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

THOSE WHO WERE LEFT BEHIND

That meeting with Richard Hartley of which Captain Stewart, in the small drawing-room at La Lierre, spoke to the Irishman O’Hara, took place at Stewart’s own door in the rue du Faubourg St. Honore, and it must have been at just about the time when Ste. Marie, concealed among the branches of his cedar, looked over the wall and saw Arthur Benham walking with Mlle. Coira O’Hara. Hartley had lunched at Durand’s with his friends, whose name though it does not at all matter here was Reeves-Davis, and after lunch the four of them, Major and Lady Reeves-Davis, Reeves-Davis’ sister, Mrs. Carsten, and Hartley, spent an hour at a certain picture-dealer’s near the Madeleine. After that Lady Reeves-Davis wanted to go in search of an antiquary’s shop which was somewhere in the rue du Faubourg, and she did not know just where. They went in from the rue Royale, and amused themselves by looking at the attractive windows on the way.

During one of their frequent halts, while the two ladies were passionately absorbed in a display of hats, and Reeves-Davis was making derisive comments from the rear, Hartley, who was too much bored to pay attention, saw a figure which seemed to him familiar emerge from an adjacent doorway and start to cross the pavement to a large touring-car, with the top up, which stood at the curb. The man wore a dust-coat and a cap, and he moved as if he were in a hurry, but as he went he cast a quick look about him and his eye fell upon Richard Hartley. Hartley nodded, and he thought the elder man gave a violent start; but then he looked very white and ill and might have started at anything. For an instant Captain Stewart made as if he would go on his way without taking notice, but he seemed to change his mind and turned back. He held out his hand with a rather wan and nervous smile, saying:

“Ah, Hartley! It is you, then! I wasn’t sure.” He glanced over the other’s shoulder and said, “Is that our friend Ste. Marie with you?”

“No,” said Richard Hartley, “some English friends of mine. I haven’t seen Ste. Marie to-day. I’m to meet him this evening. You’ve seen him since I have, as a matter of fact. He came to your party last night, didn’t he? Sorry I couldn’t come. They must have tired you out, I should think. You look ill.”

“Yes,” said the other man, absently. “Yes, I had an attack of an old malady last night. I am rather stale to-day. You say you haven’t seen Ste. Marie? No, to be sure. If you see him later on you might say that I mean to drop in on him to-morrow to make my apologies. He’ll understand. Good-day.”

So he turned away to the motor which was waiting for him, and Hartley went back to his friends, wondering a little what it was that Stewart had to apologize for.

As for Captain Stewart, he must have gone at once out to La Lierre. What he found there has already been set forth.

It was about ten that evening when Hartley, who had left his people, after dinner was over, at the Marigny, reached the rue d’Assas. The street door was already closed for the night, and so he had to ring for the cordon. When the door clicked open and he had closed it behind him he called out his name before crossing the court to Ste. Marie’s stair; but as he went on his way the voice of the concierge reached him from the little loge.

“M. Ste. Marie n’est pas la,”

Now, the Parisian concierge, as every one knows who has lived under his iron sway, is a being set apart from the rest of mankind. He has, in general, no human attributes, and certainly no human sympathy. His hand is against all the world, and the hand of all the world is against him. Still, here and there among this peculiar race are to be found a very few beings who are of softer substance men and women instead of spies and harpies. The concierge who had charge of the house wherein Ste. Marie dwelt was an old woman, undeniably severe upon occasion, but for the most part a kindly and even jovial soul. She must have become a concierge through some unfortunate mistake.

She snapped open her little square window and stuck out into the moonlit court a dishevelled gray head.

Il n’est pas la.” she said again, beaming upon Richard Hartley, whom she liked, and, when he protested that he had a definite and important appointment with her lodger, went on to explain that Ste. Marie had gone out, doubtless to lunch, before one o’clock and had never returned.

“He may have left word for me up-stairs,” Hartley said; “I’ll go up and wait, if I may.” So the woman got him her extra key, and he went up, let himself into the flat, and made lights there.

Naturally he found no word, but his own note of that morning lay spread out upon a table where Ste. Marie had left it, and so he knew that his friend was in possession of the two facts he had learned about Stewart. He made himself comfortable with a book and some cigarettes, and settled down to wait.

