Part 3 out of 4
"I am very sorry to hear this news about Jules," he began quickly. "I hope
you are not really anxious about him?"
Madame Poulain stared at him fixedly, reproachfully. "It is all this
affair," she said with a heavy sigh. "If it had only been the police, our
own police, we should not have minded, Monsieur le Sénateur--we are honest
people--we have nothing to fear from the police," she lifted her head
proudly. "But when it came to that impudent young man--"
For a moment the Senator was at a loss--then he suddenly remembered:--"You
mean the gentleman attached to the British Consulate?" he said
uncomfortably. And as she nodded her head, "But surely it was quite
reasonable that he should come and ask those questions. You must remember
that both Mr. and Mrs. Dampier are English people. They have a right to the
protection and help of their Consulate."
"I do not say to the contrary, monsieur. I am only telling you the truth,
namely that that English lawyer--for lawyer I suppose he was--terrified
Jules. And had it not been that I and my husband are conscious of--of our
innocence, Monsieur le Sénateur, he would have terrified us also. Then your
son attacked Jules too. Surely the matter might have been left to the
police--our own excellent police."
"I am glad you feel as you do about the police," said the Senator
earnestly, "for as a matter of fact the Prefect of Police, whom I have just
been consulting about Mr. Dampier's disappearance, suggests that the Hôtel
Saint Ange be searched."
"Searched?" exclaimed Monsieur Poulain, staring at the Senator.
"Searched?" shrieked Madame Poulain indignantly.
"Yes," said Senator Burton quietly, and trying to speak as if a police
Perquisition of a respectable hotel was the most ordinary thing in the
world. "They are sending their men at eleven to-morrow morning. Let me add
that they and Mrs. Dampier are most eager to study your convenience in
every way. They would doubtless choose another time should eleven o'clock
be inconvenient to you."
Madame Poulain was now speechless with indignation, and yes, with surprise.
When at last she did speak, her voice trembled with pain and anger.
"To think," she said, turning to her husband, and taking for the moment no
notice of her American client--"to think that you and I, Poulain, after
having lived here for twenty-one years and a half, should have our hotel
searched by the police--as if it were the resort of brigands!" She turned
to the Senator, and quietly, not without a measure of dignity, went
on:--"And to think that it is you, Monsieur le Sénateur, who we have always
thought one of our best patrons, who have brought this indignity upon us!"
"I am very, very sorry for all the trouble you are having about this
affair," said Senator Burton earnestly. "And Madame Poulain? I want to
assure you how entirely I have always believed your statement concerning
this strange business."
"If that is so then why all this--this trouble, Monsieur le Sénateur?"
Husband and wife spoke simultaneously.
"I wonder," exclaimed the Senator, "that you can ask me such a question! I
quite admit that the first twenty-four hours I knew nothing of this
unfortunate young woman whose cause I championed. But now, Madame Poulain,
I have learnt that all she told me of herself is true. Remember she has
never faltered in the statement that she came here accompanied by her
husband. I, as you know," he lowered his voice, "suppose that in so
thinking she is suffering from a delusion. But you cannot expect my view to
be shared by those who know her well and who are strangers to you. As I
told you only this morning, we hope that towards the end of this week Mrs.
Dampier's lawyer will arrive from England."
"But what will happen then?" cried Madame Poulain, throwing up her hands
with an excited, passionate gesture. "When will this persecution come to an
end? We have done everything we could; we have submitted to odious
interrogatories, first from one and then from the other--and now our hotel
is to be searched! None of our other clients, and remember the hotel is
full, Monsieur le Sénateur, have a suspicion of what is going on, but any
moment the affair may become public, and then--then our hotel might empty
in a day! Oh, Monsieur le Sénateur"--she clasped her hands together--"If
you refuse to think of us, think of our child, think of poor little
"Come, come, Madame Poulain!"
The Senator turned to the good woman's husband, but Poulain's usually
placid face bore a look of lowering rage. The mention of his idolised
daughter had roused his distress as well as anger.
"Now, Poulain, do tell your wife that there is really nothing to worry
about. The police speak of you both in the very highest terms! As to the
search that will take place to-morrow, it is the merest formality."
"I hope, monsieur, that you will do us the honour of being present," said
Madame Poulain quickly. "We have nothing to hide, and we should far prefer
you to be there."
"If such is your wish I will certainly be present," said Senator Burton
And then, as he walked away to the escalier d'honneur, he told himself that
on the whole the poor Poulains had taken his disagreeable piece of news
very well. Gerald was not showing his usual sense over this business: he
had let his sympathies run away with him. But the Senator loved his son all
the better for his chivalrous interest in poor Mrs. Dampier. It wasn't
every young man who would have put everything aside in the way of interest,
of amusement, and of pleasure in such a city as Paris, for the sake of an
As to Gerald's view of the Poulains, that again was natural. He didn't know
these people with the same kindly knowledge the Senator and Daisy had of
them. Gerald had been at college, and later working hard in the office of
America's greatest living architect, at the time the Senator and his
daughter had spent a whole winter at the Hôtel Saint Ange.
It was natural that the young man should take Mrs. Dampier's word instead
of the hotel-keepers'. But even so, how extraordinary was the utter
divergence between the two accounts of what had happened!
For the hundredth time Senator Burton asked himself where the truth lay.
A sad change had come over Nancy Dampier in the three long days. She could
not sleep, and they had to force her to eat. The interrogatories to which
she had had to submit, first from one and then from another, had worn her
out. When going over her story with the Consular official, she had suddenly
faltered, and putting her hand to her head with a bewildered gesture, "I
can't remember," she had said, looking round piteously at the Senator, "I
And he asked himself now whether those three words did not embody more of
the truth than the poor girl would admit. Had she ever really remembered
what had happened on that first evening of her arrival in Paris?
Such were Senator Burton's disconnected and troubled thoughts as, leaving
the perturbed hotel-keepers, he slowly went to join his children and
To his relief, neither Daisy nor Nancy were in the salon, and his thoughts
were pleasantly forced into another channel, for on the table lay a cable
from some people called Hamworth, Mr. Hamworth was one of the Senator's
oldest friends: also there was a pretty clever daughter who had always
shown a rather special liking for Gerald....
The Hamworths were arriving in Paris at ten the next morning, and they
asked the Senator and his children to join them at lunch at Bignon's.
Mingling with a natural pleasure at the thought of seeing old friends, and
of getting away from all this painful business for a short time, was added
a secret satisfaction at the thought that he would thus escape being
present at the search of the Hôtel Saint Ange.
"I suppose we ought to start in about half an hour," said the Senator
genially. They were sitting, he and Gerald, at breakfast.
Madame Poulain, with the adaptability of her kind--the adaptability which
makes the French innkeeper the best in the world, always served a real
"American breakfast" in the Burtons' salon.
As his son made no answer to his remark, he went on, "I should like to be
at the station a few minutes before the Hamworths' train is due."
Senator Burton was sorry, very, very sorry indeed, that there was still no
news of the missing man, on this third morning of Dampier's disappearance.
But he could not help feeling glad that poor little Mrs. Dampier had stayed
in bed; thanks to that fact he and his children were having breakfast
together, in the old, comfortable way.
The Senator felt happier than he had felt for some time. What a comfort it
would be, even to Gerald and to Daisy, to forget for a moment this strange,
painful affair, and to spend three or four hours with old friends!
Gerald looked up. "I'm not coming, father. You will have to make my
apologies to the Hamworths. Of course I should have liked to see them. But
Mrs. Dampier has asked me to be present at the search. Someone ought, of
course, to be there to represent her." He jerked the words out with a touch
of defiance in his voice.
"I'm sorry she did that," said the Senator coldly. "And I think, Gerald,
you should have consulted me before consenting to do so. You see, our
position with regard to the Poulains is a delicate one--"
"Delicate?" repeated Gerald quickly. "How do you mean, father?"
"We have known these people a long while. It is fifteen years, Gerald,
since I first came to this hotel with your dear mother. I have received
nothing but kindness from Madame Poulain, and I am very, very sorry that
she now associates us in her mind with this painful business."
"All I can say is, sir, that I do not share your sorrow."
The Senator looked up quickly. This was the first time--yes, the very first
time that Gerald had ever spoken to him with that touch of sarcasm--some
would have said impertinence--which sits so ill on the young, at any rate
in the view of the old. Perhaps Gerald repented of his rude, hasty words,
for it was in a very different tone that he went on:--
"You see, father, I believe the whole of Mrs. Dampier's story, and you only
believe a part. If I shared your view I should think very ill of her
indeed. But you, father (I don't quite know how you do it) manage to like
and respect her, and to believe the Poulains as well!"
"Yes," said the Senator slowly, "that is so, Gerald. I believe that the
Poulains are telling the truth, and that this poor young woman thinks she
is telling the truth--two very different things, my boy, as you will find
out by the time you know as much of human nature as I now do. When you have
lived as long as I have lived in the world, you will know that many people
have an extraordinary power of persuading themselves of that which
"But why--" asked Gerald eagerly,--"why should Mrs. Dampier wish to prove
that her husband accompanied her here if he did nothing of the kind?"
And then just as he asked the question which the Senator would not have
found it very easy to answer, Daisy came into the room.
"I have persuaded Mrs. Dampier to stay in bed till the search is over.
She's just worn out, poor little dear: I shall be glad when this Mr.
Stephens has arrived--she evidently has the greatest faith in him."
"I shall be glad too," said the Senator slowly: how glad he would be
neither of his children knew or guessed. "And now, Daisy, I hope you won't
be long in getting ready to start for the station. I should be sorry indeed
if the Hamworths' train came in before we reached there."
"Father! Surely you don't want me to leave Nancy this morning of all
mornings? She ought not to be alone while the search is going on. She
wanted to be actually present at it, didn't she, Gerald?"
The young man nodded. "Yes, but Daisy and I persuaded her that that was not
necessary, that I would be there for her. It seems that Mr. Dampier had a
very large portmanteau with him. She is sure that the Poulains have got it
"She has told Gerald exactly what it is like," chimed in Daisy.
The Senator looked from one to the other: he felt both helpless and
indignant. "The Hamworths are among the oldest friends we have in the
world," he exclaimed. "Surely one of you will come with me? I'm not asking
you to leave Mrs. Dampier for long, Daisy."
But Daisy shook her head decidedly. "I'd rather not, father--I don't feel
as if I wanted to see the Hamworths at all just now. I'm sure that when you
explain everything to them, they will understand."
Utterly discomfited and disappointed, and feeling for the first time really
angry with poor Nancy Dampier, Senator Burton took his departure for the
To the French imagination there is something terrifying in the very word.
