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

THE NAME OF THE LADY WITH THE EYES EVIDENCE HEAPS UP SWIFTLY

Ste. Marie drove home to the rue d’Assas with his head in a whirl, and with a sense of great excitement beating somewhere within him probably in the place where his heart ought to be. He had a curiously sure feeling that at last his feet were upon the right path. He could not have explained this to himself indeed, there was nothing to explain, and if there had been he was in far too great an inner turmoil to manage it. It was a mere feeling the sort of thing which he had once tried to express to Captain Stewart and had got laughed at for his pains.

There was, in sober fact, no reason whatever why Captain Stewart’s possession of a photograph of the beautiful lady whom Ste. Marie had once seen in company with O’Hara should be taken as significant of anything except an appreciation of beauty on the part of Miss Benham’s uncle not even if, as Mlle. Nilssen believed, Captain Stewart was in love with the lady. But to Ste. Marie, in his whirl of reawakened excitement, the discovery loomed to the skies, and in a series of ingenious but very vague leaps of the imagination he saw himself, with the aid of this new evidence (which was no evidence at all, if he had been calm enough to realize it), victorious in his great quest: leading young Arthur Benham back to the arms of an ecstatic family, and kneeling at the feet of that youth’s sister to claim his reward. All of which seems a rather startling flight of the imagination to have had its beginning in the sight of one photograph of a young woman. But, then, Ste. Marie was imaginative if he was anything.

He fell to thinking of this girl whose eyes, after one sight of them, had so long haunted him. He thought of her between those two men, the hard-faced Irish adventurer, and the other, Stewart, strange compound of intellectual and voluptuary, and his eyes flashed in the dark and he gripped his hands together upon his knees. He said again:

“I won’t believe it! I won’t believe it!” Believe what? one wonders.

He slept hardly at all: only, toward morning, falling into an uneasy doze. And in the doze he dreamed once more the dream of the dim, waste place and the hill, and the eyes and voice that called him back because they needed him.

As early as he dared, after his morning coffee, he took a fiacre and drove across the river to the Boulevard de la Madeleine, where he climbed a certain stair, at the foot of which were two glass cases containing photographs of, for the most part, well-known ladies of the Parisian stage. At the top of the stair he entered the reception-room of a young photographer who is famous now the world over, but who, at the beginning of his career, when he had nothing but talent and no acquaintance, owed certain of his most important commissions to M. Ste. Marie.

The man, whose name was Bernstein, came forward eagerly from the studio beyond to greet his visitor, and Ste. Marie complimented him chaffingly upon his very sleek and prosperous appearance, and upon the new decorations of the little salon, which were, in truth, excellently well judged. But after they had talked for a little while of such matters, he said:

“I want to know if you keep specimen prints of all the photographs you have made within the past few months, and, if so, I should like to see them.”

The young Jew went to a wooden portfolio-holder which stood in a corner, and dragged it out into the light.

“I have them all here,” said he “everything that I have made within the past ten or twelve months. If you will let me draw up a chair you can look them over comfortably.”

He glanced at his former patron with a little polite curiosity as Ste. Marie followed his suggestion, and began to turn over the big portfolio’s contents; but he did not show any surprise nor ask questions. Indeed, he guessed, to a certain extent, rather near the truth of the matter. It had happened before that young gentlemen and old ones, too wanted to look over his prints without offering explanations, and they generally picked out all the photographs there were of some particular lady and bought them if they could be bought.

So he was by no means astonished on this occasion, and he moved about the room putting things to rights, and even went for a few moments into the studio beyond until he was recalled by a sudden exclamation from his visitor an exclamation which had a sound of mingled delight and excitement.

Ste. Marie held in his hands a large photograph, and he turned it toward the man who had made it.

“I am going to ask you some questions,” said he, “that will sound rather indiscreet and irregular, but I beg you to answer them if you can, because the matter is of great importance to a number of people. Do you remember this lady?”

