“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.”