He became aware that a man who was walking slowly up and down a path inside the high iron palings was in some way familiar to him, and his eyes sharpened. The man was inconspicuously dressed, and looked like almost any other man whom one might pass in the streets without taking any notice of him; but Ste. Marie knew that he had seen him often, and he wondered how and where. There was a row of lilac shrubs against the iron palings just inside and between the palings and the path, but two of the shrubs were dead and leafless, and each time the man passed this spot he came into plain view; each time, also, he directed an oblique glance toward the house opposite. Presently he turned aside and sat down upon one of the public benches, where he was almost, but not quite, hidden by the intervening foliage.
Then at last Ste. Marie gave a sudden exclamation and smote his hands together.
“The fellow’s a spy!” he cried, aloud. “He’s watching the house to see when I go out.” He began to remember how he had seen the man in the street and in cafes and restaurants, and he remembered that he had once or twice thought it odd, but without any second thought of suspicion. So the fellow had been set to spy upon him, watch his goings and comings and report them to—no need of asking to whom.
Ste. Marie stood behind his curtains and looked across into the pleasant expanse of shrubbery and greensward. He was wondering if it would be worth while to do anything. Men and women went up and down the path, hurrying or slowly, at ease with the world—laborers, students, bonnes with market-baskets in their hands and long bread loaves under their arms, nurse-maids herding small children, bigger children spinning diabolo spools as they walked. A man with a pointed black beard and a soft hat passed once and returned to seat himself upon the public bench that Ste. Marie was watching. For some minutes he sat there idle, holding the soft felt hat upon his knees for coolness. Then he turned and looked at the other occupant of the bench, and Ste. Marie thought he saw the other man nod, though he could not be sure whether either one spoke or not. Presently the new-comer rose, put on the soft hat again, and disappeared down the path going toward the gate at the head of the rue du Luxembourg.
Five minutes later the door-bell rang.
* * * * *
THE VOYAGE TO COLCHIS
Ste. Marie turned away from the window and crossed to the door. The man with the pointed beard removed his soft hat, bowed very politely, and asked if he had the honor to address M. Ste. Marie.
“That is my name,” said Ste. Marie. “Entrez, Monsieur!” He waved his visitor to a chair and stood waiting.
The man with the beard bowed once more. He said:
“I have not the great honor of Monsieur’s acquaintance, but circumstances, which I will explain later, have put it in my power—have made it a sacred duty, if I may be permitted to say the word—to place in Monsieur’s hands a piece of information.”