“I noticed,” said Captain Stewart, “that you were placed next my niece, Helen Benham, at dinner. This must be the first time you two have met, is it not? I remember speaking of you to her some months ago, and I am quite sure she said that she had not met you. Ah, yes, of course, you have been away from Paris a great deal since she and her mother—her mother is my sister: that is to say, my half-sister—have come here to live with my father.” He gave a little gentle laugh. “I take an elderly uncle’s privilege,” he said, “of being rather proud of Helen. She is called very pretty, and she certainly has great poise.”
Ste. Marie drew a quick breath, and his eyes began to flash as they had done a few moments before when he told Hartley that his feet were upon the ladder to the stars.
“Miss Benham!” he cried. “Miss Benham is—” He hung poised so for a moment, searching, as it were, for words of sufficient splendor, but in the end he shook his head and the gleam faded from his eyes. He sank back in his chair, sighing. “Miss Benham,” said he, “is extremely beautiful.”
And again her uncle emitted his little gentle laugh, which may have deceived Hartley into believing that he had heard the man mew. The sound was as much like mewing as it was like anything else.
“I am very glad,” Captain Stewart said, “to see her come out once more into the world. She needs distraction. We—You may possibly have heard that the family is in great distress of mind over the disappearance of my young nephew. Helen has suffered particularly, because she is convinced that the boy has met with foul play. I myself think it very unlikely—very unlikely indeed. The lack of motive, for one thing, and for another—Ah, well, a score of reasons! But Helen refuses to be comforted. It seems to me much more like a boy’s prank—his idea of revenge for what he considered unjust treatment at his grandfather’s hands. He was always a headstrong youngster, and he has been a bit spoiled. Still, of course, the uncertainty is very trying for us all—very wearing.”
“Of course,” said Ste. Marie, gravely. “It is most unfortunate. Ah, by-the-way!” He looked up with a sudden interest. “A rather odd thing happened,” he said, “as Hartley and I were coming here this evening. We walked up the Champs-Elysees from the Concorde, and on the way Hartley had been telling me of your nephew’s disappearance. Near the Rond Point we came upon a motor-car which was drawn up at the side of the street—there had been an accident of no consequence, a boy tumbled over but not hurt. Well, one of the two occupants of the motor-car was a man whom I used to see about Maxim’s and the Cafe de Paris and the Montmartre places, too, some time ago—a rather shady character whose name I’ve forgotten. The odd part of it all was that on the last occasion or two on which I saw your nephew he was with this man. I think it was in Henry’s Bar. Of course, it means nothing at all. Your nephew doubtless knew scores of people, and this man is no more likely to have information about his present whereabouts than any of the others. Still, I should have liked to ask him. I didn’t remember who he was till he had gone.”