Part 3 out of 6
courts and all that, it entails much more subsequent annoyance than it
is worth. Be wise, Olga!"
"Some things, Ste. Marie," said the golden lady, "are worth all the
consequences that may follow them."
She watched Captain Stewart across the room, where he stood chatting
with a little group of people, and her beautiful face was as hard as
marble and her eyes were as dark as a stormy night, and her mouth, for
an instant, was almost like an animal's mouth--cruel and relentless.
Ste. Marie saw, and he began to be a bit alarmed in good earnest. In his
warning he had spoken rather more seriously than he felt the occasion
demanded, but he began at last to wonder if the occasion was not in
reality very serious, indeed. He was sure, of course, that Olga Nilssen
had come here on this evening to annoy Captain Stewart in some fashion.
As he put it to himself, she probably meant to "make a row," and he
would not have been in the least surprised if she had made it in the
beginning, upon her very dramatic entrance. Nothing more calamitous than
that had occurred to him. But when he saw the woman's face turned a
little away and gazing fixedly at Captain Stewart, he began to be aware
that there was tragedy very near him--or all the makings of it.
Mlle. Nilssen turned back to him. Her face was still hard, and her eyes
dark and narrowed with their oddly Oriental look. She bent her shoulders
together for an instant and her hands moved slowly in her lap,
stretching out before her in a gesture very like a cat's when it wakes
from sleep and yawns and extends its claws, as if to make sure that they
are still there and ready for use.
"I feel a little like Samson to-night," she said. "I am tired of almost
everything, and I should like very much to pull the world down on top of
me and kill everybody in it--except you, Ste. Marie, dear; except
you!--and be crushed under the ruins!"
"I think," said Ste. Marie, practically--and the speech sounded rather
like one of Hartley's speeches--"I think it was not quite the world that
Samson pulled down, but a temple--or a palace--something of that kind."
"Well," said the golden lady, "this place is rather like a temple--a
Chinese temple, with the pig-dog for high-priest."
Ste. Marie frowned at her.
"What are you going to do?" he demanded, sharply. "What did you come
here to do? Mischief of some kind--bien entendu--but what?"
"Do?" she said, looking at him with her narrowed eyes. "I? Why, what
should I do? Nothing, of course! I merely said I should like to pull the
place down. Of course, I couldn't do that quite literally, now, could I?
No. It is merely a mood. I'm not going to do anything."
"You're not being honest with me," he said.
And at that her expression changed, and she patted his arm again with a
gesture that seemed to beg forgiveness.
"Well, then," she said, "if you must know, maybe I did come here for a
purpose. I want to have it out with our friend Captain Stewart about
something. And Ste. Marie, dear," she pleaded, "please, I think you'd
better go home first. I don't care about these other animals, but I
don't want you dragged into any row of any sort. Please be a sweet Ste.
Marie and go home. Yes?"
"Absolutely, no!" said Ste. Marie. "I shall stay, and I shall try my
utmost to prevent you from doing anything foolish. Understand that! If
you want to have rows with people, Olga, for Heaven's sake don't pick an
occasion like this for the purpose. Have your rows in private!"
"I rather think I enjoy an audience," she said, with a reflective air,
and Ste. Marie laughed aloud because he knew that the naive speech was
so very true. This lady, with her many good qualities and her bad
ones--not a few, alas!--had an undeniable passion for red fire that had
amused him very much on more than one past occasion.
"Please go home!" she said once more.
But when the man only shook his head, she raised her hands a little way
and dropped them again in her lap, in an odd gesture which seemed to say
that she had done all she could do, and that if anything disagreeable
should happen now, and he should be involved in it, it would be entirely
his fault because she had warned him.
Then quite abruptly a mood of irresponsible gayety seemed to come upon
her. She refused to have anything more to do with serious topics, and
when Ste. Marie attempted to introduce them she laughed in his face. As
she had said in the beginning she wished to do, she harked back to old
days (the earlier stages of what might be termed the Morrison regime),
and it seemed to afford her great delight to recall the happenings of
that epoch. The conversation became a dialogue of reminiscence which
would have been entirely unintelligible to a third person, and was,
indeed, so to Captain Stewart, who once came across the room, made a
feeble effort to attach himself, and presently wandered away again.
They unearthed from the past an exceedingly foolish song all about one
"Little Willie" and a purple monkey climbing up a yellow stick. It was
set to a well-known air from _Don Giovanni_, and when Duval, the basso,
heard them singing it he came up and insisted upon knowing what it was
about. He laughed immoderately over the English words when he was told
what they meant, and made Ste. Marie write them down for him on two
visiting-cards. So they made a trio out of "Little Willie," the great
Duval inventing a bass part quite marvellous in its ingenuity, and they
were compelled to sing it over and over again, until Ste. Marie's
falsetto imitation of a tenor voice cracked and gave out altogether,
since he was by nature barytone, if anything at all.
The other guests had crowded round to hear the extraordinary song, and
when the song was at last finished several of them remained, so that
Ste. Marie saw he was to be allowed an uninterrupted tete-a-tete with
Olga Nilssen no longer. He therefore drifted away, after a few moments,
and went with Duval and one of the other men across the room to look at
some small jade objects--snuff-bottles, bracelets, buckles, and the
like--which were displayed in a cabinet cleverly reconstructed out of a
Japanese shrine. It was perhaps ten minutes later when he looked round
the place and discovered that neither Mlle. Nilssen nor Captain Stewart
was to be seen.
His first thought was of relief, for he said to himself that the two had
sensibly gone into one of the other rooms to "have it out" in peace and
quiet. But following that came the recollection of the woman's face when
she had watched her host across the room. Her words came back to him: "I
feel a little like Samson to-night.... I should like very much to pull
the world down on top of me and kill everybody in it!" Ste. Marie
thought of these things, and he began to be uncomfortable. He found
himself watching the yellow-hung doorway beyond, with its intricate
Chinese carving of trees and rocks and little groups of immortals, and
he found that unconsciously he was listening for something--he did not
know what--above the chatter and laughter of the people in the room. He
endured this for possibly five minutes, and all at once found that he
could endure it no longer. He began to make his way quietly through the
groups of people toward the curtained doorway.
As he went, one of the women near by complained in a loud tone that the
servant had disappeared. She wanted, it seemed, a glass of water, having
already had many glasses of more interesting things. Ste. Marie said he
would get it for her, and went on his way. He had an excuse now.
He found himself in a square, dimly lighted room much smaller than the
other. There was a round table in the centre, so he thought it must be
Stewart's dining-room. At the left a doorway opened into a place where
there were lights, and at the other side was another door closed. From
the room at the left there came a sound of voices, and though they were
not loud, one of them, Mlle. Olga Nilssen's voice, was hard and angry
and not altogether under control. The man would seem to have been
attempting to pacify her, and he would seem not to have been very
The first words that Ste. Marie was able to distinguish were from the
woman. She said, in a low, fierce tone:
"That is a lie, my friend! That is a lie! I know all about the road to
Clamart, so you needn't lie to me any longer. It's no good."
She paused for just an instant there, and in the pause St. Marie heard
Stewart give a sort of inarticulate exclamation. It seemed to express
anger and it seemed also to express fear. But the woman swept on, and
her voice began to be louder. She said:
"I've given you your chance. You didn't deserve it, but I've given it
you--and you've told me nothing but lies. Well, you'll lie no more. This
Upon that Ste. Marie heard a sudden stumbling shuffle of feet and a low,
hoarse cry of utter terror--a cry more animal-like than human. He heard
the cry break off abruptly in something that was like a cough and a
whine together, and he heard the sound of a heavy body falling with a
loose rattle upon the floor.
With the sound of that falling body he had already reached the doorway
and torn aside the heavy portiere. It was a sleeping-room he looked
into, a room of medium size with two windows and an ornate bed of the
Empire style set sidewise against the farther wall. There were electric
lights upon imitation candles which were grouped in sconces against the
wall, and these were turned on, so that the room was brightly
illuminated. Midway between the door and the ornate Empire bed Captain
Stewart lay huddled and writhing upon the floor, and Olga Nilssen stood
upright beside him, gazing down upon him quite calmly. In her right
hand, which hung at her side, she held a little flat black automatic
pistol of the type known as Brownings--and they look like toys, but they
Ste. Marie sprang at her silently and caught her by the arm, twisting
the automatic pistol from her grasp, and the woman made no effort
whatever to resist him. She looked into his face quite frankly and
unmoved, and she shook her head.
"I haven't harmed him," she said. "I was going to, yes--and then
myself--but he didn't give me a chance. He fell down in a fit." She
nodded down toward the man who lay writhing at their feet. "I frightened
him," she said, "and he fell in a fit. He's an epileptic, you know.
Didn't you know that? Oh yes."
Abruptly she turned away shivering, and put up her hands over her face.
And she gave an exclamation of uncontrollable repulsion.
"Ugh!" she cried, "it's horrible! Horrible! I can't bear to look. I saw
him in a fit once before--long ago--and I couldn't bear even to speak to
him for a month. I thought he had been cured. He said--Ah, it's
Ste. Marie had dropped upon his knees beside the fallen man, and Mlle.
Nilssen said, over her shoulder:
"Hold his head up from the floor, if you can bear to. He might hurt it."
It was not an easy thing to do, for Ste. Marie had the natural sense of
repulsion in such matters that most people have, and this man's
appearance, as Olga Nilssen had said, was horrible. The face was drawn
hideously, and in the strong, clear light of the electrics it was a
deathly yellow. The eyes were half closed, and the eyeballs turned up so
that only the whites of them showed between the lids. There was froth
upon the distorted mouth, and it clung to the catlike mustache and to
the shallow, sunken chin beneath. But Ste. Marie exerted all his will
power, and took the jerking, trembling head in his hands, holding it
clear of the floor.
"You'd better call the servant," he said. "There may be something that
can be done."
But the woman answered, without looking:
"No, there's nothing that can be done, I believe, except to keep him
from bruising himself. Stimulants--that sort of thing--do more harm than
good. Could you get him on the bed here?"
"Together we might manage it," said Ste. Marie. "Come and help!"
"I can't!" she cried, nervously. "I can't--touch him. Please, I can't do
"Come!" said the man, in a sharp tone. "It's no time for nerves. I don't
like it, either, but it's got to be done."
The woman began a half-hysterical sobbing, but after a moment she turned
and came with slow feet to where Stewart lay.
Ste. Marie slipped his arms under the man's body and began to raise him
from the floor.
"You needn't help, after all," he said. "He's not heavy."
And, indeed, under his skilfully shaped and padded clothes the man was a
mere waif of a man--as unbelievably slight as if he were the victim of a
wasting disease. Ste. Marie held the body in his arms as if it had been
a child, and carried it across and laid it on the bed; but it was many
months before he forgot the horror of that awful thing shaking and
twitching in his hold, the head thumping hideously upon his shoulder,
the arms and legs beating against him. It was the most difficult task he
had ever had to perform. He laid Captain Stewart upon the bed and
straightened the helpless limbs as best he could.
