Ste. Marie stared at him in open astonishment, and, for an instant, something like dismay.
“Yes, yes! I know what you’re thinking,” said the Englishman. “You’d hoped to do it all yourself. It’s your game. I know. Well, it’s your game even if you let me come in. I’m just a helper. Some one to run errands. Some one, perhaps, to take counsel with now and then. Look at it on the practical side. Two heads are certainly better than one. Certainly I could be of use to you. And besides—well, I want to do something for her. I—cared, too, you see. D’you think you could take me in?”
It was the man’s love that made his appeal irresistible. No one could appeal to Ste. Marie on that score in vain. It was true that he had hoped to work alone—to win or lose alone; to stand, in this matter, quite on his own feet; but he could not deny the man who had loved her and lost her. Ste. Marie thrust out his hand.
“You love her, too!” he said. “That is enough. We work together. I have a possibly foolish idea that if we can find a certain man we will learn something about Arthur Benham. I’ll tell you about it.”
But before he could begin the door-bell jangled.
* * * * *
CAPTAIN STEWART MAKES A KINDLY OFFER
Ste. Marie scowled.
“A caller would come singularly malapropos just now,” said he. “I’ve half a mind not to go to the door. I want to talk this thing over with you.”
“Whoever it is,” objected Hartley, “has been told by the concierge that you’re at home. It may not be a caller, anyhow. It may be a parcel or something. You’d best go.”
So Ste. Marie went out into the little passage, blaspheming fluently the while. The Englishman heard him open the outer door of the flat. He heard him exclaim, in great surprise:
“Ah, Captain Stewart! A great pleasure! Come in! Come in!”
And he permitted himself a little blaspheming on his own account, for the visitor, as Ste. Marie had said, came most malapropos, and, besides, he disliked Miss Benham’s uncle. He heard the American say:
“I have been hoping for some weeks to give myself the pleasure of calling here, and to-day such an excellent pretext presented itself that I came straightaway.”
Hartley heard him emit his mewing little laugh, and heard him say, with the elephantine archness affected by certain dry and middle-aged gentlemen:
“I come with congratulations. My niece has told me all about it. Lucky young man! Ah—”
He reached the door of the inner room and saw Richard Hartley standing by the window, and he began to apologize profusely, saying that he had had no idea that Ste. Marie was not alone. But Ste. Marie said:
“It doesn’t in the least matter. I have no secrets from Hartley. Indeed, I have just been talking with him about this very thing.”