Jason: A Romance

       Justus Miles Forman / Romance & Love
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Jason: A Romance
JASON

A ROMANCE

BYJUSTUS MILES FORMAN

AUTHOR OF”A STUMBLING BLOCK” ”BUCHANAN'S WIFE””THE ISLAND OF ENCHANTMENT”

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BYW. HATHERELL, R.I.

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERSNEW YORK AND LONDONMCMIX

COPYRIGHT, 1908.

* * * * *

A PARIS

MERE MYSTERIEUSE ... SOEUR CONSOLATRICEENCHANTERESSE AUX YEUX VOILESJE DEDIE CE PETIT ROMANEN RECONNAISSANCEJ.M.F.

* * * * *

CONTENTS

I. STE. MARIE HEARS OF A MYSTERY AND MEETS A DARK LADY

II. THE LADDER TO THE STARS

III. STE. MARIE MAKES A VOW, BUT A PAIR OF EYES HAUNT HIM

IV. OLD DAVID STEWART

V. JASON SETS FORTH UPON THE GREAT ADVENTURE

VI. A BRAVE GENTLEMAN RECEIVES A HURT, BUT VOLUNTEERS IN A GOOD CAUSE

VII. CAPTAIN STEWART MAKES A KINDLY OFFER

VIII. JASON MEETS WITH A MISADVENTURE AND DREAMS A DREAM

IX. JASON GOES UPON A JOURNEY, AND RICHARD HARTLEY PLEADS FOR HIM

X. CAPTAIN STEWART ENTERTAINS

XI. A GOLDEN LADY ENTERS--THE EYES AGAIN

XII. THE NAME OF THE LADY WITH THE EYES--EVIDENCE HEAPS UP SWIFTLY

XIII. THE VOYAGE TO COLCHIS

XIV. THE WALLS OF AEA

XV. A CONVERSATION AT LA LIERRE

XVI. THE BLACK CAT

XVII. THOSE WHO WERE LEFT BEHIND

XVIII. A CONVERSATION OVERHEARD

XIX. THE INVALID TAKES THE AIR

XX. THE STONE BENCH AT THE ROND POINT

XXI. A MIST DIMS THE SHINING STAR

XXII. A SETTLEMENT REFUSED

XXIII. THE LAST ARROW

XXIV. THE JOINT IN THE ARMOR

XXV. MEDEA GOES OVER TO THE ENEMY

XXVI. BUT THE FLEECE ELECTS TO REMAIN

XXVII. THE NIGHT'S WORK

XXVIII. MEDEA'S LITTLE HOUR

XXIX. THE SCALES OF INJUSTICE

XXX. JASON SAILS BACK TO COLCHIS--JOURNEY'S END

* * * * *

I

STE. MARIE HEARS OF A MYSTERY AND MEETS A DARK LADY

From Ste. Marie's little flat, which overlooked the gardens, they drovedown the quiet rue du Luxembourg, and at the Place St. Sulpice turned tothe left. They crossed the Place St. Germain des Pres, where lines ofhome-bound working-people stood waiting for places in the electrictrams, and groups of students from the Beaux Arts or from Julien's satunder the awnings of the Deux Magots, and so, beyond that busy square,they came into the long and peaceful stretch of the Boulevard St.Germain. The warm, sweet dusk gathered round them as they went, and theevening air was fresh and aromatic in their faces. There had been alittle gentle shower in the late afternoon, and roadway and pavementwere still damp with it. It had wet the new-grown leaves of thechestnuts and acacias that bordered the street. The scent of that livinggreen blended with the scent of laid dust and the fragrance of the lastlate-clinging chestnut blossoms; it caught up a fuller, richer burdenfrom the overflowing front of a florist's shop; it stole from openwindows a savory whiff of cooking, a salt tang of wood smoke; and thesoft little breeze--the breeze of coming summer--mixed all together andtossed them and bore them down the long, quiet street; and it was thebreath of Paris, and it shall be in your nostrils and mine, a keen agonyof sweetness, so long as we may live and so wide as we maywander--because we have known it and loved it--and in the end we shallgo back to breathe it when we die.

The strong white horse jogged evenly along over the wooden pavement, itshead down, the little bell at its neck jingling pleasantly as it went.The cocher, a torpid, purplish lump of gross flesh, pyramidal, pearlike,sat immobile in his place. The protuberant back gave him anextraordinary effect of being buttoned into his fawn-colored coat wrongside before. At intervals he jerked the reins like a large strange toy,and his strident voice said:

”He!” to the stout white horse, which paid no attention whatever. Oncethe beast stumbled and the pearlike lump of flesh insulted it, saying:

”He! veux tu, cochon!”