"I suppose," he said, rising again--"I suppose when the man comes out of
this he'll be frightfully exhausted and drop off to sleep, won't he?
We'll have to--"
He halted abruptly there, and for a single swift instant he felt the
black and rushing sensation of one who is going to faint away. The wall
behind the ornate Empire bed was covered with photographs, some in
frames, others left, as they had been received, upon the large squares
of weird cardboard which are termed "art mounts."
"Come here a moment, quickly!" said Ste. Marie, in a sharp voice.
Mlle. Nilssen's sobs had died down to a silent, spasmodic catching of
the breath, but she was still much unnerved, and she approached the bed
with obvious unwillingness, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
Ste. Marie pointed to an unframed photograph which was fastened to the
wall by thumb-tacks, and his outstretched hand shook as he pointed.
Beneath them the other man still writhed and tumbled in his epileptic
"Do you know who that woman is?" demanded Ste. Marie, and his tone was
such that Olga Nilssen turned slowly and stared at him.
"That woman," said she, "is the reason why I wished to pull the world
down upon Charlie Stewart and me to-night. That's who she is."
Ste. Marie gave a sort of cry.
"Who is she?" he insisted. "What is her name? I--have a particularly
important reason for wanting to know. I've got to know."
Mlle. Nilssen shook her head, still staring at him.
"I can't tell you that," said she. "I don't know the name. I only know
that--when he met her, he--I don't know her name, but I know where she
lives and where he goes every day to see her--a house with a big garden
and walled park on the road to Clamart. It's on the edge of the wood,
not far from Fort d'Issy. The Clamart-Vanves-Issy tram runs past the
wall of one side of the park. That's all I know."
Ste. Marie clasped his head with his hands.
"So near to it!" he groaned, "and yet--Ah!" He bent forward suddenly
over the bed and spelled out the name of the photographer which was
pencilled upon the brown cardboard mount. "There's still a chance," he
said, "There's still one chance."
He became aware that the woman was watching him curiously, and nodded to
"It's something you don't know about," he explained. "I've got to find
out who this--girl is. Perhaps the photographer can help me. I used to
know him." All at once his eyes sharpened. "Tell me the simple truth
about something!" said he. "If ever we have been friends, if you owe me
any good office, tell me this: Do you know anything about young Arthur
Benham's disappearance two months ago, or about what has become of him?"
Again the woman shook her head.
"No," said she. "Nothing at all. I hadn't even heard of it. Young Arthur
Benham! I've met him once or twice. I wonder--I wonder Stewart never
spoke to me about his disappearance! That's very odd."
"Yes," said Ste. Marie, absently, "it is." He gave a little sigh. "I
wonder about a good many things," said he.
He glanced down upon the bed before them, and Captain Stewart lay still,
save for a slight twitching of the hands. Once he moved his head
restlessly from side to side and said something incoherent in a weak
"He's out of it," said Olga Nilssen. "He'll sleep now, I think. I
suppose we must get rid of those people and then leave him to the care
of his man. A doctor couldn't do anything for him."
"Yes," said Ste. Marie, nodding, "I'll call the servant and tell the
people that Stewart has been taken ill."
He looked once more toward the photograph on the wall, and under his
breath he said, with an odd, defiant fierceness: "I won't believe it!"
But he did not explain what he wouldn't believe. He started out of the
room, but, half-way, halted and turned back. He looked Olga Nilssen full
in the eyes, saying:
"It is safe to leave you here with him while I call the servant?
There'll be no more--?"
But the woman gave a low cry and a violent shiver with it.
"You need have no fear," she said. "I've no desire now to--harm him.
The--reason is gone. This has cured me. I feel as if I could never bear
to see him again. Oh, hurry! Please hurry! I want to get away from
Ste. Marie nodded, and went out of the room.
* * * * *
THE NAME OF THE LADY WITH THE EYES--EVIDENCE HEAPS UP SWIFTLY
Ste. Marie drove home to the rue d'Assas with his head in a whirl, and
with a sense of great excitement beating somewhere within him--probably
in the place where his heart ought to be. He had a curiously sure
feeling that at last his feet were upon the right path. He could not
have explained this to himself--indeed, there was nothing to explain,
and if there had been he was in far too great an inner turmoil to manage
it. It was a mere feeling--the sort of thing which he had once tried to
express to Captain Stewart and had got laughed at for his pains.
There was, in sober fact, no reason whatever why Captain Stewart's
possession of a photograph of the beautiful lady whom Ste. Marie had
once seen in company with O'Hara should be taken as significant of
anything except an appreciation of beauty on the part of Miss Benham's
uncle--not even if, as Mlle. Nilssen believed, Captain Stewart was in
love with the lady. But to Ste. Marie, in his whirl of reawakened
excitement, the discovery loomed to the skies, and in a series of
ingenious but very vague leaps of the imagination he saw himself, with
the aid of this new evidence (which was no evidence at all, if he had
been calm enough to realize it), victorious in his great quest: leading
young Arthur Benham back to the arms of an ecstatic family, and kneeling
at the feet of that youth's sister to claim his reward. All of which
seems a rather startling flight of the imagination to have had its
beginning in the sight of one photograph of a young woman. But, then,
Ste. Marie was imaginative if he was anything.
He fell to thinking of this girl whose eyes, after one sight of them,
had so long haunted him. He thought of her between those two men, the
hard-faced Irish adventurer, and the other, Stewart, strange compound of
intellectual and voluptuary, and his eyes flashed in the dark and he
gripped his hands together upon his knees. He said again:
"I won't believe it! I won't believe it!" Believe what? one wonders.
He slept hardly at all: only, toward morning, falling into an uneasy
doze. And in the doze he dreamed once more the dream of the dim, waste
place and the hill, and the eyes and voice that called him back--because
they needed him.
As early as he dared, after his morning coffee, he took a fiacre and
drove across the river to the Boulevard de la Madeleine, where he
climbed a certain stair, at the foot of which were two glass cases
containing photographs of, for the most part, well-known ladies of the
Parisian stage. At the top of the stair he entered the reception-room of
a young photographer who is famous now the world over, but who, at the
beginning of his career, when he had nothing but talent and no
acquaintance, owed certain of his most important commissions to M. Ste.
The man, whose name was Bernstein, came forward eagerly from the studio
beyond to greet his visitor, and Ste. Marie complimented him chaffingly
upon his very sleek and prosperous appearance, and upon the new
decorations of the little salon, which were, in truth, excellently well
judged. But after they had talked for a little while of such matters, he
"I want to know if you keep specimen prints of all the photographs you
have made within the past few months, and, if so, I should like to see
The young Jew went to a wooden portfolio-holder which stood in a corner,
and dragged it out into the light.
"I have them all here," said he--"everything that I have made within the
past ten or twelve months. If you will let me draw up a chair you can
look them over comfortably."
He glanced at his former patron with a little polite curiosity as Ste.
Marie followed his suggestion, and began to turn over the big
portfolio's contents; but he did not show any surprise nor ask
questions. Indeed, he guessed, to a certain extent, rather near the
truth of the matter. It had happened before that young gentlemen--and
old ones, too--wanted to look over his prints without offering
explanations, and they generally picked out all the photographs there
were of some particular lady and bought them if they could be bought.
So he was by no means astonished on this occasion, and he moved about
the room putting things to rights, and even went for a few moments into
the studio beyond until he was recalled by a sudden exclamation from his
visitor--an exclamation which had a sound of mingled delight and
Ste. Marie held in his hands a large photograph, and he turned it toward
the man who had made it.
"I am going to ask you some questions," said he, "that will sound rather
indiscreet and irregular, but I beg you to answer them if you can,
because the matter is of great importance to a number of people. Do you
remember this lady?"
"Oh yes," said the Jew, readily, "I remember her very well. I never
forget people who are as beautiful as this lady was." His eyes gleamed
with retrospective joy. "She was splendid!" he declared. "Sumptuous! No,
I cannot describe her. I have not the words. And I could not photograph
her with any justice, either. She was all color: brown skin, with a
dull-red stain under the cheeks, and a great mass of hair that was not
black but very nearly black--except in the sun, and then there were red
lights in it. She was a goddess, that lady, a queen of goddesses-- the
young Juno before marriage--the--"
"Yes," interrupted Ste. Marie--"yes, I see. Yes, quite evidently she was
beautiful; but what I wanted in particular to know was her name, if you
feel that you have a right to give it to me (I remind you again that the
matter is very important), and any circumstances that you can remember
about her coming here: who came with her, for instance and things of
The photographer looked a little disappointed at being cut off in the
middle of his rhapsody, but he began turning over the leaves of an
order-book which lay upon a table near by.
"Here is the entry," he said, after a few moments. "Yes, I thought so,
the date was nearly three months ago--April 5th. And the lady's name was
Mlle. Coira O'Hara."
"What!" cried the other man, sharply. "What did you say?"
"Mlle. Coira O'Hara was the name," repeated the photographer. "I
remember the occasion perfectly. The lady came here with three
gentlemen--one tall, thin gentleman with an eyeglass, an Englishman, I
think, though he spoke very excellent French when he spoke to me. Among
themselves they spoke, I think, English, though I do not understand it,
except a few words, such as ''ow moch?' and 'sank you' and 'rady,
"Yes! yes!" cried Ste. Marie, impatiently. And the little Jew could see
that he was laboring under some very strong excitement, and he wondered
mildly about it, scenting a love-affair.
"Then," he pursued, "there was a very young man in strange clothes--a
tourist, I should think, like those Americans and English who come in
the summer with little red books and sit on the terrace of the Cafe de
la Paix." He heard his visitor draw a swift, sharp breath at that, but
he hurried on before he could be interrupted. "This young man seemed to
be unable to take his eyes from the lady--and small wonder! He was very
much epris--very much epris, indeed. Never have I seen a youth more so.
Ah, it was something to see, that--a thing to touch the heart!"
"What did the young man look like?" demanded Ste. Marie.
The photographer described the youth as best he could from memory, and
he saw his visitor nod once or twice, and at the end he said:
"Yes, yes; I thought so. Thank you."
The Jew did not know what it was the other thought, but he went on:
"Ah, a thing to touch the heart! Such devotion as that! Alas, that the
lady should seem so cold to it! Still, a goddess! What would you? A
queen among goddesses. One would not have them laugh and make little
jokes--make eyes at love-sick boys. No, indeed!" He shook his head
rapidly and sighed.
M. Ste. Marie was silent for a little space, but at length he looked up
as if he had just remembered something.
"And the third man?" he asked.
"Ah, yes, the third gentleman," said Bernstein. "I had forgotten him.
The third gentleman I knew well. He had often been here. It was he who
brought these friends to me. He was M. le Capitaine Stewart. Everybody
knows M. le Capitaine Stewart--everybody in Paris."
Again he observed that his visitor drew a little, swift, sharp breath,
and that he seemed to be laboring under some excitement.
