Part 2 out of 4
lover of Paris contain the most enchanting and characteristic vistas of
Once there, his footsteps became slower. He thrust his hands into his
pockets and walked along, with eyes bent on the ground.
What manner of man could John Dampier be to leave his young wife--such a
beautiful, trusting, confiding creature as was evidently this poor girl--in
this cruel uncertainty? Was it conceivable that the man lived who could
behave to this Mrs. Dampier with the unkindness Gerald's father had
suggested--and that as the outcome of a trifling quarrel? No! Gerald
Burton's generous nature revolted from such a notion.
And yet--and yet his father thought it quite possible! To Gerald his
father's views and his father's attitude to life meant a great deal more
than he was wont to allow, either to that same kind indulgent father or to
himself; and now he had to admit that the Senator did believe that what
seemed so revolting to him, Gerald, was the most probable explanation of
The young man had stayed quite a while at the studio, listening to Mère
Bideau's garrulous confidences. Now and again he had asked her a question,
forced thereto by some obscure but none the less intense desire to know
what Nancy Dampier's husband was like. And the old woman had acknowledged,
in answer to a word from him, that her master was not a good-tempered man.
"Monsieur" could be very cross, very disagreeable sometimes. But bah! were
not all gentlemen like that?--so Mère Bideau had added with an easy laugh.
On the whole, however--so much must be admitted--she had given Dampier a
very good character. If quick-tempered, he was generous, considerate, and,
above all, hard-working. But--but Mère Bideau had been very much surprised
to hear "Monsieur" was going to be married--and to an Englishwoman, too!
She, Mère Bideau, had always supposed he preferred Frenchwomen; in fact, he
had told her so time and again. But bah! again; what won't a pretty face do
with a man? So Mère Bideau had exclaimed 'twixt smile and sigh.
Gerald Burton began walking more quickly, this time towards the west, along
the quay which leads to the Chamber of Deputies.
The wide thoroughfare was deserted save for an occasional straggler making
his weary way home after a day spent in ministering to the wants and the
pleasures of the strangers who now crowded the city....
How wise he, Gerald Burton, was now showing himself to be in thus spending
the short summer night out-of-doors, à la belle étoile, as the French so
charmingly put it, instead of in some stuffy, perhaps not overclean,
But soon his mind swung back to the strange events of the past day!
Already Nancy Dampier's personality held a strange, beckoning fascination
for the young American. He hadn't met many English girls, for his father
far preferred France to England, and it was to France they sped whenever
they had time to do so. And Gerald Burton hadn't cared very much for the
few English girls he had met. But Nancy was very, very different from the
only two kinds of her fellow countrywomen with whom he had ever been
acquainted--the kind, that is, who is closely chaperoned by vigilant mother
or friend, and the kind who spends her life wandering about the world
How brave, how gentle, how--how self-controlled Mrs. Dampier had been!
While it was clear that she was terribly distressed, and all the more
distressed by the Poulains' monstrous assertion that she had come alone to
the Hôtel Saint Ange, yet how well she had behaved all that long day of
waiting and suspense! How anxious she had been to spare the
Not for a single moment had he, Gerald Burton, felt with her as he so often
felt with women--awkward and self-conscious. Deep in his inmost heart he
was aware that there were women and girls who thought him very
good-looking; and far from pleasing him, the knowledge made him feel
sometimes shy, sometimes even angry. He already ardently wished to protect,
to help, to shelter Mrs. Dampier.
Daisy had been out of the room for a moment, probably packing his bag, when
he had come back tired and weary from his fruitless quest, and Mrs.
Dampier, if keenly disappointed that he had no news, had yet thanked him
very touchingly for the trifling trouble, or so it now seemed, that he had
taken for her.
"I don't know what I should have done if it hadn't been for your kind
father, for your sister, and--and for you, Mr. Burton."
He walked across the bridge leading to the Champs Elysées, paced round the
Arc de Triomphe, and then strolled back to the deserted quays. He had no
wish to go on to the Boulevards. It was Paris asleep, not Paris awake, with
which Gerald Burton felt in close communion during that short summer night.
And how short is a Paris summer night! Soon after he had seen the sun rise
over an eastern bend of the river, the long, low buildings which line the
Seine below the quays stirred into life, and he was able to enjoy a
delicious, a refreshing plunge in the great swimming-bath which is among
the luxuries Paris provides for those of her sons who are
Six o'clock found Gerald Burton at the café where he had left his bag,
ready for a cup of good coffee.
The woman who served him--the waiters were still asleep--told him of a room
likely to be disengaged the next night.
The next night? But if Dampier were to come back this morning--as,
according to one theory, he was very likely to do--then he, Gerald, would
have no need of a room.
Somehow that possibility was not as agreeable to him as it ought to have
been. In theory Gerald Burton longed for this unknown man's return--for a
happy solution, that is, of the strange mystery which had been cast, in so
dramatic a fashion, athwart the Burtons' placid, normal life; but, scarce
consciously to himself, the young American felt that Dampier's reappearance
would end, and that rather tamely, an exciting and in some ways a very
As he came up the Rue Saint Ange, he saw their landlord, a blue apron tied
about his portly waist, busily brushing the pavement in front of the hotel
with a yellow broom.
"Well?" he said eagerly, "well, Monsieur Poulain, any news?"
Poulain looked up at him and shook his head. "No, Monsieur Gerald," he said
sullenly, "no news at all."
Nancy Dampier sat up in bed.
Long rays of bright sunlight filtering in between deep blue curtains showed
her a large, lofty room, with panelled walls, and furniture covered with
blue damask silk.
It was more like an elegant boudoir in an old English country house than a
bedroom, and for a moment she wondered, bewildered, where she could be.
Then suddenly she remembered--remembered everything; and her heart filled,
brimmed over, with seething pain and a sharp, overwhelming sensation
Jack had gone: disappeared: vanished as if the earth had swallowed him up!
And she, Nancy, was alone in a foreign city where she did not know a single
soul, with the paramount exception of the American strangers who had come
to her help in so kindly and so generous a fashion.
She pushed her soft hair back from her forehead, and tried to recall, step
by step, all that had happened yesterday.
Two facts started out clearly--her almost painful gratitude to the Burtons
and her shrinking terror of the Poulains, or rather of Madame Poulain, the
woman who had looked fixedly into her face and lied.
As to what had happened to Dampier, Nancy's imagination began to whisper
things of unutterable dread. If her Jack had been possessed of a large sum
of money she would have suspected the hotel people of having
But no, she and Jack had come to the end of the ample provision of gold and
bank-notes with which they had started for Italy. As is the way with most
prosperous newly-married folk, they had spent a good deal more on their
short honeymoon than they had reckoned to do. He had said so the day before
yesterday, in the train, when within an hour of Paris. Indeed he had added
that one of the first things they must do the next day must be to call at
the English bank where he kept an account.
She now told herself that she had to face the possibility, nay the
probability, that her husband had met with some serious accident on his way
to the Impasse des Nonnes. Nancy knew that this had been Gerald Burton's
theory, and of her three new kind friends it was Gerald Burton who
impressed her with the greatest trust and confidence. He, unlike his
father, had at once implicitly believed her version of what had taken place
when she and Jack arrived at the Hôtel Saint Ange.
The bedroom door opened, cautiously, quietly, and Daisy Burton came in
carrying a tray in her pretty graceful hands.
Poor Nancy! She felt confused, grateful, and a little awkward. She had not
realised that her nervous dread of Madame Poulain would mean that this kind
girl must wait on her.
"I came in before, but you were sound asleep. Still, I thought I must wake
you now, for father wants to know if you would mind him going to our
Embassy about your husband? It's really my brother's idea. As you know,
Gerald thinks it almost certain that Mr. Dampier met with some kind of
accident yesterday morning, and he isn't a bit satisfied with the way the
local Commissaire de Police answered his enquiries. Gerald thinks the only
way to get attended to in Paris is to make people feel that you are
important, and that they will get into trouble if they don't attend to you
Even as she was speaking Daisy Burton smiled rather nervously, for both she
and Gerald had just gone through a very disagreeable half-hour with their
generally docile and obedient father.
The Senator did not wish to go to the American Embassy--at any rate not
yet--about this strange business. He had pleaded with both his young people
to wait, at any rate, till the afternoon: at any moment, so he pointed out,
they might have news of the missing man: but Gerald was inexorable.
"No, father, that's no use; if we do nothing we shan't get proper attention
from the police officials till to-morrow. If you will only go and see Mr.
Curtis about this business I promise to take all other trouble off
And then the Senator had actually groaned--as if he minded trouble!
"Mr. Curtis will do for you what he certainly wouldn't do for me, father.
Daisy can go with you to the Embassy: I'll stay and look after Mrs.
Dampier: she mustn't be left alone, exposed to the Poulains' insolence."
And so the matter had been settled. But Senator Burton had made one
"I won't go to the Embassy," he said firmly, "without hearing from Mrs.
Dampier's own lips that such is her wish. And, Daisy? Gerald? Hearken to
me--neither of you is to say anything to influence her in the matter, one
way or the other."
And so it was with a certain relief that Daisy Burton now heard her new
friend say eagerly:
"Why of course! I shall only be too grateful if your father will do
anything he thinks may help me to find Jack. Oh, you don't know how
bewildered and how frightened I feel!"
And the other answered soothingly, "Yes, indeed I do know how you must
feel. But I expect it will be all right soon. After all, Gerald
said--"--she hesitated a moment, and then went on more firmly--"Gerald said
that probably Mr. Dampier met with quite a slight accident, and that might
be the reason why the tiresome Commissaire de Police knew nothing
"But if it was a slight accident," Nancy objected quickly, "Jack would have
let me know at once! You don't know my husband: he would move heaven and
earth to save me a minute's anxiety or trouble."
"I am sure of that. But Gerald says that if Mr. Dampier did try and arrange
for you to be sent a message at once, the message miscarried--"
It was an hour later. The Senator had listened in silence while his young
English guest had expressed in faltering, but seemingly very sincere,
tones, her gratitude for his projected visit to the American Embassy. Nay,
she had done more. Very earnestly Mrs. Dampier had begged Senator Burton
and his daughter not to give themselves more trouble over her affairs than
was absolutely necessary.