Ste. Marie out at La Lierre, with a bullet-hole in his leg, was deep in a drugged sleep just then, but Hartley waited for him, looking up now and then from his book with a scowl of impatience, until the little clock on the mantel said that it was one o’clock. Then he went home in a very bad temper, after writing another note and leaving it on the table, to say that he would return early in the morning.

But in the morning he began to be alarmed. He questioned the concierge very closely as to Ste. Marie’s movements on the day previous, but she could tell him little, save to mention the brief visit of a man with an accent of Toulouse or Marseilles, and there seemed to be no one else to whom he could go. He spent the entire morning in the flat, and returned there after a hasty lunch. But at mid-afternoon he took a fiacre at the corner of the Gardens and drove to the rue du Faubourg St. Honore.

Captain Stewart was at home. He was in a dressing-gown, and still looked fagged and unwell. He certainly betrayed some surprise at sight of his visitor, but he made Hartley welcome at once and insisted upon having cigars and things to drink brought out for him. On the whole he presented an astonishingly normal exterior, for within him he must have been cold with fear, and in his ears a question must have rung and shouted and rung again unceasingly “What does this fellow know? What does he know?”

Hartley’s very presence there had a perilous look.

The younger man shook his head at the servant who asked him what he wished to drink.

“Thanks, you’re very good,” he said to Captain Stewart, and that gentleman eyed him silently. “I can’t stay but a moment. I just dropped in to ask if you’d any idea what can have become of Ste. Marie.”

“Ste. Marie?” said Captain Stewart. “What do you mean ’become of him’?” He moistened his lips to speak, but he said the words without a tremor.

“Well, what I meant was,” said Hartley, “that you’d seen him last. He was here Thursday evening. Did he say anything to you about going anywhere in particular the next day yesterday? He left his rooms about noon and hasn’t turned up since.”

Captain Stewart drew a short breath and sat down, abruptly, in a near-by chair, for all at once his knees had begun to tremble under him. He was conscious of a great and blissful wave of relief and well-being, and he wanted to laugh. He wanted so much to laugh that it became a torture to keep his face in repose.

So Ste. Marie had left no word behind him, and the danger was past!

With a great effort he looked up from where he sat to Richard Hartley, who stood anxious and frowning before him.

“Forgive me for sitting down,” he said, “and sit down yourself, I beg. I’m still very shaky from my attack of illness. Ste. Marie Ste. Marie has disappeared? How very extraordinary! It’s like poor Arthur. Still a single day! He might be anywhere for a single day, might he not? For all that, though, it’s very odd. Why, no. No, I don’t think he said anything about going away. At least I remember nothing about it.” The relief and triumph within him burst out in a sudden little chuckle of malicious fun. “I can think of only one thing,” said he, “that might be of use to you. Ste. Marie seemed to take a very great fancy to one of the ladies here the other evening. And, I must confess, the lady seemed to return it. It had all the look of a desperate flirtation a most desperate flirtation. They spent the evening in a corner together. You don’t suppose,” he said, still chuckling gently, “that Ste. Marie is taking a little holiday, do you? You don’t suppose that the lady could account for him?”

“No,” said Richard Hartley, “I don’t. And if you knew Ste. Marie a little better you wouldn’t suppose it, either.” But after a pause he said: “Could you give me the lady’s name, by any chance? Of course, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

And once more the other man emitted his pleased little chuckle that was so like a cat’s mew.

“I can give you her name,” said he. “The name is Mlle. Bertrand. Elise Bertrand. But I regret to say I haven’t the address by me. She came with some friends. I will try and get it and send it you. Will that be all right?”

“Yes, thanks!” said Richard Hartley. “You’re very good. And now I must be going on. I’m rather in a hurry.”

Captain Stewart protested against this great haste, and pressed the younger man to sit down and tell him more about his friend’s disappearance, but Hartley excused himself, repeating that he was in a great hurry, and went off.

When he had gone Captain Stewart lay back in his chair and laughed until he was weak and ached from it, the furious, helpless laughter which comes after the sudden release from a terrible strain. He was not, as a rule, a demonstrative man, but he became aware that he would like to dance and sing, and probably he would have done both if it had not been for the servant in the next room.