And this justifiable terror is a national tradition. To thousands of honest
folk a Perquisition was an ever present fear through the old Régime, and
this fear became acute terror in the Revolution. Then a search warrant
meant almost certainly subsequent arrest, imprisonment, and death.
Even nowadays every Frenchman is aware that at any moment, and sometimes on
the most frivolous pretext, his house may be searched, his most private
papers ransacked, and every member of his household submitted to a sharp,
informal interrogation, while he stands helpless by, bearing the outrage
with what grace he may.
Gerald Burton, much as he now disliked and suspected Monsieur and Madame
Poulain, could not but feel sorry for them when he saw the manner in which
those hitherto respectable and self-respecting folk were treated by the
Police Agent who, with two subordinates, had been entrusted with the task
of searching the Hôtel Saint Ange.
The American was also surprised to see the eagerness with which the
Poulains had welcomed his presence at their unpleasant ordeal.
"Thank you for coming, Monsieur Gerald; but where is Monsieur le Sénateur?"
asked Madame Poulain feverishly. "He promised--he absolutely promised us
that he would be here this morning!"
"My father has had to go out," said Gerald courteously, "but I am here to
represent both him and Mrs. Dampier."
A heavy frown gathered over the landlady's face. "Ah!" she muttered, "it
was a dark day for us when we allowed that lady to enter our hotel!"
Gerald, putting a strong restraint on his tongue, remained silent, but a
moment later, as if in answer to his feeling of exasperation and anger, he
heard the Police Agent's voice raised in sarcastic wrath. "I must ask you
to produce the plan before I begin my Perquisition."
"But, monsieur," exclaimed the hotel-keeper piteously, "I cannot give you a
plan of our hotel! How should we have such a thing? The house is said to be
three hundred years old. We have even been told it should be classed as an
"Every hotel-keeper is bound to have a plan of his hotel," said the Agent
roughly. "And I shall report you for not complying with the law. If a plan
of the Hôtel Saint Ange did not exist, it was your duty to have one made at
your own expense."
"Bien, bien, monsieur! It shall be done," said Poulain resignedly.
"To have a Perquisition without a plan is a farce!" said the man, this time
addressing Gerald Burton. "An absolute farce! In such an old house as this
there may be many secret hiding-places."
"There are no secret hiding-places in our hotel," screamed Madame Poulain
angrily. "We have no objection at all to being inspected in the greatest
detail. But I must warn you, gentlemen, that your job will take some time
to carry through."
The Police Agent shrugged his shoulders disagreeably. "Come along," he said
sharply. "Let us begin at once! We would like to start by seeing your own
Gerald Burton began to feel very uncomfortable. Under pleasanter, more
normal circumstances he would have thoroughly enjoyed a long exhaustive
inspection of a house which had probably been remodelled, early in the
eighteenth century, on the site of a mediaeval building.
For the first time since he had begun to study with a view to excelling in
the profession he had himself chosen, he had forgotten his work--the work
he so much enjoyed--for three whole days. This Perquisition brought some of
the old interest back. As an architect he could not but be interested and
stimulated by this intimate inspection of what had been a magnificent
specimen of a French town mansion.
When the search party reached the bed-chamber of the hotel-keeper and his
wife Gerald Burton drew back, but Madame Poulain gave him a smart tap on
the arm. "Go in, go in!" she said tartly, but he saw there were tears in
her eyes. "We have nothing to hide, Monsieur Gerald! This is my room of
memories; the room where our beloved Virginie was born. Little did I think
it would ever be dishonoured by the presence of the police!"
Gerald, thus objurgated, walked through into a large room, low-ceilinged as
are all rooms situated on the entresol floor of a Paris house.
Over the bed hung Madame Poulain's wedding wreath of artificial orange
blossoms in a round glass case. Photographs of the beloved Virginie taken
at various stages of her life, from infancy to girlhood, were the sole
other adornment of the room, and formed an odd contrast to the delicately
carved frames of the old dim mirrors let into grey panelled walls.
"What have we here?" cried the Police Agent tapping one of the panels which
formed the wall opposite the door and the fireplace.
"It is a way through into our daughter's room," said Poulain sullenly, and
opening what appeared to be a cupboard door.
The American took an eager step forward.
This must be the place in which, according to Nancy's account, John Dampier
had stood concealed during that eventful moment when he, Gerald, and his
sister Daisy, had stood looking into the tiny room.
Yes, two or three people might well stand hidden in this deep recess, for
the cupboard was almost as large as the smaller of the two apartments of
which it formed the connecting link.
The Police Agent, following young Burton, stepped down into Virginie's
room:--his voice softened:--"A very charming room," he said, "this little
nest of mademoiselle your daughter!"
"We had to cut a window out of the wall," observed Madame Poulain, "When we
first came here this was a blind closet where the aristocrats, it seems,
used to powder their hair--silly creatures that they were! As if anyone
would like to be white before their time!"
"We had better go up this staircase," said the Police Agent, passing out of
Mademoiselle Poulain's room.
And the six of them all filed up the narrow staircase, glancing into many a
curious, strange little apartment on the way.
Every inch of space had been utilised in view of the business the
Exhibition rush had brought the Poulains. Still, even on the upper floors,
Gerald Burton noticed that there remained intact many beautiful suites of
apartments now divided and let out as single rooms.
Not a word had been said of the coming Perquisition to those staying in the
hotel. But Madame Poulain, by some means best known to herself, had managed
to get rid of them all for the morning. And it was well that she had done
so, for in more than one case the Police Agent and his men lifted the lid
of travelling trunks, unhesitatingly pulled out drawers, and flung open the
doors of hanging cupboards.
Gerald Burton was in turn amused, interested, and disgusted. The glimpses
which this search revealed into other people's lives seemed dishonourable,
and instinctively he withdrew his gaze and strove to see as little
Having thoroughly examined all the street side of the Hôtel Saint Ange, the
three police emissaries started their investigations on the other side of
the quadrangle, that which gave on the courtyard and on the garden.
When the party came round to the rooms occupied by Senator Burton and his
family, Madame Poulain came forward, and touched the Police Agent on the
arm:--"The lady who imagines that we have made away with her husband is
here," she whispered. "You had better knock at the door, and then walk
straight in. She will not be pleased--perhaps she will scream--English
people are so prudish when they are in bed! But never mind what she says or
does: there is no reason why her room should not be searched as well as
that of everybody else."
But the woman's vengeful wish was to remain ungratified.
Nancy Dampier had dressed, and with Daisy's help she had even made her bed.
The Police Agent--Gerald Burton was deeply grateful to him for it--treated
her with consideration and respect.
"C'est bien! C'est bien! madame," he said, just glancing round the room,
and making a quick sign to his men that their presence was not
At last the weary party, for by that time they were all very weary, reached
the top floor of the Hôtel Saint Ange.
Here were rough garrets, oppressively hot on a day like this, but each and
all obviously serving some absent client of the hotel as temporary
Madame Poulain looked quite exhausted. "I think," she said plaintively, "I
will remain here, monsieur, at the end of the passage. You will find every
door unlocked. Perhaps we ought to tell you that these rooms are not as a
rule inhabited, or indeed used by us in any way. That must excuse their
present condition. But in a season like this--well, dame! we could fill
every cranny twice over!"
Gerald and the three Frenchmen walked along the corridor, the latter
flinging open door after door of the curious cell-like little bedrooms
furnished for the most part with only an iron bed, a couple of chairs, and
the usual walnut-wood wardrobe.
"What's this?" asked one of the men sharply. "We find a door plastered up
here, Monsieur Poulain."
But it was Madame Poulain who came languidly forward from the end of the
passage. "Yes," she said. "If you wish to see that room you will have to
get a ladder and climb up from the outside. A young Breton priest died here
last January from scarlet fever, monsieur--" she lowered her voice
instinctively--"and the sanitary authorities forced us to block up the room
in this way--most unfortunately for us."
"It is strange," said the man, "that the seal of the sanitary authorities
is not affixed to the door."
"To tell you the truth," said Madame Poulain uncomfortably, "the seal was
there, but I removed it. You see, monsieur, it would not have been
pleasant, even when all danger of infection was gone, to say anything to
our other clients about so sad an event."
The man nodded his head, and went on.
But the incident made a disagreeable impression on Gerald Burton. And when
they all finally came down to the courtyard, the Police Agents being by
this time on far better terms with Monsieur and Madame Poulain than they
had been at the beginning--on such good terms indeed that they were more
than willing to attack the refreshments the hotel-keeper had made ready for
them--he drew the head Agent aside.
"There was one thing," he said, "which rather troubled me--"
The man looked at him attentively. "Yes, monsieur?" He realised that this
young man, whom he took for an Englishman, had been present on behalf of
the people at whose request the Perquisition had been ordered. He was
therefore inclined to treat him with civility.
"I mean that closed room on the top floor," said Gerald hesitatingly. "Is
there no way of ascertaining whether Madame Poulain's story is
true--whether, that is, the room was ever condemned by the sanitary
"Yes," said the Agent, "nothing is easier, monsieur, than to find that
He took a note-book out of his pocket, tore out a sheet, and wrote a few
lines on it. Then he called one of his subordinates to him and said a few
words of which Gerald caught the sense. It was an order to go to the office
of the sanitary inspector of the district and bring back an answer at once.
In a quarter of an hour the man was back.
"The answer is 'Yes,'" he said a little breathlessly, and he handed his
chief a large sheet of paper, headed:
VILLE DE PARIS,
Sanitary Inspector's Department.
In answer to your question, I have to report that we did condemn a room
in the Hôtel Saint Ange for cause of infectious disease.
The Police Agent handed it to Gerald Burton. "I felt sure that in that
matter," he observed, "Madame Poulain was telling the truth. But, of
course, a Perquisition in a house of this kind is a mere farce, without a
plan to guide us. Think of the strange winding passages along which we were
led, of the blind rooms, of the deep cupboards into which we peeped! For
all we can tell, several apartments may have entirely escaped our
"Do you make many of these Perquisitions?" asked Gerald curiously.
"No, monsieur. We are very seldom asked to search a whole house. Almost
always we have some indication as to the special room or rooms which are to
be investigated. In fact since I became attached to the police, six years
ago, this is the first time I have ever had to carry out a thorough
Perquisition," he laughed a little ruefully, "and it makes one dry!"
Gerald Burton took the hint. He put a twenty-franc piece into the man's
hand. "For you and your men," he said. "Go and get a good lunch: I am sure
you need it."
The Police Agent thanked him cordially. "One word, monsieur? Perhaps I
ought to tell you that we of the police are quite sure that the gentleman
about whom you are anxious left this hotel--if indeed he was ever in it.