And her youth, her beauty, her expression of pitiful distress had touched
the Senator, though it had not shaken his belief in the Poulains' story. He
did however assure her, very kindly and courteously, that he grudged no
time spent in her service.
And then, while Gerald Burton accompanied his father and his sister
downstairs, Nancy Dampier was left alone for a few minutes with her own
troubled and bewildered thoughts.
She walked restlessly over to one of the high windows of the sitting-room,
and looked down into the shady garden below. Then her eyes wandered over
the picturesque grey and red roofs of the old Paris Jack Dampier loved
Somehow the cheerful, bright beauty of this June morning disturbed and even
angered poor Nancy. She remembered with distaste, even with painful wonder,
the sensations of pleasure, of amusement, of admiration with which she had
first come through into this formal, harmoniously furnished salon, which
was so unlike any hotel sitting-room she had ever seen before.
But that had been yesterday morning--infinitely long ago.
Now, each of the First Empire pieces of furniture seemed burnt into her
brain: and the human faces of the dull gold sphinxes which jutted from each
of the corners of the long, low settee seemed to grin at her maliciously.
She felt unutterably forlorn and wretched. If only she could do something!
She told herself, with a sensation of recoil and revolt, that she could
never face another day of suspense and waiting spent as had been the whole
of yesterday afternoon and evening.
Going up to the brass-rimmed round table, she took up a book which was
lying there. It was a guide to Paris, arranged on the alphabetical
principle. Idly she began turning over the leaves, and then suddenly Nancy
Dampier's cheeks, which had become so pale as to arouse Senator Burton's
commiseration, became deeply flushed. She turned over the leaves of the
guide-book with feverish haste, anxious to find what it was that she now
sought there before the return of Gerald Burton.
At last she came to the page marked M.
Yes, there was what she at once longed and dreaded to find! And she had
just read the last line of the paragraph when Gerald Burton came back
into the room.
Looking at him fixedly, she said quietly and in what he felt to be an
unnaturally still voice, "Mr. Burton? There is a place in Paris called the
Morgue. Do you not think that I ought to go there, to-day? It says in this
guide-book that people who are killed in the streets of Paris are taken
straight to the Morgue."
The young American nodded gravely. The Commissary of Police had mentioned
the Morgue, had in fact suggested that those who were seeking John Dampier
would do well to go there within a day or two.
Nancy went on:--"Could I go this morning? I would far rather go by myself,
I mean without saying anything about it to either your father or to
He answered quickly, but so gently, so kindly, that the tears sprang to her
eyes, "Yes, I quite understand that. But of course you must allow me to go
And she answered, again in that quiet, unnaturally still voice, "Thank you.
I shall be grateful if you will." Then after a moment, "Couldn't we start
soon--I mean now?"
"Why yes, certainly--if you wish it."
Without saying anything further, she went to put on her hat.
Gerald Burton's notions as to the Morgue were in a sense at once confused
and clear. He had known of the place ever since he could read. He was aware
that it was a building where all those who die a violent death are at once
taken: he imagined it further to be a place where morbid curiosity drew
daily many tourists. In fact in an old guide-book of which his father was
fond he remembered that there ran a sentence:--
The Morgue is certainly one of the most curious and extraordinary
sights of Paris, but only those who are in the enjoyment of good nerves
are advised to visit it.
As he waited for Mrs. Dampier the young man's face became very, very grave.
Till now he had not envisaged the possibility that John Dampier, this
unknown man across the current of whose life he, Gerald Burton, had been
thrust in so strange and untoward a manner, might be dead.
Sudden death--that dread possibility which is never far from any one of
us--never haunts the mind of normal youth.
But now there came to Gerald Burton a sudden overwhelming understanding of
the transience not only of human life, but what means so much more to most
sentient human beings, the transience of such measure of happiness as we
poor mortals are allowed to enjoy.
His imagination conjured up Nancy Dampier as he had first seen her standing
in Virginie Poulain's little room. She had been a vision of lovely
girlhood, and yes, far more than that--though he had not known it then--of
His unspoken question was answered by Mrs. Dampier's return into the room.
He looked at her searchingly. Yes, she was lovely--her beauty rather
heightened than diminished, as is so often the case with a very young
woman, by the ordeal she was going through, but all the glow and radiance
were gone from her face.
"I ought to have told you before," he said impulsively, "that--that among
the men who were taken to the Morgue yesterday morning there was no one who
in the least answered to the description you have given me of Mr.
Dampier--so much the Commissary of Police was able to inform me most
And Nancy drew a long convulsive breath of relief.
They went down to the courtyard, and across to the porte cochère. While
they did so Gerald Burton was unpleasantly conscious that they were being
watched; watched from behind the door which led into the garden, for there
stood Jules, a broom as almost always in his hand: watched from the kitchen
window, where Madame Poulain stood with arms akimbo: watched from behind
the glass pane of the little office which was only occupied when Monsieur
Poulain was engaged in the pleasant task of making out his profitable
But not one of the three watchers came forward and offered to do them even
the usual, trifling service of hailing a cab.
The two passed out into the narrow street and walked till they came to the
square where stood, at this still early hour of the morning, long rows of
"I think we'd better drive?" said Gerald Burton questioningly.
And his companion answered quickly, "Oh yes! I should like to get there as
quickly as possible." And then her pale face flushed a little. "Mr. Burton,
will you kindly pay for me?"
She put her purse, an absurd, delicately tinted little beaded purse which
had been one of her wedding presents, into his hand.
Gerald took it without demur. Had he been escorting an American girl, he
would have insisted on being paymaster, but some sure instinct had already
taught him how to treat Nancy Dampier--he realised she preferred not adding
a material to the many immaterial obligations she now owed the
A quarter of an hour's quick driving brought them within sight of the low,
menacing-looking building which is so curiously, in a sense so beautifully,
situated on the left bank of the Seine, to the right of Notre Dame.
"Mrs. Dampier? I beg you not to get out of the carriage till I come and
fetch you," said Gerald earnestly, "there is no necessity for you to come
into the Morgue unless--" he hesitated.
"I know what you mean," she said quietly. "Unless you see someone there who
might be Jack. Yes, Mr. Burton, I'll stay quietly in the carriage till you
come and fetch me. It's very good of you to have thought of it."
But when they drew up before the great closed door two or three of the
incorrigible beggars who spend their days in the neighbourhood of the
greater Paris churches, came eagerly forward.
Here were a fine couple, a good-looking Englishman and his bride. True,
they were about to be cheated out of their bit of fun, but they might be
good for a small dole--so thought the shrewder of those idlers who seemed,
as the carriage drew up, to spring out of the ground.
One of them strolled up to Gerald. "M'sieur cannot go into the Morgue
unless he has a permit," he said with a whine.
Gerald shook the man off, and rang at the closed door. It seemed a long
time before it was opened by a man dressed like a Paris workman, that is in
a bright blue blouse and long baggy white trousers.
"I want to view any bodies which were brought in yesterday. I fear I am a
He slipped a five franc piece into the man's hand. But the silver key which
unlocks so many closed doors in Paris only bought this time a civil answer.
"Impossible, monsieur! I should lose my place. I could not do it for a
thousand francs." And then in answer to the American's few words of
surprise and discomfiture,--"Yes, it's quite true that we were open to the
public till three years ago. But it's easier to get into the Elysée than it
is to get into the Morgue, nowadays." He waited a moment, then he murmured
under his breath, "Of course if monsieur cares to say that he is looking
for someone who has disappeared, and if he will provide a description, the
more commonplace the better, then--well, monsieur may be able to obtain a
permit! At any rate monsieur has only to go along to the office where
permits are issued to find that what I say is true. If only monsieur will
bring me a permit I will gladly show monsieur everything there is to be
seen." The man became enthusiastic. "Not only are there the bodies to see!
We also possess relics of many great criminals; and as for our
refrigerating machines--ah, monsieur, they are really in their way wonders!
Well worth, as I have sometimes heard people say, coming all the way to
Paris to see!"
Sick at heart Gerald Burton turned away--not, however, before he had
explained gravely that his wish in coming to the Morgue was not to gratify
idle curiosity, but to seek a friend whose disappearance since the morning
before was causing acute anxiety.
The man looked at him doubtfully--somehow this young gentleman did not look
as people generally look who come to the Morgue on serious business. The
janitor was only too familiar with the signs--the air of excitement, of
dejection, of suspense, the reddened eyelids.... But, "In that case I am
sure to see monsieur again within a few minutes," he said politely.
Nancy had stepped down from the carriage. "Well?" she said anxiously.
"Well, won't he let you in?"
"We shall have to get an order. The office is only just over there,
opposite Notre Dame. Shall we dismiss the cab?"
"Yes," she said. "I would far rather walk across." Still followed by a
troop of ragged idlers, they hastened across the great space in front of
Notre Dame and so to the office of the Morgue.
At first the tired official whose not always easy duty it is to
discriminate between the morbid sightseer and the anxious relative or
friend, did not believe the American's story. He, too, evidently thought
that Gerald and the latter's charming, daintily dressed companion were
simply desirous of seeing every sight, however horrible, that Paris has to
offer. But when he heard the name "Dampier," his manner suddenly changed.
There came over his face a sincere look of pity and concern.
"You made enquiries concerning this gentleman yesterday?" he observed, and
Gerald Burton, rather surprised, though after all he need not have been,
assented. Then the Commissary of Police had been to some trouble for him
after all? He, Gerald, had done the man an injustice.
"We have had five bodies already brought in this morning," said the clerk
thoughtfully. "But I'm sure that none of them answers to the description we
have had of madame's husband. Let me see--Monsieur Dampier is aged
thirty-four--he is tall, dressed in a grey suit, or possibly a brown suit
of clothes, with a shock of fair hair?"
And again Gerald Burton was surprised how well the man remembered.
The other went into another room and came back with a number of grey cards
in his hand. He began to mumble over the descriptions, and suddenly Gerald
"That might be the person we are looking for!" he exclaimed. "I mean the
description you've just read out--that of the Englishman?"
"Oh no, monsieur! I assure you that the body here described is that of a
quite young man." And as the American looked at him doubtfully, he added,
"But still, if you wish to make absolutely sure I will make out a permit;
and madame can stay here while you go across to the Morgue." Again he
looked pityingly at Mrs. Dampier.
Nancy shook her head. "Tell him I mean to go too," she said quietly.