However, Ste. Marie did not question him further, and so he went on to
tell the little more he knew of the matter--how the four people had
remained for an hour or more, trying many poses; how they had returned,
all but the tall gentleman, three days later to see the proofs and to
order certain ones to be printed (the young man paying on the spot in
advance), and how the finished prints had been sent to M. le Capitaine
When he had finished, his visitor sat for a long time silent, his head
bent a little, frowning upon the floor and chafing his hands together
over his knees. But at last he rose rather abruptly. He said:
"Thank you very much, indeed. You have done me a great service. If ever
I can repay it, command me. Thank you!"
The Jew protested, smiling, that he was still too deeply in debt to M.
Ste. Marie, and so, politely wrangling, they reached the door, and with
a last expression of gratitude the visitor departed down the stair. A
client came in just then for a sitting, and so the little photographer
did not have an opportunity to wonder over the rather odd affair as much
as he might have done. Indeed, in the press of work, it slipped from his
But down in the busy boulevard Ste. Marie stood hesitating on the curb.
There were so many things to be done, in the light of these new
developments, that he did not know what to do first.
"Mlle. Coira O'Hara!--_Mademoiselle!_" The thought gave him a sudden
sting of inexplicable relief and pleasure. She would be O'Hara's
daughter, then. And the boy, Arthur Benham (there was no room for doubt
in the photographer's description) had seemed to be badly in love with
her. This was a new development, indeed! It wanted thought, reflection,
consultation with Richard Hartley. He signalled to a fiacre, and when it
had drawn up before him sprang into it and gave Richard Hartley's
address in the Avenue de l'Observatoire. But when they had gone a little
way he changed his mind and gave another address, one in the Boulevard
de la Tour Maubourg. It was where Mlle. Olga Nilssen lived. She had told
him when he parted from her the evening before.
On the way he fell to thinking of what he had learned from the little
photographer Bernstein, to setting the facts, as well as he could, in
order, endeavoring to make out just how much or how little they
signified by themselves or added to what he had known before. But he was
in far too keen a state of excitement to review them at all calmly. As
on the previous evening, they seemed to him to loom to the skies, and
again he saw himself successful in his quest--victorious--triumphant.
That this leap to conclusions was but a little less absurd than the
first did not occur to him. He was in a fine fever of enthusiasm, and
such difficulties as his eye perceived lay in a sort of vague mist to be
dissipated later on, when he should sit quietly down with Hartley and
sift the wheat from the chaff, laying out a definite scheme of action.
It occurred to him that in his interview with the photographer he had
forgotten one point, and he determined to go back, later on, and ask
about it. He had forgotten to inquire as to Captain Stewart's attitude
toward the beautiful lady. Young Arthur Benham's infatuation had filled
his mind at the time, and had driven out of it what Olga Nilssen had
told him about Stewart. He found himself wondering if this point might
not be one of great importance--the rivalry of the two men for O'Hara's
daughter. Assuredly that demanded thought and investigation.
He found the prettily furnished apartment in the Avenue de la Tour
Maubourg a scene of great disorder, presided over by a maid who seemed
to be packing enormous quantities of garments into large trunks. The
maid told him that her mistress, after a sleepless night, had departed
from Paris by an early train, quite alone, leaving the servant to follow
on when she had telegraphed or written an address. No, Mlle. Nilssen had
left no address at all--not even for letters or telegrams. In short, the
entire proceeding was, so the exasperated woman viewed it, everything
that is imbecile.
Ste. Marie sat down on a hamper with his stick between his knees, and
wrote a little note to be sent on when Mlle. Nilssen's whereabouts
should be known. It was unfortunate, he reflected, that she should have
fled away just now, but not of great importance to him, because he did
not believe that he could learn very much more from her than he had
learned already. Moreover, he sympathized with her desire to get away
from Paris--as far away as possible from the man whom she had seen in so
horrible a state on the evening past.
He had kept the fiacre at the door, and he drove at once back to the rue
d'Assas. As he started to mount the stair the concierge came out of her
loge to say that Mr. Hartley had called soon after Monsieur had left the
house that morning, had seemed very much disappointed on not finding
Monsieur, and before going away again had had himself let into
Monsieur's apartment with the key of the femme de menage, and had
written a note which Monsieur would find la haut.
Ste. Marie thanked the woman, and went on up to his rooms, wondering why
Hartley had bothered to leave a note instead of waiting or returning at
lunch-time, as he usually did. He found the communication on his table
and read it at once. Hartley said:
I have to go across the river to the Bristol to see some relatives who
are turning up there to-day, and who will probably keep me until
evening, and then I shall have to go back there to dine. So I'm leaving
a word for you about some things I discovered last evening. I met Miss
Benham at Armenonville, where I dined, and in a tete-a-tete conversation
we had after dinner she let fall two facts which seem to me very
important. They concern Captain S. In the first place, when he told us
that day, some time ago, that he knew nothing about his father's will or
any changes that might have been made in it, he lied. It seems that old
David, shortly after the boy's disappearance, being very angry at what
he considered, and still considers, a bit of spite on the boy's part,
cut young Arthur Benham out of his will and transferred that share to
_Captain S._ (Miss Benham learned this from the old man only yesterday).
Also it appears that he did this after talking the matter over with
Captain S., who affected unwillingness. So, as the will reads now, Miss
B. and Captain S. stand to share equally the bulk of the old man's
money, which is several millions--in dollars, of course. Miss B.'s
mother is to have the interest of half of both shares as long as she
lives. Now mark this: Prior to this new arrangement, Captain S. was to
receive only a small legacy, on the ground that he already had a
respectable fortune left him by his mother, old David's first wife (I've
heard, by-the-way, that he has squandered a good share of this.)
Miss B. is, of course, much cut up over the injustice to the boy, but
she can't protest too much, as it only excites old David. She says the
old man is much weaker.
You see, of course, the significance of all this. If David Stewart dies,
as he's likely to do, before young Arthur's return, Captain S. gets the
The second fact I learned was that Miss Benham did not tell her uncle
about her semi-engagement to you or about your volunteering to search
for the boy. She thinks her grandfather must have told him. I didn't say
so to her, but that is hardly possible in view of the fact that Stewart
came on here to your rooms very soon after you had reached them
So that makes two lies for our gentle friend--and serious lies, both of
them. To my mind, they point unmistakably to a certain conclusion.
_Captain S. has been responsible for putting his nephew out of the way_.
He has either hidden him somewhere and is keeping him in confinement, or
he has killed him.
I wish we could talk it over to-day, but, as you see, I'm helpless.
Remain in to-night, and I'll come as soon as I can get rid of these
confounded people of mine.
One word more. Be careful! Miss B. is, up to this point, merely puzzled
over things. She doesn't suspect her uncle of any crookedness, I'm sure.
So we shall have to tread softly where she is concerned.
I shall see you to-night. R.H.
Ste. Marie read the closely written pages through twice, and he thought
how like his friend it was to take the time and trouble to put what he
had learned into this clear, concise form. Another man would have
scribbled, "Important facts--tell you all about it to-night," or
something of that kind. Hartley must have spent a quarter of an hour
over his writing.
Ste. Marie walked up and down the room with all his strength forcing his
brain to quiet, reasonable action. Once he said, aloud:
"Yes, you're right, of course. Stewart has been at the bottom of it all
along." He realized that he had been for some days slowly arriving at
that conclusion, and that since the night before he had been practically
certain of it, though he had not yet found time to put his suspicions
into logical order. Hartley's letter had driven the truth concretely
home to him, but he would have reached the same truth without it--though
that matter of the will was of the greatest importance. It gave him a
strong weapon to strike with.
He halted before one of the front windows, and his eyes gazed unseeing
across the street into the green shrubbery of the Luxembourg Gardens.
The lace curtains had been left by the femme de menage hanging straight
down, and not, as usual, looped back to either side, so he could see
through them with perfect ease, although he could not be seen from
He became aware that a man who was walking slowly up and down a path
inside the high iron palings was in some way familiar to him, and his
eyes sharpened. The man was inconspicuously dressed, and looked like
almost any other man whom one might pass in the streets without taking
any notice of him; but Ste. Marie knew that he had seen him often, and
he wondered how and where. There was a row of lilac shrubs against the
iron palings just inside and between the palings and the path, but two
of the shrubs were dead and leafless, and each time the man passed this
spot he came into plain view; each time, also, he directed an oblique
glance toward the house opposite. Presently he turned aside and sat down
upon one of the public benches, where he was almost, but not quite,
hidden by the intervening foliage.
Then at last Ste. Marie gave a sudden exclamation and smote his hands
"The fellow's a spy!" he cried, aloud. "He's watching the house to see
when I go out." He began to remember how he had seen the man in the
street and in cafes and restaurants, and he remembered that he had once
or twice thought it odd, but without any second thought of suspicion. So
the fellow had been set to spy upon him, watch his goings and comings
and report them to--no need of asking to whom.
Ste. Marie stood behind his curtains and looked across into the pleasant
expanse of shrubbery and greensward. He was wondering if it would be
worth while to do anything. Men and women went up and down the path,
hurrying or slowly, at ease with the world--laborers, students, bonnes
with market-baskets in their hands and long bread loaves under their
arms, nurse-maids herding small children, bigger children spinning
diabolo spools as they walked. A man with a pointed black beard and a
soft hat passed once and returned to seat himself upon the public bench
that Ste. Marie was watching. For some minutes he sat there idle,
holding the soft felt hat upon his knees for coolness. Then he turned
and looked at the other occupant of the bench, and Ste. Marie thought he
saw the other man nod, though he could not be sure whether either one
spoke or not. Presently the new-comer rose, put on the soft hat again,
and disappeared down the path going toward the gate at the head of the
rue du Luxembourg.
Five minutes later the door-bell rang.
* * * * *
THE VOYAGE TO COLCHIS
Ste. Marie turned away from the window and crossed to the door. The man
with the pointed beard removed his soft hat, bowed very politely, and
asked if he had the honor to address M. Ste. Marie.
"That is my name," said Ste. Marie. "Entrez, Monsieur!" He waved his
visitor to a chair and stood waiting.
The man with the beard bowed once more. He said:
"I have not the great honor of Monsieur's acquaintance, but
circumstances, which I will explain later, have put it in my power--have
made it a sacred duty, if I may be permitted to say the word--to place
in Monsieur's hands a piece of information."
Ste. Marie smiled slightly and sat down. He said:
"I listen with pleasure--and anticipation. Pray go on!"
"I have information," said the visitor, "of the whereabouts of M. Arthur
Ste. Marie waved his hand.
"I feared as much," said he. "I mean to say, I hoped so. Proceed,
"And learning," continued the other, "that M. Ste. Marie was conducting
a search for that young gentleman, I hastened at once to place this
information in his hands."
"At a price," suggested his host. "At a price, to be sure."
The man with the beard spread out his hands in a beautiful and eloquent
gesture which well accompanied his Marseillais accent.