The Poulains bear a very good character--better than that of many
hotel-keepers of whom I could tell you--better than that of certain
hotel-keepers who own grand international hotels the other side of the
river. Of course I had to be rough with them at first--one has to keep up
one's character, you know. But, monsieur? I was told confidentially that
this Perquisition would probably lead to nothing, and, as you see, it has
led to nothing."
Gerald sighed, rather wearily, for he too was tired, he too would be glad
of his luncheon. Yes, this search had been, as the Police Agent hinted,
something of a farce after all, and he had led not only himself, but, what
he regretted far more, poor Nancy Dampier down a blind alley.
He found her waiting, feverishly eager and anxious to hear the result of
the Perquisition. When the door of the salon opened, she got up and turned
to him, a strained look on her face.
"Well?" she said. "Well, Mr. Burton?"
He shook his head despondently. "We found nothing, absolutely nothing which
could connect your husband with any one of the rooms which we searched,
Mrs. Dampier. If, after leaving you, he did spend the night in the Hôtel
Saint Ange, the Poulains have obliterated every trace of his presence."
She gave a low cry of pain, of bitter disappointment, and suddenly sinking
down into a chair, buried her head in her hands--"I can't bear it," she
wailed. "I only want to know the truth, whatever the truth may be! Anything
would be better than what I am going through now."
Gerald Burton came and stood by the bowed figure. He became curiously pale
with that clear, not unhealthy, pallor which is induced by exceptional
intensity of feeling.
"Mrs. Dampier?" he said, in a very low voice.
She lifted her head and looked at him fixedly.
"Everything that a man can do I will do to find your husband. If I fail to
find him living I will find him dead."
But it is far easier to form such a resolution and to make such a promise
as that which Gerald Burton had made to Nancy Dampier than it is to
carry it out.
The officials of the Prefecture of Police grew well accustomed to the sight
of the tall, good-looking young American coming and going in their midst,
and they all showed a sympathetic interest in his quest. But though the
police officials were lavish in kindly words, and in permits and passes
which he found an open sesame to the various places where it was just
conceivable that John Dampier, after having met with some kind of accident,
might have been carried, they were apparently quite unable to elucidate the
growing mystery of the English artist's disappearance.
Early on the Friday morning Gerald Burton telephoned to Nancy Dampier's
friend and lawyer the fact that they were still entirely without any clue
to the whereabouts of the missing man. And, true to his word, Mr. Stephens
arrived in Paris that same evening.
He found his poor young client awaiting him in the company of the new
friends to whom she owed so deep a debt of gratitude, and this lessened, to
a certain extent, the awkwardness of their meeting. Even so, the shrewd,
kindly Englishman felt much shocked and distressed by the change which had
taken place in Nancy.
Just a month ago he had seen her standing, most radiant as well as
prettiest of brides, by her proud husband's side. Perhaps because she had
had so lonely a girlhood there had been no tears at Nancy Tremain's
wedding, and when he had put her in the carriage which was to be the first
little stage of her honeymoon, she had whispered, "Mr. Stephens? I feel as
if I was going home." And the lawyer had known all that the dear, to her
till then unfamiliar, word--had meant to her.
And now, here she was with strangers, wan, strained and unutterably
weary-looking; as she stood, her hand clasped in his, looking, with dumb
anguish, up into his face, Mr. Stephens felt a thrill of intense anger
against John Dampier. For the present, at any rate, he refused to entertain
the theory of crime or accident. But he kept his thoughts entirely
The irruption of any human being into a small and, for any reason, closely
welded together set of people produces much the same effect as does the
addition of a new product to a chemical mixture. And the arrival of the
English lawyer affected not only Nancy herself but, in varying ways,
Senator Burton and his son.
A very few moments spent in the Englishman's company brought to the
American Senator an immense measure of relief. For one thing, he was
sincerely glad to know that the poor young stranger's business was about to
pass into capable and evidently most trustworthy hands: also a rapid
interchange of words the first time they were left alone together put an
end, and that for ever, to Senator Burton's uneasy suspicions--suspicions
which had persisted to the end--as to Mrs. Dampier's account of herself.
Whatever else was obscure in this strange story, it was now clear that
Nancy had told nothing but the truth concerning her short, simple past
life. And looking back the Senator found it difficult, as a man so often
finds it difficult when he becomes wise after an event, to justify, even to
himself, his former attitude of distrust.
As to Gerald Burton, he felt a little jealousy of the lawyer. Till the
coming of Mr. Stephens it was to him that Mrs. Dampier had instinctively
turned in her distress and suspense; now she naturally consulted, and
deferred to the advice of, the older man and older friend.
But Mr. Stephens was not able to do more than had already been done. He
listened to what all those about him had to say concerning John Dampier's
disappearance, and he carefully went over the ground already covered by
Senator Burton and his son. He, too, saw the British Consul; he, too, was
granted a short but cordial interview with the Prefect of Police; but not
even to the Senator did he advance any personal theory as to what could
account for the extraordinary occurrence.
Members of the legal profession are the same all the world over. If they
are wise men and good lawyers, they keep their own counsel.
Perhaps because he himself had a son who was Gerald's age, the English
solicitor took, from the first, a very special interest in the young
American architect. Soon they were on excellent terms with one
another--indeed, it was with Gerald Burton that he found he had most to do.
The young man naturally accompanied him to all those places where the
presence of a first-rate interpreter was likely to be useful, and Gerald
Burton also pursued a number of independent enquiries on his own account.
But nothing was of any avail; they were baffled at every turn, and soon
this search for a vanished man became, to one of the two now so strenuously
engaged in it, the most sinister and disturbing of the many problems with
which he had had to deal as a trusted family lawyer.
The screen of memory bears many blurred and hazy impressions on its
surface, but now and again some special dramatic happening remains fixed
there in a series of sharply-etched pictures in which every line has its
retrospective meaning and value.
Such was to be the case with Mr. Stephens and the curious days he spent in
Paris seeking for John Dampier. He was there a whole week, and every
succeeding day was packed with anxious, exciting interviews and
expeditions, each of which it was hoped might yield some sort of clue. But
what remained indelibly fixed on the English lawyer's screen of memory were
three or four at the time apparently insignificant conversations which in
no case could have done much to solve the problem he had set himself
The first of these was a short conversation, in the middle of that busy
week, with Nancy Dampier.
After the first interview in which she had told him her version of what had
happened the night of her own and her husband's arrival in Paris, he had
had very little talk with her, and at no time had he expressed any opinion
as to what could have happened to John Dampier. But at last he felt it his
duty to try and probe a little more than he had felt it at first possible
to do into the question of a possible motive or motives.
"I'm afraid," he began, "that there's very little more to do than has been
already done. I mean, of course, for the present. And in your place, Nancy,
I should come back to England, and wait there for any news that may
As she shook her head very decidedly, he went on gravely:--"I know it is
open to you to remain in Paris; but, my dear, I cannot believe that your
husband is in Paris. If he were, we must by now, with the help of the
French police--the most expert in the world, remember--have come across
traces of him, and that whether he be dead or alive."
But Nancy did not take the meaning he had hoped to convey by that last
word. On the contrary:--
"Do you think," she asked, and though her lips quivered she spoke very
quietly, "that Jack is dead, Mr. Stephens? I know that Senator Burton's son
has come to believe that he is."
"No," said the English lawyer very seriously, "no, Nancy, I do not believe
that your husband is dead. It is clear that had he been killed or injured
that first morning in the Paris streets we should know it by now. The
police assert, and I have no reason to doubt them, that they have made
every kind of enquiry. No, they, like me, believe that your husband has
"Left Paris?" repeated Nancy in a bewildered tone.
"Yes, my dear. As to his motive in doing so--I suppose--forgive me for
asking you such a question--I suppose that you and he were on quite
comfortable and--well, happy terms together?"
Nancy looked at him amazed--and a look of great pain and indignation
flashed into her face.
"Why of course we were!" she faltered. "Absolutely--ideally happy! You
didn't know Jack, Mr. Stephens; you were always prejudiced against him.
Why, he's never said--I won't say an unkind word, but a cold or indifferent
word since our first meeting. We never even had what is called"--again her
lips quivered--'"a lovers' quarrel.'"
"Forgive me," he said earnestly. "I had to ask you. The question as to what
kind of relations you and he were on when you arrived in Paris has been
raised by almost every human being whom I have seen in the last few days."
"How horrible! How horrible!" murmured Nancy, hiding her face in her hands.
Then she raised her head, and looked straight at the lawyer:--"Tell anyone
that asks you that," she exclaimed, "that no woman was ever made happier by
a man than my Jack made me. We were too happy. He said so that last
evening--he said," she ended her sentence with a sob, "that his happiness
made him afraid--"
"Did he?" questioned Mr. Stephens thoughtfully. "That was an odd thing for
him to say, Nancy."
But she took no notice of the remark. Instead she, in her turn, asked a
question:--"Do the police think that Jack may have left me of his own
Mr. Stephens looked extremely uncomfortable. "Well, some of them have
thought that it is a possibility which should be kept in view."
"But you do not think so?" She looked at him searchingly.
The lawyer's courage failed him.
"No, of course not," he said hastily, and poor little Nancy believed him.
"And now," he went on quickly, relieved indeed to escape from a painful and
difficult subject, "I, myself, must go home on Saturday. Cannot I persuade
you to come back to England with me? My wife would be delighted if you
would come to us--and for as long as you like."
She hesitated--"No, Mr. Stephens, you are very, very kind, but I would
rather remain on in Paris for a while. Miss Burton has asked me to stay
with them till they leave for America. Once they are gone, if I still have
no news, I will do what you wish. I will come back to England."
The second episode, if episode it can be called, which was to remain
vividly present in the memory of the lawyer, took place on the fifth day of
his stay in Paris.
He and Gerald had exhausted what seemed every possible line of enquiry,
when the latter put in plain words what, in deference to his father's wish,
he had hitherto tried to conceal from Mr. Stephens--his suspicions of
"I haven't said so to you before," he began abruptly, "but I feel quite
sure that this Mr. John Dampier is dead."
He spoke the serious words in low, impressive tones, and the words, the
positive assertion, queerly disturbed Nancy's lawyer, and that though he
did not in the least share in his companion's view. But still he felt
disturbed, perhaps unreasonably so considering how very little he still
knew of the speaker. He was indeed almost as disturbed as he would have
been had it been his own son who had suddenly put forward a wrong and
indeed an untenable proposition.
He turned and faced Gerald Burton squarely.