Before the War Office a little black slip of a milliner's girl dodgedunder the horse's head, saving herself and the huge box slung to her armby a miracle of agility, and the cocher called her the most frightfulnames, without turning his head and in a perfunctory tone quite freefrom passion.

Young Hartley laughed and turned to look at his companion, but Ste.Marie sat still in his place, his hat pulled a little down over hisbrows and his handsome chin buried in the folds of the white silkmuffler with which for some obscure reason he had swathed his neck.

”This is the first time in many years,” said the Englishman, ”that Ihave known you to be silent for ten whole minutes. Are you ill, or areyou making up little epigrams to say at the dinner-party?”

Ste. Marie waved a despondent glove.

”I 'ave,” said he, ”w'at you call ze blue. Papillons noirs--clouds in mysoul.” It was a species of jest with Ste. Marie--and he seemed never totire of it--to pretend that he spoke English very brokenly. As a matterof fact, he spoke it quite as well as any Englishman and without theslightest trace of accent. He had discovered a long time before this--itmay have been while the two were at Eton together--that it annoyedHartley very much, particularly when it was done in company and beforestrangers. In consequence he became on such occasions a sort ofcomic-paper caricature of his race, and by dint of much practice, addedto a naturally alert mind, he became astonishingly ingenious in thetorture of that honest but unimaginative gentleman whom he consideredhis best friend. He achieved the most surprising expressions by the mereliteral translation of French idiom, and he could at any time bringHartley to a crimson agony by calling him ”my dear ”'before other men,whereas at the equivalent ”mon cher” the Englishman would doubtlessnever, as the phrase goes, have batted an eye.

”Ye-es,” he continued, sadly, ”I 'ave ze blue. I weep. Weez ze tearsfull ze eyes. Yes.” He descended into English. ”I think something'sgoing to happen to me. There's calamity, or something, in the air.Perhaps I'm going to die.”

”Oh, I know what you are going to do, right enough,” said the other man.”You're going to meet the most beautiful woman--girl--in the world atdinner, and of course you are going to fall in love with her.”

”Ah, the Miss Benham!” said Ste. Marie, with a faint show of interest.”I remember now, you said that she was to be there. I had forgotten.Yes, I shall be glad to meet her. One hears so much. But why am I ofcourse going to fall in love with her?”

”Well, in the first place,” said Hartley, ”you always fall in love withall pretty women as a matter of habit, and, in the second place,everybody--well, I suppose you--no one could help falling in love withher, I should think.”

”That's high praise to come from you,” said the other. And Hartley said,with a short, not very mirthful laugh:

”Oh, I don't pretend to be immune. We all--everybody who knows her.You'll understand presently.”

Ste. Marie turned his head a little and looked curiously at his friend,for he considered that he knew the not very expressive intonations ofthat young gentleman's voice rather well, and this was somethingunusual. He wondered what had been happening during his six months'absence from Paris.

”I dare say that's what I feel in the air, then,” he said, after alittle pause. ”It's not calamity; it's love.

”Or maybe,” he said, quaintly, ”it's both. L'un n'empeche pas I'autre.”And he gave an odd little shiver, as if that something in the air hadsuddenly blown chill upon him.

They were passing the corner of the Chamber of Deputies, which faces thePont de la Concorde. Ste. Marie pulled out his watch and looked at it.

”Eight-fifteen,” said he. ”What time are we asked for--eight-thirty?That means nine: It's an English house, and nobody will be on time. It'sout of fashion to be prompt nowadays.”

”I should hardly call the Marquis de Saulnes English, you know,”objected Hartley.

