Read CHAPTER VII of Jason, free online book, by Justus Miles Forman, on ReadCentral.com.

CAPTAIN STEWART MAKES A KINDLY OFFER

Ste. Marie scowled.

“A caller would come singularly malapropos just now,” said he. “I’ve half a mind not to go to the door. I want to talk this thing over with you.”

“Whoever it is,” objected Hartley, “has been told by the concierge that you’re at home. It may not be a caller, anyhow. It may be a parcel or something. You’d best go.”

So Ste. Marie went out into the little passage, blaspheming fluently the while. The Englishman heard him open the outer door of the flat. He heard him exclaim, in great surprise:

“Ah, Captain Stewart! A great pleasure! Come in! Come in!”

And he permitted himself a little blaspheming on his own account, for the visitor, as Ste. Marie had said, came most malapropos, and, besides, he disliked Miss Benham’s uncle. He heard the American say:

“I have been hoping for some weeks to give myself the pleasure of calling here, and to-day such an excellent pretext presented itself that I came straightaway.”

Hartley heard him emit his mewing little laugh, and heard him say, with the elephantine archness affected by certain dry and middle-aged gentlemen:

“I come with congratulations. My niece has told me all about it. Lucky young man! Ah ”

He reached the door of the inner room and saw Richard Hartley standing by the window, and he began to apologize profusely, saying that he had had no idea that Ste. Marie was not alone. But Ste. Marie said:

“It doesn’t in the least matter. I have no secrets from Hartley. Indeed, I have just been talking with him about this very thing.”

But for all that he looked curiously at the elder man, and it struck him as very odd that Miss Benham should have gone straight to her uncle and told him all this. It did not seem in the least like her, especially as he knew the two were on no terms of intimacy. He decided that she must have gone up to her grandfather’s room to discuss it with that old gentleman a reasonable enough hypothesis and that Captain Stewart must have come in during the discussion. Quite evidently he had wasted no time in setting out upon his errand of congratulation.

“Then,” said Captain Stewart, “if I am to be good-naturedly forgiven for my stupidity, let me go on and say, in my capacity as a member of the family, that the news pleased me very much. I was glad to hear it.”

He shook Ste. Marie’s hand, looking very benignant indeed, and Ste. Marie was quite overcome with pleasure and gratitude; it seemed to him such a very kindly act in the elder man. He produced things to smoke and drink, and Captain Stewart accepted a cigarette and mixed himself a rather stiff glass of absinthe it was between five and six o’clock.

“And now,” said he, when he was at ease in the most comfortable of the low cane chairs, and the glass of opalescent liquor was properly curdled and set at hand “now, having congratulated you and ah, welcomed you, if I may put it so, as a probable future member of the family I turn to the other feature of the affair.”

He had an odd trick of lowering his head and gazing benevolently upon an auditor as if over the top of spectacles. It was one of his elderly ways. He beamed now upon Ste. Marie in this manner, and, after a moment, turned and beamed upon Richard Hartley, who gazed stolidly back at him without expression.

“You have determined, I hear,” said he, “to join us in our search for poor Arthur. Good! Good! I welcome you there, also.”

Ste. Marie stirred uneasily in his chair.

“Well,” said he, “in a sense, yes. That is, I’ve determined to devote myself to the search, and Hartley is good enough to offer to go in with me; but I think, if you don’t mind of course, I know it’s very presumptuous and doubtless idiotic of us but, if you don’t mind, I think we’ll work independently. You see well, I can’t quite put it into words, but it’s our idea to succeed or fail quite by our own efforts. I dare say we shall fail, but it won’t be for lack of trying.”

Captain Stewart looked disappointed.

“Oh, I think ” said he. “Pardon me for saying it, but I think you’re rather foolish to do that.” He waved an apologetic hand. “Of course, I comprehend your excellent motive. Yes, as you say, you want to succeed quite on your own. But look at the practical side! You’ll have to go over all the weary weeks of useless labor we have gone over. We could save you that. We have examined and followed up, and at last given over, a hundred clews that on the surface looked quite possible of success. You’ll be doing that all over again. In short, my dear friend, you will merely be following along a couple of months behind us. It seems to me a pity. I sha’n’t like to see you wasting your time and efforts.”

He dropped his eyes to the glass of Pernod which stood beside him, and he took it in his hand and turned it slowly and watched the light gleam in strange pearl colors upon it. He glanced up again with a little smile which the two younger men found oddly pathetic.