"I cannot agree with you," he spoke with considerable energy, "and I am
sorry you have got such a notion in your mind. I am quite sure that John
Dampier is alive. He may be in confinement somewhere, held to
ransom--things of that sort have happened in Paris before now. But be that
as it may, it is my firm conviction that we shall have news of him within a
comparatively short time. Of course I cannot help seeing what you suspect,
namely, that there has been foul play on the part of the Poulains. But no
other human being holds this theory but yourself. Your father--you must
forgive me for saying so--has known these people a great deal longer than
you have, and he tells me he would stake everything on their substantial
integrity. And the police speak very highly of them too. Besides, in this
world one must look for a motive--indeed, one must always look for a
motive. But in this case no one that we know--I repeat, Mr. Burton, no one
that we know of--had any motive for injuring Mr. Dampier."
Gerald Burton looked up quickly:--"You mean by that there may be someone
whom we do not know of who may have had a motive for spiriting him away?"
Mr. Stephens nodded curtly. He had not meant to say even so much as that.
"I want you to tell me," went on the young American earnestly, "exactly
what sort of a man this John Dampier is--or was?"
The lawyer took off his spectacles; he began rubbing the glasses carefully.
"Well," he said at last, "that isn't a question I find it easy to answer. I
made a certain number of enquiries about him when he became engaged to Miss
Tremain, and I am bound to tell you, Mr. Burton, that the answers, as far
as they went, were quite satisfactory. The gentleman in whose house the two
met--I mean poor Nancy and Dampier--had, and has, an extremely high
opinion of him."
"Mrs. Dampier once spoke to me as if she thought you did not like her
husband?" Gerald Burton looked straight before him as he said the words he
felt ashamed of uttering. And yet--and yet he did so want to know the truth
as to John Dampier!
Mr. Stephens looked mildly surprised. "I don't think I ever gave her any
reason to suppose such a thing," he said hesitatingly. "Mr. Dampier was
eager, as all men in love are eager, to hasten on the marriage. You see,
Mr. Burton"--he paused, and Gerald looked up quickly:--
"Yes, Mr. Stephens?"
"Well, to put it plainly, John Dampier was madly in love"--the speaker
thought his companion winced, and, rather sorry than glad at the success of
his little ruse, he hurried on:--"that being so he naturally wished to be
married at once. But an English marriage settlement--especially when the
lady has the money, which was the case with Miss Tremain--cannot be drawn
up in a few days. Nancy herself was willing to assent to everything he
wished; in fact I had to point out to her that it is impossible to get
engaged on Monday and married on Tuesday! I suppose she thought that
because I very properly objected to some such scheme of theirs, I disliked
John Dampier. This was a most unreasonable conclusion, Mr. Burton!"
Gerald Burton felt disappointed. He did not believe that the English lawyer
was answering truly. He did not stay to reflect that Mr. Stephens was not
bound to answer indiscreet questions, and that when a young man asks an
older man whether or no he dislikes someone, and that someone is a client,
the question is certainly indiscreet.
In a small way the painful mystery was further complicated by the attitude
of Mère Bideau. Bribes and threats were alike unavailing to make the old
Breton woman open her mouth. She was full of suspicion; she refused to
answer the simplest questions put to her by either Mr. Stephens or
And the lawyer felt a moment of sharp impatience, as business men are so
often apt to feel in their dealings with women, when, in answer to his
remark that Mère Bideau would be brought to her knees when she found her
supplies cut off, Nancy, with tears running down her cheeks, cried out in
protest:--"Oh, Mr. Stephens, don't say that! I would far rather go on
paying the old woman for ever than that she should be brought, as you say,
to her knees. She was such a good servant to Jack: he is--he was--so
fond of her."
But Mère Bideau's attitude greatly disconcerted and annoyed the Englishman.
He wondered if the old woman knew more than she would admit; he even
suspected her of knowing the whereabouts of her master; the more
impenetrable became the mystery, the less Mr. Stephens believed Dampier
to be dead.
And then, finally, on the last day of his stay in Paris something happened
which, to the lawyer's mind, confirmed his view that John Dampier, having
vanished of his own free will, was living and well--though he hoped not
happy--away from the great city which had been searched, or so the police
assured the Englishman, with a thoroughness which had never been surpassed
if indeed it had ever been equalled.
With Mr. Stephens' morning coffee there appeared an envelope bearing his
name and a French stamp, as well of course as the address of the obscure
little hotel where the Burtons had found him a room.
The lawyer looked down at the envelope with great surprise. The address was
written in a round, copybook hand, and it was clear his name must have been
copied out of an English law list.
Who in Paris could be writing to him--who, for the matter of that, knew
where he was staying, apart from his own family and his London office?
He broke the seal and saw that the sheet of notepaper he took from the
envelope was headed "Préfecture de Police." Hitherto the police had
addressed all their communications to the Hôtel Saint Ange.
The letter ran as follows:
I am requested by the official who has the Dampier affair in hand to
ask you if you will come here this afternoon at three o'clock. As I
shall be present and can act as interpreter, it will not be necessary
for you to be accompanied as you were before.
What an extraordinary thing! Up to the present time Mr. Stephens had not
communicated with a single police official able to speak colloquial
English; it was that fact which had made him find Gerald Burton so
invaluable an auxiliary. But this letter might have been written by an
Englishman, though the signature showed it to be from a foreigner, and from
a Pole, or possibly a Russian.
Were the police at last on the trail of the missing man? Mr. Stephens'
well-regulated heart began to beat quicker at the thought. But if so, how
strange that the Prefect of Police had not communicated with the Hôtel
Saint Ange last night! Monsieur Beaucourt had promised that the smallest
scrap of news should be at once transmitted to John Dampier's wife.
Well, there was evidently nothing for it but to wait with what patience he
could muster till the afternoon; and it was characteristic of Nancy's legal
friend that he said nothing of his mysterious appointment to either the
Burtons or to Mrs. Dampier. It was useless to raise hopes which might so
easily be disappointed.
Three o'clock found Mr. Stephens at the Prefecture of Police.
"Ivan Baroff" turned out to be a polished and agreeable person who at once
frankly explained that he belonged to the International Police. Indeed
while shaking hands with his visitor he observed pleasantly, "This is not
the kind of work with which I have, as a rule, anything to do, but my
colleagues have asked me to see you, Mr. Stephens, because I have lived in
England, and am familiar with your difficult language. I wish to entertain
you on a rather delicate matter. I am sure I may count on your discretion,
and, may I add, your sympathy?"
The English lawyer looked straight at the suave-spoken detective. What the
devil did the man mean? "Certainly," said he, "certainly you can count on
my discretion, Monsieur Baroff, and--and my sympathy. I hope I am not
unreasonable in hoping that at last the police have obtained some kind of
due to Mr. Dampier's whereabouts."
"No," said the other indifferently. "That I regret to tell you is not the
case; they are, however, prosecuting their enquiries with the greatest
zeal--of hat you may rest assured."
"So I have been told again and again," Mr. Stephens spoke rather
impatiently. "It seems strange--I think I may say so to you who are, like
myself, a foreigner--it seems strange, I say, that the French police, who
are supposed to be so extraordinarily clever, should have failed to find
even a trace of this missing man. Mr. John Dampier can't have vanished from
the face of the earth: dead or alive, he must be somewhere!"
"There is of course no proof at all that Mr. Dampier ever arrived in
Paris," observed the detective significantly.
"No, there is no actual proof that he did so," replied the English
solicitor frankly. "There I agree! But there is ample proof that he was
coming to Paris. And, as I suppose you know, the Paris police have
satisfied themselves that Mr. and Mrs. Dampier stayed both in Marseilles
and in Lyons."
"Yes, I am aware of that; as also--" he checked himself. "But what I have
to say to you to-day, my dear sir, is only indirectly concerned with Mr.
Dampier's disappearance. I am really here to ask if you cannot exert your
influence with the Burton family, with the American Senator, that is, and
more particularly with his son, to behave in a reasonable manner."
"I don't quite understand what you mean."
"Well, it is not so very easy to explain! All I can say is that young Mr.
Burton is making himself very officious, and very disagreeable. He has
adopted a profession which here, at the Prefecture of Police, we naturally
detest"--the Russian smiled, but not at all pleasantly--"I mean that of the
amateur detective! He is determined to find Mr. Dampier--or perhaps it
would be more true to say"--he shrugged his shoulders--"that he wishes--the
wish perhaps being, as you so cleverly say in England, father to the
thought--to be quite convinced of that unfortunate gentleman's obliteration
from life. He has brought himself to believe--but perhaps he has already
told you what he thinks--?"
He waited a moment.
But the English lawyer made no sign of having understood what the other
wished to imply. "They have all talked to me," he said mildly, "Senator
Burton, Mr. Burton, Miss Burton; every conceivable possibility has been
discussed by us."
"Indeed? Well, with so many clever people all trying together it would be
strange if not one hit upon the truth!" The detective spoke with
"Perhaps we have hit upon it," said Mr. Stephens suddenly. "What do you
think, Monsieur Baroff?"
"I do not think at all!" he said pettishly. "I am far too absorbed in my
own tiresome job--that of keeping my young Princes and Grand Dukes out of
scrapes--to trouble about this peculiar affair. But to return to what I was
saying. You are of course aware that Mr. Gerald Burton is convinced, and
very foolishly convinced (for there is not an atom of proof, or of anything
likely to lead to proof), that this Mr. Dampier was murdered, if not by the
Poulains, then by some friend of theirs in the Hôtel Saint Ange. The
foolish fellow has as good as said so to more than one of our officials."
"I know such is Mr. Burton's theory," answered Mr. Stephens frankly, "and
it is one very difficult to shake. In fact I may tell you that I have
already tried to make him see the folly of the notion, and how it is almost
certainly far from the truth."
"It is not only far from the truth, it is absolutely untrue," said the
Russian impressively. "But what I now wish to convey to the young man is
that should he be so ill-advised as to do what he is thinking of doing he
will make it very disagreeable for the lady in whom he takes so strangely
violent an interest--"
"What exactly do you mean, Monsieur Baroff?"
"This Mr. Gerald Burton is thinking of enlisting the help of the American
newspaper men in Paris. He wishes them to raise the question in their
"I do not think he would do that without consulting his father or me," said
Mr. Stephens quickly. He felt dismayed by the other's manner. Monsieur
Baroff's tone had become menacing, almost discourteous.
"Should this headstrong young man do anything of that kind," went on the
detective, "he will put an end to the efforts we are making to find Mrs.
Dampier's husband. In fact I think I may say that if the mystery is never
solved, it will be thanks to his headstrong folly and belief in himself."
With this the disagreeable interview came to an end, and though the English
lawyer never confided the details of this curious conversation to any
living soul, he did make an opportunity of conveying Ivan Baroff's warning
to Gerald Burton.