The man looked at her with an odd expression. "I should not myself care to
take my wife or my sister to the Morgue, monsieur. Believe me her husband
is not there. Do try and dissuade the poor lady." As he spoke he averted
his eyes from Nancy's flushed face.
Gerald Burton hesitated: it was really kind of this good fellow to feel so
much for a stranger's distress.
"Won't you stay here and let me go alone to that place? I think you can
trust me. You see there is only one body there which in any way answers to
"Yes, I quite understand that, but I'd rather go too." Her lips quivered.
"You see you've never seen Jack, Mr. Burton."
"I'm afraid this lady is quite determined to go too," said the young
American in a low voice; and without making any further objection, the
Frenchman filled in a form and silently handed it to Gerald Burton.
And then something happened which was perhaps more untoward and strange
than Gerald realised.
He and Mrs. Dampier were already well started across the great sunny space
in front of Notre Dame, when suddenly he felt himself tapped on the
shoulder by the man from whom they had just parted.
"Monsieur, monsieur!" said the French official breathlessly, "I forgot a
most important point. Visitors to the Morgue are not allowed to see all the
bodies exposed in our mortuary. When the place was closed to the public we
went from one extreme to the other. The man whose description you think
approximates to that of the gentleman you are looking for is Number 4. Tell
the guardian to show you Number 4."
Then he turned on his heel, without awaiting the other's thanks; and as he
walked away, the Frenchman said aloud, not once but many times, "Pauvre
petite dame!" And then again and again, "Paume petite dame!"
But his conscience was clear. He had done his very best to prevent that
obstinate young American subjecting the "poor little lady" to the horrible
ordeal she was about to go through. Once more he spoke aloud--"They have no
imagination--none at all--these Yankees!" he muttered, shrugging his
The janitor of the Morgue, remembering Gerald Burton's five-franc piece,
and perchance looking forward to another rond, was wreathed in smiles.
Eagerly he welcomed the two strangers into the passage, and carefully he
closed the great doors behind them.
"A little minute," he said, smiling happily. "Only one little minute! The
trifling formality of showing your permit to the gentleman in the office
must be gone through, and then I myself will show monsieur and madame
everything there is to be seen."
"We do not wish to see everything," said Gerald Burton sharply. "We simply
wish to see--" he hesitated--"body Number 4--" he lowered his voice, but
Nancy understood enough French to know what it was that he said.
With a blind, instinctive gesture she put out her hand, and Gerald Burton
grasped it firmly, and for the first time a look of pity and of sympathy
came across the janitor's face.
Tiens! tiens! Then it was true after all? These young people (he now took
them for a brother and sister) were here on business, not, as he had
supposed, on pleasure.
"Come in and wait here," he said gravely. "This is the doctors' room, but
madame can sit here for a moment while the formalities are gone through."
He flung open a door, and showed them into a curious, old-fashioned looking
sitting-room, strangely unlike the waiting-room which would have been found
attached, say, to an American or British mortuary.
An ornate writing-table filled up one corner of the room, and, opposite the
two windows, covering the whole of the blank wall, was a narrow glass case
running from floor to ceiling.
From this case young Burton quickly averted his eyes, for it was filled
with wax models of heads which might have been modelled from the denizens
of Dante's Inferno.
"I'm afraid I must now leave you for a moment," he said gently; "sit over
here, Mrs. Dampier, and look out on the river."
And Nancy obeyed with dull submission. She gazed on the bright, moving
panorama before her, aware, in a misty, indifferent way, that the view was
beautiful, that Jack would have thought it so.
This bend of the Seine is always laden with queer, picturesque craft, and
just below the window by which she sat was moored a flat-bottomed barge
which evidently served as dwelling place for a very happy little family.
One end of the barge had been turned into a kind of garden, there was even
a vine-covered arbour, under which two tiny children were now playing some
And this glimpse of ordinary normal life gradually brought a feeling of
peace, almost of comfort, to Nancy's sore heart. She wondered if she would
ever be happy again--happy as those little children playing outside were
happy, without a thought of care in the world: that had been the kind of
simple, unquestioning happiness she too had thoughtlessly enjoyed till the
last three days.
When Gerald Burton came back he was glad rather than grieved to see that
tears were running down her face.
But a moment later, as they followed their guide down a humid, dark passage
her tears stopped, and a look of pinched terror came into her eyes.
Suddenly there fell on their ears loud, whirring, jarring sounds.
"What's that?" cried Nancy in a loud voice. Her nerves were taut with
suspense, quivering with fear of what she was about to see.
And the janitor, as if he understood her question, turned round
reassuringly. "Only our refrigerating machines, madame. We think them
wonderfully quiet, considering. They whirr on night and day, they are never
stilled. As for me--" he added jovially--"I would miss the noise very much.
But as I lie in bed listening to the sound I know that all is well. It
would be a very serious thing indeed for us if the machines stopped, even
for ten minutes--" he shook his head mysteriously.
Nancy breathed a little more easily. She had not understood what it was
exactly that he had said, but his voice had sounded cheerful and kind: and
she remained for a while ignorant of the meaning and object of the machines
by which they passed quickly in a great room filled with moving wheels,
and, even on this hot June day, full of icy breaths.
As they came to the end of the engine-room their guide turned round and
gave the young American a quick, warning look. "C'est ici," he said, under
his breath. And Gerald stepped quickly in front of Mrs. Dampier.
"Is what we are going to see very horrible?" he whispered hurriedly. "I
wish this lady to be spared as far as may be from seeing anything
"As to horrible--well, it depends, monsieur, on what is thought horrible! A
good many of my pensioners have been dangerous customers in their time--but
now? Fortunately, monsieur, the dead cannot bite!" and he smiled at his own
Gerald Burton shuddered involuntarily, but as he and Nancy followed the man
from the engine-room he gave a sigh of relief, for they had emerged into a
wide, airy shed.
The place looked like a workshop of sorts, for it was lined, on one side,
with what looked like gigantic chests of drawers, painted black; while
standing about on the stone pavement were long white deal packing cases.
Over in a corner was a black box, of which the lid was loose.
"You said Number 4, monsieur?" said the man in a business-like tone. "Well,
I will get you out Number 4. Kindly stand just over there--not in the
sunlight, that might prevent your seeing clearly." He added, speaking far
more gently and kindly than he had yet done, "Madame must not be
frightened. It will be all over in a moment."
Gerald looked down at his companion. Her face seemed to have become quite
small, like that of a child, but the pupils of her eyes had dilated: as she
stared up at him fearfully he likened them, in his heart, to deep
She came close up to him, and then, without stopping to think, simply
following a natural instinct, he put his arm round her shoulder; so would
he have done to his sister in a moment of similar distress.
"Don't be too frightened," he whispered, "it will all be over very, very
soon, Mrs. Dampier. Somehow I don't think you have anything to fear."
"Please stand over in that corner," said the janitor, pointing towards the
black box Gerald Burton had noticed when they had first come into the yard.
"We have a poor lady in that box who was only brought in an hour ago! She
was run over, killed by an omnibus--such a pity, for she is such a nice
fresh-looking lady: not more than about thirty years of age. We expect her
family any moment; they will know her by her wedding ring, and by a little
locket with a child's hair in it."
Even as he was speaking the man was opening a small, inconspicuous door,
situated close to that which gave into the refrigerating-engine room.
Gerald's arm slipped down from Nancy's shoulder. She had put out her hand
gropingly, as a blind child might have done, and he was now holding the
poor little hand tightly clasped in his firm grasp.
There came a harsh rumbling sound, and then there was wheeled out into the
open yard an inclined plane hitched up on huge iron wheels. To the inclined
plane was bound a swathed, rigid figure.
"Here is Number 4," said the man in a subdued tone. "I will uncover his
face so that madame and monsieur may see if it is the gentleman for whom
they are seeking."
A strange tremor shot through Gerald Burton. He was shaken with a variety
of sensations of which the predominant feeling was that of repulsion. Was
he at last about to gaze at the dead face of the man who, with the one
paramount exception of that same man's wife, had filled his mind and
thoughts to the exclusion of all else since he had first heard the name of
John Dampier? Was he now to make acquaintance with the stranger who had yet
in so curious and sinister a way become his familiar?
Nancy gently withdrew her hand from his: leaning slightly forward, she
gazed at the swathed stark form which might possibly--so much she had told
herself at once--be that of John Dampier.
Very slowly the man drew off that portion of the sheet which covered the
upper part of the body, and, as he did so, Gerald Burton heard the woman
standing by his side utter a long, fluttering sigh of relief.
Thank God it was not Jack--not her Jack!
The fine, well-cut face was that of a man about Gerald Burton's own age.
The features were stilled in the awful immobility of death: but for that
immobility, the dead man lying there before them might have been asleep.
"An Englishman," said the janitor thoughtfully, "or perchance an American?
A finely built fellow, monsieur. A true athlete. Not a wound, not a touch!
Just dropped dead yesterday afternoon in a public gymnasium."
"How extraordinary it is," observed Gerald Burton in a low voice, "that he
has not yet been claimed by his friends--"
"Oh no, monsieur, not extraordinary at all! We in this country write to our
children every day when we are separated from them--that is if we can
afford the stamps. Not so English or American people. They think their
children are sure to be all right. In about a fortnight we shall have
enquiries for Number 4, hardly before then."
"And by that time," said Gerald slowly, "I suppose the poor fellow will
have been buried."
"Oh no, monsieur--" the man laughed, as if the other's remark struck him as
being really very funny. "Why, we keep some of them as long as fifteen
months! Those drawers are full of them--" he pointed to the long black
chests which lined one side of the shed. "Would monsieur like to see some
of my pensioners? I have men, women, ay, and children too, cosily tucked
away in there."
A low exclamation of horror escaped from Nancy Dampier's lips. She turned
ashily pale. At last she understood what it was the janitor was saying....
The man looked at her with kindly concern. "Tiens!" he said, "isn't that
strange? It happens again and again! People like madame come here--quite
quiet, quite brave; and then, though overjoyed at not finding the person
they came to seek--they suddenly shudder and turn pale; sometimes I have
known them faint!"
"Kindly let us out by the shortest and quickest way," said Gerald quickly.