“I should like to see you succeed,” said Captain Stewart. “I like to see youth and courage and high hope succeed.” He said: “I am past the age of romance, though I am not so very old in years. Romance has passed me by, but I love it still. It still stirs me surprisingly when I see it in other people young people who are simple and earnest, and who and who are in love.” He laughed gently, still turning the glass in his hand. “I am afraid you will call me a sentimentalist,” he said, “and an elderly sentimentalist is, as a rule, a ridiculous person. Ridiculous or not, though, I have rather set my heart on your success in this undertaking. Who knows? You may succeed where we others have failed. Youth has such a way of charging in and carrying all before it by assault such a way of overleaping barriers that look unsurmountable to older eyes! Youth! Youth! Eh, my God,” said he, “to be young again, just for a little while! To feel the blood beat strong and eager! Never to be tired! Eh, to be like one of you youngsters! You, Ste. Marie, or you, Hartley! There’s so little left for people when youth is gone!”

He bent his head again, staring down upon the glass before him, and for a while there was a silence which neither of the younger men cared to break.

“Don’t refuse a helping hand,” said Captain Stewart, looking up once more. “Don’t be over-proud. I may be able to set you upon the right path. Not that I have anything definite to work upon I haven’t, alas! But each day new clews turn up. One day we shall find the real one, and that may be one that I have turned over to you to follow out. One never knows.”

Ste. Marie looked across at Richard Hartley, but that gentleman was blowing smoke-rings and to all outward appearance giving them his entire attention. He looked back to Captain Stewart, and Stewart’s eyes regarded him, smiling a little wistfully, he thought. Ste. Marie scowled out of the window at the trees of the Luxembourg Gardens.

“I hardly know,” said he. “Of course, I sound a braying ass in hesitating even a moment; but, in a way, you understand, I’m so anxious to do this or to fail in it quite on my own. You’re so tremendously kind about it that I don’t know what to say. I must seem very ungrateful, I know; but I’m not.”

“No,” said the elder man, “you don’t seem ungrateful at all. I understand exactly how you feel about it, and I applaud your feeling but not your judgment. I am afraid that for the sake of a sentiment you’re taking unnecessary risks of failure.”

For the first time Richard Hartley spoke.

“I’ve an idea, you know,” said he, “that it’s going to be a matter chiefly of luck. One day somebody will stumble on the right trail, and that might as well be Ste. Marie or I as your trained detectives. If you don’t mind my saying so, sir I don’t want to seem rude your trained detectives do not seem to accomplish much in two months, do they?”

Captain Stewart looked thoughtfully at the younger man.

“No,” he said, at last. “I am sorry to say they don’t seem to have accomplished much except to prove that there are a great many places poor Arthur has not been to and a great many people who have not seen him. After all, that is something the elimination of ground that need not be worked over again.” He set down the glass from which he had been drinking. “I cannot agree with your theory,” he said. “I cannot agree that such work as this is best left to an accidental solution. Accidents are too rare. We have tried to go at it in as scientific a way as could be managed by covering large areas of territory, by keeping the police everywhere on the alert, by watching the boy’s old friends and searching his favorite haunts. Personally, I am inclined to think that he managed to slip away to America very early in the course of events, before we began to search for him, and, of course, I am having a careful watch kept there as well as here. But no trace has appeared as yet nothing at all trustworthy. Meanwhile, I continue to hope and to work, but I grow a little discouraged. In any case, though, we shall hear of him in three months more if he is alive.”

“Why three months?” asked Ste. Marie. “What do you mean by that?”

“In three months,” said Captain Stewart, “Arthur will be of age, and he can demand the money left him by his father. If he is alive he will turn up for that. I have thought, from the first, that he is merely hiding somewhere until this time should be past. He you must know that he went away very angry, after a quarrel with his grandfather? My father is not a patient man. He may have been very harsh with the boy.”

“Ah, yes,” said Hartley; “but no boy, however young or angry, would be foolish enough to risk an absolute break with the man who is going to leave him a large fortune. Young Benham must know that his grandfather would never forgive him for staying away all this time if he stayed away of his own accord. He must know that he’d be taking tremendous risks of being cut off altogether.”

“And besides,” added Ste. Marie, “it is quite possible that your father, sir, may die at any time any hour. And he’s very angry at his grandson. He may have cut him off already.”

Captain Stewart’s eyes sharpened suddenly, but he dropped them to the glass in his hand.

“Have you any reason for thinking that?” he asked.