"Ah, as to that!" he protested. "My circumstances--I am poor, Monsieur.
One must gain the livelihood. What would you? A trifle. The merest
"Where is Arthur Benham?" asked Ste. Marie.
"In Marseilles, Monsieur. I saw him a week ago--six days. And, so far as
I could learn, he had no intention of leaving there immediately--though
it is, to be sure, hot."
Ste. Marie laughed a laugh of genuine amusement, and the man with the
pointed beard stared at him with some wonder. Ste. Marie rose and
crossed the room to a writing-desk which stood against the opposite
wall. He fumbled in a drawer of this, and returned holding in his hand a
pink-and-blue note of the Banque de France. He said:
"Monsieur--pardon! I have forgotten to ask the name--you have remarked
quite truly that one must gain a livelihood. Therefore, I do not presume
to criticise the way in which you gain yours. Sometimes one cannot
choose. However, I should like to make a little bargain with you,
Monsieur. I know, of course, being not altogether imbecile, who sent you
here with this story and why you were sent--why, also, your friend who
sits upon the bench in the garden across the street follows me about and
spies upon me. I know all this, and I laugh at it a little. But,
Monsieur, to amuse myself further, I have a desire to hear from your own
lips the name of the gentleman who is your employer. Amusement is almost
always expensive, and so I am prepared to pay for this. I have here a
note of one hundred francs. It is yours in return for the name--the
_right_ name. Remember, I know it already."
The man with the pointed beard sprang to his feet quivering with
righteous indignation. All Southern Frenchmen, like all other Latins,
are magnificent actors. He shook one clinched hand in the air, his face
was pale, and his fine eyes glittered. Richard Hartley would have put
himself promptly in an attitude of defence, but Ste. Marie nodded a
smiling head in appreciation. He was half a Southern Frenchman himself.
"Monsieur!" cried his visitor, in a choked voice, "Monsieur, have a
care! You insult me! Have a care, Monsieur! I am dangerous! My anger,
when roused, is terrible!"
"I am cowed," observed Ste. Marie, lighting a cigarette. "I quail."
"Never," declaimed the gentleman from Marseilles, "have I received an
insult without returning blow for blow! My blood boils!"
"The hundred francs, Monsieur," said Ste. Marie, "will doubtless cool
it. Besides, we stray from our sheep. Reflect, my friend! I have not
insulted you. I have asked you a simple question. To be sure, I have
said that I knew your errand here was not--not altogether sincere, but I
protest, Monsieur, that no blame attaches to yourself. The blame is your
employer's. You have performed your mission with the greatest of
honesty--the most delicate and faithful sense of honor. That is
The gentleman with the beard strode across to one of the windows and
leaned his head upon his hand. His shoulders still heaved with emotion,
but he no longer trembled. The terrible crisis bade fair to pass. Then,
abruptly, in the frank and open Latin way, he burst into tears, and wept
with copious profusion, while Ste. Marie smoked his cigarette and
When at length the Marseillais turned back into the room he was calm
once more, but there remained traces of storm and flood. He made a
gesture of indescribable and pathetic resignation.
"Monsieur," he exclaimed, "you have a heart of gold--of gold, Monsieur!
You understand. Behold us, two men of honor! Monsieur," he said, "I had
no choice. I was poor. I saw myself face to face with the misere. What
would you? I fell. We are all weak flesh. I accepted the commission of
the pig who sent me here to you."
Ste. Marie smoothed the pink-and-blue bank-note in his hands, and the
other man's eye clung to it as though he were starving and the bank-note
"The name?" prompted Ste. Marie.
The gentleman from Marseilles tossed up his hands.
"Monsieur already knows it. Why should I hesitate? The name is Ducrot."
"What!" cried Ste. Marie, sharply. "What is that? Ducrot?"
"But naturally!" said the other man, with some wonder. "Monsieur said he
knew. Certainly, Ducrot. A little, withered man, bald on the top of the
head, creases down the cheeks, a mustache like this"--he made a
descriptive gesture--"a little chin. A man like an elderly cat. M.
Ste. Marie gave a sigh of relief.
"Yes, yes," said he. "Ducrot is as good a name as another. The gentleman
has more than one, it appears. Monsieur, the hundred-franc note is
The gentleman from Marseilles took it with a slightly trembling hand,
and began to bow himself toward the door as if he feared that his host
would experience a change of heart; but Ste. Marie checked him, saying:
"One moment. I was thinking," said he, "that you would perhaps not care
to present yourself to your--employer, M. Ducrot, immediately--not for a
few days, at least, in view of the fact that certain actions of mine
will show him your mission has--well, miscarried. It would, perhaps, be
well for you not to communicate with M. Ducrot. He might be displeased
"Monsieur," said the gentleman with the beard, "you speak with acumen
and wisdom. I shall neglect to report myself to M. Ducrot, who, I
repeat, is a pig."
"And," pursued Ste. Marie, "the individual on the bench across the
"It is not necessary that I meet that individual, either!" said the
Marseillais, hastily. "Monsieur, I bid you adieu!" He bowed again, a
profound, a scraping bow, and disappeared through the door.
Ste. Marie crossed to the window and looked down upon the pavement
below. He saw his late visitor emerge from the house and slip rapidly
down the street toward the rue Vavin. He glanced across into the gardens
and the spy still sat there on his bench, but his head lay back and he
slept--the sleep of the unjust. One imagined that he must be snoring,
for an incredibly small urchin in a blue apron stood on the path before
him and watched with the open mouth of astonishment.
Ste. Marie turned back into the room, and began to tramp up and down as
was his way in a perplexity or in any time of serious thought. He wished
very much that Richard Hartley were there to consult with. He considered
Hartley to have a judicial mind--a mind to establish, out of confusion,
something like logical order, and he was very well aware that he himself
had not that sort of mind at all. In action he was sufficiently
confident of himself, but to construct a course of action he was afraid,
and he knew that a misstep now, at this critical point, might be
fatal--turn success into disaster.
He fell to thinking of Captain Stewart (alias M. Ducrot) and he longed
most passionately to leap into a fiacre at the corner below, to drive at
a gallop across the city to the rue du Faubourg St. Honore, to fall upon
that smiling hypocrite in his beautiful treasure-house, to seize him by
the withered throat and say:
"Tell me what you have done with Arthur Benham before I tear your head
from your miserable body!"
Indeed, he was far from sure that this was not what it would come to, in
the end, for he reflected that he had not only a tremendous accumulation
of evidence with which to face Captain Stewart, but also a very terrible
weapon to hold over his head--the threat of exposure to the old man who
lay slowly dying in the rue de l'Universite! A few words in old David's
ear, a few proofs of their truth, and the great fortune for which the
son had sold his soul--if he had any left to sell--must pass forever out
of his reach, like gold seen in a dream.
This is what it might well come to, he said to himself. Indeed, it
seemed to him at that moment far the most feasible plan, for to such
accusations, such demands as that, Captain Stewart could offer no
defence. To save himself from a more complete ruin he would have to give
up the boy or tell what he knew of him. But Ste. Marie was unwilling to
risk everything on this throw without seeing Richard Hartley first, and
Hartley was not to be had until evening.
He told himself that, after all, there was no immediate hurry, for he
was quite sure the man would be compelled to keep to his bed for a day
or two. He did not know much about epilepsy, but he knew that its
paroxysms were followed by great exhaustion, and he felt sure that
Stewart was far too weak in body to recuperate quickly from any severe
call upon his strength. He remembered how light that burden had been in
his arms the night before, and then an uncontrollable shiver of disgust
went over him as he remembered the sight of the horribly twisted and
contorted face, felt again the shaking, thumping head as it beat against
his shoulder. He wondered how much Stewart knew, how much he would be
able to remember of the events of the evening before, and he was at a
loss there because of his unfamiliarity with epileptic seizures. Of one
thing, however, he was almost certain, and that was that the man could
scarcely have been conscious of who were beside him when the fit was
over. If he had come at all to his proper senses before the ensuing
slumber of exhaustion, it must have been after Mlle. Nilssen and himself
had gone away.
Upon that he fell to wondering about the spy and the gentleman from
Marseilles--he was a little sorry that Hartley could not have seen the
gentleman from Marseilles--but he reflected that the two were, without
doubt, acting upon old orders, and that the latter had probably been
stalking him for some days before he found him at home.
He looked at his watch and it was half-past twelve. There was nothing to
be done, he considered, but wait--get through the day somehow; and so,
presently, he went out to lunch. He went up the rue Vavin to the
Boulevard Montparnasse and down that broad thoroughfare to Lavenue's, on
the busy Place de Rennes, where the cooking is the best in all this
quarter, and can, indeed, hold up its head without shame in the face of
those other more widely famous restaurants across the river, frequented
by the smart world and by the travelling gourmet.
He went through to the inner room, which is built like a raised loggia
round two sides of a little garden, and which is always cool and fresh
in summer. He ordered a rather elaborate lunch, and thought that he sat
a very long time at it, but when he looked again at his watch only an
hour and a half had gone by. It was a quarter-past two. Ste. Marie was
depressed. There remained almost all of the afternoon to be got through,
and Heaven alone could say how much of the evening, before he could have
his consultation with Richard Hartley. He tried to think of some way of
passing the time, but although he was not usually at a loss he found his
mind empty of ideas. None of his common occupations recommended
themselves to him. He knew that whatever he tried to do he would
interrupt it with pulling out his watch every half-hour or so and
cursing the time because it lagged so slowly. He went out to the terrace
for coffee, very low in his mind.
But half an hour later, as he sat behind his little marble-topped table,
smoking and sipping a liqueur, his eyes fell upon something across the
square which brought him to his feet with a sudden exclamation. One of
the big electric trams that ply between the Place St. Germain des Pres
and Clamart, by way of the Porte de Versailles and Vanves, was dragging
its unwieldy bulk round the turn from the rue de Rennes into the
boulevard. He could see the sign-board along the imperiale--"Clamart-St.
Germain des Pres," with "Issy" and "Vanves" in brackets between.
Ste. Marie clinked a franc upon the table and made off across the Place
at a run. Omnibuses from Batignolles and Menilmontant got in his way,
fiacres tried to run him down, and a motor-car in a hurry pulled up just
in time to save his life, but Ste. Marie ran on and caught the tram
before it had completed the negotiation of the long curve and gathered
speed for its dash down the boulevard. He sprang upon the step, and the
conductor reluctantly unfastened the chain to admit him. So he climbed
up to the top and seated himself, panting. The dial high on the facade
of the Gare Montparnasse said ten minutes to three.