“Oh yes,” said the Jew, readily, “I remember her very well. I never forget people who are as beautiful as this lady was.” His eyes gleamed with retrospective joy. “She was splendid!” he declared. “Sumptuous! No, I cannot describe her. I have not the words. And I could not photograph her with any justice, either. She was all color: brown skin, with a dull-red stain under the cheeks, and a great mass of hair that was not black but very nearly black except in the sun, and then there were red lights in it. She was a goddess, that lady, a queen of goddesses the young Juno before marriage the ”

“Yes,” interrupted Ste. Marie “yes, I see. Yes, quite evidently she was beautiful; but what I wanted in particular to know was her name, if you feel that you have a right to give it to me (I remind you again that the matter is very important), and any circumstances that you can remember about her coming here: who came with her, for instance and things of that sort.”

The photographer looked a little disappointed at being cut off in the middle of his rhapsody, but he began turning over the leaves of an order-book which lay upon a table near by.

“Here is the entry,” he said, after a few moments. “Yes, I thought so, the date was nearly three months ago April 5th. And the lady’s name was Mlle. Coira O’Hara.”

“What!” cried the other man, sharply. “What did you say?”

“Mlle. Coira O’Hara was the name,” repeated the photographer. “I remember the occasion perfectly. The lady came here with three gentlemen one tall, thin gentleman with an eyeglass, an Englishman, I think, though he spoke very excellent French when he spoke to me. Among themselves they spoke, I think, English, though I do not understand it, except a few words, such as ‘’ow moch?’ and ‘sank you’ and ’rady, pleas’, now.’”

“Yes! yes!” cried Ste. Marie, impatiently. And the little Jew could see that he was laboring under some very strong excitement, and he wondered mildly about it, scenting a love-affair.

“Then,” he pursued, “there was a very young man in strange clothes a tourist, I should think, like those Americans and English who come in the summer with little red books and sit on the terrace of the Cafe de la Paix.” He heard his visitor draw a swift, sharp breath at that, but he hurried on before he could be interrupted. “This young man seemed to be unable to take his eyes from the lady and small wonder! He was very much epris very much epris, indeed. Never have I seen a youth more so. Ah, it was something to see, that a thing to touch the heart!”

“What did the young man look like?” demanded Ste. Marie.

The photographer described the youth as best he could from memory, and he saw his visitor nod once or twice, and at the end he said:

“Yes, yes; I thought so. Thank you.”

The Jew did not know what it was the other thought, but he went on:

“Ah, a thing to touch the heart! Such devotion as that! Alas, that the lady should seem so cold to it! Still, a goddess! What would you? A queen among goddesses. One would not have them laugh and make little jokes make eyes at love-sick boys. No, indeed!” He shook his head rapidly and sighed.

M. Ste. Marie was silent for a little space, but at length he looked up as if he had just remembered something.

“And the third man?” he asked.

“Ah, yes, the third gentleman,” said Bernstein. “I had forgotten him. The third gentleman I knew well. He had often been here. It was he who brought these friends to me. He was M. Capitaine Stewart. Everybody knows M. Capitaine Stewart everybody in Paris.”

Again he observed that his visitor drew a little, swift, sharp breath, and that he seemed to be laboring under some excitement.

However, Ste. Marie did not question him further, and so he went on to tell the little more he knew of the matter how the four people had remained for an hour or more, trying many poses; how they had returned, all but the tall gentleman, three days later to see the proofs and to order certain ones to be printed (the young man paying on the spot in advance), and how the finished prints had been sent to M. Capitaine Stewart’s address.

When he had finished, his visitor sat for a long time silent, his head bent a little, frowning upon the floor and chafing his hands together over his knees. But at last he rose rather abruptly. He said:

“Thank you very much, indeed. You have done me a great service. If ever I can repay it, command me. Thank you!”

The Jew protested, smiling, that he was still too deeply in debt to M. Ste. Marie, and so, politely wrangling, they reached the door, and with a last expression of gratitude the visitor departed down the stair. A client came in just then for a sitting, and so the little photographer did not have an opportunity to wonder over the rather odd affair as much as he might have done. Indeed, in the press of work, it slipped from his mind altogether.

But down in the busy boulevard Ste. Marie stood hesitating on the curb. There were so many things to be done, in the light of these new developments, that he did not know what to do first.