"Before leaving Paris," he said earnestly, "there is one thing I want to
impress upon you, Mr. Burton. Do not let any newspaper people get hold of
this story; I can imagine nothing that would more distress poor Mrs.
Dampier. She would be exposed to very odious happenings if this
disappearance of her husband were made, in any wide sense of the word,
public. And then I need not tell you that the Paris Police have a very
great dislike to press publicity; they are doing their very best--of that I
am convinced--to probe the mystery."
Gerald Burton hesitated. "I should have thought," he said, "that it would
at least be worth while to offer a reward in all the Paris papers. I find
that such rewards are often offered in England, Mr. Stephens."
"Yes--they are. And very, very seldom with any good result," answered the
lawyer drily. "In fact all the best minds concerned with the question of
crime have a great dislike to the reward system. Not once in a hundred
cases is it of any use. In fact it is only valuable when it may induce a
criminal to turn 'King's evidence.' But in this case I pray you to believe
me when I say that we are not seeking to discover the track of any
criminal--" in his own mind he added the words, "unless we take John
Dampier to be one!"
It was on the morning of Mr. Stephens' departure from Paris, in fact when
he and Senator Burton, who had gone to see him off, were actually in the
station, walking up and down the Salle des Pas Perdus, that the lawyer
uttered the words which finally made up the American Senator's mind
"You have been so more than good to Mrs. Dampier," the Englishman said
earnestly, "that I do not feel it would be fair, Mr. Senator, to leave you
in ignorance of my personal conviction concerning this painful affair."
The American turned and looked at his companion. "Yes?" he said with
suppressed eagerness. "Yes, Mr. Stephens, I shall be sincerely grateful for
your honest opinion."
They had all three--he and Daisy and Gerald--tried to make this Englishman
say what he really thought, but with a courtesy that was sometimes grave,
sometimes smiling, Mr. Stephens had eluded their surely legitimate
Even now the lawyer hesitated, but at last he spoke out what he believed to
be the truth.
"It is my honest opinion that this disappearance of Mr. Dampier is painful
rather than mysterious. I believe that poor Nancy Tremain's bridegroom,
actuated by some motive to which we may never have the clue, made up his
mind to disappear. When faced with responsibilities for which they have no
mind men before now have often disappeared, Mr. Senator. Lawyers and
doctors, if their experience extend over a good many years, come across
stories even more extraordinary than that which has been concerning
"I take it," said Senator Burton slowly, "that you did not form a good
impression of this Mr. Dampier?"
The lawyer again hesitated, much as he had hesitated when asked the same
question by young Burton, but this time he answered quite truthfully.
"Well, no, I did not! True, he seemed entirely indifferent as to how the
money of his future wife was settled; indeed I could not help feeling that
he was culpably careless about the whole matter. But even so I had one or
two very disagreeable interviews with him. You see, Senator Burton, the man
was madly in love; he had persuaded poor Nancy to be married at once--and
by at once I mean within a fortnight of their engagement. He seemed
strangely afraid of losing her, and I keenly resented this feeling on his
part, for a more loyal little soul doesn't live. She has quite a nice
fortune, you know, and for my part I should have liked her to marry some
honest country gentleman in her own country--not an artist living
"You don't attach much importance to love, Mr. Stephens?"
The lawyer laughed. "Quite enough!" he exclaimed. "Love causes more trouble
in the world than everything else put together--at any rate it does to
members of my profession. But to return to poor Nancy. She's a fascinating
little creature!" He shot a quick glance at Senator Burton, but the latter
only said cordially:--
"Yes, as fascinating as she's pretty!"
"Well, she had plenty of chances of making a good marriage--but no one
touched her heart till this big, ugly fellow came along. So of course I had
to make the best of it!" He waited a moment and then went on. "I ought to
tell you that at my suggestion Dampier took out a large insurance policy on
his own life: I didn't think it right that he should bring, as it were,
nothing into settlement, the more so that Nancy had insisted, on her side,
that all her money should go to him at her death, and that whether they had
any children or not! You know what women are?" he shrugged his shoulders.
"If that be so," observed the Senator, "then money can have had nothing to
do with his disappearance."
"I'm not so sure of that! In fact I've been wondering uneasily during the
last few days whether, owing to his being an artist, and to his having
lived so much abroad, John Dampier could have been foolish enough to
suppose that in the case of his disappearance the insurance money would be
paid over to Mrs. Dampier. That, of course, would be one important reason
why he should wish to obliterate himself as completely as he seems to have
done. I need hardly tell you, Mr. Senator, that the Insurance Office would
laugh in my face if I were to try and make them pay. Why, years will have
to elapse before our courts would even consider the probability of death."
"I now understand your view," said the Senator gravely. "But even if it be
the true solution, it does not explain the inexplicable difference between
Mrs. Dampier's statement and that of the Poulains--I mean, their statements
as to what happened the night Mr. and Mrs. Dampier arrived in Paris."
"No," said the lawyer reluctantly. "I admit that to me this is the one
inexplicable part of the whole story. And I also confess that as to that
one matter I find it impossible to make up my mind. If I had not known poor
little Nancy all her life, I should believe, knowing what women are capable
of doing if urged thereto by pride or pain--I should believe, I say, that
she had made up this strange story to account for her husband's having left
her! I could tell you more than one tale of a woman having deceived not
only her lawyer, but, later, a judge and a jury, as to such a point of
fact. But from what I know of Mrs. Dampier she would be quite incapable of
inventing, or perhaps what is quite as much to the purpose, of keeping up
such a deception."
"From something my daughter said," observed Senator Burton, "I think you
have been trying to persuade the poor little lady to go back to England?"
"Yes, I tried to make her come back with me to-day. And I am bound to say
that I succeeded better than I expected to do, for though she refuses to
come now, she does intend to do so when you yourselves leave Paris, Mr.
Senator. Fortunately she does not know what sort of a time she will come
back to: I fear that most of her friends will feel exactly as I feel; they
will not believe that John Dampier has disappeared save of his own free
will--and some of them will suppose it their duty to tell her so!"
"It is the view evidently held by the French police," observed the Senator.
The English lawyer shrugged his shoulders. "Of course it is! The fact that
Dampier had hardly any money on him disposes of any crime theory. A
wonderful thing the Paris police system, Mr. Burton!"
And the other cordially agreed; nothing could have been more courteous,
more kind, more intelligent, than the behaviour of the high police
officials, from the Prefect himself downwards, over the whole business.
Mr. Stephens glanced up at the huge station clock. "I have only five
minutes left," he said. "But I want to say again how much I appreciate your
extraordinary kindness and goodness to my poor client. And, Mr. Senator?
There's just one thing more I want to say to you--" For the first time the
English lawyer looked awkward and ill at ease.
"Why yes, Mr. Stephens! Pray say anything you like."
"Well, my dear sir, I should like to give you a very sincere piece of
advice." He hesitated. "If I were you I should go back to America as soon
as possible. I feel this sad affair has thoroughly spoilt your visit to
Paris; and speaking as a man who has children himself, I am sure it has not
been well, either for Miss Daisy or for your son, to have become absorbed,
as they could hardly help becoming, in this distressing business."
The American felt slightly puzzled by the seriousness with which the other
delivered this well-meant but wholly superfluous advice. What just exactly
did the lawyer mean by these solemnly delivered words?
"Why," said the Senator, "you're quite right, Mr. Stephens; it has been an
ordeal, especially for my girl Daisy: she hasn't had air and exercise
enough during this last fortnight, let alone change of thought and scene.
But, as a matter of fact, I am settling about our passages to-day, on my
way back to the hotel."
"I am very glad to hear that!" exclaimed the other, with far more
satisfaction and relief in his voice than seemed warranted. "And I presume
that your son will find lots of work awaiting him on his return home?
There's nothing like work to chase cobwebs from the brain or--or heart,
"That's true: not that there are many cobwebs in my boy's brain, Mr.
Stephens," he smiled broadly at the notion.
"Messieurs! Mesdames! En voiture, s'il vous plait. En voiture--!"
A few minutes later Mr. Stephens waved his hand from his railway carriage,
and as he did so he wondered if he himself had ever been as obtuse a father
as his new American friend seemed to be.
As he walked away from the station Senator Burton made up his mind to go
back on foot, taking the office of the Transatlantic Steamship Company on
his way. And while he sauntered through the picturesque, lively streets of
the Paris he loved with so familiar and appreciative an admiration, the
American found his thoughts dwelling on the events of the last fortnight.
Yes, it had been a strange, an extraordinary experience--one which he and
his children would never forget, which they would often talk over in days
to come. Poor little Nancy Dampier! His kind, fatherly heart went out to
her with a good deal of affection, and yes, of esteem. She had behaved with
wonderful courage and good sense--and with dignity too, when one remembered
the extraordinary position in which she had been placed with regard to
The Poulains? For the hundredth time he wondered where the truth really
lay.... But he soon dismissed the difficult problem, for now he had reached
the offices of the French Transatlantic Company. There the Senator's
official rank caused him to be treated with very special civility; at once
he was assured that three passages would be reserved for him on practically
what boat he liked: he suggested the Lorraine, sailing in ten days time,
and he had the satisfaction of seeing good cabins booked in his name.
And as he walked away, slightly cheered, as men are apt to be, by the
pleasant deference paid to his wishes, he told himself that before leaving
Paris he must arrange for a cable to be at once dispatched should there
come any news of the mysterious, and at once unknown and familiar, John
Dampier. Mrs. Dampier would surely find his request a natural one, the more
so that Daisy and Gerald would be just as eager to hear news as he himself
would be. He had never known anything take so firm a hold of his son's and
On reaching the Hôtel Saint Ange the Senator went over to Madame Poulain's
kitchen; it was only right to give her the date of their departure as soon
"Well," he said with a touch of regret in his voice, "we shall soon be
going off now, Madame Poulain. Next Tuesday-week you will have to wish us
And instead of seeing the good woman's face cloud over, as it had always
hitherto clouded over, when he had sought her out to say that their stay in
Paris was drawing to a close, he saw a look of intense relief, of
undisguised joy, flash into her dark expressive eyes, and that though she
observed civilly, "Quel dommage, Monsieur le Sénateur, that you cannot stay
a little longer!"
He moved away abruptly, feeling unreasonably mortified.
But Senator Burton was a very just man; he prided himself on his fairness
of outlook; and now he reminded himself quickly that their stay at the
Hôtel Saint Ange had not brought unmixed good fortune to the Poulains. It
was natural that Madame Poulain should long to see the last of them--at any
rate this time.
He found Gerald alone, seated at a table, intent on a letter he was
writing. Daisy, it seemed, had persuaded Mrs. Dampier to go out for a walk
"Well, my boy, we shall have to make the best of the short time remaining
to us in Paris. I have secured passages in the Lorraine, and so we now only
have till Tuesday-week to see everything in Paris which this unhappy affair
has prevented our seeing during the last fortnight."