He had no definite plan of action. He had started off in this headlong
fashion upon the spur of a moment's impulse, and because he knew where
the tram was going. Now, embarked, he began to wonder if he was not a
fool. He knew every foot of the way to Clamart, for it was a favorite
half-day's excursion with him to ride there in this fashion, walk thence
through the beautiful Meudon wood across to the river, and from Bellevue
or Bas-Meudon take a Suresnes boat back into the city. He knew, or
thought he knew, just where lay the house, surrounded by garden and
half-wild park, of which Olga Nilssen had told him; he had often
wondered whose place it was as the tram rolled along the length of its
high wall. But he knew, also, that he could do nothing there,
single-handed and without excuse or preparation. He could not boldly
ring the bell, demand speech with Mile. Coira O'Hara, and ask her if she
knew anything of the whereabouts of young Arthur Benham, whom a
photographer had suspected of being in love with her. He certainly could
not do that. And there seemed to be nothing else that--Ste. Marie broke
off this somewhat despondent course of reasoning with a sudden little
voiceless cry. For the first time it occurred to him to connect the
house on the Clamart road and Mlle. Coira O'Hara and young Arthur Benham
(it will be remembered that the man had not yet had time to arrange his
suddenly acquired mass of evidence in logical order and to make
deductions from it), for the first time he began to put two and two
together. Stewart had hidden away his nephew; this nephew was known to
have been much enamoured of the girl Coira O'Hara; Coira O'Hara was said
to be living--with her father, probably--in the house on the outskirts
of Paris, where she was visited by Captain Stewart. Was not the
inference plain enough--sufficiently reasonable? It left, without doubt,
many puzzling things to be explained--perhaps too many; but Ste. Marie
sat forward in his seat, his eyes gleaming, his face tense with
"Is young Arthur Benham in the house on the Clamart road?"
He said the words almost aloud, and he became aware that the fat woman
with a live fowl at her feet and the butcher's boy on his other side
were looking at him curiously. He realized that he was behaving in an
excited manner, and so sat back and lowered his eyes. But over and over
within him the words said themselves--over and over, until they made a
sort of mad, foolish refrain.
"Is Arthur Benham in the house on the Clamart road? Is Arthur Benham in
the house on the Clamart road?" He was afraid that he would say it aloud
once more, and, he tried to keep a firm hold upon himself.
The tram swung into the rue de Sevres, and rolled smoothly out the long,
uninteresting stretch of the rue Lecourbe, far out to where the houses,
became scattered, where mounds and pyramids of red tiles stood alongside
the factory where they had been made, where an acre of little glass
hemispheres in long, straight rows winked and glistened in the afternoon
sun--the forcing-beds of some market gardener; out to the Porte de
Versailles at the city wall, where a group of customs officers sprawled
at ease before their little sentry-box or loafed over to inspect an
A bugle sounded and a drum beat from the great fosse under the wall, and
a company of piou-pious, red-capped, red-trousered, shambled through
their evolutions in a manner to break the heart of a British or a German
drill-sergeant. Then out past level fields to little Vanves, with its
steep streets and its old gray church, and past the splendid grounds of
the Lycee beyond. The fat woman got down, her live fowl shrieking
protest to the movement, and the butcher's boy got down, too, so that
Ste. Marie was left alone upon the imperiale save for a snuffy old
gentleman in a pot-hat who sat in a corner buried behind the day's
_Droits de l'Homme_.
Ste. Marie moved forward once more and laid his arms upon the iron rail
before him. They were coming near. They ran past plum and apple orchards
and past humble little detached villas, each with a bit of garden in
front and an acacia or two at the gate-posts. But presently, on the
right, the way began to be bordered by a high stone wall, very long,
behind which showed the trees of a park, and among them, far back from
the wall beyond a little rise of ground, the gables and chimneys of a
house could be made out. The wall went on for perhaps a quarter of a
mile in a straight sweep, but half-way the road swung apart from it to
the left, dipped under a stone railway bridge, and so presently ended at
the village of Clamart.
As the tram approached the beginning of that long stone wall it began to
slacken speed, there was a grating noise from underneath, and presently
it came to an abrupt halt. Ste. Marie looked over the guard-rail and saw
that the driver had left his place and was kneeling in the dust beside
the car peering at its underworks. The conductor strolled round to him
after a moment and stood indifferently by, remarking upon the strange
vicissitudes to which electrical propulsion is subject. The driver,
without looking up, called his colleague a number of the most surprising
and, it is to be hoped, unwarranted names, and suddenly began to burrow
under the tram, wriggling his way after the manner of a serpent until
nothing could be seen of him but two unrestful feet. His voice, though
muffled, was still tolerably distinct. It cursed, in an unceasing
staccato and with admirable ingenuity, the tram, the conductor, the
sacred dog of an impediment which had got itself wedged into one of the
trucks, and the world in general.
Ste. Marie, sitting aloft, laughed for a moment, and then turned his
eager eyes upon what lay across the road. The halt had taken place
almost exactly at the beginning of that long stretch of park wall which
ran beside the road and the tramway. From where he sat he could see the
other wing which led inward from the road at something like a right
angle, but was presently lost to sight because of a sparse and unkempt
patch of young trees and shrubs, well-nigh choked with undergrowth,
which extended for some distance from the park wall backward along the
road-side toward Vanves. Whoever owned that stretch of land had
seemingly not thought it worth while to cultivate it or to build upon it
or even to clear it off.
Ste. Marie's first thought, as his eye scanned the two long stretches of
wall and looked over their tops to the trees of the park and the far-off
gables and chimneys of the house, was to wonder where the entrance to
the place could be, and he decided that it must be on the side opposite
to the Clamart tram-line. He did not know the smaller roads hereabouts,
but he guessed that there must be one somewhere beyond, between the
route de Clamart and Fort d'Issy, and he was right. There is a little
road between the two; it sweeps round in a long curve and ends near the
tiny public garden in Issy, and it is called the rue Barbes.
His second thought was that this unkempt patch of tree and brush offered
excellent cover for any one who might wish to pass an observant hour
alongside that high stone wall; for any one who might desire to cast a
glance over the lie of the land, to see at closer range that house of
which so little could be seen from the route de Clamart, to look over
the wall's coping into park and garden.
The thought brought him to his feet with a leaping heart, and before he
realized that he had moved he found himself in the road beside the
halted tram. The conductor brushed past him, mounting to his place, and
from the platform beckoned, crying out:
"En voiture, Monsieur! En voiture!"
Again something within Ste. Marie that was not his conscious direction
acted for him, and he shook his head. The conductor gave two little
blasts upon his horn, the tram wheezed and moved forward. In a moment it
was on its way, swinging along at full speed toward the curve in the
line that bore to the left and dipped under the railway bridge. Ste.
Marie stood in the middle of that empty road, staring after it until it
had disappeared from view.
* * * * *
THE WALLS OF AEA
Ste. Marie had acted upon an impulse of which he was scarcely conscious
at all, and when he found himself standing alone in the road and
watching the Clamart tram disappear under the railway bridge he called
himself hard names and wondered what he was to do next. He looked before
and behind him, and there was no living soul in sight. He bent his eyes
again upon that unkempt patch of young trees and undergrowth, and once
more the thought forced itself to his brain that it would make excellent
cover for one who wished to observe a little--to reconnoitre.
He knew that it was the part of wisdom to turn his back upon this place,
to walk on to Clamart or return to Vanves and mount upon a
homeward-bound tram. He knew that it was the part of folly, of madness
even, to expose himself to possible discovery by some one within the
walled enclosure. What though no one there were able to recognize him,
still the sight of a man prowling about the walls, seeking to spy over
them, might excite an alarm that would lead to all sorts of undesirable
complications. Dimly Ste. Marie realized all this, and he tried to turn
his back and walk away, but the patch of little trees and shrubbery drew
him with an irresistible fascination. "Just a little look along that
unknown wall," he said to himself, "just the briefest of all brief
reconnaissances, the merest glance beyond the masking screen of wood
growth, so that in case of sudden future need he might have the lie of
the place clear in his mind;" for without any sound reason for it he was
somehow confident that this walled house and garden were to play an
important part in the rescue of Arthur Benham. It was once more a matter
of feeling. The rather womanlike intuition which had warned him that
O'Hara was concerned in young Benham's disappearance, and that the two
were not far from Paris, was again at work in him, and he trusted it as
he had done before.
He gave a little nod of determination, as one who, for good or ill,
casts a die, and he crossed the road. There was a deep ditch, and he had
to climb down into it and up its farther side, for it was too broad to
be jumped. So he came into the shelter of the young poplars and elms and
oaks. The underbrush caught at his clothes, and the dead leaves of past
seasons crackled underfoot; but after a little space he came to somewhat
clearer ground, though the saplings still stood thick about him and hid
He made his way inward along the wall, keeping a short distance back
from it, and he saw that after twenty or thirty yards it turned again at
a very obtuse angle away from him and once more ran on in a long
straight line. Just beyond this angle he came upon a little wooden door
thickly studded with nails. It was made to open inward, and on the
outside there was no knob or handle of any kind, only a large key-hole
of the simple, old-fashioned sort. Slipping up near to look, Ste. Marie
observed that the edges of the key-hole were rusty, but scratched a
little through the rust with recent marks; so the door, it seemed, was
sometimes used. He observed another thing. The ground near by was less
encumbered with trees than at any other point, and the turf was
depressed with many wheel marks--broad marks, such as are made only by
the wheels of a motor-car. He followed these tracks for a little
distance, and they wound in and out among the trees, and beyond the thin
fringe of wood swept away in a curve toward Issy, doubtless to join the
road which he had already imagined to lie somewhere beyond the
Beyond the more open space about this little door the young trees stood
thick together again, and Ste. Marie pressed cautiously on. He stopped
now and then to listen, and once he thought that he heard from within
the sound of a woman's laugh, but he could not be sure. The slight
change of direction had confused him a little, and he was uncertain as
to where the house lay. The wall was twelve or fifteen feet high, and
from the level of the ground he could, of course, see nothing over it
but tree tops. He went on for what may have been a hundred yards, but it
seemed to him very much more than that, and he came to a tall gnarled
cedar-tree which stood almost against the high wall. It was half dead,
but its twisted limbs were thick and strong, and by force of the tree's
cramped position they had grown in strange and grotesque forms. One of
them stretched across the very top of the stone wall, and with the
wind's action it had scraped away the coping of tiles and bottle-glass
and had made a little depression there to rest in.
Ste. Marie looked up along this natural ladder, and temptation smote him
sorely. It was so easy and so safe! There was enough foliage left upon
the half-dead tree to screen him well, but whether or no it is probable
that he would have yielded to the proffered lure. There seems to have
been more than chance in Ste. Marie's movements upon this day; there
seems to have been something like the hand of Fate in them--as doubtless
there is in most things, if one but knew.
He left his hat and stick behind him, under a shrub, and he began to
make his way up the half-bare branches of the gnarled cedar. They bore
him well, without crack or rustle, and the way was very easy. No ladder
made by man could have offered a much simpler ascent. So, mounting
slowly and with care, his head came level with the top of the wall. He
climbed to the next branch, a foot higher, and rested there. The
drooping foliage from the upper part of the cedar-tree, which was still
alive, hung down over him and cloaked him from view, but through its
aromatic screen he could see as freely as through the window curtain in
the rue d'Assas.