"Pardon, monsieur, the law exacts that Number 4 must remain in your
presence for a quarter of an hour." The man shrugged his shoulders. "You
see some people, especially ladies, are apt to think afterwards that they
may have made a mistake: that their sight was at fault, and so on. That is
why this tiresome regulation is now in force. I should like to oblige
monsieur, but to do so would get me into trouble."
He stopped speaking, and stood waiting, at attention.
And then, as they stood there in silence, Gerald, looking beyond the still,
swathed figure stretched out before him, allowed his eyes to rest on these
black boxes, each containing one poor tenantless shell of humanity, from
which the unquenchable spirit of man had been suddenly, violently expelled:
and as he looked, he missed something that should have been there--the
sign, the symbol, of the cross.
A flood of memories came surging through his mind--memories of childish
prayers learnt at his mother's knee, of certain revisions which time had
brought to his first innocent, unquestioning faith. And with those memories
came anger and a sense of humiliation. For there was nothing, absolutely
nothing, to show that these boxes before him held what had once been the
dwelling-place of that daily miracle, the sentient soul of man. These
defenceless dead had been subjected to a last, continuous, intolerable
insult; in their flesh he felt that his own humanity was degraded. Here was
nothing to separate the human dead from the beasts of the field; these
boxes would have looked the same had they held merely the bodies of animals
prepared for the inquisitive, probing research of science.
His young imagination, strung to the highest pitch, penetrated those
shuttered receptacles and showed him on the face of each occupant that
strange ironic smile with which the dead husk of man seems often to betray
the full knowledge now possessed by the spirit which has fled. That riddle
of existence, of which through the ages philosophers and kings had sought
the key, was now an open book to all those who lay here in the still
majesty of death. Yes, they could well afford to smile--to smile at the
littleness which denied to their tenements of flesh the smallest symbol of
belief that death was not the end of all.
His companion had also marked the absence of any sign of the Christian's
hope in this house of death, and through her mind there ran the confused
recollection of holy words:--
"It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in
dishonour; it is raised in glory.
"Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep....
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
Comfortable words! They seemed, merely by their flight through the tense
ganglia of her brain, to break into the awful loneliness of these recent
tabernacles of the spirit, and bestow on them the benison denied them in
its pride by the human family from whose bosom they had been torn.
Then swiftly her mind turned to the thought of those who were still
watching and waiting, in that misery of suspense of which she now knew each
pang. Every one--surely every one--of these dead who now surrounded
her,--silent, solitary, had been loved--for love comes in some guise to all
poor human creatures. Those mouths, cheeks, eyes, those rippling waves of
woman's hair, had been kissed--ah, how often. The perishing flesh had been
clasped heart to heart....
There came over her soul a great rush of pity for those others, the vast
and scattered company, mourning, mourning, and yet reaching out in wild
hope and desire for their loved ones, whose bodies were all the while here.
They did not know, yet hither came winging unerringly, like flights of
homing doves, their myriad prayers, their passionate loving thoughts and
wistful thirsty longing for one word, one kiss, one touch of the hand....
Surely such thoughts and prayers sanctified this charnel-house.
She herself was of that company--that company who were not sure. Some,
doubtless, obstinate, refused to believe that death in any form had
overtaken the missing; others feared to come here and look. She had not
The janitor spoke to her, and she started violently.
"You are quite convinced, madame, that Number 4 is not he whom you seek?"
These words, that question, evidently embodied a formula the man was bound
Mrs. Dampier bent her head.
"You, monsieur, also have no doubt?"
"None at all," said Gerald briefly.
With a sudden movement the man put the sinister carriage in motion, but
when he had got it close to the door of the mortuary, he stopped a
moment:--"We have many compliments on our brancard," he said cheerfully.
"It is very ingenious, is it not? You see the wheels are so large that a
mere touch pushes it backwards and forwards. It is quite easy to wheel back
into place again."
Gerald Burton took out a five-franc piece. He left Nancy Dampier standing,
an infinitely pathetic, forlorn little figure, in the sunlit portion of the
yard, and approached the man.
"We must go now," he said hurriedly. "I suppose it is quite easy to leave
by the way we came in--through the engine-room?"
"One moment, monsieur, one moment! Before showing you out I must put Number
4 back with his other companions. There is no fear of his being lonely,
poor man! We had five brought in this morning."
They had not long to wait before the concierge joined them again.
"Won't monsieur and madame stay and just see everything else there is to be
seen?" he asked eagerly. "We have the most interesting relics of great
criminals, notably of Troppman. Troppman was before my time, monsieur, but
the day that his seven victims were publicly exposed there--" he pointed
with his thumb to the inconspicuous door through which he had just wheeled
Number 4--"ah, that was a red-letter day for the Morgue! Eighteen thousand
people came to gaze on those seven bodies. And it was lucky, monsieur, that
in those days we were open to the public, for it was the landlord of their
hotel who recognised the poor creatures."
He was now preceding his two visitors through the operating theatre where
are held the post-mortems. From thence he led them into the hall where they
had first gained admission. "Well, monsieur, if you really do not care to
see our relics--?" He opened the great door through which so few living men
and women ever pass.
Gerald Burton and Nancy Dampier walked out into the sunlight, and the last
thing they saw of the Morgue was the smiling face of the concierge--it was
not often that he received ten francs for doing his simple duty.
"Au plaisir de vous revoir, monsieur, madame: au plaisir de vous revoir!"
he said gaily. And as the courteous old French mode of adieu fell upon
their ears, Gerald Burton felt an awful sensation of horror, of oppression,
yes and of dread, steal over him.
Nancy Dampier, looking up at her companion, suddenly forgot herself. "Mr.
Burton," she exclaimed, her voice full of concern, "I'm afraid this has
made you feel ill? I oughtn't to have let you come here!" And it was she
who in her clear, low voice told the cabman the address of the Hôtel
Gerald Burton muttered a word of half-angry excuse. He was keenly ashamed
of what he took to be his lack of manliness.
But during the weeks, aye and the months that followed he found himself
constantly haunted by the gentle, ironic words of farewell uttered by the
concierge of the Morgue: "Au plaisir de vous revoir, monsieur, madame: au
plaisir de vous revoir!"
The American abroad has a touching faith, first, in the might and power of
his country to redress all wrongs, and secondly, in the personal prestige
of his Ambassador.
As a rule this faith is justified by works, but in the special and very
peculiar case of John Dampier, Senator Burton was destined to meet with
With keen vexation he learnt that the distinguished and genial individual
who just then represented the great sister Republic in Paris, and on whom
he himself had absolutely counted for advice and help, for they were old
friends and allies, had taken sick leave for three months.
Paris, during an Exhibition Year, seems mysteriously to lose the wonderful
climate which a certain British Minister for Foreign Affairs once declared
to be the only one that suited every diplomat's constitution!
The Senator and his daughter drove on from the American Embassy to the
American Consulate, and it was with a feeling of considerable satisfaction
that they were shown by a courteous janitor into the pleasant, airy
waiting-room where a large engraving of Christopher Columbus, and a huge
photograph of the Washington Monument, welcome the wandering American.
Even in this waiting-room there was an air of cheerful activity, a constant
coming and going, which showed that whatever might be the case with the
Embassy, the Consulate, at any rate, was very much alive.
"Mr. Senator Burton? Glad to see you, sir! What can we do for you?" The
words fell with a cheering, refreshing sound on the Senator's ears, though
the speaker went on a trifle less cordially, "We are simply overwhelmed
with business just now! You can imagine--but no, no one could imagine, the
length, the breadth, the scope of what people think to be our duties in an
The distinguished visitor and his daughter were being shown into the
Consul's own pleasant study. Now this spacious, comfortable apartment is
hung with fine engravings of the White House and of the Capitol, and
Senator Burton felt a thrill of yearning as well as of pride when he gazed
at these familiar, stately buildings which looked so homelike and dear when
seen amid alien surroundings.
And as he sat down, and prepared to state his business, there suddenly came
over this kindly American a curious feeling of misgiving, of self-rebuke.
Had he remained at home in Washington, content with all his familiar duties
and pleasures, he would never have been brought into this association with
a strange, unpleasant life-story.
But he soon shook off this feeling of misgiving, and as the curious tale he
had to tell was being listened to, kindly and patiently, he felt glad
indeed that he had at last found a fellow-countryman in whom to confide,
and on whose advice he could rely.
But when Senator Burton had finished speaking, the American Consul shook
his head. "I only wish we could help you!" he exclaimed. "But we can do
nothing where a British subject is concerned. We've quite enough to do
looking after those of our own people who disappear in Paris! Would you be
surprised to learn, Mr. Senator, that four of our countrymen have
completely vanished within the last two days?" And as Daisy uttered a
little exclamation of incredulous dismay, "Don't feel so badly about it, my
dear young lady, I quite expect all four of them to turn up again, after
having given us and their friends a great deal of useless,
"What I really want," said the Senator earnestly, "is not your official
assistance, but a word of practical advice. What is it this unfortunate
young lady, Mrs. Dampier, ought to do? We've tried the Commissaire de
Police of the quarter, and he's perfectly useless: in fact my son, who's
seen him twice, doesn't believe a word he says."
The Consul gave what Senator Burton felt to be a very French shrug of the
"That don't surprise me! As regards the lower branch of the service the
police here is very understaffed. The only thing for you to do is to take
this poor lady to the British Consulate. They are driven to death there,
just as we are here, and they'll naturally snatch at any excuse to avoid an
extra job. But of course if this Mrs. Dampier is, as you say, a British
subject--well, they're bound to do something for her. But you may believe
me when I say, Mr. Senator, that there's probably nothing really mysterious
about the case. You may find this Mr. Dampier at the hotel when you return
there. It may interest you to learn"--he hesitated, and glanced at his
young countrywoman--"that among our countrymen who vanish, I mean in a
temporary way, there are more married men than bachelors."
And with that enigmatic pronouncement the genial Consul courteously and
smilingly dismissed Senator Burton and his daughter.
The same afternoon saw the Senator and Mrs. Dampier on their way to the
The day before Nancy had been unwilling to leave the hotel for even the
shortest space of time, now she seemed sunk into apathetic despair--and
yet, as they drove along together, the Senator still doubted, still
wondered in the depths of his heart, whether the lovely young woman now
sitting silent by his side, was not making a fool of him, as she had
certainly done of his two children.