”Well, his wife is,” said the other, ”and they're altogether English inmanner. Dinner won't be before nine. Shall we get out, and walk acrossthe bridge and up the Champs-Elysees? I should like to, I think. I liketo walk at this time of the evening--between the daylight and the dark.”Hartley nodded a rather reluctant assent, and Ste. Marie prodded thepear-shaped cocher in the back with his stick. So they got down at theapproach to the bridge, Ste. Marie gave the cocher a piece of twofrancs, and they turned away on foot. The pear-shaped one looked at thecoin in his fat hand as if it were something unclean andcontemptible--something to be despised. He glanced at the dial of histaximeter, which had registered one franc twenty-five, and pulled theflag up. He spat gloomily out into the street, and his purple lips movedin words. He seemed to say something like ”Sale diable de metier!”which, considering the fact that he had just been overpaid, appearsunwarrantably pessimistic in tone. Thereafter he spat again, picked uphis reins and jerked them, saying:

”He, Jean Baptiste! Uip, uip!” The unemotional white horse turned up theboulevard, trotting evenly at its steady pace, head down, the littlebell at its neck jingling pleasantly as it went. It occurs to me thatthe white horse was probably unique. I doubt that there was anotherhorse in Paris rejoicing in that extraordinary name.

But the two young men walked slowly on across the Pont de la Concorde.They went in silence, for Hartley was thinking still of Miss HelenBenham, and Ste. Marie was thinking of Heaven knows what. His gloom wasunaccountable unless he had really meant what he said about feelingcalamity in the air. It was very unlike him to have nothing to say.Midway of the bridge he stopped and turned to look out over the river,and the other man halted beside him. The dusk was thickening almostperceptibly, but it was yet far from dark. The swift river ran leadenbeneath them, and the river boats, mouches and hirondelles, dartedsilently under the arches of the bridge, making their last trips for theday. Away to the west, where their faces were turned, the sky was stillfaintly washed with color, lemon and dusky orange and pale thin green. Asingle long strip of cirrus cloud was touched with pink, a lifeless oldrose, such as is popular among decorators for the silk hangings of awoman's boudoir. And black against this pallid wash of colors the tourEiffel stood high and slender and rather ghostly. By day it is an uglything, a preposterous iron finger upthrust by man's vanity against God'sserene sky; but the haze of evening drapes it in a mercifulsemi-obscurity and it is beautiful.

Ste. Marie leaned upon the parapet of the bridge, arms folded before himand eyes afar. He began to sing, a demi-voix, a little phrase out of_Louise_--an invocation to Paris--and the Englishman stirred uneasilybeside him. It seemed to Hartley that to stand on a bridge, in a top-hatand evening clothes, and sing operatic airs while people passed back andforth behind you, was one of the things that are not done. He tried toimagine himself singing in the middle of Westminster Bridge at half-pasteight of an evening, and he felt quite hot all over at the thought. Itwas not done at all, he said to himself. He looked a little nervously atthe people who were passing, and it seemed to him that they stared athim and at the unconscious Ste. Marie, though in truth they did nothingof the sort. He turned back and touched his friend on the arm, saying:

”I think we'd best be getting along, you know.” But Ste. Marie was veryfar away, and did not hear. So then he fell to watching the man's darkand handsome face, and to thinking how little the years at Eton and theyear or two at Oxford had set any real stamp upon him. He would never beanything but Latin, in spite of his Irish mother and his public school.Hartley thought what a pity that was. As Englishmen go, he was notilliberal, but, no more than he could have altered the color of hiseyes, could he have believed that anything foreign would not be improvedby becoming English. That was born in him, as it is born in mostEnglishmen, and it was a perfectly simple and honest belief. He felt adeeper affection for this handsome and volatile young man whom all womenloved, and who bade fair to spend his life at their successive feet--forhe certainly had never shown the slightest desire to take up any sterneremployment--he felt a deeper affection for Ste. Marie than for any otherman he knew, but he had always wished that Ste. Marie were anEnglishman, and he had always felt a slight sense of shame over hisfriend's un-English ways.

After a moment he touched him again on the arm, saying:

”Come along! We shall be late, you know. You can finish your littleconcert another time.”

”Eh!” cried Ste. Marie. ”Quoi, donc?” He turned with a start.

”Oh yes!” said he. ”Yes, come along! I was mooning. Allons! Allons, myold!” He took Hartley's arm and began to shove him along at a rapidwalk. ”I will moon no more,” he said. ”Instead, you shall tell me aboutthe wonderful Miss Benham whom everybody is talking about. Isn't theresomething odd connected with the family? I vaguely recall somethingunusual--some mystery or misfortune or something. But first a moment!One small moment, my old. Regard me that!” They had come to the end ofthe bridge, and the great Place de la Concorde lay before them.

”In all the world,” said Ste. Marie--and he spoke the truth--”there isnot another such square. Regard it, mon brave! Bow yourself before it!It is a miracle.”