So there was no danger to be feared, and his terrors of the night past he shivered a little to think of them had been, after all, useless terrors! As for the prisoner out at La Lierre, nothing was to be feared from him so long as a careful watch was kept. Later on he might have to be disposed of, since both bullet and poison had failed he scowled over that, remembering a bad quarter of an hour with O’Hara early this morning but that matter could wait. Some way would present itself. He thought of the wholly gratuitous lie he had told Hartley, a thing born of a moment’s malice, and he laughed again. It struck him that it would be very humorous if Hartley should come to suspect his friend of turning aside from his great endeavors to enter upon an affair with a lady. He dimly remembered that Ste. Marie’s name had, from time to time, been a good deal involved in romantic histories, and he said to himself that his lie had been very well chosen, indeed, and might be expected to cause Richard Hartley much anguish of spirit.

After that he lighted a very large cigarette, half as big as a cigar, and he lay back in his low, comfortable chair and began to think of the outcome of all this plotting and planning. As is very apt to be the case when a great danger has been escaped, he was in a mood of extreme hopefulness and confidence. Vaguely he felt as if the recent happenings had set him ahead a pace toward his goal, though of course they had done nothing of the kind. The danger that would exist so long as Ste. Marie, who knew everything, was alive, seemed in some miraculous fashion to have dwindled to insignificance; in this rebound from fear and despair difficulties were swept away and the path was clear. The man’s mind leaped to his goal, and a little shiver of prospective joy ran over him. Once that goal gained he could defy the world. Let eyes look askance, let tongues wag, he would be safe then safe for all the rest of his life, and rich, rich, rich!

For he was playing against a feeble old man’s life. Day by day he watched the low flame sink lower as the flame of an exhausted lamp sinks and flickers. It was slow, for the old man had still a little strength left, but the will to live which was the oil in the lamp was almost gone, and the waiting could not be long now. One day, quite suddenly, the flame would sink down to almost nothing, as at last it does in the spent lamp. It would flicker up and down rapidly for a few moments, and all at once there would be no flame there. Old David would be dead, and a servant would be sent across the river in haste to the rue du Faubourg St. Honore. Stewart lay back in his chair and tried to imagine that it was true, that it had already happened, as happen it must before long, and once more the little shiver, which was like a shiver of voluptuous delight, ran up and down his limbs, and his breath began to come fast and hard.

But Richard Hartley drove at once back to the rue d’Assas. He was not very much disappointed in having learned nothing from Stewart, though he was thoroughly angry at that gentleman’s hint about Ste. Marie and the unknown lady. He had gone to the rue du Faubourg because, as he had said, he wished to leave no stone unturned, and, after all, he had thought it quite possible that Stewart could give him some information which would be of value. Hartley firmly believed the elder man to be a rascal, but of course he knew nothing definite save the two facts which he had accidentally learned from Helen Benham, and it had occurred to him that Captain Stewart might have sent Ste. Marie off upon another wild-goose chase such as the expedition to Dinard had been. He would have been sure that the elder man had had something to do with Ste. Marie’s disappearance if the latter had not been seen since Stewart’s party, but instead of that Ste. Marie had come home, slept, gone out the next morning, returned again, received a visitor, and gone out to lunch. It was all very puzzling and mysterious.

His mind went back to the brief interview with Stewart and dwelt upon it. Little things which had at the time made no impression upon him began to recur and to take on significance. He remembered the elder man’s odd and strained manner at the beginning, his sudden and causeless change to ease and to something that was almost like a triumphant excitement, and then his absurd story about Ste. Marie’s flirtation with a lady. Hartley thought of these things; he thought also of the fact that Ste. Marie had disappeared immediately after hearing grave accusations against Stewart. Could he have lost his head, rushed across the city at once to confront the middle-aged villain, and then disappeared from human ken? It would have been very like him to do something rashly impulsive upon reading that note.

Hartley broke into a sudden laugh of sheer amusement when he realized to what a wild and improbable flight his fancy was soaring. He could not quite rid himself of a feeling that Stewart was, in some mysterious fashion, responsible for his friend’s vanishing, but he was unlike Ste. Marie: he did not trust his feelings, either good or bad, unless they were backed by excellent evidence, and he had to admit that there was not a single scrap of evidence in this instance against Miss Benham’s uncle.