He caught himself again and again thinking of her as "Nancy;" already his
daughter and she were on Christian-name terms with one another; and as for
Gerald, he had put everything else aside to devote himself entirely to
solving the mystery of John Dampier's disappearance.
At last they reached the British Consulate, and the American could not help
feeling a thrill of pride as he mentally compared the Office where he had
been that morning and that which represented, in this shabby side street,
the commercial might and weight of the British Empire.
The waiting-room into which they were shown was a gloomy apartment looking
on to an inner courtyard, and Senator Burton's card did not produce the
magic effect it had done at the American Consulate; in fact he and his
companion had to take their turn with a crowd of other people, and the time
they were kept waiting seemed very long.
At last, however, they were ushered into the study of the courteous Briton
whose difficult and sometimes exasperating duty it is to look after the
rights and interests of the motley world composed of those Englishmen and
Englishwomen who make a short or long sojourn in Paris. Once they were in
his presence nothing could have been kinder and more considerate than the
British Consul's reception of the American Senator and his companion.
In the Consular branch of the Diplomatic Service the post of Consul in the
greater cities of the civilised world is almost invariably given to an
ex-member of the Diplomatic Corps--to one, that is, who is a shrewd man of
the world rather than a trained business official, and Senator Burton felt
it to be a comfort indeed to deal with such a one rather than with an acute
but probably conventionally-minded man of commercial experience.
The Consul was moved by Mrs. Dampier's youth, her beauty, her evident, if
subdued bewilderment and distress. She told her story very clearly and
simply, but to the Senator's excited and yes, it must be admitted,
suspicious fancy, she seemed to slur over, as of no importance, the
extraordinary discrepancy between her own and the Poulains' account of what
had happened on the night of her own and her husband's arrival in Paris.
The Consul asked but few questions, but those were pertinent and to the
"I am glad, Mrs. Dampier, that you did not come to me yesterday," he said
at last, "for, thanks, as I understand, to this gentleman, you have done
everything which I should have had to advise you to do."
He then turned more particularly to his American visitor:--"I suppose you
have now quite convinced yourself that no kind of street accident befell
Mr. Dampier yesterday morning?"
The Senator shook his head dubiously; there was a look of hesitation, of
unease, on his face.
"Perhaps it would be as well," said the Consul suavely, "for Mrs. Dampier
to go and wait awhile in the next room. Then you and I, Mr. Senator, might
go into the matter more thoroughly?"
Unsuspiciously Nancy Dampier fell in with the plan.
And then, at last, Senator Burton was able to open out his heart, and, as
the British Consul listened to the American's version of all that had taken
place, when he realised how entirely the story of this young lady, who
called herself Mrs. Dampier, was uncorroborated, his face became graver
"From the little opportunity I have had of judging, she impresses me as
being a truthful woman," he said musingly. "Still, what I now know puts a
very different complexion on the story as told me just now by her."
"That is exactly what I feel," said the Senator sighing. "From something
you said just now I gather that you have heard of this Mr. John Dampier?"
"Why, yes, indeed I have--I know his name as being that of a distinguished
English artist living in Paris; but he has never troubled me individually,
and I can answer for it that he is very little known to our colony here. He
evidently lives only amongst the French painters and their set--which means
that to all intents and purposes he has become a Frenchman!" The Consul
shrugged his shoulders--racial prejudice dies hard.
He looked doubtfully at his visitor:--"You see, Mr. Senator, if this lady's
tale is true, if the poor little woman is a three weeks' bride, Mr.
Dampier's disappearance may mean a good many things, any one of which is
bound to cause her pain and distress. I do not think it likely that there
has been any kind of foul play. If, as Mrs. Dampier asserts, he had neither
money nor jewels in his possession, we may dismiss that possibility from
"If anything of that sort has happened--I mean, if there has been foul
play," said Senator Burton firmly, "then I would stake my life that neither
of the Poulains are in any way associated with it."
"Quite so. Still, as Mrs. Dampier has appealed to me very properly for
help, these hotel people--if they are as worthy as you believe them to
be--will not mind consenting to an informal interrogatory from one of my
clerks. I have here a sharp young fellow who knows English as well as he
does French. I'll send him back with you. He can take down the Poulains'
story, even cross-examine them in a friendly manner. Mrs. Dampier might
also give him her version of what took place."
Senator Burton uttered a hesitating assent. He knew only too well that the
Poulains would greatly resent the proposed interrogatory.
"One word more, Mr. Senator. If there is no news of this Mr. John Dampier
by to-morrow, you must persuade Mrs. Dampier to write, or even to telegraph
for her friends. For one thing, it isn't at all fair that all this trouble
should fall on an entire stranger, on one not even her own countryman! I
cannot help seeing, too, that you do not altogether believe in Mrs. Dampier
and her story. You can't make up your mind--is not that so?"
The American Senator nodded, rather shamefacedly.
"I might advise you to go to the Préfecture de Police, nay, I might
communicate with them myself, but I feel that in the interests of this
young lady it would be better to go slow. Mr. Dampier may return as
suddenly, as unexpectedly, as he went. And then he would not thank us, my
dear sir, for having done anything to turn the Paris Police searchlight on
his private life."
The Consul got up and held out his hand. "For your sake, as well as for
that of my countrywoman, I hope most sincerely that you will find Mr.
Dampier safe and sound when you get back to the Hôtel Saint Ange. But if
the mystery still endures to-morrow, then you really must persuade this
poor young lady to send for one of her relatives--preferably, I need hardly
say, a man."
"At what time shall I expect your clerk?" asked Senator Burton. "I think I
ought to prepare the Poulains."
"No, there I think you're wrong! Far better let him go back with you now,
and hear what they have to say. Let him also get a properly signed
statement from Mrs. Dampier. Then he can come back here and type out his
report and her statement for reference. That can do no harm, and may in the
future be of value."
He accompanied the American Senator to the door. "I wish I could help you
more," he said cordially. "Believe me, I appreciate more than I can say
your extraordinary kindness to my 'subject.' I shall, of course, be glad to
know how you get on. But oh, if you knew how busy we are just now! When I
think of how we are regarded--of how I read, only the other day, that a
Consul is the sort of good fellow one likes to make comfortable in a nice
little place--I wish the man who wrote that could have my 'nice little
place' for a week, during an Exhibition Year! I think he would soon change
Mrs. Dampier was not present at the, to Senator Burton, odious half-hour
which followed their return to the Hôtel Saint Ange.
At first the French hotel-keeper and his wife refused to say anything to
the Consular official. Then, when they were finally persuaded to answer his
questions, they did so as curtly and disagreeably as possible. Madame
Poulain also made a great effort to prevent her nephew, young Jules, from
being brought into the matter. But to her wrath and bitter consternation,
he, as well as her husband and herself, was made to submit to a regular
examination and cross-examination as to what had followed Mrs. Dampier's
arrival at the Hôtel Saint Ange.
"Why don't you send for the police?" she cried at last. "We should be only
too glad to lay all the facts before them!"
And as the young Frenchman, after his further interview with Nancy, was
being speeded on his way by the Senator, "I'm blessed if I know what to
believe!" he observed with a wink. "It's the queerest story I've ever come
across; and as for the Poulains, it's the first time I've ever known French
people to say they would like to see the police brought into their private
affairs! One would swear that all the parties concerned were telling the
truth, but I thought that boy, those people's nephew, did know something
more than he said."
The third morning brought no news of the missing man, and Senator Burton,
noting Gerald's and Daisy's preoccupied, anxious faces, began to wonder if
his life would ever flow in pleasant, normal channels again.
The son and daughter whom he held so dear, whose habitual companionship was
so agreeable to him, were now wholly absorbed in Mrs. Dampier and her
affairs. They could think of nothing else, and, when they were alone with
their father, they talked of nothing else.
The Senator remembered with special soreness what had happened the
afternoon before, just after he had dismissed the clerk of the British
Consul. Feeling an eager wish to forget, as far as might be for a little
while, the mysterious business in which they were all so untowardly
concerned, he had suggested to Daisy that they might go and spend a quiet
hour in the Art section of the Exhibition. But to his great discomfiture,
his daughter had turned on him with a look of scorn, almost of contempt:
"Father! Do you mean me to go out and leave poor little Nancy alone in her
dreadful suspense and grief--just that I may enjoy myself?"
And the Senator had felt ashamed of his selfishness. Yes, it had been most
unfeeling of him to want to go and gaze on some of the few masterpieces
American connoisseurs have left in Europe, while this tragedy--for he
realised that whatever the truth might be it was a tragedy--was still
It was good to know that thanks to the British Consul's word of advice his
way, to-day, was now clear. The time had come when he must advise Mrs.
Dampier to send for some member of her family. Without giving his children
an inkling of what he was about to say to their new friend, Senator Burton
requested Nancy, in the presence of the two others, to come down into the
garden of the Hôtel Saint Ange in order that they might discuss the
As they crossed the sun-flecked cheerful courtyard Nancy pressed
unconsciously nearer her companion, and averted her eyes from the kitchen
window where the hotel-keeper and his wife seemed to spend so much of their
spare time, gazing forth on their domain, watching with uneasy suspicion
all those who came and went from the Burtons' apartments.
As the young Englishwoman passed through into the peaceful garden whose
charm and old-world sweetness had been one of the lures which had drawn
John Dampier to what was now to her a fatal place, she felt a sensation of
terrible desolation come over her, the more so that she was now half
conscious that Senator Burton, great as was his kindness, kept his judgment
They sat down on a wooden bench, and for awhile neither spoke. "Have you
found out anything?" she asked at last in a low voice. "I think by your
manner that you have found out something, Mr. Burton--something you don't
wish to say to me before the two others?"
He looked at her, surprised. "No," he said sincerely, "that is not so at
all. I have found out nothing, Mrs. Dampier--would that I had! But I feel
it only right to tell you that the moment has come when you should
communicate with your friends. The British Consul told me that if we were
still without news, still in suspense, this morning, he would strongly
advise that you send for someone to join you in Paris. Surely you have some
near relation who would come to you?"