“Mlle. Coira O’Hara! Mademoiselle!” The thought gave him a sudden sting of inexplicable relief and pleasure. She would be O’Hara’s daughter, then. And the boy, Arthur Benham (there was no room for doubt in the photographer’s description) had seemed to be badly in love with her. This was a new development, indeed! It wanted thought, reflection, consultation with Richard Hartley. He signalled to a fiacre, and when it had drawn up before him sprang into it and gave Richard Hartley’s address in the Avenue de l’Observatoire. But when they had gone a little way he changed his mind and gave another address, one in the Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg. It was where Mlle. Olga Nilssen lived. She had told him when he parted from her the evening before.

On the way he fell to thinking of what he had learned from the little photographer Bernstein, to setting the facts, as well as he could, in order, endeavoring to make out just how much or how little they signified by themselves or added to what he had known before. But he was in far too keen a state of excitement to review them at all calmly. As on the previous evening, they seemed to him to loom to the skies, and again he saw himself successful in his quest victorious triumphant. That this leap to conclusions was but a little less absurd than the first did not occur to him. He was in a fine fever of enthusiasm, and such difficulties as his eye perceived lay in a sort of vague mist to be dissipated later on, when he should sit quietly down with Hartley and sift the wheat from the chaff, laying out a definite scheme of action.

It occurred to him that in his interview with the photographer he had forgotten one point, and he determined to go back, later on, and ask about it. He had forgotten to inquire as to Captain Stewart’s attitude toward the beautiful lady. Young Arthur Benham’s infatuation had filled his mind at the time, and had driven out of it what Olga Nilssen had told him about Stewart. He found himself wondering if this point might not be one of great importance the rivalry of the two men for O’Hara’s daughter. Assuredly that demanded thought and investigation.

He found the prettily furnished apartment in the Avenue de la Tour Maubourg a scene of great disorder, presided over by a maid who seemed to be packing enormous quantities of garments into large trunks. The maid told him that her mistress, after a sleepless night, had departed from Paris by an early train, quite alone, leaving the servant to follow on when she had telegraphed or written an address. No, Mlle. Nilssen had left no address at all not even for letters or telegrams. In short, the entire proceeding was, so the exasperated woman viewed it, everything that is imbecile.

Ste. Marie sat down on a hamper with his stick between his knees, and wrote a little note to be sent on when Mlle. Nilssen’s whereabouts should be known. It was unfortunate, he reflected, that she should have fled away just now, but not of great importance to him, because he did not believe that he could learn very much more from her than he had learned already. Moreover, he sympathized with her desire to get away from Paris as far away as possible from the man whom she had seen in so horrible a state on the evening past.

He had kept the fiacre at the door, and he drove at once back to the rue d’Assas. As he started to mount the stair the concierge came out of her loge to say that Mr. Hartley had called soon after Monsieur had left the house that morning, had seemed very much disappointed on not finding Monsieur, and before going away again had had himself let into Monsieur’s apartment with the key of the femme de ménage, and had written a note which Monsieur would find la haut.

Ste. Marie thanked the woman, and went on up to his rooms, wondering why Hartley had bothered to leave a note instead of waiting or returning at lunch-time, as he usually did. He found the communication on his table and read it at once. Hartley said:

I have to go across the river to the Bristol to see some relatives who are turning up there to-day, and who will probably keep me until evening, and then I shall have to go back there to dine. So I’m leaving a word for you about some things I discovered last evening. I met Miss Benham at Armenonville, where I dined, and in a tete-a-tete conversation we had after dinner she let fall two facts which seem to me very important. They concern Captain S. In the first place, when he told us that day, some time ago, that he knew nothing about his father’s will or any changes that might have been made in it, he lied. It seems that old David, shortly after the boy’s disappearance, being very angry at what he considered, and still considers, a bit of spite on the boy’s part, cut young Arthur Benham out of his will and transferred that share to Captain S. (Miss Benham learned this from the old man only yesterday). Also it appears that he did this after talking the matter over with Captain S., who affected unwillingness. So, as the will reads now, Miss B. and Captain S. stand to share equally the bulk of the old man’s money, which is several millions in dollars, of course. Miss B.’s mother is to have the interest of half of both shares as long as she lives. Now mark this: Prior to this new arrangement, Captain S. was to receive only a small legacy, on the ground that he already had a respectable fortune left him by his mother, old David’s first wife (I’ve heard, by-the-way, that he has squandered a good share of this.)