And then it was that the something happened, that the irreparable words
were spoken, which suddenly and most rudely opened the Senator's eyes to a
truth which the English lawyer had seen almost from the first moment of his
stay in Paris.
Gerald Burton started up. His face was curiously pale under its healthy
tan, but the Senator noticed that his son's eyes were extraordinarily
"Father?" He leant across the round table. "I am not going home with you.
In fact I am now writing to Mr. Webb to tell him that he must not expect me
back at the office for the present: I will cable as soon as I can give
him a date."
"Not going home?" repeated Senator Burton. "What do you mean, Gerald? What
is it that should keep you here after we have gone?" but a curious
sensation of fear and dismay was already clutching at the older
"I am never going back--not till John Dampier is found. I have promised
Mrs. Dampier to find him, and that whether he be alive or dead!"
Even then the Senator tried not to understand. Even then he tried to tell
himself that his son was only actuated by some chivalrous notion of keeping
his word, in determining on a course which might seriously damage
He tried quiet expostulation: "Surely, Gerald, you are not serious in
making such a decision? Mrs. Dampier, from what I know of her, would be.
the last to exact from you the fulfilment of so--so unreasonable a promise.
Why, you and I both know quite well that the Paris police, and also Mr.
Stephens, are convinced that this man Dampier just left his wife of his own
"I know they think that! But it's a lie!" cried Gerald with blazing eyes.
"An infamous lie! I should like to see Mr. Stephens dare suggest such a
notion to John Dampier's wife. Not that she is his wife, father, for I'm
sure the man is dead--and I believe--I hope that she's beginning to
think so too!"
"But if Dampier is dead, Gerald, then--" the Senator was beginning to lose
patience, but he was anxious not to lose his temper too, not to make
himself more unpleasant than he must do. "Surely you see yourself, my boy,
that if the man is dead, there's nothing more for you to do here,
"Father, there's everything! The day I make sure that John Dampier is dead
will be the happiest day of my life." His voice had sunk low, he muttered
the last words between his teeth; but alas! the Senator heard them all
"Gerald!" he said gravely. "Gerald? Am I to understand--"
"Father--don't say anything you might be sorry for afterwards! Yes, you
have guessed truly. I love Nancy! If the man is dead--and I trust to God he
is--I hope to marry her some day. If--if you and Mr. Stephens are right--if
he is still alive--well then--" he waited a moment, and that moment was the
longest the Senator had ever known--"then, father, I promise you I will
come home. But in that case I shall never, never marry anybody else. Daisy
knows," went on the young man, unconsciously dealing his father another
bitter blow. "Daisy knows--she guessed, and--she understands."
"And does she approve?" asked the Senator sternly.
"I don't know--I don't care!" cried Gerald fiercely. "I am not looking for
anyone's approval. And, father?" His voice altered, it became what the
other had never heard his son's voice be, suppliant:--"I have trusted you
with my secret--but let it be from now as if I had not spoken. I beg of you
not to discuss it with Daisy--I need not ask you not to speak of it to
The Senator nodded. He was too agitated, too horror-stricken to speak, and
his agitation was not lessened by his son's final words.
It is two years to a day since John Dampier disappeared, and it is only
owing to one man's inflexible determination that the search for him has not
been abandoned long ago.
And now we meet Senator Burton far in body, if not in mind, from the place
where we last met him.
He is standing by an open window, gazing down on one of the fairest sights
civilised nature has to offer--that of an old English garden filled with
fragrant flowers which form scented boundaries of soft brilliant colour to
wide lawns shaded by great cedar trees.
But as he stands there in the early morning sunlight, for it is only six
o'clock, he does not look in harmony with the tranquil beauty of the scene
before him. There is a stern, troubled expression on his face, for he has
just espied two figures walking side by side across the dewy grass; the one
is his son Gerald, the other Nancy Dampier, still in the delicate and
dangerous position of a woman who is neither wife, maid, nor widow.
The Senator's whole expression has changed in the two years. He used to
look a happy, contented man; now, especially when he is alone and his face
is in repose, he has the disturbed, bewildered expression men's faces bear
when Providence or Fate--call it which you will--has treated them in a way
they feel to be unbearably unfair, as well as unexpected.
And yet the majority of mankind would consider this American to be
supremely blessed. The two children he loves so dearly are as fondly
attached to him as ever they were; and there has also befallen him a piece
of quite unexpected good fortune. A distant relation, from whom he had no
expectations, has left him a fortune "as a token of admiration for his high
Senator Burton is now a very rich man, and because Daisy fancied it would
please her brother they have taken for the summer this historic English
manor house, famed all the world over to those interested in mediaeval
architecture, as Barwell Moat.
Here he, Daisy, and Nancy Dampier have already been settled for a week;
Gerald only joined them yesterday from Paris.
Early though it is, the Senator has already been up and dressed over an
hour; and he has spent the time unprofitably, in glancing over his diary of
two years ago, in conning, that is, the record of that strange, exciting
fortnight which so changed his own and his children's lives.
He has read over with pain and distaste the brief words in which he
chronicled that first chance meeting with Nancy Dampier. What excitement,
what adventures, and yes, what bitter sorrow had that chance meeting under
the porte cochère of the Hôtel Saint Ange brought in its train! If only he
and Daisy had started out an hour earlier on that June morning just two
years ago how much they would have been spared.
As for the fortune left to him, Senator Burton is now inclined to think
that it has brought him less than no good. It has only provided Gerald with
an excuse, which to an American father is no excuse, for neglecting his
profession. Further, it has enabled the young man to spend money in a
prodigal fashion over what even he now acknowledges to have been a hopeless
quest, though even at the present moment detectives in every capital in
Europe are watching for a clue which may afford some notion as to the
whereabouts of John Dampier.
John Dampier? Grim, relentless spectre who pursues them unceasingly, and
from whose menacing, shadowy presence they are never free--from whom, so
the Senator has now despairingly come to believe, they never, never will
He had stopped his diary abruptly on the evening of that now far-off day
when his eyes had been so rudely opened to his son's state of mind and
heart. But though he has no written record to guide him the Senator finds
it only too easy, on this beautiful June morning, to go back, in dreary
retrospective, over these two long years.
Gerald had not found it possible to keep his rash vow; there had come a day
when he had had to go back to America--indeed, he has been home three
times. But those brief visits of his son to his own country brought the
father no comfort, for each time Gerald left behind him in Europe not only
his heart, but everything else that matters to a man--his interests, his
longings, his hopes.
Small wonder that in time Senator Burton and Daisy had also fallen into the
way of spending nearly the whole of the Senator's spare time in Europe, and
with Nancy Dampier.
Nancy? The mind of the watcher by the window turns to her too, as he
visions the slender, graceful figure now pacing slowly by his son's side.
Is it unreasonable that, gradually withdrawing herself from her old
friends, those friends who did not believe that Dampier had left her save
of his own free will, Nancy should cling closer and closer to her new
friends? No, not at all unreasonable, but, from the Senator's point of
view, very unfortunate. Daisy and Nancy are now like sisters, and to the
Senator himself she shows the loving deference, the affection of a
daughter, but with regard to the all-important point of her relations to
Gerald, none of them know the truth--indeed, it may be doubted if she knows
But the situation gets more difficult, more strained every month, every
week, almost every day. Senator Burton feels that the time has come when
something must be done to end it--one way or the other--and the day before
yesterday he sought out Mr. Stephens, now one of his closest friends and
advisers, in order that they might confer together on the matter. As he
stands there looking down at the two figures walking across the dewy grass,
he remembers with a sense of boding fear the conversation with
"There's nothing to be done, my poor friend, nothing at all! Our English
marriage laws are perfectly clear, and though this is a very, very hard
case, I for my part have no wish to see them altered."
And the Senator had answered with heat, "I cannot follow you there at all!
The law which ties a living woman to a man who may be dead, nay, probably
is dead, is a monstrous law."
And Mr. Stephens had answered very quietly, "What if John Dampier be
"And is this all I can tell my poor son?"
And then it was that Mr. Stephens, looking at him doubtfully, had answered,
"Well no, for there is a way out. It is not a good way--I doubt if it is a
right way--but still it is a way. It is open to poor little Nancy to go to
America, to become naturalized there, and then to divorce her husband, in
one of your States, for desertion. The divorce so obtained would be no
divorce in England, but many Englishmen and Englishwomen have taken that
course as a last resort--" He had waited a moment, and then added, "I
doubt, however, very, very much if Nancy would consent to do such a thing,
even if she reciprocates--which is by no means sure--your
son's--er--feeling for her."
"Feeling?" Senator Burton's voice had broken, and then he had cried out
fiercely, "Why use such an ambiguous word, when we both know that Gerald is
killing himself for love of her--and giving up the finest career ever
opened to a man? If Mrs. Dampier does not reciprocate what you choose to
call his 'feeling' for bet, then she is the coldest and most ungrateful
"I don't think she is either the one or the other," had observed Mr.
Stephens mildly; and he had added under his breath, "It would be the better
for her if she were--Believe me the only way to force her to consider the
expedient I have suggested--" he had hesitated as if rather ashamed of what
he was about to say, "would be for Gerald to tell her the search for Mr.
Dampier must now end--and that the time has come when he must go back to
Small wonder that Senator Burton found it hard to sleep last night, small
wonder he has risen so early. He knows that his son is going to speak to
Nancy, to tell her what Mr. Stephens has suggested she should do, and he
suspects that now, at this very moment, the decisive conversation may be
Though unconscious that anxious, yearning eyes are following them, both
Nancy Dampier and Gerald Burton feel an instinctive desire to get away from
the house, and as far as may be from possible eavesdroppers. They walk
across the stretch of lawn which separates the moat from the gardens in a
constrained silence, she following rather than guiding her companion.
But as if this charming old-world plesaunce were quite familiar to him,
Gerald goes straight on, down a grass path ending in what appears to be a
high impenetrable wall of yew, and Nancy, surprised, then sees that a
narrow, shaft-like way leads straight through the green leafy depths.
"Why, Gerald?" she says a little nervously--they have long ago abandoned
any more formal mode of address, though between them there stands ever the
spectre of poor John Dampier, as present to one of the two, and he the man,
as if the menacing shadow were in very truth a tangible presence. "Why,
Gerald, where does this lead? Have you ever been here before?"
And for the first time since they met the night before, the young man
smiles. "I thought I'd like to see an English sunrise, Nancy, so I've been
up a long time. I found a rose garden through here, and I thought it would
be a quiet place for our talk."