Nancy shook her head. "No. I daresay it may seem strange to you, Senator
Burton, but I have no near relations at all. I was the only child of a
father and mother who, in their turn, were only children. I have some very
distant cousins, a tribe of acquaintances, a few very kind friends--" her
lips quivered "but no one--no one of whom I feel I could ask that sort
Senator Burton glanced at her in dismay. She looked very wan and fragile
sitting there; whatever the truth, he could not but feel deeply sorry
Suddenly she turned to him, and an expression of relief came over her sad
eyes and mouth. "There is someone, Mr. Burton, someone I ought to have
thought of before! There is a certain Mr. Stephens who was my father's
friend as well as his solicitor; and he has always managed all my money
matters. I'll write and ask Mr. Stephens if he can come to me. He was more
than kind at the time of my marriage, though I'm afraid that he and Jack
didn't get on very well together."
She looked up in Senator Burton's face with a bewildered, pleading look,
and he suddenly realised how difficult a task such a letter would be to
her, supposing, that is, that the story she told, the story in which even
now the Senator only half believed--were true.
"I'll go up and write the letter now," she said, and together they both
went, once more, indoors.
But Gerald Burton, when he heard of the proposed letter to Mrs. Dampier's
lawyer, made an abrupt suggestion which both the Senator and Nancy welcomed
"Why shouldn't we telephone to this Mr. Stephens?" he asked. "That would
save a day, and it would be far easier to explain to him all that has
happened by word of mouth than in a letter--" He turned to Nancy, and his
voice unconsciously softened: "If you will trust me, I will explain the
situation to your friend, Mrs. Dampier."
The father and son's drive to the Central Paris-London-Telephone office was
curiously silent, though both the older and the younger man felt full of
"Now, at last, I am on the track of the truth!" such was the Senator's
secret thought. But he would not have been very much surprised had no such
name as that of Davies P. Stephens, Solicitor, 58 Lincoln's Inn Fields,
appeared in the London Telephone Directory. But yes, there the name was,
and Gerald showed it to his father with a gleam of triumph.
"You will want patience--a good deal of patience," said the attendant
Gerald Burton smiled. He was quite used to long-distance telephoning at
home. "All right!" he said cheerily. "I've plenty of patience!"
But though the young man claimed to have plenty of patience he felt far too
excited, far too strung up and full of suspense, for the due exercise of
that difficult virtue.
The real reason why he had suggested this telephone message, instead of a
letter or a telegram, was that he longed for his father's suspicions to be
set at rest.
Gerald Burton resented keenly, far more keenly than did his sister, the
Senator's lack of belief in Nancy Dampier's story. He himself would have
staked his life on the truthfulness of this woman whom he had only known
At last the sharp, insistent note of the telephone bell rang out, and he
stept up into the call-box.
"Mr. Stephens' office?" He spoke questioningly: and after what seemed a
long pause the answer came, muffled but audible. "Yes, yes! This is Mr.
Stephens' office. Who is it wants us from Paris?" The question was put in a
Cockney voice, and the London twang seemed exaggerated by its transmission
over those miles and miles of wire by land, under the sea, and then by
"I want to speak to Mr. Stephens himself," said Gerald Burton very
"Mr. Stephens? Yes, he's here all right. I'll take a message."
"Make him come himself."
"Yes, he's here. Give me your message--" the words were again a little
"I can't send a message. You must fetch him." Gerald Burton's stock of
patience was giving way. Again there was an irritating pause, but it was
broken at last.
"Who is it? I can't fetch him if you won't say who you are."
"I am speaking on behalf of Mrs. Dampier," said Gerald reluctantly. Somehow
he hated uttering Nancy's name to this tiresome unknown.
And then began an absurd interchange of words at cross purposes.
"No," said Gerald. "Mrs. Dampier."
"Yes," said the clerk. "Yes, I quite understand. L. for London--"
Gerald lost his temper--"D. for damn!" he shouted, "Dampier."
And then, at last, with a shrill laugh that sounded strange and eerie, the
clerk repeated, "Dampier--Mr. John Dampier? Yes, sir. What can we do
"Mrs. Dampier? Yes, sir. I'll fetch Mr. Stephens." The clerk's voice had
altered; it had become respectful, politely enquiring.
And at last with intense relief, Gerald Burton heard a low clear, incisive
voice uttering the words: "Is that Mrs. Dampier herself speaking?"
Instinctively Gerald's own voice lowered. "No, I am speaking for Mrs.
The English lawyer's voice hardened, or so it seemed to the young American.
It became many degrees colder. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Dampier. Yes? What
can I do for you?"
And as Gerald, taken oddly aback by the unseen man's very natural mistake,
did not answer for a moment or two:
"Nothing wrong with Nancy, I hope?"
The anxious question sounded very, very clear.
"There is something very wrong with Mrs. Dampier--can you hear me clearly?"
"Yes, yes What is wrong with her?"
"Mrs. Dampier is in great trouble. Mr. Dampier has disappeared."
The strange thing which had happened was told in those four words, but
Gerald Burton naturally went on to explain, or rather to try to explain,
the extraordinary situation which had arisen, to Nancy's lawyer and friend.
Mr. Stephens did not waste any time in exclamations of surprise or pity.
Once he had grasped the main facts, his words were few and to the point.
"Tell Mrs. Dampier," he said, speaking very distinctly, "that if she has no
news of her husband by Friday I will come myself to Paris. I cannot do so
before. Meanwhile, I strongly advise that she, or preferably you for her,
communicate with the police--try and see the Prefect of Police himself. I
myself once obtained much courteous help from the Paris Prefect of Police."
Gerald stept down from the stuffy, dark telephone box. He turned to the
attendant:--"How much do I owe you?" he asked briefly.
"A hundred and twenty francs, Monsieur," said the man suavely.
The Senator drew near. "That was an expensive suggestion of yours, Gerald,"
he observed smiling, as the other put down six gold pieces. And then he
"Well, father, there's not much to tell. This Mr. Stephens will come over
on Friday if there's still no news of Mr. Dampier by then. He wants us to
go to the Prefecture of Police. He says we ought to try and get at the
Prefect of Police himself."
There came a long pause: the two were walking along a crowded street.
Suddenly Gerald stopped and turned to the Senator. "Father," he said
impulsively, "I suppose that now, at last, you do believe Mrs.
The young man spoke with a vehemence and depth of feeling which disturbed
his father. What a good thing it was that this English lawyer was coming to
relieve them all from a weight and anxiety which was becoming, to the
Senator himself, if not to the two younger people, quite intolerable.
"Well," he said at last, "I am of course glad to know that everything, so
far, goes to prove that Mrs. Dampier's account of herself is true."
"That being so, don't you think the Hôtel Saint Ange ought to be searched?"
"Searched?" repeated Senator Burton slowly. "Searched for what?"
"If I had charge of this business--I mean sole charge--the first thing I
would do would be to have the Hôtel Saint Ange searched from top to
bottom!" said Gerald vehemently.
"Is that Mrs. Dampier's suggestion?"
"No, father, it's mine. I had a talk with that boy Jules last night, and
I'm convinced he's lying. There's another thing I should like to do. I
should like to go to the office of the 'New York Herald' and enlist the
editor's help. I would have done it long ago if this man Dampier had been
"And you would have done a very foolish thing, my boy." The Senator spoke
with more dry decision than was his wont. "Come, come, Gerald, you and I
mustn't quarrel over this affair! Let us think of the immediate thing to
do." He put his hand on his son's arm.
"I suppose that the first thing to do is to take this Mr. Stephens'
"Why, of course, father! Will you, or shall I, go to the Prefecture of
"Well, Gerald, I have bethought myself of that courteous President of the
French Senate who wrote me such a pleasant note when we first arrived in
Paris this time. No doubt he would give me a personal introduction to the
Prefect of Police."
"Why, father, that's a first rate idea! Hadn't you better go right now and
"Yes, perhaps I had; and meanwhile you can tell the poor little woman that
her friend will be here on Friday."
"Yes, I will. And father? May I tell Daisy that now you agree with me about
Mrs. Dampier--that you no longer believe the Poulains' story?"
"No," said Senator Burton a little sternly. "You are to say nothing of the
sort, Gerald. I have only known this girl three days--I have known the
Poulains nine years. Of course it's a great relief to me to learn that Mrs.
Dampier's account of herself is true--so far as you've been able to
ascertain such a fact in a few minutes' conversation with an unknown man
over the telephone--but that does not affect my good opinion of the
And on this the father and son parted, for the first time in their joint
lives, seriously at odds the one with the other.
"Give you an introduction to our Prefect of Police? Why, certainly!"
The white-haired President of the French Senate looked curiously at the
American gentleman who had sought him out at the early hour of
"You will find Monsieur Beaucourt a charming man," he went on. "I hear
nothing but good of the way he does his very difficult work. He is a type
to whom you are used in America, my dear Senator, but whom we perhaps too
often lack in France among those who govern us. Monsieur Beaucourt is a
strong man--a man who takes his own line and sticks to it. I was told only
the other day that crime had greatly diminished in our city since he became
Prefect. He is thoroughly trusted by his subordinates, and you can imagine
what that means when one remembers that our beautiful Paris is the resort
of all the international rogues of Europe. And if they tease us by their
presence at ordinary times, you can imagine what it is like during an
In all French public offices there is a strange mingling of the sordid and
of the magnificent.
The Paris Prefecture of Police is a huge, quadrangular building, containing
an infinity of bare, and to tell the truth, shabby, airless rooms; yet when
Senator Burton had handed in his card and the note from the President of
the French Senate, he was taken rapidly down a long corridor, and ushered
into a splendid apartment, of which the walls were hung with red velvet,
and which might have been a reception room in an Italian Palace rather than
the study of a French police official.
"Monsieur le Préfet will be back from déjeuner in a few minutes," said the
man, softly closing the door.
The Senator looked round him with a feeling of keen interest and curiosity.
After the weary, baffling hours of fruitless effort in which he had spent
the last three days, it was more than pleasant to find himself at the
fountainhead of reliable information.
Since the far-off days when, as a boy, he had been thrilled by the
brilliant detective stories of which French writers, with the one
outstanding exception of Poe, then had a monopoly, there had never faded
from Senator Burton's mind that first vivid impression of the power, the
might, the keen intelligence, and yes, of the unscrupulousness, of the
But now, having penetrated into the inner shrine of this awe-inspiring
organism, he naturally preferred to think of the secret autocratic powers,
and of the almost uncanny insight of those to whom he was about to make
appeal. Surely they would soon probe the mystery of John Dampier's
The door opened suddenly, and the Paris Prefect of Police walked into the
room. He was holding Senator Burton's card, and the letter of introduction
with which that card had been accompanied, in his sinewy nervous
Bowing, smiling, apologising with more earnestness than was necessary for
the few moments the American Senator had had to await his presence, the
Prefect motioned his guest to a chair.
