There was, in sober fact, no reason whatever why Captain Stewart’s possession of a photograph of the beautiful lady whom Ste. Marie had once seen in company with O’Hara should be taken as significant of anything except an appreciation of beauty on the part of Miss Benham’s uncle—not even if, as Mlle. Nilssen believed, Captain Stewart was in love with the lady. But to Ste. Marie, in his whirl of reawakened excitement, the discovery loomed to the skies, and in a series of ingenious but very vague leaps of the imagination he saw himself, with the aid of this new evidence (which was no evidence at all, if he had been calm enough to realize it), victorious in his great quest: leading young Arthur Benham back to the arms of an ecstatic family, and kneeling at the feet of that youth’s sister to claim his reward. All of which seems a rather startling flight of the imagination to have had its beginning in the sight of one photograph of a young woman. But, then, Ste. Marie was imaginative if he was anything.
He fell to thinking of this girl whose eyes, after one sight of them, had so long haunted him. He thought of her between those two men, the hard-faced Irish adventurer, and the other, Stewart, strange compound of intellectual and voluptuary, and his eyes flashed in the dark and he gripped his hands together upon his knees. He said again:
“I won’t believe it! I won’t believe it!” Believe what? one wonders.
He slept hardly at all: only, toward morning, falling into an uneasy doze. And in the doze he dreamed once more the dream of the dim, waste place and the hill, and the eyes and voice that called him back—because they needed him.
As early as he dared, after his morning coffee, he took a fiacre and drove across the river to the Boulevard de la Madeleine, where he climbed a certain stair, at the foot of which were two glass cases containing photographs of, for the most part, well-known ladies of the Parisian stage. At the top of the stair he entered the reception-room of a young photographer who is famous now the world over, but who, at the beginning of his career, when he had nothing but talent and no acquaintance, owed certain of his most important commissions to M. Ste. Marie.
The man, whose name was Bernstein, came forward eagerly from the studio beyond to greet his visitor, and Ste. Marie complimented him chaffingly upon his very sleek and prosperous appearance, and upon the new decorations of the little salon, which were, in truth, excellently well judged. But after they had talked for a little while of such matters, he said:
“I want to know if you keep specimen prints of all the photographs you have made within the past few months, and, if so, I should like to see them.”
The young Jew went to a wooden portfolio-holder which stood in a corner, and dragged it out into the light.
“I have them all here,” said he—“everything that I have made within the past ten or twelve months. If you will let me draw up a chair you can look them over comfortably.”