It is strangely dark and still under the dense evergreen arch of the
slanting way carved through the yew hedge; Nancy can only grope her way
along. Turning round, Gerald holds out his strong hands, and taking hers in
what seems so cool, so impersonal a grasp, he draws her after him. And
Nancy flushes in the half darkness; it is the first time that she and
Gerald Burton have ever been alone together as they are alone now, and that
though they have met so very, very often in the last two years.
Nancy is at once glad and sorry when he suddenly loosens his grasp of her
hands. The shadowed way terminates in a narrow wrought-iron gate; and
beyond the gate is the rose garden of Barwell Moat, a tangle of exquisite
colouring, jealously guarded and hidden away from those to whom the more
familiar beauties of the place are free.
It is one of the oldest of English roseries, planned by some Elizabethan
dame who loved solitude rather than the sun. And if the roses bloom a
little less freely in this quiet, still enclosure than they would do in
greater light and wilder air, this gives the rosery, in these hot June
days, a touch of austere and more fragile beauty than that to be seen
beyond its enlacing yews.
A hundred years after the Elizabethan lady had designed the rosery of
Barwell Moat a Jacobean dame had added to her rose garden a fountain--one
brought maybe from Italy or France, for the fat stone Cupids now shaking
slender jets of water from their rose-leaved cornucopias are full of a
roguish, Southern grace.
When they have passed through into this fragrant, enchanted looking
retreat, Nancy cries out in real delight: "What an exquisite and lovely
place! How strange that Daisy and I never found it!"
And then, as Gerald remains silent, she looks, for the first time this
morning, straight up into his face, and her heart is filled with a sudden
overwhelming sensation of suspense--and yes, fear, for there is the
strangest expression on the young man's countenance, indeed it is full of
deep, of violent emotion--emotion his companion finds contagious.
She tells herself that at last he has brought news. That if he did not tell
her so last night it was because he wished her to have one more night of
peace--of late poor Nancy's nights have become very peaceful.
John Dampier? There was a time--it now seems long, long ago--when Nancy
would have given not only her life but her very soul to have known that her
husband was safe, that he would come back to her. But now? Alas! Alas! Now
she realises with an agonised feeling of horror, of self-loathing, that she
no longer wishes to hear Gerald Burton say that he has kept his word--that
he has found Dampier.
She prays God that nothing of what she is feeling shows in her face; and
Gerald is far too moved, far too doubtful as to what he is to say to her,
and as to the answer she will make to him, to see that she looks in any way
different from what she always does look in his eyes--the most beautiful as
well as the most loved and worshipped of human creatures.
"Tell me!" she gasps. "Tell me, Gerald? What is it you want to say to me?
Don't keep me in suspense--" and then, as he is still dumb, she adds with a
cry, "Have you come to tell me that at last you have found Jack?"
And he pulls himself together with a mighty effort. Nancy's words have
rudely dispelled the hopes with which his heart has been filled ever since
his father came to his room last night and told him what Mr. Stephens had
suggested as a possible way out of the present, intolerable situation.
"No," he says sombrely, "no, Nancy, I have brought you no good news, and I
am beginning to fear I never shall."
And he does not see even now that the long quivering sigh which escapes
from her pale lips is a sigh of unutterable--if of pained and
But what is this he is now saying, in a voice which is so unsteady, so
oddly unlike his own?
"I think--God forgive me for thinking so if I am wrong--that I have always
been right, Nancy, that your husband is dead--that he was killed two years
ago, the night he disappeared--"
She bends her head. Yes, she too believes that, though there was a time
when she fought, with desperate strength, against the belief.
He goes on breathlessly, hoarsely, aware that he is making what Mr.
Stephens would call a bad job of it all: "I am now beginning to doubt
whether we shall ever discover the truth as to what did happen. His body
may still lie concealed somewhere in the Hôtel Saint Ange, and if that is
so, there's but small chance indeed that we shall ever, ever learn
And again she bends her head.
"I fear the time is come, Nancy, when the search must be given up."
He utters the fateful words very quietly, very gently, but even so she
feels a pang of startled fear. Does that mean--yes, of course it must mean,
that Gerald is going away, back to America?
A feeling of dreadful desolation fills her heart. "Yes," she says in a low
tone, "I think you are right. I think the search should be given up."
She would like to utter words of thanks, the conventional words of
gratitude she has uttered innumerable times in the last two years--but now
they stick in her throat.
Tears smart into her eyes, stifled sobs burst from her lips.
And Gerald again misunderstands--misunderstands her tears, the sobs which
tear and shake her slender body. But he is only too familiar with the
feeling which now grips him--the feeling that he must rush forward and take
her in his arms. It has never gripped him quite as strongly as it does now;
and so he steps abruptly back, and puts more of the stone rim of the
fountain between himself and that forlorn little figure.
"Nancy?" he cries. "I was a brute to say that. Of course I will go on! Of
course we won't give up hope! It's natural that I should sometimes become
He is telling himself resolutely that never, never will he propose to her
the plan his father revealed to him last night. How little either his
father or Mr. Stephens had understood the relation between himself and
Nancy if they supposed that he, of all men, could make to her such a
And then he suddenly sees in Nancy's sensitive face, in her large blue eyes
that unconscious beckoning, calling look every lover longs to see in the
face of his beloved....
They each instinctively move towards the other, and in a flash Nancy is in
his arms and he is holding her strained to his heart, while his lips seek,
find, cling to her sweet, tremulous mouth.
But the moment of rapture, of almost unendurable bliss is short indeed, for
suddenly he feels her shrinking from him, and though for yet another moment
he holds her against her will, the struggle soon ends, and he releases her,
feeling what he has never yet felt when with her, that is, bewildered,
hurt, and yes, angry.
And then, when she sees that new alien glance of anger in eyes which have
never looked at her but kindly, Nancy feels a dreadful pang of pain, as
well as of shamed distress. She creeps up nearer to him, and puts her hand
imploringly on his arm--that arm which a moment ago held her so closely to
him, but which now hangs, apparently nerveless, by his side.
"Gerald!" she whispers imploringly. "Don't be angry with me," and her voice
drops still lower as she adds piteously, "You see, I knew we were doing
wrong. I--I felt wicked."
And then, as he still makes no answer, she grows more keenly distressed.
"Gerald?" she says again. "You may kiss me if you like." And as he only
looks down at her, taking no advantage of the reluctant permission, she
falters out the ill-chosen words, "Don't you know how grateful I am
And then, stung past endurance, he turns on her savagely:--"Does that mean
that I have bought the right to kiss you?"
But as, at this, she bursts into bitter tears, he again takes her in his
arms, and he does kiss her, violently, passionately, hungrily. He is only a
man after all.
But alas! These other kisses leave behind them a bitter taste. They lack
the wild, exquisite flavour of the first.
At last he tells her, haltingly, slowly, of Mr. Stephens' suggestion, but
carefully as he chooses his words he feels her shrinking, wincing at the
images they conjure up; and he tells himself with impatient self-reproach
that he has been too quick, too abrupt--that he ought to have allowed the
notion to sink into her mind slowly, that he should have made Daisy, or
even his father, be his ambassador.
"I couldn't do that!" she whispers at last, and he sees that she has turned
very white. "I don't think I could ever do that! Think how awful it would
be if--if after I had done such a thing I found that poor Jack was not
dead? Some time ago--I have never told you of this--some friend, meaning to
be kind, sent me a cutting from a paper telling of a foreigner who had been
taken up for mad in Italy, and confined in a lunatic asylum for years and
years! You don't know how that story haunted me. It haunted me for weeks.
You wouldn't like me to do anything I thought wrong, Gerald?"
"No," he says moodily. "No, Nancy--I will never ask you to do anything you
think wrong." He adds with an effort, "I told my father last night that I
doubted if you would ever consent to such a thing."
And then she asks an imprudent question:--"And what did he say then?" she
says in a troubled, unhappy voice.
"D'you really want to know what he said?"
She creeps a little nearer to him, she even takes his hand. "Yes, Gerald.
"He said that if you wouldn't consent to do some such thing, why then I
should be doing wrong to stay in Europe. He said--I little knew how true it
was--that soon you would learn that I loved you, and that then--that then
the situation would become intolerable."
"Intolerable?" she repeats in a low, strained tone. "Oh no, not
intolerable, Gerald! Surely you don't feel that?"
And this time it is Gerald who winces, who draws back; but suddenly his
heart fills up, brims over with a great, an unselfish tenderness--for
Nancy, gazing up at him, looks disappointed as a child, not a woman, looks,
when disappointed of a caress; and so he puts his arms round her and kisses
her very gently, very softly, in what he tells himself is a kind, brotherly
fashion. "You know I'll do just whatever you wish," he murmurs.
And contentedly she nestles against him. "Oh, Gerald," she whispers back,
"how good you are to me! Can't we always be reasonable--like this?"
And he smiles, a little wryly. "Why, yes," he says, "of course we can! And
now, Nancy, it's surely breakfast time. Let's go back to the house."
And Nancy, perhaps a little surprised, a little taken aback at his sudden,
cheerful acceptance of her point of view, follows him through the dark
passage cut in the yew hedge. She supposes--perhaps she even hopes--that
before they emerge into the sun light he will turn and again kiss her in
the reasonable, tender way he did just now.
But Gerald does not even turn round and grasp her two hands as he did
before. He leaves her to grope her way behind him as best she can, and as
they walk across the lawn he talks to her in a more cheerful, indifferent
way than he has ever done before. Once they come close up to the house,
however, he falls into a deep silence.
It is by the merest chance that they stay in that afternoon, for it has
been a long, a wretched day for them all.
Senator Burton and his daughter are consumed with anxiety, with a desire to
know what has taken place, but all they can see is that Gerald and Nancy
both look restless, miserable, and ill at ease with one another. Daisy
further suspects that Nancy is avoiding Gerald, and the suspicion makes her
feel anxious and uncomfortable.
As for the Senator, he begins to feel that he hates this beautiful old
house and its lovely gardens; he has never seen Gerald look as unhappy
anywhere as he looks here.
At last he seeks his son out, and, in a sense, forces his confidence.
"Well, my boy?"
"Well, father, she doesn't feel she can do it! She thinks that Dampier may
be alive after all. If you don't mind I'd rather not talk about her
And then the Senator tells himself, for the hundredth time in the last two
years, that they have now come to the breaking point--that if Nancy will
not take the only reasonable course open to her, then that Gerald must be
nerved to make, as men have so often had to make, the great renouncement.
To go on as he is now doing is not only wrong as regards himself, it is
wrong as regards his sister Daisy.
There is a man in America who loves Daisy--a man too of whom the Senator
approves as much as he can of anyone who is anxious to take his daughter
from him. And Daisy, were her heart only at leisure, might respond; but
alas! her heart is not at leisure, it is wholly absorbed in the affairs of
her brother and of her friend.
