said Ste.
Marie, waving an inclusive hand, "was young so many centuries ago! It
fairly breathes antiquity and death."

"Yes," said Captain Stewart, thoughtfully. "Yes, that is quite true."

The two had seated themselves upon one of the broad, low benches which
had been built into the place to satisfy the Philistine.

"I find it hard to explain," he said, "because both things are passions
of mine. Youth - I could not exist without it. Since I have it no longer
in my own body, I wish to see it about me. It gives me life. It keeps my
heart beating. I must have it near. And then this - antiquity and death,
beautiful things made by hands dead centuries ago in an alien country! I
love this, too. I didn't speak too strongly; it is a sort of passion
with me - something quite beyond the collector's mania - quite beyond
that. Sometimes, do you know, I stay at home in the evening, and I sit
here quite alone, with the lights half on, and for hours together I
smoke and watch these things - the quiet, sure, patient smile of that
Buddha, for example. Think how long he has been smiling like that, and
waiting! Waiting for what? There is something mysterious beyond all
words in that smile of his, that fixed, crudely carved wooden smile - no,
I'll be hanged if it's crude! It is beyond our modern art. The dead men
carved better than we do. We couldn't manage that with such simple
means. We can only reproduce what is before us. We can't carve
questions - mysteries - everlasting riddles."

Through the pale-blue, wreathing smoke of his cigarette Captain Stewart
gazed down the room to where eternal Buddha stood and smiled eternally.
And from there the man's eyes moved with slow enjoyment along the
opposite wall over those who sat or stood there, over the panels of the
ancient Rakan, over carved lotus, and gilt contorted dragon forever in
pursuit of the holy pearl. He drew a short breath which seemed to
bespeak extreme contentment, the keenest height of pleasure, and he
stirred a little where he sat and settled himself among the cushions.
Ste. Marie watched him, and the expression of the man's face began to be
oddly revolting. It was the face of a voluptuary in the presence of his
desire. He was uncomfortable, and wished to say something to break the
silence, but, as often occurs at such a time, he could think of nothing
to say. So there was a brief silence between them. But presently Captain
Stewart roused himself with an obvious effort.

"Here, this won't do!" said he, in a tone of whimsical apology. "This
won't do, you know. I'm floating off on my hobby (and there's a mixed
metaphor that would do credit to your own Milesian blood!). I'm boring
you to extinction, and I don't want to do that, for I'm anxious that you
should come here again - and often. I should like to have you form the
habit. What was it I had in mind to ask you about? Ah, yes! The journey
to Dinard and Deauville. I am afraid it turned out to be fruitless or
you would have let me know."

"Entirely fruitless," said Ste. Marie.

He went on to tell the elder man of his investigation, and of his
certainty that no one resembling Arthur Benham had been at either of the
two places.

"It's no affair of mine, to be sure," he said, "but I rather suspect
that your agent was deceiving you - pretending to have accomplished
something by way of making you think he was busy."

Ste. Marie was so sure the other would immediately disclaim this that he
waited for the word, and gave a little smothered laugh when Captain
Stewart said, promptly:

"Oh no! No! That is impossible. I have every confidence in that man. He
is one of my best. No, you are mistaken there. I am more disappointed
than you could possibly be over the failure of your efforts, but I am
quite sure my man thought he had something worth working upon.
By-the-way, I have received another rather curious communication - from
Ostend this time. I will show you the letter, and you may try your luck
there if you would care to." He felt in his pockets and then rose. "I've
left the thing in another coat," said he; "if you will allow me, I'll
fetch it." But before he had turned away the door-bell rang and he
paused. "Ah, well," he said, "another time. Here are some of my guests.
They have come earlier than I had expected."

The new arrivals were three very perfectly dressed ladies, one of them
an operatic light, who chanced not to be singing that evening and whom
Ste. Marie had met before. The two others were rather difficult of
classification, but probably, he thought, ornaments of that mysterious
border-land between the two worlds which seems to give shelter to so
many people against whose characters nothing definite is known, but
whose antecedents and connections are not made topics of conversation.
The three ladies seemed to be on very friendly terms with Captain
Stewart, and greeted him with much noisy delight. One of the
unclassified two, when her host, with a glance toward Ste. Marie,
addressed her formally, seemed inordinately amused, and laughed for a
long time.

Within the next hour ten or a dozen other guests had arrived, and they
all seemed to know one another very well, and proceeded to make
themselves quite at home. Ste. Marie regarded them with a reflective and
not over-enthusiastic eye, and he wondered a good deal why he had been
asked here to meet them. He was as far from a prig or a snob as any man
could very well be, and he often went to very Bohemian parties which
were given by his painter or musician friends, but these people seemed
to him quite different. The men, with the exception of two eminent
opera-singers, who quite obviously had been asked because of their
voices, were the sort of men who abound at such places as Ostend and
Monte Carlo, and Baden-Baden in the race week. That is not to say that
they were ordinary racing touts or the cheaper kind of adventurers
(there was a count among them, and a marquis who had recently been
divorced by his American wife), but adventurers of a sort they
undoubtedly were. There was not one of them, so far as Ste. Marie was
aware, who was received anywhere in good society, and he resented very
much being compelled to meet them.

Naturally enough, he felt much less concern on the score of the ladies.
It is an undoubted and well-nigh universal truth that men who would
refuse outright to meet certain classes of their own sex show no
reluctance whatever over meeting the women of a corresponding
circle - that is, if the women are attractive. It is a depressing fact
and inclines one to sighs and head-shakes, and some moral indignation,
until the reverse truth is brought to light - namely, that women have
identically the same point of view; that, while they cast looks of
loathing and horror upon certain of their sisters, they will meet with
pleasure any presentable man whatever his crimes or vices.

Ste. Marie was very much puzzled over all this. It seemed to him so
unnecessary that a man who really had some footing in the newer society
of Paris should choose to surround himself with people of this type; but
as he looked on and wondered he became aware of a curious and, in the
light of a past conversation, significant fact: all of the people in the
room were young; all of them in their varying fashions and degrees very
attractive to look upon; all full to overflowing of life and spirits and
the determination to have a good time. He saw Captain Stewart moving
among them, playing very gracefully his rôle of host, and the man seemed
to have dropped twenty years from his shoulders. A miracle of
rejuvenation seemed to have come upon him: his eyes were bright and
eager, the color was high in his cheeks, and the dry, pedantic tone had
gone from his voice. Ste. Marie watched him, and at last he thought he
understood. It was half revolting, half pathetic, he thought, but it
certainly was interesting to see.

Duval, the great basso of the Opéra, accompanied at the piano by one of
the unclassified ladies, was just finishing Mephistopheles' drinking
song out of _Faust_ when the door-bell rang.

* * * * *




XI

A GOLDEN LADY ENTERS - THE EYES AGAIN


The music of voice and piano was very loud just then, so that the
little, soft, whirring sound of the electric bell reached only one or
two pairs of ears in the big room. It did not reach the host certainly,
and neither he nor most of the others observed the servant make his way
among the groups of seated or standing people and go to the outer door,
which opened upon a tiny hallway. The song came to an end, and everybody
was cheering and applauding and crying "Bravo!" or "Bis!" or one of the
other things that people shout at such times, when, as if in unexpected
answer to the outburst, a lady appeared between the yellow portières and
came forward a little way into the room. She was a tall lady of an
extraordinary and immediately noticeable grace of movement - a lady with
rather fair hair; but her eyebrows and eyelashes had been stained darker
than it was their nature to be. She had the classic Greek type of


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Online LibraryJustus Miles FormanJason → online text (page 8 of 23)