The girl’s name recalled him to another duty. He must tell her about Ste. Marie. He was by this time half-way up the Boulevard St. Germain, but he gave a new order, and the fiacre turned back to the rue de l’Universite. The footman at the door said that Mademoiselle was not in the drawing-room, as it was only four o’clock, but that he thought she was in the house. So Hartley sent up his name and went in to wait.

Miss Benham came down looking a little pale and anxious.

“I’ve been with grandfather,” she explained. “He had some sort of sinking-spell last night and we were very much frightened. He’s much better, but well, he couldn’t have many such spells and live. I’m afraid he grows a good deal weaker day by day now. He sees hardly any one outside the family, except Baron de Vries.” She sat down with a little sigh of fatigue and smiled up at her visitor. “I’m glad you’ve come,” said she. “You’ll cheer me up, and I rather need it. What are you looking so solemn about, though? You won’t cheer me up if you look like that.”

“Well, you see,” said Hartley, “I came at this impossible hour to bring you some bad news. I’m sorry. Perhaps,” he modified, “bad news is putting it with too much seriousness. Strange news is better. To be brief, Ste. Marie has disappeared vanished into thin air. I thought you ought to know.”

“Ste. Marie!” cried the girl. “How? What do you mean vanished? When did he vanish?”

She gave a sudden exclamation of relief.

“Oh, he has come upon some clew or other and has rushed off to follow it. That’s all. How dare you frighten me so?”

“He went without luggage,” said the man, shaking his head, “and he left no word of any kind behind him. He went out to lunch yesterday about noon, and, as I said, simply vanished, leaving no trace whatever behind him. I’ve just been to see your uncle, thinking that he might know something, but he doesn’t.”

The girl looked up quickly.

“My uncle?” she said. “Why my uncle?”

“Well,” said Hartley, “you see, Ste. Marie went to a little party at your uncle’s flat on the night before he disappeared, and I thought your uncle might have heard him say something that would throw light on his movements the next day.”

Hartley remembered the unfortunate incident of the galloping pigs, and hurried on:

“He went to the party more for the purpose of having a talk with your uncle than for any other reason, I think. I was to have gone myself, but gave it up at the eleventh hour for the Cains’ dinner at Armenonville. Well, the next morning after Captain Stewart’s party he went out early. I called at his rooms to see him about something important that I thought he ought to know. I missed him, and so left a note for him which he got on his return and read. I found it open on his table later on. At noon he went out again, and that’s all. Frankly, I’m worried about him.”

Miss Benham watched the man with thoughtful eyes, and when he had finished she asked:

“Could you tell me what was in this note that you left for Ste. Marie?”

Hartley was by nature a very open and frank young man, and in consequence an unusually bad liar. He hesitated and looked away, and he began to turn red.

“Well no,” he said, after a moment “no, I’m afraid I can’t. It was something you wouldn’t understand wouldn’t know about.”

And the girl said, “Oh!” and remained for a little while silent. But at the end she looked up and met his eyes, and the man saw that she was very grave. She said:

“Richard, there is something that you and I have been avoiding and pretending not to see. It has gone too far now, and we’ve got to face it with perfect frankness. I know what was in your note to Ste. Marie. It was what you found out the other evening about my uncle the matter of the will and the other matter. He knew about the will, but he told you and Ste. Marie that he didn’t. He said to you, also, that I had told him about my engagement and Ste. Marie’s determination to search for Arthur, and that was a lie. I didn’t tell him, and grandfather didn’t tell him. He listened in the door yonder and heard it himself. I have a good reason for knowing that. And then,” she said, “he tried very hard to persuade you and Ste. Marie to take up your search under his direction, and he partly succeeded. He sent Ste. Marie upon a foolish expedition to Dinard, and he gave him and gave you other clews just as foolish as that one. Richard, do you believe that my uncle has hidden poor Arthur away somewhere or worse than that? Do you? Tell me the truth!”

“There is not,” said Hartley, “one particle of real evidence against him that I’m aware of. There’s plenty of motive, if you like, but motive is not evidence.”

“I asked you a question,” the girl said. “Do you believe my uncle has been responsible for Arthur’s disappearance?”

“Yes,” said Richard Hartley, “I’m afraid I do.”

“Then,” she said, “he has been responsible for Ste. Marie’s disappearance also. Ste. Marie became dangerous to him, and so vanished. What can we do, Richard? What can we do?”