The house lay before him, a little to the left and perhaps a hundred
yards away. It was a disappointing house to find in that great
enclosure, for though it was certainly neither small nor trivial, it was
as certainly far from possessing anything like grandeur. It had been in
its day a respectable, unpretentious square structure of three stories,
entirely without architectural beauty, but also entirely without the
ornate hideousness of the modern villas along the route de Clamart. Now,
however, the stucco was gone in great patches from its stone walls,
giving them an unpleasantly diseased look, and long neglect of all
decent cares had lent the place the air almost of desertion. Anciently
the grounds before the house had been laid out in the formal fashion
with a terrace and geometrical lawns and a pool and a fountain and a
rather fine, long vista between clipped larches, but the same neglect
which had made shabby the stuccoed house had allowed grass and weeds to
grow over the gravel paths, underbrush to spring up and to encroach upon
the geometrical turf-plots, the long double row of clipped larches to
flourish at will or to die or to fall prostrate and lie where they had
So all the broad enclosure was a scene of heedless neglect, a riot of
unrestrained and wanton growth, where should have been decorous and
orderly beauty. It was a sight to bring tears to a gardener's eyes, but
it had a certain untamed charm of its own, for all that. The very riot
of it, the wanton prodigality of untouched natural growth, produced an
effect that was by no means all disagreeable.
An odd and whimsical thought came into Ste. Marie's mind that thus must
have looked the garden and park round the castle of the sleeping beauty
when the prince came to wake her.
But sleeping beauties and unkempt grounds went from him in a flash when
he became aware of a sound which was like the sound of voices.
Instinctively he drew farther back into the shelter of his aromatic
screen. His eyes swept the space below him from right to left, and could
see no one. So he sat very still, save for the thunderous beat of a
heart which seemed to him like drum-beats when soldiers are marching,
and he listened--"all ears," as the phrase goes.
The sound was in truth a sound of voices. He was presently assured of
that, but for some time he could not make out from which direction it
came. And so he was the more startled when quite suddenly there appeared
from behind a row of tall shrubs two young people moving slowly together
up the untrimmed turf in the direction of the house.
The two young people were Mlle. Coira O'Hara and Arthur Benham, and upon
the brow of this latter youth there was no sign of dungeon pallor, upon
his free-moving limbs no ball and chain. There was no apparent reason
why he should not hasten back to the eager arms in the rue de
l'Universite if he chose to--unless, indeed, his undissembling attitude
toward Mlle. Coira O'Hara might serve as a reason. The young man
followed at her heel with much the manner and somewhat the appearance of
a small dog humbly conscious of unworthiness, but hopeful nevertheless
of an occasional kind word or pat on the head.
The world wheeled multi-colored and kaleidoscopic before Ste. Marie's
eyes, and in his ears there was a rushing of great winds, but he set his
teeth and clung with all the strength he had to the tree which sheltered
him. His first feeling, after that initial giddiness, was anger, sheer
anger, a bewildered and astonished fury. He had thought to find this
poor youth in captivity, pining through prison bars for the home and the
loved ones and the familiar life from which he had been ruthlessly torn.
Yet here he was strolling in a suburban garden with a lady--free, free
as air, or so he seemed. Ste. Marie thought of the grim and sorrowful
old man in Paris who was sinking untimely into his grave because his
grandson did not return to him; he thought of that timid soul--more
shadow than woman--the boy's mother; he thought of Helen Benham's tragic
eyes, and he could have beaten young Arthur half to death in that moment
in the righteous rage that stormed within him.
But he turned his eyes from this wretched youth to the girl who walked
beside, a little in advance, and the rage died in him swiftly.
After all, was she not one to make any boy--or any man--forget duty,
home, friends, everything?
Rather oddly his mind flashed back to the morning and to the words of
the little photographer, Bernstein. Perhaps the Jew had put it as well
as any man could:
"She was a goddess, that lady, a queen of goddesses ... the young Juno
Ste. Marie nodded his head. Yes, she was just that. The little Jew had
spoken well. It could not be more fairly put--though without doubt it
could have been expressed at much greater length and with a great deal
more eloquence. The photographer's other words came also to his mind,
the more detailed description, and again he nodded his head, for this,
too, was true.
"She was all color--brown skin with a dull-red stain under the cheeks,
and a great mass of hair that was not black but very nearly
black--except in the sun, and then there were red lights in it."
It occurred to Ste. Marie, whimsically, that the two young people might
have stepped out of the door of Bernstein's studio straight into this
garden, judging from their bearing each to the other.
"Ah, a thing to touch the heart! Such devotion as that! Alas, that the
lady should seem so cold to it! ... Still, a goddess! What would you? A
queen among goddesses! ... One would not have them laugh and make little
jokes.... Make eyes at love-sick boys. No, indeed!"
Certainly Mlle. Coira O'Hara was not making eyes at the love-sick boy
who followed at her heel this afternoon. Perhaps it would be going too
far to say that she was cold to him, but it was very plain to see that
she was bored and weary, and that she wished she might be almost
anywhere else than where she was. She turned her beautiful face a little
toward the wall where Ste. Marie lay perdu, and he could see that her
eyes had the same dark fire, the same tragic look of appeal that he had
seen in them before--once in the Champs-Elysees and again in his dreams.
Abruptly he became aware that while he gazed, like a man in a trance,
the two young people walked on their way and were on the point of
passing beyond reach of eye or ear. He made a sudden involuntary
movement as if he would call them back, and for the first time his
faithful hiding-place, strained beyond silent endurance, betrayed him
with a loud rustle of shaken branches. Ste. Marie shrank back, his heart
in his throat. It was too late to retreat now down the tree. The damage
was already done. He saw the two young people halt and turn to look, and
after a moment he saw the boy come slowly forward, staring. He heard him
"What's up in that tree? There's something in the tree." And he heard
the girl answer: "It's only birds fighting. Don't bother!" But young
Arthur Benham came on, staring up curiously until he was almost under
the high wall.
Then Ste. Marie's strange madness, or the hand of Fate, or whatever
power it was which governed him on that day, thrust him on to the
ultimate pitch of recklessness. He bent forward from his insecure perch
over the wall until his head and shoulders were in plain sight, and he
called down to the lad below in a loud whisper:
The boy gave a sharp cry of alarm and began to back away. And after a
moment Ste. Marie heard the cry echoed from Coira O'Hara. He heard her
"Be careful! Be careful, Arthur! Come away! Oh, come away quickly!"
Ste. Marie raised his own voice to a sort of cry. He said:
"Wait! I tell you to wait, Benham! I must have a word with you. I come
from your family--from Helen!"
To his amazement the lad turned about and began to run toward where the
girl stood waiting; and so, without a moment's hesitation, Ste. Marie
threw himself across the top of the wall, hung for an instant by his
hands, and dropped upon the soft turf. Scarcely waiting to recover his
balance, he stumbled forward, shouting:
"Wait! I tell you, wait! Are you mad? Wait, I say! Listen to me!"
Vaguely, in the midst of his great excitement, he had heard a whistle
sound as he dropped inside the wall. He did not know then whence the
shrill call had come, but afterward he knew that Coira O' Hara had blown
it. And now, as he ran forward toward the two who stood at a distance
staring at him, he heard other steps and he slackened his pace to look.
A man came running down among the black-boled trees, a strange, squat,
gnomelike man whose gait was as uncouth as his dwarfish figure. He held
something in his two hands as he ran, and when he came near he threw
this thing with a swift movement up before him, but he did not pause in
his odd, scrambling run.
Ste. Marie felt a violent blow upon his left leg between hip and knee.
He thought that somebody had crept up behind him and struck him; but as
he whirled about he saw that there was no one there, and then he heard a
noise and knew that the gnomelike running man had shot him. He faced
about once more toward the two young people. He was very angry and he
wished to say so, and very much he wished to explain why he had
trespassed there, and why they had no right to shoot him as if he were
some wretched thief. But he found that in some quite absurd fashion he
was as if fixed to the ground. It was as if he had suddenly become of
the most ponderous and incredible weight, like lead--or that other
metal, not gold, which is the heaviest of all. Only the metal,
seemingly, was not only heavy but fiery hot, and his strength was
incapable of holding it up any longer. His eyes fixed themselves in a
bewildered stare upon the figure of Mlle. Coira O'Hara; he had time to
observe that she had put up her two hands over her face, then he fell
down forward, his head struck something very hard, and he knew no more.
* * * * *
A CONVERSATION AT LA LIERRE
Captain Stewart walked nervously up and down the small inner
drawing-room at La Lierre, his restless hands fumbling together behind
him, and his eyes turning every half-minute with a sharp eagerness to
the closed door. But at last, as if he were very tired, he threw himself
down in a chair which stood near one of the windows, and all his tense
body seemed to relax in utter exhaustion. It was not a very comfortable
chair that he had sat down in, but there were no comfortable chairs in
the room--nor, for that matter, in all the house. When he had taken the
place, about two months before this time, he had taken it furnished, but
that does not mean very much in France. No French country-houses--or
town-houses, either--are in the least comfortable, by Anglo-Saxon
standards, and that is at least one excellent reason why Frenchmen spend
just as little time in them as they possibly can. Half the cafes in
Paris would promptly put up their shutters if Parisian homes could all
at once turn themselves into something like English or American ones. As
for La Lierre, it was even more dreary and bare and tomblike than other
country-houses, because it was, after all, a sort of ruin, and had not
been lived in for fifteen years, save by an ancient caretaker and his
nearly as ancient wife. And that was, perhaps, why it could be taken on
a short lease at such a very low price.
The room in which Captain Stewart sat was behind the large drawing-room,
which was always kept closed now, and it looked out by one window to the
west, and by two windows to the north, over a corner of the kitchen
garden and a vista of trees beyond. It was a high-ceiled room with walls
bare except for two large mirrors in the Empire fashion, which stared at
each other across the way with dull and flaking eyes. Under each of
these stood a heavy gilt and ebony console with a top of
chocolate-colored marble, and in the centre of the room there was a
table of a like fashion to the consoles. Further than this there was
nothing save three chairs, upon one of which lay Captain Stewart's
dust-coat and motoring cap and goggles.
A shaft of golden light from the low sun slanted into the place through
the western window from which the Venetians had been pulled back, and
fell across the face of the man who lay still and lax in his chair, eyes
closed and chin dropped a little so that his mouth hung weakly open. He
looked very ill, as, indeed, any one might look after such an attack as
he had suffered on the night previous. That one long moment of deathly
fear before he had fallen down in a fit had nearly killed him. All
through this following day it had continued to recur until he thought he
should go mad. And there was worse still. How much did Olga Nilssen
know? And how much had she told? She had astonished and frightened him
when she had said that she knew about the house on the road to Clamart,
for he thought he had hidden his visits to La Lierre well. He wondered
rather drearily how she had discovered them, and he wondered how much
she knew more than she had admitted. He had a half-suspicion of
something like the truth, that Mlle. Nilssen knew only of Coira O'Hara's
presence here, and drew a rather natural inference. If that was all,
there was no danger from her--no more, that is, than had already borne
its fruit, for Stewart knew well enough that Ste. Marie must have
learned of the place from her. In any case Olga Nilssen had left
Paris--he had discovered that fact during the day--and so for the
present she might be eliminated as a source of peril.