"I am very pleased," he said in courtly tones, "to put myself at the
disposal of a member of the American Senate. Ah, sir, your country is a
wonderful country! In a sense, the parent of France--for was not America
the first great nation to become a Republic?"
Senator Burton bowed, a little awkwardly, in response to this flowery
He was telling himself that Monsieur Beaucourt was quite unlike the picture
he had mentally formed, from youth upwards, of the Paris Prefect of Police.
There was nothing formidable, nothing for the matter of that in the least
awe-inspiring, about this tired, amiable-looking man. The Prefect was also
lacking in the alert, authoritative manner which the layman all the world
over is apt to associate with the word "police."
Monsieur Beaucourt sat down behind his ornate buhl writing-table, and
shooting out his right hand he pressed an electric bell.
With startling suddenness, a panel disappeared noiselessly into the red
velvet draped wall, and in the aperture so formed a good-looking young man
"My secretary, Monsieur le Sénateur--my secretary, who is also my nephew."
The Senator rose and bowed.
"André? Please say that I am not to be disturbed till this gentleman's
visit is concluded." The young man nodded: and then he withdrew as quickly,
as silently, as he had appeared; and the panel slipped noiselessly back
"And now tell me exactly what it is that you wish me to do for you," said
the Prefect, with a weary sigh, which was, however, softened by a pleasant
smile. "We are not as omnipotent as our enemies make us out to be, but
still we can do a good deal, and we could do a good deal more were it not
for the Press! Ah, Monsieur le Sénateur, that is the only thing I do not
like about your great country. Your American Press sets so bad, so very
bad, an example to our poor old world!"
A thin streak of colour came into Monsieur Beaucourt's cheek, a gleam of
anger sparkled in his grey eyes.
"Yes, greatly owing to the bad example set in America, and of late in
England too, quite a number of misguided people nowadays go to the Press
before they come to us for redress! All too soon," he shook a warning
finger, "they find they have entered a mouse-trap from which escape is
impossible. They rattle at the bars--but no, they are caught fast! Once
they have brought those indefatigable, those indiscreet reporters on the
scene, it is too late to draw back. They find all their most private
affairs dragged into the light of day, and even we can do very little for
Senator Burton nodded gravely. He wished his son were there to hear these
"And now let us return to our muttons," said the Prefect leaning forward.
"I understand from the President of the Senate that you require my help in
a rather delicate and mysterious matter."
"I do not know that the matter is particularly delicate, though it is
certainly mysterious," and then Senator Burton explained, in as few and
clear words as possible, the business which had brought him there--the
disappearance, three days before, of the English artist, John Dampier, and
of the present sad plight of Dampier's wife.
Monsieur Beaucourt threw himself back in his chair. His face lit up, it
lost its expression of apathetic fatigue; and his first quick questions
showed him a keen and clever cross-examiner.
At once he seized on the real mystery, and that though the Senator had not
made more of it than he could help. That was the discrepancy in the account
given by the Poulains and by Mrs. Dampier respectively as to the lady's
arrival at the hotel.
But even Monsieur Beaucourt failed to elicit the fact that Senator Burton's
acquaintance with Mrs. Dampier was of such short standing. He assumed that
she was a friend of the Burton family, and the Senator allowed the
assumption to go by default.
"The story you have told me," the Prefect said at last, "is a very curious
story, Monsieur le Sénateur. But here we come across stranger things every
day. Still, certain details make the disappearance of this English
gentleman rather stranger than usual. I gather that the vanished man's wife
is a charming person?"
"Extremely charming!" said the Senator quickly. "And I should say quite
truthful--in fact this discrepancy between her account and that of the
Poulains has worried and perplexed me very much."
"Do not let that worry you," said the other thoughtfully. "If this young
lady, your friend, be telling the truth, it is very probable that the
Poulains began to lie in the hope of avoiding trouble for themselves:
having lied they found themselves obliged to stick to their story. You see
just now our hotel-keepers are coining gold, and they do not like this very
pleasant occupation of theirs interrupted, for even the best of reasons. If
this gentleman left the hotel the same night that he arrived there--as I
can see you yourself are inclined to believe, Monsieur le Sénateur--then
you may be sure that the hotel people, even if they did see him for a few
moments, would not care to admit that they had done so. I therefore advise
that we put them and their account of what took place out of our minds.
From what you tell me, you have already done what I may call the
"Yes," said Senator Burton frankly. "My son and I have done everything
which common sense could suggest to us. Thus we at once gave a description
of the missing man to the police station of the quarter where both the
Hôtel Saint Ange and Mr. Dampier's studio are situated. But, owing
doubtless to the fact that all your officials are just now very busy and
very overworked, we did not get quite as much attention paid to the case as
I should have liked. I do not feel quite sure even now that the missing man
did not meet with a street accident."
"I can ascertain that for you in a moment."
Again the Prefect pressed a pedal. A panel, and this time a different panel
from the first, slid back, and again the secretary appeared.
Monsieur Beaucourt said a brief word or two, and a few moments later a
tabulated list, written in round-hand, lay before him.
"Here are all the accidents which have occurred in Paris during the last
He ran his eyes down the list; and then, rising, handed the sheets to
"I think this disposes of the idea that an accident may have befallen your
friend in the streets," said the Prefect briefly.
And the Senator, handing back the list, acknowledged that this was so.
"May I ask if you know much of the habits and way of life of this vanished
bridegroom?" asked the Prefect thoughtfully. "I understand he belongs to
the British Colony here."
"Mr. Dampier was not my friend," said the Senator hurriedly. "It is Mrs.
"Ah, yes--I understand--the three weeks' bride? It is she you know. Well,
Monsieur le Sénateur, the best thing you and I can do is to look at the
artist's dossier. That is quite likely to provide us with a useful clue."
The Senator felt a thrill of anticipatory interest. All his life he had
heard of the dossiers kept by the Paris police, of how every dweller in the
great city, however famous, however obscure, had a record in which the most
intimate details of their lives were set down in black and white. Somehow
he had never quite believed in these French police dossiers.
"Surely you are not likely to have a dossier of Mr. Dampier?" he exclaimed,
"he is a British subject, and, as far as I know, a perfectly
The Prefect smiled. "The mere fact that he is an English subject living in
Paris entitles him to a dossier. In fact everybody who is anybody in any
kind of society, from that frequented by the Apaches to that of the
Faubourg Saint Germain, has a dossier. And from what you tell me this
artist, who won a Salon medal, and who has already had a distinguished
career as a painter, is certainly 'somebody.' Now, please tell me exactly
the way to spell his surname and his Christian name. English names are so
Very clearly the Senator spelt out--first the word "John" and then the word
And as, under his dictation, the Prefect of Police wrote the two
distinctive names of the missing man, there came a look of frowning
perplexity and indecision over his face.
"It's an odd thing," he muttered, "but I seem to have heard that name quite
lately, and in some strange connection! Now what could it have been? As you
probably know, Monsieur le Sénateur, there is a French form of that name,
Dampierre. But no--it is that John which puzzles me--I am quite sure that I
have heard the name 'John Dampier' quite recently."
"Isn't it likely," suggested the Senator, "that the man's disappearance has
been reported to you? My son and I have done everything in our power to
make the fact known, and Mr. Dampier's name and particulars as to his
appearance have been at the Morgue since yesterday."
"Well, that's possible, of course. Just now my poor head has to hold far
more than it was ever meant to do. The presence of so many royal personages
in Paris always means extra trouble for me--especially when they are here
'incognito.' By the way, it would amuse, perhaps shock you, to see the
dossiers of some of these Princes and Grand Dukes! But these are, of
course, kept very secret. Meanwhile, I must not forget Mr. John Dampier."
This time the Prefect did not ring his bell. Instead he blew down a tube.
"You would scarcely believe it," he said, looking up suddenly, "but these
tubes have only just been installed! I had a regular battle over the matter
with the Treasury. But now that the battle is won, I forget half the time
that the tube is there! Picot? Please send me the dossier of an
artist-painter called John Dampier," he spelt the names. "English subject;
living in Impasse des Nonnes. I have an impression that we have had that
name before us during the last week or so--Have you any recollection
He put the tube to his ear.
And then the American Senator, looking at the Paris Prefect of Police, was
struck by a sudden change which came over the listener's face. There
gathered on Monsieur Beaucourt's features a look of quick surprise,
followed--yes, unmistakably--by a frown of dismay.
Putting his free hand over the tube, he withdrew it from his ear and
applied it to his lips. "Yes, yes," he said rapidly, "enough, enough! I
quite understand. It is, as you say, very natural that I should have
And then he looked quickly across at the Senator. "You are right, Monsieur
le Sénateur: Mr. Dampier's name was put before me only yesterday as that of
an Englishman who had disappeared from his hotel. But I took him to be a
passing visitor. You know quite a number of the tourists brought by the
Exhibition disappear, sometimes for two or three days--sometimes--well, for
ever! That, of course, means they have left Paris suddenly, having got into
what the English call a 'scrape.' In such a case a man generally thinks it
better to go home--wiser if sadder than when he came."
There followed a pause.
"Well, Monsieur le Sénateur," said the Prefect, rising from his chair. "You
may rest assured that I will do everything that is in my power to find
"But the dossier?" exclaimed Senator Burton. "I thought, Monsieur le
Préfet, that I was to see Mr. Dampier's dossier?"
"Oh, to be sure--yes! I beg your pardon."
Again he whistled down the tube. "Picot?" he exclaimed, "I still require
that dossier! Why am I kept waiting in this way?"
He listened for a few moments to what his invisible subordinate had to say,
and then again he spoke down the funnel, and with a certain pettish
impatience. "The last entry is of no importance--understand me--no
importance at all! The gentleman for whose benefit I require the dossier
already knows of this Mr. Dampier's disappearance."
A moment later a clerk knocked at the door, and appeared with a blue
envelope which he laid with a deep bow on the Prefect's table.