Miss B. is, of course, much cut up over the injustice to the boy, but she can’t protest too much, as it only excites old David. She says the old man is much weaker.

You see, of course, the significance of all this. If David Stewart dies, as he’s likely to do, before young Arthur’s return, Captain S. gets the money.

The second fact I learned was that Miss Benham did not tell her uncle about her semi-engagement to you or about your volunteering to search for the boy. She thinks her grandfather must have told him. I didn’t say so to her, but that is hardly possible in view of the fact that Stewart came on here to your rooms very soon after you had reached them yourself.

So that makes two lies for our gentle friend and serious lies, both of them. To my mind, they point unmistakably to a certain conclusion. Captain S. has been responsible for putting his nephew out of the way. He has either hidden him somewhere and is keeping him in confinement, or he has killed him.

I wish we could talk it over to-day, but, as you see, I’m helpless. Remain in to-night, and I’ll come as soon as I can get rid of these confounded people of mine.

One word more. Be careful! Miss B. is, up to this point, merely puzzled over things. She doesn’t suspect her uncle of any crookedness, I’m sure. So we shall have to tread softly where she is concerned.

I shall see you to-night. R.H.

Ste. Marie read the closely written pages through twice, and he thought how like his friend it was to take the time and trouble to put what he had learned into this clear, concise form. Another man would have scribbled, “Important facts tell you all about it to-night,” or something of that kind. Hartley must have spent a quarter of an hour over his writing.

Ste. Marie walked up and down the room with all his strength forcing his brain to quiet, reasonable action. Once he said, aloud:

“Yes, you’re right, of course. Stewart has been at the bottom of it all along.” He realized that he had been for some days slowly arriving at that conclusion, and that since the night before he had been practically certain of it, though he had not yet found time to put his suspicions into logical order. Hartley’s letter had driven the truth concretely home to him, but he would have reached the same truth without it though that matter of the will was of the greatest importance. It gave him a strong weapon to strike with.

He halted before one of the front windows, and his eyes gazed unseeing across the street into the green shrubbery of the Luxembourg Gardens. The lace curtains had been left by the femme de ménage hanging straight down, and not, as usual, looped back to either side, so he could see through them with perfect ease, although he could not be seen from outside.

He became aware that a man who was walking slowly up and down a path inside the high iron palings was in some way familiar to him, and his eyes sharpened. The man was inconspicuously dressed, and looked like almost any other man whom one might pass in the streets without taking any notice of him; but Ste. Marie knew that he had seen him often, and he wondered how and where. There was a row of lilac shrubs against the iron palings just inside and between the palings and the path, but two of the shrubs were dead and leafless, and each time the man passed this spot he came into plain view; each time, also, he directed an oblique glance toward the house opposite. Presently he turned aside and sat down upon one of the public benches, where he was almost, but not quite, hidden by the intervening foliage.

Then at last Ste. Marie gave a sudden exclamation and smote his hands together.

“The fellow’s a spy!” he cried, aloud. “He’s watching the house to see when I go out.” He began to remember how he had seen the man in the street and in cafes and restaurants, and he remembered that he had once or twice thought it odd, but without any second thought of suspicion. So the fellow had been set to spy upon him, watch his goings and comings and report them to no need of asking to whom.

Ste. Marie stood behind his curtains and looked across into the pleasant expanse of shrubbery and greensward. He was wondering if it would be worth while to do anything. Men and women went up and down the path, hurrying or slowly, at ease with the world laborers, students, bonnes with market-baskets in their hands and long bread loaves under their arms, nurse-maids herding small children, bigger children spinning diabolo spools as they walked. A man with a pointed black beard and a soft hat passed once and returned to seat himself upon the public bench that Ste. Marie was watching. For some minutes he sat there idle, holding the soft felt hat upon his knees for coolness. Then he turned and looked at the other occupant of the bench, and Ste. Marie thought he saw the other man nod, though he could not be sure whether either one spoke or not. Presently the new-comer rose, put on the soft hat again, and disappeared down the path going toward the gate at the head of the rue du Luxembourg.

Five minutes later the door-bell rang.