“No,” said Ste. Marie. “I beg your pardon. I shouldn’t have said it. That is a matter which concerns your family alone. I forgot myself. The possibility occurred to me suddenly for the first time.”

But the elder man looked up at him with a smile.

“Pray don’t apologize,” said he. “Surely we three can speak frankly together! And, frankly, I know nothing of my father’s will. But I don’t think he would cut poor Arthur off, though he is, of course, very angry about the boy’s leaving in the manner he did. No, I am sure he wouldn’t cut him off. He was fond of the lad, very fond as we all were.”

Captain Stewart glanced at his watch and rose with a little sigh.

“I must be off,” said he. “I have to dine out this evening, and I must get home to change. There is a cabstand near you?” He looked out of the window. “Ah, yes! Just at the corner of the Gardens.”

He turned about to Ste. Marie, and held out his hand with a smile. He said:

“You refuse to join forces with us, then? Well, I’m sorry. But, for all that, I wish you luck. Go your own way, and I hope you’ll succeed. I honestly hope that, even though your success may show me up for an incompetent bungler.”

He gave a little kindly laugh, and Ste. Marie tried to protest.

“Still,” said the elder man, “don’t throw me over altogether. If I can help you in any way, little or big, let me know. If I can give you any hints, any advice, anything at all, I want to do it. And if you happen upon what seems to be a promising clew come and talk it over with me. Oh, don’t be afraid! I’ll leave it to you to work out. I sha’n’t spoil your game.”

“Ah, now, that’s very good of you,” said Ste. Marie. “Only you make me seem more than ever an ungrateful fool. Thanks, I will come to you with my troubles if I may. I have a foolish idea that I want to follow out a little first, but doubtless I shall be running to you soon for information.”

The elder man’s eyes sharpened again with keen interest.

“An idea!” he said, quickly. “You have an idea? What May I ask what sort of an idea?”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” declared Ste. Marie. “You have already laughed at it. I just want to find that man O’Hara, that’s all. I’ve a feeling that I should learn something from him.”

“Ah!” said Captain Stewart, slowly. “Yes, the man O’Hara. There’s nothing in that, I’m afraid. I’ve made inquiries about O’Hara. It seems he left Paris six months ago, saying he was off for America. An old friend of his told me that. So you must have been mistaken when you thought you saw him in the Champs-Elysees; and he couldn’t very well have had anything to do with poor Arthur. I’m afraid that idea is hardly worth following up.”

“Perhaps not,” said Ste. Marie. “I seem to start badly, don’t I? Ah, well, I’ll have to come to you all the sooner, then.”

“You’ll be welcome,” promised Captain Stewart. “Good-bye to you! Good-day, Hartley. Come and see me, both of you. You know where I live.”

He took his leave then, and Hartley, standing beside the window, watched him turn down the street, and at the corner get into one of the fiacres there and drive away.

Ste. Marie laughed aloud.

“There’s the second time,” said he, “that I’ve had him about O’Hara. If he is as careless as that about everything, I don’t wonder he hasn’t found Arthur Benham. O’Hara disappeared from Paris publicly, that is at about the time young Benham disappeared. As a matter of fact, he remains, or at least for a time remained, in the city without letting his friends know, because I made no mistake about seeing him in the Champs-Elysees. All that looks to me suspicious enough to be worth investigation. Of course,” he admitted, doubtfully “of course, I’m no detective; but that’s how it looks to me.”

“I don’t believe Stewart is any detective, either,” said Richard Hartley. “He’s altogether too cocksure. That sort of man would rather die than admit he is wrong about anything. He’s a good old chap, though, isn’t he? I liked him to-day better than ever before. I thought he was rather pathetic when he went on about his age.”

“He has a good heart,” said Ste. Marie. “Very few men under the circumstances would come here and be as decent as he was. Most men would have thought I was a presumptuous ass, and would have behaved accordingly.”

Ste. Marie took a turn about the room, and his face began to light up with its new excitement and exaltation.

“And to-morrow!” he cried “to-morrow we begin! To-morrow we set out into the world and the Adventure is on foot! God send it success!”

He laughed across at the other man; but it was a laugh of eagerness, not of mirth.

“I feel,” said he, “like Jason. I feel as if we were to set sail to-morrow for Colchis and the Golden Fleece.”

“Y-e-s,” said the other man, a little dryly “yes, perhaps. I don’t want to seem critical, but isn’t your figure somewhat ill chosen?”

“’Ill chosen’?” cried Ste. Marie. “What d’you mean? Why ill chosen?”

“I was thinking of Medea,” said Richard Hartley.