It was not a very large envelope, and yet Senator Burton was surprised at
its size, and at the number of slips of paper the Prefect of Police
withdrew from it.
"I do not suppose, Monsieur le Sénateur, that you have ever seen one of our
dossiers--in fact I may tell you that very few people outside this building
ever do see one. By the way, a great deal of nonsense is talked about them.
Roughly speaking, a dossier is not a history of the individual in question;
it simply records what is being said of him. For instance, the day that I
became Prefect of Police my dossier was brought to me--"
He smiled wearily.
"Your dossier?" repeated the Senator in amazement.
"Yes, my dossier. I have had it bound, and I keep it as a curiosity.
Everything that had ever been written about me in the days when I was a
Member of the Chamber of Deputies is there. And what really made me feel
angry was the fact that I had been confused with more than one of my
namesakes, in fact certain misdeeds that these worthy folk had committed
were actually registered in my dossier!"
He stopped speaking for a moment, and took up the blue envelope.
"But now let us consider this Mr. John Dampier. You will see that he bears
the number '16909,' and that his envelope is blue. Had this gentleman ever
had anything to do with the police, were he, to put it plainly, of the
criminal class, this envelope would be yellow. As for the white envelopes,
they, Monsieur le Sénateur, have to deal with a very different sort of
individual. We class them briefly under the general word 'Morals.'"
As he spoke the Prefect was looking swiftly through the Dampier dossier,
and not till he had glanced at every item did he hand the envelope to his
Senator Burton could not but admire the intelligent way the dossier had
been prepared, and kept up to date.
On the top sheet were carefully gummed various entries from the
biographical dictionaries in which mention was made of John Dampier and his
career. There followed a eulogistic newspaper article containing an account
of the picture which had won the artist his Médaille d'Honneur at the Salon
two years before. Then came a piece of foolscap headed "General remarks,"
and here were written the following words:--"Lives quietly; is popular with
his fellow artists; has few debts; does not frequent the British Colony."
The Senator looked up quickly. "Well, there is not much to learn from
this!" he said. And then, "I notice, Monsieur le Préfet, that there was
another entry which has been removed."
"Yes," said the Prefect. "That last entry was only added the day before
yesterday, and told of Monsieur Dampier's disappearance. It is being
written up now, Monsieur le Sénateur, with a note explaining your kind
interest in him, and telling of your visit to-day."
Senator Burton rose from his chair. He could not have told exactly why, but
he had the impression that his courteous host had suddenly become anxious
to get rid of him.
But this impression was evidently erroneous. Even after they had cordially
shaken hands, the Prefect of Police seemed in no hurry to let him go.
"One moment, Monsieur le Sénateur?" he looked earnestly into the American's
frank face. "I feel bound to tell you that I am convinced there is more in
this mysterious disappearance than appears on the surface. I fear--I
greatly fear--that this Mr. Dampier has vanished of his own free will," he
spoke with evident reluctance, "and that his poor young wife will never see
him again. As I think I said before, the public, especially the vulgar,
ignorant public, credit us with powers we are far from possessing. It is
possible that this gentleman does not care for the trammels of married
life, and that his bride, however charming she may be, has disappointed
him. Such cases are commoner than you might think possible, especially
among English and American people. You, in your country, if you will
forgive my saying so, marry with such reckless haste; and that often means
repenting at bitter leisure." The Prefect's voice lowered, a look of real
distress came over his face. "Ah! what tales I could tell you--what fearful
domestic tragedies have been confided to me here, within these four walls!
No doubt for an artist this Mr. John Dampier was a very good fellow--what
in England they call 'respectable enough.' But still, think what painters
are like! Think of how Bohemian, how careless is their life, compared with
that of the man who has a regular occupation--" Monsieur de Beaucourt shook
his head gloomily--"In most of these stories of sudden disappearance there
is no crime, as the relations are so apt to think there is. No, Monsieur le
Sénateur, there is simply--a woman! Sometimes it is a new friend--but far
oftener it is an old friend."
There was a pause. "God forbid," said the Prefect suddenly, "that I should
accuse this unfortunate man of anything heinous! But--but, Monsieur le
Sénateur? You must have learnt through our Press, through those of our
newspapers which delight in dragging family scandals to light, the amazing
story of Count Bréville."
The Senator was impressed, in spite of himself, by the other's manner.
"I don't remember the name," he said thoughtfully.
"Count Bréville," said the Prefect slowly, "was a man of deservedly high
reputation, in fact one of the pillars of the Royalist party. He had a wife
who adored him, a large family whom he adored, and they all lived an
idyllic country life. Well, one day the Count's coat, his hat, his
pocket-book (which was known to have been full of bank-notes, but which was
now empty) were found on the parapet of a bridge near his château. It was
given out--it was believed that a dastardly crime had been committed. And
then, by a mere accident, it was brought to my notice--for there was
nothing in the Count's dossier which could have led me to suspect such a
thing--that a charming governess who had been in the employment of his
Countess for some four or five years had suddenly left to join her family
in the New World, and that her travelling companion was strangely like her
"Yes," said Senator Burton uncomfortably, "I think I do remember something
of that story now."
"All the world was let into the secret," said the Prefect regretfully, "for
the family had confided, from the first, in the Press. They thought--what
did they not think, poor, foolish people? Among other things they actually
believed that the Count had been murdered for political reasons. But no,
the explanation was far more simple. That high-minded man, that Christian
gentleman, this father of charming children whom he apparently adored, had
gone off under a false name, leaving everything that was dear to him,
including his large fortune, to throw in his lot with the governess!"
The Prefect came closer to Senator Burton. He even lowered his voice. "I
had the Countess here, Monsieur le Sénateur, in this room. Oh, what a
touching, what a moving interview! The poor woman was only anxious to have
back her husband with no questions asked, with no cruel reminders. And now
he is back--a broken man. But had he been an artist, Monsieur le Sénateur,
would the Count have been traced? Of course not! Would he have returned?
No, indeed! The Prefect of Police can do many things, Monsieur le Sénateur,
but as I said just now, he cannot force an unwilling husband back to his
wife, especially if that husband has already crossed the frontier. Come,
Monsieur le Sénateur, confess that some such explanation of Mr. Dampier's
disappearance has already occurred to you?"
"Well," said Senator Burton slowly, "I confess that some such thought has
crossed my mind. But in that case what a tragic fate for the poor
"Bah! Do you know the saying:--'Widowhood is the Marshal's bâton every
woman carries in her knapsack!'"
Senator Burton could not help smiling. Then he grew very grave. "But Mrs.
Dampier, in the case you suppose, would not be a widow, Monsieur le Préfet:
she would be neither maid, wife, nor widow."
The Prefect looked surprised. "Ah yes! The English divorce laws are very
conservative. But I suppose in the end such a marriage would be annulled?"
"I suppose so," said Senator Burton indifferently.
"I wish I could help you more," said the Prefect solicitously. He really
wished he could, for he liked his kindly visitor. "Can you suggest anything
that we could do to help you?"
"Yes," said the Senator frankly. "My son, Monsieur le Préfet, has not the
same trust in the hotel-keeper, Poulain, that I feel. Neither, I am bound
to tell you, has Mrs. Dampier. I think it would be a relief to the poor
young lady, if the hotel could be searched for some trace of Mr. Dampier's
sojourn there. You see Mrs. Dampier is convinced--or seems to be--that her
husband spent a night there."
"Nothing is easier than to have the place searched," said the Prefect
quickly. "I will arrange for it to be done to-morrow morning at eleven.
Perhaps you, Monsieur le Sénateur, will inform the hotel people that a
Perquisition is about to take place."
As he walked away from the Prefecture of Police, Senator Burton told
himself that the French were certainly a curiously casual people.
How strange that the Prefect should have asked him to break the news of
what was to happen at eleven o'clock the next morning to the Poulains! In
America--and he supposed in England also--the hotel-keeper would have
received a formal notification of the fact that his house was about to be
searched, or, in the case that foul play was suspected, no warning at all.
But here, in Paris, it was thought enough to entrust a stranger with a
message concerning so serious a matter.
Of everything that had happened in connection with this extraordinary
Dampier affair, perhaps this having to tell the Poulains that their hotel
was to be searched was the most disagreeable and painful thing of all to
their American friend and kindly client.
The Senator was now very sorry, that, in deference to his son's wish, he
had made such a suggestion.
On his return to the hotel he was surprised to find a woman he had never
seen before installed in Madame Poulain's kitchen. Still, the presence of
the stranger brought a sense of reprieve.
He, Senator Angus Burton, the distinguished politician whom most of those
of his fellow-countrymen whose opinion mattered would have said to be a
particularly fearless man, dreaded the task of telling Madame Poulain that
a Perquisition was about to take place in her house.
He lifted his hat. "Is Madame Poulain out?"
"She won't be long, monsieur; she and her husband have had to absent
themselves for a little hour."
"Are they both out?" asked the Senator. He had never in his long knowledge
of the Hôtel Saint Ange known such a thing to happen--that both the
Poulains should be out together.
"Yes, monsieur. They have had to take that nephew of theirs, young Jules,
off to the station. They are sending him to the country. He's in a sad
state--he does nothing but cry, poor lad! I suppose he's in love--I've
known it take young men that way." The woman smiled, smiled as a certain
type of person usually does smile when giving disagreeable or unpleasant
news. "It is very awkward for the Poulains to lose the lad just now, for
they are very busy. I have no doubt--" she tossed her head--"that Jules has
been working too hard; the Poulains are foolish not to have more help from
outside. I came in just to oblige Madame Poulain while she and her husband
accompanied Jules to the station. But I also am busy. I have my own work to
attend to just as much as anybody else; and my three children are all
working at the Exhibition."
The Senator left the eager gossip, and began walking round the courtyard.
He felt quite wretched. Jules, at no time a very intelligent lad, had
evidently been terrified out of his wits by the questionings and the
cross-questionings to which he had been subjected.
And then--and then--no doubt Gerald was in a measure also responsible for
the lad's state! Senator Burton had been very much annoyed when his son had
told him of what had happened the night before--of how he had accused the
Poulains' nephew of lying--of knowing something of the Dampier affair....
He was just about to go upstairs when he saw Monsieur and Madame Poulain
emerging from the porte cochère. They both looked tired, hot, and
He walked forward to meet them.