The great bronze lamps were alight, and they cast reflections upon thestill damp pavement about them. To either side, the trees of theTuileries gardens and of the Cours la Reine and the Champs-Elysees layin a solid black mass; in the middle, the obelisk rose slender andstraight, its pointed top black against the sky; and beneath, the waterof the Nereid fountains splashed and gurgled. Far beyond, the gay lightsof the rue Royale shone in a yellow cluster; and beyond these still, thetall columns of the Madeleine ended the long vista. Pedestrians and cabscrept across that vast space and seemed curiously little, like blackinsects, and round about it all the eight cities of France sat atoptheir stone pedestals and looked on. Ste. Marie gave a little sigh ofpleasure, and the two moved forward, bearing to the left, toward theChamps-Elysees.

”And now,” said he, ”about these Benhams. What is the thing I cannotquite recall? What has happened to them?”

”I suppose,” said the other man, ”you mean the disappearance of MissBenham's young brother a month ago--before you returned to Paris. Yes,that was certainly very odd--that is, it was either very odd or verycommonplace. And in either case the family is terribly cut up about it.The boy's name was Arthur Benham, and he was rather a young fool, butnot downright vicious, I should think. I never knew him at all well, butI know he spent his time chiefly at the Cafe de Paris and at the Olympiaand at Longchamps and at Henry's Bar. Well, he just disappeared, that isall. He dropped completely out of sight between two days, and though thefamily has had a small army of detectives on his trail they've notdiscovered the smallest clew. It's deuced odd altogether. You mightthink it easy to disappear like that, but it's not.”

”No--no,” said Ste. Marie, thoughtfully. ”No, I should fancy not.

”This boy,” he said, after a pause--”I think I had seen him--had himpointed out to me--before I went away. I think it was at Henry's Bar,where all the young Americans go to drink strange beverages. I am quitesure I remember his face. A weak face, but not quite bad.”

And after another little pause he asked:

”Was there any reason why he should have gone away--any quarrel or thatsort of thing?”

”Well,” said the other man, ”I rather think there was something of thesort. The boy's uncle--Captain Stewart--middle-aged, rather prim oldparty--you'll have met him, I dare say--he intimated to me one day thatthere had been some trivial row. You see, the lad isn't of age yet,though he is to be in a few months, and so he has had to live on anallowance doled out by his grandfather, who's the head of the house. Theboy's father is dead. There's a quaint old beggar, if you like--thegrandfather. He was rather a swell in the diplomatic, in his day, itseems--rather an important swell. Now he's bedridden. He sits all day inbed and plays cards with his granddaughter or with a very superiorvalet, and talks politics with the men who come to see him. Oh yes, he'sa quaint old beggar. He has a great quantity of white hair and anenormous square white beard and the fiercest eyes I ever saw, I shouldthink. Everybody's frightened out of their wits of him. Well, he sits upthere and rules his family in good old patriarchal style, and it seemshe came down a bit hard on the poor boy one day over some folly orother, and there was a row and the boy went out of the house swearinghe'd be even.”

”Ah, well, then,” said Ste. Marie, ”the matter seems simple enough. Afoolish boy's foolish pique. He is staying in hiding somewhere tofrighten his grandfather. When he thinks the time favorable he will comeback and be wept over and forgiven.”

The other man walked a little way in silence.

”Ye-es,” he said, at last. ”Yes, possibly. Possibly you are right.That's what the grandfather thinks. It's the obvious solution.Unfortunately there is more or less against it. The boy went awaywith--so far as can be learned--almost no money, almost none at all. Andhe has already been gone a month. Miss Benham, his sister, is sure thatsomething has happened to him, and I'm a bit inclined to think so, too.It's all very odd. I should think he might have been kidnapped but thatno demand has been made for money.”

”He was not,” suggested Ste. Marie--”not the sort of young man to doanything desperate--make away with himself?” Hartley laughed.

”Oh, Lord, no!” said he. ”Not that sort of young man at all. He was avery normal type of rich and spoiled and somewhat foolish American boy.”

”Rich?” inquired the other, quickly.

”Oh yes; they're beastly rich. Young Arthur is to come into somethingvery good at his majority, I believe, from his father's estate, and theold grandfather is said to be indecently rich--rolling in it! There'sanother reason why the young idiot wouldn't be likely to stop away ofhis own accord. He wouldn't risk anything like a serious break with theold gentleman. It would mean a loss of millions to him, I dare say, forthe old beggar is quite capable of cutting him off if he takes thenotion. Oh, it's a bad business all through.”

