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.