It was not a cheerful thought, but Jack’s momentary depression vanished as he stopped before the imposing facade of the Hotel Netherlands, in the vicinity of the Opera. He entered boldly and inquired for Monsieur Martin Von Whele. The gentleman was gone, a polite garcon explained. He had received a telegram during the night to say that his wife was very ill, and he had left Paris by the first train.
The happiness faded from Jack’s eyes.
“Gone—gone back to Amsterdam?” he exclaimed incredulously.
“Yes, to his own country, monsieur.”
“And he left no message for me—no letter?”
“Indeed, no, monsieur; he departed in great haste.”
An appeal to a superior official of the hotel met with the same response, and Jack turned away. He wandered slowly down the gay street, the parcel hanging listlessly under his left arm, and his right hand jingling the few coins in his pocket. His journey over the river, begun so hopefully, had ended in a bitter disappointment.
Martin Von Whele was a retired merchant, a rich native of Amsterdam, and his private collection of paintings was well known throughout Europe. He had come to Paris a month before to attend a private sale, and had there purchased, at a bargain, an exceedingly fine Rembrandt that had but recently been unearthed from a hiding-place of centuries. He determined to have a copy made for his country house in Holland, and chance brought him in contact with Jack Clare, who at the time was reproducing for an art patron a landscape in the Luxembourg Gallery—a sort of thing that he was not too proud to undertake when he was getting short of money. Monsieur Von Whele liked the young Englishman’s work and came to an agreement with him. Jack copied the Rembrandt at the Hotel Netherlands, going there at odd hours, and made a perfect duplicate of it—a dangerous one, as the Hollander laughingly suggested. Jack applied the finishing touches at his studio, and artfully gave the canvas an appearance of age. He was to receive the promised payment when he delivered the painting at the Hotel Netherlands, and he had confidently expected it. But, as has been seen, Martin Von Whele had gone home in haste, leaving no letter or message. For the present there was no likelihood of getting a cheque from him.
The brightness of the day aggravated Jack’s disappointment as he walked back to the little street just off the Boulevard St. Germain. He tried to look cheerful as he mounted the stairs and threw the duplicate Rembrandt into a corner of the studio, behind a stack of unfinished sketches. Diane entered from the bedroom, ravishingly dressed for the street in a costume that well set off her perfect figure. She was a picture of beauty with her ivory complexion, her mass of dark brown hair, and the wonderfully large and deep eyes that had been one of her chief charms at the Folies Bergere.
“Good boy!” she cried. “You did not keep me waiting long. But you look as glum as a bear. What is the matter?”