At last the high ritual of English afternoon tea brings them out all
together on the lawn in front of the house.
Deferentially consulted by the solemn-faced, suave-mannered butler, who
seems as much part of Barwell Moat as do the gabled dormer windows, Daisy
Burton decides that tea is to be set out wherever it generally is set out
by the owners of the house. Weightily she is informed that "her ladyship"
has tea served sometimes in that part of the garden which is called the
rosery, sometimes on the front lawn, and the butler adds the cryptic
information, "according as to whether her ladyship desires to see
visitors or not."
Daisy does not quite see what difference the fact of tea being served in
one place or another can make to apocryphal visitors, so, with what
cheerfulness she can muster, she asks the others which they would prefer.
And at once, a little to her surprise, Nancy and Gerald answer
simultaneously, "Oh, let us have tea on the lawn, not--not in the rosery!"
And it is there, in front of the house, that within a very few minutes they
are all gathered together, and for the first time that day Senator Burton's
heart lightens a little.
He is amused at the sight of those three men--the butler and his two
footmen satellites--gravely making their elaborate preparations. Chairs are
brought out, piles of cushions are flung about in bounteous profusion, even
two hammocks are slung up--all in an incredibly short space of time: and
the American tenant of Barwell Moat tells himself that the scene before him
might be taken from one of the stories of his favourite British novelist,
good old Anthony Trollope.
Ah me! How happy they all might be this afternoon were it not for the ever
present unspoken hopes and fears which fill their hearts!
Daisy sits down behind the tea-table; and the cloud lifts a little from
Gerald's stern, set face; the three young people even laugh and joke a
The Senator glances at Nancy Dampier; she is looking very lovely this
afternoon, but her face is flushed, her manner is restless, agitated, she
looks what he has never seen her look till to-day, thoroughly ill at ease,
and yet, yes, certainly less listless, more alive than she looked
yesterday--before Gerald's arrival.
What strange creatures women are! The Senator does not exactly disapprove
of Nancy's decision, but he regrets it bitterly. If only she would throw in
her lot with Gerald--come to America, her mind made up never to return to
Europe again, why then even now they might all be happy.
But her face, soft though it be in repose, is not that of a weak woman; it
is that of one who, thinking she knows what should be her duty, will be
faithful to it; and it is also the face of a woman reserved in the
expression of her feelings. Senator Burton cannot make up his mind whether
Nancy realises Gerald's measureless, generous devotion. Is she even aware
of all that he has sacrificed for her? Daisy says yes--Daisy declares that
Nancy "cares" for Gerald--but then Daisy herself is open-hearted and
generous like her brother.
And while these painful thoughts, these half-formed questions and answers,
weave in and out through Senator Burton's brain, there suddenly falls a
loud grinding sound on his ears, and a motor-car sweeps into view.
Now, at last, Daisy Burton understands the butler's cryptic remark! Here,
in front of the house, escape from visitors is, of course, impossible. She
feels a pang of annoyance at her own stupidity for not having understood,
but there is no help for it--and very soon three people, a middle-aged lady
and two gentlemen, are advancing over the green sward.
The Senator and his daughter rise, and walk forward to meet them. Gerald
and Nancy remain behind. Indeed the young man hardly sees the strangers; he
is only conscious of a deep feeling of relief that the solicitous eyes of
his father and sister are withdrawn from him and Nancy.
Since this morning he has been in a strange state of alternating rapture
and despair. He feels as if he and Nancy, having just found one another,
are now doomed to part. Ever since he held her in his arms he has ached
with loneliness and with thwarted longing; during the whole of this long
day Nancy has eluded him; not for a single moment have they been alone
together. And now all his good resolutions--the resolutions which stood him
in such good stead in that dark, leafy tunnel--have vanished. He now faces
the fact that they cannot hope, when once more alone and heart to heart, to
be what Nancy calls "reasonable."...
Suddenly he comes back to the drab realities of every-day life. His father
is introducing him to the visitors--first to the lady: "Mrs. Arbuthnot--my
son, Gerald Burton. Mrs. Dampier--Mrs. Arbuthnot." And then to the two men,
Mr. Arbuthnot and a Mr. Dallas.
There is a quick interchange of talk. The newcomers are explaining who and
what they are. Mr. Robert Arbuthnot is a retired Anglo-Indian official, and
he and his wife have now lived for two years in the dower house which forms
part of the Barwell Moat estate.
"I should not have called quite so soon had it not been that our friend,
Mr. Dallas, is only staying with us for two or three days, and he is most
anxious to meet you, Mr. Senator. Mr. Dallas is one of the Officers of
Health for the Port of London. He read some years ago"--she turns smilingly
to the gentleman in question--"a very interesting pamphlet with which you
seem to have been in some way concerned, about the Port of New York."
The Senator is flattered to find how well Mr. Dallas remembers that old
report of which he was one of the signatories. For a moment he forgets his
troubles; and the younger people--Mrs. Arbuthnot also--remain silent while
these three men, who have each had a considerable experience of great
affairs, begin talking of the problems which face those who have vast
masses of human beings to consider and legislate for.
Mr. Dallas talks the most; he is one of those cheerful, eager Englishmen
who like the sound of their own voices: he is also one of those fortunate
people who take an intense interest in the work they are set to do. In Mr.
Dallas's ears there is no pleasanter sounding word than the word
"Ah," he says, turning smilingly to the Senator, "how I envy my New York
colleagues! They have plenary powers. They are real autocrats!"
"They would be but for our press," answers the Senator. "I wonder if you
heard anything of the scrape Dr. Cranebrook got into last year?"
"Of course I did! I heard all about it, and I felt very sorry for him. But
our London press is getting almost as bad! Government by newspaper--" he
shakes his head expressively. "And my friend Arbuthnot tells me that it's
becoming really serious in India; there the native press is getting more
and more power. Ah well! They do those things better in France."
And then Mrs. Arbuthnot's voice is heard at last. "My husband and Mr.
Dallas have only just come back from Paris, Miss Burton. Mr. Dallas went
over on business, and my husband accompanied him. They had a most
interesting time: they spent a whole day at the Prefecture of Police with
the Prefect himself--"
She stops speaking, and wonders a little why a sudden silence has fallen
over the whole group of these pleasant Americans--for she takes Nancy to be
an American too.
But the sudden silence--so deep, so absolute that it reminds Mrs. Arbuthnot
of the old saying that when such a stillness falls on any company someone
must be walking over their graves--is suddenly broken.
Mr. Dallas jumps to his feet. He is one of those men who never like sitting
still very long. "May I have another lump of sugar, Miss Burton? We were
speaking of Paris,--talk of muzzling the press, they know how to muzzle
their press in grim earnest in Paris! Talk of suppressing the truth, they
don't even begin to tell the truth there. The Tsar of Russia as an autocrat
isn't in it with the Paris Prefect of Police!"
And two of his listeners say drearily to themselves that Mr. Dallas is a
very ignorant man after all. He is evidently one of the many foolish people
who believe the French police omnipotent.
But the Englishman goes happily on, quite unconscious that he is treading
on what has become forbidden ground in the Burton family circle. "The
present man's name is Beaucourt, a very pleasant fellow! He told me some
astounding stories. I wonder if you'd like to hear the one which struck
He looks round, pleased at their attention, at the silence which has again
fallen on them all, and which he naturally takes for consent.
Eagerly he begins: "It was two years ago, at the height of their Exhibition
season, and of course Paris was crammed--every house full, from cellar to
attic! Monsieur Beaucourt tells me that there were more than five hundred
thousand strangers in the city for whose safety, and incidentally for whose
health, he was responsible!"
He waits a moment, that thought naturally impresses him more than it does
"Well, into that gay maelstrom there suddenly arrived a couple of young
foreigners. They were well-to-do, and what impressed the little story
particularly on Monsieur Beaucourt's mind was the fact that they were on
their honeymoon--you know how sentimental the French are!"
Mr. Dallas looks around. They are all gazing at him with upturned
faces--never had he a more polite, a more attentive circle of listeners.
There is, however, one exception: his old friend, Mr. Arbuthnot, puts his
hand up to conceal a yawn; he has heard the story before.
"Where was I? Oh, yes. Well, these young people--Monsieur Beaucourt thinks
they were Americans--had gone to Italy for their honeymoon, and they were
ending up in Paris. They arrived late at night--I think form
Marseilles--and most providentially they were put on different floors in
the hotel they had chosen in the Latin Quarter. Well, that very night--"
Mr. Dallas looks round him triumphantly. He does not exactly smile, for
what he is going to say is really rather dreadful, but he has the eager,
pleased look which all good story-tellers have when they have come to the
point of their story.
"I don't believe that one man in a million would guess what happened!" He
looks round him again, and has time to note complacently that the son of
his host, who has risen, and whose hands grip the back of the chair from
which he has risen, is staring, fascinated, across at him.
"A very, very strange and terrible thing befell this young couple. That
first night of their stay in Paris, between two and three the bridegroom
developed plague! Monsieur Beaucourt tells me that the poor fellow behaved
with the greatest presence of mind; although he cannot of course have known
what exactly was the matter with him, he gave orders that his wife was not
to be disturbed, and that the hotel people were to send for a doctor at
once. Luckily there was a medical man living in the same street; he leapt
on the dreadful truth, sent for an ambulance, and within less than half an
hour of the poor fellow's seizure he was whisked away to the nearest public
hospital, where he died five hours later."
Mr. Dallas waits a moment, he is a little disappointed that no one speaks,
and he hurries on:--
"And now comes the point of my story! Monsieur Beaucourt assures me that
the fact was kept absolutely secret. He told me that had it leaked out it
might have half emptied Paris. French people have a perfect terror of what
they call 'la Peste.' But not a whisper of the truth got about, and that
though a considerable number of people had to know, including many of the
officials connected with the Prefecture of Police. The Prefect showed me
the poor fellow's watch and bunch of seals, the only things, of course,
that they were able to keep; he really spoke very nicely, very movingly
And then, at last, the speaker stops abruptly. He has seen his host's son
reel a little, sway as does a man who is drunk, and then fall heavily to
It is hours later. The sun has long set. Gerald opens his eyes; and then he
shuts them again, for he wants to go on dreaming. He is vaguely aware that
he is lying in the magnificent Jacobean four-post bed which he had been far
too miserable, too agitated to notice when his father had brought him up
the night before. But now the restful beauty of the spacious room, the
fantastic old coloured maps lining the walls, affect him agreeably, soothe
his tired mind and brain.
During that dreamy moment of half-waking he has seen in the shadowed room,