And after they had gone on a bit he said it again, shaking his head:

”It's a bad business! That poor girl, you know. It's hard on her. Shewas fond of the young ass for some reason or other. She's very muchbroken up over it.”

”Yes,” said Ste. Marie, ”it is hard for her--for all the family, ofcourse. A bad business, as you say.” He spoke absently, for he waslooking ahead at something which seemed to be a motor accident. They hadby this time got well up the Champs-Elysees and were crossing the RondPoint. A motor-car was drawn up alongside the curb just beyond, and alittle knot of people stood about it and seemed to look at something onthe ground.

”I think some one has been run down,” said Ste. Marie. ”Shall we have alook?” They quickened their pace and came to where the group of peoplestood in a circle looking upon the ground, and two gendarmes asked manyquestions and wrote voluminously in their little books. It appeared thata delivery boy mounted upon a tricycle cart had turned into the wrongside of the avenue and had got himself run into and overturned by amotor-car going at a moderate rate of speed. For once the sentiment ofthose mysterious birds of prey which flock instantaneously from nowhereround an accident, was against the victim and in favor of the frightenedand gesticulating chauffeur.

Ste. Marie turned an amused face from this voluble being to the otheroccupants of the patently hired car, who stood apart, adding very littleto the discussion. He saw a tall and bony man with very bright blue eyesand what is sometimes called a guardsman's mustache--the drooping,walruslike ornament which dates back a good many years now. Beyond thisgentleman he saw a young woman in a long, gray silk coat and a motoringveil. He was aware that the tall man was staring at him rather fixedlyand with a half-puzzled frown, as though he thought that they had metbefore and was trying to remember when, but Ste. Marie gave the man buta swift glance. His eyes were upon the dark face of the young womanbeyond, and it seemed to him that she called aloud to him in an actualvoice that rang in his ears. The young woman's very obvious beauty, hethought, had nothing to do with the matter. It seemed to him that hereyes called him. Just that. Something strange and very potent seemed totake sudden and almost tangible hold upon him--a charm, a spell, amagic--something unprecedented, new to his experience. He could not takehis eyes from hers, and he stood staring.

As before, on the Pont de la Concorde, Hartley touched him on the arm,and abruptly the chains that had bound him were loosened.

”We must be going on, you know,” the Englishman said, and Ste. Mariesaid, rather hurriedly:

”Yes, yes, to be sure! Come along!” But at a little distance he turnedonce more to look back. The chauffeur had mounted to his place, thedelivery boy was upon his feet again, little the worse for his tumble,and the knot of bystanders had begun to disperse, but it seemed to Ste.Marie that the young woman in the long silk coat stood quite still whereshe had been, and that her face was turned toward him, watching.

”Did you notice that girl?” said Hartley, as they walked on at a briskerpace. ”Did you see her face? She was rather a tremendous beauty, youknow, in her gypsyish fashion. Yes, by Jove, she was!”

”Did I see her?” repeated Ste. Marie. ”Yes. Oh yes. She had very strangeeyes. At least, I think it was the eyes. I don't know. I've never seenany eyes quite like them. Very odd!”

He said something more in French which Hartley did not hear, and theEnglishman saw that he was frowning.

”Oh, well, I shouldn't have said there was anything strange about them,”Hartley said; ”but they certainly were beautiful. There's no denyingthat. The man with her looked rather Irish, I thought.”

They came to the Etoile, and cut across it toward the Avenue Hoche. Ste.Marie glanced back once more, but the motor-car and the delivery boy andthe gendarmes were gone.

”What did you say?” he asked, idly.

”I said the man looked Irish,” repeated his friend. All at once Ste.Marie gave a loud exclamation.

”Sacred thousand devils! Fool that I am! Dolt! Why didn't I think of itbefore?”

Hartley stared at him, and Ste. Marie stared down the Champs-Elyseeslike one in a trance.

”I say,” said the Englishman, ”we really must be getting on, you know;we're late.” And as they went along down the Avenue Hoche, he demanded:”Why are you a dolt and whatever else it was? What struck you sosuddenly?”

”I remembered all at once,” said Ste. Marie, ”where I had seen that manbefore and with whom I last saw him. I'll tell you about it later.Probably it's of no importance, though.”

”You're talking rather like a mild lunatic,” said the other. ”Here weare at the house!”

* * * * *


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