My perturbation must have been discoverable in my face. “What iss it?” asked the old man. “You forget someting?”
“No,” said I, stammering. “It is nothing.”
He looked at me dubiously. “Well, then,” I admitted; “I miss something from my commode here. Some one has taken it.”
“It iss of value, perhaps?” he inquired politely.
“Well, no; not of intrinsic value. ’Twas only a slipper—of white satin, made by Braun, of Paris.”
“One slipper? Of what use?—”
“It belonged to a lady—I was about to return it,” I said; but I fear my face showed me none too calm. He broke out in a gentle laugh.
“So, then, we had here the stage setting,” said he; “the pistols, the cause for pistols, sometimes, eh?”
“It is nothing—I could easily explain—”
“There iss not need, my young friend. Wass I not also young once? Yess, once wass I young.” He laid down the pistols, and I placed them with my already considerable personal armament, which seemed to give him no concern.
“Each man studies for himself his own specialty,” mused the old man. “You haf perhaps studied the species of woman. Once, also I.”
I laughed, and shook my head.
“Many species are there,” he went on; “many with wings of gold and blue and green, of unknown colors; creatures of air and sky. Haf I not seen them? But always that one species which we pursue, we do not find. Once in my life, in Oregon, I follow through the forest a smell of sweet fields of flowers coming to me. At last I find it—a wide field of flowers. It wass in summer time. Over the flowers were many, many butterflies. Some of them I knew; some of them I had. One great new one, such as I haf not seen, it wass there. It rested. ’I shall now make it mine,’ I said. It iss fame to gif name first to this so noble a species. I would inclose it with mein little net. Like this, you see, I creep up to it. As I am about to put it gently in my net—not to harm it, or break it, or brush away the color of its wings—lo! like a puff of down, it rises and goes above my head. I reach for it; I miss. It rises still more; it flies; it disappears! So! I see it no more. It iss gone. Stella Terrae I name it—my Star of the Earth, that which I crave but do not always haf, eh? Believe me, my friend, yess, the study of the species hass interest. Once I wass young. Should I see that little shoe I think myself of the time when I wass young, and made studies—Ach, Mein Gott!—also of the species of woman! I, too, saw it fly from me, my Stella Terrae!”
We walked, my friend still musing and babbling, myself still anxious and uneasy. We turned out of narrow Notre Dame Street, and into St. Lawrence Main Street. As we strolled I noted without much interest the motley life about me, picturesque now with the activities of the advancing spring. Presently, however, my idle gaze was drawn to two young Englishmen whose bearing in some way gave me the impression that they belonged in official or military life, although they were in civilian garb.