The man in the chair gave a little groan and rolled his head wearily to
and fro against the uncomfortable chair-back, for now he came to the
real and immediate danger, and he was so very tired and ill, and his
head ached so sickeningly that it was almost beyond him to bring himself
face to face with it.
There was the man who lay helpless upon a bed up-stairs! And there were
the man's friends, who were not at all helpless or bedridden or in
A wave of almost intolerable pain swept through Stewart's aching head,
and he gave another groan which was almost like a child's sob. But at
just that moment the door which led into the central hall opened, and
the Irishman O'Hara came into the room. Captain Stewart sprang to his
feet to meet him, and he caught the other man by the arm in his
"How is he?" he cried out. "How is he? How badly was he hurt?"
"The patient?" said O'Hara. "Let go my arm! Hang it, man, you're
pinching me! Oh, he'll do well enough. He'll be fit to hobble about in a
week or ten days. The bullet went clean through his leg and out again
without cutting an artery. It was a sort of miracle--and a damned lucky
miracle for all hands, too! If we'd had a splintered bone or a severed
artery to deal with I should have had to call in a doctor. Then the
fellow would have talked, and there'd have been the devil to pay. As it
is, I shall be able to manage well enough with my own small skill. I've
dressed worse wounds than that in my time. By Jove, it was a miracle,
though!" A sudden little gust of rage swept him. He cried out: "That
confounded fool of a gardener, that one-eyed Michel, ought to be beaten
to death. Why couldn't he have slipped up behind this fellow and knocked
him on the head, instead of shooting him from ten paces away? The
benighted idiot! He came near upsetting the whole boat!"
"Yes," said Captain Stewart, with a sharp, hard breath, "he should have
shot straighter or not at all."
The Irishman stared at him with his bright blue eyes, and after a moment
he gave a short laugh.
"Jove, you're a bloodthirsty beggar, Stewart!" said he. "That would have
been a rum go, if you like! Killing the fellow! All his friends down on
us like hawks, and the police and all that! You can't go about killing
people in the outskirts of Paris, you know--at least not people with
friends. And this chap looks like a gentleman, more or less, so I take
it he has friends. As a matter of fact, his face is rather familiar. I
think I've seen him before, somewhere. You looked at him just now
through the crack of the door; do you know who he is? Coira tells me he
called out to Arthur by name, but Arthur says he never saw him before
and doesn't know him at all."
Captain Stewart shivered. It had not been a pleasant moment for him,
that moment when he had looked through the crack of the door and
recognized Ste. Marie.
"Yes," he said, half under his breath--"yes, I know who he is. A friend
of the family."
The Irishman's lips puckered to a low whistle. He said:
"Spying, then, as I thought. He has run us to earth."
And the other nodded. O'Hara took a turn across the room and back.
"In that case," he said, presently--"in that case, then, we must keep
him prisoner here so long as we remain. That's certain." He spun round
sharply with an exclamation. "Look here!" he cried, in a lower tone,
"how about this fellow's friends? It isn't likely he's doing his dirty
work alone. How about his friends, when he doesn't turn up to-night? If
they know he was coming here to spy on us; if they know where the place
is; if they know, in short, what he seems to have known, we're done for.
We'll have to run, get out, disappear. Hang it, man, d'you understand?
We're not safe here for an hour."
Captain Stewart's hands shook a little as he gripped them together
behind him, and a dew of perspiration stood out suddenly upon his
forehead and cheek-bones, but his voice, when he spoke, was well under
"It's an odd thing," said he--"another miracle, if you like--but I
believe we are safe--reasonably safe. I--have reason to think that this
fellow learned about La Lierre only last evening from some one who left
Paris to-day to be gone a long time. And I also have reason to believe
that the fellow has not seen the one friend who is in his confidence,
since he obtained his information. By chance I met the friend, the other
man, in the street this afternoon. I asked after this fellow whom we
have here, and the friend said he hadn't seen him for twenty-four
hours--was going to see him to-night."
"By the Lord!" cried the Irishman, with a great laugh of relief. "What
luck! What monumental luck! If all that's true, we're safe. Why, man,
we're as safe as a fox in his hole. The lad's friends won't have the
ghost of an idea of where he's gone to.... Wait, though! Stop a bit! He
won't have left written word behind him, eh? He won't have done
"I think not," said Captain Stewart, but he breathed hard, for he knew
well enough that there lay the gravest danger. "I think not," he said
He made a rather surprisingly accurate guess at the truth--that Ste.
Marie had started out upon impulse, without intending more than a
general reconnaissance, and therefore without leaving any word behind
him. Still, the shadow of danger uplifted itself before the man and he
was afraid. A sudden gust of weak anger shook him like a wind.
"In Heaven's name," he cried, shrilly, "why didn't that one-eyed fool
kill the fellow while he was about it? There's danger for us every
moment while he is alive here. Why didn't that shambling idiot kill
Captain Stewart's outflung hand jumped and trembled and his face was
twisted into a sort of grinning snarl. He looked like an angry and
wicked cat, the other man thought.
"If I weren't an over-civilized fool," he said, viciously, "I'd go
up-stairs and kill him now with my hands while he can't help himself.
We're all too scrupulous by half."
The Irishman stared at him and presently broke into amazed laughter.
"Scrupulous!" said he. "Well, yes, I'm too scrupulous to murder a man in
his bed, if you like. I'm not squeamish, but--Good Lord!"
"Do you realize," demanded Captain Stewart, "what risks we run while
that fellow is alive--knowing what he knows?"
"Oh yes, I realize that," said O'Hara. "But I don't see why _you_ should
have heart failure over it."
Captain Stewart's pale lips drew back again in their catlike fashion.
"Never mind about me," he said. "But I can't help thinking you're
peculiarly indifferent in the face of danger."
"No, I'm not!" said the Irishman, quickly. "No, I'm not. Don't you run
away with that idea! I merely said," he went oh--"I merely said that I'd
stop short of murder. I don't set any foolish value on life--my own or
any other. I've had to take life more than once, but it was in fair
fight or in self-defence, and I don't regret it. It was your coldblooded
joke about going up-stairs and killing this chap in his bed that put me
on edge. Naturally I know you didn't mean it. Don't you go thinking that
I'm lukewarm or that I'm indifferent to danger. I know there's danger
from this lad up-stairs, and I mean to be on guard against it. He stays
here under strict guard until--what we're after is accomplished--until
young Arthur comes of age. If there's danger," said he, "why, we know
where it lies, and we can guard against it. That kind of danger is not
very formidable. The dangerous dangers are the ones that you don't know
about--the hidden ones."
He came forward a little, and his lean face was as hard and as impassive
as ever, and the bright blue eyes shone from it steady and unwinking.
Stewart looked up to him with a sort of peevish resentment at the man's
confidence and cool poise. It was an odd reversal of their ordinary
relations. For the hour the duller villain, the man who was wont to take
orders and to refrain from overmuch thought or question, seemed to have
become master. Sheer physical exhaustion and the constant maddening pain
had had their will of Captain Stewart. A sudden shiver wrung him so that
his dry fingers rattled against the wood of the chair-arms.
"All the same," he cried, "I'm afraid. I've been confident enough until
now. Now I'm afraid. I wish the fellow had been killed."
"Kill him, then!" laughed the Irishman. "I won't give you up to the
He crossed the room to the door, but halted short of it and turned about
again, and he looked back very curiously at the man who sat crouched in
his chair by the window. It had occurred to him several times that
Stewart was very unlike himself. The man was quite evidently tired and
ill, and that might account for some of the nervousness, but this fierce
malignity was something a little beyond O'Hara's comprehension. It
seemed to him that the elder man had the air of one frightened beyond
the point the circumstances warranted.
"Are you going back to town," he asked, "or do you mean to stay the
"I shall stay the night," Stewart said. "I'm too tired to bear the
ride." He glanced up and caught the other's eyes fixed upon him. "Well!"
he cried, angrily. "What is it? What are you looking at me like that
for? What do you want?"
"I want nothing," said the Irishman, a little sharply. "And I wasn't
aware that I'd been looking at you in any unusual way. You're precious
jumpy to-day, if you want to know.... Look here!" He came back a step,
frowning. "Look here!" he repeated. "I don't quite make you out. Are you
keeping back anything? Because if you are, for Heaven's sake have it out
here and now! We're all in this game together, and we can't afford to be
anything but frank with one another. We can't afford to make
reservations. It's altogether too dangerous for everybody. You're too
much frightened. There's no apparent reason for being so frightened as
Captain Stewart drew a long breath between closed teeth, and afterward
he looked up at the younger man coldly.
"We need not discuss my personal feelings, I think," said he. "They have
no--no bearing on the point at issue. As you say, we are all in this
thing together, and you need not fear that I shall fail to do my part,
as I have done it in the past.... That's all, I believe."
"Oh, _as_ you like! As you like!" said the Irishman, in the tone of one
rebuffed. He turned again and left the room, closing the door behind
him. Outside on the stairs it occurred to him that he had forgotten to
ask the other man what this fellow's name was--the fellow who lay
wounded up-stairs. No, he had asked once, but in the interest of the
conversation the question had been lost. He determined to inquire again
that evening at dinner.
But Captain Stewart, left thus alone, sank deeper in the uncomfortable
chair, and his head once more stirred and sought vainly for ease against
the chair's high back. The pain swept him in regular throbbing waves
that were like the waves of the sea--waves which surge and crash and
tear upon a beach. But between the throbs of physical pain there was
something else that was always present while the waves came and went.
Pain and exhaustion, if they are sufficiently extreme, can well nigh
paralyze mind as well as body, and for some time Captain Stewart
wondered what this thing might be which lurked at the bottom of him
still under the surges of agony. Then at last he had the strength to
look at it, and it was fear, cold and still and silent. He was afraid to
the very depths of his soul.
True, as O'Hara had said, there did not seem to be any very desperate
peril to face, but Stewart was afraid with the gambler's unreasoning,
half-superstitious fear, and that is the worst fear of all. He realized
that he had been afraid of Ste. Marie from the beginning, and that, of
course, was why he had tried to draw him into partnership with himself
in his own official and wholly mythical search for Arthur Benham. He
could have had the other man under his eye then. He could have kept him
busy for months running down false scents. As it was, Ste. Marie's
uncanny instinct about the Irishman O'Hara had led him true--that and
what he doubtless learned from Olga Nilssen.
If Stewart had been in a condition and mood to philosophize, he would
doubtless have reflected that seven-tenths of the desperate causes, both
good and bad, which fail in this world, fail because they are wrecked by
some woman's love or jealousy--or both. But it is unlikely that he was
able just at this time to make such a reflection, though certainly he
wondered how much Olga Nilssen had known, and how much Ste. Marie had
had to put together out of her knowledge and any previous suspicions
which he may have had.
The man would have been amazed if he could have known what a mountain of
information and evidence had piled itself up over his head all in twelve
hours. He would have been amazed and, if possible, even more frightened
than he was, but he was without question sufficiently frightened, for
here was Ste. Marie in the very house, he had seen Arthur Benham, and
quite obviously he knew all there was to know, or at least enough to
ruin Arthur Benham's uncle beyond all recovery or hope of
Captain Stewart tried to think what it would mean to him--failure in
this desperate scheme--but he had not the strength or the courage. He
shrank from the picture as one shrinks from something horrible in a bad
dream. There could be no question of failure. He had to succeed at any
cost, however desperate or fantastic. Once more the spasm of childish,
futile rage swept over him and shook him like a wind.
"Why couldn't the fellow have been killed by that one-eyed fool?" he
cried, sobbing. "Why couldn't he have been killed? He's the only one who
knows--the only thing in the way. Why couldn't he have keen killed?"
Quite suddenly Captain Stewart ceased to sob and shiver, and sat still
in his chair, gripping the arms with white and tense fingers. His eyes
began to widen, and they became fixed in a long, strange stare. He drew
a deep breath.
"I wonder!" he said, aloud. "I wonder, now."
* * * * *
THE BLACK CAT
That providential stone or tree-root, or whatever it may have been,
proved a genuine blessing in disguise to Ste. Marie. It gave him a
splitting headache for a few hours, but it saved him a good deal of
discomfort the while his bullet wound was being more or less probed and
very skilfully cleansed and dressed by O'Hara. For he did not regain
consciousness until this surgical work was almost at its end, and then
he wanted to fight the Irishman for tying the bandages too tight.
But when O'Hara had gone away and left him alone he lay still--or as
still as the smarting, burning pain in his leg and the ache in his head
would let him--and stared at the wall beyond his bed, and bit by bit the
events of the past hour came back to him, and he knew where he was. He
cursed himself very bitterly, as he well might do, for a bungling idiot.
The whole thing had been in his hands, he said, with perfect
truth--Arthur Benham's whereabouts proved Stewart's responsibility or,
at the very least, complicity and the sordid motive therefor.
Remained--had Ste. Marie been a sane being instead of an impulsive
fool--remained but to face Stewart down in the presence of witnesses,
threaten him with exposure, and so, with perfect ease, bring back the
lost boy in triumph to his family.
It should all have been so simple, so easy, so effortless! Yet now it
was ruined by a moment's rash folly, and Heaven alone knew what would
come of it. He remembered that he had left behind him no indication
whatever of where he meant to spend the afternoon. Hartley would come
hurrying across town that evening to the rue d'Assas, and would find no
one there to receive him. He would wait and wait, and at last go home.
He would come again on the next morning, and then he would begin to be
alarmed and would start a second search--but with what to reckon by?
Nobody knew about the house on the road to Clamart but Mlle. Olga
Nilssen, and she was far away.
He thought of Captain Stewart, and he wondered if that gentleman was by
any chance here in the house, or if he was still in bed in the rue du
Faubourg St. Honore, recovering from his epileptic fit.
After that he fell once more to cursing himself and his incredible
stupidity, and he could have wept for sheer bitterness of chagrin.
He was still engaged in this unpleasant occupation when the door of the
room opened and the Irishman O'Hara entered, having finished his
interview with Captain Stewart below. He came up beside the bed and
looked down not unkindly upon the man who lay there, but Ste. Marie
scowled back at him, for he was in a good deal of pain and a vile humor.
"How's the leg--_and_ the head?" asked the amateur surgeon. To do him
justice, he was very skilful, indeed, through much experience.
"They hurt," said Ste. Marie, shortly. "My head aches like the devil,
and my leg burns."
O'Hara made a sound which was rather like a gruff laugh, and nodded.
"Yes, and they'll go on doing it, too," said he. "At least the leg will.
Your head will be all right again in a day or so. Do you want anything
to eat? It's near dinner-time. I suppose we can't let you starve--though
you deserve it."
"Thanks; I want nothing," said Ste. Marie. "Pray don't trouble about
The other man nodded again indifferently and turned to go out of the
room, but in the doorway he halted and looked back.
"As we're to have the pleasure of your company for some time to come,"
said he, "you might suggest a name to call you by. Of course I don't
expect you to tell your own name--though I can learn that easily
"Easily enough, to be sure," said the man on the bed. "Ask Stewart. He
knows only too well."
The Irishman scowled. And after a moment he said:
"I don't know any Stewart."
But at that Ste. Marie gave a laugh, and a tinge of red came over the
"And so, to save Captain Stewart the trouble," continued the wounded
man, "I'll tell you my name with pleasure. I don't know why I shouldn't.
It's Ste. Marie."
"What?" cried O'Hara, hoarsely. "What? Say that again!"
He came forward a swift step or two into the room, and he stared at the
man on the bed as if he were staring at a ghost.
"Ste. Marie?" he cried, in a whisper. "It's impossible! What are you,"
he demanded, "to Gilles, Comte de Ste. Marie de Mont-Perdu? What are you
"He was my father," said the younger man; "but he is dead. He has been
dead for ten years."
He raised his head, with a little grimace of pain, to look curiously
after the Irishman, who had all at once turned away across the room and
stood still beside a window with bent head.
"Why?" he questioned. "What about my father? Why did you ask that?"
O'Hara did not answer at once, and he did not stir from his place by the
window, but after a while he said:
"I knew him.... That's all."
And after another space he came back beside the bed, and once more
looked down upon the young man who lay there. His face was veiled,
inscrutable. It betrayed nothing.
"You have a look of your father," said he. "That was what puzzled me a
little. I was just saying to--I was just thinking that there was
something familiar about you.... Ah, well, we've all come down in the
world since then. The Ste. Marie blood, though. Who'd have thought it?"
The man shook his head a little sorrowfully, but Ste. Marie stared up at
him in frowning incomprehension. The pain had dulled him somewhat. And
presently O'Hara again moved toward the door. On the way he said:
"I'll bring or send you something to eat--not too much. And later on
I'll give you a sleeping-powder. With that head of yours you may have
trouble in getting to sleep. Understand, I'm doing this for your
father's son, and not because you've any right yourself to
Ste. Marie raised himself with difficulty on one elbow.
"Wait!" said he. "Wait a moment!" and the other halted just inside the
door. "You seem to have known my father," said Ste. Marie, "and to have
respected him. For my father's sake, will you listen to me for five
"No, I won't," said the Irishman, sharply. "So you may as well hold your
tongue. Nothing you can say to me or to any one in this house will have
the slightest effect. We know what you came spying here for. We know all
"Yes," said Ste. Marie, with a little sigh, and he fell back upon the
pillows. "Yes, I suppose you do. I was rather a fool to speak. You
wouldn't all be doing what you're doing if words could affect you. I was
a fool to speak."
The Irishman stared at him for another moment, and went out of the room,
closing the door behind him.
So he was left once more alone to his pain and his bitter
self-reproaches and his wild and futile plans for escape. But O'Hara
returned in an hour or thereabout with food for him--a cup of broth and
a slice of bread; and when Ste. Marie had eaten these the Irishman
looked once more to his wounded leg, and gave him a sleeping-powder
dissolved in water.
He lay restless and wide-eyed for an hour, and then drifted away through
intermediate mists into a sleep full of horrible dreams, but it was at
least relief from bodily suffering, and when he awoke in the morning his
headache was almost gone.
He awoke to sunshine and fresh, sweet odors and the twittering of birds.
By good chance O'Hara had been the last to enter the room on the evening
before, and so no one had come to close the shutters or draw the blinds.
The windows were open wide, and the morning breeze, very soft and
aromatic, blew in and out and filled the place with sweetness. The room
was a corner room, with windows that looked south and east, and the
early sun slanted in and lay in golden squares across the floor.
Ste. Marie opened his eyes with none of the dazed bewilderment that he
might have expected. The events of the preceding day came back to him
instantly and without shock. He put up an experimental hand, and found
that his head was still very sore where he had struck it in falling, but
the ache was almost gone. He tried to stir his leg, and a protesting
pain shot through it. It burned dully, even when it was quiet, but the
pain was not at all severe. He realized that he was to get off rather
well, considering what might have happened, and he was so grateful for
this that he almost forgot to be angry with himself over his monumental
A small bird chased by another wheeled in through the southern window
and back again into free air. Finally, the two settled down upon the
parapet of the little shallow balcony which was there to have their
disagreement out, and they talked it over with a great deal of noise and
many threatening gestures and a complete loss of temper on both sides.
Ste. Marie, from his bed, cheered them on, but there came a commotion in
the ivy which draped the wall below, and the two birds fled in
ignominious haste, and just in the nick of time, for when the cause of
the commotion shot into view it was a large black cat, of great bodily
activity and an ardent single-heartedness of aim.
The black cat gazed for a moment resentfully after its vanished prey,
and then composed its sleek body upon the iron rail, tail and paws
tucked neatly under. Ste. Marie chirruped, and the cat turned yellow
eyes upon him in mild astonishment, as one who should say, "Who the
deuce are you, and what the deuce are you doing here?" He chirruped
again, and the cat, after an ostentatious yawn and stretch, came to
him--beating up to windward, as it were, and making the bed in three
tacks. When O'Hara entered the room some time later he found his patient
in a very cheerful frame of mind, and the black cat sitting on his chest
purring like a dynamo and kneading like an industrious baker.
"Ho," said the Irishman, "you seem to have found a friend!"
"Well, I need one friend here," argued Ste. Marie. "I'm in the enemy's
stronghold. You needn't be alarmed; the cat can't tell me anything, and
it can't help me to escape. It can only sit on me and purr. That's
O'Hara began one of his gruff laughs, but he seemed to remember himself
in the middle of it and assumed an intimidating scowl instead.
"How's the leg?" he demanded, shortly. "Let me see it." He took off the
bandages and cleansed and sprayed the wound with some antiseptic liquid
that he had brought in a bottle. "There's a little fever," said he, "but
that can't be avoided. You're going on very well--a good deal better
than you'd any right to expect." He had to inflict not a little pain in
his examination and redressing of the wound. He knew that, and once or
twice he glanced up at Ste. Marie's face with a sort of reluctant
admiration for the man who could bear so much without any sign whatever.
In the end he put together his things and nodded with professional
satisfaction. "You'll do well enough now for the rest of the day," he
said. "I'll send up old Michel to valet you. He's the gardener who shot
you yesterday, and he may take it into his head to finish the job this
morning. If he does I sha'n't try to stop him."
"Nor I," said Ste. Marie. "Thanks very much for your trouble. An